Legends 3

Legends 3

Legends 3 7

  Waiting inside the blankets, she tried to recall what she had been taught of Malkier. Not a great deal, except as history. Ryne remembered the Thousand Lakes, so he must be Malkieri, too. There had been something about distressed women. Now that she was with them, she might as well stay until she learned what she could.

  When she came out from behind the blankets, she was ready. “I claim the right of a woman alone,” she told them formally. “I travel to Chachin, and I ask the shelter of your swords.” She also pressed a fat silver coin into each man’s hand. She was not really sure about this ridiculous “woman alone” business, but silver caught most men’s attention. “And two more each, paid in Chachin.”

  The reactions were not what she expected. Ryne glared at the coin as he turned it over in his fingers. Lan looked at his without expression and tucked it into his coat pocket with a grunt. She had given them some of her last Tar Valon marks, she realized, but Tar Valon coins could be found anywhere, along with those of every other land.

  Bukama, the grizzled man, bowed with his left hand on his knee. “Honor to serve, my Lady,” he said. “To Chachin, my life before yours.” His eyes were also blue, and they, too, would not quite meet hers. She hoped he did not turn out to be a Darkfriend.

  Learning anything proved to be difficult. Impossible. First the men were busy setting up camp, tending the horses, making a larger fire. They did not seem eager to face a new spring night without that. Bukama and Lan barely said a word over a dinner of flatbread and dried meat that she tried not to wolf down. Her stomach remembered all too well that she had not eaten that day. Ryne talked and was quite charming, really, with a dimple in his cheek when he smiled, and a sparkle in his blue eyes, but he gave no opening for her to mention The Gates of Heaven or Aes Sedai. When she finally inquired why he was going to Chachin, his face turned sad.

  “Every man has to die somewhere,” he said softly, and went off to make up his blankets.

  Lan took the first watch, sitting cross-legged not far from Ryne, and when Bukama doused the fire and rolled himself up in his blankets near Lan, she wove a ward of Spirit around each man. Flows of Spirit she could hold on to sleeping, and if any of them moved in the night, the ward would wake her without alerting them. It meant waking every time they changed guard, but there was nothing for it. Her own blankets lay well away from the men, and as she was lying down, Bukama murmured something she could not catch. She heard Lan’s reply plainly enough.

  “I’d sooner trust an Aes Sedai, Bukama. Go to sleep.”

  All the anger she had tamped down flared up. The man threw her into an icy pond, he did not apologize, he…! She channeled, Air and Water weaving with a touch of Earth. A thick cylinder of water rose from the surface of the pond, stretching up and up in the moonlight, arching over. Crashing down on the fool who was so free with his tongue!

  Bukama and Ryne bounded to their feet with oaths, but she continued the torrent for a count of ten before letting it end. Freed water splashed down across the campsite. She expected to see a sodden, half-frozen man ready to learn proper respect. He was dripping wet, a few small fish flopping around his feet. He was standing on his feet. With his sword out.

  “Shadowspawn?” Ryne said in a disbelieving tone, and atop him, Lan said, “Maybe! Guard the woman, Ryne! Bukama, take west; I’ll take east!”

  “Not Shadowspawn!” Moiraine snapped, stopping them in their tracks. They stared at her. She wished she could see their expressions better in the moonshadows, but those cloud-shifting shadows aided her, too, cloaking her in mystery. With an effort she gave her voice every bit of cool Aes Sedai serenity she could muster. “It is unwise to show anything except respect to an Aes Sedai, Master Lan.”

  “Aes Sedai?” Ryne whispered. Despite the dim light, the awe on his face was clear. Or maybe it was fear.

  No one else made a sound, except for Bukama’s grumbles as he shifted his bed away from the mud. Ryne spent a long time moving his blankets in silence, giving her small bows whenever she glanced his way. Lan made no attempt to dry off. He started to choose a new spot for his watch, then stopped and sat back where he had been, in the mud and water. She might have thought it a gesture of humility, only he glanced at her, very nearly meeting her eyes this time. If that was humility, kings were the most humble men on earth.

