The Shadow Rising Page 114

“You did not like the song?” Natael said.

It took Mat a moment to realize the man was speaking to Rand, not him. Rand rubbed his hands together, peering into the small fire, before answering. “I'm not certain how wise it is, depending on an enemy's generosity. What do you think, Kadere?”

The peddler hesitated, glancing at the woman clinging to his arm. “I do not think of such things,” he said at last. “I think of profits, not battles.” Keille laughed coarsely. At least, until she saw Isendre's smile, condescending to a woman who could make three of her; then her dark eyes glittered dangerously behind those rolls of fat.

Suddenly warning cries rose in the dark beyond the tents. Aiel snatched veils across their faces, and a moment later Trollocs poured in out of the night, snouted faces and horned heads, towering over the humans, howling and swinging scythecurved swords, stabbing with hooked spears and barbed tridents, hacking with spiked axes. Myrddraal flowed with them, like deadly eyeless snakes. A heartbeat it took, but the Aiel fought as if they had had an hour's warning, meeting the charge with their own flickering spears.

Mat was vaguely aware of Rand with that fiery sword suddenly in hand, but then he was sucked into the maelstrom himself, wielding his spear as spear and quarterstaff both, slash and thrust, haft whirling. For once he was glad of those dream memories; the way of this weapon seemed familiar, and he needed every scrap of skill he could find. It was all chaotic madness.

Trollocs rose up in front of him and went down to his spear, or an Aiel spear, or spun away into the confusion of shouts and howls and clanging steel. Myrddraal faced him, black blades meeting his ravenmarked steel with flashes of blue light like sheet lightning, faced him and were gone in the tumult. Twice a short spear streaking by his head took Trollocs about to run him through the back. He thrust the shortsword blade into a Myrddraal's chest and knew he was going to die when it did not fall, but grinned with those bloodless lips, eyeless stare shivering fear into his bones, and drew back its black sword. An instant later the Halfman jerked as Aiel arrows pincushioned it, jerked for the moment Mat needed to leap back from the thing as it fell still trying to stab at him, stab at anything.

A dozen times the spear's ironhard black haft barely deflected a Trolloc thrust. It was Aes Sedai work, and he was glad of it. The silver foxhead on his chest seemed to pulse with cold as if to remind him that it, too, bore the mark of Aes Sedai. Right then, he did not care; if it took Aes Sedai work to keep him alive, he was ready to follow Moiraine like a puppy.

He could not have said if it went on for minutes or hours, but suddenly there was not a Myrddraal or Trolloc still standing in sight, though cries and howls from the darkness spoke of pursuit. Dead and dying littered the ground, Aiel and Shadowspawn, the Halfmen still thrashing. Groans filled the air with pain. Suddenly he realized his muscles felt like water, and his lungs were afire. Panting, he slid down to his knees, leaning on his spear. Flames made bonfires of three of the peddlers' canvastopped wagons, one with a driver pinned to the side by a Trolloc spear, and some of the tents were burning. Shouts from the direction of the Shaido camp, and glows too large for campfires, said they had been attacked, too.

Fiery sword still in hand, Rand came to where Mat knelt. “Are you all right?” Aviendha shadowed him. Somewhere she had found a spear and buckler, had tucked up a corner of her shawl to veil her face. Even in skirts she looked deadly.

“Oh, I am fine,” Mat muttered, struggling to his feet. “Nothing like a little dance with Trollocs to ready you for sleep. Right, Aviendha?” Uncovering her face, she gave him a tight smile. The woman had probably enjoyed it. He was sweat all over; he thought it might freeze on him.

Moiraine and Egwene had appeared with two of the Wise Ones, Amys and Bair, circulating among the wounded. The convulsion of Healing followed the Aes Sedai, though sometimes she merely shook her head and moved on.

Rhuarc strode up with a grim face.

“Bad news?” Rand said quietly.

The clan chief grunted. “Aside from Trollocs here where they should not be, not by two hundred leagues or more? Perhaps. Some fifty Trollocs attacked the Wise Ones' camp. Enough to overwhelm it, had it not been for Moiraine Sedai and luck. However, it seems the Shaido were hit by fewer than struck us, though since they are the larger camp the reverse should have been true. I might almost think they were attacked only to keep them from coming to our aid. Not that that would be certain, with Shaido, but Trollocs and Nightrunners might not know that.”

“And if they knew an Aes Sedai was with the Wise Ones,” Rand said, “that attack could have been meant to keep her away, too. I bring enemies with me, Rhuarc. Remember that. Wherever I am, my enemies are never far.”

Isendre poked her head out of the lead wagon. A moment later Kadere climbed down past her, and she ducked back inside, shutting the whitepainted door behind him. He stood looking around at the carnage, the light of his burning wagons painting rippling shadows across his face. The group around Mat held his attention most. The wagons seemed to interest him not at all. Natael got down from Keille's wagon, too, speaking up the stairs to her still inside, his eyes on Mat and the others.

“Fools,” Mat muttered, half to himself. “Hiding inside the wagons, as if that would make any difference to a Trolloc. They could all have roasted alive, easy as not.”

