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Toss the Feathers

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"Ila," Egwene said, "may I ask you a question?"

"Of course. Is this about Aram?"

"No!" She blushed. There was so much more to the world she had seen since leaving the Two Rivers, and so much more waiting beyond. Did she look like a dancer on Foolday? "I was wondering, do you ever--have you--" She broke off and started again. "If a Tuwa--Tuathan--Tuetheran--"

Ila gave a small laugh. "Call us Tinkers, child, or you'll trip over your tongue."

One voice told her to show respect, the next said not to bother. Elyas bowed and scraped towards traditions he had no faith in, and Aram rolled his eyes though he'd known nothing else for years. What was a woman to do? "If one of your women starts to use the One Power. What happens to her?"

Ila considered the question. "It's a rare thing you speak of. I've never seen the like, but I heard of another band that journeyed to Tar Valon, all the caravan together, to have the girl taught."

"You allow that?"

"The Aes Sedai know better than most that strength without guidance is danger. They have some way of binding themselves, I don't know it, so that they would not turn their gifts to violence. It is still no match for the Way of the Leaf, for truth that comes from within, but it is one check against darkness."

"I see," said Egwene. She had no wish to stay forever amid the fires and bright colors, but it was a relief to know that the White Tower did not seek to erase the convictions that had forged their initiates.

"Light blind me!" Perrin approached, still as impatient as ever to push forward. "Are you still on about that?"

"The light may do many things, child," Ila smiled, "but it will never strike you blind."

Perrin, being an oaf, had to go and ask for "The Tinker Has My Pots." But he laughed along with the others when he realized his mistake, and hummed a few lines until the Tuatha'an picked up the tune. "Toss the Feathers!" giggled one of the girls who had been dancing with him, and the fiddlers took to it with a will.

We toss the feathers high
They flutter in the air
Borne on the many winds,
They land without a care.

We toss the feathers east
The rising sun will cast
Its glow on airborne shadows
Till they come to rest at last.

"It's like the Way of the Leaf," Egwene noted, as Aram spun her around. "Floating on the wind."

"Aye," he said, feet firmly beating in time with the drums. "But where did they get the feathers from?"

One could pluck the feathers off a bird that had already died, Egwene supposed, but it would smell something awful. A tall flutist improvised a short interlude, and was applauded by his fellows as they launched into another verse.

They crouched behind hills, not moving even to wipe sweat from their arms, before sprinting to the next cover. Elyas scowled whether he moved or stood still, and while Bela understood the situation enough to make no sound, she was clearly unhappy with the situation. Egwene remembered the first night fleeing Emond's Field, how Bela had persevered with the endurance of a Warder's stallion. Perhaps the sequence of starts and stops had drained even her spirit.

"It's--" Perrin began.

"Shut your mouth, boy, do you want every carrion-eater in miles to hear you?" Elyas hissed.

Egwene felt that Perrin had not been particularly loud, but also knew Elyas would not take kindly to her opinion. Gamely, Perrin tried to drop his voice even softer. "It's me they're after, not you. I can--the wolves will--you don't need to come with me. Go with Elyas, he'll keep you safe."

"And go where?" Egwene tried to whisper. "Back to the Two Rivers? Baerlon? There's nowhere safe from Trollocs, and even if there was--enough of them have seen me. If they think I know where you are, they'll find me."

"But you won't know," said Perrin. "That's the thing, I'll be gone."

Elyas gave a dry laugh. "You think it's that easy, boy? That Heartfang will take her at her word and leave her be?" Perrin's eyes, sometimes nearly as bright as Rand's now, flickered and looked downcast. "If he wants you or your friends, there's no one on two legs or four paws safe from his eyes."

"It's not fair."

"No one said it was," said Elyas. "Now move, before the next shadow overtakes us." He was speaking literally, Egwene thought, as the sun fell in the sky. But she wasn't sure.

Thank you, she mouthed to Perrin, when they reached the next hill. I know you--mean well.

He smiled weakly in return. It wasn't much, but all they needed was strength to sustain them from one hill to the next.

They evaded one flock, but Elyas made no move to relax. He only turned and glared at Perrin, as if he'd caught him sneaking sweets before dinner.

"There's more," Perrin said. "Ravens, behind us."

"You should take a turn riding," Egwene said.

He examined her quizzically, but only said "I'm good for a while, yet."

"It's not enough to speak with wolves, you have their stamina too?"

"How can you stand it?"

"Stand what?"

"This," he said. "Me. I'm some--kind of a monster."

"There are ravens out spying on us, and Trollocs and Myrddraal in every direction," said Egwene. "You are strange, but if you think it makes you a Darkfriend, well, go and join the other side. You might be better off there."

"Light." He shook his head. "Well, you keep Bela for a bit more. She likes you."

Egwene nodded, scratching Bela's mane. "C'mon, girl. Can't rest yet."

They wove from hill to hill as the sun fell behind them. Every once in a while Elyas and Perrin would exchange glances, as if passing messages to and from the wolves. But if there was a pack nearby, they stayed far away from Egwene's notice. She didn't blame them.

And then a low hoot came. Circling from the sky, a raven called to its kin, and they swooped low, making the sounds of inn-cats and frogs. Egwene flung herself from Bela, hoping against hope that the horse could take flight and that the ravens would not follow her, would not pick her apart as they had the fox.

Then she reached for the True Source like Moiraine Sedai had told her. She had been damp and cold when she started the fire, but there had been no one upon her, no imminent need to create a spark. Now, the beats of claws and wings surrounding her, it was all she could do to imagine the river, conjure the idea of surrender, even if no power came from her.

But it gave her focus. She was immersed in the effort, so she did not fear or cry out when Perrin reached for his axe, did not flinch as he turned and felled her in a single motion.