  She wove her wards around them again, of course. If anything, revealing herself only made it more necessary. She did not go to sleep for quite a while, though. She had a great deal to think about. For one thing, none of the men had asked why she was following them. The man had been on his feet! When she drifted off, she was thinking of Ryne, strangely. A pity if he was afraid of her, now. He was charming, and she did not mind a man wanting to see her unclothed, only his telling others about it.

  * * *

  Lan knew the ride to Chachin would be one he would rather forget, and it met his expectations. It stormed twice, freezing rain mixed with ice, and that was the least. Bukama was angry that he refused to make proper pledge to the diminutive woman who claimed to be Aes Sedai, but Bukama knew the reasons and did not press. He only grumbled whenever he thought Lan could hear; Aes Sedai or not, a decent man followed certain forms. As if he did not share Lan’s reasons. Ryne twitched and peered wide-eyed at her, fetched and trotted and offered up compliments on “skin of snowy silk” and the “deep, dark pools of her eyes” like a courtier on a leash. He seemed unable to decide between besotted and terrified, and he let her see both. That would have been bad enough, but Ryne was right; Lan had seen a Cairhienin in her skin, more than one, and they had all tried to mesh him in a scheme, or two, or three. Over one particularly memorable ten days in the south of Cairhien, he had almost been killed six times and nearly married twice. A Cairhienin and an Aes Sedai? There could be no worse combination.

  This Alys—she told them to call her Alys, which he doubted as much as the Great Serpent ring she produced, especially after she tucked it back into her belt pouch and said no one must know she was Aes Sedai—this “Alys” had a temper. Normally, he did not mind that, cold or hot, in man or woman. Hers was ice. That first night he had sat in the wet to let her know he would accept what she had done. If they were to travel together, better to end it with honors even, as she must see it. Except that she did not.

  They rode hard, never stopping long in a village and sleeping under the stars most nights, since no one had the coin for inns, not for four people with horses. He slept when he could. The second night she remained awake till dawn and made sure he did as well, with sharp flicks of an invisible switch whenever he nodded off. The third night, sand somehow got inside his clothes and boots, a thick coating of it. He had shaken out what he could and ridden covered in grit the next day. The fourth night.… He could not understand how she managed to make ants crawl into his smallclothes, or make them all bite at once. It had been her doing for sure. She was standing over him when his eyes shot open, and she seemed surprised that he did not cry out. Clearly, she wanted some response, some reaction, but he could not see what. Surely not the pledge of protection. Bukama’s sufficed, and besides, she had given them money. The woman did not know insult when she offered it.

  When they had first seen her behind them, outpacing the merchant trains and the shield of their guards, Bukama had offered a reason for a woman alone to follow three men. If six swordsmen could not kill a man in daylight, perhaps one woman could in darkness. Bukama had not mentioned Edeyn, of course. In truth, it plainly could not be that, or he would be dead instead of uncomfortable, yet Alys herself never made any explanation, however much Bukama waited for one. Edeyn might set a woman to watch him, thinking he would be less on his guard. So Lan watched her. But the only suspicious thing he saw, if it could be called that, was that she asked questions whenever they came to a village, always away from him and the others, and she went silent if they came too near. Two days from Canluum, she stopped asking, though. Perhaps she had found an answer in the market village called Ravinda, but if so, she did not s
eem happy about it. That night she discovered a patch of blisterleaf near their campsite, and to his shame, he almost lost his temper.

  If Canluum was a city of hills, Chachin was a city of mountains. The three highest rose almost a mile even with their peaks sheared off short, and all glittered in the sun with colorful glazed tile roofs and tile-covered palaces. Atop the tallest of those the Aesdaishar Palace shone brighter than any other in red and green, the prancing Red Horse flying above its largest dome. Three towered ringwalls surrounded the city, as did a deep drymoat a hundred paces wide spanned by two dozen bridges, each with a fortress hulking at its mouth. The traffic was too great here, and the Blight too far away, for the guards with the Red Horse on their chests to be so diligent as in Canluum, but crossing the Bridge of Sunrise amid tides of wagons and people flowing both ways still took some little while. Once inside, Lan wasted no time drawing rein.

