The Shadow Rising Page 163

Quickly fastening Egeanin's last small button, Elayne went coolly to Nynaeve. She did not talk about men and dresses. Not nearly as much as Rendra. Holding her braids out of the way, Nynaeve gave her a frown when she tugged sharply at the other woman's dress to do up the buttons. The closespaced triple row up the back was necessary, not simply ornament. Nynaeve would let Rendra talk her into the most fashionably tight bodices. And then say other people spent all their time thinking about clothes. She certainly thought of other things. “I have been thinking how we can move inside the palace unnoticed, Nynaeve. We can be all but invisible.”

As she talked, Nynaeve's frowns smoothed out. Nynaeve herself had conceived a way to enter the palace. When Egeanin made a few suggestions, Nynaeve's mouth tightened, but the notions were sensible, and even Nynaeve could not reject them out of hand. By the time they were ready to go down to the Chamber of Falling Blossoms, they had a plan agreed upon, and no intention of letting the men change a whit of it. Moghedien, the Black Ajah, whoever were running things in the Panarch's Palace, were going to lose their prizes before they knew what had happened.

Chapter 53


The Price of a Departure

Only three candles and two lamps lit the common room of the Winespring Inn, since candles and oil both were in short supply. The spears and other weapons were gone from the walls; the barrel that had held old swords was empty. The lamps stood on two of the tables pushed together in front of the tall stone fireplace, where Marin al'Vere and Daise Congar and others of the Women's Circle were going over lists of the scanty food remaining in Emond's Field. Perrin tried not to listen.

At another table Faile's honing stone made a soft, steady whiskwhisk as she sharpened one of her knives. A bow lay in front of her, and a bristling quiver hung at her belt. She had turned out to be a fairly good shot, but he hoped she never discovered that it was a boy's bow; she could not draw a man's Two Rivers longbow, though she refused to admit it.

Shifting his axe so it would not dig into his side, he tried to put his mind back on what he was discussing with the men around the table with him. Not that all of them were keeping their own attention where it should be.

“They have lamps,” Cenn muttered, “and we make do with tallow.” The gnarled old man glared at the pair of candles in brass candlesticks.

“Give over, Cenn,” Tam said wearily, pulling pipe and tabac pouch from behind his sword belt. “For once, give over.”

“If we had to read or write,” Abell said, his voice less patient than the words, “we'd have lamps.” A bandage was wound around his temples.

As if to remind the thatcher that he was Mayor, Bran adjusted the silver medallion hanging on his wide chest, showing a pair of scales. “Keep your mind to the business at hand, Cenn. I'll have none of your wasting Perrin's time.”

“I just think we should have lamps,” Cenn complained. “Perrin would tell me if I was wasting his time.”

Perrin sighed; the night tried to drag his eyelids down. He wished it were someone else's turn to represent the Village Council, Haral Luhhan or Jon Thane or Samel Crawe, or anybody but Cenn with his carping. But then, sometimes he wished one of these men would turn to him and say, “This is business for the Mayor and the Council, young fellow. You go on back to the forge. We'll let you know what to do.” Instead they worried about wasting his time, deferred to him. Time. How many attacks had there been in the seven days since the first? He was not sure any longer.

The bandage on Abell's head irritated Perrin. The Aes Sedai only Healed the most serious wounds now; if a man could manage without, they let him. It was not that there were many badly wounded yet, but as Verin pointed out wryly, even as Aes Sedai only had so much strength; apparently their trick with the catapult stones took as much as Healing. For once he did not want to be reminded of limits to Aes Sedai strength. Not many badly wounded. Yet.

“How are the arrows holding out?” he asked. That was what he was supposed to be thinking about.

“Well enough,” Tam said, puffing his pipe alight from one of the candles. “We still recover most of what we shoot, in daylight at least. They drag a lot of their dead away at night — fodder for the cookpots, I suppose — and we lose those.” The other men were digging out their pipes, too, from pouches and coat pockets, Cenn muttering that he seemed to have forgotten his pouch. Grumbling, Bran passed his across, his bald pate gleaming in the candlelight.

Perrin rubbed at his forehead. What had he meant to ask next? The stakes. There was fighting at the stakes in most attacks now, especially at night. How many times had the Trollocs nearly broken through? Three? Four? “Does everyone have a spear or some sort of polearm now? What's left to make more?” Silence answered him, and he lowered his hand. The other men were staring at him.

“You asked that yesterday,” Abell said gently. “And Haral told you then there isn't a scythe or pitchfork left in the village that hasn't been made into a weapon. We've more than we have hands for, in truth.”

“Yes. Of course. It just slipped my mind.” A snatch of conversation from the Women's Circle caught his ear.

“...mustn't let the men know,” Marin was saying softly, as if repeating a caution voiced before.

“Of course not,” Daise snorted, but not much louder. “If the fools find out the women are on half rations, they'll insist on eating the same, and we can't...”

