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Mave felt a weight lift unexpectedly from her chest at Ali’s words. Compulsion was a forbidden weave, punishable by the most severe sanctions. Officially the art had been lost but unofficially… well it wasn’t uncommon for a wilder’s first weave to be some form of it. Make a boy like you, make a parent buy you a dress or a pet. Mave’s first weave had been a weak form of compulsion and she had talked with other novices and Accepteds, gathering pieces of information on how it might be done. Even so it was nothing like what Ali and others believed.

“Well if your...if your…” Ali stumbled over the words, obviously reluctant to say something outloud and make it true, even though the facts, as he knew them, were infront of him.

“If your an Aes Sedai, can’t you, I don’t know, hurl fire at it and kill it?” he asked. Mave nodded her head.

“I could,” she agreed, “but as I said if it is killed here others will come.” At first Mave had believed the thing to be following her but the more she thought about it the less sense that made. It could have been asking about Ali to find her, having seen them on the road, but if it knew who she was then there as no way it would have come alone. A fade was a deadly threat to even the most experienced swordsman, but only the feeblest Aes Sedai would fail to blast the thing to ragged bones.

“So what do we do?” Ali asked, moving his staff from hand to hand in obvious agitation.

“I can drive it off,” Mave said after a moment, she took her eyes of the fade and looked full at Ali, her dark eyes boring into him like augers.

“But you will need to leave the Two Rivers,” she said with implacable resolve.

“Once we are away from here we can dispatch it, but for the sake of your family and your village we need to leave this place tonight.”
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Ali didn't know what to say at first. Of course there was a bullheaded part of him that was not about to leave his home or his family behind. One that wanted to physically protect them rather than run away. But he saw the wisdom in her words. More than that, he became lost in her eyes, and marveled at how the elder's stories were true. Women had a way of effecting things, making you do things you wouldn't normally think to do.

"Where would we go?" he asked her, mind warring with itself. He shook his head. "Wait, no. Taren's Ferry is the closest place, we'll need to go there."

"Do you know a path there that isn't on the main road?"

"I do. There's a small goat path through the woods that stray livestock usually take to eat the berries that grow near the town." He explained, knowing it was their best bet. He had not traveled through the brambles and thickets of the path in the dark since he was a boy, but they needed to do it to live, it seemed. Blood and Bloody Ashes, this couldn't be happening.

"That will have to do." She said, and though he was the one who was seeing this all for the first time, he still noted she was slightly nervous. He didn't blame her. Ali gave her an awkward nod, and then went to gather supplies they would need. Dried meats and fruits, with jugs of water and flasks of brandy. He still wore his Bel Tine outfit, the green and brown colors good camouflage and the handsome vest padded enough to stop a glancing blow from a light weapon at least.

He nabbed another outfit for himself, and another dress his mother used to wear for her. If she needed anything else he would likely be able to sew her something later. Once he was finished, he came back into the kitchen, resolve in his youthful, handsome face, his shoulders squared. Now that he was committed to leave, all of his stubborn determination would be into seeing it done.

"I'm ready." he told Mave.
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“You should write something to let your parents know what has happened,” she said, astonished at how quickly he prepared to depart. Ali nodded and fetched a quill pen and ink. Mave had no idea if he was unique in being able to write or it was a common skill. She suspected anywhere books were this highly prized people at least learned the basics.

“Don’t be… you know… too specific,” she counseled.

“Dear Mama,” he narrated, holding the paper infornt of him, “I have run off with an Aes Sedai to fight a fade.” Mave laughed in spite of herself when she realized it was a joke. Ali grinned, though there was a grim quality to it.

“Now do you have a plan to get rid of the F… fa… that thing?” he asked, pointing to the dark figure still raging at the unseen barrier before it. Mave nodded, having spent the past few minutes thinking on the problem.

“Close your eyes,” she instructed Ali. He gave her a suspicious look.

“Will the witchcraft not work if Im looking at it?” he asked. Mave shook her head.

“No it will just hurt your eyes,” she responded.

“Oh.” He closed his eyes. Mave opened herself up to the True Source letting the joy of Saidar flow into her like a damn opening up. They Fade, able to sense channeling, especially when close by, paused in its ranting and looked straight at her. Mave squeezed her own eyes shut and wove flows of fire and air and spirit. A beam of light so bright, that even through her tightly squeezed eyes, she could see the outline of the window and the creature beyond, erupted from her hands. Anyone watching it would have been instantly struck blind and to the fade, a creature of darkness it was far worse. It shriked as though its soul were being torn from its body then it turned its horse and leaped into the shadows beyond the wall. In a moment it was there and then it vanished, seeming to fold and slip into the darkness like a phantom. Mave released the source and lowered her shaking hands. She hadn’t been certain that it would work, though she had read of such things.

