Rand exchanged shaky smiles with his friends, trying hard to look as if he really was eager to be off.

For the first time Mat noticed the sword at Rand's waist, and pointed to it. “You becoming a Warder?” He laughed, then swallowed it with a quick glance at Lan. The Warder apparently took no notice. “Or at least a merchant's guard,” Mat went on with a grin that seemed only a little forced. He hefted his bow. “An honest man's weapon isn't good enough for him.”


Rand thought about flourishing the sword; but Lan being there stopped him. The Warder was not even looking in his direction, but he was sure the man was aware of everything that went on around him. Instead he said with exaggerated casualness, “It might be useful,” as if wearing a sword were nothing out of the ordinary.

Perrin moved, trying to hide something under his cloak. Rand glimpsed a wide leather belt encircling the apprentice blacksmith's waist, with the handle of an axe thrust through a loop on the belt.

“What do you have there?” he asked.

“Merchant's guard, indeed,” Mat hooted.

The shaggyhaired youth gave Mat a frown that suggested he had already had more than his fair share of joking, then sighed heavily and tossed back his cloak to uncover the axe. It was no comrnon woodsman's tool. A broad halfmoon blade on one side of the head and a curved spike on the other made it every bit as strange for the Two Rivers as Rand's sword. Perrin's hand rested on it with a sense of familiarity, though.

“Master Luhhan made it about two years ago, for a woolbuyer's guard. But when it was done the fellow wouldn't pay what he had agreed, and Master Luhhan would not take less. He gave it to me when” — he cleared his throat, then shot Rand the same warning frown he'd given Mat —“when he found me practicing with it. He said I might as well have it since he couldn't make anything useful from it.”

“Practicing,” Mat snickered, but held up his hands soothingly when Perrin raised his head. “As you say. It's just as well one of us knows how to use a real weapon”

“That bow is a real weapon,” Lan said suddenly. He dropped an arm across the saddle of his tall black and regarded hem gravely. “So are the slings I've seen you village boys with. Just because you never used them for anything but hunting rabbits or chasing a wolf away from the sheep makes no difference. Anything can be a weapon, if the man or woman who holds it has the nerve and will to make it so. Trollocs aside, you had better have that clear in your minds before we leave the Two Rivers, before we leave Emond's Field, if you want to reach Tar Valon alive.”

His face and voice, cold as death and hard as a roughhewn gravestone, stifled their smiles and their tongues. Perrin grimaced and pulled his cloak back over the axe. Mat stared at his feet and stirred the straw on the stable floor with his toe. The Warder grunted and went back to his checking, and the silence lengthened.

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“It isn't much like the stories,” Mat said, finally.

“I don't know,” Perrin said sourly. “Trollocs, a Warder, an Aes Sedai. What more could you ask?”

“Aes Sedai,” Mat whispered, sounding as if he were suddenly cold.

“Do you believe her, Rand?” Perrin asked. “I mean, what would Trollocs want with us?”

As one, they glanced at the Warder. Lan appeared absorbed in the white mare's saddle girth, but the three of them moved back toward the stable door, away from Lan. Even so, they huddled together and spoke softly.

Rand shook his head. “I don't know, but she had it right about our farms being the only ones attacked. And they attacked Master Luhhan's house and the forge first, here in the village. I asked the Mayor. It's as easy to believe they are after us as anything else I can think of. ” Suddenly he realized they were both staring at him.

“You asked the Mayor?” Mat said incredulously. “She said not to tell anybody. ”

“I didn't tell him why I was asking,” Rand protested. “Do you mean you didn't talk to anybody at all? You didn't let anybody know you're going?”

Perrin shrugged defensively. “Moiraine Sedai said not anybody.”

“We left notes,” Mat said. “For our families. They'll find them in the morning. Rand, my mother thinks Tar Valon is the next thing to Shayol Ghul.” He gave a little laugh to show he did not share her opinion. It was not very convincing. “She'd try to lock me in the cellar if she believed I was even thinking of going there.”

