Winter's Heart Page 39

Chapter 5


H e ran across the snow-covered plain, nose into the wind, hunting for a scent, for that one precious scent. The falling snow no longer melted on his chilled fur, but cold could not deter him. The pads of his paws were numb, yet his burning legs worked furiously, carrying him on, faster and faster, till the land blurred in his eyes. He had to find her.

Suddenly a great grizzled gray wolf, ragged-eared and scarred from many fights, settled down out of the sky to race the sun beside him. Another great gray wolf, but not so large as himself. His teeth would tear the throats of those who had taken her. His jaws would crush their bones!

Your she is not here, Hopper sent to him, but you are here too strongly, and too long from your body. You must go back, Young Bull, or you will die.

I must find her. Even his thoughts seemed to pant. He did not think of himself as Perrin Aybara. He was Young Bull. Once, he had found the falcon here, and he could again. He had to find her. Beside that need, death was nothing.

In a flash of gray the other wolf lunged against his side, and though Young Bull was the larger, he was tired, and he fell heavily. Scrambling to his feet in the snow, he snarled and launched himself at Hopper’s throat. Nothing mattered more than the falcon.

The scarred wolf flew into the air like a bird, and Young Bull went sprawling. Hopper lighted on the snow behind him.

Hear me, cub! Hopper thought at him fiercely. Your mind is twisted with fear! She is not here, and you will die if you remain longer. Find her in the waking world. You can only find her there. Go back, and find her!

Perrin’s eyes snapped open. He was bone tired and his middle felt hollow, but hunger was a shadow beside the hollowness in his chest. He was all hollow, and distanced even from himself, as if he were another person watching Perrin Aybara suffer. Above him, a blue-and-gold-striped tent roof rippled in the wind. The interior of the tent was dim and shadowed, but sunlight made the bright canvas glow softly. And yesterday had not been a nightmare any more than Hopper was. Light, he had tried to kill Hopper. In the Wolf Dream, death was . . . final. The air was warm, but he shivered. He was lying on a feather mattress, in a large bed with heavy cornerposts thickly carved and gilded. Through the scent of charcoal burning in the braziers he smelled musky perfume, and the woman wearing it. No one else was present.

Without raising his head from the pillow, he said, “Have they found her yet, Berelain?” His head felt too heavy to lift.

One of her camp chairs squeaked faintly as she shifted. He had been here before often, with Faile, to discuss plans. The tent was big enough to house a family, and Berelain’s elaborate furnishings would not have looked out of place in a palace, all intricate carving and gilt, though everything, tables and chairs and the bed itself, was held together with pegs. They could be disassembled for storage on a cart, but the pegs did not make for true sturdiness.

Under the perfume, Berelain smelled of surprise that he knew she was there, yet her voice was composed. “No. Your scouts haven’t returned yet, and mine . . . When they didn’t return by nightfall, I sent a full company. They found my men dead in an ambush, killed before they had gone more than five or six miles. I ordered Lord Gallenne to keep a tight watch around the camps. Arganda has a strong guard mounted, too, but he sent patrols out. Against my advice. The man’s a fool. He thinks no one can find Alliandre but him. I am not sure he believes anyone else is really trying. Certainly not the Aiel.”

Perrin’s hands tightened on the soft wool blankets covering him. Gaul would not be caught by surprise, or Jondyn, not even by Aiel. They were still hunting, and that meant Faile was alive. They would have been back long since if they had found her body. He had to believe that. He lifted one of the blue blankets a trifle. Beneath them, he was bare. “Is there an explanation for this?”

Her voice did not change, but caution shimmered in her scent. “You and your armsman might have frozen to death if I hadn’t gone looking for you when Nurelle returned with news of my scouts. No one else had the nerve to disturb you; apparently you snarled like a wolf at everyone who did. When I found you, you were so numb you couldn’t hear anyone speak to you, and the other man was ready to fall on his face. Your woman Lini kept him — all he needed was hot soup and blankets — but I had you carried here. You might have lost some toes at best without Annoura. She . . . She seemed afraid you might die even after she Healed you. You slept like a man already dead. She said you almost felt like someone who had lost his soul, cold no matter how many blankets were piled on you. I felt it, as well, when I touched you.”

Too much explanation, and not enough. Anger flared, a distant anger, but he hammered it down. Faile was always jealous when he raised his voice to Berelain. The woman would get no shouts from him. “Grady or Neald could have done whatever was necessary,” he said in a flat voice. “Even Seonid and Masuri were closer.”

“My own advisor came to mind first. I never thought of the others till I was almost back here. Anyway, does it matter who did the Healing?”

So plausible. And if he asked why the First of Mayene herself was watching over him in a half-dark tent instead of her serving women, or some of her soldiers, or even Annoura, she would have another plausible answer. He did not want to hear it.

“Where are my clothes?” he asked, propping himself up on his elbows. His voice still had no expression.

A single candle on a small table beside Berelain’s chair gave the only real light in the tent, but it was more than enough for his eyes, even grainy with tiredness as they were. She was garbed demurely enough, in a dark green riding dress with a high neck that nestled her chin in a thick ruff of lace. Putting demure on Berelain was like putting a sheepskin on a ridgecat. Her face was faintly shadowed, beautiful and untrustworthy. She would do what she promised, but like an Aes Sedai, for her own reasons, and the things she had made no promises about could stab you in the back.

“On the chest over there,” she said, gesturing with a graceful hand nearly hidden in pale lace. “I had Rosene and Nana clean them, but you need rest and food more than clothing. And before we get to food, and business, I want you to know that no one hopes Faile is alive more than I.” Her expression was so open and honest, he could have believed her had she been anyone else. She even managed to smell honest!

“I need my clothes now.” He twisted around to sit up on the side of the bed with the blankets pulled across his legs. The clothes he had been wearing lay neatly folded on a banded travel chest that was carved and gilded within an inch of its life. His fur-lined cloak was draped across one end of the chest, and his axe leaned next to his boots on the brightly flowered carpets layered for a floor. Light, he was tired. He did not know how long he had been in the Wolf Dream, but awake there was awake, as far as your body was concerned. His stomach rumbled loudl

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