“It is done,” she said in as Aes Sedai a tone as she could muster while blinking in the dark. Her night vision was completely washed away by the weaving.
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Burn him, Mave was right! He wondered if he would become less amazed over time when it came to her power, but even with his eyes closed he could see the room brightening, so he placed his forearm over his face to shield himself and save most of his night vision. Now that both the fade and the light had faded, he uncovered his eyes to see Mave blinking but serene. "We must go," she said, cooly imperious and trying to will both herself and Ali to move. The handsome younger man grabbed his staff.

"Follow me," Ali said breathlessly, taking her by the arm and gingerly guiding her through the house to the back door. Outside, the air was chilled and brittle to the bone, with nary any moon or starlight to guide them. As soon as the cold air blasted through the door, Ali suddenly grabbed a small jacket that hung on the door hanger, placing it on Mave's shoulders. She thanked him quietly, and he closed the door just as quietly.

He would have liked to have taken one of the family mules, but with him gone, his father would need every member of their livestock here. Not to mention a mule or donkey served well to travel long distances, but not slip away quietly during the night. It would bray and stomp too much, leaving prominent footprints in the soil and trampling foliage to give signs of their passing. They could get a mule in Taren's Ferry perhaps, or any beast of burden once they managed to make it out of the Two Rivers alive. They would need coin of course, which was another problem.

Ali had always been good at winning money when it came to dice. Despite his honest nature, he was a clever young man, knowing how to play the odds and gamble with the best of them. He also wasn't above stealing if need be, though it wouldn't sit right with him. He had been one of the more prolific tricksters of the town in his early youth. But even for all his wiles, he knew Mave was the wise one here, and once they were past Taren's Ferry, he'd follow her intuition on most things. He was completely out of his element, and he knew it.

However now, he bade her crouch, moving quietly as they hugged the bushes that ran toward the dark, foreboding treeline in the near distance. Mave tried her best to hike her dress up and follow Ali as they moved. Suddenly a shadow passed over them, causing Ali to pause and look up. He couldn't see anything, but whatever it had been was too large for a normal bird. He did not even think an eagle could make a shadow in such darkness.

"Where to?" Mave whispered as they entered the rough thickets. In only a few paces, it was obvious she would make quite a bit of noise. It wasn't her fault. Simply her dress and her slowly returning night vision. Ali scooped her up into his arms easily, and she squeaked, clinging to him.

"Sorry," he whispered to her, using his long legs to step over the bushes. It was only passed a couple of gnarled trees that looked as if they were trying to reach out and snatch Mave up that they made it to the small goat path, ferns and sticks still messily stretching about in their wake. She shook her head, kissing his cheek. "You're fine, now hurry. We need to make it there before daybreak."
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The travelled through the night, twisting down game trails and old half forgotten paths. It was nearly pitch black and although Ali had a lantern in his pack he never even considered lighting it. Mave had little fear that the Fade would return, at least not swiftly the tortured scream the thing had given when she bathed it in light wasn’t something that it would soon forget, but it was best to put as much distance as they could between themselves and the farm.

By the time they reached the river at Tarren Ferry, the first glow of morning was beginning to lighten the sky to the east. The river ran sluggishly through the ferry crossing but there was no sign that any of the boatmen were yet at their posts, probably sleeping off the worst of the Beltane ale. Worse still as the climbed a small hillock they could see people waiting at the ferry, families returning south to their farms after the festival.

“We can’t cross there,” Ali said with a frown.

“People would recognise me.” Mave marveled that despite walking all night and carrying her half the way, he still seemed fresh and energetic. Nor, for that matter did he seem unduly distressed at having to leave his home. Mave wondered what the family would make of the handful of silver she had left under the pillow of her bed, each piece stamped with the shining flame of Tar Valon. It had been a risk, but she couldn’t simply snatch away the breadwinner of a family. Carefully husbanded the coins would keep the family well for several seasons. Of course it might lead them to believe that Aes Sedai had abducted Ali, but even if that were so she trusted that his father would be too sensible to blab it about.

“Is there another crossing?” she asked, peering into the lightening gloom. It was still very cold, cold enough to mist her breath before her lips as she spoke. Even with the jacket she would have been cold, though she had mastered the trick of ignoring mere physical discomforts.

“Not for miles, as far as I know,” Ali admitted, “we tried to find the headwaters when I was a child, walked all day without it getting much narrower.”

Mave nodded in acknowledgement.

“Lets go down to the water, around the bend,” she said pointing to where the river turned out of sight of the ferry station. THey made there way down to the waters edge, picking there way through the thick forest. Ali had an instinct for it and Mave followed as closely as she could until they stood on the muddy bank. The water looked to be deep and even at the narrowest point they could see it was nearly a hundred feet across.

