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The bridge guards frowned and fingered their weapons as Stayer's hooves thudded hollowly onto the wooden planking. They were the usual odd mix that followed the Prophet, dirty-faced fellows in silk coats too big for them, scar-faced street toughs and pink-cheeked apprentices, former merchants and craftsmen who looked as if they had slept in their once fine woolens for months. Their weapons appeared well cared for, though. Some of the men had a fever in their eyes; the rest wore guarded, wooden faces. Along with unwashed, they smelled eager, anxious, fervent, afraid, all jumbled together.

"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

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.

Of course, if she let her face be seen too soon, a dose of the strap would be the least she had to fear, as she and the Wise One knew well. Perrin did not have to look back to know the sisters' three Warders, bringing up the rear in ordinary cloaks, were men expecting the need at any moment to out sword and carve a way clear. They had been that way since leaving the camp at dawn. He ran a gloved thumb along the axe hanging at his belt, then regathered his own cloak just before a sudden gust could make it billow. If this went badly, the Warders might be right.

"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

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.

"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"

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

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.

"When do we go?" she asked. She did not let go of his hair. She was never going to let go of him. Never.

"I was right not to bring her," he muttered, "but I'll pay for it anyway."

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

Of course, if she let her face be seen too soon, a dose of the strap would be the least she had to fear, as she and the Wise One knew well. Perrin did not have to look back to know the sisters' three Warders, bringing up the rear in ordinary cloaks, were men expecting the need at any moment to out sword and carve a way clear. They had been that way since leaving the camp at dawn. He ran a gloved thumb along the axe hanging at his belt, then regathered his own cloak just before a sudden gust could make it billow. If this went badly, the Warders might be right.

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"

"Return to the Black Tower, and don't come here again." Standing, Rand faced the other man over Fedwin's body. "I may be moving about for a while."

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.

"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.

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.

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.

Perrin nodded. Grudgingly. It still did not seem right taking advice about his wife from another man, even circumspectly, obliquely, yet it did seem to be working. Of course, raising his voice to Faile was as hard as not raising it to Berelain, but he had managed the last quite often and the first several times. He had followed Elyas' advice to the letter. Well, most of it. As well as he could. That spiky scent of jealousy still flared at the sight of Berelain, yet on the other hand, the hurt smell had vanished as they made their slow way south. Still, he was uneasy. When he firmly told her she was not coming with him this morning, she had not raised a single word of protest Among other things, including startled. And how could she be pleased and angry at the same time? Not a scrap of it had showed on her face, but his nose never lied. Somehow, it seemed that the more he learned about women, the less he knew

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.

"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."

It did seem that the boy was going to sleep. His eyes closed. His chest rose and fell more slowly. Slower. Until it stopped. The smile never left his lips.

"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."

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