Nynaeve felt a cold ball in the pit of her stomach. Am I one of those young women you won't give up? We'll see about that, Aes Sedai. The Light burn you, we'll see about that!

The meal was finished in silence, and it was a silent three who rode through the gates and down the Caemlyn Road. Moiraine's eyes searched the horizon to the northeast. Behind them, the smokestained town of Whitebridge cowered.


Chapter 29

Eyes Without Pity

Elyas pushed for speed across the brown grass flatland as if trying to make up for the time spent with the Traveling People, setting a pace southward that had even Bela grateful to stop when twilight deepened. Despite his desire for haste, though, he took precautions he had not taken before. At night they had a fire only if there was dead wood already on the ground. He would not let them break so much as a twig off of a standing tree. The fires he made were small, and always hidden in a pit carefully dug where he had cut away a plug of sod. As soon as their meal was prepared, he buried the coals and replaced the plug. Before they set out again in the gray false dawn, he went over the campsite inch by inch to make sure there was no sign that anyone had ever been there. He even righted overturned rocks and straightened bentdown weeds. He did it quickly, never taking more than a few minutes, but they did not leave until he was satisfied.

Perrin did not think the precautions were much good against dreams, but when he began to think of what they might be good against, he wished it were only the dreams. The first time, Egwene asked anxiously if the Trollocs were back, but Elyas only shook his head and urged them on. Perrin said nothing. He knew there were no Trollocs close; the wolves scented only grass and trees and small animals. It was not fear of Trollocs that drove Elyas, but that something else of which even Elyas was not sure. The wolves knew nothing of what it was, but they sensed Elyas's urgent wariness, and they began to scout as if danger ran at their heels or waited in ambush over the next rise.

The land became long, rolling crests, too low to be called hills, rising across their path. A carpet of tough grass, still winter sere and dotted with rank weeds, spread before them, rippled by an east wind that had nothing to cut it for a hundred miles. The groves of trees grew more scattered. The sun rose reluctantly, without warmth.

Among the squat ridges Elyas followed the contours of the land as much as possible, and he avoided topping the rises whenever possible. He seldom talked, and when he did ...

“You know how long this is taking, going around every bloody little hill like this? Blood and ashes! I'll be till summer getting you off my hands. No, we can't just go in a straight line! How many times do I have to tell you? You have any idea, even the faintest, how a man stands out on a ridgeline in country like this? Burn me, but we're going back and forth as much as forward. Wiggling like a snake. I could move faster with my feet tied. Well, you going to stare at me, or you going to walk?”

Perrin exchanged glances with Egwene. She stuck her tongue out at Elyas's back. Neither of them said anything. The one time Egwene had protested that Elyas was the one who wanted to go around the hills and he should not blame them, it got her a lecture on how sound carried, delivered in a growl that could have been heard a mile off. He gave the lecture over his shoulder, and he never even slowed to give it.

Whether he was talking or not, Elyas's eyes searched all around them, sometimes staring as if there were something to see except the same coarse grass that was under their feet. If he did see anything, Perrin could not, and neither could the wolves. Elyas's forehead grew extra furrows, but he would not explain, not why they had to hurry, not what he was afraid was hunting them.

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Sometimes a longer ridge than usual lay across their path, stretching miles and miles to east and west. Even Elyas had to agree that going around those would take them too far out of their way. He did not let them simply cross over, though. Leaving them at the base of the slope, he would creep up to the crest on his belly, peering over as cautiously as though the wolves had not scouted there ten minutes before. Waiting at the bottom of the ridge, minutes passed like hours, and the not knowing pressed on them. Egwene chewed her lip and unconsciously clicked the beads Aram had given her through her fingers. Perrin waited doggedly. His stomach twisted up in a sick knot, but he managed to keep his face calm, managed to keep the turmoil hidden inside.

The wolves will warn if there's danger. It would he wonderful if they went away, if they just vanished, but right now ... right now, they'll give warning. What is he looking for? What?

