The Shadow Rising Page 47

“Sensations,” Moiraine replied with a grimace. “Sensations, emotions, experiences. They rummage through them; you can feel them doing it, making your skin crawl. Perhaps they feed on them in some manner. The Aes Sedai who studied this ter'angreal when it was in Mayene wrote of a strong desire to bathe afterward. I certainly intend to.”

“But their answers are true?” Rand said as she started to turn away. “You are sure of it? The books implied as much, but can they really give true answers about the future?”

“The answers are true,” Moiraine said slowly, “so long as they are in regard to your own future. That much is certain.” She watched Rand, and himself, weighing the effect of her words. “As to how, though, there is only speculation. That world is... folded...in strange ways. I cannot be clearer. It may be that that allows them to read the thread of a human life, read the various ways it may yet be woven into the Pattern. Or perhaps it is a talent of the people. The answers are often obscure, however. If you need help working out what yours mean, I offer my services.” Her eyes flickered from one of them to the other, and Mat nearly swore. She did not believe him about no answers. Unless it was simply general Aes Sedai suspicion.

Rand gave her a slow smile. “And will you tell me what you asked, and what they answered?”

For answer, she returned a level, searching look, then started for the door. A small ball of light, as bright as a lantern, was suddenly floating ahead of her, illuminating her way.

Mat knew he should leave it alone, now. Just let her go and hope she forgot he had ever been down here. But a knot of anger still burned inside him. All those ridiculous things they had said. Well, maybe they were true, if Moiraine said so, but he wanted to grab those fellows by the collar, or whatever passed for a collar in those wrappings, and make them explain a few things.

“Why can't you go there twice, Moiraine?” he called after her. “Why not?” He very nearly asked why they worried about iron and musical instruments, too, and bit his tongue. He could not know about those if he had not understood what they were saying.

She paused at the door to the hall, and it was impossible to see if she was looking at the ter'angreal or at Rand. “If I knew everything, Matrim, I would not need to ask questions.” She peered into the room a moment longer — she was staring at Rand — then glided away without another word.

For a time Mat and Rand looked at each other in silence.

“Did you find out what you wanted?” Rand asked finally.

“Did you?”

A bright flame leaped into existence, balanced above Rand's palm. Not the smooth glowing sphere of the Aes Sedai, but a rough blaze like a torch. As Rand moved to leave, Mat added another question. “Are you really going to just let the Whitecloaks do whatever they want back home? You know they're heading for Emond's Field. If they are not there already. Yellow eyes, the bloody Dragon Reborn. It's too much, otherwise.”

“Perrin will do... what he has to do to save Emond's Field,” Rand replied in a pained voice. “And I must do what I have to, or more than Emond's Field will fall, and to worse than Whitecloaks.”

Mat stood watching the light of that flame fade away down the hall, until he remembered where he was. Then he snatched up his lamp and hurried out. Rhuidean! Light, what am I going to do?

Chapter 16

(Leafy Tree)

Leavetakings

Lying on sweatsoaked sheets, staring at the ceiling, Perrin realized that the darkness was turning to gray. Soon the sun would be edging above the horizon. Morning. A time for new hopes; a time to be up and doing. New hopes. He almost laughed. How long had he been awake? An hour or more, surely, this time. Scratching his curly beard, he winced. His bruised shoulder had stiffened, and he sat up slowly; sweat popped out on his face as he worked the arm. He kept at it methodically, though, suppressing groans and now and again biting back a curse, until he could move the arm freely, if not comfortably.

Such sleep as he had managed had been broken and fitful. When he was awake he had seen Faile's face, her dark eyes accusing him, the hurt he had put there making him cringe inside. When he slept, he dreamed of mounting a gallows, and Faile watching, or worse, trying to stop it, trying to fight Whitecloaks with their lances and swords, and he was screaming while they fitted the noose around his neck, screaming because the Whitecloaks were killing Faile. Sometimes she watched them hang him with a smile of angry satisfaction. Small wonder such dreams wakened him with a jerk. Once he had dreamed of wolves running out of the forest to save both Faile and him — only to be spitted on Whitecloak lances, shot down by their arrows. It had not been a restful night. Washing and dressing as hurriedly as he could, he left the room as if hoping to leave memories of his dreams behind.

Little outward evidence remained of the night's attack, here a swordslashed tapestry, there a chest with a corner splintered by an axe or a lighter patch on the stonetiled floor where a bloodstained rug had been removed. The majhere had her liveried army of servants out in force, though many wore bandages, sweeping, mopping, clearing away and replacing. She limped about leaning on a stick, a broad woman with her gray hair pushed up like a round cap by the dressing wound around her head, calling her orders in a firm voice, with the clear intention of removing every sign of the Stone's second violation. She saw Perrin and gave him an infinitesimal curtsy. Even the High Lords did not get much more from her, even when she was well. Despite all the cleaning and scrubbing, under the smell of waxes and polishes and cleaning fluids Perrin could still catch the faint scent of blood, sharply metallic human blood, fetid Trolloc blood, acrid Myrddraal blood with its stink that burned his nostrils. He would be glad to be away from here.

