“I shall have to see,” she replied, putting a hand on Ewin's shoulder. Her eyes twinkled with amusement, though she gave no other sign of it. “I do not know how well I could compete against a gleeman, Ewin. But you must all call me Moiraine.” She looked expectantly at Rand and Mat.
“I'm Matrim Cauthon, La ... ah ... Moiraine,” Mat said. He made a stiff, jerking bow, then went red in the face as he straightened.
Rand had been wondering if he should do something of the sort, the way men did in stories, but with Mat's example, he merely spoke his name. At least he did not stumble over his own tongue this time.
Moiraine looked from him to Mat and back again. Rand thought her smile, a bare curve of the corners of her mouth, was now the sort Egwene wore when she had a secret. “I may have some small tasks to be done from time to time while I am in Emond's Field,” she said. “Perhaps you would be willing to assist me?” She laughed as their assents tumbled over one another. “Here,” she said, and Rand was surprised when she pressed a coin into his palm, closing his hand tightly around it with both of hers.
“There's no need,” he began, but she waved aside his protest as she gave Ewin a coin as well, then pressed Mat's hand around one the same way she had Rand's.
“Of course, there is,” she said. “You cannot be expected to work for nothing. Consider this a token, and keep it with you, so you will remember that you have agreed to come to me when I ask it. There is a bond between us now.”
“I'll never forget,” Ewin piped up.
“Later we must talk,” she said, “and you must tell me all about yourselves. ”
“Lady ... I mean, Moiraine?” Rand asked hesitantly as she turned away. She stopped and looked back over her shoulder, and he had to swallow before going on. “Why have you come to Emond's Field?” Her expression was unchanged, but
suddenly he wished he had not asked, though he could not have said why. He rushed to explain himself, anyway. “I don't mean to be rude. I'm sorry. It's just that no one comes into the Two Rivers except the merchants, and peddlers when the snow isn't too deep to get down from Baerlon. Almost no one. Certainly no one like you. The merchants' guards sometimes say this is the back end of forever, and I suppose it must seem that way to anyone from outside. I just wondered.”
Her smile did fade then, slowly, as if something had been recalled to her. For a moment she merely looked at him. “I am a student of history,” she said at last, “a collector of old stories. This place you call the Two Rivers has always interested me. Sometimes I study the stories of what happened here long ago, here and at other places.”
“Stories?” Rand said. “What ever happened in the Two Rivers to interest someone like — I mean, what could have happened here?”
“And what else would you call it beside the Two Rivers?” Mat added. “That's what it has always been called.”
“As the Wheel of Time turns,” Moiraine said, half to herself and with a distant look in her eyes, “places wear many names. Men wear many names, many faces. Different faces, but always the same man. Yet no one knows the Great Pattern the Wheel weaves, or even the Pattern of an Age. We can only watch, and study, and hope.”
Rand stared at her, unable to say a word, even to ask what she meant. He was not sure she had meant for them to hear. The other two were just as tonguetied, he noticed. Ewin's mouth hung open.
Moiraine focused on them again, and all three gave a little shake as if waking up. “Later we will talk,” she said. None of them said a word. “Later.” She moved on toward the Wagon Bridge, appearing to glide over the ground rather than walk, her cloak spreading on either side of her like wings.
As she left, a tall man Rand had not noticed before moved away from the front of the inn and followed her, one hand resting on the long hilt of a sword. His clothes were a dark grayish green that would have faded into leaf or shadow, and his cloak swirled through shades of gray and green and brown as it shifted in the wind. It almost seemed to disappear at times, that cloak, fading into whatever lay beyond it. His hair was long, and gray at the temples, held back from his face by a narrow leather headband. That face was made from stony planes and angles, weathered but unlined despite the gray in his hair. When he moved, Rand could think of nothing but a wolf.
In passing the three youths his gaze ran over them, eyes as cold and blue as a midwinter dawn. It was as if he were weighing them in his mind, and there was no sign on his face of what the scales told him. He quickened his pace until he caught up to Moiraine, then slowed to walk by her shoulder, bending to speak to her. Rand let out a breath he had not realized he had been holding.
