The Shadow Rising Page 151

Amys studied him, those clear blue eyes as sharp as an Aes Sedai's. But then, she could channel; her face merely looked younger than it should, not ageless, but maybe she was as much Aes Sedai as an Aes Sedai. “That sounds a fine arrangement to me,” she said. Aviendha opened her mouth, all bristling indignation — and closed it again, sullenly, when the Wise One shifted that stare to her. Perhaps the woman had thought her time with him was done, now they had reached Cold Rocks.

“You must be tired after your journey,” Lian said to Rand, her gray eyes motherly, “and hungry as well. Come.” Her warm smile included Mat, who was hanging back and beginning to look to the peddlers' wagons. “Come beneath my roof.”

Fetching his saddlebags, Rand left Jeade'en to the care of a gai'shain woman, who took Pips as well. Mat gave the wagons a final stare before tossing his saddlebags over his shoulder and following.

Lian's roof, her house, sat on the highest level on the west side, with the steep canyon wall rising a good hundred paces above. Dwelling of the clan chief and roofmistress or no, from the outside it appeared to be a modest rectangle of large yellowclay bricks with narrow, glassless windows covered by plain white curtains, a vegetable garden on its flat roof and another in front on a small terrace separated from the house by a narrow path paved with flat gray stones. Big enough for two rooms, maybe. Except perhaps for the square bronze gong hanging beside the door, it looked much like the other structures Rand could see, and from that vantage point the entire length of the valley was laid out below him. A small, simple house. Inside, it was something else.

The brick part was one large room, floored with reddish brown tiles, but it was only part. Carved into the stone behind were more rooms, highceilinged and surprisingly cool, with wide, arched doorways and silver lamps giving off a scent that hinted of green places. Rand saw only one chair, tallbacked and lacquered red and gold, with a look of not much use; the chief's chair, Aviendha called it. There was little more wood to be seen, beyond a few polished or lacquered boxes and chests, and low reading stands holding open books; the reader would need to lie on the floor. Intricately woven carpets covered the floors, and bright rugs in layers; he recognized some patterns from Tear and Cairhien and Andor, even Illian and Tarabon, while other designs were unfamiliar, broad jagged stripes and no two colors alike, or linked hollow squares in grays and browns and blacks. In sharp contrast to the harsh sameness outside this valley, there was vivid color everywhere, wall hangings he was sure had come from the other side of the Spine of the World — perhaps in the same way wall hangings had left the Stone of Tear — and cushions of all sizes and hues, often tasseled or fringed or both in silk of red or gold. Here and there, in niches carved into the walls, stood a thin porcelain vase or a silver bowl or an ivory carving, often of some strange animal or other. So these were the “caves” the Tairens spoke of. It could have had the garishness of Tear — or the Tinkers — but instead it seemed dignified, formal and informal at the same time.

With a small grin for Aviendha to show her he had listened, Rand pulled a guest gift for Lian from his saddlebags, a finely worked golden lion. It had been looted from Tear and bought from a Jindo Water Seeker, but if he was ruler of Tear, maybe it was like stealing from himself. After a moment of hesitation, Mat produced a gift, too, a Tairen necklace of silver flowers, no doubt from the same source originally, and no doubt intended for Isendre.

“Exquisite,” Lian smiled, holding up the lion. “I have always had a taste for Tairen craftwork. Rhuarc brought me two pieces many years ago.” In a voice suitable for a goodwife reminiscing over some particularly fine sugarberries, she said to her husband, “You took them from the tent of a High Lord just before Laman was beheaded, did you not? A pity you did not reach Andor. I have always wanted a piece of Andoran silver. This necklace is beautiful, too, Mat Cauthon.”

Listening to her heap praise on both gifts, Rand masked his shock. For all her skirts and motherly eyes, she was as Aiel as any Maiden of the Spear.

By the time Lian finished, Moiraine and the other Wise Ones arrived with Lan and Egwene. The Warder's sword drew a single disapproving glance, but the roofmistress welcomed him warmly after Bair called him Aan'allein. Yet that was nothing to her greeting for Egwene and Moiraine.

“You honor my roof, Aes Sedai.” The roof mistress's tone made it sound an understatement; she came very close to bowing to them. “It is said that we served Aes Sedai before the Breaking of the World and failed them, and for that failure were sent here to the Threefold Land. Your presence says that perhaps our sin was not beyond forgiving.” Of course. She had not been to Rhuidean; apparently the prohibition against speaking of what happened in Rhuidean with anyone who had not been there applied even between husband and wife. And between sisterwives, or whatever the relationship was between Amys and Lian.

Moiraine tried to give Lian a guest gift, too, tiny crystalandsilver flasks of scent all the way from Arad Doman, but Lian spread her hands. “Your very presence is guest gift beyond value, Aes Sedai. To accept more would dishonor my roof, and me. I could not bear the shame.” She sounded entirely serious, and troubled that Moiraine might press the scent on her. It was an indication of the relative importance of the Car'a'carn and an Aes Sedai.

“As you wish,” Moiraine said, returning the flasks to her belt pouch. She was icily serene in blue silk, her pale cloak thrown back. “Your Threefold Land will surely see more Aes Sedai. We have never had reason to come, before.”

