“Be still,” Elyas said. “My friends are coming.”
Bela suddenly whinnied in fear, and began jerking to pull her reins free. Perrin half rose as shapes appeared all around them in the darkening forest. Bela reared and twisted, screaming.
“Quiet the mare,” Elyas said. “They won't hurt her. Or you, if you're still.”
Four wolves stepped into the firelight, shaggy, waisthigh forms with jaws that could break a man's leg. As if the people were not there they walked up to the fire and lay down between the humans. In the darkness among the trees firelight reflected off the eyes of more wolves, on all sides.
Yellow eyes, Perrin thought. Like Elyas's eyes. That was what he had been trying to remember. Carefully watching the wolves among them, he reached for his axe.
“I would not do that,” Elyas said. “If they think you mean harm, they'll stop being friendly.”
They were staring at him, those four wolves, Perrin saw. He had the feeling that all the wolves, those in the trees, as well, were staring at him. It made his skin itch. Cautiously he moved his hands away from the axe. He imagined he could feel the tension ease among the wolves. Slowly he sat back down; his hands shook until he gripped his knees to stop them. Egwene was so stiff she almost quivered. One wolf, close to black with a lighter gray patch on his face, lay nearly touching her.
Bela had ceased her screaming and rearing. Instead she stood trembling and shifting in an attempt to keep all of the wolves in view, kicking occasionally to show the wolves that she could, intending to sell her life dearly. The wolves seemed to ignore her and everyone else. Tongues lolling out of their mouths, they waited at their ease.
“There,” Elyas said. “That's better.”
“Are they tame?” Egwene asked faintly, and hopefully, too. “They're ... pets?”
Elyas snorted. “Wolves don't tame, girl, not even as well as men. They're my friends. We keep each other company, hunt together, converse, after a fashion. Just like any friends. Isn't that right, Dapple?” A wolf with fur that faded through a dozen shades of gray, dark and light, turned her head to look at him.
“You talk to them?” Perrin marveled.
“It isn't exactly talking,” Elyas replied slowly. “The words don't matter, and they aren't exactly right, either. Her name isn't Dapple. It's something that means the way shadows play on a forest pool at a midwinter dawn, with the breeze rippling the surface, and the tang of ice when the water touches the tongue, and a hint of snow before nightfall in the air. But that isn't quite it, either. You can't say it in words. It's more of a feeling. That's the way wolves talk. The others are Burn, Hopper, and Wind.” Burn had an old scar on his shoulder that might explain his name, but there was nothing about the other two wolves to give any indication of what their names might mean.
For all the man's gruffness, Perrin thought Elyas was pleased to have the chance to talk to another human. He seemed eager enough to do it, at least. Perrin eyed the wolves' teeth glistening in the firelight and thought it might be a good idea to keep him talking. “How ... how did you learn to talk to wolves, Elyas?”
“They found out,” Elyas replied, “I didn't. Not at first. That's always the way of it, I understand. The wolves find you, not you them. Some people thought me touched by the Dark One, because wolves started appearing wherever I went. I suppose I thought so, too, sometimes. Most decent folk began to avoid me, and the ones who sought me out weren't the kind I wanted to know, one way or another. Then I noticed there were times when the wolves seemed to know what I was thinking, to respond to what was in my head. That was the real beginning. They were curious about me. Wolves can sense people, usually, but not like this. They were glad to find me. They say it's been a long time since they hunted with men, and when they say a long time, the feeling I get is like a cold wind howling all the way down from the First Day.”
“I never heard of men hunting with wolves,” Egwene said. Her voice was not entirely steady, but the fact that the wolves were just lying there seemed to give her heart.
If Elyas heard her, he gave no sign. “Wolves remember things differently from the way people do,” he said. His strange eyes took on a faraway look, as if he were drifting off on the flow of memory himself. “Every wolf remembers the history of all wolves, or at least the shape of it. Like I said, it can't be put into words very well. They remember running down prey sidebyside with men, but it was so long ago that it's more like the shadow of a shadow than a memory.”