  “We are within the walls of Chachin,” he told the woman. “The pledge has been kept. Keep your coin,” he added coldly when she reached for her purse.

  Ryne immediately started going on about giving offense to Aes Sedai and offering her smiling apologies, while Bukama rumbled about men with the manners of pigs. The woman herself gazed at Lan with so little expression, she might even have been what she claimed. A dangerous claim if untrue. And if true …

  Whirling Cat Dancer, he galloped up the street scattering people afoot and some mounted. Bukama and Ryne caught him up before he was halfway up the mountain to the Aesdaishar. If Edeyn was in Chachin, she would be there. Wisely, Bukama and Ryne held their silence.

  The palace filled the flattened mountaintop completely, an immense, shining structure of domes and high balconies covering fifty hides, a small city to itself. The great bronze gates, worked with the Red Horse, stood open beneath a red-tiled arch, and once Lan identified himself—as Lan Mandragoran, not al’Lan—the guards’ stiffness turned to smiling bows. Servants in red-and-green came running to take the horses and show each man to rooms befitting his station. Bukama and Ryne each received a small room above one of the barracks. Lan was given three rooms draped in silk tapestries, with a bedchamber that overlooked one of the palace gardens, two square-faced serving women to tend him, and a lanky young fellow to run errands.

  A little careful questioning of the servants brought answers. Queen Ethenielle was making a progress through the heartland, but Brys, the Prince Consort, was in residence. As was the Lady Edeyn Arrel. The women smiled when they said that; they had known what he wanted from the first.

  He washed himself, but let the women dress him. Just because they were servants was no reason to insult them. He had one white silk shirt that did not show too much wear, and a good black silk coat embroidered along the sleeves with golden blood-roses among their hooked thorns. Bloodroses for loss and remembrance. Then he set the women outside to guard his door and sat to wait. His meetings with Edeyn must be public, with as many people around as possible.

  A summons came from her, to her chambers, which he ignored. Courtesy demanded he be given time to rest from his journey, yet it seemed a very long time before the invitation to join Brys came, brought by the shatayan. A stately, graying woman with a presence to match any queen, she had charge of all the palace servants, and it was an honor to be conducted by her personally. Outsiders needed a guide to find their way anywhere in the Palace. His sword remained on the lacquered rack by the door. It would do him no good here, and would insult Brys besides, indicating that he thought he needed to protect himself.

  He expected a private meeting first, but the shatayan took him to a columned hall full of people. Soft-footed servants moved through the crowd offering spiced wine to Kandori lords and ladies in silks embroidered with House sigils, and folk in fine woolens worked with the sigils of the more important guilds. And to others, too. Lan saw men wearing the hadori he knew had not worn it these ten years or more. Women with hair still cut at the shoulders and higher wore the small dot of the ki’sain painted on their foreheads. They bowed at his appearance, and made deep curtsies, those men and women who had decided to remember Malkier.

  Prince Brys was a stocky, rough-hewn man in his middle years who looked more suited to armor than his green silks, though in truth he was accustomed to either. Brys was Ethenielle’s Swordbearer, the general of her armies, as well as her consort. He caught Lan’s shoulders, refusing to allow him to bow.

  “None of that from the man who twice saved my life in the Blight, Lan.” Brys laughed. “Besides, your coming seems to have rubbed some of your luck off on Diryk. He fell from a balcony this morning, a good fifty feet, without breaking a bone.” He motioned his second son, a handsome dark-eyed boy of eight in a coat like his, to come forward. A large bruise marred the side of the boy’s head, and he moved with the stiffness of other bruises, but he made a formal bow spoiled only somewhat by a wide grin. “He should be at his lessons,” Brys confided, “but he was so eager to meet you, he’d have forgotten his letters and cut himself on a sword.” Frowning, the boy protested that he would never cut himself.

  Lan returned the lad’s bow with equal formality, then had to put up with a deluge of questions. Yes, he had fought Aiel, in the south and on the Shienaran marches, but they were just men, if dangerous, not ten feet tall; they did veil their faces before killing, but they did not eat their dead. No, the White Tower was not as high as a mountain, though it was taller than anything made by men that Lan had ever seen, even the Stone of Tear. Given a chance, the boy would have drained him dry about the Aiel, and the wonders of the great cities in the south like Tar Valon and Far Madding. Likely, he would not have believed that Chachin was as big as either of those.

