Chapter Four. A Deal

Perrin sat Stepper’s saddle a little back from the edge of the trees and watched the large meadow where red and blue wildflowers were beginning to poke through the winter-brown grass that the now vanished snows had flattened into a mat. This stand was mainly leatherleaf that kept its broad dark foliage through the winter, but only a few small pale leaves decorated the branches of the sweet-gums among them. The dun stallion stamped a hoof with an impatience Perrin shared, though he let none of it show. The sun stood almost overhead; he had been waiting there nearly an hour. A stiff, steady breeze blew out of the west, down the meadow toward him. That was good.

Every so often his gauntleted hand stroked a nearly straight branch hacked from an oak. thicker than his forearm and more than twice as long, that lay across the saddle in front of him. For half its length he had shaved two sides flat and smooth. The meadow, ringed by huge oaks and leatherleaf, towering pine and shorter sweetgum, was less than six hundred paces wide, though longer than that. The branch should be broad enough. He had planned for every possibility he could imagine. The branch fit more than one.

“My Lady First, you should return to the camp,” Gallenne said, not for the first time, rubbing irritably at his red eyepatch. His crimson plumed helmet hung from the pommel of his saddle, leaving his shoulder-length gray hair uncovered. He had been heard to say. in Berelain’s hearing, that most of those gray hairs were presents from her. His black warhorse tried to take a nip at Stepper, and he reined the heavy-chested gelding sharply without taking his attention from Bere-lain. He had counseled against her coming in the first place. “Grady can take you back and return while the rest of us wait a while longer to see whether the Seanchan are going to show up.”

“I will remain. Captain. I will remain.” Berelain’s tone was firm and calm, yet beneath her usual smell of patience lay an edge of concern. She was not so certain as she made herself sound. She had taken to wearing a light perfume that smelled of flowers. Perrin sometimes found himself trying to puzzle out which flowers, but he was too focused for idle thoughts today.

Vexation spiked in Annouras scent, though her ageless Aes Sedai face, framed by dozens of thin braids, remained as smooth as ever. But then, the beak-nosed Gray sister had smelled vexed ever since the rift between her and Berelain. It was her own fault, visiting Masema behind Berelain’s back. She also had counseled Berelain to stay behind. Annoura edged her brown mare closer to the First of Mayene, and Berelain moved her white mare just that far away without so much as a glance in her advisor’s direction. Vexation spiked again.

Berelain’s red silk dress, heavily embroidered in golden scrollwork, displayed more bosom than she had in some time, though a wide necklace of firedrops and opals provided a degree of modesty. A wide matching belt, supporting a jeweled dagger, cinched her waist. The narrow crown of Mayene resting on her black hair, holding a golden hawk in flight above her brows, appeared ordinary beside the belt and necklace. She was a beautiful woman, the more so, it seemed to him, since she had stopped chasing him. though still not a patch on Faile, of course.

Annoura wore an unadorned gray riding dress, but most of them were in their best. For Perrin, that was a dark green silk coat with silver embroidery covering the sleeves and shoulders. He was not much for fancy clothes-Faile had chivvied him into buying what little he had; well, she had chivvied him gently-but today he needed to impress. If the wide, plain leather belt fastened over the coat spoiled the impression a little, so be it.

“She must come,” Arganda muttered. A short stocky man, Alliandre’s First Captain had not removed his silvered helmet with its three short white plumes, and he sat his saddle, easing his sword in its scabbard, as though awaiting a charge. His breastplate was silver-plated, too. He would be visible for miles out in the sunlight. “She must!”

“The Prophet says they won’t.” Aram put in, and not softly, heeling his leggy gray up beside Stepper. The brass wolfhead pommel of his sword stuck up over the shoulder of his green-striped coat. Once. he had seemed too good looking for a man, but now his face grew grimmer every day. There was a haggardness about him, his eyes sunken and his mouth tight. “The Prophet says either that, or it’s a trap. He says we shouldn’t trust the Seanchan.”

