“I suppose,” he said slowly, “that Whitebridge is where we should go. But the Fades probably know that, too. That's where they'll be looking, and this time we don't have an Aes Sedai or a Warder to protect us.”
“I suppose you're going to suggest running off somewhere, the way Mat wanted to? Hiding somewhere the Fades and Trollocs won't find us? Or Moiraine Sedai, either?”
“Don't think I haven't considered it,” he said quietly. “But every time we think we are free, Fades and Trollocs find us again. I don't know if there is anyplace we could hide from them. I don't like it much, but we need Moiraine.”
“I don't understand then, Perrin. Where do we go?”
He blinked in surprise. She was waiting for his answer. Waiting for him to tell her what to do. It had never occurred to him that she would look to him to take the lead. Egwene never liked doing what someone else had planned out, and she never let anybody tell her what to do. Except maybe the Wisdom, and he thought sometimes she balked at that. He smoothed the dirt in front of him with his hand and cleared his throat roughly.
“If this is where we are now, and that is Whitebridge,” he stabbed the ground twice with his finger, “then Caemlyn should be somewhere around here.” He made a third mark, off to the side.
He paused, looking at the three dots in the dirt. His entire plan was based on what he remembered of her father's old map. Master al'Vere said it was not too accurate, and, anyway, he had never mooned over it as much as Rand and Mat. But Egwene said nothing. When he looked up, she was still watching him with her hands in her lap.
“Caemlyn?” She sounded stunned.
“Caemlyn.” He drew a line in the dirt between two of the dots. “Away from the river, and straight across. Nobody would expect that. We'll wait for them in Caemlyn.” He dusted his hands and waited. He thought it was a good plan, but surely she would have objections now. He expected she would take charge — she was always bullying him into something — and that was all right with him.
To his surprise, she nodded. “There must be villages. We can ask directions.”
“What worries me,” Perrin said, “is what we do if the Aes Sedai doesn't find us there. Light, who'd ever have thought I'd worry about something like that? What if she doesn't come to Caemlyn? Maybe she thinks we're dead. Maybe she'll take Rand and Mat straight to Tar Valon.”
“Moiraine Sedai said she could find us,” Egwene said firmly. “If she can find us here, she can find us in Caemlyn, and she will.”
Perrin nodded slowly. “If you say so, but if she doesn't appear in Caemlyn in a few days, we go on to Tar Valon and put our case before the Amyrlin Seat.” He took a deep breath. Two weeks ago you'd never even seen an Aes Sedai, and now you're talking about the Amyrlin Seat. Light! “According to Lan, there's a good road from Caemlyn.” He looked at the oiled paper packet beside Egwene and cleared his throat. “What chance of a little more bread and cheese?”
“This might have to last a long time,” she said, “unless you have better luck with snares than I did last night. At least the fire was easy.” She laughed softly as if she had made a joke, tucking the packet back into her saddlebags.
Apparently there were limits to how much leadership she was willing to accept. His stomach rumbled. “In that case,” he said, standing, “we might as well start now.”
“But you're still wet,” she protested.
“I'll walk myself dry,” he said firmly, and began kicking dirt over the fire. If he was the leader, it was time to start leading. The wind from the river was picking up.
From the start Perrin knew the journey to Caemlyn was going to be far from comfortable, beginning with Egwene's insistence that they take turns riding Bela. They did not know how far it was, she said, but it was too far for her to be the only one who rode. Her jaw firmed, and her eyes stared at him unblinking.
“I'm too big to ride Bela,” he said. “I'm used to walking, and I'd rather.”
“And I am not used to walking?” Egwene said sharply.
“That isn't what I —”
“I'm the only one who's supposed to get saddlesore, is that it? And when you walk till your feet are ready to fall off, you'll expect me to look after you.”
“Let it be,” he breathed when she looked like going on. “Anyway, you'll take the first turn.” Her face turned even more stubborn, but he refused to let her get a word in edgewise. “If you won't get in the saddle by yourself, I'll put you there.”
