The Shadow Rising Page 61

He stared at her for a moment. “Shara, you say? I have never heard any such name before. Is Shara city or nation or both? Perhaps I will learn a little more.”

What did I say? she wondered. I said something to make him think. Light! I told him we convinced Coine to change her plans. It could not make any difference, but she scolded herself severely. A careless word to this nice old man might do no harm, but the same might kill her in Tanchico, and Nynaeve, too, not to mention the thiefcatcher and Thom himself. If he was such a nice old man. “Thom, why did you come with us? Just because Moiraine asked?”

His shoulders shook; she realized he was laughing at himself. “As to that, who can say? Aes Sedai asking favors are not easily resisted. Perhaps it was the prospect of your pleasant company for the voyage. Or perhaps I decided Rand is old enough to look after himself for a while.”

He laughed out loud, and she had to laugh with him. The idea of this whitehaired old fellow looking after Rand. The feeling that she could trust him came back, stronger than ever, as he looked at her. Not because he could laugh at himself, or not only that. She could not have given a reason beyond the fact that, looking up into those blue eyes, she could not make herself believe this man would ever do anything to harm her.

The urge to pull one of his mustaches again was almost overwhelming, but she schooled her hands to stillness. She was not a child, after all. A child. She opened her mouth — and suddenly everything went out of her head.

“Please excuse me, Thom,” she said hurriedly. “I must... Excuse me.” She started toward the stern quickly, not waiting for a reply. He probably thought the ship's motion had upset her stomach. Wavedancer was pitching more rapidly, moving faster through the great sea swells as the wind freshened.

Two men stood at the wheel on the sterndeck, the muscle of both needed to hold the vessel on course, The Sailmistress was not on deck, but the Windfinder was, standing at the rail beyond the wheelmen, bare to the waist like the men, studying the sky where billowing clouds rolled more fiercely than the ocean. For once it was not Jorin's state of dress — or undress — that bothered Elayne. The glow of a woman embracing saidar surrounded her, clearly visible despite the lurid light. That was what she had felt, what had drawn her. A woman channeling.

Elayne stopped short of the sterndeck to study what she was doing. The flows of Air and Water the Windfinder handled were cablethick, yet her weaving was intricate, almost delicate, and it reached as far as the eye could see across the waters, a web drawn across the sky. The wind rose higher, higher; the wheelmen strained, and Wavedancer flew through the sea. The weaving stopped, the glow of saidar vanished, and Jorin slumped at the rail, leaning on her hands.

Elayne climbed the ladder quietly, yet the Sea Folk woman spoke in a soft voice without turning her head as soon as she was near enough to hear. “In the middle as I worked, I thought that you were watching me. I could not stop then; there might have been a storm even Wavedancer could not survive. The Sea of Storms is well named; it will throw up bad winds enough without my help. I meant not to do this at all, but Coine said we must go quickly. For you, and for the Coramoor.” She raised her eyes to peer at the sky. “This wind will hold until morning, if it pleases the Light.”

“This is why the Sea Folk do not carry Aes Sedai?” Elayne said, taking a place beside her at the rail. “So the Tower won't learn Windfinders can channel. That is why it was your decision to let us aboard, not your sister's. Jorin, the Tower will not try to stop you. There is no law in the Tower to stop any woman channeling, even if she is not Aes Sedai.”

“Your White Tower will interfere. It will try to reach onto our ships, where we are free of the land and landsmen. It will try to tie us to itself, binding us away from the sea.” She sighed heavily. “The wave that has passed cannot be called back.”

Elayne wished she could tell her it was not so, but the Tower did seek out women and girls who could learn to channel, both to bolster the numbers of Aes Sedai, dwindling now compared to what they once had been, and because of the danger of learning unguided. In truth, a woman who could be taught to touch the True Source usually found herself in the Tower whatever she wanted, at least until she was trained enough not to kill herself or others by accident.

After a moment Jorin went on. “It is not all of us. Only some. We send a few girls to Tar Valon so Aes Sedai will not come looking among us. No ship will carry Aes Sedai whose Windfinder can weave the winds. When you first named yourselves, I thought you must know me, but you did not speak, and you asked passage, and I hoped perhaps you were not Aes Sedai despite your rings. A foolish hope. I could feel the strength of you both. And now the White Tower will know.”

“I cannot promise to keep your secret, but I will do what I can.” The woman deserved more. “Jorin, I swear by the honor of House Trakand of Andor that I will do my best to keep your secret from any who would harm you or your people, and that if I must reveal it to anyone, I will do all in my ability to protect your people from interference. House Trakand is not without influence, even in the Tower.” And I will make mother use it, if need be. Somehow.

“If it pleases the Light,” Jorin said fatalistically, “all will be well. All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of thing will be well, if it pleases the Light.”

“There was a damane on that Seanchan ship, wasn't there?” The Windfinder gave her a quizzical look. “One of the captive women who can channel.”

