“What about the others?” Rand asked. “Will you take them, too? They should have reached the river by now, or they soon will, and they'll see that lantern on your mast.”
Captain Domon's eyebrows rose in surprise. “Happen you think we be standing still, man? Fortune prick me, we be three, four miles downriver from where you came aboard. Trollocs make those fellows put their backs into the oars — they know Trollocs better than they like — and the current helps, too. But it makes no nevermind. I'd no put in again tonight if my old grandmother was on the riverbank. I may no put in again at all until I reach Whitebridge. I've had my fill of Trollocs dogging my heels long before tonight, and I'll have no more can I help it.”
Thom leaned forward interestedly. “You have had encounters with Trollocs before? Lately?”
Domon hesitated, eyeing Thom narrowly, but when he spoke he merely sounded disgusted. “I wintered in Saldaea, man. Not my choice, but the river froze early and the ice broke up late. They say you can see the Blight from the highest towers in Maradon, but I've no mind for that. I've been there before, and there always be talk of Trollocs attacking a farm or the like. This winter past, though, there be farms burning every night. Aye, and whole villages, too, betimes. They even came right up to the city walls. And if that no be bad enough, the people be all saying it meant the Dark One be stirring, that the Last Days be come.” He gave a shiver, and scratched at his head as if the thought made his scalp itch. “I can no wait to get back where people think Trollocs be just tales, the stories I tell be traveler's lies.”
Rand stopped listening. He stared at the opposite wall and thought about Egwene and the others. It hardly seemed right for him to be safe on the Spray while they were still back there in the night somewhere. The captain's cabin did not seem so comfortable as before.
He was surprised when Thom pulled him to his feet. The gleeman pushed Mat and him toward the ladder with apologies over his shoulder to Captain Domon for the country louts. Rand climbed up without a word.
Once they were on deck Thom looked around quickly to make sure he would not be overheard, then growled, “I could have gotten us passage for a few songs and stories if you two hadn't been so quick to show silver.”
“I'm not so sure,” Mat said. “He sounded serious about throwing us in the river to me.”
Rand walked slowly to the rail and leaned against it, staring back up the nightshrouded river. He could not see anything but black, not even the riverbank. After a minute Thom put a hand on his shoulder, but he did not move.
“There isn't anything you can do, lad. Besides, they're likely safe with the . . . with Moiraine and Lan by this time. Can you think of any better than those two for getting the lot of them clear?”
“I tried to talk her out of coming,” Rand said.
“You did what you could, lad. No one could ask more.”
“I told her I'd take care of her. I should have tried harder.” The creak of the sweeps and the hum of the rigging in the wind made a mournful tune. “I should have tried harder,” he whispered.
Listen to the Wind
Sunrise creeping across the River Arinelle found its way into the hollow not far from the riverbank where Nynaeve sat with her back against the trunk of a young oak, breathing the deep breath of sleep. Her horse slept, too, head down and legs spraddled in the manner of horses. The reins were wrapped around her wrist. As sunlight fell on the horse's eyelids, the animal opened its eyes and raised its head, jerking the reins. Nynaeve came awake with a start.
For a moment she stared, wondering where she was, then stared around even more wildly when she remembered. But there were only the trees, and her horse, and a carpet of old, dry leaves across the bottom of the hollow. In the deepest dimness, some of last year's shadowshand mushrooms made rings on a fallen log.
“The Light preserve you, woman,” she murmured, sagging back, “if you can't stay awake one night.” She untied the reins and massaged her wrist as she stood. “You could have awakened in a Trolloc cookpot.”
The dead leaves rustled as she climbed to the lip of the hollow and peeped over. No more than a handful of ash trees stood between her and the river. Their fissured bark and bare branches made them seem dead. Beyond, the wide bluegreen water flowed by. Empty. Empty of anything. Scattered clumps of evergreens, willows and firs, dotted the far bank, and there seemed to be fewer trees altogether than on her side. If Moiraine or any of the younglings were over there, they were well hidden. Of course, there was no reason they had to have crossed, or tried to cross, in sight of where she was. They could be anywhere ten miles upriver or down. If they're alive at all, after last night.
