She turned toward Rand, and for the first time he realized the others had all quietly disappeared. He did not want to face the Wisdom alone, but he could not get away now that he had met Nynaeve's eye. A particularly searching eye, he thought, puzzled. What did they say? He drew himself up as she came closer.

She indicated Tam's sword. “That seems to fit you, now, though I would like it better if it did not. You've grown, Rand.”


“In a week?” He laughed, but it sounded forced, and she shook her head as if he did not understand. “Did she convince you?” he asked. “It really is the only way.” He paused, thinking of Min's sparks. “Are you coming with us?”

Nynaeve's eyes opened wide. “Coming with you! Why would I do that? Mavra Mallen came up from Deven Ride to see to things till I return, but she'll be wanting to get back as soon as she can. I still hope to make you see sense and come home with me.”

“We can't.” He thought he saw something move at the stillopen door, but they were alone in the hallway.

“You told me that, and she did, too.” Nynaeve frowned. “If she wasn't mixed up in it ... Aes Sedai are not to be trusted, Rand.”

“You sound as if you really do believe us,” he said slowly. “What happened at the village meeting?”

Nynaeve looked back at the doorway before answering; there was no movement there now. “It was a shambles, but there is no need for her to know we can't handle our affairs any better than that. And I believe only one thing: you are all in danger as long as you are with her. ”

“Something happened,” he insisted. “Why do you want us to go back if you think there's even a chance we are right? And why you, at all? As soon send the Mayor himself as the Wisdom.”

“You have grown.” She smiled, and for a moment her amusement had him shifting his feet. “I can think of a time when you would not have questioned where I chose to go or what I chose to do, wherever or whatever it was. A time just a week ago.”

He cleared his throat and pressed on stubbornly. “It doesn't make sense. Why are you really here?”

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She half glanced at the stillempty doorway, then took his arm. “Let's walk while we talk.” He let himself be led away, and when they were far enough from the door not to be overheard, she began again. “As I said, the meeting was a shambles. Everybody agreed someone had to be sent after you, but the village split into two groups. One wanted you rescued, though there was considerable argument over how that was to be done considering that you were with a ... the likes of her.”

He was glad she was remembering to watch what she said. “The others believed Tam?” he said.

“Not exactly, but they thought you shouldn't be among strangers, either, especially not with someone like her. Either way, though, almost every man wanted to be one of the party. Tam, and Bran al'Vere, with the scales of office around his neck, and Haral Luhhan, till Alsbet made him sit down. Even Cenn Buie. The Light save me from men who think with the hair on their chests. Though I don't know as there are any other kind.” She gave a hearty sniff, and looked up at him, an accusing glance. “At any rate, I could see it would be another day, perhaps more, before they came to any decision, and somehow ... somehow I was sure we did not dare wait that long. So I called the Women's Circle together and told them what had to be done. I cannot say they liked it, but they saw the right of it. And that is why I am here; because the men around Emond's Field are stubborn woolheads. They're probably still arguing about who to send, though I left word I would take care of it.”

Nynaeve's story explained her presence, but it did nothing to reassure him. She was still determined to bring them back with her.

“What did she say to you in there?” he asked. Moiraine would surely have covered every argument, but if there was one she had missed, he would make it.

“More of the same,” Nynaeve replied. “And she wanted to know about you boys. To see if she could reason out why you ... have attracted the kind of attention you have ... she said.” She paused, watching him out of the corner of her eye. “She tried to disguise it, but most of all she wanted to know if any of you was born outside the Two Rivers.”

His face was suddenly as taut as a drumhead. He managed a hoarse chuckle. “She does think of some odd things. I hope you assured her we're all Emond's Field born. ”

“Of course,” she replied. There had only been a heartbeat's pause before she spoke, so brief he would have missed it if he had not been watching for it.

He tried to think of something to say, but his tongue felt like a piece of leather. She knows. She was the Wisdom, after all, and the Wisdom was supposed to know everything about everyone. If she knows, it was no feverdream. Oh, Light help me, father!

