“You have been told that isn't known here,” Lan said sharply. “You must learn to guard your tongue.”

“Why should I?” Nynaeve demanded. “Why should I help hide you, or what you are? I've come to take Egwene and the boys back to Emond's Field, not help you spirit them away.”


Thom broke in, in a scornful voice. “If you want them to see their village again — or you, either — you had better be more careful. There are those in Baerlon who would kill her” — he jerked his head toward Moiraine — “for what she is. Him, too.” He indicated Lan, then abruptly moved forward to put his fists on the table. He loomed over Nynaeve, and his long mustaches and thick eyebrows suddenly seemed threatening.

Her eyes widened, and she started to lean back, away from him; then her back stiffened defiantly. Thom did not appear to notice; he went right on in an ominously soft voice. “They'd swarm over this inn like murderous ants on a rumor, a whisper. Their hate is that strong, their desire to kill or take any like these two. And the girl? The boys? You? You are all associated with them, enough for the Whitecloaks, anyway. You wouldn't like the way they ask questions, especially when the White Tower is involved. Whitecloak Questioners assume you're guilty before they start, and they have only one sentence for that kind of guilt. They don't care about finding the truth; they think they know that already. All they go after with their hot irons and pincers is a confession. Best you remember some secrets are too dangerous for saying aloud, even when you think you know who hears.” He straightened with a muttered, “I seem to tell that to people often of late.”

“Well put, gleeman,” Lan said. The Warder had that weighing look in his eyes again. “I'm surprised to find you so concerned.”

Thom shrugged. “It's known I arrived with you, too. I don't care for the thought of a Questioner with a hot iron telling me to repent my sins and walk in the Light.”

“That,” Nynaeve put in sharply, “is just one more reason for them to come home with me in the morning. Or this afternoon, for that matter. The sooner we're away from you and on our way back to Emond's Field, the better.”

“We can't,” Rand said, and was glad that his friends all spoke up at the same time. That way Nynaeve's glare had to be spread around; she spared no one as it was. But he had spoken first, and they all fell silent, looking at him. Even Moiraine sat back in her chair, watching him over steepled fingers. It was an effort for him to meet the Wisdom's eyes. “If we go back to Emond's Field, the Trollocs will come back, too. They're ... hunting us. I don't know why, but they are. Maybe we can find out why in Tar Valon. Maybe we can find out how to stop it. It's the only way.”

Nynaeve threw up her hands. “You sound just like Tam. He had himself carried to the village meeting and tried to convince everybody. He'd already tried with the Village Council. The Light knows how your ... Mistress Alys” — she invested the name with a wagonload of scorn — “managed to make him believe; he has a mite of sense, usually, more than most men. In any case, the Council is a pack of fools most of the time, but not foolish enough for that, and neither was anyone else. They agreed you had to be found. Then Tam wanted to be the one to come after you, and him not able to stand by himself. Foolishness must run in your family.”

Mat cleared his throat, then mumbled, “What about my da? What did he say?”

“He's afraid you'll try your tricks with outlanders and get your head thumped. He seemed more afraid of that than of ... Mistress Alys, here. But then, he was never much brighter than you.”

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Mat seemed unsure how to take what she had said, or how to reply, or even whether to reply.

“I expect,” Perrin began hesitantly. “I mean, I suppose Master Luhhan was not too pleased about my leaving, either.”

“Did you expect him to be?” Nynaeve shook her head disgustedly and looked at Egwene. “Maybe I should not be surprised at this harebrained idiocy from you three, but I thought others had more judgment. ”

Egwene sat back so she was shielded by Perrin. “I left a note,” she said faintly. She tugged at the hood of her cloak as if she was afraid her unbound hair showed. “I explained everything.” Nynaeve's face darkened.

Rand sighed. The Wisdom was on the point of one of her tonguelashings, and it looked as if it might be a firstrate one. If she took a position in the heat of anger — if she said she intended to see them back in Emond's Field no matter what anybody said, for instance—she would be nearly impossible to budge. He opened his mouth.