She gave him a startled look, and a small smile curved her lips. “In that case...” She sounded as if she were about to laugh, but she climbed up.
He grumbled to himself as he turned away from the river. Leaders in stories never had to put up with this sort of thing.
Egwene did insist on him taking his turns, and whenever he tried to avoid it, she bullied him into the saddle. Blacksmithing did not lend itself to a slender build, and Bela was not very large as horses went. Every time he put his foot in the stirrup the shaggy mare looked at him with what he was sure was reproach. Small things, perhaps, but they irritated. Soon he flinched whenever Egwene announced, “It's your turn, Perrin.”
In stories leaders seldom flinched, and they were never bullied. But, he reflected, they never had to deal with Egwene, either.
There were only short rations of bread and cheese to begin with, and what there was gave out by the end of the first day. Perrin set snares along likely rabbit runs — they looked old, but it was worth a chance — while Egwene began laying a fire. When he was done, he decided to try his hand with his sling before the light failed altogether. They had not seen a sign of anything at all alive, but ... To his surprise, he jumped a scrawny rabbit almost at once. He was so surprised when it burst from under a bush right beneath his feet that it almost got away, but he fetched it at forty paces, just as it was darting around a tree.
When he came back to the camp with the rabbit, Egwene had broken limbs all laid for the fire, but she was kneeling beside the pile with her eyes closed. “What are you doing? You can't wish a fire.”
Egwene gave a jump at his first words, and twisted around to stare at him with a hand to her throat. “You ... you startled me.”
“I was lucky,” he said, holding up the rabbit. “Get your flint and steel. We eat well tonight, at least.”
“I don't have a flint,” she said slowly. “It was in my pocket, and I lost it in the river.”
“Then how ... ?”
“It was so easy back there on the riverbank, Perrin. Just the way Moiraine Sedai showed me. I just reached out, and ...” She gestured as if grasping for something, then let her hand fall with a sigh. “I can't find it, now.”
Perrin licked his lips uneasily. “The ... the Power?” She nodded, and he stared at her. “Are you crazy? I mean ... the One Power! You can't just play around with something like that.”
“It was so easy, Perrin. I can do it. I can channel the Power.”
He took a deep breath. “I'll make a firebow, Egwene. Promise you won't try this ... this ... thing again.”
“I will not.” Her jaw firmed in a way that made him sigh. “Would you give up that axe of yours, Perrin Aybara? Would you walk around with one hand tied behind your back? I won't do it!”
“I'll make the firebow,” he said wearily. “At least, don't try it again tonight? Please?”
She acquiesced grudgingly, and even after the rabbit was roasting on a spit over the flames, he had the feeling she felt she could have done it better. She would not give up trying, either, every night, though the best she ever did was a trickle of smoke that vanished almost immediately. Her eyes dared him to say a word, and he wisely kept his mouth shut.
After that one hot meal, they subsisted on coarse wild tubers and a few young shoots. With still no sign of spring, none of it was plentiful, and none of it tasty, either. Neither complained, but not a meal passed without one or the other sighing regretfully, and they both knew it was for the tang of a bit of cheese, or even the smell of bread. A find of mushrooms — Queen's Crowns, the best — one afternoon in a shady part of the forest was enough to seem a great treat. They gobbled them down, laughing and telling stories from back in Emond's Field, stories that began, “Do you remember when —” but the mushrooms did not last long, and neither did the laughter. There was little mirth in hunger.
Whichever was walking carried a sling, ready to let fly at the sight of a rabbit or squirrel, but the only time either hurled a stone was in frustration. The snares they set so carefully each evening yielded nothing at dawn, and they did not dare stay a day in one place to leave the snares out. Neither of them knew how far it was to Caemlyn, and neither would feel safe until they got there, if then. Perrin began to wonder if his stomach could shrink enough to make a hole all t