“I warned him,” Moiraine said, “but he would not take it seriously. ” Aldieb danced sideways, an echo of the Aes Sedai's frustration. “He would not take it seriously.”

“The inn?” Perrin said. “That's the Stag and Lion? How can you be sure?”


“How far do you want to stretch coincidence?” Thom asked. “It could be the Governor's house, but it isn't. And it isn't a warehouse, or somebody's kitchen stove, or your grandmother's haystack.”

“Perhaps the Light shines on us a little this night,” Lan said, and Egwene rounded on him angrily.

“How can you. say that? Poor Master Fitch's inn is burning! People may be hurt!”

If they have attacked the inn,“ Moiraine said, ”perhaps our exit from the town and my ... display went unnoticed."

“Unless that's what the Myrddraal wants us to think,” Lan added.

Moiraine nodded in the darkness. “Perhaps. In any case, we must press on. There will be little rest for anyone tonight.”

“You say that so easily, Moiraine,” Nynaeve exclaimed. “What about the people at the inn? People must be hurt, and the innkeeper has lost his livelihood, because of you! For all your talk about walking in the Light you're ready to go on without sparing a thought for him. His trouble is because of you!”

“Because of those three,” Lan said angrily. “The fire, the injured, the going on — all because of those three. The fact that the price must be paid is proof that it is worth paying. The Dark One wants those boys of yours, and anything he wants this badly, he must be kept from. Or would you rather let the Fade have them?”

“Be at ease, Lan,” Moiraine said. “Be at ease. Wisdom, you think I can help Master Fitch and the people at the inn? Well, you are right.” Nynaeve started to say something, but Moiraine waved it away and went on. “I can go back by myself and give some help. Not too much, of course. That would draw attention to those I helped, attention they would not thank me for, especially with the Children of the Light in the town. And that would leave only Lan to protect the rest of you. He is very good, but it will take more than him if a Myrddraal and a fist of Trollocs find you. Of course, we could all return, though I doubt I can get all of us back into Baerlon unnoticed. And that would expose all of you to whomever set that fire, not to mention the Whitecloaks. Which alternative would you choose, Wisdom, if you were I?”

-- Advertisement --

“I would do something,” Nynaeve muttered unwillingly.

“And in all probability hand the Dark One his victory,” Moiraine replied. “Remember what — who — it is that he wants. We are in a war, as surely as anyone in Ghealdan, though thousands fight there and only eight of us here. I will have gold sent to Master Fitch, enough to rebuild the Stag and Lion, gold that cannot be traced to Tar Valon. And help for any who were hurt, as well. Any more than that will only endanger them. It is far from simple, you see. Lan.” The Warder turned his horse and took up the road again.

From time to time Rand looked back. Eventually all he could see was the glow on the clouds, and then even that was lost in the darkness. He hoped Min was all right.

All was still pitchdark when the Warder finally led them off the packed dirt of the road and dismounted. Rand estimated there were no more than a couple of hours till dawn. They hobbled the horses, still saddled, and made a cold camp.

“One hour,” Lan warned as everyone except him was wrapping up in their blankets. He would stand guard while they slept. “One hour, and we must be on our way.” Silence settled over them. .

After a few minutes Mat spoke in a whisper that barely reached Rand. “I wonder what Dav did with that badger.” Rand shook his head silently, and Mat hesitated. Finally he said, “I thought we were safe, you know, Rand. Not a sign of anything since we crossed the Taren, and there we were in a city, with walls around us. I thought we were safe. And then that dream. And a Fade. Are we ever going to be safe again?”

“Not until we get to Tar Valon,” Rand said. “That's what she told us.”

“Will we be safe then?” Perrin asked softly, and all three of them looked to the shadowy mound that was the Aes Sedai. Lan had melded into the darkness; he could have been anywhere.

Rand yawned suddenly. The others twitched nervously at the sound. “I think we'd better get some sleep,” he said. “Staying awake won't answer anything.”

Perrin spoke quietly. “She should have done something.”

No one answered.

