And I thought Baerlon was a city! Burn me, but Thom must have been laughing up his sleeve. Moiraine and Lan, too.
He was so caught up in staring that he was taken by surprise when Lan suddenly stopped in front of a white stone building that had once been twice as big as the Stag and Lion in Baerlon. There was nothing to say what it had been when the city lived and was great, perhaps even an inn. Only a hollow shell remained of the upper floors — the afternoon sky was visible through empty window frames, glass and wood alike long since gone — but the ground floor seemed sound enough.
Moiraine, hands still on the pommel, studied the building intently before nodding. “This will do.”
Lan leaped from his saddle and lifted the Aes Sedai down in his arms. “Bring the horses inside,” he commanded. “Find a room in the back to use for a stable. Move, farmboys. This isn't the village green.” He vanished inside carrying the Aes Sedai.
Nynaeve scrambled down and hurried after him, clutching her bag of herbs and ointments. Egwene was right behind her. They left their mounts standing.
“'Bring the horses inside,”' Thom muttered wryly, and puffed out his mustaches. He climbed down, stiff and slow, knuckled his back, and gave a long sigh, then took Aldieb's reins. “Well?” he said, lifting an eyebrow at Rand and his friends.
They hurried to dismount, and gathered up the rest of the horses. The doorway, without anything to say there had ever been a door in it, was more than big enough to get the animals through, even two abreast.
Inside was a huge room, as wide as the building, with a dirty tile floor and a few ragged wall hangings, faded to a dull brown, that looked as if they would fall apart at a touch. Nothing else. Lan had made a place in the nearest corner for Moiraine with his cloak and hers. Nynaeve, muttering about the dust, knelt beside the Aes Sedai, digging in her bag, which Egwene held open.
“I may not like her, it is true,” Nynaeve was saying to the Warder as Rand, leading Bela and Cloud, came in behind Thom, “but I help anyone who needs my help, whether I like them or not.”
“I made no accusation, Wisdom. I only said, have a care with your herbs. ”
She gave him a look from the corner of her eye. “The fact is, she needs my herbs, and so do you.” Her voice was acerbic to start, and grew more tart as she spoke. “The fact is, she can only do so much, even with her One Power, and she has done about as much as she can without collapsing. The fact is, your sword cannot help her now, Lord of the Seven Towers, but my herbs can.”
Moiraine laid a hand on Lan's arm. “Be at ease, Lan. She means no harm. She simply does not know.” The Warder snorted derisively.
Nynaeve stopped digging in her bag and looked at him, frowning, but it was to Moiraine she spoke. “There are many things I don't know. What thing is this?”
“For one,” Moiraine replied, “all I truly need is a little rest. For another, I agree with you. Your skills and knowledge will be more useful than I thought. Now, if you have something that will help me sleep for an hour and not leave me groggy —?”
“A weak tea of foxtail, marisin, and —”
Rand missed the last of it as he followed Thom into a room behind the first, a chamber just as big and even emptier. Here was only the dust, thick and undisturbed until they came. Not even the tracks of birds or small animals marked the floor.
Rand began to unsaddle Bela and Cloud, and Thom, Aldieb and his gelding, and Perrin, his horse and Mandarb. All but Mat. He dropped his reins in the middle of the room. There were two doorways from the room besides the one by which they had entered.
“Alley,” Mat announced, drawing his head back in from the first. They could all see that much from where they were. The second doorway was only a black rectangle in the rear wall. Mat went through slowly, and came out much faster, vigorously brushing old cobwebs out of his hair. “Nothing in there,” he said, giving the alleyway another look.
“You going to take care of your horse?” Perrin said. He had already finished his own and was lifting the saddle from Mandarb. Strangely, the fierceeyed stallion gave him no trouble at all, though he did watch Perrin. “Nobody is going to do it for you.”
Mat gave the alley one last look and went to his horse with a sigh.
As Rand laid Bela's saddle on the floor, he noticed that Mat had taken on glum stare. His eyes seemed a thousand miles away, and he was moving by rote.
“Are you all right, Mat?” Rand said. Mat lifted the saddle from his horse, and stood holding it. “Mat? Mat!”
Mat gave a start and almost dropped the saddle. “What? Oh. I ... I was just thinking.”