Angry with herself for thinking of the possibility, she slid back down into the hollow. Not even Winternight, or the battle before Shadar Logoth, had prepared her for last night, for that thing, Mashadar. All that frantic galloping, wondering if anyone else was still alive, wondering when she was going to come facetoface with a Fade, or Trollocs. She had heard Trollocs growling and shouting in the distance, and the quivering shrieks of Trolloc horns had chilled her deeper than the wind ever could, but aside from that first encounter in the ruins she saw Trollocs only once, and that once she was outside. Ten or so of them seemed to spring out of the ground not thirty spans in front of her, bounding toward her on the instant, howling and shouting, brandishing hooked catchpoles. Yet as she pulled her horse around, they fell silent, lifting muzzles to sniff at the air. She watched, too astonished to run, as they turned their backs and vanished into the night. And that had been the most frightening of all.
“They know the smell of who they want,” she told her horse, standing in the hollow, “and it is not me. The Aes Sedai is right, it seems, the Shepherd of the Night swallow her up.”
Reaching a decision, she set out downriver, leading her horse. She moved slowly, keeping a wary watch on the forest around her; just because the Trollocs had not wanted her last night did not mean they would let her go if she stumbled on them again. As much attention as she gave the woods, she gave even more to the ground in front of her. If the others had crossed below her during the night, she should see some signs of them, signs she might miss from horseback. She might even come on them all still on this side. If she found neither, the river would take her to Whitebridge eventually, and there was a road from Whitebridge to Caemlyn, and all the way to Tar Valon if need be.
The prospect was almost enough to daunt her. Before this she had been no further from Emond's Field than had the boys. Taren Ferry had seemed strange to her; Baerlon would have had her staring in wonder if she had not been so set on finding Egwene and the others. But she allowed none of that to weaken her resolve. Sooner or later she would find Egwene and the boys. Or find a way to make the Aes Sedai answer for whatever had happened to them. One or the other, she vowed.
At intervals she found tracks, plenty of them, but usually her best efforts could not say whether those who made them had been searching or chasing or pursued. Some had been made by boots that could have belonged to humans or Trollocs either one. Others were hoofprints, like goats or oxen; those were Trollocs for sure. But never a clear sign that she could definitely say came from any of those she sought.
She had covered perhaps four miles when the wind brought her a whiff of woodsmoke. It came from further downriver, and not too far, she thought. She hesitated only a moment before tying her horse to a fir tree, well back from the river in a small, thick stand of evergreens that should keep the animal hidden. The smoke could mean Trollocs, but the only way to find out was to look. She tried not to think about the use Trollocs might be making of a fire.
Crouching, she slipped from tree to tree, mentally cursing the skirts she had to hold up out of the way. Dresses were not made for stalking. The sound of a horse slowed her, and when she finally peered cautiously around the trunk of an ash, the Warder was dismounting from his black warhorse in a small clearing on the bank. The Aes Sedai sat on a log beside a small fire where a kettle of water was just coming to a boil. Her white mare browsed behind her among sparse weeds. Nynaeve remained where she was.
“They are all gone,” Lan announced grimly. “Four Halfmen started south about two hours before dawn, as near as I can tell — they don't leave much trace behind — but the Trollocs have vanished. Even the corpses, and Trollocs are not known for carrying off their dead. Unless they're hungry.”
Moiraine tossed a handful of something into the boiling water and moved the kettle from the fire. “One could always hope they had gone back into Shadar Logoth and been consumed by it, but that would be too much to wish for.”
The delicious odor of tea drifted to Nynaeve. Light, don't let my stomach grumble.
“There was no clear sign of the boys, or any of the others. The tracks are too muddled to tell anything.” In her concealment, Nynaeve smiled; the Warder's failure was a slight vindication of her own. “But this other is important, Moiraine,” Lan went on, frowning. He waved away the Aes Sedai's offer of tea and began marching up and down in front of the fire, one hand on his sword hilt and his cloak changing colors as he turned. “I could accept Trollocs in the Two Rivers, even a hundred Trollocs. But this? There must have been almost a thousand in the hun