“We could swim it, or make a raft, but the current will probably sweep us around the bend before we can make it,” Ali observed.

“I have a better idea,” Mave said with a cryptic smile and then, raising her hand, began to channel. Flows of air and water, invisible to Ali, spread out from her hands like gossamer, settling down over the river. Ice began to form rapidly, growing like a crystal from where they stood and spreading over the water. The river instantly began to overflow the ice damn, like a cataract, but it would still be passable if they were careful. Ali looked impressed.

“Well I wouldn’t want to try it at mid summer,” Mave admitted modestly.
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Blood and Bloody ashes, what else could she do? It impressed him, but it was also a bit unnerving. Yet somehow, he was ok with it. He must be going insane too. They held one another's hands, and gingerly stepped across, slowly and deliberately. Other than a few small cracks by Ali's footing, they made it across, the soft crunching of the earth beneath them audible in the clear night air. Mave seemed as pleased as the cat that got the cream.

"It's a good thing Taren's Ferry isn't walled." Ali said to her, and they approached from the west now, creeping through the brush and sliding into the settlement from the outfields where the lower classes lived, if class could even be associated with such a small settlement. More like, where the men and women who could not afford to live where the cobblestone streets spread across the various shops.

"There's only one inn here." Ali said, indicating he knew where to go.

"No, no." She said, pulling him back from entering the town proper. "The enemy has agents. Darkfriends. Even if a Myyrdraal would not come into town, there are eyes everywhere, especially this close to the Two Rivers."

"So we can't get a room?" Ali asked, then realized how stupid he sounded.

"Would you be recognized?" she asked pointedly, and he nodded. She tried to gather her thoughts. "Then we'll need to think of something else."

"We'll have to sleep in a barn, then." Ali reasoned. Mave seemed less than excited to bed down on a pile of hay, though she did well at hiding it. Ali would have felt the same, if he had been running down from the mountains and had gone through everything she had. Light, he near had gone through as much now, hadn't he? The two quickly made a trek to the south of Taren's Ferry, picking their way through the back of the settlement where a few drunks and a watchmen or two lounged, though there was no serious watch tonight.

They found a squat barn, two stories it looked like, just at the edge of the periphery of Taren's Ferry. Tomorrow they would go and fetch supplies from the town, but tonight they needed to rest and think, and eat what's more. It was now just past midnight, and soon the early dawn would arrive. But not soon enough to not take refuge.

Ali opened the barn door with his workman's muscles, the gate creaking open like the cry of an animal. Surprisingly, there were no animals in here. Only bails of hay and farming implements. Ali lit the torch once they were inside, holding it aloft and checking to see if there was anything they might have missed from the moonlight. When he was satisfied, he told Mave to follow him and he climbed the ladder that led upwards to the second floor. Mave shimmied up behind him, and once they found a comfortable corner at the northern edge of the barn near the outer window, Ali set out a small quilt atop the hay and opened his pack, handing Mave a bit of dried meat and cheese.

"I've never had a Bel Tine this exciting." he said, giving her a boyish grin and a playful nudge. But his next words were more sober. "Thank you for saving me."
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Mave munched her cheese thoughfully. Very glad to have a local guide who could point her to a barn that was safe to sleep in. In the morning they would see about horses. Steal horses most likely although she was reluctant to do so. The peddlers who had come for Beltane in this village probably had horses and they had fleeced the villagers badly enough that Mave didn't feel too bad about taking their mounts with a silver mark or two as compensation after the fact.

"You saved me if you remember," she told Ali with a smile, though in truth she could have killed the three men easily enough, but she wasn't comfortable enough with killing nor brazen enough when it came to the oaths to risk it if she didn't need too. She adjusted herself against a hay bale considering the man she had become entangled with. What wild rumors were flying around his village she didn't want to know. Absconded with some foregin trollop most likely. Evelyn would be furiors and she would be surprised if Valerie didn't raise a party to pursue them, although with luck the obvious road was north. According to the map she had purchased from the peddlers there was nothing south except a village named Emond's Field and that she planned to skirt to keep closer to the river.

"Ali, I know this is a strange question, but do you have any idea why the fade might have been interested in you? At first I thought it was following me, agents of the shadow did try to stop me in Caemlyn, but the more I think about it, the more I think it must have been after you. A single fade wouldn't have been a threat to me alone."
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He smiled at her, showing his teeth in a handsome grin. "It's not weird, I've been wondering that myself." he said. Truth be told, it had been confusing him quite a bit. He knew the Fade had been looking for him from what the townsfolk and Bran had claimed, and it had completely caught him by surprise. "Why they're after me...I really don't know. I wish I did." he admitted. "I'm sure it was easy to find me once they reached the Two Rivers. Just ask for someone with red eyes."

