“What about me?”
Her grin stopped just short of outright laughter. “The same kind of things as the rest. A sword that isn't a sword, a golden crown of laurel leaves, a beggar's staff, you pouring water on sand, a bloody hand and a whitehot iron, three women standing over a funeral bier with you on it, black rock wet with blood —”
“All right,” he broke in uneasily. “You don't have to list it all.”
“Most of all, I see lightning around you, some striking at you, some coming out of you. I don't know what any of it means, except for one thing. You and I will meet again.” She gave him a quizzical look, as if she did not understand that either.
“Why shouldn't we?” he said. “I'll be coming back this way on my way home.”
“I suppose you will, at that.” Suddenly her grin was back, wry and mysterious, and she patted his cheek. “But if I told you everything I saw, you'd be as curlyhaired as your friend with the shoulders.”
He jerked back from her hand as if it were redhot. “What do you mean? Do you see anything about rats? Or dreams?”
“Rats! No, no rats. As for dreams, maybe it's your idea of a dream, but I never thought it was mine. ”
He wondered if she was crazy, grinning like that. “I have to go,” he said, edging around her. “I ... I have to meet my friends.”
“Go, then. But you won't escape.”
He didn't exactly break into a run, but every step he took was quicker than the step before.
“Run, if you want,” she called after him. “You can't escape from me.”
Her laughter sped him across the stableyard and out into the street, into the hubbub of people. Her last words were too close to what Ba'alzamon had said. He blundered into people as he hurried through the crowd, earning hard looks and hard words, but he did not slow down until he was several streets away from the inn.
After a time he began to pay attention again to where he was. His head felt like a balloon, but he stared and enjoyed anyway. He thought Baerlon was a grand city, if not exactly in the same way as cities in Thom's stories. He wandered up broad streets, most paved with flagstone, and down narrow, twisting lanes, wherever chance and the shifting of the crowd took him. It had rained during the night, and the streets that were unpaved had already been churned to mud by the crowds, but muddy streets were nothing new to him. None of the streets in Emond's Field was paved.
There certainly were no palaces, and only a few houses were very much bigger than those back home, but every house had a roof of slate or tile as fine as the roof of the Winespring Inn. He supposed there would be a palace or two in Caemlyn. As for inns, he counted nine, not one smaller than the Winespring and most as large as the Stag and Lion, and there were plenty of streets he had not seen yet.
Shops dotted every street, with awnings out front sheltering tables covered with goods, everything from cloth to books to pots to boots. It was as if a hundred peddlers' wagons had spilled out their contents. He stared so much that more than once he had to hurry on at the suspicious look of a shopkeeper. He had not understood the first shopkeeper's stare. When he did understand, he started to get angry until he remembered that here he was the stranger. He could not have bought much, anyway. He gasped when he saw how many coppers were exchanged for a dozen discolored apples or a handful of shrivelled turnips, the sort that would be fed to the horses in the Two Rivers, but people seemed eager to pay.
There were certainly more than enough people, to his estimation. For a while the sheer number of them almost overwhelmed him. Some wore clothes of finer cut than anyone in the Two Rivers — almost as fine as Moiraine's — and quite a few had long, furlined coats that flapped around their ankles. The miners everybody at the inn kept talking about, they had the hunched look of men who grubbed underground. But most of the people did not look any different from those he had grown up with, not in dress or in face. He had expected they would, somehow. Indeed, some of them had so much the look of the Two Rivers in their faces that he could imagine they belonged to one family or another that he knew around Emond's Field. A toothless, grayhaired fellow with ears like jug handles, sitting on a bench outside one of the inns and peering mournfully into an empty tankard, could easily have been Bili Congar's close cousin. The lanternjawed tailor sewing in front of his shop might have been Jon Thane's brother, even to the same bald spot on the back of his head. A near mirror image of Samel Crawe pushed past Rand as he turned a corner, and ...