The door to Loial's room was a span across and more than two spans high, with an overlarge door handle in the shape of entwined vines level with Perrin's head. The Stone had a number of rarely used Ogier guest rooms; the Stone of Tear predated even the age of great Ogier stoneworks, but it was a point of prestige to use Ogier stonemasons, at least from time to time. Perrin knocked and at the call of “Come in,” in a voice like a slow avalanche, lifted the handle and complied.

The room was on a scale with the door in every dimension, yet Loial, standing in the middle of the leafpatterned carpet in his shirtsleeves, a long pipe in his teeth, reduced it all to seemingly normal size. The Ogier stood taller than a Trolloc in his widetoed, thighhigh boots, if not so broad as one. His dark green coat, buttoned to the waist, then flaring to his boot tops like a kilt over baggy trousers, no longer looked odd to Perrin, but one look was enough to tell this was not an ordinary man in an ordinary room. The Ogier's nose was so broad as to seem a snout, and eyebrows like long mustaches dangled beside eyes the size of teacups. Tufted ears poked up through shaggy black hair that hung nearly to his shoulders. When he grinned around his pipestem at the sight of Perrin, it split his face in half.

“Good morning, Perrin,” he rumbled, removing the pipe. “You slept well? Not easy, after such a night as that. Myself, I have been up half the night, writing down what happened.” He had a pen in his other hand, and ink stains on his sausagethick fingers.

Books lay everywhere, on Ogiersized chairs and the huge bed and the table that stood as high as Perrin's chest. That was no surprise, but what was a little startling was the flowers. Flowers of every sort, in every color. Vases of flowers, baskets of them, posies tied with ribbon or even string, great woven banks of flowers standing about like lengths of garden wall. Perrin had certainly never seen the like inside a room. Their scent filled the air. Yet what really caught his eye was the swollen knot on Loial's head, the size of a man's fist, and the heavy limp in Loial's walk. If Loial had been hurt too badly to travel... He felt ashamed at thinking of it that way — the Ogier was a friend — but he had to.

“You were injured, Loial? Moiraine could Heal you. I'm sure she will.”

“Oh, I can get around with no trouble. And there were so many who truly needed her help. I would not want to bother her. It certainly is not enough to hamper me in my work.” Loial glanced at the table where a large clothbound book — large for Perrin, but it would fit in one of the Ogier's coat pockets — lay open beside an uncorked ink bottle. “I hope I wrote it all down correctly. I did not see very much last night until it was done.”

“Loial,” Faile said, standing up from behind one of the banks of flowers with a book in her hands, “is a hero.”

Perrin jumped; the flowers had masked her scent completely. Loial made shushing noises, his ears twitching with embarrassment, and waved his big hands at her, but she went on, her voice cool but her eyes hot on Perrin's face.

“He gathered as many children as he could — and some of their mothers — into a large room, and held the door alone against Trollocs and Myrddraal through the entire fight. These flowers are from the women of the Stone, tokens to honor his steadfast courage, his faithfulness.” She made “steadfast” and “faithfulness” crack like whips.

Perrin managed not to flinch, but only just. What he had done was right, but he could not expect her to see it. Even if she knew why, she would not see it. It was the right thing. It was. He only wished he felt better about the entire matter. It was hardly fair that he could be right and still feel in the wrong.

“It was nothing.” Loial's ears twitched wildly. “It is just that the children could not defend themselves. That's all. Not a hero. No.”

“Nonsense.” Faile marked her place in the book with a finger and moved closer to the Ogier. She did not come up to his chest. “There is not a woman in the Stone who would not marry you, if you were human, and some would anyway. Loial well named, for your nature is loyalty. Any woman could love that.”

The Ogier's ears went stiff with shock, and Perrin grinned. She had obviously been feeding Loial honey and butter all morning in hope the Ogier would agree to take her along no matter what Perrin wanted, but in trying to prick him she had just fed Loial a stone without knowing it. “Have you heard from your mother, Loial?” he asked.

“No.” Loial managed to sound relieved and worried at the same time. “But I saw Laefar in the city yesterday. He was as surprised to see me as I to see him; we are not a common sight in Tear. He came from Sledding Shangtai to negotiate repairs on some Ogier stonework in one of the palaces. I have no doubt the first words out of his mouth when he returns to the stedding will be 'Loial is in Tear.' ”

“That is worrying,” Perrin said, and Loial nodded dejectedly.

“Laefar says the Elders have named me a runaway and my mother has promised to have me married and settled. She even has someone chosen. Laefar did not know who. At least, he said he did not. He thinks such things are funny. She could be here in a month's time.”

Faile's face was a picture of confusion that almost made Perrin grin again. She thought she knew so much more than he did about the world — well, she did, in truth — but she did not know Loial. Stedding Shangtai was Loial's home, in the Spine of the World, and since he was barely past ninety, he was not old enough to have left on his own. Ogier lived a very long time; by their standards, Loial was ho older than Perrin, maybe younger. But Loial had gone anyway, to see the world, and his greatest fear was that his mother would find him and drag back to the stedding to ma

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