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Off to the left, short of where the road crossed a wooden bridge over a frozen stream that twisted along the town's edge, charred timbers thrust out of the snow atop a large square stone platform with drifts piled around the bottom. Slow to proclaim allegiance to the Dragon Reborn, the local lord had been lucky merely to be flogged and fined all that he possessed. A knot of men standing at the bridge watched the mounted party approaching. Perrin saw no sign of helmets or armor, but every man clutched spear or crossbow almost as hard as he did his cloak. They did not talk to one another. They just watched, the mist of their breath curling before their faces. There were other guards bunched all around the town, at every road leading out, at every space between two buildings. This was the Prophet's country, but the Whitecloaks and King Ailron's army still held large parts of it.

Abila was a goodly sized town, with several tall watch towers and many buildings rising four stories, every last one roofed in slate. Here and there, mounded stone and timbers filled a gap between two structures where an inn or some merchant's house had been pulled down. The Prophet disapproved of wealth gained by trade as much as he did carousing or what his followers called lewd behavior. He disapproved of a great many things, and made his feelings known with sharp examples.

They made no move to bar passage, just watched, hardly blinking. By what Perrin had heard, all sorts from ladies in silks to beggars in rags came to the Prophet hoping that submitting to him in person might gain added blessings. Or maybe added protection. That was why he had come this way, with only a handful of companions. He would frighten Masema if he had to, if Masema could be frightened, but it had seemed better to try reaching the man without fighting a battle. He could feel the guard's eyes on his back until he and the others were all across the short bridge and onto the paved streets of Abila. When that pressure left, though, it brought no sense of relief.

Behind him, he heard Neald make a ribald joke in a low voice; Grady grunted in reply, and Balwer sniffed prissily. None of the three seemed at all affected by what they had seen and heard this past month since crossing the border into Amadicia, or by what lay ahead. Edarra was sharply berating Masuri for letting her hood slip. Edarra and Carelle both wore their shawls wrapped around their heads and shoulders in addition to cloaks, but even after admitting the necessity to ride, they had refused to change out of their bulky skirts, so their dark-stockinged legs were bared above the knee. The cold did not seem to bother them in the least; just the strangeness of snow. Carelle began quietly advising Seonid as to what would happen if she did not keep her face hidden.

Holding his fur-lined cloak close with one hand, Perrin let Stayer walk at the bay's own pace. The midmorning sun gave no warmth, and the rutted snow on the road leading into Abila made poor footing. He and his dozen companions shared the way with only two lumbering ox-carts and a handful of farmfolk in plain dark woolens. They all trudged along with heads down, clutching at hat or cap whenever a gust rose but otherwise concentrating on the ground beneath their shoes.

"Burn you," she breathed. Tangling both hands in his hair, she stared in his eyes. Now blue, now gray, a morning sky just at sunrise. And dry. "You can cry, Rand al'Thor. You won't melt if you cry"

"A little something in the wine," Rand said softly as he laid Fedwin down. Min's eyes burned, but she would not cry. She would not

Abila was a goodly sized town, with several tall watch towers and many buildings rising four stories, every last one roofed in slate. Here and there, mounded stone and timbers filled a gap between two structures where an inn or some merchant's house had been pulled down. The Prophet disapproved of wealth gained by trade as much as he did carousing or what his followers called lewd behavior. He disapproved of a great many things, and made his feelings known with sharp examples.

"You are harder than I thought," Taim muttered.

It took only one question, put to a lanky young man with an ecstatic light on his face, to learn where the Prophet was staying, and three more to other folk in the streets to find the merchant's house, four stories of gray stone with white marble moldings and window frames. Masema disapproved of grubbing for money, but he was willing to accept accommodations from those who did. On the other hand, Balwer said he had slept in a leaky farmhouse as often and been as satisfied. Masema drank only water, and wherever he went, he hired a poor widow and ate the food she prepared, fair or foul, without complaint. The man had made too many widows for that charity to count far with Perrin.

Taim's bow was minuscule. "As you command."

It took only one question, put to a lanky young man with an ecstatic light on his face, to learn where the Prophet was staying, and three more to other folk in the streets to find the merchant's house, four stories of gray stone with white marble moldings and window frames. Masema disapproved of grubbing for money, but he was willing to accept accommodations from those who did. On the other hand, Balwer said he had slept in a leaky farmhouse as often and been as satisfied. Masema drank only water, and wherever he went, he hired a poor widow and ate the food she prepared, fair or foul, without complaint. The man had made too many widows for that charity to count far with Perrin.

