“Can't you watch where you're going?” came a mutter from under him, and Rand scrambled up in surprise.
Mat sat up with a baleful glare and began scraping mud off his cloak with his hands. “You must really be turning into a city man. Sleep all morning and run right over people. ” Climbing to his feet, he stared at his muddy hands, then muttered and wiped them off on his cloak. “Listen, you'll never guess who I thought I just saw. ”
“Padan Fain,” Rand said.
“Padan Fa — How did you know?”
“I was talking to him, but he ran off.”
“So the Tro—” Mat stopped to look around warily, but the crowd was passing them by with never a glance. Rand was glad he had learned a little caution. “So they didn't get him. I wonder why he left Emond's Field, without a word like that? Probably started running then, too, and didn't stop until he got here. But why was he running just now?”
Rand shook his head and wished he had not. It felt as though it might fall off. “I don't know, except that he's afraid of M ... Mistress Alys.” All this watching what you said was not easy. “He doesn't want her to know he's here. He made me promise I wouldn't tell her.”
“Well, his secret is safe with me,” Mat said. “I wish she didn't know where I was, either.”
“Mat?” People still streamed by without paying them any heed, but Rand lowered his voice anyway, and leaned closer. “Mat, did you have a nightmare last night? About a man who killed a rat?”
Mat stared at him without blinking. “You, too?” he said finally. “And Perrin, I suppose. I almost asked him this morning, but ... He must have. Blood and ashes! Now somebody's making us dream things. Rand, I wish nobody knew where I was.”
“There were dead rats all over the inn this morning.” He did not feel as afraid at saying it as he would have earlier. He did not feel much of anything. “Their backs were broken.” His voice rang in his own ears. If he was getting sick, he might have to go to Moiraine. He was surprised that even the thought of the One Power being used on him did not bother him.
Mat took a deep breath, hitching his cloak, and looked around as if searching for somewhere to go. “What's happening to us, Rand? What?”
“I don't know. I'm going to ask Thom for advice. About whether to tell ... anyone else. ”
“No! Not her. Maybe him, but not her.”
The sharpness of it took Rand by surprise. “Then you believed him?” He did not need to say which “him” he meant; the grimace on Mat's face said he understood.
“No,” Mat said slowly. “It's the chances, that's all. If we tell her, and he was lying, then maybe nothing happens. Maybe. But maybe just him being in our dreams is enough for ... I don't know.” He stopped to swallow. “If we don't tell her, maybe we'll have some more dreams. Rats or no rats, dreams are better than ... Remember the ferry? I say we keep quiet.”
“All right.” Rand remembered the ferry — and Moiraine's threat, too—but somehow it seemed a long time ago. “All right.”
“Perrin won't say anything, will he?” Mat went on, bouncing on his toes. “We have to get back to him. If he tells her, she'll figure it out about all of us. You can bet on it. Come on.” He started off briskly through the crowd.
Rand stood there looking after him until Mat came back and grabbed him. At the touch on his arm he blinked, then followed his friend.
“What's the matter with you?” Mat asked. “You going to sleep again?”
“I think I have a cold,” Rand said: His head was as tight as a drum, and almost as empty.
“You can get some chicken soup when we get back to the inn,” Mat said. He kept up a constant chatter as they hunted through the packed streets. Rand made an effort to listen, and even to say something now and then, but it was an effort. He was not tired; he did not want to sleep. He just felt as if he were drifting. After a while he found himself telling Mat about Min.
“A dagger with a ruby, eh?” Mat said. “I like that. I don't know about the eye, though. Are you sure she wasn't making it up? It seems to me she would know what it all means if she really is a soothsayer.”
“She didn't say she's a soothsayer,” Rand said. “I believe she does see things. Remember, Moiraine was talking to her when we finished our baths. And she knows who Moiraine is.”
Mat frowned at him. “I thought we weren't supposed to use that name.”
“No,” Rand muttered. He rubbed his head with both hands. It was so hard to concentrate on anything.