Perrin closed his eyes, tried to close his ears. Of course. The men did the fighting. The men had to keep their strength up. Simple. At least none of the women had had to fight yet. Except the two Aiel women, of course, and Faile, but she was smart enough to stay back when it came to pushing spears among the stakes. That was the reason he had found the bow for her. She had the heart of a leopard, and more courage than any two men.

“I think it is time you went to bed, Perrin,” Bran suggested. “You cannot go on like this, sleeping an hour here and an hour there.”

Scrubbing his beard vigorously, Perrin tried to look alert. “I'll sleep later.” When it was over. “Are the men getting enough sleep? I've seen some sitting up when they should be —”

The front door banged open to admit skinny Dannil Lewin out of the night, bow in hand and all in a lather. He wore one of the swords from the barrel on his hip; Tam had been giving classes when he had the time, and sometimes one of the Warders did as well.

Before Dannil could open his mouth, Daise snapped, “Were you raised in a barn, Dannil Lewin?”

“You can certainly treat my door a little more gently.” Marin divided her meaning look between the lanky man and Daise, a reminder that it was her door.

Dannil ducked his head, clearing his throat. “Pardon, Mistress al'Vere,” he said hastily. “Pardon, Wisdom. Sorry to burst in, but I've a message for Perrin.” He hurried to the table of men as if afraid the women would stop him again. “The Whitecloaks brought in a man who wants to talk to you, Perrin. He won't talk to anybody else. He's hurt bad, Perrin. They only brought him to the edge of the village. I don't think he could make it as far as the inn.”

Perrin pushed himself to his feet. “I'm coming.” Not another attack, at any rate. They were worst at night.

Faile snatched up her bow and joined him before he reached the door. And Aram stood up, hesitating, from the shadows on the foot of the stairs. Sometimes Perrin forgot the man was there, he kept so still. He looked odd with that sword strapped on his back atop his grimy, yellowstriped Tinker coat, his eyes so bright, hardly ever seeming to blink; and his face without expression. Neither Raen or Ila had spoken to their grandson since the day he picked up that sword. Nor to Perrin, either.

“If you're coming, come,” he said gruffly, and Aram fell in at his heels. The man followed him like a hound whenever he was not pestering Tam or Ihvon or Tomas to teach him that sword. It was as if he had replaced his family and people with Perrin. Perrin would have done without the responsibility if he could, but there it was.

Moonlight shone down on thatched roofs. Few houses had a light in more than one window. Stillness clung to the village. Some thirty of the Companions stood guard outside the inn with their bows, as many wearing swords as could find them; everyone had adopted that name, and Perrin found himself using it, too, to his private disgust. The reason for guards on the inn, or wherever Perrin was, lay on the Green, no longer so crowded with sheep and cows. Campfires crowded above the Winespring, beyond where that fool wolfhead banner hung limp now, bright pools in the darkness surrounded by pale cloaks gleaming with the moon.

No one had wanted Whitecloaks in their homes, already crowded, and Bornhald did not want his soldiers split up in any case. The man seemed to think the village would turn on him and his men any moment; if they followed Perrin, they must be Darkfriends. Even Perrin's eyes could not make out faces around the fires, but he thought he could feel Bornhald's stare, waiting, hating.

Dannil readied ten Companions to escort Perrin, all young men who should have been laughing and carousing with him, all with bows ready to see him safe. Aram did not join them as Dannil led the way down the dark, dirt street; it was Perrin he was with and no one else. Faile kept hard by Perrin's side, dark eyes shining in the moonlight, scanning the surroundings as though she were his whole protection.

Where the Old Road entered Emond's Field the blocking wagons had been drawn aside to admit the Whitecloak patrol, twenty snowycloaked men with lances who sat their horses in burnished armor, no less impatient than their stamping mounts. They stood out in the night for any eye, and most Trollocs could see as well in darkness as Perrin, but the Whitecloaks insisted on their patrols. Sometimes their scouting had brought warnings, and maybe their harassment kept the Trollocs a little off balance. It would have been good, though, if he had known what they were doing before it was done.

A cluster of villagers and farmers wearing bits of old armor and a few rusty helmets stood clustered around a man in a farmer's coat lying in the roadway. They gave way for Faile and him, and he went to one knee beside the mart.

The odor of blood was strong; sweat glistened on the man's moonshadowed face. A thumbthick Trolloc arrow like a small spear was stuck through his chest. “Perrin — Goldeneyes,” he muttered hoarsely, laboring for breath. “Must — get through — to Perrin — Goldeneyes.”

“Has someone sent for one of the Aes Sedai?” Perrin demanded, lifting the man as gently as he could, cradling his head. He did not listen for the answer; he did not think this man would last till an Aes Sedai came. “I am Perrin.”

“Goldeneyes? I — cannot see — very well.” His wide, wild stare was right at Perrin's face; if he could see at all, the fellow must see his eyes shining golden in the dark.

“I am Perrin Goldeneyes,” he said reluctantly.

The man seized his collar, pulling his face close with surprising strength. “We are — coming. Sent to — tell you. We are co —” His head fell back, ey

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