Dapple growled deep in her throat, and the sound was taken up by the other three around the fire, then by the wolves in the darkness. The menacing rumble filled the night.
“All right,” Perrin said quickly. “All right!” The growling cut off, sharp and sudden. Egwene unclenched her hands and nodded. “It all started a few days before Winternight,” Perrin began, “when our friend Mat saw a man in a black cloak ...”
Elyas never changed his expression or the way he lay on his side, but there was something about the tilt of his head that spoke of ears pricking up. The four wolves sat down as Perrin went on; he had the impression they were listening, too. The story was a long one, and he told almost all of it. The dream he and the others had had in Baerlon, though, he kept to himself. He waited for the wolves to make some sign they had caught the omission, but they only watched. Dapple seemed friendly, Burn angry. He was hoarse by the time he finished.
“... and if she doesn't find us in Caemlyn, we'll go on to Tar Valon. We don't have any choice except to get help from the Aes Sedai.”
“Trollocs and Halfmen this far south,” Elyas mused. “Now that's something to consider.” He rooted behind him and tossed Perrin a hide waterbag, not really looking at him. He appeared to be thinking. He waited until Perrin had drunk and replaced the plug before he spoke again. “I don't hold with Aes Sedai. The Red Ajah, those that like hunting for men who mess with the One Power, they wanted to gentle me, once. I told them to their faces they were Black Ajah; served the Dark One, I said, and they didn't like that at all. They couldn't catch me, though, once I got into the forest, but they did try. Yes, they did. Come to that, I doubt any Aes Sedai would take kindly to me, after that. I had to kill a couple of Warders. Bad business, that, killing Warders. Don't like it.”
“This talking to wolves,” Perrin said uneasily. “It ... it has to do with the Power?”
“Of course not,” Elyas growled. “Wouldn't have worked on me, gentling, but it made me mad, them wanting to try. This is an old thing, boy. Older than Aes Sedai. Older than anybody using the One Power. Old as humankind. Old as wolves. They don't like that either, Aes Sedai. Old things coming again. I'm not the only one. There are other things, other folk. Makes Aes Sedai nervous, makes them mutter about ancient barriers weakening. Things are breaking apart, they say. They're afraid the Dark One will get loose, is what. You'd think I was to blame, the way some of them looked at me. Red Ajah, anyway, but some others, too. The Amyrlin Seat ... Aaaah! I keep clear of them, mostly, and clear of friends of Aes Sedai, as well. You will, too, if you're smart.”
“I'd like nothing better than to stay away from Aes Sedai,” Perrin said.
Egwene gave him a sharp look. He hoped she would not burst out that she wanted to be an Aes Sedai. But she said nothing, though her mouth tightened, and Perrin went on.
“It isn't as if we have a choice. We've had Trollocs chasing us, and Fades, and Draghkar. Everything but Darkfriends. We can't hide, and we can't fight back alone. So who is going to help us? Who else is strong enough, except Aes Sedai?”
Elyas was silent for a time, looking at the wolves, most often at Dapple or Burn. Perrin shifted nervously and tried not to watch. When he watched he had the feeling that he could almost hear what Elyas and the wolves were saying to one another. Even if it had nothing to do with the Power, he wanted no part of it. He had to be making some crazy joke. I can't talk to wolves. One of the wolves — Hopper, he thought — looked at him and seemed to grin. He wondered how he had put a name to him.
“You could stay with me,” Elyas said finally. “With us.” Egwene's eyebrows shot up, and Perrin's mouth dropped open. “Well, what could be safer?” Elyas challenged. “Trollocs will take any chance they get to kill a wolf by itself, but they'll go miles out of their way to avoid a pack. And you won't have to worry about Aes Sedai, either. They don't often come into these woods.”
“I don't know.” Perrin avoided looking at the wolves to either side of him. One was Dapple, and he could feel her eyes on him. “For one thing, it isn't just the Trollocs.”
