“I'd not have thought to find a heronmark sword in a place like this,” Lan said.
“It belongs to my father.” He glanced at Lan's sword, the hilt just visible at the edge of his cloak; the two swords did look a good deal alike, except that no herons showed on the Warder's. He swung his eyes back to the bed. Tam's breathing did sound easier; the rasp was gone. He was sure of it. “He bought it a long time ago.”
“Strange thing for a sheepherder to buy.”
Rand spared a sidelong look for Lan. For a stranger to wonder about the sword was prying. For a Warder to do it ... Still, he felt he had to say something. “He never had any use for it, that I know of. He said it had no use. Until last night, anyway. I didn't even know he had it till then.”
“He called it useless, did he? He must not always have thought so.” Lan touched the scabbard at Rand's waist briefly with one forger. “There are places where the heron is a symbol of the master swordsman. That blade must have traveled a strange road to end up with a sheepherder in the Two Rivers.”
Rand ignored the unspoken question. Moiraine still had not moved. Was the Aes Sedai doing anything? He shivered and rubbed his arms, not sure he really wanted to know what she was doing. An Aes Sedai.
A question of his own popped into his head then, one he did not want to ask, one he needed an answer to. “The Mayor — ” He cleared his throat, and took a deep breath. “The Mayor said the only reason there's anything left of the village is because of you and her.” He made himself look at the Warder. “If you had been told about a man in the woods ... a man who made people afraid just by looking at them ... would that have warned you? A man whose horse doesn't make any noise? And the wind doesn't touch his cloak? Would you have known what was going to happen? Could you and Moiraine Sedai have stopped it if you'd known about him?”
“Not without half a dozen of my sisters,” Moiraine said, and Rand started. She still knelt by the bed, but she had taken her hands from Tam and half turned to face the two of them on the bench. Her voice never raised, but her eyes pinned Rand to the wall. “Had I known when I left Tar Valon that I would find Trollocs and Myrddraal here, I would have brought half a dozen of them, a dozen, if I had to drag them by the scruffs of their necks. By myself, a month's warning would have made little difference. Perhaps none. There is only so much one person can do, even calling on the One Power, and there were probably well over a hundred Trollocs scattered around this district last night. An entire fist.”
“It would still have been good to know,” Lan said sharply, the sharpness directed at Rand. “When did you see him, exactly, and where?”
“That's of no consequence now,” Moiraine said. “I will not have the boy thinking he is to blame for something when he is not. I am as much to blame. That accursed raven yesterday, the way it behaved, should have warned me. And you, too, my old friend.” Her tongue clicked angrily. “I was overconfident to the point of arrogance, sure that the Dark One's touch could not have spread so far. Nor so heavily, not yet. So sure.”
Rand blinked. “The raven? I don't understand.”
“Carrion eaters.” Lan's mouth twisted in distaste. “The Dark One's minions often find spies among creatures that feed on death. Ravens and crows, mainly. Rats, in the cities, sometimes.”
A quick shiver ran through Rand. Ravens and crows as spies of the Dark One? There were ravens and crows everywhere now. The Dark One's touch, Moiraine had said. The Dark One was always there — he knew that — but if you tried to walk in the Light, tried to live a good life, and did not name him, he could not harm you. That was what everybody believed, what everybody learned with his mother's milk. But Moiraine seemed to be saying ...His glance fell on Tam, and everything else was pushed right out of his head. His father's face was noticeably less flushed than it had been, and his breathing sounded almost normal. Rand would have leaped up if Lan had not caught his arm. “You've done it.”
Moiraine shook her head and sighed. “Not yet. I hope it is only not yet. Trolloc weapons are made at forges in the valley called Thakan'dar, on the very slopes of Shayol Ghul itself. Some of them take a taint from that place, a stain of evil in the metal. Those tainted blades make wounds that will not heal unaided, or cause deadly fevers, strange sicknesses that medicines cannot touch. I have soothed your father's pain, but the mark, the taint, is still in him. Left alone, it will grow again, and consume him.”
“But you won't leave it alone.” Rand's words were half plea, half command. He was shocked to realize he had spoken to an Aes Sedai like that, but she seemed not to notice his tone.