“That was Lan,” Ewin said throatily, as if he, too, had been holding his breath. it had been that kind of look. “I'll bet he's a Warder.”
“Don't be a fool.” Mat laughed, but it was a shaky laugh. “Warders are just in stories. Anyway, Warders have swords and armor covered in gold and jewels, and spend all their time up north, in the Great Blight, fighting evil and Trollocs and such.”
“He could be a Warder,” Ewin insisted.
“Did you see any gold or jewels on him?” Mat scoffed. “Do we have Trollocs in the Two Rivers? We have sheep. I wonder what could ever have happened here to interest someone like her.”
“Something could have,” Rand answered slowly. “They say the inn's been here for a thousand years, maybe more.”
“A thousand years of sheep,” Mat said.
“A silver penny!” Ewin burst out. “She gave me a whole silver penny! Think what I can buy when the peddler comes.”
Rand opened his hand to look at the coin she had given him, and almost dropped it in surprise. He did not recognize the fat silver coin with the raised image of a woman balancing a single flame on her upturned hand, but he had watched while Bran al'Vere weighed out the coins merchants brought from a dozen lands, and he had an idea of its value. That much silver would buy a good horse anywhere in the Two Rivers, with some left over.
He looked at Mat and saw the same stunned expression he knew must be On his own face. Tilting his hand so Mat could see the coin but not Ewin, he raised a questioning eyebrow. Mat nodded, and for a minute they stared at one another in perplexed wonder.
“What kind of chores does she have?” Rand asked finally.
“I don't know,” Mat said firmly, “and I don't care. I won't spend it, either. Even when the peddler comes.” With that he thrust his coin into his coat pocket.
Nodding, Rand slowly did the same with his. He was not sure why, but somehow what Mat said seemed right. The coin should not be spent. Not when it came from her. He could not think of anything else silver was good for, but ...
“Do you think I should keep mine, too?” Anguished indecision painted Ewin's face.
“Not unless you want to,” Mat said.
“I think she gave it to you to spend,” Rand said.
Ewin looked at his coin, then shook his head and stuffed the silver penny into his pocket. “I'll keep it,” he said mournfully.
“There's still the gleeman,” Rand said, and the younger boy brightened.
“If he ever wakes up,” Mat added.
“Rand,” Ewin asked, “is there a gleeman?”
“You'll see,” Rand answered with a laugh. It was clear Ewin would not believe until he set eyes on the gleeman. “He has to come down sooner or later. ”
Shouting drifted across the Wagon Bridge, and when Rand looked to see what was causing it, his laughter became wholehearted. A milling crowd of villagers, from grayhaired oldsters to toddlers barely able to walk, escorted a tall wagon toward the bridge, a huge wagon drawn by eight horses, the outside of its rounded canvas cover hung about with bundles like bunches of grapes. The peddler had come at last. Strangers and a gleeman, fireworks and a peddler. It was going to be the best Bel Tine ever.
Clusters of pots clattered and banged as the peddler's wagon rumbled over the heavy timbers of the Wagon Bridge. Still surrounded by a cloud of villagers and farmers come for Festival, the peddler reined his horses to a stop in front of the inn. From every direction people streamed to swell the numbers around the great wagon, its wheels taller than any of the people with their eyes fastened to the peddler above them on the wagon seat.
The man on the wagon was Padan Fain, a pale, skinny fellow with gangly arms and a massive beak of a nose. Fain, always smiling and laughing as if he knew a joke that no one else knew, had driven his wagon and team into Emond's Field every spring for as long as Rand could remember.
The door of the inn flew open even as the team halted in a jangle of harness, and the Village Council appeared, led by Master al'Vere and Tam. They marched out deliberately, even Cenn Buie, amid all the excited shouting of the others for pins or lace or books or a dozen other things. Reluctantly the crowd parted to let them to the fore, everyone closing in quickly behind and never stopping their calling to the peddler. Most of all, the