“I will explain later,” Thom added with a significant look at the people passing in and out of the Stag and Lion.
“All right,” Perrin replied slowly, still looking confused. Suddenly he slapped his head. “You almost made me forget why I was looking for you, not that I don't wish I could. Nynaeve is inside.”
“Blood and ashes!” Mat yelped. “How did she get here? Moirane... The ferry...”
Perrin snorted. “You think a little thing like a sunken ferry could stop her? She rooted Hightower out — I don't know how he got back over the river, but she said he was hiding in his bedroom and didn't want to go near the river — anyway, she bullied him into finding a boat big enough for her and her horse and rowing her across. Himself. She only gave him time to find one of his haulers to work another set of oars.”
“Light!” Mat breathed.
“What is she doing here?” Rand wanted to know. Mat and Perrin both gave him a scornful look.
“She came after us,” Perrin said. “She's with ... with Mistress Alys right now, and it's cold enough in there to snow.”
“Couldn't we just go somewhere else for a while?” Mat asked. “My da says, only a fool puts his hand in a hornet nest until he absolutely has to.”
Rand cut in. “She can't make us go back. Winternight should have been enough to make her see that. If she doesn't, we will have to make her.”
Mat's eyebrows lifted higher with every word, and when Rand finished he let out a low whistle. “You ever try to make Nynaeve see something she doesn't want to see? I have. I say we stay away till night, and sneak in then.”
“From my observation of the young woman,” Thom said, “I don't think she will stop until she has had her say. If she is not allowed to have it soon, she might keep on until she attracts attention none of us wants.”
That brought them all up short. They exchanged glances, drew deep breaths, and marched inside as if to face Trollocs.
Perrin led the way into the depths of the inn. Rand was so intent on what he intended to say to Nynaeve that he did not see Min until she seized his arm and pulled him to one side. The others kept on a few steps down the hall before realizing he had stopped, then they halted, too, half impatient to go on, half reluctant to do so.
“We don't have time for that, boy,” Thom said gruffly.
Min gave the whitehaired gleeman a sharp look. “Go juggle something,” she snapped, drawing Rand further away from the others.
“I really don't have time,” Rand told her. “Certainly not for any more fool talk about escaping and the like.” He tried to get his arm loose, but every time he pulled free, she grabbed it again.
“And I don't have time for your foolishness, either. Will you be still!” She gave the others a quick look, then moved closer, lowering her voice. “ A woman arrived a little while ago — shorter than I, young, with dark eyes and dark hair in a braid down to her waist. She's part of it, right along with the rest of you.”
For a minute Rand just stared at her. Nynaeve? How can she be involved? Light, how can I be involved? “That's ... impossible.”
“You know her?” Min whispered.
“Yes, and she can't be mixed in ... in whatever it is you ...”
“The sparks, Rand. She met Mistress Alys coming in, and there were sparks, with just the two of them. Yesterday I couldn't see sparks without at least three or four of you together, but today it's all sharper, and more furious.” She looked at Rand's friends, waiting impatiently, and shivered before turning back to him. “It's almost a wonder the inn doesn't catch fire. You're all in more danger today than yesterday. Since she came.”
Rand glanced at his friends. Thom, his brows drawn down in a bushy V, was leaning forward on the point of taking some action to hurry him along. “She won't do anything to hurt us,” he told Min. “I have to go, now.” He succeeded in getting his arm back, this time.
Ignoring her squawk, he joined the others, and they started off again down the corridor. Rand looked back once. Min shook her fist at him and stamped her foot.
“What did she have to say?” Mat asked.
“Nynaeve is part of it,” Rand said without thinking, then shot Mat a hard look that caught him with his mouth open. Then understanding slowly spread across Mat's face.
“Part of what?” Thom said softly. “Does that girl know something?”
While Rand was still trying to gather in his head what to say, Mat spoke up. “Of course she's part of it,” he said grumpily. “Part of the same bad luck we've been having since Winternight. Maybe having the Wisdom show up is no great affair to you, but I'd as soon have the Whitecloaks here, myself.”