Perrin held his silence, but felt his own spike of irritation, as much with himself as with the onetime Tinker. Balwer had informed him that Aram had begun spending time with Masema. yet it had seemed unnecessary to tell the man not to let Masema know everything Perrin was doing. There was no putting the egg back into the shell, but he would know better in the future. A workman should know his tools, and not use them to breaking. The same went for people. As for Masema, no doubt he was afraid they would meet someone who knew he himself was dealing with the Seanchan.

They were a large party, though most would remain right there among the trees. Fifty of Berelain’s Winged Guards in rimmed red helmets and red breastplates, scarlet streamers floating from their slender steel-tipped lances, were mounted behind the golden hawk on blue of Mayene, rippling on the breeze. Beside them fifty Ghealdanin in burnished breastplates and dark green conical helmets sat their horses behind Ghealdan’s three silver stars on red. The streamers on their lances were green. They made a brave show, yet all of them together were far less deadly than Jur Grady, with his weathered farmer’s face, even if they made him appear drab in his plain black coat with a silver sword pin on the high collar. He knew it. whether or not they did. and he stood beside his bay gelding with the ease of a man resting before the day’s labor.

In contrast, Leof Torfinn and Tod al’Caar, the only other Two Rivers men present, were still all but bouncing in their saddles with excitement despite the long wait. It might have taken some of their pleasure away had they known they had been chosen in large part because they came nearest fitting their borrowed coats of dark, finely woven green wool. Leof carried Perrin’s own Red Wolfhead banner. Tod the Red Eagle of Manetheren, both rippling on staffs a little longer than the lances. They had almost come to blows over who was to carry which. Perrin hoped it was not because neither wanted to carry the red-bordered Wolfhead. Leof looked happy enough. Tod looked ecstatic. Of course, he did not know why Perrin had brought the thing along. In any trade, you needed to make the other fellow think he was getting something extra, as Mat’s father often said. Colors swirled in Perrin’s head, and for a brief instant he thought he saw Mat talking to a small dark woman. He shook off the image. Here and now today, were all that mattered. Faile was all that mattered.

“They will come,” Arganda snapped in answer to Aram, though he glared through the face-bars of his helmet as if expecting a challenge.

“What if they don’t?” Gallenne demanded, his one eye scowling as fiercely as Arganda’s pair. His red-lacquered breastplate was not much better than Arganda’s silvered one. Small chance they could be talked into painting them something dull. “What if it is a trap?” Arganda growled, almost a wolf’s guttural growl. The man was near the end of his tether.

The breeze brought the scent of horses only moments before Perrin’s ears caught the first bluetits’ trills, too distant for anyone else to hear. They came from the trees flanking the meadow. Large parties of men. perhaps unfriendly, were entering the woods. More trills sounded, closer.

“They’re here,” he said, which earned him looks from Arganda and Gallenne. He tried to avoid revealing the acuteness of his hearing, or his sense of smell, yet that pair had been on the point of coming to blows. The relayed trills grew nearer, and everyone could hear them. The two men’s looks grew odd.

“I can’t risk the Lady First if there’s any chance of a trap.” Gallenne said, buckling on his helmet. They all knew what the signal meant.

“The choice is mine. Captain.” Berelain replied before Perrin could open his mouth.

“And your safety is my responsibility, my Lady First.”

Berelain drew breath, her face darkening, but Perrin got there first. “I told you how we’re going to spring that trap, if that’s what it is. You know how suspicious the Seanchan are. Likely they’re worried about us ambushing them.” Gallenne harrumphed loudly. The patience in Bere-lain’s smell flickered, then settled in again rock steady.

“You should listen to him, Captain.” she said with a smile for Perrin. “He knows what he is doing.”

A party of riders appeared at the far end of the meadow and drew rein. Tallanvor was easy to pick out. In a dark coat and mounted on a good dappled gray, he was the only man not wearing armor vividly striped in red and yellow and blue. The other pair unarmored were women, one in blue with red on her skirts and breast, the other in gray. The sun reflected off something connecting them. So. A sul’dam and damane. There had been no mention of that in all the negotiations carried out through Tallanvor, but Perrin had counted on it.

“It’s time,” he said, gathering Stepper’s reins one-handed. “Before she decides we’re not coming.”

