The Amyrlin gave Moiraine a guarded look, obviously wishing they were alone so she could demand to know what Moiraine was up to. Moiraine made a soothing gesture, and her old friend grimaced at her.
Verin, with her nose still buried in her notes, noticed none of it. “I don’t know, Mother. I doubt it, though. We know nothing at all of those lands Artur Hawkwing set out to conquer. It’s too bad the Sea Folk refuse to cross the Aryth Ocean. They say the Islands of the Dead lie on the other side. I wish I knew what they meant by that, but that accursed Sea Folk closemouthedness. . . .” She sighed, still not raising her head. “All we have is one reference to ‘lands under the Shadow, beyond the setting sun, beyond the Aryth Ocean, where the Armies of Night reign.’ Nothing there to tell us if the armies Hawkwing sent were enough by themselves to defeat these ‘Armies of the Night,’ or even to survive Hawkwing’s death. Once the War of the Hundred Years started, everyone was too intent on carving out their own part of Hawkwing’s empire to spare a thought for his armies across the sea. It seems to me, Mother, that if their descendants still lived, and if they ever intended to return, they would not have waited so long.”
“Then you believe it is not prophecy, Daughter?”
“Now, ‘the ancient tree,’ ” Verin said, immersed in her own thoughts. “There have always been rumors—no more than that—that while the nation of Almoth still lived, they had a branch of Avendesora, perhaps even a living sapling. And the banner of Almoth was ‘blue for the sky above, black for the earth below, with the spreading Tree of Life to join them.’ Of course, Taraboners call themselves the Tree of Man, and claim to be descended from rulers and nobles in the Age of Legends. And Domani claim descent from those who made the Tree of Life in the Age of Legends. There are other possibilities, but you will note, Mother, that at least three center around Almoth Plain and Toman Head.”
The Amyrlin’s voice became deceptively gentle. “Will you make up your mind, Daughter? If Artur Hawkwing’s seed is not returning, then this is not prophecy and it doesn’t matter a rotted fish head what ancient tree is meant.”
“I can only give you what I know, Mother,” Verin said, looking up from her notes, “and leave the decision in your hands. I believe the last of Artur Hawkwing’s foreign armies died long ago, but because I believe it does not make it so. The Time of Change, of course, refers to the end of an Age, and the Great Lord—”
The Amyrlin slapped the tabletop like a thunderclap. “I know very well who the Great Lord is, Daughter. I think you had better go now.” She took a deep breath, and took hold of herself visibly. “Go, Verin. I do not want to become angry with you. I do not want to forget who it was had the cooks leave sweetcakes out at night when I was a novice.”
“Mother,” Moiraine said, “there is nothing in this to suggest prophecy. Anyone with a little wit and a little knowledge could put together as much, and no one has ever said Myrddraal do not have a sly wit.”
“And of course,” Verin said calmly, “the man who channels must be one of the three young men traveling with you, Moiraine.”
Moiraine stared in shock. Not aware of the world? I am a fool. Before she realized what she was doing, she had reached out to the pulsing glow she always felt there waiting, to the True Source. The One Power surged along her veins, charging her with energy, muting the sheen of Power from the Amyrlin Seat as she did the same. Moiraine had never before even thought of wielding the Power against another Aes Sedai. We live in perilous times, and the world hangs in the balance, and what must be done, must be done. It must. Oh, Verin, why did you have to put your nose in where it does not belong?
Verin closed her book and slipped it back behind her belt, then looked from one woman to the other. She could not but be aware of the nimbus surrounding each of them, the light that came from touching the True Source. Only someone trained in channeling herself could see the glow, but there was no chance of any Aes Sedai missing it in another woman.
A hint of satisfaction settled on Verin’s face, but no sign that she realized she had hurled a lightning bolt. She only looked as if she had found another piece that fit in a puzzle. “Yes, I thought it must be so. Moiraine could not do this alone, and who better to help than her girlhood friend who used to sneak down with her to snitch sweetcakes.” She blinked. “Forgive me, Mother. I should not have said that.”
“Verin, Verin.” The Amyrlin shook her head wonderingly. “You accuse your sister—and me?—of. . . . I won’t even say it. And you are worried that you’ve spoken too familiarly to the Amyrlin Seat? You bore a hole in the boat and worry that it’s raining. Think what you are suggesting, Daughter.”
It is too late for that, Siuan, Moiraine thought. If we had not panicked and reached for the Source, perhaps then. . . . But she is sure, now. “Why are you telling us this, Verin?” she said aloud. “If you believe what you say, you should be telling it to the other sisters, to the Reds in particular.”
