The Shadow Rising Page 164

“The Light be with his soul,” Faile murmured, slinging her bow across her back.After a moment Perrin pried the man's fingers loose. “Does anyone know him?” The Two Rivers men exchanged glances, shook their heads. Perrin looked up at the mounted Whitecloaks. “Did he say anything else while you were bringing him in? Where did you find him?”

Jaret Byar stared down at him, gauntfaced and holloweyed, an image of death. The other Whitecloaks looked away, but Byar always made himself meet Perrin's yellow eyes, especially at night, when they glowed. Byar growled under his breath — Perrin heard “Shadowspawn!” — and booted his horse in the ribs. The patrol galloped into the village, as eager to be away from Perrin as from Trollocs. Aram stared after them, expressionless, one hand over his shoulder to finger his sword hilt.

“They said they found him three or four miles south.” Dannil hesitated, then added, “They say the Trollocs are all scattered out in little bunches, Perrin. Maybe they're finally giving up.”

Perrin laid the stranger back down. We are coming. “Keep a close watch. Maybe some family who tried to hold on to their farm is finally coming in.” He did not believe anyone could have survived out there this long, but it might be so. “Don't shoot anybody by mistake.” He staggered to his feet, and Faile put a hand on his arm.

“It is time you were in bed, Perrin. You have to sleep sometime.”

He only looked at her. He should have made her stay in Tear. Somehow, he should have made her. If he had only thought well enough he could have.

One of the runners, a curlyhaired boy about chesthigh, slipped through the Two Rivers men to tug at Perrin's sleeve. Perrin did not know him; there were many families in from the countryside. “There's something moving in the Westwood, Lord Perrin. They sent me to tell you.”

“Don't call me that,” Perrin told him sharply. If he did not stop the children, the Companions were going to start using it, too. “Go tell them I will be there.” The boy darted away.

“You belong in your bed,” Faile said firmly. “Tomas can handle any attack very well.”

“It isn't an attack, or the boy would have said so, and somebody would be sounding Cenn's bugle.”

She hung on to his arm, trying to pull him toward the inn, and so she was dragged along when he started the opposite way. After a few futile minutes she gave up and pretended she had been merely holding his arm all along. But she muttered to herself. She still seemed to think that if she spoke softly enough he could not hear. She began with “foolish,” “muleheaded,” and “musclebrained”; after that it escalated. It was quite a little procession, her muttering at him, Aram heeling him, Dannil and the ten Companions surrounding him like a guard of honor. If he had not been so tired, he would have felt a proper fool.

There were guards spaced in small clusters all along the sharp stake fence to watch the night, each with a boy for a runner. At the west end of the village the men on guard were all gathered up against the inside of the broad barrier, fingering spears and bows as they peered toward the Westwood. Even with the moonlight, the trees had to be blackness in their eyes.

Tomas's cloak seemed to make parts of him vanish in the night. Bain and Chiad were with him; for some reason the two Maidens had spent every night at this end of Emond's Field since Loial and Gaul left. “I'd not have bothered you,” the Warder said to Perrin, “but there only seems to be one out there, and I thought you might be able to...”

Perrin nodded. Everyone knew about his vision, especially in darkness. The Two Rivers people seemed to think it something special, something that marked him out an idiot hero. What the Warders thought, or the Aes Sedai, he had no idea. He was too tired to care tonight. Seven days, and how many attacks?

The edge of the Westwood lay five hundred paces away. Even to his eyes the trees ran together in shadows. Something moved. Something big enough to be a Trolloc. A big shape carrying.... The burden lifted an arm. A human. A tall shadow carrying a human.

“We will not shoot!” he shouted. He wanted to laugh; in fact, he realized he was laughing. “Come on! Come on, Loial!”

The dim shape lumbered forward faster than a man could run, resolving into the Ogier, speeding toward the village, carrying Gaul.

Two Rivers men shouted encouragement as if it were a race. “Run, Ogier! Run! Run!” Perhaps it was a race; more than one assault had come out of those woods.

Short of the stakes Loial slowed with a lurch; there was barely room for his thick legs to edge through the barrier sideways. Once on the village side, he let the Aielman down and sank to the ground, leaning back against the hedge, panting, tufted ears drooping wearily. Gaul limped on one leg until he could sit, too, with Bain and Chiad both fussing over his left thigh, where his breeches were ripped and black with dry blood. He only had two spears left, and his quiver gaped emptily. Loial's axe was gone, too.

“You fool Ogier,” Perrin laughed fondly. “Going off like that. I ought to let Daise Congar switch you for a runaway. At least you're alive. At least you're back.” His voice sank at that. Alive. And back in Emond's Field.

“We did it, Perrin,” Loial panted, a tired drumlike boom. “Four days ago. We closed the Waygate. It will take the Elders or an Aes Sedai to open it again.”

“He carried me most of the way from the mountains,” Gaul said. “A Nightrunner and perhaps fifty Trollocs chased us the first three days, but Loial outran them.” He was trying to push the Maidens away without much success.

