“I would not know what the cities allow.” Raen's patience seemed inexhaustible. He certainly did not appear to be getting angry at all. “There are always violent men in cities. In any case, I do not think the song could be found in a city.”
“I don't mean to offend you, Seeker,” Perrin said slowly, “but ... Well, I don't look for violence. I don't think I've even wrestled anybody in years, except for feastday games. But if somebody hit me, I'd hit him back. If I didn't, I would just be encouraging him to think he could hit me whenever he wanted to. Some people think they can take advantage of others, and if you don't let them know they can't, they'll just go around bullying anybody weaker than they are.”
“Some people,” Aram said with a heavy sadness, “can never overcome their baser instincts.” He said it with a look at Perrin that made it clear he was not talking about the bullies Perrin spoke of.
“I'll bet you get to run away a lot,” Perrin said, and the young Tinker's face tightened in a way that had nothing to do with the Way of the Leaf.
“I think it is interesting,” Egwene said, glaring at Perrin, “to meet someone who doesn't believe his muscles can solve every problem.”
Aram's good spirits returned, and he stood, offering her his hands with a smile. “Let me show you our camp. There is dancing.”
“I would like that.” She smiled back.
Ila straightened from taking loaves of bread from the small iron oven. “But supper is ready, Aram.”
“I'll eat with mother,” Aram said over his shoulder as he drew Egwene away from the wagon by her hand. “We will both eat with mother.” He flashed a triumphant smile at Perrin. Egwene was laughing as they ran.
Perrin got to his feet, then stopped. It was not as if she could come to any harm, not if the camp followed this Way of the Leaf as Raen said. Looking at Raen and Ila, both staring dejectedly after their grandson, he said, “I'm sorry. I am a guest, and I shouldn't have —”
“Don't be foolish,” Ila said soothingly. “It was his fault, not yours. Sit down and eat.”
“Aram is a troubled young man,” Raen added sadly. “He is a good boy, but sometimes I think he finds the Way of the Leaf a hard way. Some do, I fear. Please. My fire is yours. Please?”
Perrin sat back down slowly, still feeling awkward. “What happens to somebody who can't follow the Way?” he asked. “A Tinker, I mean.”
Raen and Ila exchanged a worried look, and Raen said, “They leave us. The Lost go to live in the villages.”
Ila stared in the direction her grandson had gone. “The Lost cannot be happy.” She sighed, but her face was placid again when she handed out the bowls and spoons.
Perrin stared at the ground, wishing he had not asked, and there was no more talk while Ila filled their bowls with a thick vegetable stew and handed out thick slices of her crusty bread, nor while they ate. The stew was delicious, and Perrin finished three bowls before he stopped. Elyas, he noted with a grin, emptied four.
After the meal Raen filled his pipe, and Elyas produced his own and stuffed it from Raen's oilskin pouch. When the lighting and tamping and relighting were done, they settled back in silence. Ila took out a bundle of knitting. The sun was only a blaze of red above the treetops to the west. The camp had settled in for the night, but the bustle did not slow, only changed. The musicians who had been playing when they entered the camp had been replaced by others, and even more people than before danced in the light of the fires, their shadows leaping against the wagons. Somewhere in the camp a chorus of male voices rose. Perrin slid down in front of the log and soon felt himself dozing.
After a time Raen said, “Have you visited any of the Tuatha'an, Elyas, since you were with us last spring?”
Perrin's eyes drifted open and half shut again.
“No,” Elyas replied around his pipestem. “I don't like being around too many people at once.”
Raen chuckled. “Especially people who live in a way so opposite to your own, eh? No, my old friend, don't worry. I gave up years ago hoping you would come to the Way. But I have heard a story since last we met, and if you have not heard it yet, it might interest you. It interests me, and I have heard it again and again, every time we meet others of the People.”
“It begins in the spring two years ago, with a band of the People who were crossing the Waste by the northern route.”
Perrin's eyes shot open. “The Waste? The Aiel Waste? They were crossing the Aiel Waste?”