Elyas chuckled coldly. “I've seen a pack pull down one of the Eyeless, too. Lost half the pack, but they wouldn't give up once they had its scent. Trollocs, Myrddraal, it's all one to the wolves. It's you they really want, boy. They've heard of other men who can talk to wolves, but you're the first they've ever met besides me. They'll accept your friend, too, though, and you'll all be safer here than in any city. There's Darkfriends in cities.”
“Listen,” Perrin said urgently, “I wish you'd stop saying that. I can't do that ... what you do, what you're saying.”
“As you wish, boy. Play the goat, if you've a mind to. Don't you want to be safe?”
“I'm not deceiving myself. There's nothing to deceive myself about. All we want —”
“We are going to Caemlyn,” Egwene spoke up firmly. “And then to Tar Valon. ”
Closing his mouth, Perrin met her angry look with one of his own. He knew that she followed his lead when she wanted to and not when she did not, but she could at least let him answer for himself. “What about you, Perrin?” he said, and answered himself. “Me? Well, let me think. Yes. Yes, I think I'll go on.” He turned a mild smile on her. “Well, Egwene, that makes both of us. I guess I'm going with you, at that. Good to talk these things out before making a decision, isn't it?” She blushed, but the set of her jaw never lessened.
Elyas grunted. “Dapple said that's what you'd decide. She said the girl's planted firmly in the human world, while you” — he nodded at Perrin — “stand halfway between. Under the circumstances, I suppose we'd better go south with you. Otherwise, you'll probably starve to death, or get lost, or —”
Abruptly Burn stood up, and Elyas turned his head to regard the big wolf. After a moment Dapple rose, too. She moved closer to Elyas, so that he also was meeting Burn's stare. The tableau was frozen for long minutes, then Burn whirled and vanished into the night. Dapple shook herself, then resumed her place, flopping down as if nothing had happened.
Elyas met Perrin's questioning eyes. “Dapple runs this pack,” he explained. “Some of the males could best her if they challenged, but she's smarter than any of them, and they all know it. She's saved the pack more than once. But Burn thinks the pack is wasting time with you three. Hating Trollocs is about all there is to him, and if there are Trollocs this far south he wants to be off killing them.”
“We quite understand,” Egwene said, sounding relieved. “We really can find our own way ... with some directions, of course, if you'll give them. ”
Elyas waved a hand. “I said Dapple leads this pack, didn't I? In the morning, I'll start south with you, and so will they.” Egwene looked as if that was not the best news she could have heard.
Perrin sat wrapped in his own silence. He could feel Burn leaving. And the scarred male was not the only one; a dozen others, all young males, loped after him. He wanted to believe it was all Elyas playing on his imagination, but he could not. Just before the departing wolves faded from his mind, he felt a thought he knew came from Burn, as sharp and clear as if it were his own thought. Hatred. Hatred and the taste of blood.
Flight Down the Arinelle
Water dripped in the distance, hollow splashes echoing and reechoing, losing their source forever. There were stone bridges and tailless ramps everywhere, all sprouting off from broad, flattopped stone spires, all polished and smooth and streaked with red and gold. Level on level, the maze stretched up and down through the murk, without any apparent beginning or end. Every bridge led to a spire, every ramp to another spire, other bridges. Whatever direction Rand looked, as far as his eye could make out in the dimness it was the same, above as well as below. There was not enough light to see clearly, and he was almost glad of it. Some of those ramps led to platforms that had to be directly above the ones below. He could not see the base of any of them. He pressed, seeking freedom, knowing it was an illusion. Everything was illusion.
He knew the illusion; he had followed it too many times not to know. However far he went, up or down or in any direction, there was only the shiny stone. Stone, but the dankness of deep, freshturned earth permeated the air, and the sickly sweetness of decay. The smell of a grave opened out of its time. He tried not to breathe, but the smell filled his nostrils. It clung to his skin like oil.
A flicker of motion caught his eye, and he froze where he was, half crouched against the polished guardwall around one of the spire tops. It was no hiding place. From a thousand places a watcher could have seen him. Shadow filled the air, but there were no deeper shadows in which to hide. The light did not come from lamps, or lanterns, or torches; it was simply there, such as it was, as if it seeped out of the air. Enough by which to see, after a fashion; enough by which to be seen. But stillness