Maybe that was it, though he didn't know why that was special other than just being peculiar. He had always had a knack for being lucky. Maybe life was finally turning his luck around to bite him in the rump hard? Then again that seemed bloody unfair with his family and Mave involved. Speaking of which, he needed to speak to her on something. He took a deep breath and sat up straight, legs crossed and facing her.

"Mave I..."

He cleared his throat. He didn't know how to say it, even if they already both likely knew it. "I um, I...I fancy you." he said, his face burning like a torch. He was certain she felt similarly toward him. He tried to get the kiss out of his head. "But I don't know you. Not much, at least." he continued, and despite his bashfulness, he squared his shoulders and made himself move forward in his thoughts.

"I need you to tell me why an Aes Sedai was going through the Two Rivers." he told her, eyes locking with hers. "If we're going to be traveling together, you need to tell me who you are and why I found you in the woods. If you can't do that then...no matter how much I like being around you, I won't be able to go with you. We're companions, or we're not."

There was something compelling about his declaration. Not compulsion, or anything to do with the One Power. She could choose to do or say as she pleased, as always. But there was a weight to it, as if the wheel waxed and flexed its woven destiny.
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Mave watched Ali for long seconds, her gaze unreadable. She liked Ali and had to admit that he was a handsome man, still the fact that agents of the Shadow were seeking him for unknown reasons should have been reason enough to hold her tongue but almost in spite of herself she found herself speaking.

“I am on my way to Illian,” she said, feeling an odd sense of relief steal over her. Since Velma’s murder she hadn’t spoken to a soul about what she was going on.

“A Sister of mine,” she explained, again speaking the technical truth, “was murdered because of something she uncovered in the Tower archive. Murdered by darkfriends.” Even to Ali, she didn’t go so far as to say the Black Ajah, it was too monstrous a thing to give life to by speaking of it.

“I don’t even know what it is, but she left me a rough map, pieced together from clues she had found. Other people might be looking for it but so far as I know my sister only made one copy of the map, I hope that will be enough.”

She blew out a breath, surprised and a little chagrined at how much she had just shared. Realising her admission opened up another question she addressed it quickly.

“I come from Arad Doman originally but I didn’t walk over the Mountain’s of Mist as I implied. Darkfriends had me cornered in Caemlyn and so I used an ancient waygate to escape. I didn’t even know I was in the Two Rivers until I spoke to you.”

“As for fancying me,” she smiled wrly, “don’t they teach you proverbs about getting messed up in the affairs of Aes Sedai?”
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Ali smirked, and shrugged. "Apparently, I'm not the average Two Rivers farmboy. The Dark One apparently thinks so." he said.

Honestly, despite the revelation that probably should have him sweating, it was just nice to know that she trusted him with the truth. He guessed he was simple like that. Though more likely he was a fool like the wisdom always said and soon he would regret going on this journey. He would likely find out in the future.

As they settled in for the night, Ali insisted that Mave sleep on the quilt with the hay while he leaned on the wall, looking out over the fields through the small opening of the upper barn. Even until his eyes faded to dark, he didn't see the Myrrdraal or anything else. Though he had dreams of the dark rider, as well as the flying terror he had glimpsed earlier in the night...



That morning, the two had to hide in the upper echelons of the barn until the farmer that had begun working in the fields, using the barn for gathering tools and housing various items, keeping them up there hidden until near noon. Once the farmer (who luckily took an early lunch) was gone, they fled the barn and made it to the small hill outside Taren's Ferry's southern entrance. Ali sat down with Mave and told her the layout of the city, telling her where supplies and cheap beasts of burden would be.

"What about you?" she asked him.

He looked over his shoulder toward the town. "I might still be recognized. And even if I'm not, if anyone asks for someone who looks like me, they'd be able to say I was here." he explained to her, giving her the small bag of coins he had. There were five crowns there, in addition to her sum. Three from the Gleeman, and two that he had saved up and kept just in case. "I'll be on the north road near the treeline. Keep walking until you're out of sight from the town, and I'll be waiting."

He gave her a smile to encourage her. It was likely ill advised to separate, but it was necessary. "Ok?"
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It was nearly midday and the town of Tarren’s Ferry was a bustling hive of activity. Farmers and craftsmen were haggling and exchanging goods and promises. During the festival of Beltane deals would be struck and plans would be made and now the time had come to start delivering on them. Mave began to understand why Evelyn was so upset about Ali, this would be the time of year for betrothals to be properly announced and missing the day likely meant another year would pass. Evelyn was younger than Ali but she was a woman in the reckoning of the Two Rivers, she needed to marry and start a family of her own.

