The Shadow Rising Page 139

The crowd scattered back, no one wanting to be caught up in someone else's trouble. Certainly no one offered to help. And they needed it, Elayne realized. The man Nynaeve had hit was still on his feet, mouth twisted in a snarl, licking away the blood that ran down from his nose, flexing thick hands as if he wanted to squeeze a throat. Worse, he was not alone. Seven more men were fanning out with him to cut off any escape, all but one as large as he, with scarred faces and hands that looked as if they had been hammered on stone for years. A scrawny, narrowcheeked fellow, grinning like a nervous fox, kept panting, “Don't let her get away. She's gold, I tell you. Gold!”

They knew who she was. This was no try for a purse; they meant to dispose of Nynaeve and abduct the DaughterHeir of Andor. She felt Nynaeve embracing saidar — if this had not made her angry enough to channel, nothing ever would — and opened herself to the True Source as well. The One Power rushed into her, a sweet flood filling her from toes to hair. A few woven flows of Air from either of them could deal with these ruffians.

But she did not channel, and neither did Nynaeve. Together they could drub these fellows as their mothers should have. Yet they did not dare, unless there was no other choice.

If one of the Black Ajah was close enough to see, they had already betrayed themselves with the glow of saidar. Channeling enough for those few flows of Air could betray them to a Black sister on another street a hundred paces or more away, depending on her strength and sensitivity. That was most of what they themselves had been doing the last five days, walking through the city trying to sense a woman channeling, hoping the feeling would draw them to Liandrin and the others.

The crowd itself had to be considered, too. A few people still went by to either side, brushing tight against the walls. The rest milled about, beginning to find other ways to go. Only a handful acknowledged the two women in danger with as much as shamefully averted eyes. But if they saw big men flung about by nothing visible...?

Aes Sedai and the One Power itself were not in particularly good odor in Tanchico at the moment, not with old rumors from Falme still floating about and newer tales claiming that the White Tower supported the Dragonsworn in the countryside. Those people might run if they saw the Power wielded. Or they might turn into a mob. Even if she and Nynaeve managed to avoid being torn limb from limb where they stood — which she was not certain they could — there was no way to cover it up after. The Black Ajah would hear of Aes Sedai in Tanchico before the sun set.

Setting herself backtoback with Nynaeve, Elayne gripped her stave tightly. She felt like laughing hysterically. If Nynaeve even mentioned going out alone again — walking — she would see who liked having her head dunked in a bucket of water. At least none of these louts looked eager to be the first to have his head cracked like the fellow lying still on the paving stones.

“Go on,” the narrowfaced man urged, waving his hands forward. “Go on! It's only two women!” He made no move to rush in himself, though. “Go on, I say. We just need the one. She's gold, I tell you.”

Suddenly there was a loud thunk, and one of the ruffians staggered to his knees, clutching groggily at a split scalp, and a darkhaired, sternfaced woman in a blue riding dress flung herself past him, twisted sharply to backhand another fellow in the mouth with her fist, knocked his legs out from under him with a staff, then kicked him in the head as he fell.

That there was help at all was startling, much less the source, but Elayne was of no mind to pick and choose. Nynaeve left her back with a wordless roar, and she dashed out shouting, “Forward the White Lion!” to belabor the nearest lout as hard and fast as she could. Flinging his arms up to defend himself, he looked shocked out of his wits. “Forward the White Lion!” she shouted again, the battle cry of Andor, and he turned tail and ran.

Laughing in spite of herself, she whirled about seeking another to drub. Only two had not yet fled or fallen. That first brokennosed fellow turned to run, and Nynaeve gave him a final fullarmed thwack across the backside. The sternfaced woman somehow tangled the other's arm and shoulder with her staff, pulling him close and up on his toes at the same time; he would have overtopped her by a head flatfooted and he weighed twice what she did, but she coolly slammed the heel of her free hand up into his chin three times in rapid succession. His eyes rolled up in his head, but as he sagged, Elayne saw the narrowfaced man picking himself up off the street; his nose dripped blood and his eyes looked halfglazed, yet he pulled a knife from his belt and lunged at the woman's back.

Without thinking, Elayne channeled. A fist of Air hurled the man and his knife into a backflip. The sternfaced woman spun, but he was already scrambling away on all fours until he could get his feet under him and burrow into the crowd farther up the street. People had stopped to watch the odd battle, though none had raised a hand to help except the darkhaired woman. She herself was staring from Elayne to Nynaeve uncertainly. Elayne wondered whether she had noticed the scrawny fellow being knocked down apparently by nothing.

“I give you my thanks,” Nynaeve said a touch breathlessly as she approached the woman, straightening her veil. “I think we should leave here. I know the Civil Watch doesn't come out in the streets much, but I'd not like to explain this if they do happen by. Our inn is not far. Will you join us? A cup of tea is the least we can offer someone who actually lifts a hand to help someone in this Lightforsaken city. My name is Nynaeve al'Meara and this is Elayne Trakand.”

