The Shadow Rising Page 166

Perrin tugged at his beard. Luc had certainly not been wounded earlier. Luc... and Slayer? It was impossible. Darkhaired Slayer looked like Lan's brother or cousin; if Luc, with his redgold hair, resembled anyone, maybe it was Rand a little. The two men could not have been more dissimilar. And yet.... That cold smell. They did not smell the same, but both had an icy, hardly human scent. His ears picked up the sound of wagons being hauled out of the way down at the Old Road, shouts for haste. Even if Ban and the Companions ran, they would not catch the man now. Hooves galloped south hard.

“Ban,” he called, “if Luc shows up again, he's to be put under guard and kept there.” He paused long enough to add, “And don't call me that!” before hauling the sash down with a bang.

Luc and Slayer; Slayer and Luc. How could they be the same? It was impossible. But then, less than two years gone he had not really believed in Trollocs or Fades. Time enough to worry about it if he ever laid hands on the man again. Now there was Watch Hill and Deven Ride and... Some could be saved. Not everyone in the Two Rivers had to die.

On his way to the common room, he paused at the top of the stairs. Aram stood up from the bottom step, watching him, waiting to follow where he led. Gaul lay stretched out on a pallet near the fireplace with a bandage thick around his left thigh, apparently asleep. Faile and the Two Maidens sat crosslegged on the floor near him, talking softly. A much larger pallet lay on the far side of the room, but Loial sat on a bench with his legs stretched out so they would fit under one of the tables, nearly doubled over so he could scribble furiously with a pen by the light of a candle. No doubt he was recording what had happened on the journey to close the Waygate. And if Perrin knew Loial at all, the Ogier would have Gaul doing it all, whether he had or not. Loial did not seem to think anything he himself did was brave, or worth writing down. Except for them, the common room was empty. He could still hear those fiddles playing. He thought he recognized the tune. Not a Tinker song, now. “My Love Is a Wild Rose.”

Faile looked up at Perrin's first step down, rising gracefully to meet him. Aram took his seat again when Perrin made no move toward the door.

“Your shirt is wet,” Faile said accusingly. “You slept in it, didn't you? And your boots, I shouldn't wonder. It has not been an hour since I left you. You march yourself back upstairs before you fall down.”

“Did you see Luc leave?” he said. Her mouth tightened, but sometimes ignoring her was the only way. She managed to win too often when he argued with her.

“He came running through here a few minutes ago and dashed out through the kitchen,” she said finally. Those were the words; her tone said she was not finished with him and bed.

“Did he seem to be... injured?”

“Yes,” she said slowly. “He staggered, and he was clutching something to his chest under his coat. A bandage, maybe. Mistress Congar is in the kitchen, but from what I heard he all but ran over her. How did you know?”

“I dreamed it.” Her tilted eyes took on a dangerous light. She must not be thinking. She knew about the wolf dream; did she expect him to explain where Bain and Chiad could hear, not to mention Aram and Loial? Well, maybe not Loial; he was so absorbed in his notes he would not have noticed a flock of sheep herded into the common room. “Gaul?”

“Mistress Congar gave him something to make him sleep, and a poultice for his leg. When the Aes Sedai wake in the morning, one of them will Heal him, if they think it serious enough.”

“Come sit down, Faile. I want you to do something for me.” She eyed him suspiciously, but let him lead her to a chair. When they were seated, he leaned across the table, trying to make his voice serious, but not urgent. On no account urgent. “I want you to take a message to Caemlyn for me. On the way, you can let Watch Hill know how things are here. Actually, it might be best if they crossed the Taren until it's all done.” That had sounded properly casual; just a bit thrown in on the spur of the moment. “I want you to ask Queen Morgase to send us some of the Queen's Guards. I know it's a dangerous thing I'm asking, but Bain and Chiad can get you to Taren Ferry safely, and the ferry is still there.” Chiad stood up, staring at him anxiously. Why was she anxious?

“You will not have to leave him,” Faile told her. After a moment the Aiel woman nodded and resumed her seat beside Gaul. Chiad and Gaul? They were blood enemies. Nothing was making sense tonight.

“It is a long way to Caemlyn,” Faile went on quietly. Her eyes very intent on his, but her face could have been wood for all the expression it had. “Weeks to ride there, plus however long it might take to reach and convince Morgase, then more weeks to return with the Queen's Guards.”

“We can hold out that long easily,” he told her. Burn me if I can't lie as well as Mat! “Luc was right. There can't be more than a thousand Trollocs still out there. The dream?” She nodded. At last she understood. “We can hold out here for a very long time, but in the meanwhile they'll be burning crops and doing the Light knows what. We'll need the Queen's Guards to rid ourselves of them completely. You are the logical one to go. You know how to talk to a queen, being a queen's cousin and all. Faile, I know what I'm asking is dangerous...” Not as dangerous as staying. “. . . But once you reach the ferry, you'll be on your way.”