“Lie still, Shaarad,” Chiad snapped, “or I will say I have touched you armed and allow you to choose how your honor stands.” Faile gave a delighted laugh. Perrin did not understand, but the remark reduced the imperturbable Aielman to splutters. He let the Maidens tend his leg.

“Are you all right, Loial?” Perrin asked. “Are you hurt?”

The Ogier pulled himself up with an obvious effort, swaying for a moment like a tree about to fall. His ears still hung limp. “No, I am not hurt, Perrin. Only tired. Do not worry yourself about me. A long time out of the stedding. Visits are not enough.” He shook his head as if his thoughts had wandered. His wide hand engulfed Perrin's shoulder. “I will be fine after a little sleep.” He lowered his voice. For an Ogier, he did; it was still a huge bumblebee rumble. “It is very bad out there, Perrin. We followed the last bands down, for the most part. We locked the gate, but I think there must be several thousand Trollocs in the Two Rivers already, and maybe as many as fifty Myrddraal.”

“Not so,” Luc announced loudly. He had galloped up along the edge of the houses from the direction of the North Road. He reined his rearing black stallion to a flashy halt, forehooves pawing. “You are no doubt fine at singing to trees, Ogier, but fighting Trollocs is something different. I estimate less than a thousand now. A formidable force to be sure, but nothing these stout defenses and brave men cannot hold at bay. Another trophy for you, Lord Perrin Goldeneyes.” Laughing, he tossed a bulging cloth bag at Perrin. The bottom gleamed darkly wet in the moonlight.

Perrin caught it out of the air and hurled it well over the stakes despite its weight. Four or five Trolloc heads, no doubt, and perhaps a Myrddraal. The man brought in his trophies every night, still seeming to expect them to be put up for everyone to admire. A bunch of the Coplins and Congars had given him a feast the night he came in with a pair of Fades' heads.

“Do I also know nothing of fighting?” Gaul demanded, struggling to his feet. “I say there are several thousand.”

Luc's teeth showed white in a smile. “How many days have you spent in the Blight, Aiel? I have spent many.” Perhaps it was more snarl than smile. “Many. Believe what you wish, Goldeneyes. The endless days will bring what they bring, as they always have.” He pulled the stallion up on its hind legs again to whirl about, and galloped in among the houses and the trees that had once been the rim of the Westwood. The Two Rivers men shifted uneasily, peering after him or out into the night.

“He is wrong,” Loial said. “Gaul and I saw what we saw.” His face sagged wearily, broad mouth turned down and long eyebrows drooping on his cheeks. No wonder, if he had carried Gaul for three or four days.

“You have done a lot, Loial,” Perrin said, “you and Gaul both. A great thing. I am afraid your bedroom has half a dozen Tinkers in it now, but Mistress al'Vere will make you up a pallet. It is time for you to get some of that sleep you want.”

“And time for you as well, Perrin Aybara.” Scudding clouds made moonshadows play across Faile's bold nose and high cheekbones. She was so beautiful. But her voice was firm enough for a wagon bed. “If you do not go now, I will have Loial carry you. You can hardly stand.”

Gaul was having trouble walking with his wounded leg. Bain supported him from one side. He tried to stop Chiad from taking the other, but she murmured something that sounded like “gai'shain” in a threatening way, and Bain laughed, and the Aielman allowed them both to help him, growling furiously to himself. Whatever the Maidens were going on about, it did have Gaul in a taking.

Tomas clapped Perrin on the shoulder. “Go, man. Everyone needs to sleep.” He himself sounded good for three more days without it.

Perrin nodded.

He let Faile guide him back to the Winespring Inn with Loial and the Aiel following, and Aram, and Dannil and the ten Companions encircling him. He was not sure when the others fell away, but somehow he and Faile were alone in his room on the second floor of the inn.

“Whole families are making do with no more space than this,” he muttered. A candle burned on the stone mantel over the small fireplace. Others did without, but Marin lit one here as soon as it turned dark so he would not have to be bothered. “I can sleep outside with Dannil and Ban and the others.”

“Do not be an idiot,” Faile said, making it sound affectionate. “If Alanna and Verin each has her own room, you should, too.”

He realized she had his coat off and was untying the laces of his shirt. “I am not too tired to undress myself.” He pushed her gently outside.

“You take everything off,” she ordered. “Everything, do you hear? You cannot sleep properly fully dressed, the way you seem to think.”

“I will,” he promised. When he had the door closed, he did tug off his boots before blowing out the candle and lying down. Marin would not like dirty boots on her coverlet.

Thousands, Gaul and Loial said. Yet how much could the two of them have seen, hiding on the way into the mountains, fleeing on the way back? Maybe one thousand at most, Luc claimed, but Perrin could not make himself trust the man for all the trophies he brought in. Scattered, according to the Whitecloaks. How close could they have come, armor and cloaks shining in the darkness like lanterns?

There was a way to see for himself, perhaps. He had avoided the wolf dream since his last visit; the desire to hunt down this Slayer rose up whenever he thought of going back, and his responsibilities lay here in Emond's Field. But now, perhaps... Sleep rolled in while

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