“Not exactly, mistress.” The Watchman peered at her, frowning as he tried to make out her face. “But the gates stay shut from sundown to sunup. No one to come in except in daylight. That's the order. Anyway, there're wolves out there. Killed a dozen cows in the last week. Could kill a man just as easy.”
“No one to come in, but nothing about leaving,” Moiraine said as if that settled the matter. “You see? We are not asking you to disobey the Governor.”
Lan pressed something into the Watchman's hand. “For your trouble,” he murmured.“I suppose,” the Watchman said slowly. He glanced at his hand; gold glinted before he hastily stuffed it in his pocket. “I suppose leaving wasn't mentioned at that. Just a minute.” He stuck his head back inside. “Arin! Dar! Get out here and help me open the gate. There's people want to leave. Don't argue. Just do it.”
Two more of the Watch appeared from inside, stopping to stare in sleepy surprise at the party of eight waiting to leave. Under the first Watchman's urgings they shuffled over to heave at the big wheel that raised the thick bar across the gates, then turned their efforts to cranking the gates open. The crankandratchet made a rapid clicking sound, but the welloiled gates swung outward silently. Before they were even a quarter open, though, a cold voice spoke out of the darkness.
“What is this? Are these gates not ordered closed until sunrise?”
Five whitecloaked men walked into the light from the guardhouse door. Their cowls were drawn up to hide their faces, but each man rested his hand on his sword, and the golden suns on their left breasts were a plain announcement of who they were. Mat muttered under his breath. The Watchmen stopped their cranking and exchanged uneasy looks.
“This is none of your affair,” the first Watchman said belligerently. Five white hoods turned to regard him, and he finished in a weaker tone. “The Children hold no sway here. The Governor —”
“The Children of the light,” the whitecloaked man who had first spoken said softly, “hold sway wherever men walk in the Light. Only where the Shadow of the Dark One reigns are the Children denied, yes?” He swung his hood from the Watchman to Lan, then suddenly gave the Warder a second, more wary, look.
The Warder had not moved; in fact, he seemed completely at ease. But not many people could look at the Children so uncaringly. Lan's stony face could as well have been looking at a bootblack. When the Whitecloak spoke again, he sounded suspicious.
“What kind of people want to leave town walls in the night during times like these? With wolves stalking the darkness, and the Dark One's handiwork seen flying over the town?” He eyed the braided leather band that crossed Lan's forehead and held his long hair back. “A northerner, yes?”
Rand hunched lower in his saddle. A Draghkar. It had to be that, unless the man just named anything he did not understand as the Dark One's handiwork. With a Fade at the Stag and Lion, he should have expected a Draghkar, but at the moment he was hardly thinking about it. He thought he recognized the Whitecloak's voice.
“Travelers,” Lan replied calmly. “Of no interest to you or yours.”
“Everyone is of interest to the Children of the Light.”
Lan shook his head slightly. “Are you really after more trouble with the Governor? He has limited your numbers in the town, even had you followed. What will he do when he discovers you're harassing honest citizens at his gates?” He turned to the Watchmen. “Why have you stopped?” They hesitated, put their hands back on the crank, then hesitated again when the Whitecloak spoke.
“The Governor does not know what happens under his nose. There is evil he does not see, or smell. But the Children of the Light see.” The Watchmen looked at one another; their hands opened and closed as if regretting the spears left inside the guardhouse. “The Children of the Light smell the evil.” The Whitecloak's eyes turned to the people on horseback. “We smell it, and root it out. Wherever it is found. ”
Rand tried to make himself even smaller, but the movement drew the man's attention.
“What have we here? Someone who does not wish to be seen? What do you —? Ah!” The man brushed back the hood of his white cloak, and Rand was looking at the face he had known would be there. Bornhald nodded with obvious satisfaction. “Clearly, Watchman, I have saved you from a great disaster. These are Darkfriends you were about to help escape from the Light. You should be reported to your Governor for discipline, or perhaps given to the Questioners to discover your true intent this night.” He paused, eyeing the Watchman's fear; it seemed to have no effect on him. “You would not wish that, no? Instead, I will take these ruffians to our camp, that they may be questioned in the Light — Instead of you, yes?”
