It is your destiny, a voice whispered in his head, and the whisper was a thread in the paean.

Carrying him like a twig on the crest of a wave, the crowd flowed into a huge square in the middle of the city, and for the first time he saw that the white tower rose from a great palace of pale marble, sculpted rather than built, curving walls and swelling domes and delicate spires fingering the sky. The whole of it made him gasp in awe. Broad stairs of pristine stone led up from the square, and at the foot of those stairs the people halted, but their song rose ever higher. The swelling voices buoyed his feet. Your destiny, the voice whispered, insistent now, eager.


He no longer danced, but neither did he stop. He mounted the stairs without hesitation. This was where he belonged.

Scrollwork covered the massive doors at the top of the stairs, carvings so intricate and delicate that he could not imagine a knife blade fine enough to fit. The portals swung open, and he went in. They closed behind him with an echoing crash like thunder.

“We have been waiting for you,” the Myrddraal hissed.

Rand sat bolt upright, gasping for breath and shivering, staring. Tam was still asleep on the bed. Slowly his breathing slowed. Halfconsumed logs blazed in the fireplace with a good bed of coals built up around the fire irons; someone had been there to tend it while he slept. A blanket lay at his feet, where it had fallen when he woke. The makeshift litter was gone, too, and his and Tam's cloaks had been hung by the door.

He wiped cold sweat from his face with a hand that was none too steady and wondered if naming the Dark One in a dream brought his attention the same way that naming him aloud did.

Twilight darkened the window; the moon was well up, round and fat, and evening stars sparkled above the Mountains of Mist. He had slept the day away. He rubbed a sore spot on his side. Apparently he had slept with the sword hilt jabbing him in the ribs. Between that and an empty stomach and the night before, it was no wonder he had had nightmares.

His belly rumbled, and he got up stiffly and made his way to the table where Mistress al'Vere had left the tray, He twitched aside the white napkin. Despite the time he had slept, the beef broth was still warm, and so was the crusty bread. Mistress al'Vere's hand was plain; the tray had been replaced. Once she decided you needed a hot meal, she did not give up till it was inside you.

He gulped down some broth, and it was all he could do to put some meat and cheese between two pieces of bread before stuffing it in his mouth. Taking big bites, he went back to the bed.

Mistress al'Vere had apparently seen to Tam, as well. Tam had been undressed, his clothes now clean and neatly folded on the bedside table, and a blanket was drawn up under his chin. When Rand touched his father's forehead, Tam opened his eyes.

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“There you are, boy. Marin said you were here, but I couldn't even sit up to see. She said you were too tired for her to wake just so I could look at you. Even Bran can't get around to find her when she has her mind set.”

Tam's voice was weak, but his gaze was clear and steady. The Aes Sedai was right, Rand thought. With rest he would be as good as ever.

“Can I get you something to eat? Mistress al'Vere left a tray.”

“She fed me already ... if you can call it that. Wouldn't let me have anything but broth. How can a man avoid bad dreams with nothing but broth in his ...” Tam fumbled a hand from under the cover and touched the sword at Rand's waist. “Then it wasn't a dream. When Marin told me I was sick, I thought I had been ... But you're all right. That is all that matters. What of the farm?”

Rand took a deep breath. “The Trollocs killed the sheep. I think they took the cow, too, and the house needs a good cleaning.” He managed a weak smile. “We were luckier than some. They burned half the village.”

He told Tam everything that had happened, or at least most of it. Tam listened closely, and asked sharp questions, so he found himself having to tell about returning to the farmhouse from the woods, and that brought in the Trolloc he had killed. He had to tell how Nynaeve had said Tam was dying to explain why the Aes Sedai had tended him instead of the Wisdom. Tam's eyes widened at that, an Aes Sedai in Emond's Field. But Rand could see no need to go over every step of the journey from the farm, or his fears, or the Myrddraal on the road. Certainly not his nightmares as he slept by the bed. Especially he saw no reason to mention Tam's ramblings under the fever. Not yet. Moraine's story, though: there was no avoiding that.

“Now that's a tale to make a gleeman proud,” Tam muttered when he was done. “What would Trollocs want with you boys? Or the Dark One, Light help us?”

