“So that's a city,” Mat breathed, leaning forward across his horse's neck to stare.

Perrin could only shake his head. “How can so many people live in one place?”


Egwene simply stared.

Thom Merrilin glanced at Mat, then rolled his eyes and blew out his moustaches. “City!” he snorted.

“And you, Rand?” Moiraine said. “What do you think of your first sight of Baerlon?”

“I think it's a long way from home,” he said slowly, bringing a sharp laugh from Mat.

“You have further to go yet,” Moiraine said. “Much further. But there is no other choice, except to run and hide and run again for the rest of your lives. And short lives they would be. You must remember that, when the journey becomes hard. You have no choice.”

Rand exchanged glances with Mat and Perrin. By their faces, they were thinking the same thing he was. How could she talk as if they had any choice after what she had said? The Aes Sedai's made our choices.

Moiraine went on as if their thoughts were not plain. “The danger begins again here. Watch what you say within those walls. Above all, do not mention Trollocs, or Halfmen, or any such. You must not even think of the Dark One. Some in Baerlon have even less love for Aes Sedai than do the people of Emond's Field, and there may even be Darkfriends.” Egwene gasped, and Perrin muttered under his breath. Mat's face paled, but Moiraine went on calmly. “We must attract as little attention as possible.” Lan was exchanging his cloak of shifting grays and greens for one of dark brown, more ordinary, though of fine cut and weave. His colorchanging cloak made a large bulge in one of his saddlebags. “We do not go by our own names here,” Moiraine continued. “Here I am known as Alys, and Lan is Andra. Remember that. Good. Let us be within the walls before night catches us. The gates of Baerlon are closed from sundown to sunrise.”

Lan led the way down the hill and through the woods toward the log wall. The road passed half a dozen farms—none lay close, and none of the people finishing their chores seemed to notice the travelers—ending at heavy wooden gates bound with wide straps of black iron. They were closed tight, even if the sun was not down yet.

Lan rode close to the wall and gave a tug to a frayed rope hanging down beside the gates. A bell clanged on the other side of the wall. Abruptly a wizened face under a battered cloth cap peered down suspiciously from atop the wall, glaring between the cutoff ends of two of the logs, a good three spans over their heads.

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“What's all this, eh? It's too late in the day to be opening this gate. Too late, I say. Go around to the Whitebridge Gate if you want to — ” Moiraine's mare moved out to where the man atop the wall had a clear view of her. Suddenly his wrinkles deepened in a gaptoothed smile, and he seemed to quiver between speaking and doing his duty. “I didn't know it was you, mistress. Wait. I'll be right down. Just wait. I'm coming. I'm coming.”

The head dipped out of sight, but Rand could still hear muffled shouts for them to stay where they were, that he was coming. With great creaks of disuse, the righthand gate slowly swung outward. It stopped when open just wide enough for one horse to pass through at a time, and the gatekeeper poked his head into the gap, flashed his halftoothless smile at them again and darted back out of the way. Moiraine followed Lan through, with Egwene right behind her.

Rand trotted Cloud after Bela and found himself in a narrow street fronted by high wooden fences and warehouses, tall and windowless, broad doors closed up tight. Moiraine and Lan were already on foot, speaking to the wrinklefaced gatekeeper, so Rand dismounted, too.

The little man, in a muchmended cloak and coat, held his cloth cap crumpled in one hand and ducked his head whenever he spoke. He peered at those dismounting behind Lan and Moiraine, and shook his head. “Downcountry folk.” He grinned. “Why, Mistress Alys, you taken up collecting downcountry folk with hay in their hair?” His look took in Thom Merrilin, then. “You ain't a sheepfarmer. I remember letting you go through some days back, I do. Didn't like your tricks downcountry, eh, gleeman?”

“I hope you remembered to forget letting us through, Master Avin,” Lan said, pressing a coin into the man's free hand. “And letting us back in, too.”

“No need for that, Master Andra. No need for that. You give me plenty when you went out. Plenty.” Just the same, Avin made the coin disappear as deftly as if he were a gleeman, too. “I ain't told nobody, and I won't, neither. Especially not them Whitecloaks,” he finished with a scowl. He pursed up his lips to spit, then glanced at Moiraine and swallowed, instead.