“That's very interesting,” Egwene said, and Elyas looked at her sharply. “No, I mean it. It is.” She wet her lips. “Could ... ah ... could you teach us to talk to them?”
Elyas snorted again. “It can't be taught. Some can do it, some can't. They say he can.” He pointed at Perrin.
Perrin looked at Elyas's finger as if it were a knife. He really is a madman. The wolves were staring at him again. He shifted uncomfortably.“You say you're going to Caemlyn,” Elyas said, “but that still doesn't explain what you're doing out here, days from anywhere.” He tossed back his furpatch cloak and lay down on his side, propped on one elbow and waiting expectantly.
Perrin glanced at Egwene. Early on they had concocted a story for when they found people, to explain where they were going without bringing them any trouble. Without letting anyone know where they were really from, or where they were really going, eventually. Who knew what careless word might reach a Fade's ear? They had worked on it every day, patching it together, honing out flaws. And they had decided Egwene was the one to tell it. She was better with words than he was, and she claimed she could always tell when he was lying by his face.
Egwene began at once, smoothly. They were from the north, from Saldaea, from farms outside a tiny village. Neither of them had been more than twenty miles from home in their whole lives before this. But they had heard gleemen's stories, and merchants' tales, and they wanted to see some of the world. Caemlyn, and Illian. The Sea of Storms, and maybe even the fabled islands of the Sea Folk.
Perrin listened with satisfaction. Not even Thom Merrilin could have made a better tale from the little they knew of the world outside the Two Rivers, or one better suited to their needs.
“From Saldaea, eh?” Elyas said when she was done.
Perrin nodded. “That's right. We thought about seeing Maradon first. I'd surely like to see the King. But the capital city would be the first place our fathers would look. ”
That was his part of it, to make it plain they had never been to Maradon. That way no one would expect them to know anything about the city, just in case they ran into someone who really had been there. It was all a long way from Emond's Field and the events of Winternight. Nobody hearing the tale would have any reason to think of Tar Valon, or Aes Sedai.
“Quite a story.” Elyas nodded. “Yes, quite a story. There's a few things wrong with it, but the main thing is Dapple says it's all a lump of lies. Every last word.”
“Lies!” Egwene exclaimed. “Why would we lie?”
The four wolves had not moved, but they no longer seemed to be just lying there around the fire; they crouched, instead, and their yellow eyes watched the Emond's Fielders without blinking.
Perrin did not say anything, but his hand strayed to the axe at his waist. The four wolves rose to their feet in one quick movement, and his hand froze. They made no sound, but the thick hackles on their necks stood erect. One of the wolves back under the trees raised a growling howl into the night. Others answered, five, ten, twenty, till the darkness rippled with them. Abruptly they, too, were still. Cold sweat trickled down Perrin's face.
“If you think ...” Egwene stopped to swallow. Despite the chill in the air there was sweat on her face, too. “If you think we are lying, then you'll probably prefer that we make our own camp for the night, away from yours. ”
“Ordinarily I would, girl. But right now I want to know about the Trollocs. And the Halfmen.” Perrin struggled to keep his face impassive, and hoped he was doing better at it than Egwene. Elyas went on in a conversational tone. "Dapple says she smelled Halfmen and Trollocs in your minds while you were telling that fool story. They all did. You're mixed up with Trollocs, somehow, and the Eyeless. Wolves hate Trollocs and Halfmen worse than wildfire, worse than anything, and so do I.
“Burn wants to be done with you. It was Trollocs gave him that mark when he was a yearling. He says game is scarce, and you're fatter than any deer he's seen in months, and we should be done with you. But Burn is always impatient. Why don't you tell me about it? I hope you're not Darkfriends. I don't like killing people after I've fed them. Just remember, they'll know if you lie, and even Dapple is already near as upset as Burn.” His eyes, as yellow as the wolves' eyes, blinked no more than theirs did. They are a wolf's eyes, Perrin thought.Egwene was looking at him, he realized, waiting for him to decide what they should do. Light, suddenly I'm the leader again. They had decided from the first that they could not risk telling the real story to anyone, but he saw no chance for them to get away even if he managed to