Winter's Heart Page 178

“Let go,” Lan said quietly. He looked up at Rand, his eyes cold and hard, no expression on his face. “Let go.”

“When the sun turns green,” Rand told him. If he could just pull the other man up a little, enough to catch the eave. . . .

Whatever his fingers had caught broke with a sharp snap, and the alley rushed up to meet them.

Chapter 34

The Hummingbird’s Secret

Trying not to be too obvious about watching the alley beside the candlemaker’s, Nynaeve set the folded length of flat green braid back on the hawker’s tray and slipped her hand inside her cloak to help hold it shut against the wind. It was a finer cloak than any on the people walking by, but plain enough that no one more than glanced at her in passing. They would if they saw her belt, though. Women who wore jewels did not frequent Blue Carp Street, or buy from street peddlers. After standing there for her to finger every last bit of braid on the tray, the lean woman grimaced, but Nynaeve had already bought three pieces of braid, two lengths of ribbon and a packet of pins from hawkers, just for a reason to loiter. Pins were always useful, but she did not know what she was going to do with the rest.

Suddenly she heard a commotion down the street, in the direction of the watchstand, the racket of Street Guards’ rattles loud and growing louder. The Guardsman scrambled down from his perch. Passersby near the watchstand stared down the crossing street and further up Blue Carp Street, then hurriedly pressed themselves against the sides of the street as running Guardsmen appeared, swinging their wooden rattles overhead. Not a patrol of two or three, but a flood of armored men pounding down Blue Carp Street, and more joining the tide from the other street. People slow to get out of their way were shoved aside, and one man went down under their boots. They did not slow a step as they trampled him.

The braid-seller spilled half her tray scrambling to the side of the street, and Nynaeve was just as quick to squeeze herself against the stone housefront alongside the gaping woman. Filling the street, catchpoles and quarterstaffs jutting up like pikes, the mass of Guardsmen bumped her with shoulders, scraping her along the wall. The braid-seller yelled as her tray was ripped away and vanished, but the Guards were all staring ahead.

When the last man ran past, Nynaeve was a good ten paces farther down the street than she had been. The braid-seller shouted angrily and shook her fists at the men’s backs. Indignantly pulling her twisted cloak into some proper order, Nynaeve was of a mind to do more than shout. She was half of a mind to . . .

Abruptly her breath froze in her throat. The Street Guards had stopped in a mass, perhaps a hundred men shouting to one another as if they suddenly were uncertain what to do next. They were stopped in front of the bootmaker’s shop. Oh, Light, Lan. And Rand, too, always Rand, but first and foremost always the heart of her heart, Lan.

She made herself breathe. A hundred men. She touched the jeweled belt, the Well, around her waist. Less than half the saidar she had stored in it remained, but it might be enough. It would have to be enough, though she did not know for what exactly, yet. Tugging the cowl of her cloak up, she started toward the men in front of the bootmaker’s. None was looking her way. She could . . .

Hands seized her, dragging her backward and spinning her around to face the other direction.

Cadsuane had one of her arms, she realized, and Alivia the other, the pair of them hurrying her along the street. Away from the bootmaker’s. Walking beside Alivia, Min kept casting worried looks over her shoulder. Abruptly she flinched. “He . . . I think he fell,” she whispered. “I think he’s unconscious, but he’s hurt, I don’t know how badly.”

“We will do him no good here, or ourselves,” Cadsuane said calmly. The golden ornaments dangling from the front of her bun swung inside the hood of her cloak as she swivelled her head, her eyes searching through the people ahead of them. She held the deep cowl against the wind with her free hand, letting her cloak flap behind her. “I want to be away from here before one of those boys thinks of asking women to show their faces. Any Aes Sedai found near Blue Carp Street this afternoon will have questions to answer because of this child.”

“Let me go!” Nynaeve snapped, pulling against them. Lan. If Rand had been knocked unconscious, what of Lan? “I have to go back and help them!” The two women dragged her along with hands like iron. Everyone they passed was peering toward the bootmaker’s shop.

“You have done quite enough already, you fool girl.” Cadsuane’s voice was cold iron. “I told you about Far Madding’s watchdogs. Phaw! You’ve put a panic in the Counsels with your channeling where no one can channel. If the Guards have them, it is because of you.”

“I thought saidar wouldn’t matter,” Nynaeve said weakly. “It was only a little, and not for long. I . . . I thought maybe they wouldn’t even notice.”

Cadsuane gave her a disgusted glance. “This way, Alivia,” she said, pulling Nynaeve around the corner by the abandoned watchstand. Small knots of excited people dotted the street, jabbering. A man gestured vigorously as if wielding a catchpole. A woman pointed to the empty watchstand, shaking her head in wonder.

“Say something, Min,” Nynaeve pleaded. “We can’t just leave them.” She did not even think of addressing Alivia, who wore a face to make Cadsuane appear soft.

“Don’t expect sympathy from me.” Min’s low voice was almost as chill as Cadsuane’s. When she looked at Nynaeve, it was a sidelong glare before snapping her eyes back to the street ahead. “I begged you to help me stop them, but you had to be as woolheaded as they were. Now we have to depend on Cadsuane.”

Nynaeve sniffed. “What can she do? Do I need to remind you that Lan and Rand are behind us, and getting farther behind by the minute?”

“The boy isn’t the only one who needs lessons in manners,” Cadsuane muttered. “He hasn’t apologized to me, yet, but he told Verin he would, and I suppose I can accept that for the moment. Phaw! That boy puts me to more trouble than any ten I ever met before. I will do what I can, girl, which is a sight more than you could do trying to batter your way through the Street Guards. From here on, you will exactly as I say, or I will have Alivia sit on you!” Alivia nodded. So did Min!

Nynaeve grimaced. The woman was supposed to defer to her! Still, a guest of the First Counsel could do more than plain Nynaeve al’Meara, even if she donned her Great Serpent ring. For Lan, she c

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