Dapple grew more impatient with every sunset. That Elyas wanted to do this thing of taking the humans south made it worth doing, but if it must be done, then let it be done. Let this slow travel end. Wolves were meant to roam, and she did not like being away from the pack so long. Impatience burned in Wind, too. Hunting was worse than poor here, and he despised living on field mice, something for cubs to stalk while learning to hunt, fit food for the old, no longer able to pull down a deer or hamstring a wild ox. Sometimes Wind thought that Burn had been right; leave human troubles to humans. But he was wary of such thoughts when Dapple was around, and even more so around Hopper. Hopper was a scarred and grizzled fighter, impassive with the knowledge of years, with guile that more than made up for anything of which age might have robbed him. For humans he cared nothing, but Dapple wished this thing done, and Hopper would wait as she waited and run as she ran. Wolf or man, bull or bear, whatever challenged Dapple would find Hopper's jaws waiting to send him to the long sleep. That was the whole of life for Hopper, and that kept Wind cautious, and Dapple seemed to ignore the thoughts of both.
All of it was clear in Perrin's mind. Fervently he wished for Caemlyn, for Moiraine and Tar Valon. Even if there were no answers, there could be an end to it. Elyas looked at him, and he was sure the yelloweyed man knew. Please, let there be an end.
The dream began more pleasantly than most he had of late. He was at Alsbet Luhhan's kitchen table, sharpening his axe with a stone. Mistress Luhhan never allowed forge work, or anything that smacked of it, to be brought into the house. Master Luhhan even had to take her knives outside to sharpen them. But she tended her cooking and never said a word about the axe. She did not even say anything when a wolf entered from deeper in the house and curled up between Perrin and the door to the yard. Perrin went on sharpening; it would be time to use it, soon.
Abruptly the wolf rose, rumbling deep in its throat, the thick ruff of fur on its neck rising. Ba'alzamon stepped into the kitchen from the yard. Mistress Luhhan went on with her cooking.
Perrin scrambled to his feet, raising the axe, but Ba'alzamon ignored the weapon, concentrating on the wolf, instead. Flames danced where his eyes should be. “Is this what you have to protect you? Well, I have faced this before. Many times before.”
He crooked a finger, and the wolf howled as fire burst out of its eyes and ears and mouth, out of its skin. The stench of burning meat and hair filled the kitchen. Alsbet Luhhan lifted the lid on a pot and stirred with a wooden spoon.
Perrin dropped the axe and jumped forward, trying to beat out the flames with his hands. The wolf crumpled to black ash between his palms. Staring at the shapeless pile of char on Mistress Luhhan's cleanswept floor, he backed away. He wished he could wipe the greasy soot from his hands, but the thought of scrubbing it off on his clothes turned his stomach. He snatched up the axe, gripping the haft until his knuckles cracked.
“Leave me alone!” he shouted. Mistress Luhhan tapped the spoon on the rim of the pot and replaced the lid, humming to herself.
“You cannot run from me,” Ba'alzamon said. “You cannot hide from me. If you are the one, you are mine.” The heat from the fires of his face forced Perrin across the kitchen until his back came up against the wall. Mistress Luhhan opened the oven to check her bread. “The Eye of the World will consume you,” Ba'alzamon said. “I mark you mine!” He flung out his clenched hand as if throwing something; when his fingers opened, a raven streaked at Perrin's face.
Perrin screamed as the black beak pierced his left eye ...
... and sat up, clutching his face, surrounded by the sleeping wagons of the Traveling People. Slowly he lowered his hands. There was no pain, no blood. But he could remember it, remember the stabbing agony.
He shuddered, and suddenly Elyas was squatting beside him in the predawn, one hand outstretched as if to shake him awake. Beyond the trees where the wagons lay, the wolves howled, one sharp cry from three throats. He shared their sensations. Fire. Pain. Fire. Hate. Hate! Kill!
“Yes,” Elyas said softly. “It is time. Get up, boy. It's time for us to go.”