“They are still alive,” Rand said, and Mat realized he had seen them, too. “That is always important, Mat, who stays alive. It's like dice. You can't win if you can't play, and you can't play if you are dead. Who can say what game the peddlers play?” He laughed quietly, and the fiery sword vanished from his hands.

“I am going to get some sleep,” Mat said, already turning away. “Wake me if the Trollocs show up again. Or better, let them kill me in my blankets. I am too tired to wake up again.” Rand was definitely going over the edge. Maybe tonight would convince Keille and Kadere to turn back. If they did, he intended to be with them.

Rand let Moiraine look at him, muttering to herself, though he had taken no wound. With so many who had, she could not spare the strength to wash away his fatigue with the One Power.

“This was aimed at you,” she told him, surrounded by the moans of the injured. The Trollocs were being dragged away into the night, by packhorses and the peddlers' mules. The Aiel apparently intended to leave the Myrddraal where they lay until they stopped moving, to make sure they were really dead. The wind gusted up, like ice with no moisture in it.

“Was it?” he said. Her eyes glittered in the firelight before she turned back to the wounded.

Egwene came to him, too, but only to say in a low, fierce whisper, “Whatever you are doing to upset her, stop it!” The glance she shot past him at Aviendha left no doubt who she meant, and she went off to help Bair and Amys before he could say he had done nothing. She looked ridiculous with those two braids twined with ribbons. The Aiel seemed to think so, too; some of them grinned at her back.

Stumbling, shivering, he sought his tent. He had never been this tired before. The sword had almost not come. He hoped that was the tiredness. Sometimes there was nothing there when he reached for the Source, and sometimes the Power would not do what he wanted, but almost from the first the sword had come practically without thought. Now of all times... It had to be the tiredness.

Aviendha insisted on following him as far as the tent, and when he woke the next morning she was sitting outside crosslegged, though without the spear and buckler. Spy or not, he was glad to see her. At least he knew who and what she was, and what she felt for him.

Chapter 38

(Female Silhouettes)

Hidden Faces

The Garden of Silver Breezes was not a garden at all but a huge wineshop, much too large to be called a shop really, atop a hill centered on the Calpene, the westernmost of Tanchico's three peninsulas below the Great Circle. A part of the name, at least, came from the breezes that wafted in where polished greenstreaked marble columns and balustrades replaced one wall except on the topmost floor. Golden oiledsilk curtains could be lowered in case of rain. The hill fell away sharply on that side, and the tables along the balustrades gave a clear view, across white domes and spires, of the great harbor, crowded with more ships than ever. Tanchico needed everything, desperately, and there was gold to be made — until the gold and time ran out.

With its gilded lamps and ceilings inlaid with brass fretwork polished to a golden gleam, its serving women and men chosen for grace and beauty and discretion, the Garden of the Silver Breezes had been the most expensive wineshop in the city even before the troubles. Now it was outrageous. But those who dealt in huge sums still came, those who dealt in power and influence, or thought they did. In some ways there was less to deal in than before; in others, more.

Low walls surrounded each table making islands dotted across the green and golden floor tiles. Each wall, pierced with lacy carving so no eavesdropper could listen unseen, stood just high enough to hide who met whom from the casual glances of passersby. Even so, patrons usually went masked, especially of late, and some had a bodyguard beside their table, also masked to avoid recognition if the patron was prudent. And tongueless, rumor said, for the most prudent. No guard was visibly armed; the proprietress of the Garden of Silver Breezes, a sleek woman of indeterminate age named Selindrin, allowed no weapons past the street now. Her rule was not broken, at least openly.

From her usual table against the balustrade, Egeanin watched the ships in the harbor, especially those under sail. They made her want to be back on a deck giving orders. She had never expected duty to bring her to this.

Unconsciously she adjusted the velvet mask that hid the upper half of her face; she felt ridiculous wearing the thing, but it was necessary to blend in to some extent. The mask — blue to match her highnecked silk gown — the gown itself, and her dark hair, grown down to her shoulders now, were as far as she could make herself go. Passing for a Taraboner was unnecessary — Tanchico bulged with refugees, a good many of them foreigners swept up in the troubles — and it was beyond her in any case. These people were animals; they had no discipline, no order.

Regretfully, she turned from the harbor to her table companion, a narrowfaced fellow with a weasel's greedy smile. Floran Gelb's frayed collar did not belong in the Garden of Silver Breezes, and he continually wiped his hands on his coat. She always met them here, the greasy little men she was forced to deal with. It was a reward for them, and a means of keeping them off balance.

“What do you have for me, Master Gelb?”

Wiping his hands again, he lifted a coarse jute bag onto the table and watched her anxiously. She held the bag down beside her before opening it. A silvery metal a'dam lay inside, a collar and bracelet connected by a leash cunningly worked and joined. She closed the bag and set it on the floor. This made three that Gelb had recovered, more than anyone else.

“Very good, Master Gelb.” A small purse went across the table the other way; Gelb made it disappear under his coat as if it held the Empress's crown instead of a handful of silver. “And do you

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