Mave tried to ignore the looks she got from the villagers as she went about her business. As with her previous dealings she tried not to engage in conversation, answering politely but not engaging in anything more than superficialities. She was glad she had taken the time to conceal the short sword beneath her skirts, though it slapped unpleasantly against her thigh, she didn’t want to make more of a ruckus than she already was.

As she shopped she pondered the problem of Ali. What interest could the minions of the Dark One possibly have in a farm boy from the middle of nowhere? Certainly he had strange eyes, but that alone seemed hardly enough to justify the interest. Was it possible that Ali could channel? She hadn’t probed the question too deeply but it seemed unlikely that a man of his age could be quietly concealing such a thing, or that he would be so calm in proximity to an Aes Sedai if he was. That left what? The Shadow had its own prophecies and like its own fortellings, was Ali important to them in that way? Although it was pure speculation this seemed to be the most likely answer. If that was so then the safest thing to do was to bring him to Tar Valon but that wasn’t an option right now. Not until she reached Illian and recovered whatever it was Velma Sedai had discovered there. Or he could be a Ta’veren. Even thinking the word made her vaguely uncomfortable. Was it possible that Ali was one of those rare individuals that warped the weave of the pattern? Would she even know if he were?

Thrusting aside such uncomfortable speculations she went about her business. Within an hour she had purchased a pair of horses, with saddles and saddlebags. A peddler who had been traveling through had suffered a fit of apoplexy the previous day. With no family to collect the horses it had been put up for sale by the village Mayor. Mave secured the two horses as well as some assorted pots, pans, blankets and other essentials by the simple accident of being on the spot with coined money, which could, in theory be given to any heir that showed up. They mayor seemed delighted that a solution to the problem had occurred and thanked her profusely. When he asked her where she was headed she responded that the was considering returning to Camelyn and asked about the route to Baerlon and Whitebridge. It wasn’t much of a false trail but she figured it was better than nothing.

Ali’s advice for where to shop proved to be excellent and by the time the sun was beginning to sink she rode out of the village leading a spare horse and a mule laden with food and supplies. Even with the rarity of coin the purchases all but exhausted the supply of copper she had to hand but she was comfortable that she could pass some of her Tar Valon marks if they could reach Jehannah, though that city lay many days travel south through the gap in Garren’s Wall. Mave was riding north along the road, to meet Ali and then circle the village through the woods before beginning the trek south when a voice from the woods startled her.

“Mistress Mave what an unexpected pleasure!”

Mave wheeled to find the Gleeman she had met in the village step out from behind a tree, his colorful cloak whirling in an exaggerated bow. She ground her teeth in irritation.

“Master Simon,” she said with outwards pleasantness. His horse was tethered back behind a stand of trees and he had a small campfire half built.

“A strange place to make camp,” she observed, “Tarren’s ferry is not an hours ride south, and they will have paying customers in the inn.”

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"You know, you are quite right. I was just taking a stroll along the trail." The Gleeman claimed, indicating his horse as if it was merely a companion who sought to walk with him. "And what do I find when I do? The loveliest girl in the Two Rivers. Though I suppose it isn't your home."

"No, it is not." She replied.

"Forgive me, my memory isn't what it used to be." He said with a laugh. "Though I do recall you and Master Ali heading to his home the previous night. Now why would I find you here today?"

"I had to go. It would be my head if I hadn't" she said pleasantly, her joke not exactly untruthful. It would have fooled most people, but there was a twinkle in the old man's eye that showed he knew exactly what game they were playing, and he intended to win. He gave a chuckle, and inclined his head.

"Oh, girl..." he said. "I'm sure you would make your instructors at Tar Valon proud."

The silence after he spoke was defeaning, until the crunching leaves of footsteps ahead of them. Alidren Baldyr appeared with his walking staff, entering the clearing, obviously having already seen the exchange from afar. Ali didn't dislike the old gleeman, but after having run for their lives the previous night, he wasn't in a welcoming mood.

"It's nice to see you, Master Ali." Simon said. "You're looking well rested. I'm surprised. It seems your resourceful enough to where you just might live."

"I'll give you this one chance to leave." Ali said, clearly understanding off the bat that this man knew more than he should. "Take it, now." There was that weight to his words again, as if he had wrought them on a forge and thrown them at those he spoke to, clearing any argument out of their path. The elder held his ground, however.

"I think you will need me along. It's not every day that I find an Aes Sedai and a Ta’veren traveling together, and so far you've done well. But if I can find you, others can."
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Mave folded her arms beneath her breasts, appearing calm though she had already embraced the source. She wasn’t sure exactly what the gleeman was playing at but he clearly new more than he should. Could he have deduced her identity from some sign she hadn’t noticed? Was this all just some elaborate bluff?