The woman hesitated visibly. She had noticed. “I... I would... like that. Yes. I would.” She had a slurred way of speaking, difficult to understand, but somehow vaguely familiar. She was quite a lovely woman, really, seeming even fairer than she was because of her dark hair, worn almost to the shoulder. A bit too hard to be called a beauty. Her blue eyes had a strong look, as if she were used to giving orders. A merchant, perhaps, in that dress. “I am called Egeanin.”

Egeanin showed no hesitation in leaving with them down the nearest side street. The crowds were already gathering around the fallen men. Elayne expected those fellows would wake to find themselves stripped of anything of value, even clothes and boots. She wished she knew how they had discovered her identity, but there was no way to bring one along to find out. They were definitely going to have bodyguards from now on, no matter what Nynaeve said.

Egeanin might not have been hesitant, but she was uneasy. Elayne could see it in her eyes as they wove through the crowd. “You saw, didn't you?” she asked. The woman missed a step, all the confirmation Elayne needed, and she added hurriedly, “We won't harm you. Certainly not after you came to our rescue.” Again she had to spit out her veil. Nynaeve did not seem to have that problem. “You needn't frown at me, Nynaeve. She saw what I did.”

“I know that,” Nynaeve said dryly. “And it was the right thing to do. But we are not snug in your mother's palace tucked away from prying ears.” Her gesture took in the people around them. Between Egeanin's staff and their staves, most were giving them a wide berth. To Egeanin she said, “The larger part of any rumors you may have heard are not true. Few of them are. You need not be afraid of us, but you can understand there are matters we do not care to speak of here.”

“Afraid of you?” Egeanin looked startled. “I had not thought I should be. I will keep silent until you wish to speak.” She was as good as her word; they walked on in silence through the murmurs of the crowd all the way back down the peninsula to the Three Plum Court. All this walking was making Elayne's feet ache.

A handful of men and women sat in the common room despite the early hour, nursing their wine or ale. The woman with her hammered dulcimer was being accompanied by a thin man playing a flute that sounded as reedy as he was. Juilin sat at a table near the door, smoking a shortstemmed pipe. He had not returned from his nightly foray when they left. Elayne was glad to see that for once he did not have a new bruise or cut; what he called the underside of Tanchico seemed even rougher than the face the city presented to the world. His one concession to Tanchican dress had been to replace his flat straw hat with one of those dark conical felt caps, which he wore perched on the back of his head.

“I have found them,” he said, popping up from his bench and snatching off his cap, before he saw they were not alone. He gave Egeanin a hooded look and a small bow; she returned it with an inclination of her head and a look just as guarded.

“You've found them?” Nynaeve exclaimed. “Are you sure? Speak, man. Have you swallowed your tongue?” And her with her warnings about talking in front of other people.

“I should have said I found where they were.” He did not look at Egeanin again, but he chose his words carefully. “The woman with the white stripe in her hair led me to a house where she was staying with a number of other women, though few were ever seen outside. The locals thought they were rich escapees from the countryside. Little remains now save a few scraps of food in the pantry — even the servants are gone — but from one thing and another I would say they left late yesterday or early last night. I doubt they have any fear of the night in Tanchico.”

Nynaeve had a fistful of her narrow braids in a whiteknuckled grip. “You went inside?” she said in a very level voice. Elayne thought she was an inch from raising the stave dangling at her side.

Juilin seemed to think so, too. Eyeing the stave, he said, “You know very well I take no risks with them. An empty house has a look about it, a feel, no matter how big. You cannot chase thieves as long as I have without learning to see as they do.”

“And if you had triggered a trap?” Nynaeve almost hissed the words. “Does your grand talent for feeling things extend to traps?” Juilin's dark face went a little gray; he wet his lips as if to explain or defend himself, but she cut him off. “We will talk of this later, Master Sandar.” Her eyes shifted slightly toward Egeanin; finally she had remembered there were other ears there to hear. “Tell Rendra we will take tea in the Falling Blossoms Room.”

“Chamber of Falling Blossoms,” Elayne corrected softly, and Nynaeve shot her a look. Juilin's news had left the older woman in a bad humor.

He bowed deeply with his hands spread. “As you command, Mistress al'Meara, so I obey from the heart,” he said wryly, then stuck his dark cap back on top of his head and stalked off, his back eloquently indignant. It must be uncomfortable to find yourself taking orders from someone with whom you had once tried to flirt.

“Fool man!” Nynaeve growled. “We should have left both of them on the dock in Tear.”

“He is your servant?” Egeanin said slowly.

“Yes,” Nynaeve snapped, just as Elayne said, “No.”

They looked at each other, Nynaeve still frowning.

“Perhaps he is, in a way,” Elayne sighed, right on top of Nynaeve's muttered, “I suppose he is not, at that.”

“I..

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