enough of any of those. The whole first day Rand saw no evidence aside from the road that men had ever been in the woods. It came to him that even when he had gone to the foot of the Mountains of Mist he might not have been as far from a human habitation as he was that day.

The first farm he saw — a large frame house and tan barn with highpeaked, thatched roofs, a curl of smoke rising from a stone chimney—was a shock.


“It's no different from back home,” Perrin said, frowning at the distant buildings, barely visible through the trees. People moved around the farmyard, as yet unaware of the travelers.

“Of course it is,” Mat said. “We're just not close enough to see.”

“I tell you, it's no different,” Perrin insisted.

“It must be. We're north of the Taren, after all.”

“Quiet, you two,” Lan growled. “We don't want to be seen, remember? This way.” He turned west, to circle the farm through the trees.

Looking back, Rand thought Perrin was right. The farm looked much the same as any around Emond's Field. There was a small boy toting water from the well, and older boys tending sheep behind a rail fence. It even had a curing shed, for tabac. But Mat was right, too. We're north of the Taren. It must be different.

Always they halted while light still clung to the sky, to choose a spot sloped for drainage and sheltered from the wind that seldom died completely, only changed direction. Their fire was always small and hidden from only a few yards off, and once tea was brewed, the flames were doused and the coals buried.

At their first stop, before the sun sank, Lan began teaching the boys what to do with the weapons they carried. He started with the bow. After watching Mat put three arrows into a knot the size of a man's head, on the fissured trunk of a dead leatherleaf, at a hundred paces, he told the others to take their turns. Perrin duplicated Mat's feat, and Rand, summoning the flame and the void, the empty calm that let the bow become a part of him, or him of it, clustered his three where the points almost touched one another. Mat gave him a congratulatory clap on the shoulder.

“Now if you all had bows,” the Warder said dryly when they started grinning, “and if the Trollocs agreed not to come so close you couldn't use them ...” The grins faded abruptly. “Let me see what I can teach you in case they do come that close.”

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He showed Perrin a bit of how to use that greatbladed axe; raising an axe to someone, or something, that had a weapon was not at all like chopping wood or flailing around in pretend. Setting the big apprentice blacksmith to a series of exercises, block, parry, and strike, he did the same for Rand and his sword. Not the wild leaping about and slashing that Rand had in mind whenever he thought about using it, but smooth motions, one flowing into another, almost a dance.

“Moving the blade is not enough,” Lan said, “though some think it is. The mind is part of it, most of it. Blank your mind, sheepherder. Empty it of hate or fear, of everything. Burn them away. You others listen to this, too. You can use it with the axe or the bow, with a spear, or a quarterstaff, or even your bare hands.”

Rand stared at him. “The flame and the void,” he said wonderingly. “That's what you mean, isn't it? My father taught me about that.”

The Warder gave him an unreadable look in return. “Hold the sword as I showed you, sheepherder. I cannot make a mudfooted villager into a blademaster in an hour, but perhaps I can keep you from slicing off your own foot.”

Rand sighed and held the sword upright before him in both hands. Moiraine watched without expression, but the next evening she told Lan to continue the lessons.

The meal at evening was always the same as at midday and breakfast, flatbread and cheese and dried meat, except that evenings they had hot tea to wash it down instead of water. Thom entertained them, evenings. Lan would not let the gleeman play harp or flute — no need to rouse the countryside, the Warder said — but Thom juggled and told stories. “Mara and the Three Foolish Kings,” or one of the hundreds about Anla the Wise Counselor, or something filled with glory and adventure, like The Great Hunt of the Horn, but always with a happy ending and a joyous homecoming.

Yet if the land was peaceful around them, if no Trollocs appeared among the trees, no Draghkar among the clouds, it seemed to Rand that they managed to raise their tension themselves, whenever it was in danger of vanishing.

