Legends 3

Legends 3

Legends 3 8

  Crossing the floor slowly, he knelt before her and held out his daori stretched between his hands. “In token of what I owe to you, Edeyn, always and forever.” If his voice did not hold the fervor of that first morning, surely she understood.

  She did not take the cord. Instead, she studied him. “I knew you had not been gone so long as to forget our ways,” she said finally. “Come.”

  Rising, she grasped his wrist and drew him to the windows overlooking the garden ten paces below. Two servants were spreading water from buckets, and a young woman was strolling along a slate path in a blue dress as bright as any of the early flowers that grew beneath the trees.

  “My daughter, Iselle.” For a moment, pride and affection warmed Edeyn’s voice. “Do you remember her? She is seventeen, now. She hasn’t chosen her carneira, yet”—young men were chosen by their carneira; young women chose theirs—“but I think it time she married anyway.”

  He vaguely recalled a child who always had servants running, the blossom of her mother’s heart, but his head had been full of Edeyn, then. “She is as beautiful as her mother, I am sure,” he said politely. He twisted the daori in his hands. She had too much advantage as long as he held it, all advantage, but she had to take it from him. “Edeyn, we must talk.” She ignored that.

  “Time you were married, too, sweetling. Since none of your female relatives is alive, it is up to me to arrange.”

  He gasped at what she seemed to be suggesting. At first he could not believe. “Iselle?” he said hoarsely. “Your daughter?” She might keep custom in her own way, but this was scandalous. “I’ll not be reined into something so shameful, Edeyn. Not by you, or by this.” He shook the daori at her, but she only looked at it and smiled.

  “Of course you won’t be reined, sweetling. You are a man, not a boy. Yet you do keep custom,” she mused, running a finger along the cord of hair quivering between his hands. “Perhaps we do need to talk.”

  But it was to the bed that she led him.

  * * *

  Moiraine spent most of the day asking discreet questions at inns in the rougher parts of Chachin, where her silk dress and divided skirts drew stares from patrons and innkeepers alike. One leathery fellow wearing a permanent leer told her that his establishment was not for her and tried to escort her to a better, while a round-faced, squinting woman cackled that the evening trade would have a tender pretty like her for dinner if she did not scurry away quick, and a fatherly old man with pink cheeks and a joyous smile was all too eager for her to drink the spiced wine he prepared out of her sight. There was nothing for it but to grit her teeth and move on. That was the sort of place Siuan had liked to visit when they were allowed a rare trip into Tar Valon as Accepted, cheap and unlikely to be frequented by sisters, but none had a blue-eyed Tairen staying under any name. Cold daylight began to settle toward yet another icy night.

  She was walking Arrow through lengthening shadows, eyeing darknesses that moved suspiciously in an alley and thinking that she would have to give up for today, when Siuan came bustling up from behind.

  “I thought you might look down here when you came,” Siuan said, taking her elbow to hurry her along. “Let’s get inside before we freeze.” She eyed those shadows in the alley, too, and absently fingered her belt knife as if using the Power could not deal with any ten of them. Well, not without revealing themselves. Perhaps it was best to move quickly. “Not the quarter for you, Moiraine. There are fellows around here would bloody well have you for dinner before you knew you were in the pot. Are you laughing or choking?”

  Siuan, it turned out, was at a most respectable inn called The Evening Star, which catered to merchants of middling rank, especially women unwilling to be bothered by noise or rough sorts in the common room. A pair of bull-shouldered fellows made sure there was none of that. Siuan’s room was tidy and warm, if not large, and the innkeeper, a lean woman with an air of brooking little nonsense, made no objections to Moiraine joining Siuan. So long as the extra for two was paid.

  While Moiraine was hanging her cloak on a peg, Siuan settled cross-legged on the not-very-wide bed. She seemed invigorated since Canluum. A goal always made Siuan bubble with enthusiasm. “I’ve had a time, Moiraine, I tell you. That fool horse nearly beat me to death getting here. The Creator made people to walk or go by boat, not be bounced around. I suppose the Sahera woman wasn’t the one, or you’d be jumping like a spawning redtail. I found Ines Demain almost right off, but not where I can reach her. She’s a new widow, but she did have a son, for sure. Named him Rahien because she saw the dawn come up over Dragonmount. Talk of the streets. Everybody thinks it a fool reason to name a child.”

