“I don't understand,” Rand said. The Myrddraal was not twenty paces away, now. His feet felt like lead weights.
“Just remember it!” Thom snarled. “The Queen's Blessing. Now. RUN!”
He gave them a push, one hand on the shoulder of each of them, to get them started, and Rand stumbled away in a lurching run with Mat at his side.
“RUN!” Thom sprang into motion, too, with a long, wordless roar. Not after them, but toward the Myrddraal. His hands flourished as if he were performing at his best, and daggers appeared. Rand stopped, but Mat pulled him along.
The Fade was just as startled. Its leisurely pace faltered in midstride. Its hand swept toward the hilt of the black sword hanging at its waist, but the gleeman's long legs covered the distance quickly. Thom crashed into the Myrddraal before the black blade was half drawn, and both went down in a thrashing heap. The few people still in the square fled.
“RUN!” The air in the square flashed an eyesearing blue, and Thom began to scream, but even in the middle of the scream he managed a word. “RUN!”
Rand obeyed. The gleeman's screams pursued him.
Clutching Thom's bundle to his chest, he ran as hard as he could. Panic spread from the square out through the town as Rand and Mat fled on the crest of a wave of fear. Shopkeepers abandoned their goods as the boys passed. Shutters banged down over storefronts, and frightened faces appeared in the windows of houses, then vanished. People who had not been close enough to see ran through the streets wildly, paying no heed. They bumped into one another, and those who were knocked down scrambled to their feet or were trampled. Whitebridge roiled like a kicked anthill.
As he and Mat pounded toward the gates, Rand abruptly remembered what Thom had said about his height. Without slowing down, he crouched as best he could without looking as if he was crouching. But the gates themselves, thick wood bound with black iron straps, stood open. The two gatetenders, in steel caps and mail tunics worn over cheaplooking red coats with white collars, fingered their halberds and stared uneasily into the town. One of them glanced at Rand and Mat, but they were not the only ones running out of the gates. A steady stream boiled through, panting men clutching wives, weeping women carrying babes and dragging crying children, palefaced craftsmen still in their aprons, still heedlessly gripping their tools.
There would be no one who could tell which way they had gone, Rand thought as he ran, dazed. Thom. Oh, Light save me, Thom.
Mat staggered beside him, caught his balance, and they ran until the last of the fleeing people had fallen away, ran until the town and the White Bridge were far out of sight behind them.
Finally Rand fell to his knees in the dust, pulling air raggedly into his raw throat with great gulps. The road behind stretched empty until it was lost to sight among bare trees. Mat plucked at him.
“Come on. Come on.” Mat panted the words. Sweat and dust streaked his face, and he looked ready to collapse. “We have to keep going.”
“Thom,” Rand said. He tightened his arms around the bundle of Thom's cloak; the instrument cases were hard lumps inside. “Thom.”
“He's dead. You saw. You heard. Light, Rand, he's dead!”
“You think Egwene and Moiraine and the rest are dead, too. If they're dead, why are the Myrddraal still hunting them? Answer me that?”
Mat dropped to his knees in the dust beside him. “All right. Maybe they are alive. But Thom — You saw! Blood and ashes, Rand, the same thing can happen to us.”
Rand nodded slowly. The road behind them was still empty. He had been halfway expecting — hoping, at least — to see Thom appear, striding along, blowing out his mustaches to tell them how much trouble they were. The Queen's Blessing in Caemlyn. He struggled to his feet and slung Thom's bundle on his back alongside his blanketroll. Mat stared up at him, narroweyed and wary.
“Let's go,” Rand said, and started down the road toward Caemlyn. He heard Mat muttering, and after a moment he caught up to Rand.
They trudged along the dusty road, heads down and not talking. The wind spawned dustdevils that whirled across their path. Sometimes Rand looked back, but the road behind was always empty.
Shelter From the Storm
Perrin fretted over the days spent with the Tuatha'an, traveling south and east in a leisurely fashion. The Traveling People saw no need to hurry; they never did. The colorful wagons did not roll out of a morning until the sun was well above the horizon, and they stopped as early as midafternoon if they came across a congenial spot. The dogs trotted easily alongside the wagons, and often the children did, too. They had no difficulty in keeping up. Any suggestion that they might go further, or more quickly, was met with laughter, or perhaps, “Ah, but would you make the poor horses work so hard?”