Annoura managed to get close enough to lay a hand on Berelain’s arm for a moment before the other woman could move her mare away. “You should let me come with you. Berelain. You may need my counsel, yes? This sort of negotiation, it is my specialty.”

“I suspect the Seanchan know an Aes Sedai face by now. don’t you. Annoura? I hardly think they’d negotiate with you. Besides,” Berelain added, in a too sweet voice, “you must remain here to assist Master Grady.”

Spots of color appeared briefly on the Aes Sedai’s cheeks, and her wide mouth tightened. It had taken the Wise Ones to make her agree to take orders from Grady today, though Perrin was just as glad he did not know how they had done it, and she had been trying to wiggle out ever since leaving the camp.

“You stay, too,” Perrin said when Aram made to ride forward. “You’ve been hotheaded lately, and I won’t risk you saying or doing the wrong thing out there. I won’t risk Faile on it.” That was true. No need to say he would not risk the man carrying what was said out there back to Masema. “You understand?”

Bubbles of disappointment filled Aram’s scent, but he nodded, however reluctantly, and rested his hands on the pommel of his saddle. He might come close to worshiping Masema, but he would give his life a hundred times over rather than risk Faile’s. On purpose, anyway. What he did without thinking was another matter.

Perrin rode out of the trees flanked by Arganda on one side and Berelain and Gallenne on the other. The banners followed behind, and ten Mayeners and ten Ghealdanin in a column of twos. As they walked their mounts forward, the Seanchan started toward them, also in column, with Tallanvor riding beside the leaders, one on a roan, the other a bay. The horses’ hooves made no sound on the thick mat of dead grass. The forest had gone silent, even to Perrin’s ears.

While the Mayeners and Ghealdanin spread out in a line, and most of the Seanchan in their brightly painted armor did the same, Perrin and Berelain advanced toward Tallanvor and two of the armored Seanchan, one with three thin blue plumes on that lacquered helmet that was so like an insect’s head, the other with two. The sul’dam and damane came, too. They met in the middle of the meadow, surrounded by wildflowers and silence, with six paces between them.

As Tallanvor positioned himself to one side between the two groups, the armored Seanchan removed their helmets with hands in steel-backed gauntlets that were striped like the rest of their armor. The two-plumed helmet revealed a yellow-haired man with half a dozen scars seaming his square face. He was a hard-bitten man who smelled of amusement, strangely, but it was the other who interested Perrin. Mounted on the bay, a trained warhorse if he had ever seen one, she was tall and broad-shouldered for a woman, though lean otherwise, and not young. Gray marked the temples of her close-cut, tightly curled black hair. As dark as good topsoil, she displayed only two scars, one slanting across her left cheek. The other, on her forehead, had taken part of her right eyebrow. Some people thought scars a sign of toughness. It seemed to Perrin that fewer scars meant that you knew what you were doing. Confidence filled the scent of her in the breeze.

Her gaze flickered across the fluttering banners. He thought she paused slightly on Manetheren’s Red Eagle, and again on Mayene’s Golden Hawk, yet she quickly settled to studying him. Her expression never altered a whit, but when she noticed his yellow eyes, something unidentifiable entered her scent, something sharp and hard. When she saw the heavy blacksmith’s hammer in its loop on his belt, the strange scent grew.

“I give you Perrin’t’Bashere Aybara, Lord of the Two Rivers, Liege Lord to Queen Alliandre of Ghealdan,” Tallanvor announced, raising a hand toward Perrin. He claimed the Seanchan were sticklers for formality, but Perrin had no idea whether this was a Seanchan ceremony or something from Andor. Tallanvor could have made it up for all of him. “I give you Berelain sur Paendrag Paeron, First of Mayene, Blessed of the Light, Defender of the Waves, High Seat of House Paeron.” With a bow to the pair of them, he shifted his reins and raised the other hand toward the Seanchan. “I give you Banner-General Tylee Khirgan of the Ever Victorious Army, in service to the Empress of Seanchan. I give you Captain Bakayar Mishima of the Ever Victorious Army, in service to the Empress of Seanchan.” Another bow, and Tal-lanvor turned his gray to ride back to a place beside the banners. His face was as grim as Aram’s, but he smelled of hope.

