Winter's Heart Page 28

Without waiting on a reply, he hurried to put himself in front of Gaul and stopped the taller man with a hand to his chest. For some reason, Gaul’s green eyes tightened above his veil. Sulin and the rest of the Maidens strung out behind him went up on the balls of their feet.

“Find her for me, Gaul,” Perrin said. “All of you, please find who took her. If anyone can track Aiel, it’s you.”

The tightness in Gaul’s eyes vanished as suddenly as it had come, and the Maidens relaxed, too. As much as Aiel ever could be said to relax. It was very strange. They could not think he blamed them in any way.

“We all wake from the dream one day,” Gaul said gently, “but if she still dreams, we will find her. But if Aiel took her, we must go. They will move quickly. Even in . . . this.” He put considerable disgust in the word, kicking at a clod of snow.

Perrin nodded and hastily stepped aside, letting the Aiel set out at a trot. He doubted they could maintain that for very long, but he was sure they would keep the pace longer than anyone else could have. As the Maidens passed him, each quickly pressed fingers to the veil over her lips, then touched his shoulder. Sulin, right behind Gaul, gave him a nod, but none said a word. Faile would have known what they meant with their finger kissing.

There was something else odd about their departure, he realized as the last Maiden went by. They were letting Gaul lead. Normally, any of them would have stuck a spear in him before allowing that. Why . . .? Maybe . . . Chiad and Bain would have been with Faile. Gaul did not care one way of the other about Bain, but Chiad was a different matter. The Maidens certainly had not been encouraging Gaul’s hope that Chiad would give up the spear to marry him — anything but! — yet maybe that was it.

Perrin grunted in disgust at himself. Chiad and Bain, and who else? Even blind with fear for Faile, he should have asked that much. If he was going to get her back, he needed to strangle fear and see. But it was like trying to strangle a tree.

The flat hilltop swarmed now. Someone had already led Stayer away, and Two Rivers men were leaving the ring around the crest, hurrying toward their camp in a scattered stream, shouting to one another about what they would have done had the lancers charged. Occasionally a man raised his voice asking about Faile, did anyone know if the Lady was safe, were they going to look for her, but others always shushed him hurriedly with worried glances at Perrin. The gai’shain went about their tasks placidly in the middle of all the rush. Unless commanded to stop, they would have done the same if a battle had swirled around them, not raising a hand to help or hinder. The Wise Ones had all gone into one of the tents with Seonid and Masuri, and the flaps were not only down, but tied. They did not want to be disturbed. They would be discussing Masema, no doubt. Possibly discussing how to kill the man without him or Rand learning they had done it.

He smacked a fist into his palm in irritation. He had actually forgotten Masema until now. The man was supposed to be following before nightfall, with that honor guard of a hundred men. With luck, the Mayener scouts would be back by then, and Elyas and the others soon after.

“My Lord Perrin?” Grady said behind him, and he turned. The two Asha’man stood in front of their horses, fiddling uncertainly with their reins. Grady drew breath and went on with Neald nodding agreement. “The pair of us could cover a lot of ground, Traveling. And if we find the lot who kidnapped her, well, I doubt even a few hundred Aiel could stop two Asha’man from taking her back.”

Perrin opened his mouth to tell them to start immediately, then closed it again. Grady had been a farmer, true, but never a hunter or woodsman. Neald thought any place without a stone wall was a village. They might know a footprint from an oak tree, yet if they did find tracks, very likely neither would be able to say which direction they were headed. Of course, he could go with them. He was not as good as Jondyn, but . . . He could go, and leave Dannil to deal with Arganda. And with Masema. Not to mention the Wise Ones’ schemes.

“Go get yourselves packed,” he said quietly. Where was Balwer? Nowhere in sight. Not very likely that he had gone haring off to find Faile. “You may be needed here.”

Grady blinked in surprise, and Neald’s mouth dropped open.

Perrin gave them no chance to argue. He strode over to the low tent with the tied flaps. There was no way to undo the ties from the outside. When Wise Ones wanted to remain undisturbed, they wanted to remain undisturbed, by clan chiefs or anyone else. Including a wetlander lumbered with the title of Lord of the Two Rivers. He drew his belt knife, and bent to slice the ties, but before he could slide the blade through the tight crack between the entry flaps, they jerked as if someone was unfastening them from inside. He straightened and waited.

The tentflaps opened, and Nevarin slipped out. Her shawl was tied around her waist, but except for the mist of her breath, she gave no evidence of the icy air. Her green eyes took in the knife in his hand, and she planted her fists on her hips in a rattle of bracelets. She was near enough bone-thin, with long sandy yellow hair held back by a dark folded kerchief, and more than a hand taller than Nynaeve, but that was who she always made him think of. She stood blocking the entrance to the tent.

“You are impetuous, Perrin Aybara.” Her light voice was level, but he had the impression that she was considering boxing his ears. Very much like Nynaeve. “Though that might be understandable, in the circumstances. What do you want?”

“How . . .?” He had to stop to swallow. “How will they treat her?”

“I cannot say, Perrin Aybara.” There was no sympathy on her face, no expression at all. Aiel could give Aes Sedai lessons in that. “Taking wetlanders captive is against custom, except for Treekillers, though that has changed. So is killing without need. But many have refused to accept the truths the Car’a’carn revealed. Some were taken by the Bleakness and threw down their spears, yet they may have taken them up again. Others simply left, to live as they believe we are meant to. I cannot say what customs might be kept or abandoned by those who have abandoned clan and sept.” The only emotion she displayed was a hint of disgust at the end, for those who abandoned clan and sept.

“Light, woman, you must have some idea! Surely you can make a guess — ”

“Do not become irrational,” she broke in sharply. “Men often do in such situations, but we have need of you. I think it will do your standing with the other wetlanders no good if we must bind you until you calm down. Go to your tent. If you cannot control your thoughts, drink until you cannot think. And do not bother us when we are in council.” She ducked back into the tent, and the flaps jerked closed and began to twitc

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