The Shadow Rising Page 57

The older woman, with gray touches in her black hair and fine wrinkles at the corners of her large brown eyes, inclined her head just as formally. Nevertheless, she seemed to be taking them in from head to foot, especially the Great Serpent ring each wore on her right hand. “I am Coine din Jubai Wild Winds, Sailmistress of Wavedancer. This is Jorin din Jubai White Wing, my sister of the blood and Windfinder of Wavedancer. There may be passage available, if it pleases the Light. The Light illumine you, and see you safe to your journey's end.”

It was a surprise that the two were sisters. Elayne could see the resemblance, but Jorin looked much younger. She wished the Windfinder were the one they had to deal with; both women had the same reserve, but something about the Windfinder reminded her of Aviendha. It was absurd, of course. These women were no taller than she herself, their coloring could not have been more different from the Aiel woman's, and the only weapon either had in sight was the stout knife tucked in her sash, looking very workmanlike despite carvings and goldwire inlays on the handle. But Elayne could not help feeling some similarity, between Jorin and Aviendha, anyway.

“Let us talk then, Sailmistress, if it pleases you,” Nynaeve said, following Moiraine's formula, “of sailings and ports, and the gift of passage.” The Sea Folk did not charge for passage, according to Moiraine; it was a gift, which just coincidentally would be exchanged for a gift of equal value.

Coine glanced away, then, astern toward the Stone and the white banner rippling over it. “We will talk in my cabin, Aes Sedai, if it pleases you.” She motioned toward an open hatch behind that strange wheel. “The welcome of my ship to you, and the grace of the Light be upon you until you leave his decks.”

Another narrow ladder — staircase — led down into a neat room, larger and taller than Elayne had expected from her experiences on smaller vessels, with windows across the stern and gimbaled lamps on the walls. Almost everything seemed to have been built into the room except for a few lacquered chests of various sizes. The bed was large and low, right under the sternwindows, and a narrow table surrounded by armchairs stood across the middle of the room.

There was very little clutter. Rolled charts lay on the table, a few ivory carvings of strange animals stood on railed shelves, and half a dozen barebladed swords of different shapes, some that Elayne had never seen before, rested on hooks on the walls. An oddly worked square brass gong hung from a beam over the bed, while right before the sternwindows, as if in a place of honor, a helmet sat on a featureless wooden head carved for the purpose, a helmet like the head of some monstrous insect, lacquered in red and green, with a narrow white plume to either side, one broken.

The helmet Elayne recognized. “Seanchan,” she gasped before thinking. Nynaeve gave her a vexed look, and deservedly; they had agreed it would make more sense, and ring more true, if Nynaeve, as the older, took the lead and did most of the talking.

Coine and Jorin exchanged unreadable glances. “You know of them?” the Sailmistress said. “Of course. One must expect Aes Sedai to know these things. This far east we hear a score of stories, the truest less than halftrue.”

Elayne knew she should leave it at that, but curiosity tickled her tongue. “How did you come by the helmet? If I may ask.”

“Wavedancer encountered a Seanchan ship last year,” Coine replied. “They wished to take him, but I did not wish to give him up.” She shrugged slightly. “I have the helmet to remind me, and the sea took the Seanchan, the Light be merciful to all who sail. I will not go close to a vessel with ribbed sails again.”

“You were lucky,” Nynaeve said curtly. “The Seanchan hold captive women who can channel, and make them channel as a weapon. If they had had one on that ship, you would be regretting ever having seen it.”

Elayne grimaced at her, though it was too late. She could not tell whether the Sea Folk women were offended by Nynaeve's tone. The pair kept the same neutral expressions, but Elayne was beginning to realize they did not show very much on their faces, not to strangers, anyway.

“Let us speak of passage,” Coine said. “If it pleases the Light, we may call where you wish to go. All things are possible, in the Light. Let us sit.”

The chairs around the table did not slide back; they and the table were fastened to the floor — deck. Instead the arms swung out like gates and latched in place once you had sat. The arrangement seemed to bear out Elayne's dire predictions of heaving and pitching. She did very well with it herself, of course, but too much rolling on a riverboat set Nynaeve's stomach jumping. It must be worse on the ocean than on a river, however fierce the wind, and the worse Nynaeve's stomach, the worse her temper. Nynaeve sicking up and in a bad choler at the same time: there were few things more dreadful, in Elayne's experience.

She and Nynaeve were placed together on one side of the table, with the Sailmistress and the Windfinder at the ends. At first it seemed strange, until she realized they would both look at whichever of the two was talking, allowing the other to watch them unobserved. Do they always deal with passengers this way, or is it because we're Aes Sedai? Well, because they think we are. It was a caution that everything might not be as simple as they hoped with these people. She hoped Nynaeve was taking notice.