“I think you may have mistaken us for one of your tales master gleeman,” Mave said after a moment.

“I’m sure it sounds a good story to talk of Aes Sedai and Ta’veren but really. It was bad enough that everyone assumed I was some foreign chit here to steal away Ali,” she scoffed. The Gleeman shrugged as though unconcerned with this defense.

“Stolen him you have, it would seem to me, won’t young Evelyn be devastated,” he went on with a theatrical sigh.

“Our business is our own master gleeman and we do not care to share the road with you.” She channeled a thin wisp of air, just enough to cut the tether that held his horse in place. Then she switched the beast gently on the flank and it started off at a brisk trot. The gleeman turned and glared at the departing horse.

“Fair well sir, I hope we wont meet again,” Mave said placidly as Ali swung awkwardly up into his saddle.

“Aes Sedai! The Eyes of the Dragon see much! We can help you!” the gleeman called as the turned and cantered away northward. As soon as they were out of sight Mave drew her horse into a trot.

“Im not sure what is going on, but we need to get as far south as we can by nightfall, we should make for Jehanna.” Ali nodded and led them off the road, circling back south.

“Are you sure there isn’t anything you need to tell me?” she asked after a moment.
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They began to trot downroad, Ali holding the reins to his horse tightly. He had ridden before but not for long. Mostly to help sheppard various animals. Mave asked her question and Ali had a hard time answering, fumbling like a boy with his mount to keep it on the road. "Light, no!" he said, then realized he sounded very rude there.

Ali still had goosebumps from earlier. Just as the horse had wandered off that sent the gleeman away, he had felt it. He didn't know why. He didn't feel cold at all. "Sorry," he replied, hunching his shoulders up as the last shiver escaped his spine. "This is all a bit much to me. No, I don't know anything. At least concerning why they would want to go after me."

With a ghost of a smile, Mave spoke. "You're a good man, Alidren Baldyr." she said. "And for that I will take your word on it. Though I fear we both know a bit too little to survive for long. We need to make as good as we can on time."

"What are we running out of time with?" he asked her.

She didn't answer. Instead she bade her horse to go faster, and Ali followed suit. The rest of the day they rode without speaking much, only stopping when they believed there was someone else on the road. But there never was. Ali's da would probably call it 'jumping at shadows.' Though considering last night, he had every damn right to. What worried him was that Mave seemed on edge. Even facing down the Myyrdraal, she had been calm.

"Blood and ashes, I just realized something." he said out of the blue, as they had stopped by a small stream during the late afternoon, their horses taking a much needed drink.

"What?"

"We're heading toward the Forest of Shadows." Ali explained, a grim look on his otherwise handsome face. "They're impossible to traverse. I think only Jain Farstrider has ever been able to do it..."
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“Well I suppose they shall have to write some stories about us,” Mave said. With Emond’s Field and Deven’s Ride behind them the road had faded away to almost nothing. The map showed that it continued south into Gheldan but that was either a relic of an earlier time or merely wishful thinking. Where the Westwood had been a tranquil place, the Forest of Shadows had a dark unwholesome look. Great oaks towered into the darkening sky and vines strung between aged and decaying trunks made passage difficult.

“To that end…” Mave took a leather wrapped bundle from her saddle and handed it to Ali. He took it curiously and unwrapped it. Inside was a bow of sturdy yew almost five a half feet long along with a pair of coiled and waxed bow strings and two dozen long feathered arrows. It seemed to Mave to be ridiculously large compared to the short cavalry bows she had seen in Arad Doman but the fletcher had assured her that was what the locals used.

“I know its not a staff, but I saw some of the locals using them at Beltane and I thought you would probably know the basics,” she went on, curiously embarrassed and anxious at the gift.
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Ali took it in his hands gingerly, his palm running up the smooth, laminated yew of the longbow. It was a Two Rivers Longbow. Not built for any military useage. It was about half a foot shorter than most longbows, but it was still large enough to pierce mail, yet short enough to be easily concealed and used in the wooded areas to hunt Elk and Boar. The arrows were a foot long, with broadheads. He hadn't held one in some years, but she had been right. He had learned how to shoot from a young age.

"I do," he said simply, his dark eyes, like red wine in the shade, went from the bow to Mave. "Thank you." If Ali didn't know any better, he could have sworn she was blushing. No, that isn't possible. Could Aes Sedai even blush? Light, he didn't know. With his strong but dextrious fingers, he coiled the bowstring around his wrist so as to not lose it. "Maybe with this I can hunt us some dinner tonight."