“I will not,” she agreed simply. “I am very tired, Rand, and I have had no chance to rest since last night. Ordinarily it would not matter, but for this kind of hurt ... This” — she took a small bundle of white silk from her pouch — “is an angreal ” She saw his expression. “You know of angreal, then. Good.”Unconsciously he leaned back, further away from her and what she held. A few stories mentioned angreal, those relics of the Age of Legends that Aes Sedai used to perform their greatest wonders. He was startled to see her unwrap a smooth ivory figurine, agedarkened to deep brown. No longer than her hand, it was a woman in flowing robes, with long hair falling about her shoulders.
“We have lost the making of these,” she said. “So much is lost, perhaps never to be found again. So few remain, the Amyrlin Seat almost did not allow me to take this one. It is well for Emond's Field, and for your father, that she did give her permission. But you must not hope too much. Now, even with it, I can do little more than I could have without it yesterday, and the taint is strong. It has had time to fester.”
“You can help him,” Rand said fervently. “I know you can.”
Moiraine smiled, a bare curving of her lips. “We shall see.” Then she turned back to Tam. One hand she laid on his forehead; the other cupped the ivory figure. Eyes closed, her face took on a look of concentration. She scarcely seemed to breathe.
“That rider you spoke of,” Lan said quietly, “the one who made you afraid — that was surely a Myrddraal.”
“A Myrddraal!” Rand exclaimed. “But Fades are twenty feet tall and ...” The words faded away under the Warder's mirthless grin.
“Sometimes, sheepherder, stories make things larger than truth. Believe me, the truth is big enough with a Halfman. Halfman, Lurk, Fade, Shadowman; the name depends on the land you're in, but they all mean Myrddraal. Fades are Trolloc spawn, throwbacks almost to the human stock the Dreadlords used to make the Trollocs. Almost. But if the human strain is made stronger, so is the taint that twists the Trollocs. Halfmen have powers of a kind, the sort that stem from the Dark One. Only the weakest Aes Sedai would fail to be a match for a Fade, one against one, but many a good man and true has fallen to them. Since the wars that ended the Age of Legends, since the Forsaken were bound, they have been the brain that tells the Trolloc fists where to strike. In the days of the Trolloc Wars, Halfmen led the Trollocs in battle, under the Dreadlords.”
“He scared me,” Rand said faintly. “He just looked at me, and ...” He shivered.
“No need for shame, sheepherder. They scare me, too. I've seen men who have been soldiers all their lives freeze like a bird facing a snake when they confronted a Halfman. In the north, in the Borderlands along the Great Blight, there is a saying. The look of the Eyeless is fear.”
“The Eyeless?” Rand said, and Lan nodded.
“Myrddraal see like eagles, in darkness or in light, but they have no eyes. I can think of few things more dangerous than facing a Myrddraal. Moiraine Sedai and I both tried to kill the one that was here last night, and we failed every time. Halfmen have the Dark One's own luck.”
Rand swallowed. “A Trolloc said the Myrddraal wanted to talk to me: I didn't know what it meant.”
Lan's head jerked up; his eyes were blue stones. “You talked to a Trolloc?”
“Not exactly,” Rand stammered. The Warder's gaze held him like a trap. “It talked to me. It said it wouldn't hurt me, that the Myrddraal wanted to talk to me. Then it tried to kill me.” He licked his lips and rubbed his hand along the knobby leather of the sword hilt. In short, choppy sentences he explained about returning to the farmhouse. “I killed it, instead,” he finished. “By accident, really. It jumped at me, and I had the sword in my hand.”
Lan's face softened slightly, if rock could be said to soften. “Even so, that is something to speak of, sheepherder. Until last night there were few men south of the Borderlands who could say they had seen a Trolloc, much less killed one.”
“And fewer still who have slain a Trolloc alone and unaided,” Moiraine said wearily. “It is done, Rand. Lan, help me up.”
The Warder sprang to her side, but he was no quicker than Rand darting to the bed. Tam's skin was cool to the touch, though his face had a pale, washedout look, as if he had spent far too long out of the sun. His eyes were still closed, but he drew the dee