  “Lord Mandragoran will fill your head to your heart’s content later,” Brys told the boy. “There is someone else he must meet now. Off with you to Mistress Tuval and your books.”

  Edeyn was exactly as Lan remembered. Oh, ten years older, with touches of white streaking her temples and a few fine lines at the corners of her eyes, but those large dark eyes gripped him. Her ki’sain was still the white of a widow, and her hair still hung in black waves below her waist. She wore a red silk gown in the Domani style, clinging and little short of sheer. She was beautiful, but even she could do nothing here.

  For a moment she merely looked at him, cool and considering, when he made his bow. “It would have been … easier had you come to me,” she murmured, seeming not to care whether Brys heard. And then, shockingly, she knelt gracefully and took his hands in hers. “Beneath the Light,” she announced in a strong, clear voice, “I, Edeyn ti Gemallen Arrel, pledge fealty to al’Lan Mandragoran, Lord of the Seven Towers, Lord of the Lakes, the true Blade of Malkier. May he sever the Shadow!” Even Brys looked startled. A moment of silence held while she kissed Lan’s fingers; then cheers erupted on every side. Cries of “The Golden Crane!” and even “Kandor rides with Malkier!”

  The sound freed him to pull his hands loose, to lift her to her feet. “My Lady,” he began in a tight voice.

  “What must be, will be,” she said, putting a hand over his lips. And then she faded back into the crowd of those who wanted to cluster around him, congratulate him—who would have pledged fealty on the spot had he let them.

  Brys rescued him, drawing him off to a long, stone-railed walk above a two-hundred-foot drop to the roofs below. It was known as a place Brys went to be private, and no one followed. Only one door let onto it, no window overlooked, and no sound from the palace intruded. “What will you do?” the older man asked simply as they walked.

  “I do not know,” Lan replied. She had won only a skirmish, but he felt stunned at the ease of it. A formidable opponent, the woman who wore part of his soul in her hair.

  For the rest they spoke quietly of hunting and bandits and whether this past year’s flare-up in the Blight might die down soon. Brys regretted withdrawing his army from the war against the Aiel, but there had been no alternative. They talked of the rumors about a man who could channel—every t
ale had him in a different place; Brys thought it another jak o’ the mists and Lan agreed—and of the Aes Sedai who seemed to be everywhere, for what reason no one knew. Ethenielle had written him that two sisters had caught a woman pretending to be Aes Sedai in a village along her progression. The woman could channel, but that did her no good. The two real Aes Sedai flogged her squealing through the village, making her confess her crime to every last man and woman who lived there. Then one of the sisters carried her off to Tar Valon for her true punishment, whatever that might be. Lan found himself hoping that Alys had not lied about being Aes Sedai.

  He hoped to avoid Edeyn the rest of the day, too, but when he was guided back to his rooms, she was there, waiting languorously in one of the gilded chairs. The servants were nowhere to be seen.

  “You are no longer beautiful, I fear, sweetling,” she said when he came in. “I think you may even be ugly when you are older. But I always enjoyed your eyes more than your face. And your hands.”

  He stopped still gripping the door handle. “My Lady, not two hours gone you swore—” She cut him off.

  “And I will obey my king. But a king is not a king, alone with his carneira. I brought your daori. Bring it to me.”

  Unwillingly, his eyes followed her gesture to a flat lacquered box on a small table beside the door. Lifting the hinged lid took as much effort as lifting a boulder. Coiled inside lay a long cord woven of hair. He could recall every moment of the morning after their first night, when she took him to the women’s quarters of the Royal Palace in Fal Moran and let ladies and servants watch as she cut his hair at his shoulders. She even told them what it signified. The women had all been amused, making jokes as he sat at Edeyn’s feet to weave the daori for her. Edeyn kept custom, but in her own way. The hair felt soft and supple; she must have had it rubbed with lotions every day.