"Good," Mave said, smiling. "I expect it, what with me giving you a gift and all."

He smiled back, but their moment was short lived. There was something suddenly off. An inherent wrongness to the forest around them. They hadn't even gone too far into the Forest of Shadows. He had heard that loggers could make it this far in and have no trouble. Mave saw him hesitate, and suddenly he felt goosebumps on his skin again. She looked around, suddenly more animated and alive than she had been a second before. "What is it?" she asked.

"We need to hide." Ali whispered, still for a moment to gauge his surroundings before he grabbed his staff, setting the bow to his horse to keep it safe. After a moment, he realized that would do very little. "On second thought, we need to ride." It was a bit louder this time, because he had the distinct feeling that covert was no longer the strategy they should take. Ali mounted his horse while Mave scrambled onto hers, and it was at that moment that the largest creatures Ali had seen, save for the largest bears, burst out of the woods.

Misshapen monsters with humanoid bodies and the heads of Goats and other livestock, wielding wicked axes and swords. They drooled over the trodden path, and within moments they charged.

"Hya!" Ali cried, cracking the reins of his mount. The horses were frightened out of their minds, and Mave must have done something because the creatures that charged them hit what seemed to be an invisible wall, grunting and splaying their weight and bodies against the weave of the one power. They soon began to hack at it, but by the time it was let go, Mave and Ali were far down the path.
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Trollocs? Here? Mave’s horse whickered and neighed as she drove her heels into its ribs forcing it at a gallop. The former peddlers nag was no warhorse but the animal’s atavistic fear of the trollocs was more than sufficient to give speed to its flight. Ali took the lead, guiding his horse downhill towards a water course that afforded at least some clearance from the encroaching trees. She focused on weaving casting bars of air at thigh level that tripped and confused the monsters.

“Can’t you call up fire or something?” Ali yelled as the raced down the loamy bank of the stream, branches catching at them as the went. Mave nodded her head though he couldn’t see the guesture.

“I could but the point is to be chased remember? We are trying to lure them away from your home,” she yelled.

“Ware ahead!” Ali shouted and she turned in time to see a half dozen trollocs leaping from concealment, apparently having been waiting in ambush. Two of them errupted into greasy flames of burning flesh as Mave took Ali’s advice. The others shied back and Ali brained one with a blow of his staff and broke the arm of a second. Hands grasped for Mave but she was moving to quickly and they were through the ambush and racing down the stream bed. The Mule, still tied to ALi’s horse was blowing hard trying to keep up.

After five minutes of galloping they slowed to a brick walk. There was no sign of the trollocs behind them, save for the slight stink of burning flesh which clung to them. Mave glanced around, completely lost and the horses rapidly approaching exhaustion. She lay her hand on top of her own steed and wove an intricate mesh of water and spirit. The beast perked up immediately as she washed away its fatigue, before repeating the process with the other animals.

“They can go on aways,” she said quietly.

“Though they have not truely rested, if we keep pushing them…. Well… Its a long walk to Illian.”
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They rode for another two hours, slowing every so often. Ali suggested they make a few detours and run off the trails, and after the first hour they completely headed southeast regardless of where the trail led. Ali knew the trodden footpath would end soon sooner or later, it was better to fool their pursuers now. Assuming they were pursuing them, or if it was just a random band of...things. He didn't even know what they were until Mave confirmed his worst fear. They were trollocs. Beasts from the blight that preyed on children.

"The Myrrdraal had to have scouts!" Mave called to Ali.

"Do you think they were simply patrolling and didn't know who we were?"

"We will need to hope." she replied, and they pressed further into the large cedars and oaks as the trees soon began to tower over them like mountains, and a low mist began to spread through the hilly region. As his fear of the Trollocs dissipated, Ali gained a new fear as they traveled further within and they slowed their horses. It had begun to be difficult to see where they rode if they kept up a swift pace, and once the excitement was done, they found themselves in the Forest of Shadows.

The Great Blackwood, some called it. A primeval, impenetrable forest that no one entered, save for crazed lunatics like those bloody hunters of the horn. It was said that there was vast treasures to be found in the deep of this dark, claustrophobic wood. But many came back empty handed, and those that didn't, didn't come back at all. "We'll need to travel east after tomorrow," Ali said, far too loudly for his liking. The forest held a weight to it, and though he knew great birds lived here, he imagined they were too high up to make much noise on the forest floor. Here would only be great beasts and large game, other than perhaps the occasional fox or raccoon.

"Why?" Mave asked as they cantered into a small clearing near a copse of tightly gathered trees, their roots so gnarled and interwoven, it was hard to tell which root was to which tree. This seemed as good of a spot as any to halt for the night. Dismounting, Ali took the bow and led his horse over to the tree to tie its reins. "Because south of here, between us and Ghealdan, is a river that is uncrossable. Or so the peddlers say when they visit. The water is too deep and rough."

