“Not about this,” Elyas said in a tone that put an end to talk. The silence around the campfire was broken only by the music and laughter drifting from other parts of the nightshrouded camp.
Lying with his shoulders propped on one of the logs around the fire, Perrin tried puzzling out the Aiel woman's message, but it made no more sense to him than it had to Raen or Elyas. The Eye of the World. That had been in his dreams, more than once, but he did not want to think about those dreams. Elyas, now. There was a question there he would like answered. What had Raen been about to say about the bearded man, and why had Elyas cut him off? He had no luck with that, either. He was trying to imagine what Aiel girls were like — going into the Blight, where only Warders went that he had ever heard; fighting Trollocs — when he heard Egwene coming back, singing to herself.
Scrambling to his feet, he went to meet her at the edge of the firelight. She stopped short, looking at him with her head tilted to one side. In the dark he could not read her expression.
“You've been gone a long time,” he said. “Did you have fun?”
“We ate with his mother,” she answered. “And then we danced ... and laughed. It seems like forever since I danced.”
“He reminds me of Wil al'Seen. You always had sense enough not to let Wil put you in his pocket.”
“Aram is a gentle boy who is fun to be with,” she said in a tight voice. “He makes me laugh.”
Perrin sighed. “I'm sorry. I'm glad you had fun dancing.”
Abruptly she flung her arms around him, weeping on his shirt. Awkwardly he patted her hair. Rand would know what to do, he thought. Rand had an easy way with girls. Not like him, who never knew what to do or say. “I told you I'm sorry, Egwene. I really am glad you had fun dancing. Really. ”
“Tell me they're alive,” she mumbled into his chest.
She pushed back to arm's length, her hands on his arms, and looked up at him in the darkness. “Rand and Mat. The others. Tell me they are alive. ”
He took a deep breath and looked around uncertainly. “They are alive,” he said finally.
“Good.” She scrubbed at her cheeks with quick fingers. “That is what I wanted to hear. Good night, Perrin. Sleep well.” Standing on tiptoe, she brushed a kiss across his cheek and hurried past him before he could speak.
He turned to watch her. Ila rose to meet her, and the two women went into the wagon talking quietly. Rand might understand it, he thought, but I don't.
In the distant night the wolves howled the first thin sliver of the new moon toward the horizon, and he shivered. Tomorrow would be time enough to worry about the wolves again. He was wrong. They were waiting to greet him in his dreams.
The last unsteady note of what had been barely recognizable as “The Wind That Shakes the Willow” faded mercifully away, and Mat lowered Thom's goldandsilverchased flute. Rand took his hands from his ears. A sailor coiling a line on the deck nearby heaved a loud sigh of relief. For a moment the only sounds were the water slapping against the hull, the rhythmic creak of the oars, and now and again the hum of rigging strummed by the wind. The wind blew dead on to the Spray's bow, and the useless sails were furled.
“I suppose I should thank you,” Thom Merrilin muttered finally, “for teaching me how true the old saying is. Teach him how you will, a pig will never play the flute.” The sailor burst out laughing, and Mat raised the flute as if to throw it at him. Deftly, Thom snagged the instrument from Mat's fist and fitted it into its hard leather case. “I thought all you shepherds whiled away the time with the flock playing the pipes or the flute. That will show me to trust what I don't know firsthand.”
“Rand's the shepherd,” Mat grumbled. “He plays the pipes, not me.”
“Yes, well, he does have a little aptitude. Perhaps we had better work on juggling, boy. At least you show some talent for that.”
“Thom,” Rand said, “I don't know why you're trying so hard.” He glanced at the sailor and lowered his voice. “After all, we aren't really trying to become gleemen. It's only something to hide behind until we find Moiraine and the others.”
Thom tugged at an end of his mustache and seemed to be studying the smooth, dark brown leather of the flute case on his knees. “What if you don't find them, boy? There's nothing to say they're even still alive.”
“They're alive,” Rand said firmly. He turned to Mat for support, but Mat's eyebrows were pinched down on his nose, and his mouth was a thin line, and his eyes were fixed on the deck. “Well, speak up,” Rand told him. “You can't be that mad over not being able to play the flute. I can't either, not very well. You never wanted to play the flute before.”