  “Avene Sahera’s son was born a week too early and thirty miles from Dragonmount,” Moiraine said when Siuan paused for breath. She pushed down a momentary thrill. Seeing dawn over the mountain did not mean the child had been born on it. There was no chair or stool, nor room for one, so she sat on the end of the bed. “If you have found Ines and her son, Siuan, why is she out of reach?” The Lady Ines, it turned it out, was in the Aesdaishar Palace, where Siuan could have gained entry easily as Aes Sedai and otherwise only if the Palace was hiring servants.

  The Aesdaishar Palace. “We will take care of that in the morning,” Moiraine sighed. It meant risk, yet the Lady Ines had to be questioned. No woman Moiraine had found yet had been able to see Dragonmount when her child was born. “Have you seen any sign of … of the Black Ajah?” She had to get used to saying that name.

  Instead of answering immediately, Siuan frowned at her lap and fingered her skirt. “This is a strange city, Moiraine,” she said finally. “Lamps in the streets, and women who fight duels, even if they do deny it, and more gossip than ten men full of ale could spew. Some of it interesting.” She leaned forward to put a hand on Moiraine’s knee. “Everybody’s talking about a young blacksmith who died of a broken back a couple of nights ago. Nobody expected much of him, but this last month or so he turned into quite a speaker. Convinced his guild to take up money for the poor who’ve come into the city, afraid of the bandits, folks not connected to a guild or House.”

  “Siuan, what under the Light—”

  “Just listen, Moiraine. He collected a lot of silver himself, and it seems he was on his way to the guild house to turn in six or eight bags of it when he was killed. Fool was carrying it all by himself. The point is, there wasn’t a bloody coin of it taken, Moiraine. And he didn’t have a mark on him, aside from his broken back.”

  They shared a long look; then Moiraine shook her head. “I cannot see how to tie that to Meilyn or Tamra. A blacksmith? Siuan, we can go mad thinking we see Black sisters everywhere.”

  “We can die from thinking they aren’t there,” Siuan replied. “Well. Maybe we can be silverpike in the nets instead of grunters. Just remember silverpike go to the fish-market, too. What do you have in mind about this Lady Ines?”

  Moiraine told her. Siuan did not like it, and this time it took most of the night to make her see sense. In truth, Moiraine almost wished Siuan would talk her into trying something else. But Lady Ines had seen dawn over Dragonmount. At least Ethenielle’s Aes Sedai advisor was with her in the south.

  Morning was a whirlwind of activity, little of it satisfying. Moiraine got what she wanted, but not without having to bite her tongue. And Siuan started up again. Arguments Moiraine had dealt with the night before cropped up anew. Siuan did not like being argued out of what she thought was right. She did not like Moiraine taking all the risks. A bear with a sore tooth would have been better company. Even that fellow Lan!

  A near-dawn visit to a banker’s counting house produced gold—after the stern-eyed woman used an enlarging glass to study the Cairhienin banker’s seal at the bottom of the letter-of-rights Moiraine presented. An enlarging glass! At least the letter itself was only a little blurred from its immersion in that pond. Mistress Noallin did not bother to hide her surprise when the pair of them began distributing purses of gold beneath their cloaks.

  “Is Chachin so lawless two women are not safe by daylight?” Moiraine asked her civilly. “I think our business is done. You may have your man show us out.” She and Siuan clinked when they moved.

  Outside, Siuan muttered that even that blacksmith must have staggered, loaded down like a mule. And who could have broken his back that way? Whatever the reason, it must be the Black Ajah. An imposing woman with ivory combs in her hair heard enough of that to give a start, then hike her skirts to her knees and run, leaving her two gaping servants to scramble after her through the crowd. Siuan flushed but remained defiantly unrepentant.

  A slim seamstress with a haughty air informed Moiraine that what she wanted was easily done. At end of the month, perhaps. A great many ladies had ordered new gowns. A king was visiting in the Aesdaishar Palace. The King of Malkier!

