“Drop that axe,” the leader barked.
Perrin stumbled toward him, wrinkling his nose to get rid of the smell he thought he smelt.
“Drop it, bumpkin!” The leader's lance shifted toward Perrin's chest.
For a moment he stared at the lancehead, enough sharp steel to go completely through him, and abruptly he shouted, “No!” It was not at the horseman he shouted.
Out of the night Hopper came, and Perrin was one with the wolf. Hopper, the cub who had watched the eagles soar, and wanted so badly to fly through the sky as the eagles did. The cub who hopped and jumped and leaped until he could leap higher than any other wolf, and who never lost the cub's yearning to soar through the sky. Out of the night Hopper came and left the ground in a leap, soaring like the eagles. The Whitecloaks had only a moment to begin cursing before Hopper's jaws closed on the throat of the man with his lance leveled at Perrin. The big wolf's momentum carried them both off the other side of the horse. Perrin felt the throat crushing, tasted the blood.
Hopper landed lightly, already apart from the man he had killed. Blood matted his fur, his own blood and that of others. A gash down his face crossed the empty socket where his left eye had been. His good eye met Perrin's two for just an instant. Run, brother! He whirled to leap again, to soar one last time, and a lance pinned him to the earth. A second length of steel thrust through his ribs, driving into the ground under him. Kicking, he snapped at the shafts that held him. To soar.
Pain filled Perrin, and he screamed, a wordless scream that had something of a wolf's cry in it. Without thinking he leaped forward, still screaming. All thought was gone. The horsemen had bunched too much to be able to use their lances, and the axe was a feather in his hands, one huge wolf's tooth of steel. Something crashed into his head, and as he fell, he did not know if it was Hopper or himself who died.
“... soar like the eagles.”
Mumbling, Perrin opened his eyes woozily. His head hurt, and he could not remember why. Blinking against the light, he looked around. Egwene was kneeling and watching him where he lay. They were in a square tent as big as a mediumsized room in a farmhouse, with a ground cloth for a floor. Oil lamps on tall stands, one in each corner, gave a bright light.
“Thank the Light, Perrin,” she breathed. “I was afraid they had killed you.”
Instead of answering, he stared at the grayhaired man seated in the lone chair in the tent. A darkeyed, grandfatherly face looked back at him, a face at odds in his mind with the whiteandgold tabard the man wore, and the burnished armor strapped over his purewhite undercoat. It seemed a kindly face, bluff and dignified, and something about it fit the elegant austerity of the tent's furnishings. A table and a folding bed, a washstand with a plain white basin and pitcher, a single wooden chest inlaid in simple geometric patterns. Where there was wood, it was polished to a soft glow, and the metal gleamed, but not too brightly, and nothing was showy. Everything in the tent had the look of craftsmanship, but only someone who had watched the work of craftsmen — like Master Luhhan, or Master Aydaer, the cabinetmaker — would see it.
Frowning, the man stirred two small piles of objects on the table with a blunt finger. Perrin recognized the contents of his pockets in one of those piles, and his belt knife. The silver coin Moiraine had given him toppled out, and the man pushed it back thoughtfully. Pursing his lips, he left the piles and lifted Perrin's axe from the table, hefting it. His attention came back to the Emond's Fielders.
Perrin tried to get up. Sharp pain stabbing along his arms and legs turned the movement into a flop. For the first time he realized that he was tied, hand and foot. His eyes went to Egwene. She shrugged ruefully, and twisted so that he could see her back. Half a dozen lashings wrapped her wrists and ankles, the cords making ridges in her flesh. A length of rope ran between the bonds around ankles and wrists, short enough to stop her from straightening to more than a crouch if she got to her feet.
Perrin stared. That they were tied was shock enough, but they wore enough ropes to hold horses. What do they think we are?
The grayhaired man watched them, curious and thoughtful, like Master al'Vere puzzling out a problem. He held the axe as if he had forgotten it.
The tent flap shifted aside, and a tall man stepped into the tent. His face was long and gaunt, with eyes so deeply set they seemed to look out from caves. There was no excess flesh on him, no fat at all; his skin was pulled tight over the muscle and bone beneath.