He did not hear Loial approach until the Ogier laid his book of notes down in front of Faile. “I could not help overhearing, Faile. If you are going to Caemlyn, would you carry this? To keep it safe until I can come for it.” Squaring the volume up almost tenderly, he added, “They print many very fine books in Caemlyn. Forgive me for interrupting, Perrin.” But his teacup eyes were on her, not him. “Faile suits you. You should fly free, like a falcon.” Patting Perrin on the shoulder, he murmured in a deep rumble, “She should fly free,” then made his way to his pallet and lay down facing the wall.

“He is very tired,” Perrin said, attempting to make it seem just a comment. The fool Ogier could ruin everything! “If you leave tonight, you can be at Watch Hill by daybreak. You'll have to swing to the east; the Trollocs are fewer there. This is very important to me... to Emond's Field, I mean. Will you do it?”

She stared at him silently for so long he wondered if she meant to answer. Her eyes seemed to glisten. Then she got up and sat down on his lap, stroking his beard. “This needs trimming. I like it on you, but I do not want it down to your chest.”

He came close to gaping. She often changed the subject on him, but usually when she was losing an argument. “Faile, please. I need you to carry this message to Caemlyn.”

Her hand tightened in his beard, and her head swung as if she were arguing with herself inside her head. “I will go,” she said at last, “but I want a price. You always make me do things the hard way. In Saldaea, I would not have to be the one who asked. My price is... a wedding. I want to marry you,” she finished up in a rush.

“And I you.” He smiled. “We can say the betrothal vows in front of the Women's Circle tonight, but I'm afraid the wedding has to wait a year. When you come back from Caemlyn —” She very nearly yanked a handful of beard out of his chin.

“I will have you for husband tonight,” she said in fierce, low tones, “or I will not go until I do!”

“If there was any way, I would,” he protested. “Daise Congar would crack my head if I wanted to go against custom. For the love of the Light, Faile, just carry the message, and I'll wed you the very first day I can.” He would. If that day ever came.

Suddenly she was very intent on his beard, smoothing it and not meeting his eyes. She started speaking slowly but picked up speed like a runaway horse. “I... just happened to mention... . in passing... I just mentioned to Mistress al'Vere how we had been traveling together — I don't know how it came up — and she said — and Mistress Congar agreed with her — not that I talked to everybody! — she said that we probably — certainly — could be considered betrothed already under your customs, and the year is just to make sure you really do get on well together — which we do, as anyone can see — and here I am being as forward as some Domani hussy or one of those Tairen galls — if you ever even think of Berelain — oh, Light, I'm babbling, and you won't even —”

He cut her off by kissing her as thoroughly as he knew how.

“Will you marry me?” he said breathlessly when he was done. “Tonight?” He must have done ever better with the kiss than he thought; he had to repeat himself six times, with her giggling against his throat and demanding he say it again, before she seemed to understand.

Which was how he found himself not half an hour later kneeling opposite her in the common room, in front of Daise Congar and Marin al'Vere, Alsbet Luhhan and Neysa Ayellin and all the Women's Circle. Loial had been roused to stand for him with Aram, and Bain and Chiad stood for Faile. There were no flowers to put in her hair or his, but Bain, guided by Marin, tucked a long red wedding ribbon around his neck, and Loial threaded another through Faile's dark hair, his thick fingers surprisingly deft and gentle. Perrin's hands trembled as he cupped hers.

“I, Perrin Aybara, do pledge you my love, Faile Bashere, for as long as I live.” For as long as I live and after. “What I possess in this world I give to you.” A horse, an axe, a bow. A hammer. Not much to gift a bride. I give you life, my love. It's all I have. “I will keep and hold you, succor and tend you, protect and shelter you, for all the days of my life.” I can't keep you; the only way I can protect you is to send you away. “I am yours, always and forever.” By the time he finished, his hands were shaking visibly.

Faile moved her hands to hold his. “I, Zarine Bashere...” That was a surprise; she hated that name. “...do pledge you my love, Perrin Aybara...” Her hands never trembled at all.

Chapter 54

(Female Silhouettes)

Into the Palace

Seated on the tail end of the highwheeled cart trundling up a twisty Tanchican street behind four sweating men, Elayne scowled through the grimy veil that covered her from eyes to chin, kicking her bare feet irritably. Every lurch over the paving stones jarred her to the top of her skull; the more she braced herself by holding on to the rough wooden planks of the cart bed, the worse it was. It did not seem to bother Nynaeve much; she jounced about like Elayne, but, frowning slightly and eyes looking inward, she appeared hardly aware of it. And Egeanin, crowded against Nynaeve on the other side, veiled and with her dark hair in braids to her shoulders, rode each jolt easily, arms folded. Finally Elayne emulated the Seanchan woman; she could not avoid swaying into Nynaeve, but the ride no longer felt as if her lower teeth were going to be driven through the upper.

She would have walked gladly, even barefoot, but Bayle Domon had said it would not look right; people might wonder why women were not riding when there was plenty of room, and the last thing they wanted was anyone thinking about them twice. Of course he was not being bounced about like a sack of turnips; he was walking, at the head of the cart with ten of the twenty sailors he had brought along for escort. More would seem suspicious, he claimed. She suspected he would not have had so many if not for he

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