The Shadow Rising Page 168

Elayne kept her eyes on the floor as she trailed after Nynaeve and Egeanin, sweating, and not for the heat of the iron stoves and fireplaces. A skinny woman in green silk not of Tarabon cut stood beside one of the wide tables, scratching the ears of a scrawny gray cat as it lapped cream from a porcelain dish. The cat named her, as well as her narrow face and wide nose. Marillin Gemalphin, once of the Brown Ajah, now of the Black. If she looked up from that cat, if she really became aware of them, there would be no need for channeling for her to know that two of them could; this close the woman would be able to sense the ability itself.

Sweat dripped from the end of Elayne's nose by the time she pushed the storeroom door shut behind her with a hip. “Did you see her?” she demanded in a low voice, letting her basket halffall to the floor. Fretwork carved through the plastered wall just under the ceiling let in dim light from the kitchen. Rows of tall shelves filled the floor of the large room, laden with sacks and net bags of vegetables and large jars of spice. Barrels and casks stood everywhere, and a dozen dressed lambs and twice as many geese hung on hooks. According to the sketchy floorplan Domon and Thom had drawn between them, this was the smallest storeroom for food in the palace. “This is disgusting,” she said. “I know Rendra keeps a full kitchen, but at least she buys what she needs as she can. These people have been feasting while —”

“Hold your concern until you can do something about it,” Nynaeve told her in a sharp whisper. She had upended her basket on the floor and was stripping off her rough farm woman's dress. Egeanin was already down to her shift. “I did see her. If you want her to come in here to see what the noise is about, keep talking.”

Elayne sniffed, but let it pass. She had not been making that much noise. Pulling off her own dress, she dumped the peppers out of her basket, and what had been hidden under them as well. Among other things, a dress of white belted in green, finespun wool embroidered above the left breast with a green tree of spreading branches atop the outline of a trefoil leaf. Her grimy veil was replaced by a clean one, of linen scraped nearly as sheer as silk. White slippers with padded soles were welcome on feet bruised by that walk from cart to kitchen.

The Seanchan woman had been the first out of her old clothes, but she was the last into her white garment, muttering all the while about “indecent” and “serving girl,” which made no sense. The dresses were servants' dresses; the whole point was that servants could go anywhere and a palace had too many for anyone to notice three more. And as for indecent... Elayne could remember being a touch hesitant about wearing the Tarabon style in public, but she had become used to it soon enough, and even this thin wool could not cling as silk did. Egeanin seemed to have very strict ideas of modesty.

Eventually, though, the woman had done up her last lace, and the farm clothes had been stuffed into the baskets and covered with ice peppers.

Marillin Gemalphin was gone from the kitchen, though the raggedyeared gray cat still lapped cream on the table. Elayne and the other two started for the door that led deeper into the palace.

One of the undercooks was frowning at the cat, fist on her ample hips. “I would like to strangle this cat,” she muttered, pale brown braids swinging as she shook her head angrily. “It eats the cream, and because I put the drop of cream on the berries for my breakfast, I have the bread and water for my meals!”

“Count yourself lucky you are not out in the street, or swinging from the gallows.” The chief cook did not sound sympathetic. “If a lady says you have stolen, then you have stolen, even if it is the cream for her cats, yes? You, there!”

Elayne and her companions froze at the shout.

The darkbraided woman shook a long wooden spoon at them. “You come into my kitchen and stroll about as in the garden, you lazy sows you? You have come for the breakfast of the Lady Ispan, yes? If you do not have it there when she wakes, you will learn how to jump. Well?” She gestured at the silver tray she had been laboring over before, covered now with a snowy linen cloth.

There was no way to speak; if any one of them opened her mouth, her first words would show her no Taraboner. Thinking quickly, Elayne bobbed a servant's curtsy and picked up the tray; a servant carrying something was going about her work and not likely to be stopped or told to do something else. Lady Ispan? Not an uncommon name in Tarabon, but there was an Ispan on the list of Black sisters.

“So you mock me, do you, you little cow you?” the stout woman roared, and started around the table waving her thick wooden spoon threateningly.

There was nothing to do without giving herself away; nothing but stay and be hit, or run. Elayne darted out of the kitchen with the tray, Nynaeve and Egeanin at her heels. The cook's shouts followed them, but not the cook, thankfully. An image of the three of them running through the palace pursued by the stout woman made Elayne want to giggle hysterically. Mock her? She was sure that had been exactly the same curtsy servants had given her thousands of times.

More storerooms lined the narrow hallway leading away from the kitchen, and tall cupboards for brooms and mops, buckets and soaps, linens for tables, and all sorts of assorted things. Nynaeve found a fat feather duster in one. Egeanin took an armful of folded towels from another, and a stout stone pestle out of a mortar in a third. She hid the pestle under the towels.

“A cudgel is sometimes handy,” she said when Elayne raised an eyebrow. “Especially when no one expects you to have it.”

Nynaeve sniffed but said nothing. She had hardly acknowledged Egeanin at all since agreeing to her presence.