“Master Luhhan is stubborn as stone,” Perrin added, “and Mistress Luhhan is worse. If you'd seen her digging through what's left of the house, saying she hoped the Trollocs did come back so she could get her hands on them ...”

“Burn me, Rand,” Mat said, “I know she's an Aes Sedai and all, but the Trollocs were really here. She said not to tell anybody. If an Aes Sedai doesn't know what to do about some thing like this, who does?”

“I don't know.” Rand rubbed at his forehead. His head hurt; He could not get that dream out of his mind. “My father believes her. At least, he agreed that we had to go.”

Suddenly Moiraine was in the doorway. “You talked to your rather about this journey?” She was clothed in dark gray from lead to foot, with a skirt divided for riding astride, and the serpent ring was the only gold she wore now.

Rand eyed her walking staff; despite the flames he had seen, here was no sign of charring, or even soot. “I couldn't go off without letting him know. ”She eyed him for a moment with pursed lips before turning to the others. “And did you also decide that a note was not enough?” Mat and Perrin talked on top of each other, assuring her they had only left notes, the way she had said. Nodding, she waved them to silence, and gave Rand a sharp look. “What s done is already woven in the Pattern. Lan?”

“The horses are ready,” the Warder said, “and we have enough provisions to reach Baerlon with some to spare. We can leave at any time. I suggest now. ”

“Not without me.” Egwene slipped into the stable, a shawl wrapped bundle in her arms. Rand nearly fell over his own feet.

Lan's sword had come half out of its sheath; when he saw who it was he shoved the blade back, his eyes suddenly flat. Perrin and Mat began babbling to convince Moiraine they had not told Egwene about leaving. The Aes Sedai ignored them; she simply looked at Egwene, tapping her lips thoughtfully with her finger.

The hood of Egwene's dark brown cloak was pulled up, but not enough to hide the defiant way she faced Moiraine. “I have everything I need here. Including food. And I will not be left behind. I'll probably never get another chance to see the world outside the Two Rivers.”

“This isn't a picnic trip into the Waterwood, Egwene,” Mat growled. He stepped back when she looked at him from under lowered brows.

“Thank you, Mat. I wouldn't have known. If you think you three are the only ones who want to see what's outside? I've dreamed about it as long as you have, and I don't intend to miss this chance.”

“How did you find out we were leaving?” Rand demanded. “Anyway, you can't go with us. We aren't leaving for the fun of it. The Trollocs are after us.” She gave him a tolerant look, and he flushed and stiffened indignantly.

“First,” she told him patiently, “I saw Mat creeping about, trying hard not to be noticed. Then I saw Perrin attempting to hide that absurd great axe under his cloak. I knew Lan had bought a horse, and it suddenly occurred to me to wonder why he needed another. And if he could buy one, he could buy others. Putting that with Mat and Perrin sneaking about like bull calves pretending to be foxes ... well, I could see only one answer. I don't know if I'm surprised or not to find you here, Rand, after an your talk about daydreams. With Mat and Perrin involved, I suppose I should have known you would be in it, too.”

“I have to go, Egwene,” Rand said. “ All of us do, or the Trollocs will come back.”

“The Trollocs!” Egwene laughed incredulously. “Rand, if you've decided to see some of the world, well and good, but please spare me any of your nonsensical tales.”

“It's true,” Perrin said as Mat began, “The Trollocs —”

“Enough,” Moiraine said quietly, but it cut their talk as sharply as a knife. “Did anyone else notice all of this?” Her voice was soft, but Egwene swallowed and drew herself up before answering.

“After last night, all they can think about is rebuilding, that and what to do if it happens again. They couldn't see anything else unless it was pushed under their noses. And I told no one what I suspected. No one. ”

“Very well,” Moiraine said after a moment. “You may come with us.”

A startled expression darted across Lan's face. It was gone in an instant, leaving him outwardly calm, but furious words erupted from him. “No, Moiraine!”

“It is part of the Pattern, now, Lan.”

“It is ridiculous!” he retorted. “There's no reason for her to come along, and every rea

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