Perrin could not make himself relax. At night he wandered among the rainbow wagons worrying, as much because no one else seemed to see anything to worry about as for any other reason. The Tuatha'an sang and danced, cooked and ate around their campfires — fruits and nuts, berries and vegetables; they ate no meat — and went about a myriad domestic chores as if they had not a care in the world. The children ran and played everywhere, hideandseek among the wagons, climbing in the trees around the camp, laughing and rolling on the ground with the dogs. Not a care in the world, for anyone.
Watching them, he itched to get away. Go, before we bring the hunters down on them. They took us in, and we repay their kindness by endangering them. At least they have reason to be lighthearted. Nothing is hunting them. But the rest of us ...
It was hard to get a word with Egwene. Either she was talking with Ila, their heads together in a way that said no men were welcome, or she was dancing with Aram, swinging round and round to the flutes and fiddles and drums, to tunes the Tuatha'an had gathered from all over the world, or to the sharp, trilling songs of the Traveling People themselves, sharp whether they were quick or slow. They knew many songs, some he recognized from home, though often under different names than they were called in the Two Rivers. “Three Girls in the Meadow,” for instance, the Tinkers named “Pretty Maids Dancing,” and they said “The Wind From the North” was called “Hard Rain Falling” in some lands and “Berin's Retreat” in others. When he asked, not thinking, for “The Tinker Has My Pots,” they fell all over themselves laughing. They knew it, but as “Toss the Feathers. ”
He could understand wanting to dance to the People's songs. Back in Emond's Field no one considered him more than an adequate dancer, but these songs tugged at his feet, and he thought he had never danced so long, or so hard, or so well in his life. Hypnotic, they made his blood pound in rhythm to the drums.
It was the second evening when for the first time Perrin saw women dance to some of the slow songs. The fires burned low, and the night hung close around the wagons, and fingers tapped a slow rhythm on the drums. First one drum, then another, until every drum in the camp kept the same low, insistent beat. There was silence except for the drums. A girl in a red dress swayed into the light, loosening her shawl. Strings of beads hung in her hair, and she had kicked off her shoes. A flute began the melody, wailing softly, and the girl danced. Outstretched arms spread her shawl behind her; her hips undulated as her bare feet shuffled to the beat of the drums. The girl's dark eyes fastened on Perrin, and her smile was as slow as her dance. She turned in small circles, smiling over her shoulder at him.
He swallowed hard. The heat in his face was not from the fire. A second girl joined the first, the fringe on their shawls shaking in time to the drums and the slow rotation of their hips. They smiled at him, and he cleared his throat hoarsely. He was afraid to look around; his face was as red as a beet, and anyone who was not watching the dancers was probably laughing at him. He was sure of it.
As casually as he could manage, he slid off the log as if he were just getting comfortable, but he carefully ended up looking away from the fire, away from the dancers. There was nothing like that in Emond's Field. Dancing with the girls on the Green on a feastday did not even come close. For once he wished that the wind would pick up, to cool him off.
The girls danced into his field of view again, only now they were three. One gave him a sly wink. His eyes darted frantically. Light, he thought. What do I do now? What would Rand do? He knows about girls.
The dancing girls laughed softly; beads clicked as they tossed their long hair on their shoulders, and he thought his face would burn up. Then a slightly older woman joined the girls, to show them how it was done. With a groan, he gave up altogether and shut his eyes. Even behind his eyelids their laughter taunted and tickled. Even behind his eyelids he could still see them. Sweat beaded on his forehead, and he wished for the wind.
According to Raen the girls did not dance that dance often, and the women rarely did, and according to Elyas it was thanks to Perrin's blushes that they did so every night thereafter.
“I have to thank you,” Elyas told him, his tone sober and solemn. “It's different with you young fellows, but at my age it takes more than a fire to warm my bones.” Perrin scowled. There was something about Elyas's back as he walked away that said even if nothing showed, he was laughing inside.
Perrin soon learned better than to look away from the dancing women and girls, though the winks and smiles still made him wish he could. One would have been all right, maybe — but five or six, with everyone watching ... He never did entirely conquer his blushes.