He helped her tend to the mule, and they began to gather sticks up to make a fire. Luckily, they were in a small, enclosed space in the woods. Whatever was out there, be it more trollocs or other creatures, they would be hard to spot even with a fire. "Where are you going?" Mave asked him, As Ali strung his new bow.

"I'll grab us some dinner like I promised. A man has to keep his word." He replied simply.

Though it was true, it was a clear indication of the typical obdurate Two Rivers thinking. Single minded until the very end. Mave shook her head. "We have food. You shouldn't go out alone." she said.

"We need to keep our rations for later, and someone needs to watch the horses. I'll be back soon, I promise." He replied, and off he went into the treeline.
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As soon as Ali had gone Mave carefully began to lay wards around the camp, settling spider thin weaves of spirit and earth in a protective circle that would be difficult for Shadowspawn to cross. It wasn’t certain that the wards would hold and the assault of a fist of trollocs but it should make them difficult to find. Even the White Tower wasn’t certain of the full capabilities of Myrdraall but these wards had worked the other night at the farm.

She lit the fire with a flick of fire which set the kindling crackling. Mave wasn’t sure a fire was a good idea, there might be more than trollocs in the woods, but according to Ali and her map there were few if any settlements between here and the outskirts of Gheldan. She stared into the fire, enjoying the warmth as she pondered the situation. Crossing the wilderness was likely to take alot of time, time that her enemies, the Tower’s enemies would be using to try to decipher Velma’s research. But what could she do? Risk the ways again? She might end up even further from her goal. Perhaps the pattern had bought her here. If Ali really was a Tav’aern might it be fate that they had met?

Ali returned almost an hour later, slipping out of the forest with three dead rabbits strung from a stick by twine he must have been carrying. Each of the hares was dabbed with blood where the arrow had found its mark. If he was nervous from wandering a trolloc haunted forest he didn’t show it. He seemed like a tall and handsome hero out of legend. Well if heros out of legend had greenery stuffed through their belt.

“Wild onions,” Ali said as he lopped into the camp and noticed her looking. Mave nodded her head and covered her bush by pulling a pot from the saddlebags of the bedraggled mule. She had no skill at field craft or hunting but she should have imagined it was something like that.

“You didn’t see anything to worry about?” she asked quickly. Ali shook his head as he set the rabbits down on a rock. Their throat had already been cut and the blood drained. She carried the pot down to the stream that flowed between the mossy rocks and filled the pot half full with clear stream water before placing it on the fire to boil. Ali skinned the rabbits with practiced ease and in a few minutes they had rabbit and wild onions boiling in the pot.

“I’m afraid the more I think about it the more I think those trollocs were here to block just the kind of flight we tried,” she said as she settled back on a stone, eyes scanning the woods.

“That means they are here for you and not for me,” she went on turning the problem over in her mind.

“Until we figure our why, you wont be safe anywhere, trollocs might not attack a city but the Shadow has other agents that might find you.”

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Ali finished skinning the first coney, tearing the fur off with a few choice tugs and placing the small bit of meat it provided on the spit, and methodically he got to work on the next one. "You know, you still don't need to accompany me..." He began, following the logic that if he was pursued, then she was. She stopped him in a his tracks with a glare, and he held his hands up in defeat. "Sorry, sorry." he said.

"Wool headed oaf." she muttered.

He was silent after that, merely fixing dinner for them. She watched him as he worked, and he could tell she was simply watching his technique on how to prepare the dinner, should the need arise in the future. She was smart like that. He would have never imagined she might also simply be admiring his arms. Luckily, rabbits were quick to cook, and he handed the first one to her, placing another stick he had carved into a spit on the fire once more, turning his slowly as she nibbled on her dinner.

"It's a bit stringy, but good for you. Make sure you eat half of the other, even if you aren't hungry for it." he explained. "Coneys are so lean, if you don't eat an abundance of them, the energy it takes to digest them is more than they give you for eating them. Eat the onions too. You always need something else with a cooked coney."

She thanked him, and he took it warmly. Though there was an awkward pause between them for a moment, after they had realized they had both been staring. "So um..." he cleared his throat. "What...else might be after me? Us?" he asked. It was a simple question, but what with the one power not being a myth, nor fades or trollocs, he wanted to make sure the trees wouldn't see him as an adversary, or spirits floated about looking for his soul.

The idea made his skin crawl, or it would have if he hadn't already had goosebumps after having walked back into the clearing. He wondered if that was something she was doing with the one power, or something she simply could do to him by being herself. Probably both.
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