Perrin had a glimpse of night outside, and campfires, and two whitecloaked guards at the entrance of the tent, then the flap fell back into place. As soon as the newcomer was into the tent, he stopped, standing as rigid as an iron rod, staring straight ahead of him at the far wall of the tent. His plateandmail armor gleamed like silver against his snowy cloak and undercoat.
“My Lord Captain.” His voice was as hard as his posture, and grating, but somehow flat, without expression.
The grayhaired man made a casual gesture. “Be at your ease, Child Byar. You have tallied our costs for this ... encounter?”
The tall man moved his feet apart, but other than that Perrin did not see anything ease about his stance. “Nine men dead, my Lord Captain, and twentythree injured, seven seriously. All can ride, though. Thirty horses had to be put down. They were hamstrung!” He emphasized that in his emotionless voice, as if what had happened to the horses were worse than the deaths and injuries to men. “Many of the remounts are scattered. We may find some at daybreak, my Lord Captain, but with wolves to send them on their way, it will take days to gather them all. The men who were supposed to be watching them have been assigned to night guard until we reach Caemlyn. ”
“We do not have days, Child Byar,” the grayhaired man said mildly. “We ride at dawn. Nothing can change that. We must be in Caemlyn in time, yes?”
“As you command, my Lord Captain.”
The grayhaired man glanced at Perrin and Egwene, then away again. “And what have we to show for it, aside from these two younglings?”
Byar drew a deep breath and hesitated. “I have had the wolf that was with this lot skinned, my Lord Captain. The hide should make a fine rug for my Lord Captain's tent.”
Hopper! Not even realizing what he was doing, Perrin growled and struggled against his bonds. The ropes dug into his skin — his wrists became slippery with blood — but they did not give.
For the first time Byar looked at the prisoners. Egwene started back from him. His face was as expressionless as his voice, but a cruel light burned in his sunken eyes, as surely as flames burned in Ba'alzamon's. Byar hated them as if they were enemies of long years instead of people never seen before tonight.
Perrin stared back defiantly. His mouth curled into a tight smile at the thought of his teeth meeting in the man's throat.
Abruptly his smile faded, and he shook himself. My teeth? I'm a man, not a wolf! Light, there has to be an end to this! But he still met Byar's glare, hate for hate.
“I do not care about wolfhide rugs, Child Byar.” The rebuke in the Lord Captain's voice was gentle, but Byar's back snapped rigid again, his eyes locking to the wall of the tent. “You were reporting on what we achieved this night, no? If we achieved anything.”
“I would estimate the pack that attacked us at fifty beasts or more, my Lord Captain. Of that, we killed at least twenty, perhaps thirty. I did not consider it worth the risk of losing more horses to have the carcasses brought in tonight. In the morning I will have them gathered and burned, those that aren't dragged off in the dark. Besides these two, there were at least a dozen other men. I believe we disposed of four or five, but it is unlikely we will find any bodies, given the Darkfriends' propensity for carrying away their dead to hide their losses. This seems to have been a coordinated ambush, but that raises the question of ...”
Perrin's throat tightened as the gaunt man went on. Elyas? Cautiously, reluctantly, he felt for Elyas, for the wolves ... and found nothing. It was as if he had never been able to feel a wolf's mind. Either they're dead, or they've abandoned you. He wanted to laugh, a bitter laugh. At last he had what he had been wishing for, but the price was high.
The grayhaired man did laugh, just then, a rich, wry chuckle that made a red spot bloom on each of Byar's cheeks. “So, Child Byar, it is your considered estimate that we were attacked in a planned ambush by upwards of fifty wolves and better than half a score of Darkfriends? Yes? Perhaps when you've seen a few more actions ... ”
“But, my Lord Captain Bornhald ... ”
“I would say six or eight wolves, Child Byar, and perhaps no other humans than these two. You have the true zeal, but no experience outside the cities. It is a different thing, bringing the Light, when streets and houses are far distant. Wolves have a way of seeming more than they are, in the night — and men, also. Six or eight at most, I think.” Byar's flush deepened slowly. “I also suspect they were here for the same reason we are: the only easy water for at least a day in any direction. A much simpler explanation than spies or traitors within the Children, and the simplest explanation is usually the truest. You will lear