Then Egwene began learning the dance. Two of the girls who had danced that first night taught her, clapping the rhythm while she repeated the shuffling steps with a borrowed shawl swaying behind her. Perrin started to say something, then decided it was wiser not to crack his teeth. When the girls added the hip movements Egwene started laughing, and the three girls fell giggling into one another's arms. But Egwene persevered, with her eyes glistening and bright spots of color in her cheeks.
Aram watched her dancing with a hot, hungry gaze. The handsome young Tuatha'an had given her a string of blue beads that she wore all the time. Worried frowns now replaced the smiles Ila had worn when she first noticed her grandson's interest in Egwene. Perrin resolved to keep a close eye on young Master Aram.
Once he managed to get Egwene alone, beside a wagon painted in green and yellow. “Enjoying yourself, aren't you?” he said.
“Why shouldn't I?” She fingered the blue beads around her neck, smiling at them. “We don't all have to work at being miserable, the way you do. Don't we deserve a little chance to enjoy ourselves?”
Aram stood not far off — he never got far from Egwene — with his arms folded across his chest, a little smile on his face, half smugness and half challenge. Perrin lowered his voice. “I thought you wanted to get to Tar Valon. You won't learn to be an Aes Sedai here. ”
Egwene tossed her head. “And I thought you didn't like me wanting to become an Aes Sedai, ” she said, too sweetly.
“Blood and ashes, do you believe we're safe here? Are these people safe with us here? A Fade could find us anytime.”
Her hand trembled on the beads. She lowered it and took a deep breath. “Whatever is going to happen will happen whether we leave today or next week. That's what I believe now. Enjoy yourself, Perrin. It might be the last chance we have.”
She brushed his cheek sadly with her fingers. Then Aram held out his hand to her, and she darted to him, already laughing again. As they ran away to where fiddles sang, Aram flashed a triumphant grin over his shoulder at Perrin as if to say, she is not yours, but she will be mine.
They were all falling too much under the spell of the People, Perrin thought. Elyas is right. They don't have to try to convert you to the Way of the Leaf. It seeps into you.
Ila had taken one look at him huddling out of the wind, then produced a thick wool cloak out of her wagon; a dark green cloak, he was pleased to see, after all the reds and yellows. As he swung it round his shoulders, thinking what a wonder it was that the cloak was big enough for him, Ila said primly, “It could fit better.” She glanced at the axe at his belt, and when she looked up at him her eyes were sad above her smile. “It could fit much better. ”
All the Tinkers did that. Their smiles never slipped, there was never any hesitation in their invitations to join them for a drink or to listen to the music, but their eyes always touched the axe, and he could feel what they thought. A tool of violence. There is never any excuse for violence to another human being. The Way of the Leaf.
Sometimes he wanted to shout at them. There were Trollocs in the world, and Fades. There were those who would cut down every leaf. The Dark One was out there, and the Way of the Leaf would burn in Ba'alzamon's eyes. Stubbornly he continued to wear the axe. He took to keeping his cloak thrown back, even when it was windy, so the halfmoon blade was never hidden. Now and again Elyas looked quizzically at the weapon hanging heavy at his side and grinned at him, those yellow eyes seeming to read his mind. That almost made him cover the axe. Almost.
If the Tuatha'an camp was a source of constant irritation, at least his dreams were normal there. Sometimes he woke up sweating from a dream of Trollocs and Fades storming into the camp, rainbowcolored wagons turning to bonfires from hurled torches, people falling in pools of blood, men and women and children who ran and screamed and died but made no effort to defend themselves against slashing scythelike swords. Night after night he bolted upright in the dark, panting and reaching for his axe before he realized the wagons were not in flames, that no bloodymuzzled shapes snarled over torn and twisted bodies littering the ground. But those were ordinary nightmares, and oddly comforting in their way. If there was ever a place for the Dark One to be in his dreams, it was in those, but he was not. No Ba'alzamon. Just ordinary nightmares.
He was aware of the wolves, though, when he was awake. They kept their distance from the camps, and from the caravan on the move, but he always knew where they were. He could feel their contempt for the dogs guarding the Tuatha'an. Noisy beasts who had forgotten what their jaws were for, had forgotten the taste of warm blood; they might frighten humans, but they would slink away on their bellies if the pack ever came. Each day his awarenes