“You think she was lying? Master al'Vere said she was telling the truth about only two farms being attacked. And about Master Luhhan's house, and Master Cauthon's.”

For a moment Tam lay silent before saying, “Tell me what she said. Her exact words, mind, just as she said them.”

Rand struggled. Who ever remembered the exact words they heard? He chewed at his lip and scratched his head, and bit by bit he brought it out, as nearly as he could remember. “I can't think of anything else,” he finished. “Some of it I'm not too sure she didn't say a little differently, but it's close, anyway.”

“It's good enough. It has to be, doesn't it? You see, lad, Aes Sedai are tricksome. They don't lie, not right out, but the truth an Aes Sedai tells you is not always the truth you think it is. You take care around her.”

“I've heard the stories,” Rand retorted. “I'm not a child.”

“So you're not, so you're not.” Tam sighed heavily, then shrugged in annoyance. “I should be going along with you, just the same. The world outside the Two Rivers is nothing like Emond's Field.”

That was an opening to ask about Tam going outside and all the rest of it, but Rand did not take it. His mouth fell open, instead. “Just like that? I thought you would try to talk me out of it. I thought you'd have a hundred reasons I should not go.” He realized he had been hoping Tam would have a hundred reasons, and good ones.

“Maybe not a hundred,” Tam said with a snort, “but a few did come to mind. Only they don't count for much. If Trollocs are after you, you will be safer in Tar Valon than you could ever be here. Just remember to be wary. Aes Sedai do things for their own reasons, and those are not always the reasons you think.”

“The gleeman said something like that,” Rand said slowly.

“Then he knows what he's talking about. You listen sharp, think deep, and guard your tongue. That's good advice for any dealings beyond the Two Rivers, but most especially with Aes Sedai. And with Warders. Tell Lan something, and you've as good as told Moiraine. If he's a Warder, then he's bonded to her as sure as the sun rose this morning, and he won't keep many secrets from her, if any.”

Rand knew little about the bonding between Aes Sedai and Warders, though it played a big part in every story about Warders he had ever heard. It was something to do with the Power, a gift to the Warder, or maybe some sort of exchange. The Warders go all sorts of benefits according to the stories. They healed more quickly than other men, and could go longer without food or water or sleep. Supposedly they could sense Trollocs, if they were close enough, and other creatures of the Dark One, too, which explained how Lan and Moiraine had tried to warn the village before the attack. As to what the Aes Sedai got out of it, the stories were silent, but he was not about to believe they did not get something.

“I'll be careful,” Rand said. “I just wish I knew why. It doesn't make any sense. Why me? Why us?”

“I wish I knew, too, boy. Blood and ashes, I wish I knew.” Tam sighed heavily. “Well, no use trying to put a broken egg back in the shell, I suppose. How soon do you have to go? I'll be back on my feet in a day or two, and we can see about starting a new flock. Oren Dautry has some good stock he might be willing to part with, with the pastures all gone, and so does Jon Thane.”

“Moiraine ... the Aes Sedai said you had to stay in bed. She said weeks.” Tam opened his mouth, but Rand went on. “ And she talked to Mistress al'Vere.”

“Oh. Well, maybe I can talk Marin around.” Tam did not sound hopeful of it, though. He gave Rand a sharp look. “The way you avoided answering means you have to leave soon. Tomorrow? Or tonight?”

“Tonight,” Rand said quietly, and Tam nodded sadly.

“Yes. Well, if it must be done, best not to delay. But we will see about this 'weeks' business.” He plucked at his blankets with more irritation than strength. “Perhaps I'll follow in a few days anyway. Catch you up on the road. We will see if Marin can keep me in bed when I want to get up.”

There was a tap at the door, and Lan stuck his head into the room. “Say your goodbyes quickly, sheepherder, and come. There may be trouble.”

“Trouble?” Rand said, and the Warder growled at him impatiently.

“Just hurry!”

Hastily Rand snatched up his cloak. He started to undo the sword belt, but Tam spoke up.

“Keep it. You will probably have more need of it than I, though, the Light willing, neither of us will. Take c

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