After a long search with only his eyes above the rise, Elyas always motioned them to come ahead. Every time the way ahead was clear — until the next time they found a ridge they could not go around. At the third such ridge, Perrin's stomach lurched. Sour fumes rose in his throat, and he knew if he had to wait even five minutes he would vomit. “I ...” He swallowed. “I'm coming, too.”

“Keep low,” was all Elyas said.

As soon as he spoke Egwene jumped down from Bela.

The furclad man pushed his round hat forward and peered at her from under the edge. “You expecting to make that mare crawl?” he said dryly.

Her mouth worked, but no sound came out. Finally she shrugged, and Elyas turned away without another word and began climbing the easy slope. Perrin hurried after him.

Well short of the crest Elyas made a downward motion and a moment later flattened himself on the ground, wriggling forward the last few yards. Perrin flopped on his belly.

At the top, Elyas took off his hat before raising his head ever so slowly. Peering through a clump of thorny weeds, Perrin saw only the same rolling plain that lay behind them. The downslope was bare, though a clump of trees a hundred paces across grew in the hollow, perhaps half a mile south from the ridge. The wolves had already been through it, smelling no trace of Trollocs or Myrddraal.

East and west the land was the same as far as Perrin could see, rolling grassland and widescattered thickets. Nothing moved. The wolves were more than a mile ahead, out of sight; at that distance he could barely feel them. They had seen nothing when they covered this ground. What it he looking for? There's nothing there.

“We're wasting time,” he said, starting to stand, and a flock of ravens burst out of the trees below, fifty, a hundred black birds, spiraling into the sky. He froze in a crouch as they milled over the trees. The Dark One's Eyes. Did they see me? Sweat trickled down his face.

As if one thought had suddenly sparked in a hundred tiny minds, every raven broke sharply in the same direction. South. The flock disappeared over the next rise, already descending. To the east another thicket disgorged more ravens. The black mass wheeled twice and headed south.

Shaking, he lowered himself to the ground slowly. He tried to speak, but his mouth was too dry. After a minute he managed to work up some spit. “Was that what you were afraid of? Why didn't you say something? Why didn't the wolves see them?”

“Wolves don't look up in trees much,” Elyas growled. “And no, I wasn't looking for this. I told you, I didn't know what ...” Far to the west a black cloud rose over yet another grove and winged southward. They were too far off to make out individual birds. “It isn't a big hunt, thank the Light. They don't know. Even after...” He turned to stare back the way they had come.

Perrin swallowed. Even after the dream, Elyas had meant. “Not big?” he said. “Back home you won't see that many ravens in a whole year.”

Elyas shook his head. “In the Borderlands I've seen sweeps with a thousand ravens to the flock. Not too often — there's a bounty on ravens there — but it has happened.” He was still looking north. “Hush, now.”

Perrin felt it, then; the effort of reaching out to the distant wolves. Elyas wanted Dapple and her companions to quit scouting ahead, to hurry back and check their backtrail. His already gaunt face tightened and thinned under the strain. The wolves were so far away Perrin could not even feel them. Hurry. Watch the sky. Hurry.

Faintly Perrin caught the reply from far to the south. We come. An image flashed in his mind — wolves running, muzzles pointing into the wind of their haste, running as if wildfire raced behind, runningflashed and was gone in an instant.

Elyas slumped and drew a deep breath. Frowning, he peered over the ridge, then back to the north, and muttered under his breath.

“You think there are more ravens behind us?” Perrin asked.

“Could be,” Elyas said vaguely. “They do it that way, sometimes. I know a place, if we can reach it by dark. We have to keep moving until full dark anyway, even if we don't get there, but we can't go as fast as I would like. Can't afford to get too close to the ravens ahead of us. But if they're behind us, too ...”

“Why dark?” Perrin said. “What place? Somewhere safe from the ravens?”

“Safe from ravens,” Elyas said, “but too many people know ... Ravens roost for the night. We don't have to worry about them finding us in the dark. The Light send ravens are all we have to worry about then.” With one more look over the crest, he rose and waved to Egwene to bring Bela up. “But dark is a long way off. We have to get moving.” He started down the far slope in a shambling run, each stride barely catching him on the edge of falling. &ld

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