The Shadow Rising Page 92

“Perrin!” Faile hissed before turning an apologetic smile to Verin and Alanna. “Please forgive him. Moiraine Sedai spoiled him. She has an easy manner, I suppose, and she let him get away with things. Please don't be angry with him. He will do better.” She shot him a sharp look, indicating she meant that for his ears as much as theirs, or more. He gave her a piece of his glower. She had no right interfering in this.

“An easy manner?” Verin said, blinking. “Moiraine? I never noticed.”

Alanna waved Faile to silence. “You certainly do not understand,” the Aes Sedai told Perrin in a tight voice. “You do not understand the restrictions under which we labor. The Three Oaths are not merely words. I brought two Warders with me to this place.” The Greens were the only Ajah to bond more than a single Warder apiece; a few, he had heard, even had three or four. “The Children caught Owein crossing an open field. I felt every arrow that struck him until he died. I felt him die. Had I been there, I could have defended him, and myself, with the Power. But I cannot use it for revenge. The Oaths do not permit it. The Children are very nearly as vile as men can be, short of Darkfriends, but they are not Darkfriends, and for that reason they are safe from the Power except in selfdefense. Stretch that as far as we can, it will only stretch so far.”

“As for Trollocs,” Verin added, “we have done for a number of them, and two Myrddraal, but there are limits. Halfmen can sense channeling, after a fashion. If we manage to draw a hundred Trollocs down on ourselves, there is very little we can do except run.”

Perrin scratched at his beard. He should have expected this, should have known. He had seen Moiraine face Trollocs, and he had some idea of what she could do and what not. He realized he had been thinking of how Rand had killed all the Trollocs in the Stone, only Rand was stronger than either of these Aes Sedai, probably stronger than both together. Well, whether they helped him or not, he still meant to finish every Trolloc in the Two Rivers. After he rescued Mat's family, and the Luhhans. If he thought about it carefully enough, he had to find a way. His thigh ached miserably.

“You are injured.” Setting her cup on the floor, Alanna came across to kneel beside him and take his head in her hands. A tingle ran through him. “Yes. I see. You did not do this to yourself shaving, it appears. ”

“It was the Trollocs, Aes Sedai,” Bain said. “When we came out of the Ways in the mountains.” Chiad touched her arm, and she stopped.

“I locked the Waygate, ” Loial added quickly. “No one will use it until it is opened from this side. ”

“I thought that must be how they were coming,” Verin murmured, half to herself. “Moiraine did say they were using the Ways. Sooner or later that is going to present us with a real problem. ”

Perrin wondered what she thought that was.

“The Ways,” Alanna said, still holding his head. “Ta'veren! Young heroes!” She made the words sound approving and close to a curse, both together.

“I am not a hero,” he told her stolidly. “The Ways were the fastest way to get here. That's all.”

The Green sister went on as if he had not spoken. “I will never understand why the Amyrlin Seat let you three go your way. Elaida has been having fits over you three, and she is not the only one, just the most vehement. With the seals weakening and the Last Battle coming, the last thing we need is three ta'veren running about loose. I would have tied a string to each of you, even bonded you. ” He tried to pull back, but she tightened her grip and smiled. “I am not so lost to custom yet as to bond a man against his will. Not quite yet. ” He was not sure how far from it she was; the smile did not reach her eyes. She fingered the halfhealed cut on his cheek. “This has gone too long since it was done. Even Healing will leave a scar now.”

“I don't need to be pretty,” he muttered — just well enough to do what he had to — and Faile laughed aloud.

“Who told you that?” Faile said. Surprisingly, she shared a smile with Alanna.

Perrin frowned, wondering if they were making fun of him, but before he could say anything, the Healing hit him, like being turned to ice. All he could do was gasp. The few moments before Alanna released him seemed endless.

When he had his breath again, the Green sister had Bain's flamehaired head between her hands, Verin was seeing to Gaul, and Chiad was testing her left arm, swinging it back and forth with a satisfied expression.

Faile took Alanna's place beside Perrin and stroked a finger across his cheek, along the scar beneath his eye. “Beauty mark,” she said, smiling slightly.“A what?”

“Oh, just something Domani women do. It was just an idle comment.”

Despite her smile, or maybe because of it, he scowled suspiciously. She was making fun of him, only he did not understand how, exactly.

Ihvon slipped into the room, whispered in Alanna's ear, and vanished outside again at her whisper. He hardly made a sound even on the wooden floor. A few moments later the scrape of boots on the steps announced new arrivals.

Perrin sprang to his feet as Tam al'Thor and Abell Cauthon appeared in the doorway, bows in hand, with the rumpled clothes and grayflecked twoday beards of men who had been sleeping rough. They had been hunting; four rabbits hung at Tam's belt, three at Abell's. It was obvious they were expecting the Aes Sedai, and visitors, too, but they stared in amazement at Loial, more than half again as tall as either of them, with his tufted ears and broad snout of a nose. A flicker of recognition crossed Tam's bluff, lined face at sight of the Aiel.

