Four days into their trip downriver found Rand atop the mast, sitting on the blunt end with his legs wrapped in the stays. The Spray rolled gently on the river, but fifty feet above the water that easy roll made the top of the mast sway back and forth through wide arcs. He threw back his head and laughed into the wind that blew in his face.

The oars were out, and from here the boat looked like some twelvelegged spider creeping down the Arinelle. He had been as high as this before, in trees back in the Two Rivers, but this time there were no branches to block his view. Everything on deck, the sailors at the sweeps, men on their knees scrubbing the deck with smoothstones, men doing things with lines and hatchcovers, looked so odd when seen from right overhead, all squat and foreshortened, that he had spent an hour just staring at them and chuckling.


He still chuckled whenever he looked down at them, but now he was staring at the riverbanks flowing by. That was the way it seemed, as if he were still — except for the swaying back and forth, of course — and the banks slid slowly by, trees and hills marching along to either side. He was still, and the whole world moved past him.

On sudden impulse he unwrapped his legs from the stays bracing the mast and held his arms and legs out to either side, balancing against the sway. For three complete arcs he kept his balance like that, then suddenly it was gone. Arms and legs windmilling, he toppled forward and grabbed the forestay. Legs splayed to either side of the mast, nothing holding him to his precarious perch but his two hands on the stay, he laughed. Gulping huge breaths of the fresh, cold wind, he laughed with the exhilaration of it.

“Lad,” came Thom's hoarse voice. “Lad, if you're trying to break your fool neck, don't do it by falling on me.”

Rand looked down. Thom clung to the ratlines just below him, staring up the last few feet grimly. Like Rand, the gleeman had left his cloak below. “Thom,” he said delightedly. “Thom, when did you come here?”

“When you wouldn't pay any attention to people shouting at you. Burn me, boy, you've got everybody thinking you've gone mad.”

He looked down and was surprised to see all the faces staring up at him. Only Mat, sitting crosslegged up in the bows with his back to the mast, was not looking at him. Even the men at the oars had their eyes raised, letting their stroke go ragged. And no one was berating them for it. Rand twisted his head around to look under his arm at the stern. Captain Domon stood by the steering oar, hamlike fists on his hips, glaring at him atop the mast. He turned back to grin at Thom. “You want me to come down, then?”

Thom nodded vigorously. “I would appreciate it greatly.”

“All right.” Shifting his grip on the forestay, he sprang forward off the mast top. He heard Thom bite off an oath as his fall was cut short and he dangled from the forestay by his hands. The gleeman scowled at him, one hand half stretched out to catch him. He grinned at Thom again. “I'm going down now.”

Swinging his legs up, he hooked one knee over the thick line that ran from the mast to the bow, then caught it in the crook of his elbow and let go with his hands. Slowly, then with increasing speed, he slid down. Just short of the bow he dropped to his feet on the deck right in front of Mat, took one step to catch his balance, and turned to face the boat with arms spread wide, the way Thom did after a tumbling trick.

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Scattered clapping rose from the crew, but he was looking down at Mat in surprise, and at what Mat held, hidden from everyone else by his body. A curved dagger with a gold scabbard worked in strange symbols. Fine gold wire wrapped the hilt, which was capped by a ruby as big as Rand's thumbnail, and the quillons were goldenscaled serpents baring their fangs.

Mat continued to slide the dagger in and out of its sheath for a moment. Still playing with the dagger he raised his head slowly; his eyes had a faraway look. Suddenly they focused on Rand, and he gave a start and stuffed the dagger under his coat.

Rand squatted on his heels, with his arms crossed on his knees. “Where did you get that?” Mat said nothing, looking quickly to see if anyone else was close by. They were alone, for a wonder. “You didn't take it from Shadar Logoth, did you?”

Mat stared at him. “It's your fault. Yours and Perrin's. The two of you pulled me away from the treasure, and I had it in my hand. Mordeth didn't give it to me. I took it, so Moiraine's warnings about his gifts don't count. You won't tell anybody, Rand. They might try to steal it.”

“I won't tell anybody,” Rand said. “I think Captain Domon is honest, but I wouldn't put anything past the rest of them, especially Gelb.”