Verin’s eyes widened in surprise. “Yes. Yes, I suppose I should. I hadn’t thought of that. But then, if I did, you would be stilled, Moiraine, and you, Mother, and the man gentled. No one has ever recorded the progression in a man who wields the Power. When does the madness come, exactly, and how does it take him? How quickly does it grow? Can he still function with his body rotting around him? For how long? Unless he is gentled, what will happen to the young man, whichever he is, will happen whether or not I am there to put down the answers. If he is watched and guided, we should be able to keep some record with reasonable safety, for a time, at least. And, too, there is The Karaethon Cycle.” She calmly returned their startled looks. “I assume, Mother, that he is the Dragon Reborn? I cannot believe you would do this—leave walking free a man who can channel—unless he was the Dragon.”
She thinks only of the knowledge, Moiraine thought wonderingly. The culmination of the direst prophecy the world knows, perhaps the end of the world, and she cares only about the knowledge. But she is still dangerous, for that.
“Who else knows of this?” The Amyrlin’s voice was faint, but still sharp. “Serafelle, I suppose. Who else, Verin?”
“No one, Mother. Serafelle is not really interested in anything that someone hasn’t already set down in a book, preferably as long ago as possible. She thinks there are enough old books and manuscripts and fragments scattered about, lost or forgotten, to equal ten times what we have gathered in Tar Valon. She feels certain there is enough of the old knowledge still there to be found for—”
“Enough, Sister,” Moiraine said. She loosed her hold on the True Source, and after a moment felt the Amyrlin do the same. It was always a loss to feel the Power draining away, like blood and life pouring from an open wound. A part of her wanted to hold on, but unlike some of her sisters, she made it a point of self-discipline not to grow too fond of the feeling. “Sit down, Verin, and tell us what you know and how you found it out. Leave out nothing.”
As Verin took a chair—with a look to the Amyrlin for permission to sit in her presence—Moiraine watched her sadly.
“It is unlikely,” Verin began, “that anyone who hasn’t studied the old records thoroughly would notice anything except that you were behaving oddly. Forgive me, Mother. It was nearly twenty years ago, with Tar Valon besieged, that I had my first clue, and that was only. . . .
Light help me, Verin, how I loved you for those sweetcakes, and for your bosom to weep on. But I will do what I must do. I will. I must.
Perrin peered around the corner at the retreating back of the Aes Sedai. She smelled of lavender soap, though most would not have scented it even close up. As soon as she turned out of sight, he hurried for the infirmary door. He had already tried to see Mat once, and that Aes Sedai—Leane, he had heard somebody call her—had nearly snapped his head off without even looking around to see who he was. He felt uneasy around Aes Sedai, especially if they started looking at his eyes.
Pausing at the door to listen—he could hear no footsteps down the corridor either way, and nothing on the other side of the door—he went in and closed it softly behind him.
The infirmary was a long room with white walls, and the entrances to archers’ balconies at either end let in lots of light. Mat was in one of the narrow beds that lined the walls. After last night, Perrin had expected most of the beds to have men in them, but in a moment he realized the keep was full of Aes Sedai. The only thing an Aes Sedai could not cure by Healing was death. To him, the room smelled of sickness anyway.
Perrin grimaced when he thought of that. Mat lay still, eyes closed, hands unmoving atop his blankets. He looked exhausted. Not sick really, but as if he had worked three days in the fields and only now laid down to rest. He smelled . . . wrong, though. It was nothing Perrin could put a name to. Just wrong.
Perrin sat down carefully on the bed next to Mat’s. He always did things carefully. He was bigger than most people, and had been bigger than the other boys as long as he could remember. He had had to be careful so he would not hurt someone accidentally, or break things. Now it was second nature to him. He liked to think things through, too, and sometimes talk them over with somebody. With Rand thinking he’s a lord, I can?
?t talk to him, and Mat certainly isn’t going to have much to say.
He had gone into one of the gardens the night before, to think things through. The memory still made him a little ashamed. If he had not gone, he would have been in his room to go with Egwene and Mat, and maybe he could have kept them from being hurt. More likely, he knew, he would be in one of these beds, like Mat, or dead, but that did not change the way he felt. Still, he had gone to the garden, and it was nothing to do with the Trolloc attack that was worrying him now.
Serving women had found him sitting there in the dark, and one of the Lady Amalisa’s attendants, the Lady Timora. As soon as they came upon him, Timora sent one of the others running, and he had heard her say, “Find Liandrin Sedai! Quickly!”