“Nothing stops them, gleeman,” the Warder said. “We trust to the Light and luck. But now we know for certain there are Trollocs behind us.”
Moiraine dusted her hands. “It is time for us to move on.” The Aes Sedai mounted her white mare.
That set off a scramble for the horses, speeded by a second winding of the horn. This time others answered, the thin sounds floating out of the west like a dirge. Rand made ready to put Cloud to a gallop right away, and everyone else settled their reins with the same urgency. Everyone except Lan and Moiraine. The Warder and the Aes Sedai exchanged a long look.
“Keep them moving, Moiraine Sedai,” Lan said finally. “I will return as soon as I am able. You will know if I fail.” Putting a hand on Mandarb's saddle, he vaulted to the back of the black stallion and galloped down the hill. Heading west. The horns sounded again.
“The Light go with you, last Lord of the Seven Towers ...” Moiraine said almost too softly for Rand to hear. Drawing a deep breath, she turned Aldieb to the east. “We must go on,” she said, and started off at a slow, steady trot. The others followed her in a tight file.
Rand twisted once in his saddle to look for Lan, but the Warder was already lost to sight among the low hills and leafless trees. Last Lord of the Seven Towers, she had called him. He wondered what that meant. He had not thought anyone besides himself had heard, but Thom was chewing the ends of his mustaches, and he had a speculative frown on his face. The gleeman seemed to know a great many things.
The horns called and answered once more behind them. Rand shifted in his saddle. They were closer this time; he was sure of it. Eight miles. Maybe seven. Mat and Egwene looked over their shoulders, and Perrin hunched as if he expected something to hit him in the back. Nynaeve rode up to speak to Moiraine.
“Can't we go any faster?” she asked. “Those horns are getting closer.”
The Aes Sedai shook her head. “And why do they let us know they are there? Perhaps so we will hurry on without thinking of what might be ahead.”
They kept on at the same steady pace. At intervals the horns gave cry behind them, and each time the sound was closer. Rand tried to stop thinking of how close, but the thought came unbidden at every brazen wail. Five miles, he was thinking anxiously, when Lan suddenly burst around the hill behind them at a gallop.
He came abreast of Moiraine, reining in the stallion. “ At least three fists of Trollocs, each led by a Halfman. Maybe five.”
“If you were close enough to see them,” Egwene said worriedly, “they could have seen you. They could be right on your heels.”
“He was not seen.” Nynaeve drew herself up as everyone looked at her. “I have followed his trail, remember.”
“Hush,” Moiraine commanded. “Lan is telling us there are perhaps five hundred Trollocs behind us.” A stunned silence followed, then Lan spoke again.
“And they are closing the gap. They will be on us in an hour or less.”
Half to herself, the Aes Sedai said, “If they had that many before, why were they not used at Emond's Field? If they did not, how did they come here, since?”
“They are spread out to drive us before them,” Lan said, “with scouts quartering ahead of the main parties.”
“Driving us toward what?” Moiraine mused. As if to answer her a horn sounded in the distance to the west, a long moan that was answered this time by others, all ahead of them. Moiraine stopped Aldieb; the others followed her lead, Thom and the Emond's Field folk looking around fearfully. Horns cried out before them, and behind. Rand thought they held a note of triumph.
“What do we do now?” Nynaeve demanded angrily. “Where do we go?”
“All that is left is north or south,” Moiraine said, more thinking aloud than answering the Wisdom. “To the south are the Hills of Absher, barren and dead, and the Taren, with no way to cross, and no traffic by boat. To the north, we can reach the Arinelle before nightfall, and there will be a chance of a trader's boat. If the ice has broken at Maradon.”
“There is a place the Trollocs will not go,” Lan said, but Moiraine's head whipped around sharply.
“No!” She motioned to the Warder, and he put his head close to hers so their talk could not be overheard.
The horns winded, and Rand's horse danced nervously.
“They're trying to frighten us,” Thom growled, attempting to steady his mount. He sounded half angry and half as if the Trollocs were succeeding. “They're trying to scare us until we panic and run. They'll have us, then.”
Egwene's head swung with every blast of a horn, staring first ahead of them, then behind, as if looking for the first Trollocs. Rand wanted to do the same thing, but he tried to hide it. He moved Cloud closer to her.
“We go north,” Moiraine announced.
