The Shadow Rising Page 135

“You always were an old fool, Cenn Buie,” Daise snorted. “Do you think we'd let you send children back out there for Trollocs?” Cenn's jaw worked furiously, but before he could get a word out Daise put a hand on his narrow chest and thrust him aside. Donning a smile, she strode out to the Tuatha'an and put a comforting arm around Ila. “You just come along with me, and I'll see you all get hot baths and somewhere to rest. Every house is crowded, but we'll find places for everyone. Come.”

Marin al'Vere came hurrying through the crowd, and Alsbet Luhhan, Natti Cauthon and Neysa Ayellin and more women, taking up children or putting arms around Tuatha'an women, urging them along, scolding the Two Rivers men to make way. Not that anybody was balking, now; it just took a little time for so many to jostle back and open a path.

Faile gave Perrin an admiring look, but he shook his head. This was not ta'veren work; Two Rivers people might need the right way pointed out to them sometimes, but they could see it when it was. Even Hari Coplin, watching the Tinkers brought in, did not look as sour as he had. Well, not. quite as sour. There was no use expecting miracles.

Shambling by, Raen looked up at Perrin dully. “The Way of the Leaf is the right way. All things die in their appointed time, and...” He trailed off as if he could not remember what he had been going to say.

“They came last night,” Ila said, mumbling because of her swollen face. Her eyes were almost as glazed as her husband's. “The dogs might have helped us escape, but the Children killed all the dogs, and... There was nothing we could do.” Behind her, Aram shivered in his yellowstriped coat, staring at all the armed men. Most of the Tinker children were crying now.

Perrin frowned at the smoke rising to the south. Twisting in his saddle, he could make out more to the north and east. Even if most of those represented houses already abandoned, the Trollocs had had a busy night. How many would it take to fire that many farms, even running between and taking no more time than needed to toss a torch into an empty house or unwatched field? Maybe as many as they had killed today; What did that say about Trolloc numbers already in the Two Rivers? It did not seem possible one band had done it all, burning all those houses and destroying the Traveling People's caravan, too.

Eyes falling on the Tuatha'an being led away, he felt a stab of embarrassment. They had seen kith and kin killed last night, and here he was coldly considering numbers. He could hear some of the Two Rivers men muttering, trying to decide which smoke represented whose farm. To all of these people those fires meant real losses, lives to be rebuilt if they could, not just numbers. He was useless here. Now, while Faile was caught up in helping see to the Tinkers, was the time for him to be off after Loial and Gaul.

Master Luhhan, in his blacksmith's vest and long leather apron, caught Stepper's bridle. “Perrin, you have to help me. The Warders want me to make parts for more of those catapults, but I've twenty men clamoring for me to repair bits of armor their grandfathers' fool grandfathers bought from some fool merchants' guards.”

“I would like to give you a hand,” Perrin said, “but I have something else that needs doing. I'd likely be rusty, anyway. I haven't had much work at a forge the last year.”

“Light, I didn't mean that. Not for you to work a hammer.” The blacksmith sounded shocked. “Every time I send one of those goosebrains off with a bee in his ear, he's back ten minutes later with a new argument. I cannot get any work done. They'll listen to you.”

Perrin doubted it, not if they would not listen to Master Luhhan. Aside from being on the Village Council, Haral Luhhan was big enough to pick up nearly any man in the Two Rivers and toss him out bodily if need be. But he went along to the makeshift forge Master Luhhan had set up beneath a hastily built, opensided shed near the Green. Six men clustered around the anvils salvaged from the smithy the Whitecloaks had burned, and another idly pumping the big leather bellows until the blacksmith chased him away from the long handles with a shout. To Perrin's surprise they did listen when he told them to go, with no speech to bend men 'round a ta'veren's will, just a plain statement that Master Luhhan was busy. Surely the blacksmith could have done as much himself, but he shook Perrin's hand and thanked him profusely before setting to work.

Bending down from Stepper's saddle, Perrin caught one of the men by the shoulder, a baldheaded farmer named Get Eldin, and asked him to stay and warn off anyone else who tried to bother Master Luhhan. Get must have been three times his age, but the leathery, wrinklefaced man just nodded and took up a station near where Haral had his hammer ringing on hot iron. Now he could be off, before Faile turned up.

Before he could as much as turn Stepper, Bran appeared, spear on his shoulder and steel cap under one stout arm. “Perrin, there has to be a faster way to bring the shepherds and herdsmen in if we're attacked again. Even sending the fastest runners in the village, Abell couldn't get half of them back here before those Trollocs came out of the wood.”

That was easy to solve, a matter of remembering an old bugle, tarnished nearly black, that Cenn Buie had hanging on his wall, and settling on a signal of three long blasts that the farthest shepherd could hear. It did bring up signals for other things, of course, such as sending everyone to their places if an attack was expected. Which led to how to know when an attack was expected. Bain and Chiad and the Warders turned out to be more than amenable to scouting, but four were hardly enough, so good woodsmen and trackers had to be found, and provided with horses so they could reach Emond's Field ahead of any Trollocs they

spotted.