“Are you all right?” Nynaeve asked.

“He said ... said I ... wasn't his son. When he was delirious ... with the fever. He said he found me. I thought it was just ...” His throat began to burn, and he had to stop.

“Oh, Rand.” She stopped and took his face in both hands. She had to reach up to do it. “People say strange things in a fever. Twisted things. Things that are not true, or real. Listen to me. Tam al'Thor ran away seeking adventure when he was a boy no older than you. I can just remember when he came back to Emond's Field, a grown man with a redhaired, outlander wife and a babe in swaddling clothes. I remember Kari al'Thor cradling that child in her arms with as much love given and delight taken as I have ever seen from any woman with a babe. Her child, Rand. You. Now you straighten up and stop this foolishness.”

“Of course,” he said. I was born outside the Two Rivers. “Of course.” Maybe Tam had been having a feverdream, and maybe he had found a baby after a battle. “Why didn't you tell her?”

“It is none of any outlander's business. ”

“Were any of the others born outside?” As soon as the question was out, he shook his head. “No, don't answer. It's none of my business, either.” But it would be nice to know if Moiraine had some special interest in him, over and above what she had in the whole lot of them. Would it?

“No, it isn't your business,” Nynaeve agreed. “It might not mean anything. She could just be searching blindly for a reason, any reason, why those things are after you. After all of you.”

Rand managed a grin. “Then you do believe they're chasing us.”

Nynaeve shook her head wryly. “You've certainly learned to twist words since you met her.”

“What are you going to do?” he asked.

She studied him; he met her eyes steadily. “Today, I am going to have a bath. For the rest, we will have to see, won't we?”

Chapter 17

Watchers and Hunters

After the Wisdom left him, Rand made his way to the common room. He needed to hear people laughing, to forget what Nynaeve had said and the trouble she might cause alike.

The room was crowded indeed, but no one was laughing, though every chair and bench was filled and people lined the walls. Thom was performing again, standing on a table against the far wall, his gestures grand enough to fill the big room. It was The Great Hunt of the Horn again, but no one complained, of course. There were so many tales to be told about each of the Hunters, and so many Hunters to tell of, that no two tellings were ever the same. The whole of it in one telling would have taken a week or more. The only sound competing with the gleeman's voice and harp was the crackling of the fires in the fireplaces.

“ ... To the eight corners of the world, the Hunters ride, to the eight pillars of heaven, where the winds of time blow and fate seizes the mighty and the small alike by the forelock. Now, the greatest of the Hunters is Rogosh of Talmour, Rogosh Eagleeye, famed at the court of the High King, feared on the slopes of Shayol Ghul ...” The Hunters were always mighty heroes, all of them.

Rand spotted his two friends and squeezed onto a place Perrin made for him on the end of their bench. Kitchen smells drifting into the room reminded him that he was hungry, but even the people who had food in front of them gave it little attention. The maids who should have been serving stood entranced, clutching their aprons and looking at the gleeman, and nobody seemed to mind at all. Listening was better than eating, no matter how good the food.

“ ... since the day of her birth has the Dark One marked Blaes as his own, but not of this mind is she — no Darkfriend, Blaes of Matuchin! Strong as the ash she stands, lithe as the willow branch, beautiful as the rose. Goldenhaired Blaes. Ready to die before she yields. But hark! Echoing from the towers of the city, trumpets blare, brazen and bold. Her heralds proclaim the arrival of a hero at her court. Drums thunder and cymbals sing! Rogosh Eagleeye comes to do homage ...”

“The Bargain of Rogosh Eagleeye” wound its way to an end, but Thom paused only to wet his throat from a mug of ale before launching into “Lian's Stand.” In turn that was followed by “The Fall of AlethLoriel,” and “Gaidal Cain's Sword,” and “The Last Ride of Buad of Albhain.” The pauses grew longer as the evening wore on, and when Thom exchanged the harp for his flute, everyone knew it was the end of storytelling for the night. Two men joined Thom, with a drum and a hammered dulcimer, but sitting beside the table

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