“I think maybe you really are sick,” Mat said, still frowning. Suddenly he pulled Rand to a stop by his coat sleeve. “Look at them.”
Three men in breastplates and conical steel caps, burnished till they shone like silver, were making their way down the street toward Rand and Mat. Even the mail on their arms gleamed. Their long cloaks, pristine white and embroidered on the left breast with a golden sunburst, just cleared the mud and puddles of the street. Their hands rested on their sword hilts, and they looked around them as if looking at things that had wriggled out from under a rotting log. Nobody looked back, though. Nobody even seemed to notice them. Just the same, the three did not have to push through the crowd; the bustle parted to either side of the whitecloaked men as if by happenstance, leaving them to walk in a clear space that moved with them.
“Do you suppose they're Children of the Light?” Mat asked in a loud voice. A passerby looked hard at Mat, then quickened his pace.
Rand nodded. Children of the Light. Whitecloaks. Men who hated Aes Sedai. Men who told people how to live, causing trouble for those who refused to obey. If burned farms and worse could be called as mild as trouble. I should be afraid, he thought. Or curious. Something, at any rate. Instead he stared at them passively.
“They don't look like so much to me,” Mat said. “Full of themselves, though, aren't they?”
“They don't matter,” Rand said. “The inn. We have to talk to Perrin.”
“Like Eward Congar. He always has his nose in the air, too.” Suddenly Mat grinned, a twinkle in his eye. “Remember when he fell off the Wagon Bridge and had to tramp home dripping wet? That took him down a peg for a month.”
“What does that have to do with Perrin?”
“See that?” Mat pointed to a cart resting on its shafts in an alleyway just ahead of the Children. A single stake held a dozen stacked barrels in place on the flat bed. “Watch.” Laughing, he darted into a cutler's shop to their left.
Rand stared after him, knowing he should do something. That look in Mat's eyes always meant one of his tricks. But oddly, he found himself looking forward to whatever Mat was going to do. Something told him that feeling was wrong, that it was dangerous, but he smiled in anticipation anyway.
In a minute Mat appeared above him, climbing half out of an attic window onto the tile roof of the shop. His sling was in his hands, already beginning to whirl. Rand's eyes went back to the cart. Almost immediately there was a sharp crack, and the stake holding the barrels broke just as the Whitecloaks came abreast of the alley. People jumped out of the way as the barrels rolled down the cart shafts with an empty rumble and jounced into the street, splashing mud and muddy water in every direction. The three Children jumped no less quickly than anyone else, their superior looks replaced by surprise. Some passersby fell down, making more splashes, but the three moved agilely, avoiding the barrels with ease. They could not avoid the flying mud that splattered their white
A bearded man in a long apron hurried out of the alley, waving his arms and shouting angrily, but one look at the three trying vainly to shake the mud from their cloaks and he vanished back into the alley even faster than he had come out. Rand glanced up at the shop roof; Mat was gone. It had been an easy shot for any Two Rivers lad, but the effect was certainly all that could be hoped for. He couId not help laughing; the humor seemed to be wrapped in wool, but it was still funny. When he turned back to the street, the three Whitecloaks were staring straight at him.
“You find something funny, yes?” The one who spoke stood a little in front of the others. He wore an arrogant, unblinking look, with a light in his eyes as if he knew something important, something no one else knew.
Rand's laughter cut off short. He and the Children were alone with the mud and the barrels. The crowd that had been all around them had found urgent business up or down the street.
“Does fear of the Light hold your tongue?” Anger made the Whitecloak's narrow face seem even more pinched. He glanced dismissively at the sword hilt sticking out from Rand's cloak. “Perhaps you are responsible for this, yes?” Unlike the others he had a golden knot beneath the sunburst on his cloak.
Rand moved to cover the sword, but instead swept his cloak back over his shoulder. In the back of his head was a frantic wonder at what he was doing, but it was a distant thought. “Accidents happen,” he said. “Even to the Chi