In disbelief he stared at a bony little man with long arms and a big nose, shoving hurriedly through the crowd in clothes that looked like a bundle of rags. The man's eyes were sunken and his dirty face gaunt, as if he had not eaten or slept in days, but Rand could swear ... The ragged man saw him then, and froze in midstep, heedless of people who all but stumbled over him. The last doubt in Rand's mind vanished.
“Master Fain!” he shouted. “We all thought you were — ”
As quick as a blink the peddler darted away, but Rand dodged after him, calling apologies over his shoulder to the people he bumped. Through the crowd he just caught sight of Fain dashing into an alleyway, and he turned after.
A few steps into the alleyway the peddler had stopped in his tracks. A tall fence made it into a dead end. As Rand skidded to a halt, Fain rounded on him, crouching warily and backing away. He flapped grimy hands at Rand to stay back. More than one rip showed in his coat, and his cloak was worn and tattered as if it had seen much harder use than it was meant for.
“Master Fain?” Rand said hesitantly. “What is the matter? It's me, Rand al'Thor, from Emond's Field. We all thought the Trollocs had taken you. ”
Fain gestured sharply and, still in a crouch, ran a few crabbed steps toward the open end of the alley. He did not try to pass Rand, or even come close to him. “Don't!” he rasped. His head shifted constantly as he tried to see everything in the street beyond Rand. “Don't mention” — his voice dropped to a hoarse whisper, and he turned his head away, watching Rand with quick, sidelong glances—“them. There be Whitecloaks in the town.”
“They have no reason to bother us,” Rand said. “Come back to the Stag and Lion with me. I'm staying there with friends. You know most of them. They'll be glad to see you, we all thought you were dead.”
“Dead?” the peddler snapped indignantly. “Not Padan Fain. Padan Fain knows which way to jump and where to land. ” He straightened his rags as if they were feastday clothes. “Always have, and always will. I'll live a long time. Longer than —” Abruptly his face tightened and his hands clutched hold of his coat front. "They burned my wagon, and all my goods. Had no cause to be doing that, did they? I couldn't get to my horses. My horses, but that fat old innkeeper had them locked up in his stable. I had to step quick not to get my throat slit, and what did it get me? All that I've got left is what I stand up in. Now, is that
fair? Is it, now?"
“Your horses are safe in Master al'Vere's stable. You can get them anytime. If you come to the inn with me, I'm sure Moiraine will help you get back to the Two Rivers.”
“ Aaaaah! She's ... she's the Aes Sedai, is she?” A guarded look came over Fain's face. “Maybe, though ...” He paused, licking his lips nervously. “How long will you be at this—What was it? What did you call it? — the Stag and Lion?”
“We leave tomorrow,” Rand said. “But what does that have to do with —?”
“You just don't know,” Fain whined, “standing there with a full belly and a good night's sleep in a soft bed. I've hardly slept a wink since that night. My boots are all worn out with running, and as for what I've had to eat ...” His face twisted. “I don't want to be within miles of an Aes Sedai,” he spat the last words, “not miles and miles, but I may have to. I've no choice, have I? The thought of her eyes on me, of her even knowing where I am ...” He reached toward Rand as if he wanted to grab his coat, but his hands stopped short, fluttering, and he actually took a step back. “Promise me you won't tell her. She frightens me. There's no need to be telling her, no reason for an Aes Sedai to even be knowing I'm alive. You have to promise. You have to!”
“I promise,” Rand said soothingly. “But there's no reason for you to be afraid of her. Come with me. The least you'll get is a hot meal.”
“Maybe. Maybe.” Fain rubbed his chin pensively. “Tomorrow, you say? In that time ... You won't forget your promise? You won't be letting her ... ?”
“I won't let her hurt you,” Rand said, wondering how be could stop an Aes Sedai, whatever she wanted to do.
“She won't hurt me,” Fain said. “No, she won't. I won't be letting her.” Like a flash he hared past Rand into the crowd.
“Master Fain!” Rand called. “Wait!”
He dashed out of the alley just in time to catch sight of a ragged coat disappearing around the next comer. Still calling, he ran after it, darted around the comer. He only had time to see a man's back before he crashed into it and they both went