“You see deeply for one so young. That is why I first thought you might not be Aes Sedai, because you are so young; I have daughters older than you, I think. I did not know she was a captive; that makes me wish we could have saved her. Wavedancer outran the Seanchan vessel easily at first — we had heard of the Seanchan and their vessels with ribbed sails, that they demanded strange oaths and punished those who would not give them — but then the — damane? — broke two of his masts, and they boarded him with swords. I managed to start fires on the Seanchan vessel — weaving Fire is difficult for me beyond lighting a lamp, but it pleased the Light to make it enough — and Toram led the crew to fight the Seanchan back to their own decks. We cut loose the boarding hooks, and their ship drifted away, burning. They were too occupied with trying to save him to bother us as we limped away. I regretted seeing him burn and sink, then; he was a fine ship, I think, for heavy seas. Now I regret it because we might have saved the woman, the damane. Even if she damaged him, perhaps she would not have, free. The Light illumine her soul, and the waters take her peacefully.”

Telling the story had saddened her. She needed to be distracted. “Jorin, why do the Atha'an Miere call ships 'he'? Everyone else I've ever met calls them 'she.' I don't suppose it makes any difference, but why?”

“The men will give you a different answer,” the Windfinder said, smiling, “speaking of strength and grandness and the like as men will, but this is the truth. A ship is alive, and he is like a man, with a true man's heart.” She rubbed the rail fondly, as if stroking something alive, something that could feel her caress. “Treat him well and care for him properly, and he will fight for you against the worst sea. He will fight to keep you alive even after the sea has long since given him his own deathstroke. Neglect him, though, ignore the small warnings he gives of danger, and he will drown you in a flat sea beneath a cloudless sky.”

Elayne hoped Rand was not as fickle as that. Then why does he hop about, glad to see me go one minute and sending Juilin Sandar after me the next? She told herself to stop thinking about him. He was a long way away. There was nothing to be done about him now.

She glanced over her shoulder toward the bow. Thom was gone. She was sure she had found the key to his puzzle, just before she had felt the Windfinder channeling. Something to do with his smile. It was gone, whatever it was. Well, she meant to find it again before they reached Tanchico, if she had to sit on him. But he would still be there in the morning. “Jorin, how long before we reach Tanchico? I have been told rakers are the fastest ships in the world, but how fast?”

“To Tanchico? To serve the Coramoor, we will not stop at any port between. Perhaps ten days, if I can weave the winds well enough, if it pleases the Light that I find the proper currents. Perhaps as few as seven or eight, with the grace of the Light.”

“Ten days?” Elayne gasped. “It cannot be possible.” She had seen maps, after all.

The other woman's smile was half pride, half indulgence. “As you yourself said, the fastest ships in the world. The next quickest take half again as long over any stretch, and most more than twice as long. Coasting craft that hug the shore and anchor in the shallows each night...” She sniffed contemptuously “...require ten times as much.”

“Jorin, would you teach me to do what you were just doing?”

The Windfinder stared, her dark eyes wide and shining in the fading light. “Teach you? But you are Aes Sedai.”

“Jorin, I have never woven a flow half as thick as those you were handling. And the scope of it! I am astounded, Jorin.”

The Windfinder stared a moment more, no longer in amazement, but as if trying to fix Elayne's face in her mind. Finally she kissed the fingers of her right hand and pressed them to Elayne's lips. “If it pleases the Light, we both shall learn.”

Chapter 21

(Dragon)

Into the Heart

Tairen nobility filled the great vaulted chamber with its huge polished redstone columns, ten feet thick, rising into shadowed heights above golden lamps hanging on golden chains. The High Lords and Ladies were arrayed in a thick hollow circle under the great dome at the chamber's heart with the lesser nobles ranked behind, row on row back into the forest of columns, all in their best velvets and silks and laces, wide sleeves and ruffed collars and peaked hats, all murmuring uneasily so the towering ceiling echoed the sounds of nervous geese. Only the High Lords themselves had ever before been bidden to this place, called the Heart of the Stone, and they had come only four times a year, at the twin demands of law and custom. They came now, all who were not out in the countryside somewhere, at the summons of their new lord, the maker of law and breaker of custom.

The packed crowd gave way before Moiraine as soon as they saw who she was, so she and Egwene moved in a pocket of open space. Lan's absence irritated Moiraine. It was not like the man to vanish when she might need him; his way usually was to watch over her as if she could not fend for herself without a guardian. Had she not been able to feel the bond linking them and known he could not be very far from the Stone, she might have worried.

He fought the strings Nynaeve was tying to him as hard as he had ever fought Trollocs in the Blight, but much as he might deny it, that young woman had bound him as tightly as she herself did, though in other ways. He might as well try tearing steel with his hands as those ties. She was not jealous, exactly, but Lan had been her sword arm, her shield and companion for too many years for her to give him up lightly. I have done what had to be done, there. She will have him if I die, and not before. Where is

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