The Shadow Rising Page 167

The cloudless sky still stretched gray overhead, though first light had crept on before they set out; the streets were still largely empty, and silent except for the rumble of the cart and the creak of its axle. When the sun topped the horizon people would begin to venture out, but now the few she saw were knots of men in baggy trousers and dark cylindrical caps, scuttling along with the furtive air of having been up to no good while dark had held. The old piece of canvas tossed over the cart's load was carefully arranged so anyone could see it covered only three large baskets, yet even so one or another of those small clusters would pause like a pack of dogs, veiled faces all coming up together, eyes swiveling to follow the cart. Apparently twenty men with boarding swords and cudgels were too many to face, because all eventually hurried on.

The wheels dropped into a large hole where paving stones had been pried up in one of the riots; the cart fell away beneath her. She almost bit her tongue as she and the cart bed met again with a hard smack. Egeanin and her casual armfolding! Grabbing the edge of the cart bed, she frowned at the Seanchan woman. And found her tightlipped and holding on with both hands also.

“Not quite the same as standing on deck after all,” Egeanin said with a shrug.

Nynaeve grimaced slightly and tried to edge away from the Seanchan woman, though how she might manage it without climbing into Elayne's lap was difficult to see. “I am going to speak to Master Bayle Domon,” she muttered meaningfully, just as if the cart had not been her suggestion in the first place. Another lurch clicked her teeth shut.

They all three wore drab brown wool, thinwoven but coarse and not very clean, poor farm women's dresses like shapeless sacks compared with the clinging silks of Rendra's taste. Refugees from the countryside earning a meal as they could; that was what they were supposed to be. Egeanin's relief at her first sight of the dresses had been quite evident, and almost as strange as her presence on the cart. Elayne would not have thought the latter conceivable.

There had been quite a lot of discussion — that was what the men called it — in the Chamber of Falling Blossoms, but she and Nynaeve had countered most of their fool objections and ignored the rest. The two of them had to enter the Panarch's Palace, and as soon as possible. That was when Domon had raised another objection, one not as silly as the rest.

“You can no go into the palace alone,” the bearded smuggler muttered, staring at his fists on the table. “You say you will no channel unless you must, no to warn these Black Aes Sedai.” Neither of them had seen any need to mention one of the Forsaken. “Then you must have muscle to swing a club if the need do arise, and eyes to watch your backs will no be amiss either. I am known there, to the servants. I did take gifts to the old Panarch too. I will go with you.” Shaking his head, he growled, “You do make me stretch my neck on the headsman's block because I did leave you at Falme. Fortune prick me if you do no! Well, it do be done now; you can no object to this! I will go in with you.”

“You are a fool, Illianer,” Juilin said contemptuously before she or Nynaeve could open their mouths. “You think the Taraboners will allow you to wander about the palace as you wish? A scruffy smuggler from Illian? I know the ways of servants, how to duck my head and make some emptyheaded noble think...” He cleared his throat hastily, and hurried on without looking at Nynaeve — or at her! “I should be the one to go with them.”

Thom laughed at the other two men. “Do you think either of you could pass for a Taraboner? I can; these will do in a pinch.” He knuckled his long mustaches. “Besides, you cannot run around the Panarch's Palace carrying cudgel or staff. A more... subtle... method of protection is needed.” He flourished a hand, and a knife suddenly appeared, spinning through his fingers to vanish just as quickly; up his sleeve, Elayne believed.

“You all know what you have to do,” Nynaeve snapped, “and you cannot do it trying to watch over us like a pair of geese for market!” Taking a deep breath, she went on, in a milder tone. “If there was a way one of you could come along, I'd appreciate the extra eyes if nothing else, but it cannot be. We have to go alone, it seems, and that is all there is to it.”

“I can accompany you,” Egeanin announced suddenly from where Nynaeve had made her stand in the corner of the room. Everybody turned to look at her; she frowned back as though not quite certain herself. “These women are Darkfriends. They should be brought to justice.”

Elayne was simply startled at the offer, but Nynaeve, the corners of her mouth going white, looked ready to drub the woman for it. “You think we would trust you, Seanchan?” she said coldly. “Before we leave, you'll be locked securely in a storeroom however much talk it —”

“I give oath by my hope of a higher name,” Egeanin broke in, putting her hands over her heart, one atop the other, “that I will not betray you in any way, that I will obey you and guard your backs until you are safely out of the Panarch's Palace.” Then she bowed three times, deeply and formally. Elayne had no idea what “hope of a higher name” meant, but the Seanchan woman certainly made it sound binding.

“She can do it,” Domon said with slow reluctance. He eyed Egeanin and shook his head. “Fortune prick me if there be more than two or three of my men I would wager on, coin for coin, against her.”

Nynaeve frowned at her hand gripping half a dozen of her long braids, then quite deliberately gave them a yank.

