Abruptly he seemed to realize that this was hardly the conversation to settle his guests to a comfortable meal. “How I do run on. Full of old wind, that's me. Old wind. Mari, Cinda, let these good people eat in peace.” He made shooing gestures at the women and, as they scurried from the room, swung back to bow to Moiraine yet again. “I hope you enjoy your meal, Mistress Alys. If there's anything else you need, just speak it, and I will fetch it. Just you speak it. It is a pleasure serving you and Master Andra. A pleasure.” He gave one more deep bow and was gone, closing the door softly behind him.
Lan had slouched against the wall through all of this as if half asleep. Now he leaped up and was at the door in two long strides. Pressing an ear to a door panel, he listened intently for a slow count of thirty, then snatched open the door and stuck his head into the hall. “They're gone,” he said at last, closing the door. “We can talk safely.”
“I know you say not to trust anyone,” Egwene said, “but if you suspect the innkeeper, why stay here?”
“I suspect him no more than anyone else,” Lan replied. “But then, until we reach Tar Valon, I suspect everyone. There, I'll suspect only half.”
Rand started to smile, thinking the Warder was making a joke. Then he realized there was not a trace of humor on Lan's face. He really would suspect people in Tar Valon. Was anywhere safe?
“He exaggerates,” Moiraine told them soothingly. “Master Fitch is a good man, honest and trustworthy. But he does like to talk, and with the best will in the world he might let something slip to the wrong ear. And I have never yet stopped at an inn where half the maids did not listen at doors and spend more time gossiping than making beds. Come, let us be seated before our meal gets cold.”
They took places around the table, with Moiraine at the head and Lan at the foot, and for a while everyone was too busy filling their plates for talk. It might not have been a feast, but after close to a week of flatbread and dried meat, it tasted like one.
After a time, Moiraine asked, “What did you learn in the common room?” Knives and forks stilled, suspended in midair, and all eyes turned to the Warder.
“Little that's good,” Lan replied. “Avin was right, at least as far as talk has it. There was a battle in Ghealdan, and Logain was the victor. A dozen different stories are floating about, but they all agree on that.”
Logain? That must be the false Dragon. It was the first time Rand had heard a name put to the man. Lan sounded almost as if he knew him.
“The Aes Sedai?” Moiraine asked quietly, and Lan shook his head.
“I don't know. Some say they were all killed, some say none.” He snorted. “Some even say they went over to Logain. There's nothing reliable, and I did not care to show too much interest. ”
“Yes,” Moiraine said. “Little that is good.” With a deep breath she brought her attention back to the table. “And what of our own circumstances?”
“There, the news is better. No odd happenings, no strangers around who might be Myrddraal, certainly no Trollocs. And the Whitecloaks are busy trying to make trouble for Governor Adan because he won't cooperate with them. They will not even notice us unless we advertise ourselves.”
“Good,” Moiraine said. “That agrees with what the bath maid said. Gossip does have its points. Now,” she addressed the entire company, “we have a long journey still ahead of us, but the last week has not been easy, either, so I propose to remain here tonight and tomorrow night, and leave early the following morning.” All the younger folk grinned; a city for the first time. Moiraine smiled, but she still said, “What does Master Andra say to that?”
Lan eyed the grinning faces flatly. “Well enough, if they remember what I've told them for a change.”
Thom snorted through his mustaches. “These country folk loose in a ... a city.” He snorted again and shook his head.
With the crowding at the inn there were only three rooms to be had, one for Moiraine and Egwene, and two to take the men. Rand found himself sharing with Lan and Thom, on the fourth floor at the back, close up under the overhanging eaves, with a single small window that overlooked the stableyard. Full night had fallen, and light from the inn made a pool outside. It was a small room to begin, and an extra bed set up for Thom made it smaller, though all three were narrow. And hard, Rand found when he threw himself down on his. Definitely not the best room.
Thom stayed only long enough to uncase his flute and harp, then left already practicing grand poses. Lan went with him.
