“He will be all right now?” Rand asked anxiously.
“With rest, yes,” Moiraine said. “A few weeks in bed, and he will be as good as ever.” She walked unsteadily, despite holding Lan's arm. He swept her cloak and staff from the chair cushion for her to sit, and she eased herself down with a sigh. With a slow care she rewrapped the angreal and returned it to her pouch.
Rand's shoulders shook; he bit his lip to keep from laughing. At the same time he had to scrub a hand across his eyes to clear away tears. “Thank you.”
“In the Age of Legends,” Moiraine went on, "some Aes Sedai could fan life and health to flame if only the smallest spark remained. Those days are gone, though — perhaps forever. So much was lost; not just the making of angreal . So much that could be done which we dare not even dream of, if we remember it at all. There are far fewer of us now. Some talents are all but gone, and many that remain seem weaker. Now there must be both will and strength for the body to draw on, or even the strongest of us can do nothing in the way of Healing. It is fortunate that your father is a strong man, both in body and spirit. As it is,
he used up much of his strength in the fight for life, but all that is left now
is for him to recuperate. That will take time, but the taint is gone."
“I can never repay you,” he told her without taking his eyes from Tam, “but anything I can do for you, I will. Anything at all.” He remembered the talk of prices, then, and his promise. Kneeling beside Tam he meant it even more than before, but it still was not easy to look at her. “Anything. As long as it does not hurt the village, or my friends.”
Moiraine raised a hand dismissively. “If you think it is necessary. I would like to talk with you, anyway. You will no doubt leave at the same time we do, and we can speak at length then.”
“Leave!” he exclaimed, scrambling to his feet. “Is it really that bad? Everyone looked to me as if they were ready to start rebuilding. We are pretty settled folk in the Two Rivers. Nobody ever leaves.”
“Rand — ”
“And where would we go? Padan Fain said the weather is just as bad everywhere else. He's ... he was ... the peddler. The Trollocs ...” Rand swallowed; wishing Thom Merrilin had not told him what Trollocs ate. “The best I can see to do is stay right here where we belong, in the Two Rivers, and put things back together. We have crops in the ground, and it has to warm enough for the shearing, soon. I don't know who started this talk about leaving—one of the Coplins, I'll bet — but whoever it was —”
“Sheepherder,” Lan broke in, “you talk when you should be listening.”
He blinked at both of them. He had been half babbling, he realized, and he had rambled on while she tried to talk. While an Aes Sedai tried to talk. He wondered what to say, how to apologize, but Moiraine smiled while he was still thinking.
“I understand how you feel, Rand,” she said, and he had the uncomfortable feeling that she really did. “Think no more of it.” Her mouth tightened, and she shook her head. “I have handled this badly, I see. I should have rested, first, I suppose. It is you who will be leaving, Rand. You who must leave, for the sake of your village.”
“Me?” He cleared his throat and tried again. “Me?” It sounded a little better this time. “Why do I have to go? I don't understand any of this. I don't want to go anywhere.”
Moiraine looked at Lan, and the Warder unfolded his arms.
He looked at Rand from under his leather headband, and Rand had the feeling of being weighed on invisible scales again. “Did you know,” Lan said suddenly, “that some homes were not attacked?”
“Half the village is in ashes,” he protested, but the Warder waved it away.
“Some houses were only torched to create confusion. The Trollocs ignored them afterwards, and the people who fled from them as well, unless they actually got in the way of the true attack. Most of the people who've come in from the outlying farms never saw a hair of a Trolloc, and that only at a distance. Most never knew there was any trouble until they saw the village.”
“I did hear about Darl Coplin,” Rand said slowly. “I suppose it just didn't sink in.”
“Two farms were attacked,” Lan went on. “Yours and one other. Because of Bel Tine everyone who lived at the second farm was already in the village. Many people were saved because the Myrddraal was ignorant of Two Rivers customs. Festival and Winternight made its task all but impossible, but it did not know that.”
