The movement came again, and now it was clear. A man striding up a distant ramp, careless of the lack of railings and the drop to nothing below. The man's cloak rippled with his stately haste, and his head turned, searching, searching. The distance was too far for Rand to see more than the shape in the murk, but he did not need to be closer to know the cloak was the red of fresh blood, that the searching eyes blazed like two furnaces.
He tried tracing the maze with his eyes, to see how many connections Ba'alzamon needed before reaching him, then gave it up as useless. Distances were deceiving here, another lesson he had learned. What seemed far away might be reached by turning a corner; what appeared close could be out of reach altogether. The only thing to do, as it had been from the beginning, was to keep moving. Keep moving, and not think. Thinking was dangerous, he knew.
Yet, as he turned away from Ba'alzamon's distant form, he could not help wondering about Mat. Was Mat somewhere in this maze? Or are there two mazes, two Ba'alzamons? His mind skittered away from that; it was too dreadful to dwell on. Is this like Baerlon? Then why can't he find me? That was a little better. A small comfort. Comfort? Blood and ashes, where's the comfort in it?
There had been two or three close brushes, though he could not remember them clearly, but for a long, long time — how long? — he had run while Ba'alzamon vainly pursued. Was this like Baerlon, or was it only a nightmare, only a dream like other men's dreams?
For an instant, then — just for the length of time it took to take a breath — he knew why it was dangerous to think, what it was dangerous to think about. As it had before, every time he allowed himself to think of what surrounded him as a dream, the air shimmered, clouding his eyes. It turned to jell, holding him. Just for an instant.
The gritty heat prickled his skin, and his throat had long since gone dry as he trotted down the thornhedge maze. How long had it been now? His sweat evaporated before it had a chance to bead, and his eyes burned. Overhead — and not too far overhead, at that — boiled furious, steely clouds streaked with black, but not a breath of air stirred in the maze. For a moment he thought it had been different, but the thought evaporated in the heat. He had been here a long time. It was dangerous to think, he knew that.
Smooth stones, pale and rounded, made a sketchy pavement, half buried in the bonedry dust that rose in puffs at even his lightest step. It tickled his nose, threatening a sneeze that might give him away; when he tried to breathe through his mouth, dust clogged his throat until he choked.
This was a dangerous place; he knew that, too. Ahead of him he could see three openings in the high wall of thorns, then the way curved out of sight. Ba'alzamon could be approaching any one of those corners at that very moment. There had been two or three encounters already, though he could not remember much beyond that they had happened and he had escaped ... somehow. Dangerous to think too much.
Panting in the heat, he stopped to examine the maze wall. Thickly woven thorn bushes, brown and deadlooking, with cruel black thorns like inchlong hooks. Too tall to see over, too dense to see through. Gingerly he touched the wall, and gasped. Despite all his care, a thorn pierced his finger, burning like a hot needle. He stumbled back, his heels catching on the stones, shaking his hand and scattering thick drops of blood. The burn began to subside, but his whole hand throbbed.
Abruptly he forgot the pain. His heel had overturned one of the smooth stones, kicked it out of the dry ground. He stared at it, and empty eye sockets stared back. A skull. A human skull. He looked along the pathway at all the smooth, pale stones, all exactly alike. He shifted his feet hastily, but he could not move without walking on them, and he could not stay still without standing on them. A stray thought took vague shape, that things might not be what they seemed, but he pushed it down ruthlessly. Thinking was dangerous here.
He took a shaky hold on himself. Staying in one place was dangerous, too. That was one of the things he knew dimly but with certainty. The flow of blood from his finger had dwindled to a slow drip, and the throb was almost gone. Sucking his fingertip, he started down the path in the direction he happened to be facing. One way was as good as another in here.
Now he remembered hearing once that you could get out of a maze by always turning in the same direction. At the first opening in the wall of thorns he turned right, then right again at the next. And found himself facetoface with Ba'alzamon.
Surprise flitted across Ba'alzamon's face, and his bloodred cloak settled as he stopped short. Flames soared in his eyes, but in the heat of the maze Rand barely felt them.
“How long do you think you can evade me, boy? How long do you think you can evade your fate? You are mine!”