  “The last King of Malkier died twenty-five years ago, Mistress Dorelmin,” Moiraine said, spilling thirty gold crowns on the receiving table. Silene Dorelmin eyed the fat coins greedily, and her eyes positively shone when she was told there would be as much again when the dresses were done. “But I will keep six coins from the second thirty for each day it takes.” Suddenly it seemed that the dresses could be finished sooner than a month after all. Much sooner.

  “Did you see what that skinny trull was wearing?” Siuan said as they left. “You should have your dresses made like that, ready to fall off. You might as well enjoy men looking at you if you’re going to lay your fool head on the chopping block.”

  Moiraine performed a novice exercise, imaging herself a rosebud in stillness, opening to the sun. As always, it brought calm. She would crack a tooth if she kept grinding them. “There is no other way, Siuan. Do you think the innkeeper will hire out one of her strongarms?” The King of Malkier? Light! The woman must have thought her a complete fool!

  At midmorning two days after Moiraine arrived in Chachin, a yellow-lacquered carriage driven by a fellow with shoulders like a bull arrived at the Aesdaishar Palace, with two mares tied behind, a fine-necked bay and a lanky gray. The Lady Moiraine Damodred, colored slashes marching from the high neck of her dark blue gown to below her knees, was received with all due honor. The name of House Damodred was known, if not hers, and with King Laman dead, any Damodred might ascend to the Sun Throne. If another House did not seize it. She was given suitable apartments, three rooms looking north across the city toward higher, snowcapped peaks, and assigned servants who rushed about unpacking the lady’s brass-bound chests and pouring hot scented water for the lady to wash. No one but the servants so much as glanced at Suki, the Lady Moiraine’s maid.

  “All right,” Siuan muttered when the servants finally left them alone in the sitting room, “I admit I’m invisible in this.” Her dark gray dress was fine wool, but entirely plain except for collar and cuffs banded in Damodred colors. “You, though, stand out like a High Lord pulling oar. Light, I nearly swallowed my tongue when you asked if there were any sisters in the Palace. I’m so nervous I’m starting to get light-headed. It feels hard to breathe.”

  “It is the altitude,” Moiraine told her. “You will get used to it. Any visitor would ask about Aes Sedai; you could see, the servants never blinked.” She had held her breath, however, until she heard the answer. One sister would have changed everything. “I do not know why I must keep telling you. A royal palace is not an inn; ‘You may call me Lady Alys’ would satisfy no one, here. That is fact, not opinion. I must be myself.” The Three Oaths allowed you to say whatever you believed was true even if you could not prove it, as well as to dodge around truth; only words you knew to be a lie would not come off of your tongue. “Suppose you make use of that invisibility and see what you can learn about the Lady Ines. I would be pleased if we leave as soon as possible.”

  Tomorrow, that would be, without causing insult and talk. Siuan was right. Every eye in the Palace would be on the outland noblewoman from the House that had started the Aiel War. Any Aes Sedai who came to the Aesdaishar would hear of her immediately, and any Aes Sedai who passed through Chachin might well come. Siuan was right; she was standing on a pedestal like a target, and without a clue as to who might be an archer. Tomorrow, early.

  Siuan slipped out, but returned quickly with bad news. The Lady Ines was in seclusion, mourning her husband. “He fell over dead in his breakfast porridge ten days ago,” Siuan reported, dropping onto a sitting-room chair and hanging an arm over the back. Lessons in deportment were something else forgotten once the shawl was hers. “A much older man, but it seems she loved him. She’s been given ten rooms and a garden on the south side of the palace; her husband was a close friend to Prince Brys.” Ines would remain to herself a full month, seeing no one but close family. Her servants only came out when absolutely necessary.

  “She will see an Aes Sedai,” Moiraine sighed. Not even a woman in mourning would refuse to see a sister.

  Siuan bolted to her feet. “Are you mad? The Lady Moiraine Damodred attracts enough attention. Moiraine Damodred Aes Sedai might as well send out riders! I thought the idea was to be gone before anyone outside the Palace knows we were here!”

  One of the servingwomen came in just then, to announce that the shatayan had arrived to escort Moiraine to Prince Brys, and was startled to find Suki standing over her mistress and stabbing a finger at her.

