The Shadow Rising Page 91

“Why did you decide to change that?” the gray haired Warder asked in a hard voice.

“For what I consider good and sufficient reasons, Tomas.” From the way she shifted her shawl, Perrin suspected she was hoping the Circle— and the Aes Sedai — thought so, too. Rumor had it the Circle could be even harder on each other than they were on the rest of the village. “Where better to hide you, Perrin, than with Aes Sedai? Surely you aren't afraid of them, not after leaving here with one. And... You will find out soon enough. You just have to trust me.”

“There are Aes Sedai and Aes Sedai,” Perrin told her. But those he considered the worst, the Red Ajah, did not bond Warders; the Red Ajah did not like men very much at all. This Tomas had dark unwavering eyes. They might rush him, or better simply leave, but the Warder would surely put an arrow through the first one to do something he did not like, and Perrin was ready to bet the man had more shafts handy for easy nocking. The Aiel seemed to agree; they still looked ready to spring in any direction at any moment, but they looked as if they could stand where they were until the sun froze, too. Perrin patted Faile on the shoulder. “It will be all right,” he said.

“Of course it will,” she replied, smiling. She had put the knife away. “If Mistress al'Vere says it, I trust her.”

Perrin hoped she was right. He did not trust as many people as he once had. Not Aes Sedai. And maybe not even Marin al'Vere. But maybe these Aes Sedai would help him fight Trollocs. He would trust anyone who did that. But how far could he rely on Aes Sedai? They did what they did for their own reasons; the Two Rivers was home, to him, but to them it might be a stone on a stones board. Faile and Marin al'Vere appeared to be trusting, though, and the Aiel waited. For the moment, it seemed he had little choice.

Chapter 31

(Sunburst)

Assurances

In a few minutes Ihvon returned. “You can go ahead, Mistress al'Vere” was all he said before he and Tomas both vanished into the brush again without so much as the rustle of a leaf.

“They are very good,” Gaul muttered, still staring around suspiciously.

“A child could hide in this,” Chiad told him, slapping a redberry branch. But she watched the undergrowth as closely as Gaul did.

None of the Aiel appeared eager to go on. Not reluctant, precisely, and certainly not afraid, but definitely not eager. One day Perrin hoped to figure out what it was Aiel did feel toward Aes Sedai. One day. He was not particularly enthusiastic himself, today.

“Let's go meet these Aes Sedai of yours,” he told Mistress al'Vere gruffly.

The old sickhouse was even more ramshackle than he remembered, a sprawling single story that leaned drunkenly, half the rooms open to the sky, a fortyfoot sourgum tree poking up from one. The forest closed in on every side. A thick net of vines and briars snaked up the walls, covered the remaining thatch with green; he thought they might be all that was holding the building up. The front door was cleared, though. He smelled horses, and a faint aroma of beans and ham, but oddly, no woodsmoke.

Tying their animals to low branches, they followed Mistress al'Vere inside, where vineshrouded windows admitted only a dim light. The front room was large and bare of furnishings, with dirt in the corners and a few cobwebs that had escaped an obviously hasty cleaning. Four blanket rolls were laid out on the floor, with saddles and saddlebags and neatly tied bundles against the wall, and a small kettle on the stone hearth gave off the cooking smells despite the lack of any fire. A smaller kettle seemed to be water for tea, almost at the boil. Two Aes Sedai awaited them. Marin al'Vere curtsied hastily and launched into an anxious cascade of introductions and explanations.

Perrin leaned his chin against his bow. He recognized the Aes Sedai. Verin Mathwin, plump and squarefaced, gray streaking her brown hair despite her smoothcheeked Aes Sedai agelessness, was Brown Ajah, and like all Browns seemingly lost half the time in the search for knowledge, whether old and lost or new. But sometimes her dark eyes belied that vague dreamy expression, as now, looking past Marin at him sharp as tacks. She was one of two Aes Sedai besides Moiraine he was certain knew about Rand, and he suspected she knew more about himself than she let on. Her eyes took on that slight vagueness again as she listened to Marin, but for an instant they had weighed him on scales, factored him into her own plans. He would have to be very careful around her.

The other, a dark, slender woman in a deep green silk riding dress that contrasted sharply with Verin's plain brown, inkstained at the cuffs, he had never met, and only seen once. Alanna Mosvani was Green Ajah, if he remembered correctly, a beautiful woman with long black hair and penetrating dark eyes. Those eyes sought him, too, while she listened to Marin. Something Egwene had said came back to him. Some Aes Sedai who shouldn't know about Rand show too much interest in him. Elaida, for instance, and Alanna Mosvani. I don't think I trust either of them. Perhaps it would be best to be guided by Egwene until he found out differently.

His ears perked up when Marin said, still apprehensive, “You were asking about him, Verin Sedai. Perrin, I mean. All three boys, but Perrin among them. It seemed the easiest way to keep him from getting himself killed was to bring him to you. There just wasn't any time to ask first. Do say you under —”

“It is quite all right, Mistress al'Vere,” Verin interrupted in a soothing tone. “You did exactly the correct thing. Perrin is in the right hands, now. Also I will enjoy the chance to learn more about the Aiel, and it is always a pleasure to talk with an Ogier. I will pick your brain, Loial. I have found some fascinating things in Ogier books.”

