Crossroads of Twilight: Chapter 26
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Author: Ilissa al'Nari
Chapter Icon: Two Ravens
Setting: So Habor
Characters: Neald, Kireyin, Perrin, Berelain, Annoura, Gallenne, Masuri, Balwer, Seonid, Wynter, Alharra, Kirklin, Latian, Medore, Flann, Mycal Crossin, Rahema Arnon, Mistress Vadere
Perrin and company arrive in So Habor and find the situation there very odd. After they arrange the purchase of the grain they wanted they see dead people walking.
Perrin and his retinue arrive at So Habor through a gateway made by Neald, and the Asha'man and Kireyin catch up with Perrin just as he tops a rise and sees So Habor for the first time. He immediately understands why Masema never tried to force the townfolk to give over to the Lord Dragon; breaking into this town would, from the looks of it, require siege engines and patience.
He prepares to enter the town with the Asha'man as well as Berelain and the three Aes Sedai - Annoura, Seonid and Masuri - along with his "secretary" Balwer. They are followed by a hundred men, representing both Ghealdan and Mayene, to show the inhabitants of So Habor that these are no "wandering tricksters", while the Two Rivers men stay with the carts to keep up the cart drivers' spirits. Perrin thinks of it as an elaborate bit of nonsense, fluff and feathers, but he accepts it since he figures that Berelain, being the First of Mayene, and her Aes Sedai advisor should know better than a country boy on such matters.
At the closed gates, Gallenne introduces them, asking to see the lord of these lands, throwing in all the titles the gathering are entitled to as well as some more for Perrin. Once inside the town walls, Berelain demands information on where to find the lord or lady, and is told that the Lord Cowlin is away and that they should talk to the grain merchants at an inn called the Golden Barge. Perrin suggests that they go somewhere else, but Berelain replies that there is nowhere else, and that since they are here they might as well go forward. The others seem to take his assent to her words for granted, as they start entering the town through the gates and not in the neat array they approached the gates in.
The town of So Habor has cramped winding streets, and even those streets that are quite wide for a town the size of So Habor feel close; there are stone buildings that lean precariously and loom higher than their two or three stories should account for. The streets seem dim, too, and the people scurry around, heads down, not looking at anyone and not breaking the absolute silence.
Eventually they make their way to the Golden Barge, a prosperous-appearing inn from the outside, marred only by the fact that in spite of the morning sun the light seems shadowy. When they enter, however, the image of a prosperous inn is ruined more by the inattention to detail than to the interior of the place. The merchants in the icy room, six men and five women, are shocked and scared when Perrin and the others enter, but their tension eases somewhat when they learn that their visitors are there to trade.
The party has agreed in advance that Berelain should handle the bargaining, but Perrin notices that the traders are not very adamant about their bargaining for people touting their wares as the finest. He demands to see the grain in the warehouse, and Berelain quickly backs him up when the traders try to refuse. They take them there, and Perrin cuts open some of the sacks, discovering that there are nearly as many weevils as barleycorn in them. The traders agree to getting only half the price they had agreed on earlier and that they will be responsible for winnowing the sacks, but the negotiations for the price are broken off when a man, moments later discovered as being Kireyin, shrieks in terror outside. The reason for his terror is that he has seen a man go through the wall. Seonid confirms his story, saying that there are dead walking in So Habor and that the Lord Cowlin fled because of it, before asking Perrin to leave either her, Annoura or Masuri behind to do what can be done for the townfolk. Perrin refuses despite realizing that there is something more wrong in So Habor than spirits walking.