There was the morning that Egwene awoke and began unbraiding her hair. Rand watched her from the comer of his eye as he made up his blanketroll. Every night when the fire was doused, everyone took to their blankets except for Egwene and the Aes Sedai. The two women always went aside from the others and talked for an hour or two, returning when the others were asleep. Egwene combed her hair out—one hundred strokes; he counted—while he was saddling Cloud, tying his saddlebags and blanket behind the saddle. Then she tucked the comb away, swept her loose hair over her shoulder, and pulled up the hood of her cloak.

Startled, he asked, “What are you doing?” She gave him a sidelong look without answering. It was the first time he had spoken to her in two days, he realized, since the night in the log shelter on the bank of the Taren, but he did not let that stop him. “All your life you've waited to wear your hair in a braid, and now you're giving it up? Why? Because she doesn't braid hers?”

“Aes Sedai don't braid their hair,” she said simply. “At least, not unless they want to.”

“You aren't an Aes Sedai. You're Egwene al'Vere from Emond's Field, and the Women's Circle would have a fit if they could see you now.”

“Women's Circle business is none of yours, Rand al'Thor. And I will be an Aes Sedai. Just as soon as I reach Tar Valon.”

He snorted. “As soon as you reach Tar Valon. Why? Light, tell me that. You're no Darkfriend.”

“Do you think Moiraine Sedai is a Darkfriend? Do you?” She squared around to face him with her fists clenched, and he almost thought she was going to hit him. “ After she saved the village? After she saved your father?”

“I don't know what she is, but whatever she is, it doesn't say anything about the rest of them. The stories —”

“Grow up, Rand! Forget the stories and use your eyes.”

“My eyes saw her sink the ferry! Deny that! Once you get an idea in your head, you won't budge even if somebody points out you're trying to stand on water. If you weren't such a Light blinded fool, you'd see — !”

“Fool, am I? Let me tell you a thing or two, Rand al'Thor! You are the muliest, most woolheaded — !”

“You two trying to wake everybody inside ten miles?” the Warder asked.

Standing there with his mouth open, trying to get a word in edgewise, Rand suddenly realized he had been shouting. They both had.

Egwene's face went scarlet to her eyebrows, and she spun away with a muttered, “Men!” that seemed as much for the Warder as for him.

Warily, Rand looked around the camp. Everybody was looking at him, not just the Warder. Mat and Perrin, with their faces white. Thom, tensed as if ready to run or fight. Moiraine. The Aes Sedai's face was expressionless, but her eyes seemed to bore into his head. Desperately, he tried to recall exactly what he had said, about Aes Sedai and Darkfriends.

“It is time to be going,” Moiraine said. She turned to Aldieb, and Rand shivered as if he had been let out of a trap. He wondered if he had been.

Two nights later, with the fire burning low, Mat licked the last crumbs of cheese from his fingers and said, “You know, I think we've lost them for good.” Lan was off in the night, taking a last look around, Moiraine and Egwene had gone aside for one of their conversations. Thom was half dozing over his pipe, and the young men had the fire to themselves.

Perrin, idly poking the embers with a stick, answered. “If we've lost them, why does Lan keep scouting?” Nearly asleep, Rand rolled over, his back to the fire.

“We lost them back at Taren Ferry.” Mat lay back with his fingers laced behind his head, staring at the moonfilled sky. “If they were even really after us.”

“You think that Draghkar was chasing us because it liked us?” Perrin asked.

“I say, stop worrying about Trollocs and such,” Mat went on as if Perrin had not spoken, “and start thinking about seeing the world. We're out where the stories come from. What do you think a real city is like?”

“We're going to Baerlon,” Rand said sleepily, but Mat snorted.

“Baerlon's all very well, but I've seen that old map Master al'Vere has. If we turn south once we reach Caemlyn, the road leads all the way to Illian, and beyond.”

“What's so special about Illian?” Perrin said, yawning.

“For one thing,” Mat replied, “Illian isn't full of Aes Se —”

A silence fell, and Rand was suddenly wide awake. Moiraine had come back early. Egwene was with her, but it was the Aes Sedai, standing at the edge of the firelight, who held their attention. Mat lay there on his back, his mouth still open, staring at her. Moiraine's eyes caught the light like dark, polished stones. Abruptly Rand wondered how long sh

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