“I’m glad he didn’t name you the Wolf King, my Lord,” the Banner-General drawled. The way she slurred her words, Perrin had to listen hard to make out what she was saying. “Otherwise, I’d think Tarmon Gai’don was on us. You know the Prophecies of the Dragon? ‘When the Wolf King carries the hammer, thus are the final days known. When the fox marries the raven, and the trumpets of battle are blown.’ I never understood that second line, myself. And you. my Lady. Sur Paendrag. That would mean from Paendrag?”

“My family is descended from Artur Paendrag Tanreall,” Berelain replied, holding her head high. An eddy in the breeze brought a whiff of pride among the patience and perfume. They had agreed that Perrin was to do all of the talking-she was there to dazzle the Seanchan with a beautiful young ruler, or at least to lend weight to Perrin with it- but he supposed she had to answer a direct question.

Tylee nodded as though that were exactly the answer she expected. “That makes you a distant cousin of the Imperial family, my Lady. No doubt the Empress, may she live forever, will honor you. So long as you make no claims to Hawkwing’s empire yourself, anyway.”

“The only claim I make is to Mayene,” Berelain said proudly. “And that I will defend to my last breath.”

“I didn’t come here to talk about the Prophecies or Hawkwing or your Empress,” Perrin said irritably. For the second time in a matter of moments those colors tried to coalesce in his head only to be dispelled. He had no time. The Wolf King? Hopper would come as near to laughing as a wolf could over that. Any wolf would. Still, he felt a chill. He had not realized that he was mentioned in the Prophecies. And his hammer was a harbinger of the Last Battle? But nothing mattered except Faile. Only her. And whatever it took to free her. “The agreement for this meeting was no more than thirty in either party. but you have men in the woods on both sides of us. A lot of men.”

“So do you.” Mishima said with grin distorted by a white scar that met the corner of his mouth, “or you wouldn’t know about ours.” His drawl was worse than hers.

Perrin kept his eyes on the Banner-General. “As long as they both remain, there’s the chance of accidents. I don’t want any accidents. I want my wife back from the Shaido.”

“And how do you propose we avoid accidents?” Mishima said, idly flipping his reins. He sounded as though the question was not urgent. It seemed Tylee was content to let him do the talking while she observed Perrin’s reactions. “Are we supposed to trust you if we send our men out first, or you to trust us if we ask you to withdraw first? ‘On the heights, the paths are paved with daggers.’ There isn’t much room for trust. I suppose we could both order our men to pull back at the same time, but one side might cheat.”

Perrin shook his head. “You’re going to have to trust me. Banner-General. I have no reason to want to attack you or capture you, and every reason not to. I can’t be sure of the same about you. You might think capturing the First of Mayene worth a little betrayal.” Berelain laughed softly. It was time tor the branch. Not just to force the Sean-chan out of the woods first, but to convince them that they needed what he could offer. He stood the branch upright on the saddle in front of him. “I expect your men are probably good soldiers. My men aren’t soldiers, though they’ve fought Trollocs and Shaido and done well against both.” Gripping the branch at its base, he held it high overhead, the shaved sides uppermost and facing either side. “But they’re used to hunting lions and leopards and ridgecats come down out of the mountains after our flocks, and wild boar and bear, animals that hunt back, in forests not much different from this.”

The branch tried to twist violently in his gauntleted fist as twin impacts not a heartbeat apart shivered down his arm. He lowered the branch to display two pile arrows, their chisel-shaped heads driven clear of the tough wood on either side. Three hundred paces was a long range for that target, but he had chosen Jondyn Barran and Jori Congar to makes the shots. They were the best he had. “If it comes down to it, your men won’t even see who’s killing them, and that armor won’t do much good against a Two Rivers longbow. I hope it doesn’t come to that.” With all of his strength, he heaved the branch up into the air.

“My eyes!” Mishima growled, a hand going to his sword even as he tried to rein the roan back and watch Perrin and the branch all at the same time. His helmet toppled from his saddle to the grass.