The horns keened shrilly as they left the road and trotted into the surrounding hills.
The hills were low, but the way was all up and down, with never a flat stretch, beneath barebranched trees and through dead undergrowth. The horses climbed laboriously up one slope only to canter down the other. Lan set a hard pace, faster than they had used on the road.
Branches lashed Rand across the face and chest. Old creepers and vines caught his arms, and sometimes snagged his foot right out of the stirrup. The keening horns came ever closer, and ever more frequently.
As hard as Lan pushed them, they were not getting farther on very quickly. They traveled two feet up or down for every one forward, and every foot was a scrambling effort. And the horns were coming nearer. Two miles, he thought. Maybe less.
After a time Lan began peering first one way then another, the hard planes of his face as close to worry as Rand had seen them. Once the Warder stood in his stirrups to stare back the way they had come. All Rand could see were trees. Lan settled back into his saddle and unconsciously pushed back his cloak to clear his sword as he resumed searching the forest.
Rand met Mat's eye questioningly, but Mat only grimaced at the Warder's back and shrugged helplessly.
Lan spoke, then, over his shoulder. “There are Trollocs nearby.” They topped a hill and started down the other side. “Some of the scouts, sent ahead of the rest. Probably. If we come on them, stay with me at all costs, and do as I do. We must keep on the way we are going. ”
“Blood and ashes!” Thom muttered. Nynaeve motioned to Egwene to keep close.
Scattered stands of evergreens provided the only real cover, but Rand tried to peer in every direction at once, his imagination turning gray tree trunks caught out of the comer of his eye into Trollocs. The horns were closer, too. And directly behind them. He was sure of it. Behind and coming closer.
They topped another hill.
Below them, just starting up the slope, marched Trollocs carrying poles tipped with great loops of rope or long hooks. Many Trollocs. The line stretched far to either side, the ends out of sight, but at its center, directly in front of Lan, a Fade rode.
The Myrddraal seemed to hesitate as the humans appeared atop the hill, but in the next instant it produced a sword with the black blade Rand remembered so queasily, and waved it over its head. The line of Trollocs scrambled forward.
Even before the Myrddraal moved, Lan's sword was in his hand. “Stay with me!” he cried, and Mandarb plunged down the slope toward the Trollocs. “For the Seven Towers!” he shouted.
Rand gulped and booted the gray forward; the whole group of them streamed after the Warder. He was surprised to find Tam's sword in his fist. Caught up by Lan's cry, he found his own. “Manetheren! Manetheren!”
Perrin took it up. “Manetheren! Manetheren!”
But Mat shouted, “Carai an Caldazar! Carai an Ellisande! Al Ellisande!”
The Fade's head turned from the Trollocs to the riders charging toward him. The black sword froze over its head, and the opening of its cowl swiveled, searching among the oncoming horsemen.
Then Lan was on the Myrddraal, as the human folk fell on the Trolloc line. Warder's blade met black steel from the forges at Thakan'dar with a clang like a great bell, the toll echoing in the hollow, a flash of blue light fining the air like sheet lightning.
Beastmuzzled almostmen swarmed around each of the humans, catchpoles and hooks flailing. Only Lan and the Myrddraal did they avoid; those two fought in a clear circle, black horses matching step for step, swords matching stroke for stroke. The air flashed and pealed.
Cloud rolled his eyes and screamed, rearing and lashing out with his hooves at the snarling, sharptoothed faces surrounding him. Heavy bodies crowded shouldertoshoulder around him. Digging his heels in ruthlessly, Rand forced the gray on regardless, swinging his sword with little of the skill Lan had tried to impart, hacking as if hewing wood. Egwene! Desperately he searched for her as he kicked the gray onward, slashing a path through the hairy bodies as though chopping undergrowth.
Moiraine's white mare dashed and cut at the slightest touch of the Aes Sedai's hand on the reins. Her face was as hard as Lan's as her staff lashed out. Flame enveloped Trollocs, then burst with a roar that left misshapen forms unmoving on the ground. Nynaeve and Egwene rode close to the Aes Sedai with frantic urgency, teeth bared almost as fiercely as the Trollocs', belt knives in hand. Those short blades would be no use at all if a Trolloc came close. Rand tried to turn Cloud toward them, but the gray had the bit in his teeth. Screaming and kicking, Cloud struggled forward however hard