After that, Buel Dowtry had to be settled down. The whitehaired old fletcher, with a nose nearly as sharp as a broadhead point, knew very well that most farmers usually made their own arrows, but he was adamantly opposed to anyone helping him here in the village, as if he could keep every quiver filled by himself. Perrin was not sure how he smoothed Buel's ruffled temper, but somehow he left the man happily teaching a knot of boys to tie and glue goosefeather fletchings.

Eward Candwin, the stout cooper, had a different problem. With so many folks needing water, he had more buckets and barrels to make than he could hoop in weeks, alone. It did not take long to find him hands he trusted to chamfer staves at least, but more people came with questions and problems they seemed to think only Perrin had the answers for, from where to burn the bodies of the dead Trollocs to whether it was safe to return to their farms to save what they could. That last he answered with a firm no whenever it was asked — and it was asked more often than any other, by men and women frowning at the smoke rising in the countryside — but most of the time he simply inquired what the questioner thought was a good solution and told him to do that. It was seldom he really had to come up with an answer; people knew what to do, they just had this fool notion they had to ask him.

Dannil and Ban and the others found him and insisted on riding about at his heels with that banner, as if the big one over the Green was not bad enough, until he sent them off to guard the men who had gone back to felling trees along the Westwood. It seemed that Tam had told them some tale about something called the Companions, in Illian, soldiers who rode with the general of an Illianer army and were thrown in wherever the battle was hottest. Tam, of all people! At least they took the banner with them. Perrin felt a right fool with that thing trailing after him.

In the middle of the morning, Luc rode in, all goldenhaired arrogance, nodding slightly to acknowledge a few cheers, though why anyone wanted to cheer him seemed a mystery. He brought a trophy that he pulled out of a leather bag and had set on a spear at the edge of the Green for everyone to gawk at. A Myrddraal's eyeless head. The fellow was modest enough, in a condescending sort of way, but he did let slip that he had killed the Fade when he ran into a band of Trollocs. An admiring train took him around to see the scene of the battle here — they were calling it that — where horses were dragging Trollocs off to great pyres already sending up pillars of oily black smoke. Luc was properly admiring in turn, making only one or two criticisms of how Perrin had disposed his men; that was how the Two Rivers folk told it, with Perrin lining everybody up and giving orders he certainly never had.

To Perrin, Luc gave a patronizing smile of approval. “You did very well, my boy. You were lucky, of course, but there is such a thing as the luck of the beginner, is there not.”

When he went off to his room in the Winespring Inn, Perrin had the head taken down and buried. Not a thing people should be staring at, especially the children.

The questions continued as the day wore on, until he suddenly realized the sun stood straight overhead, he had had nothing to eat, and his stomach was talking to him in no uncertain terms. “Mistress al'Caar,” he said wearily to the longfaced woman at his stirrup, “I suppose the children can play anywhere, so long as somebody watches to make sure they don't go beyond the last houses. Light, woman, you know that. You certainly know children better than I do! If you don't, how have you managed to raise four of your own?” Her youngest was six years older than he was!

Nela al'Caar frowned and tossed her head, graystreaked braid swinging. For a moment he thought she was going to snap his nose off, talking that way to her. He almost wished she would, for a change from everybody wanting to know what he thought should be done. “Of course I know children,” she said. “I just want to make sure it's done the way you want. That's what we'll do, then.”

Sighing, he only waited for her to turn away before reining Stepper around toward the Winespring Inn. Two or three voices called to him, but he refused to listen. What he wanted done. What was wrong with these people? Two Rivers folk did not follow this way. Certainly not Emond's Fielders. They wanted a say in everything. Arguments in front of the Village Council, arguments among the Council, had to come to blows before they occasioned comment. And if the Women's Circle thought they kept their own affairs more circumspect, there was not a man who did not know the meaning of tightjawed women stalking about with their braids all but bristling like angry cats' tails.

What I want! he thought angrily. What I want is something to eat, someplace where no one is jabbering in my ear. Stepping down in front of the inn, he staggered, and thought he could add a bed to that short list. Only midday, with Stepper doing all the work, and he already felt boneweary. Maybe Faile had been right after all. Maybe going after Loial and Gaul really was a bad idea.

When he walked into the common room, Mistress al'Vere took one look at him and all but pushed him into a chair with a motherly smile. “You can just give over handing out orders for a while,” she told him firmly. “Emond's Field can very well survive an hour by itself while you put some food inside you.” She bustled away before he could say Emond's Field could very well survive by itself without him at all.

The room was almost empty. Natti Cauthon sat at one table, rolling bandages and adding them to the pile in front of her, but she also managed to keep an eye on her daughters, across the room, though both were old enough to be wearing their hair in a braid. The reason was plain enough. Bode and Eldrin sat on either side of Aram, coaxing the Tinker to eat. Feeding him, actually, and wiping his chin, too. From the way they were grinning at the fellow, Perrin was surprised Natti was not at the table with them, braids or no. The fellow was goodlooking, he supposed; maybe handsomer than Wil al'Seen. Bode and Eldrin certainly seemed to think so. For his part, Aram smiled back occasionally — they were plumply pretty girls; he would have to be blind not to see it, and Perrin did not think Aram was ever blind to a pretty girl — but he hardly swallowed without running a wideeyed gaze over the spears and polearms against the walls. For a Tuatha'an, it h

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