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|<<< Footprints in Air >>>|
|Setting: Just outside of Whitebridge, and Whitebridge.|
- Point of view: Nynaeve al'Meara
Nynaeve stares in wonder at the White Bridge marking the location of Whitebridge and marvels, both at the legendary construction and the fact that Moiraine and Lan take it with amazing nonchalance. She resolves not to stare at it to keep from looking like the country bumpkin as they move toward that city.
She has barely spoken to the Aes Sedai since rejoining them on the banks of the Arinelle the morning after their adventures in Shadar Logoth, except for Moiraine's attempts at convincing her to go to Tar Valon, which Nynaeve considers of no substance. She admits to having decided to go there and accept training, but not for the reasons Moiraine wishes to see her go. There is an implied but nebulous threat involving Moiraine's welfare that involves Egwene and the boys, and whether or not they have been hurt.
Nynaeve does occasionally think about what she could do with the One Power as a wisdom, but she suppresses such thought, believing the One Power to be a filthy thing. She is angry that Moiraine only wants to take her to Tar Valon for training, and will not tell her anything. She remembers a conversation where she demands, "How will you find them?" Moiraine asserts that she will know when she comes close to the two who have lost their coin. The third, if he retains his coin, may be followed across half the world. Nynaeve demanded to know what Moiraine planned to do with them once she found them. Moiraine replies with a single name, Tar Valon.
Nynaeve complains at this answer and Moiraine says evenly that part of the training Nynaeve will receive as a novice is the ability to control her temper. Then before the Wisdom can respond, Moiraine calls for a private conversation with Lan.
Nynaeve is left to glower and hates it. She muses angrily on Moiraine's easy manipulation of every conversation. It makes her feel foolish and she is not used to such a feeling. She petulantly wishes that there was some way to get rid of her. Lan would be better off without her, and he is pretty self-sufficient--and that thought makes her flush. She admits to herself that being with one means being with the other.
And yet, she muses, Lan gets even deeper under her skin. He rarely says anything, and he never participates in her discussions with Moiraine. He is often apart from the two women, but when he is present he watches as if watching a duel, one that Nynaeve has yet to win. Indeed, Moiraine doesn't even know she is in a fight. Yes, she could do without Lan's witnessing the fights. The journey had otherwise been quiet.
At first the quiet had been restful after everything that had happened since Winternight, but the lull in the adventure seems fragile. Moiraine and Lan seem to sense it, too. A part of her is glad that it has affected them too, but it also means that what she is feeling is a real thing, though she wishes it were her imagination. Something of it tickles the corners of her mind and she now knows that it had something to do with the One Power, which makes her reluctant to embrace it.
When she asks Lan about it, as he continually scans their surroundings, he says that it is nothing, and then puts the lie to his words by encouraging her to return to the Two Rivers when they get to Whitebridge. Moiraine, who is also scanning the environment, chides him by reminding him that she is part of the Pattern. She then tells Nynaeve that it is the Dark One, whose storm has moved elsewhere for the moment, but his gaze is still upon them. As Moiraine speaks, Nynaeve imagines she can feel someone staring at her back. She would rather have not heard Moiraine's explanation.
Lan scouts their path, but Moiraine chooses it as though she were following some unseen track, footprints in the air. Lan only checks the path for safety; its Moiraine who decides to travel it, whether it is safe or not.
With a start, she realizes that they have made it to the foot of the bridge, and she stops her woolgathering and once again marvels at the bridge, at how delicate it looks, wondering if it is safe. Lan and Moiraine, however, proceed without hesitation. Nynaeve reluctantly follows. Halfway across the bridge, she smells char thickening the air.
Whitebridge before them is ravaged. A patrol marches by, in fear. The townsfolk are acting panicked. Each of the three react to the sight before them. Moiraine gets down off of Aldieb and offers genuine sympathy to the townsfolk. Her disarming manner loosens otherwise stiff tongues. They are not all truthful, even in the site of all the evidence. One fat fellow claims that a fire was started by an overturned lamp and spread by the wind. The pattern of burned-out building exposes that as a lie. Several women murmur that there was a man channeling, and that the Aes Sedai need to get involved. Various other stories crop up, including one about a boat from the Borderlands that had chopped its lines and escaped. The boat had a gleeman. Nynaeve wonders if it was Thom Merrilin. She suggests to Moiraine that some of the Emond's Fielders might have escaped on the boat, but Moiraine is noncommittal.
They eat a meal at an inn with its common room divided by a wall (marking it as the inn where Thom, Rand and Mat had gone to in their visit). The atmosphere is tense, filled with fear. About the time they finish their meal a militia man appears in the door. The militia man notices them and confronts them with a demand to know their business. Lan tells him that they are leaving as soon as he finishes his ale, confusing the local by calling down a blessing upon Queen Morgase. The militiaman is about to make an issue of it all, but after getting a good look at Lan, says, "see that you do," and complains about all the strangers. He leaves with a stern look plastered on his face. The townsfolk in attendance do not notice.
Nynaeve asks where they are going, and in particular, she wants to know if it is after the boat. Moiraine replies that they must go find the one to the north. And then she says that she does not believe the other two took the boat south. Then she smiles and says that two of them were in the very room where they sit only a day or two ago. Nynaeve asks which two, and Moiraine indicates by shaking her head that she does not know. Nynaeve protests that if they are only a day or two ahead, they ought to go after them first.
Moiraine explains patiently that she does not know which direction they went, she can only hope that it was east toward Caemlyn. They could have gone twenty miles, or forty if fear drove them. Nynaeve tries to protest, but Moiraine cuts her off, telling her that eventually the two will go to Caemlyn. She needs to help the one she can right now.
Nynaeve is about to protest again when Lan breaks in and informs the two women that the boys had reason to be afraid, because a halfman had been in town--he can smell it. Moiraine expresses the rejection of despair by saying that she cannot believe the Dark One can win so easily, referring to the possibility that the Fade caught up with the boys.
Nynaeve protests that Moiraine is not thinking of Egwene at all, even when she is the one who wanted to go to Tar Valon, the name which she says carefully and quietly. This makes Moiraine very angry. She replies that she does not easily give up on girls with the potential that Egwene shows, but she leaves that up to the weave of the Wheel. Moiraine's response makes her wonder if Moiraine feels the same way about her, which raises her hackles.
The meal is finished in silence, and they leave the cowering, smoke-stained town in silence.
- Rand al'Thor
- Egwene al'Vere
- Cenn Buie
- Thom Merrilin
- Morgase Trakand
- Mat Cauthon as one of the boys
- Perrin Aybara as one of the boys
- Dark One