Winter's Heart Page 176

Two men approaching the bootmaker’s made him turn away and pretend to peer through the bubbled panes of the cutler’s small shopwindow at a display of scissors and knives fastened to a board. One of the men was tall, though not as tall as the possible Aielmen. Their deep cowls hid their faces, but neither carried a pair of boots, and although they held their cloaks with both hands, the wind flipped the tails of them enough to show the bottoms of scabbarded swords. A gust pulled the shorter man’s hood from his head, and he snatched it back again, but not before the damage was done. Charl Gedwyn had taken to wearing his hair caught at the nape of his neck in a silver clip set with a large red stone, but he was still a hard-faced man with a challenging look about him. And Gedwyn’s presence made the other Torval. Rand was willing to wager on it. None of the others was as tall.

Waiting until the pair had gone into Zeram’s shop, Rand licked a few greasy crumbs from his gloves and went in search of Nynaeve and Lan. He found them before he was far enough along the curve of the street to lose sight of the bootmaker’s. The candlemaker’s he had marked as a way down from the rooftops stood a little behind him, with an alley at one side. Ahead, the narrow street twisted back the other way. No more than fifty paces farther on was a watchstand with a Street Guard at the top, but another building of three stories, a cabinetmaker’s that shared the alleyway with the candlemaker, blocked the rooftops beyond from his view.

“Half a dozen people recognized Torval and Gedwyn,” Lan said, “but none of the others.” He kept his voice low, though no one passing more than glanced at the three of them. A glimpse of two men wearing swords beneath their cloaks was enough to make everyone who noticed step a little faster.

“A butcher down the street says those two buy from him,” Nynaeve said, “but never more than enough for two.” She looked sideways at Lan as though hers was the real proof.

“I saw them,” Rand said. “They’re inside now. Nynaeve, can you lift Lan and me to that rooftop from the alley behind the building?”

Nynaeve frowned at Zeram’s building, rubbing the belt around her waist with one hand. “One at a time, I could,” she said finally. “But it would use more than half what the Well holds. I wouldn’t be able to lift you down again.”

“Up is enough,” Rand told her. “We will leave over the rooftops, and climb down right over beside the candlemaker.”

She protested, of course, as they walked back down the street toward the bootmaker’s shop. Nynaeve always fought anything she had not thought of herself. “I am just supposed to put you on the roof and wait?” she muttered, scowling left and right so hard that as many people shied away from her as from the men flanking her, swords or no swords. She thrust her hand out from under her cloak to show the bracelet with its pale red stones. “This can cover me with armor better than any steel. I’d hardly even feel a sword hitting me. I thought I would be going inside with you.”

“And do what?” Rand asked softly. “Hold them with the Power for us to kill? Kill them yourself?” She frowned at the paving stones in front other feet.

Walking beyond Zeram’s shop, Rand paused in front of the low house and looked around as casually as he could. There were no Street Guards in sight, but when he prodded Nynaeve into the narrow alley, he moved quickly. He had not seen any Guards before following Rochaid, either.

“You are very quiet,” Lan said, following close behind.

She took three more quick steps before replying, without slowing or looking back. “I didn’t think, before,” she said quietly. “I was thinking of it as an adventure, confronting Darkfriends, renegade Asha’man, but you are going up there to execute them. You’ll kill them before they know you’re there if you can, won’t you?”

Rand glanced over his shoulder at Lan, but the older man only shook his head, as confused as he was. Of course they would kill them without warning if they could. This was not a duel; it was the execution she had named it. At least, Rand hoped very much it would be.

The alley that ran behind the buildings was a little wider than the one to the street, the rocky soil rutted with the tracks of the rubbish barrows that were pushed along it mornings. Blank stone walls rose around them. No one wanted a window to watch the rubbish carts.

Nynaeve stood peering up at the back of Zeram’s building, then suddenly sighed. “Kill them in their sleep, if you can,” she said, very quietly for such fierce words.

Something unseen wrapped snugly around Rand’s chest beneath his arms, and slowly he rose into the air, floating higher until he drifted over the edge of the overhanging eave. The invisible harness vanished, and his boots dropped to the sloping roof, sliding a little on the damp gray slates. Crouching, he moved back on all fours. A few moments later, Lan floated up to land on the roof, too. The Warder crouched as well, and peered into the alley below.

“She is gone,” Lan said finally. Twisting around to face Rand, he pointed. “There is our way in.”

It was a trapdoor set among the slates high toward the peak, with metal flashing to keep water out of the attic that lifting it revealed. Rand lowered himself into a dusty space, dimly lit by the light through the trapdoor. For a moment, he hung by his hands, then let go, dropping the last few feet. Except for a chair with three legs and a chest with the lid thrown open, the long room was as empty as the chest. Apparently Zeram had stopped using the attic for storage when his wife began taking renters.

Stepping lightly, the two men searched the floorboards until they found another, larger trapdoor lying flat against the floor. Lan felt the brass hinges and whispered that they were dry but unrusted. Rand drew his sword and nodded, and Lan snatched the trapdoor open.

Rand was not sure what he would find when he sprang down through the opening, using a hand on the coping to control his fall. He landed lightly on the balls of his feet, in a room that seemed to have taken the attic’s place from the wardrobes and cabinets shoved against the walls, the wooden chests piled on one another and tables with chairs standing atop them. The last thing he expected, though, was two dead men sprawled on the floor as if they had been dragged into the storage room and flung down. The black swollen faces were unrecognizable, but the shorter of the pair wore a silver hairclip set with a large red stone.

Dropping soundlessly from the attic, Lan looked at the corpses and raised an eyebrow. That was all. N

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