Elayne had not seen any order passed, but a slender young woman with only one ring in each ear appeared, bearing a tray with a square white brasshandled teapot and large handleless cups, not of Sea Folk porcelain as might have been expected, but thick pottery. Less likely to be broken in heavy weather, she decided bleakly. It was the young woman who took her attention, though, and nearly brought a gasp. She was bare to the waist, just like the men above. Elayne hid her shock very well, she thought, but Nynaeve sniffed loudly.

The Sailmistress waited until the girl had poured tea brewed to blackness, then said, “Have we sailed, Dorele, when I did not see? Is there no land in sight?”

The slender woman blushed furiously. “There is land, Sailmistress.” It was a miserable whisper.

Coine nodded. “Until there is no land in sight, and has been none for one full day, you will work at cleaning the bilges, where garments are a hindrance. You may leave.”

“Yes, Sailmistress,” the girl said, even more woefully. She turned away, undoing her red sash dejectedly as she went through the door at the far end of the room.

“Share this tea, if it please you,” the Sailmistress said, “that we may talk in peace.” She sipped at her own and continued while Elayne and Nynaeve were tasting theirs. “I ask that you forgive any offense, Aes Sedai, This is Dorele's first voyage except between the islands. The young often forget the ways of the shorebound. I will punish her further, if you are affronted.”

“There is no need,” Elayne said hastily, taking the excuse to set her cup down. The tea was even stronger than it looked, very hot, unsweetened and quite bitter. “Truly, we were not offended. There are different ways among different peoples.” The Light send not too many more as different as that! Light, what if they don't wear any clothes at all once they get out to sea? Light! “Only a fool takes offense at customs different from her own.”

Nynaeve gave her a level look, bland enough for the Aes Sedai they were pretending to be, and took a deep swallow from her cup. All she said was “Please think no more of it.” It was not possible to tell if she meant it for Elayne or the Sea Folk women.

“Then we will speak of passage, if it pleases you,” Coine said. “To what port do you wish to sail?”

“Tanchico,” Nynaeve said, a bit more briskly than she should have. “I know you may not mean to sail there, but we need to go quickly, as quickly as only a raker can, and without stopping, if that is possible. I offer this small gift, for the inconvenience.” She took a paper from her belt pouch and unfolded it, pushing it down the table to the Sailmistress.

Moiraine had given that to them, and another like it, lettersofrights. Each allowed the bearer to draw up to three thousand gold crowns from bankers and moneylenders in various cities, though it was not likely any of those men and women knew it was White Tower money they held. Elayne had goggled at the amount — Nynaeve had gaped openly — but Moiraine said it might be needed to make the Sailmistress forsake her intended ports of call.

Coine touched the letterofrights with one finger, read. “A vast sum for the gift of passage,” she murmured,“ even counting that you ask me to alter my sailing plans. I am more surprised now than before. You know that we very seldom carry Aes Sedai on our ships. Very seldom. Of all who ask passage, only Aes Sedai may be refused, and almost always are, as from the first day of the first sailing. Aes Sedai know this, and so almost never ask.” She was looking into her teacup, not at them, but Elayne glanced the other way and caught the Windfinder studying their hands lying on the table. No, their rings.

Moiraine had not said anything about this. She had pointed out the raker as the swiftest ship available and encouraged them to make use of it. Then again, she had given them these lettersofrights, very likely sufficient to buy a fleet of ships like this one. Well, several ships, at the least. Because she knew it would take that much to bribe them to carry us? But why had she kept secrets? A foolish question; Moiraine always kept secrets. But why waste their time?

“Do you mean to refuse us passage?” Nynaeve had abandoned tact for bluntness. “If you do not carry Aes Sedai, why did you bring us down here? Why not tell us up above and be done with it?”

The Sailmistress unlatched one arm of her chair, rose and went to peer out of the sternwindows at the Stone. Her earrings and the medallions across her left cheek glittered in the light of the rising sun. “He can wield the One Power, so I have heard, and he holds the Sword That Cannot Be Touched. The Aiel have come over the Dragon wall to his call; I have seen several in the streets, and it is said they fill the Stone. The Stone of Tear has fallen, and war breaks over the nations of the land. Those who once ruled have returned, and been driven back for the first time. Prophecy is being fulfilled.”

Nynaeve looked as confounded as Elayne felt at this change of subject. “The Prophecies of the Dragon?” Elayne said after a moment. “Yes, they are being fulfilled. He is the Dragon Reborn, Sailmistress.” He's a stubborn man who hides his feelings so deeply I cannot find them, that is what he is!

Coine turned. "Not the Prophecies of the Dragon, Aes Sedai. The Jendai Prophecy, the prophecy of the Coramoor. Not the one you wait for and dread; the one we seek, herald of a new Age. At the Breaking of the World our ancestors fled to the safety of the sea while the land heaved and broke as storm waves do. It is said they knew nothing of the ships they took to flee, but the Light was with them, and they survived. They did not see the land again until it was still once more, and by then, much had changed. All — everything — the world — drifted on the water and the wind. It was in the years after that the Jendai Prophecy was first spoken. We must wander the waters until the Coramoor returns, an

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