He was surprised that Elyas did not share his feelings. Elyas would not ride on the wagons, he preferred to walk, sometimes loping along at the head of the column — but he never suggested leaving, or pressing on ahead.
The strange bearded man in his strange skin clothes was so different from the gentle Tuatha'an that he stood out wherever he went among the wagons. Even from across the camp there was no mistaking Elyas for one of the People, and not just because of clothes. Elyas moved with the lazy grace of a wolf, only emphasized by his skins and his fur hat, radiating danger as naturally as a fire radiated heat, and the contrast with the Traveling People was sharp. Young and old, the People were joyful on their feet. There was no danger in their grace, only delight. Their children darted about filled with the pure zest of moving, of course, but among the Tuatha'an, graybeards and grandmothers, too, still stepped lightly, their walk a stately dance no less exuberant for its dignity. All the People seemed on the point of dancing, even when standing still, even during the rare times when there was no music in the camp. Fiddles and flutes, dulcimers and zithers and drums spun harmony and counterpoint around the wagons at almost any hour, in camp or on the move. Joyous songs, merry songs, laughing songs, sad songs; if someone was awake in the camp there was usually music.
Elyas met friendly nods and smiles at every wagon he passed, and a cheerful word at any fire where he paused. This must be the face the People always showed to outsiders — open, smiling faces. But Perrin had learned that hidden beneath the surface was the wariness of a halftame deer. Something deep lay behind the smiles directed at the Emond's Fielders, something that wondered if they were safe, something that faded only slightly over the days. With Elyas the wariness was strong, like deep summer heat shimmering in the air, and it did not fade. When he was not looking they watched him openly as if unsure what he was going to do. When he walked across the camp, feet ready for dancing seemed ready for flight, as well.
Elyas was certainly no more comfortable with their Way of the Leaf than they were with him. His mouth wore a permanent twist when he was around the Tuatha'an. It was not quite condescension and certainly not contempt, but looked as though he would rather be elsewhere than where he was, almost anywhere else. Yet whenever Perrin brought up leaving, Elyas made soothing noises about resting, just for a few days.
“You had hard days before you met me,” Elyas said, the third or fourth time he asked, “and you'll have harder still ahead, with Trollocs and Halfmen after you, and Aes Sedai for friends.” He grinned around a mouthful of Ila's driedapple pie. Perrin still found his yelloweyed gaze disconcerting, even when he was smiling. Perhaps even more when he was smiling; smiles seldom touched those hunter's eyes. Elyas lounged beside Raen's fire, as usual refusing to sit on the logs drawn up for the purpose. “Don't be in such a bloody hurry to put yourself in Aes Sedai hands.”
“What if the Fades find us? What's to keep them from it if we just sit here, waiting? Three wolves can't hold them off, and the Traveling People won't be any help. They won't even defend themselves. The Trollocs will butcher them, and it will be our fault. Anyway, we have to leave them sooner or later. It might as well be sooner.”
“Something tells me to wait. Just a few days.”
“Relax, lad. Take life as it comes. Run when you have to, fight when you must, rest when you can.”
“What are you talking about, something?”
“Have some of this pie. Ila doesn't like me, but she surely feeds me well when I visit. Always good food in the People's camps.”
“What 'something'?” Perrin demanded. “If you know something you aren't telling the rest of us ...”
Elyas frowned at the piece of pie in his hand, then set it down and dusted his hands together. “Something,” he said finally, with a shrug of his shoulders as if he did not understand it completely himself. “Something tells me it's important to wait. A few more days. I don't get feelings like this often, but when I do, I've learned to trust them. They've saved my life in the past. This time it's different, somehow, but it's important. That's clear. You want to run on, then run on. Not me.”
That was all he would say, no matter how many times Perrin asked. He lay about, talking with Raen, eating, napping with his hat over his eyes, and refused to discuss leaving. Something told him to wait. Something told him it was important. He would know when it was time to go. Have some pie, lad. Don't lather yourself. Try