Mat looked up, still frowning. “What if they are dead?” he said softly. “We have to accept facts, right?”
At that moment the lookout in the bow sang out, “Whitebridge! Whitebridge ahead!”
For a long minute, unwilling to believe that Mat could say something like that so casually, Rand held his friend's gaze amid the scramble of sailors preparing to put in. Mat glowered at him with his head pulled down between his shoulders. There was so much Rand wanted to say, but he could not manage to get it all into words. They had to believe the others were alive. They had to. Why? nagged a voice in the back of his head. So it will all turn out like one of Thom's stories? The heroes find the treasure and defeat the villain and live happily ever after? Some of his stories don't end that way. Sometimes even heroes die. Are you a hero, Rand al'Thor? Are you a hero, sheepherder?
Abruptly Mat flushed and pulled his eyes away. Freed from his thoughts, Rand jumped up to move through the hurlyburly to the rail. Mat came after him slowly, not even making an effort to dodge the sailors who ran across his path.
Men dashed about the boat, bare feet thumping the deck, hauling on ropes, tying off some lines and untying others. Some brought up big oilskin bags stuffed almost to bursting with wool, while others readied cables as thick as Rand's wrist. Despite their haste, they moved with the assurance of men who had done it all a thousand times before, but Captain Domon stumped up and down the deck shouting orders and cursing those who did not move fast enough to suit him.
Rand's attention was all for what lay ahead, coming plainly into sight as they rounded a slight bend of the Arinelle. He had heard of it, in song and story and peddlers' tales, but now he would actually see the legend.
The White Bridge arched high over the wide waters, twice as high as the Spray's mast and more, and from end to end it gleamed milky white in the sunlight, gathering the light until it seemed to glow. Spidery piers of the same stuff plunged into the strong currents, appearing too frail to support the weight and width of the bridge. It looked all of one piece, as if it had been carved from a single stone or molded by a giant's hand, broad and tall, leaping the river with an airy grace that almost made the eye forget its size. All in all it dwarfed the town that sprawled about its foot on the east bank, though Whitebridge was larger by far than Emond's Field, with houses of stone and brick as tall as those in Taren Ferry and wooden docks like thin fingers sticking out into the river. Small boats dotted the Arinelle thickly, fishermen hauling their nets. And over it all the White Bridge towered and shone.
“It looks like glass,” Rand said to no one in particular.
Captain Domon paused behind him and tucked his thumbs behind his broad belt. “Nay, lad. Whatever it be, it no be glass. Never so hard the rains come, it no be slippery, and the best chisel and the strongest arm no make a mark on it.”
“A remnant from the Age of Legends,” Thom said. “I have always thought it must be.”
The captain gave a dour grunt. “Mayhap. But still useful despite. Could be someone else built it. Does no have to be Aes Sedai work, Fortune prick me. It no has to be so old as all that. Put your back into it, you bloody fool!” He hurried off down the deck.
Rand stared even more wonderingly. From the Age of Legends. Made by Aes Sedai, then. That was why Captain Domon felt the way he did, for all his talk about the wonder and strangeness of the world. Aes Sedai work. One thing to hear about it, another to see it, and touch it. You know that, don't you? For an instant it seemed to Rand that a shadow rippled through the milkwhite structure. He pulled his eyes away, to the docks coming nearer, but the bridge still loomed in the corner of his vision.
“We made it, Thom,” he said, then forced a laugh. “And no mutiny.”
The gleeman only harrumphed and blew out his mustaches, but two sailors readying a cable nearby gave Rand a sharp glance, then bent quickly back to their work. He stopped laughing and tried not to look at the two for the rest of the approach to Whitebridge.
The Spray curved smoothly in beside the first dock, thick timbers sitting on heavy, tarcoated pilings, and stopped with a backing of oars that swirled the water to froth around the blades. As the oars were drawn in, sailors tossed cables to men on the dock, who fastened them off with a flourish, while other crewmen slung the bags of wool over the side to protect the h