The Banner-General made no move toward her sword, though she also tried watching Perrin and the branch. At first she did. Then her gaze followed only the branch as it continued to climb until it hung centered between them a hundred feet in the air. Abruptly a ball of flame enveloped the branch, so fierce that Perrin felt the heat as from an open furnace. Berelain put up a hand to shield her face. Tylee merely watched thoughtfully.

The fire lasted just moments, yet that was enough to leave only ash drifting on the breeze when it vanished. Ash and two plummeting specks that fell into the dry grass. Small flames shot up immediately and began growing, spreading. Even the warhorses snorted in fear. Berelain’s mare danced in an attempt to fight her reins and flee.

Perrin muttered a curse-he should have thought of the arrowheads-and started to dismount to stamp out the fire, but before he could swing his leg over the saddle, the flames vanished, leaving only thin tendrils of smoke rising from a patch of blackened grass.

“Good Norie,” the sul’dam murmured, patting the damane. “Norie is a wonderful damane.” The gray-clad woman smiled shyly at the praise. Despite her words, the sul’dam looked worried.

“So,” Tylee said, “you have a marath-” She paused, pursing her lips. “You have an Aes Sedai with you. More than one? No matter. I can’t say the Aes Sedai I’ve seen have impressed me very much.”

“Not marath’damane, my general.” the sul’dam said quietly.

Tylee sat very still, studying Perrin intently. “Asha’man,” she said at last, not a question. “You begin to interest me, my Lord.”

“Then maybe one last thing will convince you,” Perrin said. “Tod. roll that banner around the staff and bring it here.” Hearing nothing behind him, he looked over his shoulder. Tod was staring at him with a stricken look. “Tod.”

Giving himself a shake, Tod began winding the Red Eagle around its staff. He still looked unhappy when he rode forward and handed it to Perrin, though. He sat there with his hand still stretched out as though hoping the staff might be returned to him.

Heeling Stepper toward the Seanchan, Perrin held the banner in front of him in his fist, parallel to the ground. “The Two Rivers was the heart of Manetheren. Banner-General. The last King of Manetheren died in a battle right where Emond’s Field, the village I was born in. grew up. Manetheren is in our blood. But the Shaido have my wife prisoner. To free her, I’ll give up any claim to reviving Manetheren, sign any sort of oath on it you want. That claim would be a field of brambles for you Seanchan. You could be the one who cleared that field without a drop of blood shed.” Behind him, someone groaned miserably. He thought it was Tod.

Suddenly, the breeze was a gale howling in the opposite direction, pelting them with grit, blowing so hard that he had to cling to his saddle to kept from being knocked out of it. His coat seemed on the point of being ripped from his body. Where had the grit come from? The forest was carpeted inches deep with dead leaves. The tempest stank of burned sulphur, too. sharp enough to burn Perrin’s nose. The horses tossed their heads, mouths open, but the roar of the wind buried their frightened whinnies.

Only moments the ferocious wind lasted, and then as suddenly as it came, it was gone, leaving only the breeze blowing the other way The horses stood shivering, snorting and tossing their heads and rolling their eyes. Perrin patted Stepper’s neck and murmured soothing sounds, yet it had little effect.

The Banner-General made a strange gesture and muttered, “Avert the Shadow. Where under the Light did that come from? I’ve heard tales of strange things happening. Or was it more ‘convincing’ on your part, my Lord?’’

“No,” Perrin said truthfully. Neald possessed abilities with weather, it had turned out, but not Grady. “What does it matter where it came from?”

Tylee looked at him thoughtfully, then nodded. “What does it matter?” she said, sounding as if she did not necessarily agree with him. “We have stories about Manetheren. That would be brambles underfoot and no boots. Half of Amadicia is buzzing with talk of you and that banner, come to bring Manetheren alive again and ’save’ Amadicia from us. Mishima, sound withdrawal.” Without hesitation, the yellow-haired man raised a small, straight horn that was hanging by a red cord around his neck. Blowing four shrill notes, he repeated the sequence twice before letting the horn fall to swing against his chest. “My part is done,” Tylee said.

