“What is it?” Egwene asked. Her voice shook. “Trollocs? A Fade?”
“Go east or west,” Elyas told Perrin. “Find a place to hide, and I'll join you as soon as I can. If they see a wolf ...” He darted away, crouching almost as if he intended to go to all fours, and vanished into the lengthening shadows of evening.
Egwene hastily gathered her few belongings, but she still demanded an explanation from Perrin. Her voice was insistent and growing more frightened by the minute as he kept silent. He was frightened, too, but fear made them move faster. He waited until they were headed toward the setting sun. Trotting ahead of Bela and holding the axe across his chest in both hands, he told what he knew over his shoulder in snatches while hunting for a place to go to ground and wait for Elyas.
“There are a lot of men coming, on horses. They came up behind the wolves, but the men didn't see them. They're heading toward the pool. Probably they don't have anything to do with us; it's the only water for miles. But Dapple says...” He glanced over his shoulder. The evening sun painted odd shadows on her face, shadows that hid her expression. What is she thinking? Is she looking at you as if she doesn't know you anymore? Does she know you? “Dapple says they smell wrong. It's ... sort of the way a rabid dog smells wrong.” The pool was lost to sight behind them. He could still pick out boulders — fragments of Artur Hawkwing's statue — in the deepening twilight, but not to tell which was the stone where the fire had been. “We'll stay away from them, find a place to wait for Elyas.”
“Why should they bother us?” she demanded. “We're supposed to be safe here. It's supposed to be safe. Light, there has to be some place safe.”
Perrin began looking harder for somewhere to hide. They could not be very far from the pool, but the twilight was thickening. Soon it would be too dark to travel. Faint light still bathed the crests. From the hollows between, where there was barely enough to see, it seemed bright by contrast. Off to the left a dark shape stood sharp against the sky, a large, flat stone slanting out of a hillside, cloaking the slope beneath in darkness.
“This way,” he said.
He trotted toward the hill, glancing over his shoulder for any sign of the men who were coming. There was nothing — yet. More than once he had to stop and wait while the others stumbled after him. Egwene was crouched over Bela's neck, and the mare was picking her way carefully over the uneven ground. Perrin thought they both must be more tired than he had believed. This had better be a good hiding place. I don't think we can hunt for another.
At the base of the hill he studied the massive, flat rock outlined against the sky, jutting out the slope almost at the crest. There was an odd familiarity to the way the top of the huge slab seemed to form irregular steps, three up and one down. He climbed the short distance and felt across the stone, walking along it. Despite the weathering of centuries he could still feel four joined columns. He glanced up at the steplike top of the stone, towering over his head like a huge leanto. Fingers. We'll shelter in Artur Hawkwing's hand. Maybe some of his justice is left here.
He motioned for Egwene to join him. She did not move, so he slid back down to the base of the hill and told her what he had found.
Egwene peered up the hill with her head pushed forward. “How can you see anything?” she asked.
Perrin opened his mouth, then shut it. He licked his lips as he looked around, for the first time really aware of what he was seeing. The sun was down. All the way down, now, and clouds hid the full moon, but it still seemed like the deep purple fringes of twilight to him. “I felt the rock,” he said finally. “That's what it has to be. They won't be able to pick us out against the shadow of it even if they come this far.” He took Bela's bridle to lead her to the shelter of the hand. He could feel Egwene's eyes on his back.
As he was helping her down from the saddle, the night broke out in shouts back toward the pool. She laid a hand on Perrin's arm, and he heard her unspoken question.
“The men saw Wind,” he said reluctantly. It was difficult to pick out the meaning of the wolves' thoughts. Something about fire. “They have torches.” He pressed her down at the base of the fingers and crouched beside her. “They're breaking up into parties to search. So many of them, and the wolves are all hurt.” He tried to make his voice heartier. “But Dapple and the others should be able to keep out of their way, even injured, and they don't expect us. People don't see what they don't expect. They'll give up soon enough and make camp.” Elyas was with the wolves, and would not leave them while they were hunted. So many riders. So persistent. Why so persistent?
He saw Egwene nod, but in the dark she did not realize it. “We'll be all right, Perrin.”
