Winter's Heart Page 162

“Call me Mat,” he said, giving her his very best smile. Even hard-faced women softened for his best smile. Well, she did not soften visibly — if anything, she frowned slightly — but one thing he did know about women was the effect his smiles had. “I know how to make you vanish now. No use waiting, you know. The Seekers might decide to arrest you tomorrow.” That hit home. She did not flinch — he suspected very little made her flinch — but she almost nodded. “There is just one thing, Egeanin.” This still could blow up in his face like one of Aludra’s fireworks, but he did not hesitate. Sometimes, you just had to toss the dice. “I don’t need any gold, but I do have need of three sul’dam who will keep their mouths shut. Do you think you could supply those?”

After a moment that seemed to stretch hours, she nodded, and he smiled to himself. His horse had crossed first.

“Domon,” Thom said in a flat voice around the pipestem clenched between his teeth. He was lying with a thin pillow doubled up beneath his head, and he seemed to be studying the faint blue haze that hung in the air of the windowless room. The single lamp gave a fitful light. “And Egeanin.”

“And she is of the Blood, now.” Sitting on the edge of his bed, Juilin peered into the charred bowl of his pipe. “I do not know as I like that.”

“Are you saying we can’t trust them?” Mat demanded, tamping down his tabac with a careless thumb. He snatched his thumb out with a mild oath and stuck it in his mouth to suck the burn away. Yet again he had the choice of the stool or standing, but for once he did not mind the stool. Dealing with Egeanin had taken little enough of the afternoon, but Thom had been out of the Palace until after dark, while Juilin had taken even longer to appear. Neither appeared nearly as pleased with Mat’s news as he expected. Thom had just sighed that he had finally gotten a good look at one of the accepted seals, but Juilin glowered whenever he looked at the bundle lying in the corner of the room where he had hurled it. There was no bloody need for the man to carry on so just because they no longer needed the sul’dam dresses. “I tell you, they’re both scared spitless over the Seekers,” Mat went on when his thumb was cooled. Maybe not exactly spitless, but frightened nonetheless. “Egeanin may be Blood, but she never twitched an eyelid when I told her what I wanted sul’dam for. She just said she knew three who would do what we need, and she could have them ready tomorrow.”

“An honorable woman, Egeanin,” Thom mused. Every so often he paused to blow a smoke ring. “Odd, true, but then, she is Seanchan. I think even Nynaeve came to like her, and I know Elayne did. And she liked them. Even if they were Aes Sedai, as she believed. She was very useful in Tanchico. Very useful. More than merely competent. I truly would like to know how she came be raised to the Blood, but yes, I believe we can trust Egeanin. And Domon. An interesting man, Domon.”

“A smuggler,” Juilin muttered disparagingly. “And now he belongs to her. So’jhin are more than just property, you know. There are so’jhin who tell Blood what to do.” Thom raised a shaggy eyebrow at him. Just that, but after a moment, the thief-catcher shrugged. “I suppose Domon is trustworthy,” he said reluctantly. “For a smuggler.”

Mat snorted. Maybe they were jealous. Well, he was ta’veren, and they had to live with it. “Then tomorrow night, we leave. The only change in the plan is that we have three real sul’dam and one of the Blood to get us through the gates.”

“And these sul’dam are going to take three Aes Sedai out of the city, let them go, and never think of raising an alarm,” Juilin muttered. “Once, while Rand al’Thor was in Tear, I saw a tossed coin land on its edge five times in a row. We finally walked away and left it standing there on the table. I suppose anything can happen.”

“Either you trust them or you don’t, Juilin,” Mat growled. The thief-catcher glared at the bundled dresses in the corner, and Mat shook his head. “What did they do to help you in Tanchico, Thom? Blood and ashes, don’t the two of you go all flat-eyed on me again! You know, and they know, and I might as well.”

“Nynaeve said not to tell anyone,” Juilin said as if that really mattered. “Elayne said not to. We promised. You might say we swore an oath.”

Thom shook his head on the pillow. “Circumstances alter cases, Juilin. And in any case, it wasn’t an oath.” He blew three perfect smoke rings, one inside the other. “They helped us acquire and dispose of a sort of male a’dam, Mat. The Black Ajah apparently wanted to use it on Rand. You can see why Nynaeve and Elayne wanted it kept quiet. If word spread that such a thing ever existed, the Light knows what kind of tales would spring up.”

“Who cares what stories people tell?” A male a’dam? Light, if the Black Ajah had gotten that onto Rand’s neck, or the Seanchan had . . . Those colors whirled through his head again, and he made himself stop thinking about Rand. “Gossip isn’t going to hurt . . . anybody.” No colors that time. He could avoid it as long as he did not think about . . . The colors swirled again, and he ground his teeth on his pipestem.

“Not true, Mat. Stories have power. Gleemen’s tales, and bards’ epics, and rumors in the street alike. They stir passions, and change the way men see the world. Today, I heard a man say that Rand had sworn fealty to Elaida, that he was in the White Tower. The fellow believed it, Mat. What if, say, enough Tairens begin to believe? Tairens dislike Aes Sedai. Correct, Juilin?”

“Some do,” Juilin allowed, then added as though Thom had dragged it from him, “Most do. But not many of us have met Aes Sedai, not to know it. They way the law was, forbidding channeling, few Aes Sedai came to Tear, and they very seldom advertised who they were.”

“That’s beside the point, my fine Aes Sedai-loving Tairen friend. And it gives weight to my argument in any event. Tear holds to Rand, the nobles do at least, because they’re afraid if they do not, he’ll come back, but if they believe the Tower holds him, then maybe he can’t come back. If they believe he’s a tool of the Tower, it is just one more reason for them to turn on him. Let enough Tairens believe those two things, and he might as well have left Tear as soon as he drew Callandor. That is just the one rumor, and just Tear, but it could do as much harm in Cairhien, or Illian, or anywhere. I don’t know what sort of tales might spring from a male a’dam, in a world with the Dragon Reborn, and Asha’man, but I’m too old t

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