  “Tell the shatayan I will come to her,” Moiraine said calmly, and as soon as the wide-eyed woman curtsied and backed out, she rose to put herself on a more equal footing, hard enough with Siuan even when one had all the advantage. “What else do you suggest? Remaining almost two weeks till she comes out will be as bad, and you cannot befriend her servants if they are secluded with her.”

  “They may only come out for errands, Moiraine, but I think I can get myself invited inside.”

  Moiraine started to say that might take as long as the other, but Siuan took her firmly by the shoulders and turned her around, eyeing her up and down critically. “A lady’s maid is supposed to make sure her mistress is properly dressed,” she said, and gave Moiraine a push toward the door. “Go. The shatayan is waiting for you. And with any luck, a young footman named Cal is waiting for Suki.”

  The shatayan indeed was waiting, a tall handsome woman, wrapped in dignity and frosty at being made to wait. Her hazel eyes could have chilled wine. Any queen who got on the wrong side of a shatayan was a fool, so Moiraine made herself pleasant as the woman escorted her through the halls. She thought she made some progress in melting that frost, but it was difficult to concentrate. A young footman? She did not know whether Siuan had ever been with a man, but surely she would not just to reach Ines’ servants! Not a footman!

  Statues and tapestries lined the hallways, most surprising for what she knew of the Borderlands. Marble carvings of women with flowers or children playing, silk weavings of fields of flowers and nobles in gardens and only a few hunting scenes, without a single battle shown anywhere. At intervals along the halls arched windows looked down into many more gardens than she expected, too, and flagged courtyards, sometimes with a splashing marble fountain. In one of those, she saw something that pushed questions about Siuan and a footman to the back of her mind.

  It was a simple courtyard, without fountain or columned walk, and men stood in rows along the walls watching two others, stripped to the waist and fighting with wooden practice swords. Ryne and Bukama. It was fighting, if in practice; blows landed on flesh hard enough for her to hear the thuds. All landed by Ryne. She would have to avoid them, and Lan, if he was there too. He had not bothered to hide his doubts, and he might raise questions she did not dare have asked. Was she Moiraine or Alys? Worse, was she Aes Sedai or a wilder pretending? Questions that would be discussed in the streets by the next night, for any sister to hear, and that last was one any sister would investigate. Fortunately, three wandering soldiers would hardly be present anywhere she was.

  Prince Brys, a solid, green-eyed man, greeted her intimately in a large room paneled red and gold. Two of the Prince’s
married sisters were present with their husbands, and one of Ethenielle’s with hers, the men in muted silks, the women in bright colors belted high beneath their breasts. Liveried servants offered sweetmeats and nuts. Moiraine thought she might get a sore neck from looking up; the shortest of the women was taller than Siuan, and they all stood very straight. Their necks would have bent a little for a sister, men’s and women’s alike, but they knew themselves the equals of the Lady Moiraine.

  The talk ranged from music and the best musicians among the nobles at court to the rigors of travel, from whether rumors of a man who could channel might be true to why so many Aes Sedai seemed to be about, and Moiraine found it difficult to maintain the expected light wittiness. She cared little for music and less for whoever played the instruments; in Cairhien, musicians were hired and forgotten. Everyone knew that travel was arduous, with no assurance of beds or decent food at the end of the day’s twenty or thirty miles, and that was when the weather was good. Obviously some of the sisters were about because of rumors about the man, and others to tighten ties that might have loosened during the Aiel War, to make sure thrones and Houses understood they were still expected to meet their obligations to the Tower, both public and private. If an Aes Sedai had not come to the Aesdaishar yet, one soon would, reason enough for her to make heavy going of idle chat. That and thinking about other reasons for sisters to be wandering. The men put a good face on it, but she thought the women found her particularly dull.

  When Brys’ children were brought in, Moiraine felt a great relief. Having his children introduced to her was a sign of acceptance to his household, but more, it signaled the end of the audience. The eldest son, Antol, was in the south with Ethenielle as heir, leaving a lovely green-eyed girl of twelve named Jarene to lead in her sister and four brothers, formally aligned by age, though in truth the two youngest boys were still in skirts and carried by nursemaids. Stifling her impatience to find out what Siuan had learned, Moiraine complimented the children on their behavior, encouraged them at their lessons. They must think her as dull as their elders did. Something a little less flat.