“You will take me to your camp, Whitecloak?” Moiraine's voice came suddenly from every direction at once. She had moved back into the night at the Children's approach, and shadows clumped around her. “You will question me?” Darkness wreathed her as she took a step forward; it made her seem taller. “You will bar my way?”
Another step, and Rand gasped. She was taller, her head level with his where he sat on the gray's back. Shadows clung about her face like thunderclouds.
“Aes Sedai!” Bornhald shouted, and five swords flashed from their sheaths. “Die!” The other four hesitated, but he slashed at her in the same motion that cleared his sword.
Rand cried out as Moiraine's staff rose to intercept the blade. That delicately carved wood could not possibly stop hardswung steel. Sword met staff, and sparks sprayed in a fountain, a hissing roar hurling Bornhald back into his whitecloaked companions. All five went down in a heap. Tendrils of smoke rose from Bornhald's sword, on the ground beside him, blade bent at a right angle where it had been melted almost in two.
“You dare attack me!” Moiraine's voice roared like a whirlwind. Shadow spun in on her, draped her like a hooded cloak; she loomed as high as the town wall. Her eyes glared down, a giant staring at insects.
“Go!” Lan shouted. In one lightning move he snatched the reins of Moiraine's mare and leaped into his own saddle. “Now!” he commanded. His shoulders brushed either gate as his stallion tore through the narrow opening like a flung stone.
For a moment Rand remained frozen, staring. Moiraine's head and shoulders stood above the wall, now. Watchmen and Children alike cowered away from her, huddling with their backs against the front of the guardhouse. The Aes Sedai's face was lost in the night, but her eyes, as big as full moons, shone with impatience as well as anger when they touched him. Swallowing hard, he booted Cloud in the ribs and galloped after the others.
Fifty paces from the wall, Lan drew them up, and Rand looked back. Moiraine's shadowed shape towered high over the log palisade, head and shoulders a deeper darkness against the night sky, surrounded by a silver nimbus from the hidden moon. As he watched, mouth hanging open, the Aes Sedai stepped over the wall. The gates began swinging shut frantically. As soon as her feet were on the ground outside, she was suddenly her normal size again.
“Hold the gates!” an unsteady voice shouted inside the wall. Rand thought it was Bornhald. “We must pursue them, and take them!” But the Watchmen did not slow the pace of closing. The gates slammed shut, and moments later the bar crashed into place, sealing them. Maybe some of those other Whitecloaks aren't as eager to confront an Aes Sedai as Bornhald.
Moiraine hurried to Aldieb, stroking the white mare's nose once before she tucked her staff under the girth strap. Rand did not need to look this time to know there was not even a nick in the staff.
“You were taller than a giant,” Egwene said breathlessly, shifting on Bela's back. No one else spoke, though Mat and Perrin edged their horses away from the Aes Sedai.
“Was I?” Moiraine said absently as she swung into her saddle.
“I saw you,” Egwene protested.
“The mind plays tricks in the night; the eye sees what is not there.”
“This is no time for games,” Nynaeve began angrily, but Moiraine cut her off.
“No time for games indeed. What we gained at the Stag and Lion we may have lost here.” She looked back at the gate and shook her head. “If only I could believe the Draghkar was on the ground.” With a selfdeprecatory sniff she added, “Or if only the Myrddraal were truly blind. If I am wishing, I might as well wish for the truly impossible. No matter. They know the way we must go, but with luck we will stay a step ahead of them. Lan!”
The Warder moved off eastward down the Caemlyn Road, and the rest followed close behind, hooves thudding rhythmically on the hardpacked earth.
They kept to an easy pace, a fast walk the horses could maintain for hours without any Aes Sedai help. Before they had been even one hour on their way, though, Mat cried out, pointing back the way they had come.
They all drew rein and stared.
Flames lit the night over Baerlon as if someone had built a housesize bonfire, tinting the undersides of the cloud with red. Sparks whipped