Loial gave her a pleased smile; anything to do with books seemed to please him. Gaul, on the other hand, exchanged guarded looks with Bain and Chiad.

“It is all right as long as you do not do it again,” Alanna said firmly. “Unless... You are alone?” she asked Perrin in a voice that required an answer, and right now. “Did the other two return as well?”

“Why are you here?” he demanded right back.

“Perrin!” Mistress al'Vere said sharply. “Mind your manners! You may have picked up some rough ways out in the world, but you can just lose them again now that you are home.”

“Do not trouble yourself,” Verin told her.. “Perrin and I are old friends now. I understand him. ” Her dark eyes glittered at him for a moment.

“We will take care of him.” Alanna's cool words seemed open to interpretation.

Verin smiled and patted Marin's shoulder. “You had better go on back to the village. We don't want anyone wondering why you are walking in the woods.”

Mistress al'Vere nodded. Pausing by Perrin, she put a hand on his arm. “You know you have my sympathy,” she said gently. “Just remember that getting yourself killed won't help anything.. Do what the Aes Sedai tell you. ” He mumbled something noncommittal, but it seemed to satisfy her.

When Mistress al'Vere had gone, Verin said, “You have our sympathy as well, Perrin. If there was anything we could have done, we would have.”

He did not want to think of his family now. “You still haven't answered my question.”

“Perrin!” Faile managed to copy Mistress al'Vere's tone almost exactly, but he paid it no mind.

“Why are you here? It seems awfully coincidental. Whitecloaks and Trollocs, and the two of you just happen to be here at the same time.”

“Not coincidental at all,” Verin replied. “Ah, the tea water is ready.” The water subsided from a boil as she began to bustle about, tossing a handful of leaves into the kettle, directing Faile to find metal cups in one of the bundles against the wall. Alanna, with her arms folded beneath her breasts, never took her eyes off Perrin, their heat conflicting with the coolness of her face. “Year by year,” Verin continued, “we find fewer and fewer girls who can be taught to channel. Sheriam believes we may have spent the last three thousand years culling the ability out of humankind by gentling every man who can channel we find. The proof of it, she says, is how very few men we do find. Why, even a hundred years ago the records say there were two or three a year, and five hundred years —”

Alanna harrumphed. “What else can we do, Verin? Let them go insane? Follow the Whites' mad plan?”

“I think not,” Verin replied calmly. “Even if we could find women willing to bear children by gentled men, there is no guarantee the children would be able to channel, or would be girls. I did suggest that if they wanted to increase the stock, Aes Sedai should be the ones to have the children; themselves, in fact, since they put it forward in the first place. Alviarin was not amused.”

“She would not be,” Alanna laughed. The sudden flash of delight, breaking her fiery, darkeyed stare, was startling. “I wish I could have seen her face.”

“Her expression was... interesting, ” the Brown sister said musingly. “Calm yourself, Perrin. I will give you the rest of your answer. Tea?”

Trying to wipe the glare from his face, somehow he found himself seated on the floor, his bow beside him and a metal cup full of strong tea in his hand. Everyone sat in a circle in the middle of the room.. Alanna took up the explanation of their presence, perhaps to forestall the other Aes Sedai's tendency to ramble.

“Here in the Two Rivers, where I suspect no Aes Sedai had visited in a thousand years, Moiraine found two women who could not only be taught to channel, but who had the ability born in them, and heard of another who had died because she could not teach herself.”

"Not to mention three ta'veren, Verin murmured into her tea.

“Do you have any idea,” Alanna went on, “how many towns and villages we usually must visit to find three girls with the ability inborn? The only wonder is that it took us so long to come hunting more. The old blood is very strong here in the Two Rivers. We were only in Watch Hill a week before the Children appeared, and were very careful not to reveal who we were to any but the Women's Circle there, yet even so we found four girls who can be trained, and one child I think has the ability inborn.”

“It was difficult to be sure,” Verin added. “She is only twelve. None have anywhere near the potential of Egwene or Nynaeve, but the number is still nothing less than remarkable. There might be another two or three just around Watch Hill. We have had no chance to examine girls here, or farther south. Taren Ferry was a disappointment, I must say. Too much interchange of bloodlines with the outside, I suppose. ”

Perrin had to admit it made sense. But it did not answer all his questions, or settle all his doubts. He shifted, stretching out his leg. The spear wound in his thigh hurt. “I don't understand why you are hiding here. Whitecloaks arresting innocent people, and here you sit. Trollocs running all over the Two Rivers, apparently, and here you sit.”

Loial muttered under his breath, a muted rumble. Perrin caught “angering Aes Sedai” and “hornet's nest,” but he continued to hammer at them. “Why aren't you doing something? You're Aes Sedai! Burn me, why aren't y

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