Still, he hesitated. Padan Fain. “Why do you visit the peddler, anyway? He’s a Darkfriend, admitted out of his own mouth, and a bad one. Burn me, Egwene, he brought the Trollocs to Emond’s Field! The Dark One’s hound, he called himself, and he has been sniffing on my trail since Winternight.”
“Well, he is safe behind iron bars now, Rand.” It was her turn to hesitate, and she looked at him almost pleading. “Rand, he has brought his wagon into the Two Rivers every spring since before I was born. He knows all the people I know, all the places. It’s strange, but the longer he has been locked up, the easier in himself he has become. It’s almost as if he is breaking free of the Dark One. He laughs again, and tells funny stories, about Emond’s Field folk, and sometimes about places I never heard of before. Sometimes he is almost like his old self. I just like to talk to somebody about home.”
Since I’ve been avoiding you, he thought, and since Perrin’s been avoiding everybody, and Mat’s been spending all his time gambling and carousing. “I shouldn’t have kept to myself so much,” he muttered, then sighed. “Well, if Moiraine thinks it’s safe enough for you, I suppose it is safe enough for me. But there’s no need for you to be mixed in it.”
Egwene got to her feet and concentrated on brushing off her dress, avoiding his eye.
“Moiraine has said it’s safe? Egwene?”
“Moiraine Sedai has never told me I could not visit Master Fain,” she said carefully.
He stared at her, then burst out, “You never asked her. She doesn’t know. Egwene, that’s stupid. Padan Fain’s a Darkfriend, and as bad as ever a Darkfriend was.”
“He is locked in a cage,” she said stiffly, “and I do not have to ask Moiraine’s permission for everything I do. It is a little late for you to start worrying about doing what an Aes Sedai thinks, isn’t it? Now, are you coming?”
“I can find the dungeon without you. They are looking for me, or will be, and it won’t do you any
good to be found with me.”
“Without me,” she said dryly, “you’ll likely trip over your own feet and fall in the Amyrlin Seat’s lap, then confess everything while trying to talk your way out of it.”
“Blood and ashes, you ought to be in the Women’s Circle back home. If men were all as fumble-footed and helpless as you seem to think, we’d never—”
“Are you going to stand here talking until they do find you? Pick up your things, Rand, and come with me.” Not waiting for an answer, she spun around and started off down the hall. Muttering under his breath, he reluctantly obeyed.
There were few people—servants, mainly—in the back ways they took, but Rand had the feeling that they all took special notice of him. Not notice of a man burdened for a journey, but of him, Rand al’Thor in particular. He knew it was his imagination—he hoped it was—but even so, he felt no relief when they stopped in a passageway deep beneath the keep, before a tall door with a small iron grill set in it, as thickly strapped with iron as any in the outer wall. A clapper hung below the grill.
Through the grill Rand could see bare walls, and two top-knotted soldiers sitting bareheaded at a table with a lamp on it. One of the men was sharpening a dagger with long, slow strokes of a stone. His strokes never faltered when Egwene rapped with the clapper, a sharp clang of iron on iron. The other man, his face flat and sullen, looked at the door as if considering before he finally rose and came over. He was squat and stocky, barely tall enough to look through the cross-hatched bars.
“What do you want? Oh, it’s you again, girl. Come to see your Darkfriend? Who’s that?” He made no move to open the door.
“He’s a friend of mine, Changu. He wants to see Master Fain, too.”
The man studied Rand, his upper lip quivering back to bare teeth. Rand did not think it was supposed to be a smile. “Well,” Changu said finally. “Well. Tall, aren’t you? Tall. And fancy dressed for your kind. Somebody catch you young in the Eastern Marches and tame you?” He slammed back the bolts and yanked open the door. “Well, come in if you’re coming.” He took on a mocking tone. “Take care not to bump your head, my Lord.”
There was no danger of that; the door was tall enough for Loial. Rand followed Egwene in, frowning and wondering if this Changu meant to make some sort of trouble. He was the first rude Shienaran Rand had met; even Masema was only cold, not really rude. But the fellow just banged the door shut and rammed the heavy bolts home, then went to some shelves beyond the end of the table and took one of the lamps there. The other man never ceased stropping his knife, never even looked up from it. The room was bare except for the table and benches and shelves, with straw on the floor and another iron-bound door leading deeper in.
“You’ll want some light, won’t you,” Changu said, “in there in the dark with your Darkfriend friend.” He laughed, coarse and humorless, and lit the lamp. “He’s waiting for you.” He thrust the lamp at Egwene, and undid the inner door almost eagerly. “Waiting for you. In there, in the dark.”
Rand paused uneasily at the blackness beyond, and Changu grinning behind, but Egwene caught his sleeve and pulled him in. The door slammed, almost catching his heel; the latch bars clanged shut. There was only the light of the lamp, a small pool around them in the darkness.
“Are you sure he’ll let us out?” he asked. The man had never even looked at his sword or bow, he realized, never asked what was in his bundles. “They aren’t very good guards. We could be here to break Fain free for all he knows.”
“They know me better than that,” she said, but she sounded troubled, and she added, “They seem worse every time I come. All the guards do. Meaner, and more sullen. Changu told jokes the first time I came, and Nidao never even speaks anymore. But I suppose working in a place like this can’t give a man a light heart. Maybe it is just me. This place does not do my heart any good, either.” Despite her words, she drew him confidently into the black. He kept his free hand on his sword.
The pale lamplight showed a wide hall with flat iron grills to either side, fronting stone-walled cells. Only two of the cells they passed held prisoners. The occupants sat up on their narrow cots as the light struck them, shielding their eyes with their hands, glaring between their fingers. Even with their faces hidden, Rand was sure they were glaring. Their eyes glittered in the lamplight.
“That one likes to drink and fight,” Egwene murmured, indicating a burly fellow with sunken knuckles. “This time he wrecked the common room of an inn in the town single-handed, and hurt some men badly.” The other prisoner wore a gold-embroidered coat with wide sleeves, and low, gleaming boots. “He tried to leave the city without settling his inn bill”—she sniffed loudly at that; her father was an innkeeper as well as Mayor of Emond’s Field—“nor paying half a dozen shopkeepers and merchants what he owed.”
The men snarled at them, guttural curses as bad as any Rand had heard from merchants’ guards.
“They grow worse every day, too,” she said in a tight voice, and quickened her step.
She was enough ahead of him when they reached Padan Fain’s cell, at the very end, that Rand was out of the light entirely. He stopped there, in the shadows behind her lamp.
Fain was sitting on his cot, leaning forward expectantly as if waiting, just as Changu had said. He was a bony, sharp-eyed man, with long arms and a big nose, even more gaunt now than Rand remembered. Not gaunt from the dungeon—the food here was the same as the servants ate, and not even the worst prisoner was shorted—but from what he had done before coming to Fal Dara.
The sight of him brought back memories Rand would just as soon have done without. Fain on the seat of his big peddler’s wagon wheeling across the Wagon Bridge, arriving in Emond’s Field the day of Winternight. And on Winternight the Trollocs came, killing and burning, hunting. Hunting three young men, Moiraine had said. Hunting me, if they only knew it, and using Fain for their trail hound.