“A note!” Nynaeve began, just as Moiraine said, “You and I must still talk, Wisdom.”

If Rand could have stopped himself, he would have, but the words poured out as if it were a floodgate he had opened instead of his mouth. “All this is very well, but it doesn't change anything. We can't go back. We have to go on.” He spoke more slowly toward the end, and his voice sank, so he finished in a whisper, with the Wisdom and the Aes Sedai both looking at him. It was the sort of look he received if he came on women talking Women's Circle business, the sort that said he had stepped in where he did not belong. He sat back, wishing he was somewhere else.

“Wisdom,” Moiraine said, “you must believe that they are safer with me than they would be back in the Two Rivers.”

“Safer!” Nynaeve tossed her head dismissively. “You are the one who brought them here, where the Whitecloaks are. The same Whitecloaks who, if the gleeman tells the truth, may harm them because of you. Tell me how they are safer, Aes Sedai.”

“There are many dangers from which I cannot protect them,” Moiraine agreed, “any more than you can protect them from being struck by lightning if they go home. But it is not lightning of which they must be afraid, nor even Whitecloaks. It is the Dark One, and minions of the Dark One. From those things I can protect. Touching the True Source, touching saidar, gives me that protection, as it does to every Aes Sedai.” Nynaeve's mouth tightened skeptically. Moiraine's grew tighter, too, with anger, but she went on, her voice hard on the edge of patience. “Even those poor men who find themselves wielding the Power for a short time gain that much, though sometimes touching saidin protects, and sometimes the taint makes them more vulnerable. But I, or any Aes Sedai, can extend my protection to those close by me. No Fade can harm them as long as they are as close to me as they are right now. No Trolloc can come within a quarter of a mile without Lan knowing it, feeling the evil of it. Can you offer them half as much if they return to Emond's Field with you?”

“You stand up straw men,” Nynaeve said. “We have a saying in the Two Rivers. 'Whether the bear beats the wolf or the wolf beats the bear, the rabbit always loses.' Take your contest somewhere else and leave Emond's Field folk out of it.”

“Egwene,” Moiraine said after a moment, “take the others and leave the Wisdom alone with me for a while.” Her face was impassive; Nynaeve squared herself at the table as if getting ready for an allin wrestling match.

Egwene bounced to her feet, her desire to be dignified obviously warring with her desire to avoid a confrontation with the Wisdom over her unbraided hair. She had no difficulty gathering up everyone by eye, though. Mat and Perrin scraped back their chairs hurriedly, making polite murmurs while trying not to actually run on their way out. Even Lan started for the door at a signal from Moiraine, drawing Thom with him.

Rand followed, and the Warder shut the door behind them, then took up guard across the hallway. Under Lan's eyes the others moved on down the hall a short distance; they were not to be allowed even the slightest chance of eavesdropping. When they had gone far enough to suit him, Lan leaned back against the wall. Even without his colorshifting cloak, he was so still that it would be easy not to notice him until you were right on him.

The gleeman muttered something about better things to do with his time and left with a stern “Remember what I said,” over his shoulder to the boys. No one else seemed inclined to leave.

“What did he mean?” Egwene asked absently, her eyes on the door that hid Moiraine and Nynaeve. She kept fiddling with her hair as if torn between continuing to hide the fact that it was no longer braided and pushing back the hood of her cloak.

“He gave us some advice,” Mat said.

Perrin gave him a sharp look. “He said not to open our mouths until we were sure what we were going to say. ”

“That sounds like good advice,” Egwene said, but clearly she was not really interested.

Rand was engrossed in his own thoughts. How could Nynaeve possibly be part of it? How could any of them be involved with Trollocs, and Fades, and Ba'alzamon appearing in their dreams? It was crazy. He wondered if Min had told Moiraine about Nynaeve. What are they saying in there?

He had no idea how long he had been standing there when the door finally opened. Nynaeve stepped out, and gave a start when she saw Lan. The Warder murmured something that made her toss her head angrily, then he slipped

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