In a way, that anybody could still hear from any of their eyes-and-ears at all was one of Moghedien’s “gifts.” The sisters with the strength to make gateways had all been in Salidar long enough to know it well. Those who could weave a gateway of useful size were able to Travel almost anywhere from there, and land right on the spot. Trying to Travel to Salidar, however, would have meant spending half of each night learning the new roped-off patch of ground, more for some, every time they made camp. What Egwene had pried from Moghedien was a way to journey from a place you did not know well to one you did. Slower than Traveling, Skimming was not one of the lost Talents—no one had ever heard of it—so even the name was credited to Egwene. Anyone who could Travel could Skim, so every night sisters Skimmed to Salidar, checking the dovecotes for birds that had returned to where they had been hatched, then Traveled back.
The sight should have pleased her—the rebel Aes Sedai had gained Talents the White Tower thought lost forever, as well as learned new ones, and those abilities would help cost Elaida the Amyrlin Seat before all was done—yet instead of pleasure, Egwene felt sourness. Being snubbed had nothing to do with it, or not much, anyway. As she walked on, the fires grew farther between, then faded behind; all around her lay the dark shapes of wagons, most with canvas tops stretched over iron hoops, and tents glowing palely in the moonlight. Beyond, the army’s campfires climbed the surrounding hills all around, the stars brought to ground. The silence from Caemlyn tied her middle into knots, whatever anyone else thought.
The very day they left Salidar a message had arrived, though Sheriam had not bothered to show it to her until a few days ago, and then with repeated warnings on the need to keep the contents secret. The Hall knew, but no one else must. More of the ten thousand secrets that infested the camp. Egwene was sure she never would have seen it if she had not kept going on about Rand. She could recall every carefully chosen word, written in a tiny hand on paper so thin it was a wonder the pen had not torn through.
We are well settled at the inn of which we spoke, and we have met with the wool merchant. He is a very remarkable young man, everything that Nynaeve told us. Still, he was courteous. I think he is somewhat afraid of us, which is to the good. It will go well.
You may have heard rumors about men here, including a fellow from Saldaea. The rumors are all too true, I fear, but we have seen none of them and will avoid them if we can. If you pursue two hares, both will escape you.
Verin and Alanna are here, with a number of young women from the same region as the wool merchant. I will try to send them on to you for training. Alanna has formed an attachment to the wool merchant which may prove useful, though it is troubling too. All will go well, I am sure.
Sheriam emphasized the good news, as she saw it. Merana, an experienced negotiator, had reached Caemlyn and been well received by Rand, the “wool merchant.” Wonderful news, to Sheriam. And Verin and Alanna would be bringing Two Rivers girls to become novices. Sheriam was sure they must be coming down the same road they themselves were headed up. She seemed to think Egwene would be all aglow at the expectation of seeing faces from home. Merana would handle everything. Merana knew what she was doing.
“That’s a bucket of horse sweat,” Egwene muttered at the night. A gap-toothed fellow carrying a large wooden bucket gave a start and gaped at her, so amazed he forgot to bow.
Rand, courteous? She had seen his first meeting with Coiren Saeldain, Elaida’s emissary. “Overbearing” summed it up nicely. Why should he be different with Merana? And Merana thought he was afraid, thought that was good. Rand was seldom afraid even when he should be, and if he was now, Merana should remember that fear could make the mildest man dangerous, remember that Rand was dangerous just being who he was. And what was this attachment Alanna had formed? Egwene did not entirely trust Alanna. The woman did extremely odd things at times, maybe impetuously and maybe with some deeper motive. Egwene would not put it past her to find a way into Rand’s bed; he would be clay in the hands of a woman like her. Elayne would break Alanna’s neck if that was so, but that was the least of it. Worst of all, no more of the pigeons Merana had taken with her had appeared in the Salidar dovecotes.
Merana should have had some word to send, if only that she and the rest of the embassy had gone to Cairhien. Lately the Wise Ones did little more than acknowledge Rand was alive, yet it seemed he was there, sitting on his hands as far as she could make out. Which should have been a warning beacon. Sheriam saw it differently. Who could say why any man did what he did? Probably not even the man himself, most of the time, and when it came to one who could channel. . . . Silence proved all was well; Merana surely would have reported any real difficulty. She must be on her way to Cairhien, if not there already, and there was no need to report further until she could send word of success. For that matter, Rand in Cairhien was success of a sort. One of Merana’s goals, if not the most important, had been to ease him out of Caemlyn so that Elayne could return there safely and take the Lion Throne, and the dangers of Cairhien had dissipated. Incredible as it seemed, the Wise Ones said Coiren and her embassy had left the city on their way back to Tar Valon. Or maybe not so incredible. It all made a sort of sense, given Rand, given the way Aes Sedai did things. Even so, to Egwene, it all felt . . . wrong.
“I have to go to him,” she muttered. One hour, and she could straighten everything out. Underneath, he was still Rand. “That’s all there is to it. I have to go to him.”
“That isn’t possible, and you know it.”
If Egwene had not had herself on a tight rein, she would have jumped a foot. As it was, her heart pounded even after she made out Leane by the light of the moon. “I thought you were . . .” she said before she could stop herself, and only just managed not to say Moghedien’s name.
The taller woman fell in beside her, keeping a careful watch for other sisters as they walked. Leane did not have Siuan’s excuse for spending time with her. Not that being seen together once should cause any harm, but . . .
“Should not” isn’t always “will not,” Egwene reminded herself. Slipping the stole from her shoulders, she folded it to carry in one hand. At a glance, from a distance, Leane might well be taken for an Accepted despite her dress; many Accepted lacked enough of the banded white dresses to wear one all the time. From a distance, Egwene might be taken for one, too. Not t