It was strange, Rand thought as he shifted uncomfortably on the bed. A week ago he would have been downstairs like a falling rock for just the chance he might see a gleeman perform, for just the rumor of it. But he had heard Thom tell his stories every night for a week, and Thorn would be there tomorrow night, and the next, and the hot bath had loosened kinks in muscles that he had thought would be there forever, and his first hot meal in a week oozed lethargy into him. Sleepily he wondered if Lan really did know the false Dragon, Logain. A muffled shout came from belowstairs, the common room greeting Thom's arrival, but Rand was already asleep.
The stone hallway was dim and shadowy, and empty except for Rand. He could not tell where the light came from, what little there was of it; the gray walls were bare of candles or lamps, nothing at all to account for the faint glow that seemed to just be there. The air was still and dank, and somewhere in the distance water dripped with a steady, hollow plonk. Wherever this was, it was not the inn. Frowning, he rubbed at his forehead. Inn? His head hurt, and thoughts were hard to hold on to. There had been something about ... an inn? It was gone, whatever it was.
He licked his lips and wished he had something to drink. He was awfully thirsty, dryasdust thirsty. It was the dripping sound that decided him. With nothing to choose by except his thirst, he started toward that steady plonk—plonk—plonk.
The hallway stretched on, without any crossing corridor and without the slightest change in appearance. The only features at all were the rough doors set at regular intervals in pairs, one on either side of the hall, the wood splintered and dry despite the damp in the air. The shadows receded ahead of him, staying the same, and the dripping never came any closer. After a long time he decided to try one of those doors. It opened easily, and he stepped through into a grim, stonewalled chamber.
One wall opened in a series of arches onto a gray stone balcony, and beyond that was a sky such as he had never seen. Striated clouds in blacks and grays, reds and oranges, streamed by as if storm winds drove them, weaving and interweaving endlessly. No one could ever have seen a sky like that; it could not exist.
He pulled his eyes away from the balcony, but the rest of the room was no better. Odd curves and peculiar angles, as if the chamber had been melted almost haphazardly out of the stone, and columns that seemed to grow out of the gray floor. Flames roared on the hearth like a forgefire with the bellows pumping, but gave no heat. Strange oval stones made the fireplace; they just looked like stones, wetslick despite the fire, when he looked straight at them, but when he glimpsed them from the corner of his eye they seemed to be faces instead, the faces of men and women writhing in anguish, screaming silently. The highbacked chairs and the polished table in the middle of the room were perfectly ordinary, but that in itself emphasized the rest. A single mirror hung on the wall, but that was not ordinary at all. When he looked at it he saw only a blur where his reflection should have been. Everything else in the room was shown true, but not him.
A man stood in front of the fireplace. He had not noticed the man when he first came in. If he had not known it was impossible, he would have said no one had been there until he actually looked at the man. Dressed in dark clothes of a fine cut, he seemed in the prime of his maturity, and Rand supposed women would have found him goodlooking.
“Once more we meet facetoface,” the man said and, just for an instant, his mouth and eyes became openings into endless caverns of flame.
With a yell Rand hurled himself backwards out of the room, so hard that he stumbled across the hall and banged into the door there, knocking it open. He twisted and grabbed at the doorhandle to keep from falling to the floor and found himself staring wideeyed into a stone room with an impossible sky through the arches leading to a balcony, and a fireplace...
“You cannot get away from me that easily,” the man said.
Rand twisted, scrambling back out of the room, trying to regain his feet without slowing down. This time there was no corridor. He froze half crouched not far from the polished table, and looked at the man by the fireplace. It was better than looking at the fireplace stones, or at the sky.
“This is a dream,” he said as he straightened. Behind him he heard the click of the door closing. “It's some kind of nightmare.” He shut his eyes, thinking about waking up. When he was a child the Wisdom had said if you could do that in a nightmare, it would go away. The ... Wisdom? What? If only his thoughts would stop sliding away. If only his head would stop hurting, then he could think straight.
He opened his eyes again. The room was still as it had been, the balcony, the sky.