Tam's gaze only rested thoughtfully on them for a moment, though, before coming to rest on Perrin with a start almost as big as for Loial. He was a sturdy, deepchested man despite hair that was nearly all gray, the sort it would take an earthquake to knock off his feet and more than that to fluster. “Perrin, lad!” he exclaimed. “Is Rand with you?”

“What about Mat?” Abell added eagerly. He had the look of an older, graying Mat, but with more serious eyes. A man not thickened much by age, with an agile step.

“They are well,” Perrin told them. “In Tear.” He caught Verin's glance from the corner of his eye; she knew very well what Tear meant for Rand. Alanna hardly seemed to be paying attention at all. “They would have come with me, but we didn't know how bad things are. ” That was true on both counts, he was sure. “Mat spends his time dicing — and winning — and kissing the girls. Rand... Well, the last I saw of Rand, he was wearing a fancy coat and had a pretty goldenhaired girl on his arm.”

“That sounds like my Mat,” Abell chuckled.

“Maybe it's as well they didn't come,” Tam said more slowly, “what with the Trollocs. And the Whitecloaks.... ” He shrugged. “You know the Trollocs returned?” Perrin nodded. “Was that Aes Sedai right? Moiraine. Were they after you three lads, that Winternight? Did you ever find out why?”

The Brown sister gave Perrin a warning look. Alanna appeared absorbed in rummaging through her saddlebags, but he thought she was listening now. Neither was what made him hesitate, though. There was just no way to come out and tell Tam that his son could channel, that Rand was the Dragon Reborn. How could he tell a man something like that? Instead, he said, “You will have to ask Moiraine. Aes Sedai don't tell you any more than they have to.”

“I have noticed,” Tam said dryly.

Both Aes Sedai were definitely listening, and making no secret of it now. Alanna arched an icy eyebrow at Tam, and Abell shifted his feet as if he thought Tam was pushing his luck, but it would take more than a stare to upset Tam.

“Can we talk outside?” Perrin asked the two men. “I want a breath of air.” He wanted to talk without Aes Sedai eavesdropping and watching, but he could hardly say so.

Tam and Abell were agreeable, and perhaps as eager to escape Verin and Alanna's scrutiny as he, but first there was the matter of the rabbits, all of which they handed over to Alanna.

“We meant to keep two for ourselves,” Abell said, “but it seems you have more mouths to feed.”

“There is no need for this.” The Green sister sounded as though she had said as much often before.

“We like to pay for what we get ” Tam told her, sounding the same. “The Aes Sedai were kind enough to do a little Healing for us,” he added to Perrin, “and we want to stock up credit in case we need it again.”

Perrin nodded. He could understand not wanting to take a gift from Aes Sedai. “An Aes Sedai's gift always has a hook in it,” the old saying went. Well, he knew the truth of that. But it did not really matter whether you took the gift or paid for it; Aes Sedai managed to set the hook anyway. Verin was watching him with a tiny smile, as if she knew what he was thinking.

As the three men started out, carrying their bows, Faile rose to follow. Perrin shook his head at her, and amazingly she sat back down. He wondered if she was ill.

After pausing so Tam and Abell could admire Stepper and Swallow, they strolled off a way under the trees. The sun slanted westward, lengthening shadows. The older men made a few jokes about his beard, but they never mentioned his eyes. Strangely, the omission did not bother him. He had more important worries than whether somebody thought his eyes peculiar.

Responding to Abell's query as to whether “that thing” was any good for straining soup, he rubbed his beard and said mildly, “Faile likes it.”

“Ohho,” Tam chuckled. “That's the girl, is it? A spirited look to her, lad. She'll have you lying awake nights trying to tell up from down.”

“Only one way to handle that sort,” Abell said, nodding. “Let her think she's running things. That way, when it's important, and you say different, by the time she gets over the shock of it, you'll have matters arranged as you want, and it will be too late for her to badger you about changing it.”

That seemed to Perrin a great deal like what Mistress al'Vere had told Faile about handling men. He wondered if Abell and Marin had ever compared notes. Not likely. Perhaps it was worth trying with Faile. Only, she seemed to have her own way in any case.

He glanced over his shoulder. The sickhouse was almost hidden by the trees. They had to be safe from the Aes Sedai's ears. He listened carefully, drew a deep breath. A woodpecker drummed somewhere in the distance. There were squirrels in the leafy branches overhead, and a fox had passed this way not long ago with its kill, a rabbit. Aside from the three of them, there was no man scent, nothing to indicate a hidden Warder listening. Perhaps he was being too cautious, but good reasons or no, he could not get past the coincidence of both Aes Sedai being women he had met before, one a woman Egwene did not trust, the other a woman he was not sure he trusted.

“Do you stay here?” he asked. “With Verin and Alanna?”

“Hardly,” Abell replied. “How could a man sleep with Aes Sedai under the same roof? W

Prev Next