Light, he thought wonderingly, she's trying to comfort me.
The shouts went on and on. Small knots of torches moved in the distance, flickering points of light in the darkness.
“Perrin,” Egwene said softly, “will you dance with me at Sunday? If we're home by then?”
His shoulders shook. He made no sound, and he did not know if he was laughing or crying. “I will. I promise.” Against his will his hands tightened on the axe, reminding him that he still held it. His voice dropped to a whisper. “I promise,” he said again, and hoped.
Groups of torchcarrying men now rode through the hills, bunches of ten or twelve. Perrin could not tell how many groups there were. Sometimes three or four were in sight at once, quartering back and forth. They continued to shout to one another, and sometimes there were screams in the night, the screams of horses, the screams of men.
He saw it all from more than one vantage. He crouched on the hillside with Egwene, watching the torches move through the darkness like fireflies, and in his mind he ran in the night with Dapple, and Wind, and Hopper. The wolves had been too hurt by the ravens to run far or fast, so they intended to drive the men out of the darkness, drive them to the shelter of their fires. Men always sought the safety of fires in the end, when wolves roamed the night. Some of the mounted men led strings of horses without riders; they whinnied and reared with wide, rolling eyes when the gray shapes darted among them, screaming and pulling their lead ropes from the hands of the men who held them, scattering in all directions as fast as they could run. Horses with men on their backs screamed, too, when gray shadows flashed out of the dark with hamstringing fangs, and sometimes their riders screamed as well, just before jaws tore out their throats. Elyas was out there, also, more dimly sensed, stalking the night with his long knife, a twolegged wolf with one sharp steel tooth. The shouts became curses more often than not, but the searchers refused to give up.
Abruptly Perrin realized that the men with torches were following a pattern. Each time some of the parties came in view, one of them, at least, was closer to the hillside where he and Egwene were hiding. Elyas had said to hide, but ... What if we run? Maybe we could hide in the dark, if we keep moving. Maybe. It has to he dark enough for that.
He turned to Egwene, but as he did the decision was taken away from him. Bunched torches, a dozen of them, came around the base of the hill, wavering with the trot of the horses. Lanceheads gleamed in the torchlight. He froze, holding his breath, hands tightening on his axe haft.
The horsemen rode past the hill, but one of the men shouted, and the torches swung back. He thought desperately, seeking for a way to go. But as soon as they moved they would be seen, if they had not already been, and once they were marked they would have no chance, not even with the darkness to help.
The horsemen drew up at the foot of the hill, each man holding a torch in one hand and a long lance in the other, guiding his horse by the pressure of his knees. By the light of the torches Perrin could see the white cloaks of the Children of the Light. They held the torches high and leaned forward in their saddles, peering up at the deep shadows under Artur Hawkwing's fingers.
“There is something up there,” one of them said. His voice was too loud, as if he was afraid of what lay outside the light of his torch. “I told you somebody could hide in that. Isn't that a horse?”
Egwene laid a hand on Perrin's arm; her eyes were big in the dark. Her silent question plain despite the shadow hiding her features. What to do? Elyas and the wolves still hunted through the night. The horses below shifted their feet nervously. If we run now, they'll chase us down.
One of the Whitecloaks stepped his horse forward and shouted up the hill. “If you can understand human speech, come down and surrender. You'll not be harmed if you walk in the Light. If you don't surrender, you will all be killed. You have one minute.” The lances lowered, long steel heads bright with torchlight.
“Perrin,” Egwene whispered, “we can't outrun them. If we don't give up, they'll kill us. Perrin?”
Elyas and the wolves were still free. Another distant, bubbling scream marked a Whitecloak who had hunted Dapple too closely. If we run ... Egwene was looking at him, waiting for him to tell her what to do. If we run ... He shook his head wearily and stood up like a man in a trance, stumbling down the hill toward the Children of the Light. He heard Egwene sigh and follow him, her feet dragging reluctantly. Why are the Whitecloaks so persistent, as if they hate wolves with a passion? Why do they smell wrong? He almost thought he could smell the wrongness himself, when the wi