Rand squirmed onto his side to avoid a root, tried his back, then rolled off of a stone onto his belly and another root. It was not a good campsite they had stopped at, not like the spots the Warder had chosen on the way north from the Taren. He fell asleep wondering if the roots digging into his ribs would make him dream, and woke at Lan's touch on his shoulder, ribs aching, and grateful that if any dreams had come he did not remember them.

It was still the dark just before dawn, but once the blankets were rolled and strapped behind their saddles Lan had them riding east again. As the sun rose they made a blearyeyed breakfast on bread and cheese and water, eating while they rode, huddled in their cloaks against the wind. All except Lan, that is. He ate, but he was not blearyeyed, and he did not huddle. He had changed back into his shifting cloak, and it whipped around him, fluttering through grays and greens, and the only mind he paid it was to keep it clear of his swordarm. His face remained without expression, but his eyes searched constantly, as if he expected an ambush any moment.

Chapter 18

The Caemlyn Road

The Caemlyn Road was not very different from the North Road through the Two Rivers. It was considerably wider, of course, and showed the wear of much more use, but it was still hardpacked dirt, lined on either side by trees that would not have been at all out of place in the Two Rivers, especially since only the evergreens carried a leaf.

The land itself was different, though, for by midday the road entered low hills. For two days the road ran through the hills — cut right through them, sometimes, if they were wide enough to have made the road go much out of its way and not so big as to have made digging through too difficult. As the angle of the sun shifted each day it became apparent that the road, for all it appeared straight to the eye, curved slowly southward as it ran east. Rand had daydreamed over Master al'Vere's old map — half the boys in Emond's Field had daydreamed over it — and as he remembered, the road curved around something called the Hills of Absher until it reached Whitebridge.

From time to time Lan had them dismount atop one of the hills, where he could get a good view of the road both ahead and behind, and the surrounding countryside as well. The Warder would study the view while the others stretched their legs, or sat under the trees and ate.

“I used to like cheese,” Egwene said on the third day after leaving Baerlon. She sat with her back to the bole of a tree, grimacing over a dinner that was once again the same as breakfast, as supper would be. “Not a chance of tea. Nice hot tea.” She pulled her cloak tighter and shifted around the tree in a vain effort to avoid the swirling wind.

“Flatwort tea and andilay root,” Nynaeve was saying to Moiraine, “are best for fatigue. They clear the head and dint the burn in tired muscles.”

“I am sure they do,” the Aes Sedai murmured, giving Nynaeve a sidelong glance.

Nynaeve's jaw tightened, but she continued in the same tone. “Now, if you must go without sleep ...”

“No tea!” Lan said sharply to Egwene. “No fire! We can't see them yet, but they are back there, somewhere, a Fade or two and their Trollocs, and they know we are taking this road. No need to tell them exactly where we are.”

“I wasn't asking,” Egwene muttered into her cloak. “Just regretting. ”

“If they know we're on the road,” Perrin asked, “why don't we go straight across to Whitebridge?”

“Even Lan cannot travel as fast crosscountry as by road,” Moiraine said, interrupting Nynaeve, “especially not through the Hills of Absher. ” The Wisdom gave an exasperated sigh. Rand wondered what she was up to; after ignoring the Aes Sedai completely for the first day, Nynaeve had spent the last two trying to talk to her about herbs. Moiraine moved away from the Wisdom as she went on. “Why do you think the road curves to avoid them? And we would have to come back to this road eventually. We might find them ahead of us instead of following.”

Rand looked doubtful, and Mat muttered something about “the long way round.”

“Have you seen a farm this morning?” Lan asked. “Or even the smoke from a chimney? You haven't, because it's all wilderness from Baerlon to Whitebridge, and Whitebridge is where we must cross the Arinelle. That is the only bridge spanning the Arinelle south of Maradon, in Saldaea.”

Thom snorted and blew out his mustaches. “What is to stop them from having someone, something, at Whitebridge already?”

From the west came the keening wail of a horn. Lan's head whipped around to stare back down the road behind them. Rand felt a chill. A part of him remained calm enough to

-- Advertisement --