Perrin put back his head and shouted as loudly and distinctly as he could. “Dann?! Tell! When the last Seanchan moves below the end of the meadow, gather everyone and join Grady!”

The Banner-General stuck her little finger into her ear and wiggled it about in spite of her gauntlet. “You have a strong voice,” she said dryly. Only then did she reach out to take the banner-staff, laying it carefully across the saddle in front of her. She did not look at it again, but one hand stroked the banner itself, perhaps unconsciously. “Now what do you have that can aid my plan, my Lord?” Mishima hooked an ankle behind the tall pommel of his saddle and lowered himself to catch up his helmet. The wind had rolled it across the beaten-down grass halfway back to the line of Seanchan soldiers. Brom the trees came a brief snatch of larksong, then another, another. The Seanchan were withdrawing. Had they felt the wind, too? No matter.

“Not near as many men as you already have,” Perrin admitted, “not that are trained soldiers, at least, but I have Asha’man and Aes Sedai and Wise Ones who can channel, and you’ll need every one of them.” She opened her mouth, and he raised a hand. “I’ll want your word that you won’t try putting collars on them.” He glanced pointedly at the sid’dam and damane. The sul’dam was keeping her eyes on Tylee. awaiting orders, but at the same time she was idly stroking the other woman’s hair the way you might stroke a cat to soothe it. And Norie looked to be almost purring! Light! “Your word that they’re safe from you, them and anyone in the camp wearing a white robe. Most of those aren’t Shaido anyway, and the only Aiel among them I know about are friends of mine.”

Tylee shook her head. “You have strange friends, my Lord. In any case, we’ve found people from Cairhien and Amadicia with bands of Shaido and let them go, though most of the Cairhienin seem too disoriented to know what to do with themselves. The only ones in white we keep are the Aiel. These gai’shain make marvelous da’covale, unlike the rest. Still, I’ll agree to letting your friends go free. And your Aes Sedai and Asha’man. Putting an end to this gathering is very important. Tell me where they are, and I can start incorporating you into my plans.”

Perrin rubbed the side of his nose with a finger. It seemed unlikely many of those gai’sbain were Shaido, but he was not about to tell her that. Let them have their chance at freedom when their year and a day was up. “It’ll have to be my plan, I’m afraid. Sevanna will be a tough nut to crack, but I’ve worked out how. For one thing, she has maybe a hundred thousand Shaido with her. and she’s gathering in more. Not every one is alga/’d’siswai, but any adult will pick up a spear if they need to.”

“Sevanna.” Tylee gave a pleased smile. “We’ve heard that name. I would dearly love to present Sevanna of the Jumai Shaido to the Captain-General.” Her smile faded. “A hundred thousand is many more than I expected, but not more than I can handle. We’ve fought these Aiel before, in Amadicia. Eh, Mishima?”

Riding back to join them, Mishima laughed, but it was a harsh sound, no amusement in it. “That we have. Banner-General. They’re fierce fighters, disciplined and crafty, but they can be handled. You surround one of their bands, their septs, with three or four damane and pound them till they give up. It’s a nasty business. They have their families with them. But they surrender the sooner for it.”

“I understand you have a dozen or so damane” Perrin said, “but is that enough to face three or four hundred Wise Ones channeling?”

The Banner-General frowned. “You mentioned that before, Wise Ones channeling. Every band we’ve caught had its Wise Ones, but not one of them could channel.”

“That’s because all the Shaido have are with Sevanna,” Perrin replied. “At least three hundred and maybe four. The Wise Ones with me are sure of it.”

Tylee and Mishima exchanged a look, and the Banner-General sighed. Mishima looked glum. “Well,” she said, “orders or no orders, that puts an end to finishing this quietly. The Daughter of the Nine Moons will have to be disturbed if I must apologize for it to the Empress, may she live forever. Likely I will.” The Daughter of the Nine Moons? Some high-ranking Seanchan, apparently. But how was she supposed to be disturbed by any of this?

