Winter's Heart Page 157

“She says we are mice,” Beslan said bitterly. “ ‘When wolf-hounds pass by, mice lie quiet or get eaten,’ ” he quoted. “I don’t like being a mouse, Mat.”

Mat breathed a little more easily. “Better a live mouse than a dead one, Beslan.” Which might not have been the most diplomatic way to put it — Beslan grimaced at him — but it was true.

He encouraged Beslan to join the meetings, if just to keep a rein on him, but Beslan seldom came, and it fell to Thom to try to cool the man’s ardor when and as he could. The most he could persuade Beslan to promise was that he could not call for the rising until the rest of them had been gone a month, to let them get clear. That was something settled, if not satisfactorily. Everything else seemed to be take two steps and hit a stone wall. Or a trip wire.

Juilin’s lady love had quite a hold on him. For her, he seemed to not to mind doffing his Tairen clothes for a servant’s green-and-white livery, or missing sleep to spend two nights sweeping the floor not far from the stairs that led up to the kennels. No one looked twice at a servant pushing a broom, not even the other servants. The Tarasin Palace had enough of those that they did not all know one another, and if they saw a man in livery with a broom, they assumed he was supposed to be using it. Juilin spent two whole days sweeping, too, and finally reported that sul’dam inspected the kennels first thing in the morning and just after dark, and might be in or out at any time of the day between, but at night the damane were left to themselves.

“I overheard a sul’dam say she was glad she wasn’t out in the camps where . . .” Lying stretched out on his thin mattress, Juilin paused to yawn copiously behind his hand. Thom was sitting on the edge of his bed, which left the stool for Mat. It was better than standing, if not by much. Most people would be asleep at that hour. “Where she’d have to stand guard some nights,” the thief-catcher continued when he could speak again. “Said she liked being able to let the damane sleep all night, too, so they were all fresh come sunrise.”

“So we must move at night,” Thom murmured, fingering his long white mustache. There was no need to add that anything moving at night drew eyes. Seanchan patrolled the streets at night, which the Civil Guard never had. The Guard had been amenable to bribes, too, until the Seanchan disbanded them. Now, at night, it was as likely to be the Deathwatch Guards in the street, and anyone who tried to bribe them might not live to face trial.

“Have you found an a’dam yet, Juilin?” Mat asked. “Or the dresses? Dresses can’t be as difficult as an a’dam.”

Juilin yawned into his hand again. “I’ll get them when I get them. They don’t just leave either lying about, you know.”

Thom discovered that simply walking damane through the gates was not possible. Or rather, as he freely admitted, Riselle had discovered it. It seemed that one of the high-ranking officers staying at The Wandering Woman had a singing voice she found most entertaining.

“One of the Blood can take damane out with no questions asked,” Thom said at their next meeting. This time, he and Juilin both were sitting on their beds. Mat was beginning to hate that stool. “Or few enough, anyway. Sul’dam, though, need an order signed and sealed by one of the Blood, an officer who’s captain or above, or a der’sul’dam. The guards at the gates and on the docks have lists of every seal in the city that qualifies, so I can’t just make any sort of seal and think it will be accepted. I need a copy of the right sort of order with the right sort of seal. That leaves the question of who will be our three sul’dam.”

“Maybe Riselle will be one,” Mat suggested. She did not know what they were doing, and telling her would be a risk. Thom had asked her all sorts of questions, as if he was trying to learn about life under the Seanchan, and she had been happy enough to ask her Seanchan friend, but she might not be happy enough to chance her pretty head going up on a spike. She could do worse than say no. “And what about your lady love, Juilin?” He had a thought on the third. He had asked Juilin to find a sul’dam dress that would fit Setalle Anan, though there had been no chance to actually put it to her, yet. He had only been back to The Wandering Woman once since Joline had walked into the kitchen, to make sure she understood he was doing all he could. She did not, but Mistress Anan had actually managed to smother the Aes Sedai’s anger before she could begin shouting. She would make the perfect sul’dam for Joline.

Juilin shrugged uncomfortably. “I had a hard enough time convincing Thera to run away with me. She is . . . timid, now. I can help her overcome that, in time — I know I can — but I don’t think she is up to anything like pretending to be a sul’dam.”

Thom tugged at his mustaches. “It’s unlikely Riselle would leave under any circumstances. It seems she likes Banner-General Lord Yamada’s singing well enough that she has decided to marry him.” He sighed regretfully. “There will be no more information from that well, I fear.” And no more pillowing his head on her bosom, his expression said. “Well, both of you think on who we can ask. And see if you can lay hands on a copy of those orders.”

Thom managed to find the proper inks and paper, and was ready to imitate anyone’s hand and seal. He was contemptuous of seals; anyone with a turnip and a knife could copy those, he said. Writing another man’s hand so the man himself would think he had written it was an art. But none of them were able to find a copy of orders with the necessary seal to copy. Like a’dam, the Seanchan did not leave orders lying about. Juilin seemed to making no progress with the a’dam, either. Two steps forward, and a stone wall. And six days were gone, just like that. Four left. To Mat, it felt as if six years had passed since Tylin’s departure, and four hours remained till she came back.

On the seventh day, Thom stopped Mat in the hallway as soon as he came in from his ride. Smiling as though making idle conversation, the one-time gleeman pitched his voice low. The servants hurrying past could not have heard more than a murmur. “According to Noal, the gholam killed again last night. The Seekers have been ordered to find the killer if they have to stop eating or sleeping to do it, though I can’t find out who gave the order. Even the fact that they have been ordered to do anything seems to be a secret. They are practically readying the rack and heating their iro

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