“She saw Nynaeve arrive,” Rand said. “Saw her talking to Mistress Alys, and thought she might have something to do with us.” Thom gave him a sidelong look and ruffled his mustaches with a snort, but the others seemed to accept Rand's explanation. He did not like keeping secrets from his friends, but Min's secret could be as dangerous for her as any of theirs was for them.
Perrin stopped suddenly in front of a door, and despite his size he seemed oddly hesitant. He drew a deep breath, looked at his companions, took another breath, then slowly opened the door and went in. One by one the rest of them followed. Rand was the last, and he closed the door behind him with the utmost reluctance.
It was the room where they had eaten the night before. A blaze crackled on the hearth, and a polished silver tray sat in the middle of the table holding a gleaming silver pitcher and cups. Moiraine and Nynaeve sat at opposite ends of the table, neither taking her eyes from the other. All the other chairs were empty. Moiraine's hands rested on the table, as still as her face. Nynaeve's braid was thrown over her shoulder, the end gripped in one fist; she kept giving it little tugs the way she did when she was being even more stubborn than usual with the Village Council. Perrin was right. Despite the fire it seemed freezing cold, and all coming from the two women at the table.
Lan was leaning against the mantel, staring into the flames and rubbing his hands for warmth. Egwene, her back flat against the wall, had her cloak on with the hood pulled up. Thom, Mat, and Perrin stopped uncertainly in front of the door.
Shrugging uncomfortably, Rand walked to the table. Sometimes you have to grab the wolf by the ears, he reminded himself. But he remembered another old saying, too. When you have a wolf by the ears, it's as hard to let go as to hold on. He felt Moiraine's eyes on him, and Nynaeve's, and his face became hot, but he sat down anyway, halfway between the two.
For a minute the room was as still as a carving, then Egwene and Perrin, and finally Mat, made their reluctant way to the table and took seats—toward the middle, with Rand. Egwene tugged her hood further forward, enough to half hide her face, and they all avoided looking at anyone.
“Well,” Thom snorted, from his place beside the door. “At least that much is done.”
“Since everyone is here,” Lan said, leaving the fireplace and filling one of the silver cups with wine, “perhaps you will finally take this.” He proffered the cup to Nynaeve; she looked at it suspiciously. “There is no need to be afraid,” he said patiently. “You saw the innkeeper bring the wine, and neither of us has had a chance to put anything in it. It is quite safe.”
The Wisdom's mouth tightened angrily at the word afraid, but she took the cup with a murmured, “Thank you.”
“I am interested,” he said, “in how you found us.”
“So am I.” Moiraine leaned forward intently. “Perhaps you are willing to speak now that Egwene and the boys have been brought to you?”
Nynaeve sipped the wine before answering the Aes Sedai. “There was nowhere for you to go except Baerlon. To be safe, though, I followed your trail. You certainly cut back and forth enough. But then, I suppose you would not care to risk meeting decent people.”
“You ... followed our trail?” Lan said, truly surprised for the first time that Rand could remember. “I must be getting careless.”
“You left very little trace, but I can track as well as any man in the Two Rivers, except perhaps Tam al'Thor.” She hesitated, then added, “Until my father died, he took me hunting with him, and taught me what he would have taught the sons he never had.” She looked at Lan challengingly, but he only nodded with approval.
“If you can follow a trail I have tried to hide, he taught you well. Few can do that, even in the Borderlands.”
Abruptly Nynaeve buried her face in her cup. Rand's eyes widened. She was blushing. Nynaeve never showed herself even the least bit disconcerted. Angry, yes; outraged, often; but never out of countenance. But she was certainly redcheeked now, and trying to hide in the wine.
“Perhaps now,” Moiraine said quietly, “you will answer a few of my questions. I have answered yours freely enough.”
“With a great sackful of gleeman's tales,” Nynaeve retorted. “The only facts I can see are that four young people have been carried off, for the Light alone knows what reaso