Perrin scrambled out of his blankets. While he was still bundling his blanketroll, Raen came out of his wagon, rubbing sleep from his eyes. The Seeker glanced at the sky and froze halfway down the steps, his hands still raised to his face. Only his eyes moved as he studied the sky intently, though Perrin could not understand what he was looking at. A few clouds hung in the east, undersides streaked with pink from the sun yet to rise, but there was nothing else to see. Raen seemed to listen, as well, and smell the air, but there was no sound except the wind in the trees and no smell but the faint smoky remnant of last night's campfires.
Elyas returned with his own scanty belongings, and Raen came the rest of the way down. “We must change the direction we travel, my old friend.” The Seeker looked uneasily at the sky again. “We go another way this day. Will you be coming with us?” Elyas shook his head, and Raen nodded as if he had known all along. “Well, take care, my old friend. There is something about today ... ” He started to look up once more, but pulled his eyes back down before they rose above the wagon tops. “I think the wagons will go east. Perhaps all the way to the Spine of the World. Perhaps we'll find a stedding, and stay there awhile.”
“Trouble never enters the stedding,” Elyas agreed. “But the Ogier are none too open to strangers.”
“Everyone is open to the Traveling People,” Raen said, and grinned. “Besides, even Ogier have pots and things to mend. Come, let us have some breakfast, and we'll talk about it.”
“No time,” Elyas said. “We move on today, too. As soon as possible. It's a day for moving, it seems.”
Raen tried to convince him to at least stay long enough for food, and when Ila appeared from the wagon with Egwene, she added her arguments, though not as strenuously as her husband. She said all of the right words, but her politeness was stiff, and it was plain she would be glad to see Elyas's back, if not Egwene's.
Egwene did not notice the regretful, sidelong looks Ila gave her. She asked what was going on, and Perrin prepared himself for her to say she wanted to stay with the Tuatha'an, but when Elyas explained she only nodded thoughtfully and hurried back into the wagon to gather her things.
Finally Raen threw up his hands. “All right. I don't know that I have ever let a visitor leave this camp without a farewell feast, but ...” Uncertainly, his eyes raised toward the sky again. “Well, we need an early start ourselves, I think. Perhaps we will eat as we journey. But at least let everyone say goodbye.”
Elyas started to protest, but Raen was already hurrying from wagon to wagon, pounding on the doors where there was no one awake. By the time a Tinker came, leading Bela, the whole camp had turned out in their finest and brightest, a mass of color that made Raen and Ila's redandyellow wagon seem almost plain. The big dogs strolled through the crowd with their tongues lolling out of their mouths, looking for someone to scratch their ears, while Perrin and the others endured handshake after handshake and hug after hug. The girls who had danced every night would not be content with shaking hands, and their hugs made Perrin suddenly wish he was not leaving after all — until he remembered how many others were watching, and then his face almost matched the Seeker's wagon.
Aram drew Egwene a little aside. Perrin could not hear what he had to say to her over the noise of goodbyes, but she kept shaking her head, slowly at first, then more firmly as he began to gesture pleadingly. His face shifted from pleading to arguing, but she continued to shake her head stubbornly until Ila rescued her with a few sharp words to her grandson. Scowling, Aram pushed away through the crowd, abandoning the rest of the farewell. Ila watched him go, hesitating on the point of calling him back. She's relieved, too, Perrin thought. Relieved he doesn't want to go with us — with Egwene.
When he had shaken every hand in the camp at least once and hugged every girl at least twice, the crowd moved back, opening a little space around Raen and Ila, and the three visitors.
“You came in peace,” Raen intoned, bowing formally, hands on his chest. “Depart now in peace. Always will our fires welcome you, in peace. The Way of the Leaf is peace.”
“Peace be on you always,” Elyas replied, “and on all the People.” He hesitated, then added, “I will find the song, or another will find the song, but the song will be sung, this year or in a year to come. As it once was, so shall it be again, world without end. ”
Raen blinked in surprise, and Ila looked completely flabbergasted, but all the other Tuatha'an murmured in reply, “World without end. World and time without end.” Raen and his wife hurriedly said the same after everyone else.
Then it really was time to go. A few last farewells, a few last admonitions to take care, a few last smiles and winks, and they were making their way out of the camp. Raen accompanied them as far as the edge of the trees, a pair of the dogs cavorting by his side.
“Truly, my old friend, you must take great care. This day ... There is wickedness loose in the world, I fear, and whatever you pretend, you are not so wicked that it will