Amys did not look best pleased over that at all, and flamehaired Melaine stared at Moiraine like a greeneyed cat wondering if she should do something about a large dog that had wandered into her barnyard. Bair and Seana exchanged troubled glances, but nothing like the two who could channel.

A flurry of gai'shain — men and women alike graceful in cowled white robes, their downcast eyes seeming so strangely submissive in Aiel faces — took Moiraine and Egwene's cloaks, brought damp towels for hands and faces, and tiny silver cups of water to be drunk formally, and finally a meal, served with silver bowls and trays fit for a palace yet eaten from pottery with a bluestriped glaze. Everyone ate lying on the floor, where white tiles had been set into the stone for a table, heads together, cushions under their chests, radiating out like spokes in a wheel while gai'shain slipped between to place dishes.

Mat struggled, shifting this way and that on his cushions, but Lan lounged as if he had always eaten that way, and Moiraine and Egwene looked almost as comfortable. No doubt they had had practice in the Wise Ones' tents. Rand found it awkward, yet the food itself was peculiar enough to take most of his attention.

A dark, spicy stew of goat with chopped peppers was unfamiliar but hardly strange, and peas were peas anywhere, or squash. The same could not be said of the crumbly, coarse yellow bread, or long, bright red beans mixed in with the green, or a dish of bright yellow kernels and bits of pulpy red that Aviendha called zemai and t'mat, or a sweet, bulbous fruit with a tough greenish skin she said came from one of those leafless, spiny plants called kardon. It was all tasty, though.

He might have enjoyed the meal more if she had not lectured him on everything. Not sisterwives. That was left to Amys and Lian, lying on either side of Rhuarc and smiling at each other almost as much as at their husband. If they had both married him so as not to break up their friendship, it was plain they both loved him. Rand could not see Elayne and Min agreeing to such an agreement; he wondered why he had even thought of it. The sun must have cooked his brains.

But if Aviendha left that one explanation to others, she explained everything else in toothgrinding detail. Maybe she thought him an idiot for not knowing about sisterwives. Turned on her right side to face him, she smiled almost sweetly as she told him the spoon could be used for eating the stew or the zemai and t'mat, but her eyes shone with a light that said it was the Wise Ones being there that kept her from hurling a bowl of something at his head.

“I do not know what I've done to you,” he said quietly. He was very conscious of Melaine on his other side, seeming engrossed in her own low conversation with Seana. Bair put in a word now and then, but he thought she was bending an ear his way, too. “But if you hate being my teacher so much, you do not have to be. It just popped out. I'm sure Rhuarc or the Wise Ones will find someone else.” The Wise Ones certainly would, if he rid himself of this spy.

“You have done nothing to me...” She bared teeth at him; if it was meant to be a smile, it fell considerably short. “. . . and you never will. You may lie however is most comfortable for eating, and talk to those around you. Except for those of us who must instruct instead of sharing the meal, of course. It is considered polite to talk with those on both sides.” From behind her, Mat looked at Rand and rolled his eyes, clearly relieved to be spared that. “Unless you are forced to face one in particular, as to teach him. Take food with your right hand — unless you must lean on that elbow — and...”

It was torture, and she seemed to enjoy it. The Aiel seemed to set great store by the giving of gifts. Maybe if he gave her a gift...

“...all talk for a time when the meal is done, unless one of us must teach instead, and...”

A bribe. It did not seem fair to have to bribe someone who was spying on him, but if she meant to go on even half like this, it would be worth it for a little peace.

When the meal was cleared away by gai'shain, and silver cups of dark wine brought, Bair fixed Aviendha with a grim eye across the white tiles, and she subsided sulkily. Egwene knelt up to reach over Mat and pat her, but it did not appear to help. At least she was quiet. Egwene gave him a tight look; either she knew what he was thinking or she considered Aviendha's sulks his fault.

Rhuarc dug out his shortstemmed pipe and tabac pouch, thumbing the bowl full then passing the leather pouch to Mat, who had produced his own silvermounted pipe. “Some have taken news of you to heart, Rand al'Thor, and quickly it seems. Lian tells me word has come that Jheran, who is clan chief of the Shaarad Aiel, and Bael, of the Goshien, have already reached Alcair Dal. Erim, of the Chareen, is on his way.” He allowed a slender young gai'shain woman to light his pipe with a burning twig. From the way she moved, with a different sort of grace than the other whiterobed men and women, Rand suspected she had been a Maiden of the Spear not too long ago. He wondered how long she had to continue in her year and a day of service, meek and humble.

Mat grinned at the woman as she knelt to light his pipe; the greeneyed stare she gave him from the depths of her cowl was not meek at all, and wiped the grin right off his face. Irritably, he rolled onto his belly, a thin blue streamer rising from his pipe. It was too bad he did not see the satisfaction on her face, or see it wiped away in a blush by one glance from Amys; the greeneyed young woman scurried away looking shamed beyond belief. And Aviendha, who so hated having had to give up the spear, who still saw herself as spearsister to a Maiden of whatever clan...? She frowned at the departing gai'shain as Mistress al'Vere would have glared at someone who had spit on the floor. A strange people. Egwene was the only one Rand saw with any sy

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