Rand looked at Moiraine, leaning back in the chair, but she said nothing, only watched him, a finger laid across her lips. “Our farm, and who else's?” he asked finally.
“The Aybara farm,” Lan replied. “Here in Emond's Field, they struck first at the forge, and the blacksmith's house, and Master Cauthon's house.”
Rand's mouth was suddenly dry. “That's crazy,” he managed to get out, then jumped as Moiraine straightened.
“Not crazy, Rand,” she said. “Purposeful. The Trollocs did not come to Emond's Field by happenstance, and they did not do what they did for the pleasure of killing and burning, however much that delighted them. They knew what, or rather who, they were after. The Trollocs came to kill or capture young men of a certain age who live near Emond's Field.”
“My age?” Rand's voice shook, and he did not care. “Light! Mat. What about Perrin?”
“Alive and well,” Moiraine assured him, “if a trifle sooty.”
“Ban Crawe and Lem Thane?”
“Were never in any danger,” Lan said. “At least, no more than anyone else.”
“But they saw the rider, the Fade, too, and they're the same age as I am.”
“Master Crawe's house was not even damaged,” Moiraine said, “and the miller and his family slept through half the attack before the noise woke them. Ban is ten months older than you, and Lem eight months younger.” She smiled dryly at his surprise. “I told you I asked questions. And I also said young men of a certain age. You and your two friends are within weeks of one another. It was you three the Myrddraal sought, and none others.”
Rand shifted uneasily, wishing she would not look at him like that, as if her eyes could pierce his brain and read what lay in every corner of it. “What would they want with us? We're just farmers, shepherds.”
“That is a question that has no answer in the Two Rivers,” Moiraine said quietly, “but the answer is important. Trollocs where they have not been seen in almost two thousand years tells us that much.”
“Lots of stories tell about Trolloc raids,” Rand said stubbornly. “We just never had one here before. Warders fight Trollocs all the time.”
Lan snorted. “Boy, I expect to fight Trollocs along the Great Blight, but not here, nearly six hundred leagues to the south. That was as hot a raid last night as I'd expect to see in Shienar, or any of the Borderlands.”
“In one of you,” Moiraine said, “or all three, there is something the Dark One fears.”
“That ... that's impossible.” Rand stumbled to the window and stared out at the village, at the people working among the ruins. “I don't care what's happened, that is just impossible.” Something on the Green caught his eye. He stared, then realized it was the blackened stump of the Spring Pole. A fine Bel Tine, with a peddler, and a gleeman, and strangers. He shivered, and shook his head violently. “No. No, I'm a shepherd. The Dark One can't be interested in me.”
“It took a great deal of effort,” Lan said grimly, “to bring so many Trollocs so far without raising a hue and cry from the Borderlands to Caemlyn and beyond. I wish I knew how they did it. Do you really believe they went to all that bother just to burn a few houses?”
“They will be back,” Moiraine added.
Rand had his mouth open to argue with Lan, but that brought him up short. He spun to face her. “Back? Can't you stop them? You did last night, and you were surprised, then. Now you know they are here.”
“Perhaps,” Moiraine replied. “I could send to Tar Valon for some of my sisters; they might have time to make the journey before we need them. The Myrddraal knows I am here, too, and it probably will not attack — not openly, at least — lacking reinforcements, more Myrddraal and more Trollocs. With enough Aes Sedai and enough Warders, the Trollocs can be beaten off, though I cannot say how many battles it will take.”
A vision danced in his head, of Emond's Field all in ashes. All the farms burned. And Watch Hill, and Deven Ride, and Taren Ferry. All ashes and blood. “No,” he said, and felt a wrenching inside as if he had lost his grip on something. “That's why I have to leave, isn't it? The Trollocs won't come back if I am not here.” A last trace of obstinacy made him add, “If they really are after me.”
Moiraine's eyebrows raised as if she were surprised that he was not convinced, but Lan said, “Are you willing to bet your village on it, sheepherder? You