Winter's Heart Page 175

He did not try to take her in his arms. Nodding as if he actually understood, he picked up his gloves from the small table by the door. “I’ll be back as soon as I can, Min. Then we’ll go to Cadsuane.” Those golden veins continued to glow even after he left the room, followed by Lan.

Nynaeve paused, holding the door. “I will look after them both, Min. Alivia, please stay with her and see she doesn’t do anything foolish.” She was all cool, dignified Aes Sedai composure. Until she glanced into the hallway. “Burn them!” she yelped. “They’re leaving!” And she ran, leaving the door standing half open.

Alivia closed it. “Shall we play games to pass the time, Min?” Crossing the carpet, she sat down on the stool in front of the fireplace and took a piece of string from her beltpouch. “Cat’s cradle?”

“No, thank you, Alivia,” Min said, almost shaking her head at the eagerness in the woman’s voice. Rand might be complacent about what Alivia was going to do, but Min had set herself to get to know her, and what she had found was startling. On the surface, the former damane was a mature woman who appeared well into her middle years, stern and fierce and even intimidating. She certainly managed to intimidate Nynaeve. Nynaeve seldom said please to anyone except Alivia. But she had been made damane at fourteen, and her love of playing children’s games was not the only oddity about her.

Min wished there was a clock in the room, though the only inn she could imagine with a clock in every room would be an inn for queens and kings. Pacing back and forth under Alivia’s watchful gaze, she counted seconds in her head, trying to judge how long it would take Rand and the others to go beyond sight of the inn. When she decided enough time had passed, she took her cloak from the wardrobe.

Alivia darted to block the door, hands on her hips, and there was nothing childlike in her expression. “You aren’t going after them,” she drawled in a firm voice. “It would only cause trouble, now, and I can’t allow that.” With those blue eyes and that golden hair, her coloring was all wrong, but she reminded Min of her Aunt Rana, who always seemed to know when you had done something wrong and always saw to it that you did not want to do it again.

“Do you remember those talks we had about men, Alivia?” The other woman turned bright red, and Min hurriedly added, “I mean the one about how they don’t always think with their brains.” She had often heard women sneer that some other woman knew nothing about men, but she had never actually met one of those until she encountered Alivia. She really did know nothing! “Rand will get himself in more than enough trouble without me. I am going to find Cadsuane, and if you try to stop me. . . .” She held up a clenched fist.

For a long moment, Alivia frowned at her. Finally she said, “Let me get my cloak, and I’ll go with you.”

There were no sedan chairs or liveried servants to be seen on Blue Carp Street, and carriages would never have fit along the narrow, twisting passage. Slate-roofed stone shops and houses lined the street, most of two stories, sometimes jammed one hard against the next and sometimes with a little alleyway between. The pavement was still slick from the rain, and the cold wind tried to carry Rand’s cloak away, but people were back out and bustling about. Three Street Guards, one with a catchpole on his shoulder, paused to glance at Rand’s sword, then went on their way. Not far along on the other side of the street, the building housing the shop of the bootmaker Zeram rose a full three stories, not counting the attic under the peaked roof.

A skinny man with very little chin dropped Rand’s coin into his purse and used a thin strip of wood to lift a brown-crusted meat pie from the charcoal grill on his barrow. His face was lined, his dark coat shabby, and his long graying hair was tied with a leather cord. His eyes nickered to Rand’s sword, and looked away quickly. “Why do you ask about the bootmaker? That’s the best mutton, there.” A toothy grin made his chin almost vanish, and his eyes suddenly looked very shifty. “First Counsel herself don’t eat better.”

There were meat pies called pasties when I was a boy, Lews Therin murmured. We would buy them in the country and. . . .

Juggling the pie from hand to hand, the heat soaking through his gloves, Rand suppressed the voice. “I like to know what kind of man makes my boots. Is he suspicious of strangers, for instance? A man doesn’t do his best work if he’s suspicious of you.”

“Yes, Mistress,” the chinless fellow said, ducking his head to a stout gray-haired woman with a squint. Wrapping four meat pies in coarse paper, he handed her the package before taking her coins. “A pleasure, Mistress. The Light shine on you.” She tottered away without a word, clutching the wrapped pies under her cloak, and he grimaced sourly at her back before returning his attention to Rand. “Zeram never had a suspicious bone, and if he did, Milsa wouldn’t let him keep it. That’s his wife. Since the last of the children married, Milsa’s been renting out the top floor. Whenever she finds somebody don’t mind being locked in at night, anyway,” he laughed. “Milsa had stairs put in right up to the third floor, so it’s private, but she wouldn’t pay for having a new door cut as well, so the stairs come out in the shop, and she’s not trusting enough to leave that unlocked at night. You going to eat that pie, or just look at it?”

Taking a quick bite, Rand wiped hot juice from his chin and walked over to shelter beneath the eaves of a small cutler’s shop. Along the street others were snatching a quick meal from the food-peddlers, meat pies or fried fish or twisted paper cones heaped with roasted peas. Three or four men as tall as he, and two or three women as tall as most of the other men in the street, might have been Aiel. Maybe the chinless fellow was not as shifty as he seemed, or maybe it was just that Rand had eaten nothing since breakfast, but Rand found himself wanting to gobble the pie down and buy another. Instead, he made himself eat slowly. Zeram seemed to be doing a good business. A steady if not constant flow of men went into his shop, most carrying a pair of boots to be mended. Even if he let visitors go up without sending word ahead, he would be able to identify them later, and maybe so would two or three others.

If the renegades were renting the top floor from the bootmaker’s wife, being locked in at night would not inconvenience them much. To the south, an alleyway separated the bootmaker’s from a single-story house, a dangerous drop, but on the other side, a two-story building with a seamstress on the ground floor stood wall-to-wall with the bootmaker. Zeram’s building had no windows except at the front — in back was another alley, for taking away rubbish; Rand had already checked — but there had to be a way onto the roof so the slates could be repaired when necessary. From there it would be a short drop to the seamstress’s roof, with only three more to cross before another low building, a candle-maker’s shop, and an easy jump to the street, or into the alley behind the buildings. There would not be a great deal of risk in it at night, or even in daylight, if you stayed back from the street and were careful about the Guard’s patrols when you came down. The way Blue Carp Street bent, the nearest watc

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