Rand blinked, but kept his mouth shut. The others did, too, though it appeared to be an effort for Mat. Children of the Light, Rand thought wonderingly. Stories told about the Children by peddlers and merchants and merchants' guards varied from admiration to hatred, but all agreed the Children hated Aes Sedai as much as they did Darkfriends. He wondered if this was more trouble already.

“The Children are in Baerlon?” Lan demanded.

“They surely are.” The gatekeeper bobbed his head. “Came the same day you left, as I recall. Ain't nobody here likes them at all. Most don't let on, of course.”

“Have they said why they are here?” Moiraine asked intently.

“Why they're here, mistress?” Avin was so astonished he forgot to duck his head. “Of course, they said why — Oh, I forgot. You been downcountry. Likely you ain't heard nothing but sheep bleating. They say they're here because of what's going on down in Ghealdan. The Dragon, you know — well, him as calls himself Dragon. They say the fellow's stirring up evil — which I expect he is — and they're here to stamp it out, only he's down there in Ghealdan, not here. Just an excuse to meddle in other people's business, is what I figure. There's already been the Dragon's Fang on some people's doors.” This time he did spit.

“Have they caused much trouble, then?” Lan said, and Avin shook his head vigorously.

“Not that they don't want to, I expect, only the Governor don't trust them no more than I do. He won't let but maybe ten or so inside the walls at one time, and ain't they mad about that. The rest have a camp a little ways north, I hear. Bet they got the farmers looking over their shoulders. The ones that do come in, they just stalk around in those white cloaks, looking down their noses at honest folk. Walk in the Light, they say, and it's an order. Near come to blows more than once with the wagoneers and miners and smelters and all, and even the Watch, but the Governor wants it all peaceful, and that's how it's been so far. If they're hunting evil, I say why aren't they up in Saldaea? There's some kind of trouble up there, I hear. Or down in Ghealdan? There's been a big battle down there, they say. Real big.”

Moiraine drew a soft breath. “I had heard that Aes Sedai were going to Ghealdan. ”

“Yes, they did, mistress.” Avin's head started bobbing again. “They went to Ghealdan, all right, and that's what started this battle, or so I hear. They say some of those Aes Sedai are dead. Maybe all of them. I know some folks don't hold with Aes Sedai, but I say, who else is going to stop a false Dragon? Eh? And those damned fools who think they can be men Aes Sedai or some such. What about them? Course, some say — not the Whitecloaks, mind, and not me, but some folks — that maybe this fellow really is the Dragon Reborn. He can do things, I hear. Use the One Power. There's thousands following him.”

“Don't be a fool,” Lan snapped, and Avin's face folded into a hurt look.

“I'm only saying what I heard, ain't I? Just what I heard, Master Andra. They say, some do, that he's moving his army east and south, toward Tear.” His voice became heavy with meaning. “They say he's named them the People of the Dragon.”

“Names mean little,” Moiraine said calmly. If anything she had heard disturbed her, she gave no outward sign of it now. “You could call your mule People of the Dragon, if you wanted.”

“Not likely, mistress.” Avin chuckled. “Not with the Whitecloaks around, for sure. I don't expect anybody else would look kindly on a name like that, neither. I see what you mean, but ... oh, no, mistress. Not my mule.”

“No doubt a wise decision,” Moiraine said. “Now we must be off.”

“And don't you worry, mistress,” Avin said, with a deep bob of his head, “I ain't seen nobody.” He darted to the gate and began tugging it closed with quick jerks. “Ain't seen nobody, and ain't seen nothing.” The gate thudded shut, and he pulled down the locking bar with a rope. “In fact, mistress, this gate ain't been open in days.”

“The Light illumine you, Avin,” Moiraine said.

She led them away from the gate, then. Rand looked back, once, and Avin was still standing in front of the gate. He seemed to be polishing a coin with an edge of his cloak and chuckling.

The way led through dirt streets barely the width of two wagons, empty of people, all lined with warehouses and occasional high, wooden fences. Rand walked a time beside the gleeman. “Thom, what was all that about Tear, and the People of the Dragon? Tear is a city all the way down on the Sea of St

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