"Dashiva?" Taim snarled, his eyes widening in surprise. "It will be as you say. When next you visit the Black Tower." That quickly, he recovered himself, all polished stone and poise once more. How she wished she could read her viewings of him.

Holding his fur-lined cloak close with one hand, Perrin let Stayer walk at the bay's own pace. The midmorning sun gave no warmth, and the rutted snow on the road leading into Abila made poor footing. He and his dozen companions shared the way with only two lumbering ox-carts and a handful of farmfolk in plain dark woolens. They all trudged along with heads down, clutching at hat or cap whenever a gust rose but otherwise concentrating on the ground beneath their shoes.

The streets were jammed with people, but Perrin and his companions were the only ones on horseback. The snow had long since been trampled to half-frozen ankle-deep mush. Plenty of oxcarts made their slow way through the throng, but very few wagons, and not a single carriage. Except for those wearing worn castoffs or possibly stolen clothes, everyone wore drab woolens. Most people hurried, but like the folk on the road, with heads down. Those who did not hurry were straggling groups of men carrying weapons. In the streets, the smell was mainly dirt and fear. It made Perrin's hackles rise. At least, if it came to that, getting out of a town with no wall would not prove harder than getting in.

They made no move to bar passage, just watched, hardly blinking. By what Perrin had heard, all sorts from ladies in silks to beggars in rags came to the Prophet hoping that submitting to him in person might gain added blessings. Or maybe added protection. That was why he had come this way, with only a handful of companions. He would frighten Masema if he had to, if Masema could be frightened, but it had seemed better to try reaching the man without fighting a battle. He could feel the guard's eyes on his back until he and the others were all across the short bridge and onto the paved streets of Abila. When that pressure left, though, it brought no sense of relief.

Abila was a goodly sized town, with several tall watch towers and many buildings rising four stories, every last one roofed in slate. Here and there, mounded stone and timbers filled a gap between two structures where an inn or some merchant's house had been pulled down. The Prophet disapproved of wealth gained by trade as much as he did carousing or what his followers called lewd behavior. He disapproved of a great many things, and made his feelings known with sharp examples.

It took only one question, put to a lanky young man with an ecstatic light on his face, to learn where the Prophet was staying, and three more to other folk in the streets to find the merchant's house, four stories of gray stone with white marble moldings and window frames. Masema disapproved of grubbing for money, but he was willing to accept accommodations from those who did. On the other hand, Balwer said he had slept in a leaky farmhouse as often and been as satisfied. Masema drank only water, and wherever he went, he hired a poor widow and ate the food she prepared, fair or foul, without complaint. The man had made too many widows for that charity to count far with Perrin.

"I don't have time for tears, either, Min," he said gently. "Sometimes the hounds catch the wolf and wish they hadn't. Sometimes he turns on them, or waits in ambush. But first, the wolf has to run."

"My Lord," Balwer murmured as they came abreast of one of those heaps of rubble. He barely waited for Perrin's nod before turning his hammer-nosed mount aside and making his way in another direction, hunched in his saddle with his brown cloak held tight around him. Perrin had no worries about the dried-up little man going off alone, even here. For a secretary, he managed to learn a surprising amount on these forays of his. He seemed to know what he was about.

"No point wasting time, and no time to waste," Rand muttered. Kneeling in front of her, he took the crown and slipped it into the scrip with the other things. "Min, I thought I was the whole pack of hounds, chasing down one wolf after another, but it seems I'm the wolf."

"Dashiva?" Taim snarled, his eyes widening in surprise. "It will be as you say. When next you visit the Black Tower." That quickly, he recovered himself, all polished stone and poise once more. How she wished she could read her viewings of him.

"A little something in the wine," Rand said softly as he laid Fedwin down. Min's eyes burned, but she would not cry. She would not

Rand smiled at him, a hard feral smile. "Add Corlan Dashiva to your list of deserters, Taim. Next time I visit the Black Tower, I expect to see his head on your Traitor's Tree."

Dismissing Balwer from his thoughts, Perrin set to what he was there about.

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