Stumbling back, Rand wondered why he was fumbling at his belt, as if for a sword. “Light help me,” he muttered. “Light help me.” He could not remember what it meant.
“The Light will not help you, boy, and the Eye of the World will not serve you. You are my hound, and if you will not course at my command, I will strangle you with the corpse of the Great Serpent!”
Ba'alzamon stretched out his hand, and suddenly Rand knew a way to escape, a misty, halfformed memory that screamed danger, but nothing to the danger of being touched by the Dark One.
“A dream!” Rand shouted. “This is a dream!”
Ba'alzamon's eyes began to widen, in surprise or anger or both, then the air shimmered, and his features blurred, and faded.
Rand turned about in one spot, staring. Staring at his own image thrown back at him a thousandfold. Ten thousandfold. Above was blackness, and blackness below, but all around him stood mirrors, mirrors set at every angle, mirrors as far as he could see, all showing him, crouched and turning, staring wideeyed and frightened.
A red blur drifted across the mirrors. He spun, trying to catch it, but in every mirror it drifted behind his own image and vanished. Then it was back again, but not as a blur. Ba'alzamon strode across the mirrors, ten thousand Ba'alzamons, searching, crossing and recrossing the silvery mirrors.
He found himself staring at the reflection of his own face, pale and shivering in the knifeedge cold. Ba'alzamon's image grew behind his, staring at him; not seeing, but staring still. In every mirror, the flames of Ba'alzamon's face raged behind him, enveloping, consuming, merging. He wanted to scream, but his throat was frozen. There was only one face in those endless mirrors. His own face. Ba'alzamon's face. One face.
Rand jerked, and opened his eyes. Darkness, lessened only slightly by a pale light. Barely breathing, he moved nothing except his eyes. A rough wool blanket covered him to his shoulders, and his head was cradled on his arms. He could feel smooth wooden planks under his hands. Deck planks. Rigging creaked in the night. He let out a long breath. He was on the Spray. It was over ... for another night, at least.
Without thinking he put his finger in his mouth. At the taste of blood, he stopped breathing. Slowly he put his hand close to his face, to where he could see in the dim moonlight, to where he could watch the bead of blood form on his fingertip. Blood from the prick of a thorn.
The Spray made haste slowly down the Arinelle. The wind came strong, but from directions that made the sails useless. With all Captain Domon's demand for speed, the vessel crept along. By night a man in the bows cast a tallowed lead by lantern light, calling back the depth to the steersman, while the current carried her downriver against the wind with the sweeps pulled in. There were no rocks to fear in the Arinelle, but shallows and shoals there were aplenty, where a boat could go hard aground to remain, bows and more dug into the mud, until help came. If it was help that came first. By day the sweeps worked from sunrise to sunset, but the wind fought them as if it wanted to push the boat back upriver.
They did not put in to shore, neither by day nor by night. Bayle Domon drove boat and crew alike hard, railing at the contrary winds, cursing the slow pace. He blistered the crew for sluggards at the oars and flayed them with his tongue for every mishandled line, his low, hard voice painting Trollocs ten feet tall among them on the deck, ripping out their throats. For two days that was enough to send every man leaping. Then the shock of the Trolloc attack began to fade, and men began to mutter about an hour to stretch their legs ashore, and about the dangers of running downriver in the dark.
The crew kept their grumbles quiet, watching out of the corners of their eyes to make sure Captain Domon was not close enough to hear, but he seemed to hear everything said on his boat. Each time the grumblings began, he silently brought out the long, scythelike sword and cruelly hooked axe that had been found on the deck after the attack. He would hang them on the mast for an hour, and those who had been wounded would finger their bandages, and the mutterings quieted... for a day or so, at least, until one or another of the crew began thinking once more that surely they had left the Trollocs far behind by now, and the cycle began yet again.
Rand noticed that Thom Merrilin stayed clear of the crew when they began whispering together and frowning, though usually he was slapping backs and telling jokes and exchanging banter in a way that put a grin on even the hardestworking man. Thom watched those secretive mutters with a wary eye while appearing to be absorbed in lighting his longstemmed pipe, or tuning his harp, or almost anything except paying any mind at all to the crew. Rand did not understand why. It was not the three who had come aboard chased by Trollocs whom the crew seemed to blam