“Thinking?” Perrin hooted from where he was replacing Mandarb's bridle with a hackamore. “You were asleep.”
Mat scowled. “I was thinking about ... about what happened back there. About those words I ...” Everybody turned to look at him then, not just Rand, and he shifted uneasily. “Well, you heard what Moiraine said. It's as if some dead man was speaking with my mouth. I don't like it.” His scowl grew deeper when Perrin chuckled.
“Aemon's warcry, she said — right? Maybe you're Aemon come back again. The way you go on about how dull Emond's Field is, I'd think you would like that — being a king and hero reborn.”
“Don't say that!” Thom drew a deep breath; everybody stared at him now. “That is dangerous talk, stupid talk. The dead can be reborn, or take a living body, and it is not something to speak of lightly.” He took another breath to calm himself before going on. “The old blood, she said. The blood, not a dead man. I've heard that it can happen, sometimes. Heard, though I never really thought ... It was your roots, boy. A line running from you to your father to your grandfather, right on back to Manetheren, and maybe beyond. Well, now you know your family is old. You ought to let it go at that and be glad. Most people don't know much more than that they had a father.”
Some of us can't even be sure of that, Rand thought bitterly. Maybe the Wisdom was right. Light, I hope she was.
Mat nodded at what the gleeman said. “I suppose I should. Only... do you think it has anything to do with what's happened to us? The Trollocs and all? I mean ... oh, I don't know what I mean.”
“I think you ought to forget about it, and concentrate on getting out of here safely.” Thom produced his longstemmed pipe from inside his cloak. “And I think I am going to have a smoke.” With a waggle of the pipe in their direction, he disappeared into the front room.
“We are all in this together, not just one of us,” Rand told Mat.
Mat gave himself a shake, and laughed, a short bark. “Right. Well, speaking of being in things together, now that we're done with the horses, why don't we go see a little more of this city. A real city, and no crowds to jostle your elbow and poke you in the ribs. Nobody looking down their long noses at us. There's still an hour, maybe two, of daylight left.”
“Aren't you forgetting the Trollocs?” Perrin said.
Mat shook his head scornfully. “Lan said they wouldn't come in here, remember? You need to listen to what people say.”
“I remember,” Perrin said. “And I do listen. This city — Aridhol? — was an ally of Manetheren. See? I listen.”
“Aridhol must have been the greatest city in the Trolloc Wars,” Rand aid, “for the Trollocs to still be afraid of it. They weren't afraid to come into the Two Rivers, and Moiraine said Manetheren was — how did she put it? — a thorn to the Dark One's foot.”
Perrin raised his hands. “Don't mention the Shepherd of the Night. Please?”
“What do you say?” Mat laughed. “Let's go.”
“We should ask Moiraine,” Perrin said, and Mat threw up his hands.
“Ask Moiraine? You think she'll let us out of her sight? And what about Nynaeve? Blood and ashes, Perrin, why not ask Mistress Luhhan while you're about it?”
Perrin nodded reluctant agreement, and Mat turned to Rand with a grin. “What about you? A real city? With palaces!” He gave a sly laugh. “And no Whitecloaks to stare at us.”
Rand gave him a dirty look, but he hesitated only a minute. Those palaces were like a gleeman's tale. “All right.”
Stepping softly so as not to be heard in the front room, they left by the alley, following it away from the front of the building to a street on the other side. They walked quickly, and when they were a block away from the white stone building Mat suddenly broke into a capering dance.
“Free.” He laughed. “Free!” He slowed until he was turning a circle, staring at everything and still laughing. The afternoon shadows stretched long and jagged, and the sinking sun made the ruined city golden. “Did you ever even dream of a place like this? Did you?”
Perrin laughed, too, but Rand shrugged uncomfortably. This was nothing like the city in his first dream, but just the same ...“If we're going to see anything,” he said, “we had better get on with it. There isn't much daylight left.”
Mat wanted to see everything, it seemed, and he pulled the others along with his enthusiasm. They climbed over dusty fountains with basins wide enough to hold everybody in Emond's Field and wandered in and out of structures chosen at random, but always the biggest they could find. Some they understood, and some not. A palace was plainly a palace, but what was a huge building that was one round, white dome as big as a hill outside and one monstrous room inside? And a walled place, open to the sky and big enough to have held all of Emond's Field, surrounded by row on ro