“Not anybody,” Mat insisted. “Not Domon, not Thom, not anybody. We're the only two left from Emond's Field, Rand. We can't afford to trust anybody else. ”

“They're alive, Mat. Egwene, and Perrin. I know they're alive.” Mat looked ashamed. “I'll keep your secret, though. Just the two of us. At least we don't have to worry about money now. We can sell it for enough to travel to Tar Valon like kings.”

“Of course,” Mat said after a minute. “If we have to. Just don't tell anybody until I say so.”

“I said I wouldn't. Listen, have you had any more dreams since we came on the boat? Like in Baerlon? This is the first chance I've had to ask without six people listening.”

Mat turned his head away, giving him a sidelong look. “Maybe.”

“What do you mean, maybe? Either you have or you haven't.”

“All right, all right, I have. I don't want to talk about it. I don't even want to think about it. It doesn't do any good.”

Before either of them could say more Thom came striding up the deck, his cloak over his arm. The wind whipped his white hair about, and his long mustaches seemed to bristle. “I managed to convince the captain you aren't crazy,” he announced, “that it was part of your training.” He caught hold of the forestay and shook it. “That fool stunt of yours, sliding down the rope, helped, but you are lucky you didn't break your fool neck.”

Rand's eyes went to the forestay and followed it up to the top of the mast, and as they did his mouth dropped open. He had slid down that. And he had been sitting on top of ...

Suddenly he could see himself up there, arms and legs spread wide. He sat down hard, and barely caught himself short of ending up flat on his back. Thom was looking at him thoughtfully.

“I didn't know you had such a good head for heights, lad. We might be able to play in Illian, or Ebou Dar, or even Tear. People in the big cities in the south like tightrope walkers and slackwire artists.”

“We're going to —” At the last minute Rand remembered to look around for anyone close enough to overhear. Several of the crew were watching them, including Gelb, glaring as usual, but none could hear what he was saying. “To Tar Valon,” he finished. Mat shrugged as if it were all the same to him where they went.

“At the moment, lad,” Thom said, settling down beside them, “but tomorrow ... who knows? That's the way with a gleeman's life.” He took a handful of colored balls from one of his wide sleeves. “Since I have you down out of the air, we'll work on the triple crossover.”

Rand's gaze drifted to the top of the mast, and he shivered. What's happening to me? Light, what? He had to find out. He had to get to Tar Valon before he really did go mad.

Chapter 25

The Traveling People

Bela walked along placidly under the weak sun as if the three wolves trotting not far off were only village dogs, but the way she rolled her eyes at them from time to time, showing white all the way around, indicated she felt nothing of the sort. Egwene, on the mare's back, was just as bad. She watched the wolves constantly from the corner of her eye, and sometimes she twisted in the saddle to look around. Perrin was sure she was hunting for the rest of the pack, though she denied it angrily when he suggested as much, denied being afraid of the wolves that paced them, denied worrying about the rest of the pack or what it was up to. She denied, and went right on looking, tighteyed and wetting her lips uneasily.

The rest of the pack was far distant; he could have told her that. What good, even if she believed me? Especially if she did. He was of no mind to open that basket of snakes until he had to. He did not want to think about how he knew. The furclad man loped ahead of them, sometimes looking almost like a wolf himself, and he never looked around when Dapple, Hopper, and Wind appeared, but he knew, too.

The Emond's Fielders had wakened at dawn that first morning to find Elyas cooking more rabbit and watching them over his full beard without much expression. Except for Dapple, Hopper, and Wind, no wolves were to be seen. In the pale, early daylight, deep shade still lingered under the big oak, and the bare trees beyond looked like fingers stripped to the bone.

“They're around,” Elyas answered when Egwene asked where the rest of the pack had gone. “Close enough to help, if need be. Far enough off to avoid any human trouble we get into. Sooner or later there's always trouble when there's two humans together. If we need them, they'll be there.”

Something tickled the back of Perrin's mind as he ripped free a bite of roast rabbit. A direction, vaguely sensed. Of course! That's where they ... The hot juices in his mouth abruptly lost all taste. He picked at the tubers Elyas had cooked in the coals — they tasted something like turnips —

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