Deeper in the palace the hallways broadened and heightened, the white walls carved with friezes and the ceilings set with gleaming arabesques of gold. Long, bright carpets ran along whitetiled floors. Ornate golden lamps on gilded stands gave light and the scent of perfumed oil. Sometimes the corridor opened into courtyards rounded by walks with slim, fluted columns, overlooked by balconies screened by filigreed stonework. Large fountains burbled; fish red and white and golden swam beneath lily pads with huge white flowers. Not at all like the city outside.

Occasionally they saw other servants, men and women, in white, tree and leaf embroidered on one shoulder, hurrying about their tasks, or men in the gray coats and steel caps of the Civil Watch carrying staffs or cudgels. No one spoke to them or even looked twice, not at three serving women obviously at their work.

At last they came to the narrow servants' stairs marked on their sketchy map.

“Remember,” Nynaeve said quietly, “if there are guards on her door, leave. If she is not alone, leave. She is far from the most important reason we are here.” She took a deep breath, making herself look at Egeanin. “If you let anything happen to her—”

A trumpet sounded faintly from outside. A moment later a gong rang inside, and shouted orders drifted down the hall. Men in steel caps appeared for a moment down the hallway, running.

“Maybe we will not have to worry about guards on her door,” Elayne said. The riot had begun in the streets. Rumors spread by Thom and Juilin to gather the crowd. Domon's sailors to egg them on. She regretted the necessity, but the disturbance would pull most of the guards out of the palace, maybe all with luck. Those people out there did not know it, but they fought in a battle to save their city from the Black Ajah and the world from the Shadow. “Egeanin should go with you, Nynaeve. Your part is the most important. If one of us needs someone to watch her back, it is you.”

“I've no need for a Seanchan!” Shouldering her duster like a pike, Nynaeve strode off down the hall. She really did not move like a servant. Not with that militant stride.

“Should we not be about our own task?” Egeanin said. “The riot will not hold attention completely for long.”

Elayne nodded. Nynaeve had passed out of sight around a corner.

The stairs were narrow and hidden in the wall, to keep servants as unseen as possible. The corridors on the second floor were much as those on the first, except that doublepointed arches were almost as likely to give onto a stonelatticed balcony as onto a room. There seemed to be far fewer servants as they made their way to the west side of the palace, and none more than glanced at them. Wonderfully, the hallway outside the Panarch's apartments was empty. No guards in front of the wide, treecarved doors set in a doublepeaked frame. Not that she had meant to retreat had there been guards, no matter what she had told Nynaeve, but it did make things simpler.

A moment later she was not so sure. She could feel someone channeling in those rooms. Not strong flows, but definitely the Power being woven, or maybe a weave maintained. Few women knew the trick of tying a weave.

“What is the matter?” Egeanin asked.

Elayne realized she had stopped. “One of the Black sisters is in there.” One, or more? Only one channeling, certainly. She pressed close to the doors. A woman was singing in there. She put her ear to the carved wood, heard raucous words, muffled yet clearly understandable.

"My breasts are round, and my hips are too.

I can flatten a whole ship's crew."

Startled, she jerked back, porcelain dishes sliding on the tray under the cloth. Had she somehow come to the wrong room? No, she had memorized the sketch. Besides, in the entire palace the only doors carved with the tree led to the Panarch's apartments.

“Then we must leave her,” Egeanin said. “You can do nothing without warning the others of your presence.”

“Perhaps I can. If they feel me channel, they will think it is whoever is in there.” Frowning, she bit her lower lip. How many were there? She could do at least three or four things at once with the Power, something only Egwene and Nynaeve could match. She ran down a list of Andoran queens who had shown courage in the face of great danger, until she realized it was a list of all the queens of Andor. I will be queen one day; I can be as brave as they. Readying herself, she said, “Throw open the doors, Egeanin, then drop down so I can see everything.” The Seanchan woman hesitated. “Throw open the doors.” Elayne's own voice surprised her. She had not tried to make it anything, but it was quiet, calm, commanding. And Egeanin nodded, almost a bow, and immediately flung open both doors.

"My thighs are strong are strong as anchor chain.

My kiss can burst —"

The darkbraided singer, standing wrapped in flows of Air to her neck and a soiled, wrinkled Taraboner gown of red silk, cut off short as the doors banged back. A frailappearing woman, lounging in pale blue of a highnecked Cairhienin cut on a long padded bench, ceased nodding her head to the song and leaped to her feet, outrage replacing the grin on her foxshaped face.

The glow of saidar already surrounded Temaile, but she did not have a chance. Appalled at what she saw, Elayne embraced the True Source and lashed out hard with flows of Air, webbing her from shoulders to ankles, wove a shield of Spirit and slammed it between the woman and the Source. The glow around Temaile vanished, and she went flying across the bench as if she had been struck by a galloping horse, eyes rolling up into her head, to land unconscious on her back three paces away on the greenandgold carpet. The darkbraided woman gave a start as the flows around her winked out of existence, felt at herself in wondering disbelief as she stared from Tema

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