Mishima grimaced, a fearsome sight with all those scars crisscrossing his face. “I read there were four hundred damane on each side at Semalaren, and that was a slaughterhouse. Half the Imperial army on the field dead and better than three out of four among the rebels.”

“Nevertheless, Mishima, we have it to do. Or rather, someone else does. You might escape an apology, but I won’t.” What under the Light was so upsetting about an apology? The woman smelled… resigned. “Unfortunately, it will take weeks if not months to gather enough soldiers and damane to prick this boil. I thank you for your offer of help, my Lord. It will be remembered.” Tylee held out the banner. “You’ll want this back since I can’t deliver my side of the bargain, but a piece of advice. The Ever Victorious Army may have other tasks in front of it for the nonce, but we won’t let anyone take momentary advantage of the situation to set himself up as a king. We mean to reclaim this land, not divide it into parcels.”

“And we mean to keep our lands,” Berelain said fiercely, making her mare lunge across the few paces of dead grass between her and the Seanchan. The mare was eager to lunge, eager to run, away from that wind, and she had trouble reining the animal in. Even her scent was fierce. No patience now. She smelled like a she-wolf defending her injured mate. “I’ve heard that your Ever Victorious Army is misnamed. I’ve heard the Dragon Reborn defeated you soundly to the south. Don’t you ever think that Perrin Aybara can’t do the same.’’ Light, and he had been worried over Aram’s hotheadedness!

“I don’t want to defeat anybody except the Shaido,” Perrin said firmly, fighting off the image that tried to form in his mind. He folded his hands on the pommel of his saddle. Stepper seemed to be settling down, at least. The stallion still gave small shivers now and then, but he had stopped rolling his eyes. “There’s a way to do that and still keep everything quiet so you don’t need to apologize.” If that was important to her, he was ready to use it. “The Daughter of the Nine Moons can rest easy. I told you I had this planned out. Tallanvor told me you have some kind of tea that makes a woman who can channel go wobbly in the knees.”

After a moment, Tylee lowered the banner back to her saddle and sat studying him. “A woman or a man.” she drawled at last. “I’ve heard of several men being caught that way. But just how do you propose feeding it to these four hundred women when they’re surrounded by a hundred thousand Aiel?”

“By feeding it to all of them without letting them know they’re drinking it. I’ll need as much as I can get, though. Wagonloads. probably. There’s no way to heat the water, you see, so it’ll be thin tea.”

Tylee laughed softly. “A bold plan, my Lord. I suppose they might have cartloads at the manufactory where the tea’s made, but that’s a long way from here, in Amadicia almost to Tarabon, and the only way I could get more than a few pounds at once would be to tell someone of higher rank why I wanted it. And there’s the end of keeping it quiet all over again.”

“The Asha’man know a thing called Traveling,” Perrin told her, “a way to cross hundred of miles in a step. And as for getting the tea, maybe this will help.” From his left gauntlet he pulled a folded, grease-stained piece of paper.

Tylee’s eyebrows rose as she read it. Perrin had the short text by heart. THE BEARER OF THIS STANDS UNDER MY PERSONAL PROTECTION. IN THE NAME OF THE EMPRESS, MAY SHE LIVE FOREVER. GIVE HIM WHAT EVER AID HE REQUIRES IN SERVICE TO THE EMPIRE AND SPEAK OF IT TO NOne BUT ME. He had no idea who Suroth Sabelle Meldarath was, but if she signed her name to something like that, she had to be important. Maybe she was this Daughter of the Nine Moons.

Handing the paper to Mishima, the Banner-General stared at Per-rin. That sharp, hard scent was back, stronger than ever. “Aes Sedai, Asha’man, Aiel, your eyes, that hammer, now this! Who are you?”

Mishima whistled through his teeth. “Suroth herself,” he murmured.

“I’m a man who wants his wife back,” Perrin said, “and I’ll deal with the Dark One to get her.” He avoided looking at the sul’dam and damane. He was not far short of making a deal with the Dark One. “Do we have a bargain?”

Tylee looked at his outstretched hand, then took it. She had a firm grip. A deal with the Dark One. But he would do whatever it took to get Faile free.

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