“Some people can enter the Waste without being bothered,” Elyas said. “Gleemen. Peddlers, if they're honest. The Tuatha'an cross the Waste all the time. Merchants from Cairhien used to, before the Tree, and the Aiel War. ”
“The Aielmen avoid us,” Raen said sadly, “though many of us have tried to speak with them. They watch us from a distance, but they will not come near us, nor let us come near them. Sometimes I worry that they might know the song, though I suppose it isn't likely. Among Aiel, men do not sing, you know. Isn't that strange? From the time an Aiel boy becomes a man he will not sing anything but battle chants, or their dirge for the slain. I have heard them singing over their dead, and over those they have killed. That song is one to make the stones weep.” Ila, listening, nodded agreement over her knitting.
Perrin did some quick rethinking. He had thought the Tinkers must be afraid all the time, with all this talk of running away, but no one who was afraid would even think of crossing the Aiel Waste. From what he had heard, no one who was sane would try crossing the Waste.
“If this is some story about a song,” Elyas began, but Raen shook his head.
“No, my old friend, not a song. I am not sure I know what it is about.” He turned his attention to Perrin. “Young Aiel often travel into the Blight. Some of the young men go alone, thinking for some reason that they have been called to kill the Dark One. Most go in small groups. To hunt Trollocs.” Raen shook his head sadly, and when he went on his voice was heavy. “Two years ago a band of the People crossing the Waste about a hundred miles south of the Blight found one of these groups.”
“Young women,” Ila put in, as sorrowful as her husband. “Little more than girls.”
Perrin made a surprised sound, and Elyas grinned at him wryly.
“Aiel girls don't have to tend house and cook if they don't want to, boy. The ones who want to be warriors, instead, join one of the warrior societies, Far Dareis Mai, the Maidens of the Spear, and fight right alongside the men.”
Perrin shook his head. Elyas chuckled at his expression.
Raen took up the story again, distaste and perplexity mingled in his voice. “The young women were all dead except one, and she was dying. She crawled to the wagons. It was clear she knew they were Tuatha'an. Her loathing outweighed her pain, but she had a message so important to her that she must pass it on to someone, even us, before she died. Men went to see if they could help any of the others — there was a trail of her blood to follow — but all were dead, and so were three times their number in Trollocs.”
Elyas sat up, his pipe almost falling from between his teeth. “A hundred miles into the Waste? Impossible! Djevik K'Shar, that's what Trollocs call the Waste. The Dying Ground. They wouldn't go a hundred miles into the Waste if all the Myrddraal in the Blight were driving them.”
“You know an awful lot about Trollocs, Elyas,” Perrin said.
“Go on with your story,” Elyas told Raen gruffly.
“From trophies the Aiel carried, it was obvious they were coming back from the Blight. The Trollocs had followed, but by the tracks only a few lived to return after killing the Aiel. As for the girl, she would not let anyone touch her, even to tend her wounds. But she seized the Seeker of that band by his coat, and this is what she said, word for word. 'Leafblighter means to blind the Eye of the World, Lost One. He means to slay the Great Serpent. Warn the People, Lost One. Sightburner comes. Tell them to stand ready for He Who Comes With the Dawn. Tell them ...' And then she died. Leafblighter and Sightburner,” Raen added to Perrin, “are Aiel names for the Dark One, but I don't understand another word of it. Yet she thought it important enough to approach those she obviously despised, to pass it on with her last breath. But to who? We are ourselves, the People, but I hardly think she meant it for us. The Aiel? They would not let us tell them if we tried.” He sighed heavily. “She called us the Lost. I never knew before how much they loathe us.” Ila set her knitting in her lap and touched his head gently.
“Something they learned in the Blight,” Elyas mused. "But none of it makes sense. Slay the Great Serpent? Kill time itself? And blind the Eye of the World?
As well say he's going to starve a rock. Maybe she was babbling, Raen. Wounded, dying, she could have lost her grip on what was real. Maybe she didn't even know who those Tuatha'an were."
“She knew what she was saying, and to whom she was saying it. Something more important to her than her own life, and we cannot even understand it. When I saw you walking into our camp, I thought perhaps we would find the answer at last, since you were” — Elyas made a quick motion with his hand, and Raen changed what he had been going to say — “are a friend, and know m