“Nynaeve,” Elayne told her firmly, “you yourself said you would like another pair of eyes, and I definitely would. Besides which, if we are to do this without channeling, I would not mind having someone along who can handle a nosy guard if need be. I am not up to thumping men with my fists, and neither are you. You remember how she can fight.”

Nynaeve glared at Egeanin, frowned at Elayne, and then stared at the men as if they had plotted this behind her back. At last, though, she nodded.

“Good,” Elayne said. “Master Domon, that means three sets of dresses, not two. Now, the three of you had best be off. We want to be on our way by daybreak.”

The cart jerking to a halt brought Elayne out of her reverie.

Dismounted Whiteeloaks were questioning Domon. Here the street ran into a square behind the Panarch's Palace, a much smaller square than the one in front. Beyond, the palace stood in piles of white marble, slender towers banded with lacy stonework, snowy domes capped with gold and topped by golden spires or weather vanes. The streets to either side were much wider than most in Tanchico, and straighter.

The slow clopclop of a horse's hooves on the square's broad paving stones announced another rider, a tall man in burnished helmet, armor gleaming beneath his white cloak with its golden sunburst and crimson shepherd's crook. Elayne put her head down; the four knots of rank under the flaring sun told her this was Jaichim Carridin. The man had never seen her, but if he thought she was staring he might wonder why. The hooves passed on along the square without pausing.

Egeanin had her face right down, too, but Nynaeve frowned openly after the Inquisitor. “That man is very worried about something,” she murmured. “I hope he's not heard —”

“The Panarch is dead!” a man's voice shouted from somewhere across the square. “They've killed her!”

There was no telling who had shouted, or where. The streets Elayne could see were blocked by Whitecloaks on horses.

Looking back down the street the cart had just climbed, she wished the guards would question Domon more quickly. People were gathering down at the first bend, milling about and peering up toward the square. It seemed Thom and Juilin had made a good job of seeding their rumors during the night. Now if only things did not erupt while they sat out here in the middle of it. If a riot started now... The only thing that kept her hands from shaking was her double grip on the cart bed. Light, a mob out here and the Black Ajah inside, maybe Moghedien... I'm so frightened my mouth is dry. Nynaeve and Egeanin were watching the crowd growing down the street, too, and not even blinking, much less trembling. I will not be a coward. I will not!

The cart rumbled forward, and she heaved a sigh of relief. It took her a moment to realize she had heard twin echoes from the other two women.

Before gates not much wider than the cart Domon was questioned again, by men in pointed helmets, their breastplates embossed with a tree painted gold. Soldiers of the Panarch's Legion. The questions were shorter this time; Elayne thought she saw a small purse change hands, and then they were inside, rumbling across the roughpaved yard outside the kitchens. Except for Domon, the sailors remained out with the soldiers.

Elayne hopped down as soon as the cart halted, working her bare feet on the paving; the uneven stones were hard. It was difficult to believe the thin sole of a slipper could make so much difference. Egeanin scrambled up into the cart to pass the baskets out, Nynaeve taking the first on her back, one hand twisted behind her underneath, the other over her shoulder to grip the rim. Long white peppers, a little wizened by their journey all the way from Saldaea, filled the baskets nearly to the top.

As Elayne was taking hers, Domon came to the end of the cart and pretended to inspect the ice peppers. “The Whitecloaks and the Panarch's Legion do be close to blows, it do appear,” he murmured, fingering peppers. “That lieutenant did say the Legion could protect the Panarch themselves if most of the Legion had no been sent to the ring forts. Jaichim Carridin do have access to the Panarch, but no the Lord Captain of the Legion. And they are no pleased that all the guards inside do be Civil Watch. A suspicious man might say someone do want the Panarch's guards to watch each other more than anything else.”

“That is good to know,” Nynaeve murmured without looking at him. “I've always said you can learn useful things listening to men's gossip.”

Domon grunted sourly. “I will take you inside; then I must go back to my men to make sure they do no get caught up in the mob.” Every sailor from every ship Domon had in port was out in the streets around the palace.

Hefting her own basket on her back, Elayne followed the other two women behind him, keeping her head down and wincing at every step until she was on the reddishbrown tiles of the kitchen. The smells of spices and cooking meat and sauces filled the room.

“Ice peppers for the Panarch,” Domon announced. “A gift from Bayle Domon, a good shipowner of this city.”

“More of the ice peppers?” a stout, darkbraided woman in a white apron and the everpresent veil said, barely looking up from a silver tray where she was arranging an ornately folded white napkin among dishes of thin, golden Sea Folk porcelain. There were a dozen or more aproned women in the kitchen, as well as a pair of boys turning dripping roasts on spits in two of the six fireplaces, but clearly she was the chief cook. “Well, the Panarch, she seems to have enjoyed the last. Into the storeroom there.” She gestured vaguely toward one of the doors on the far side of the room. “I have no time to b

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