Winter's Heart Page 124

“Thank you, Bayle.” A steady voice was a necessity for command, but she was proud that hers was steady now. “Find this Master Cauthon, and Thom Merrilin, if you can. Perhaps some thing can be done.”

He failed to bow before leaving her presence, but she did not even consider upbraiding him. She did not intend to let the Seeker take her, either. Whatever it took to stop him. That was a decision she had reached before she freed Bethamin. She filled the dented cup to the brim with brandy, meaning to get so drunk she could not think, but instead she sat peering into the dark liquid without touching a drop. Whatever it took. Light, she was no better than Bethamin! But knowing it changed nothing. Whatever it took.

Chapter 22

Out of Thin Air

The Amhara Market was one of three in Far Madding where foreigners were allowed to trade, but despite the name, the huge square had nothing of the look of a market, no market stalls or displays of merchandise. A few mounted riders, a handful of closed sedan chairs carried by brightly liveried bearers and the occasional coach with its window curtains drawn made their way though a sparse yet bustling crowd that might have been seen in any large city. Most were well wrapped in their cloaks against the morning winds blowing in off the lake that surrounded the city, and it was the cold that made them hurry more than any urgent business. Around the square, as at the city’s other two Strangers’ Markets, the tall stone houses of bankers rubbed shoulders with slate-roofed stone inns where the foreign merchants stayed and blocky windowless stone warehouses where their goods were stored, all jumbled in among stone stables and stone-walled wagon yards. Far Madding was a city of stone walls and slate roofs. This time of year, the inns were a quarter full at best, and the warehouses and wagon yards emptier than that. Come spring and the full revival of trade, though, merchants would pay triple for whatever space they could find.

A round marble pedestal in the center of the square held a statue of Savion Amhara, two spans tall and proud in fur-trimmed robes of marble, with elaborate marble chains of office around her neck. Her marble face was stern beneath the First Counsel’s jeweled marble diadem, and her right hand firmly gripped the hilt of a marble sword, its point resting between her slippered feet, while her raised left hand aimed a warning marble finger toward the Tear Gate, some three-quarters of a mile away. Far Madding depended on merchants from Tear and Illian and Caemlyn, but the High Council was ever wary of foreigners and their corrupting outland ways. One of the steel-capped Street Guards, in a leather coat sewn with overlapping square metal plates and a Golden Hand on the left shoulder, stood below the statue using a long limber pole to frighten away black-winged gray pigeons. Savion Amhara was one of the three most revered women in Far Madding’s history, though none was known very far beyond the lake’s shores. Two men from the city were mentioned in every history of the world, though it had been called Aren Mador when one was born and Fel Moreina for the other, but Far Madding did its fervent best to forget Raolin Darksbane and Yurian Stonebow. In a real way, those two men were why Rand was in Far Madding.

A few people in the Amhara glanced at him as he passed, yet nobody glanced twice. That he was from far off was plain enough, with his blue eyes and his hair cut at the shoulder. Men here wore it sometimes hanging all the way to the waist, either tied at the nape of the neck or held with a clip. His plain brown woolens were nondescript, though, no better than a moderately successful merchant might wear, and he was not the only one cloakless in spite of the lake winds. Most of the others were fork-bearded Kandori or Arafellin with belled braids, or hawk-nosed Saldaeans, men and women who found this weather mild compared to Borderland winter, but nothing about him said he was not a Borderlander, too. For his part, he simply refused to let the cold touch him, ignored it as he might have a fly buzzing. A cloak might get in his way, if he found his chance to act.

For once, even his height did not attract notice. There were a good many very tall men in Far Madding, few of them natives. Manel Rochaid himself was only a hand shorter than Rand, if that. Rand stayed well behind the man, letting people and sedan chairs sift between them and sometimes even hide his quarry. With his hair dyed black by herbs Nynaeve had provided, he doubted that the renegade Asha’man would notice him even if the man turned around. For his part, he was not worried about losing Rochaid. Most of the local men wore dull colors, with brighter embroidery about the chest and shoulders and perhaps a jeweled hair clip for the more prosperous, while the outland merchants favored sober unpretentious clothes, so as not to seem overly wealthy, and their guards and drivers bundled themselves in rough woolens. Rochaid’s bright red silk coat stood out. He strode across the square like a king, one hand resting lightly on the hilt of his sword, a fur-edged cloak billowing behind him in the wind. He was a fool. That flapping cloak and the sword alike drew eyes. His waxed and curled mustaches named him a Murandian, who should be shivering like any normal human being, and that sword . . . A pure bull goose fool.

You are the fool, coming to this place, Lews Therin panted wildly inside his head. Madness! Madness! We have to get out! We have to!

Ignoring the voice, Rand pulled his snug gloves tighter and kept a steady pace after Rochaid. A number of the Street Guards in the square were watching the man. Foreigners were considered troublemakers and hotheads, and Murandians had a prickly reputation. A foreigner carrying a sword always attracted the Guards’ attention. Rand was glad he had decided to leave his at the inn with Min. She nestled in the back of his head more strongly than Elayne or Aviendha, or Alanna. He was only vaguely aware of the others. Min seemed alive inside him.

As Rochaid left the Amhara, heading deeper into the city, flights of pigeons sprang up from the rooftops, but instead of making the unerring swoops that normally would have taken them into the sky, birds crashed into one another and some tumbled fluttering to the pavement. People gaped, including the Street Guards who had been watching Rochaid so intently a moment before. The man did not look back, but it would not have mattered had he seen. He knew Rand was in the city without seeing the effects of a ta’veren, or he would not have been there.

Following Rochaid onto the Street of Joy, really two broad straight streets separated by a measured row of leafless gray-barked trees, Rand smiled. Rochaid and his friends probably thought themselves very clever. Perhaps they had found the map of the northern Plains of Maredo replaced upside down in the racks in the Stone of Tear, or the book on cities of the south misshelved in the library of the Aesdaishar Palace in Chachin, or one of the other hints he had left behind. Small mistakes a man in a hurry might make, but any two or three together painted an arrow pointing to Far Madding. Rochaid and the others had been quick to see it, quicker than he had expected, or else they had had help to point it out. Eith

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