Revelations in Tanchico
Elayne fumbled with the two slim red-lacquered sticks, trying to set them properly in her fingers. Sursa, she reminded herself. Not sticks; sursa. A fool way to eat, whatever they're called.
On the other side of the table in the Chamber of Falling Blossoms, Egeanin frowned at her own sursa, one upright in each hand as if they really were sticks. Nynaeve held hers nestled in her hand the way Rendra had showed them, but so far she had managed to lift one sliver of meat and a few sliced peppers as far as her mouth; her eyes were tight with determination. A great many small white bowls covered the table, each filled with slices and tiny slivers of meat and vegetables, some in sauces dark or pale. Elayne thought it might take the rest of the day to finish this meal. She gave the honey-haired innkeeper a grateful smile wh 14114w2218o en the woman leaned over her shoulder to position the sursa properly.
"Your land is at war with Arad Doman," Egeanin said, sounding almost angry. "Why do you serve the dishes of your enemy?"
Rendra shrugged, making a moue behind her veil; she wore the palest possible red today, and beads of the same color woven into her narrow braids made soft clicks when she moved her head. "It is the fashion, now. Four days ago the Garden of Silver Breezes began it, and now almost every patron asks for the Domani food. I think maybe it is that if we cannot conquer the Domani, at least we can conquer their food. Maybe in Bandar Eban they eat the lamb with the honey sauce and the glazed apples, yes? In four days more, perhaps it is something else. The fashion, it changes quickly now, and if someone whips up the mob against this..." She shrugged again.
"Do you think there will be more riots?" Elayne asked. "Over what sort of food inns are serving?"
"The streets, they are restive," Rendra said, spreading her hands fatalistically. "Who can say what will spark them again? The uproar the day before yesterday, it came from a rumor Maracru had declared for the Dragon Reborn, or maybe fallen to the Dragonsworn, or the rebels perhaps - how seems to have made little difference - but does the mob turn on the people from Maracru? No. They rampage through the streets, pulling people from the carriages, and then burn the Grand Hall of the Assembly. Perhaps the word comes that the army, it has won a battle - or lost one - and the mob rises against those who serve Domani food. Or maybe it burns warehouses on the Calpene docks. Who can say?"
"No proper order," Egeanin muttered, thrusting the sursa firmly between the fingers of her right hand. From the expression on her face, they might have been daggers she was going to use to stab what was in the bowls. A bit of meat dropped out of Nynaeve's sursa short of her lips; growling, she snatched it from her lap, dabbing at the cream-colored silk with her napkin.
"Aah, order." Rendra laughed. "I remember order. Maybe it will come again one day, yes? Some thought the Panarch Amathera would put the Civil Watch back at their duties, but were I she, with the memory of the mob brawling outside my investiture... The Children of the Light, they killed very many of the rioters. Perhaps this means there will not be another riot, but perhaps it means the next riot, it will be twice so big, or ten times. I think that I, too, would keep the Watch and the Children close around me. But this is no talk to disturb the meal." Examining the table, she nodded to herself in approval, the beads in her thin plaits clicking. As she turned toward the door, she paused with a small smile. "It is the fashion to eat the Domani food with the sursa, and of course one does what is the fashion. But... there are none here to see save yourselves, yes? Should you perhaps wish the spoons and the forks, they are under the napkin." She indicated the tray on the end of the table. "Enjoy."
Nynaeve and Egeanin waited until the door closed behind the innkeeper, then grinned at each other and reached for the tray with decidedly unseemly haste. Elayne still managed to get her spoon and fork first; neither of the others had ever had to eat in the few minutes between a novice's chores and lessons.
"It is tasty enough," Egeanin said after her first mouthful, "when you can put any on your tongue." Nynaeve laughed with her.
In the seven days since meeting the dark-haired woman with her sharp blue eyes and slow drawl, they had both come to like her. She was a refreshing change from Rendra's chatter about hair and clothes and complexions, or stares in the street from people who looked as if they would slit a throat for a copper. This was her fourth visit since that first meeting, and Elayne had enjoyed every one. Egeanin had a directness and an air of independence she admired. The woman might be only a small trader in whatever came her way, but she could challenge Gareth Bryne for saying what she meant and bowing to no one.
Still, Elayne wished the visits had not been so frequent. Or rather that she and Nynaeve had not been at the Three Plum Court so often for Egeanin to find. Almost constant riots since Amathera's investiture made moving about the city all but impossible, however, despite their coterie of Domon's tough sailors. Even Nynaeve had admitted as much after they had had to flee a shower of fist-sized stones. Thom still promised to find them a carriage and team, but she was not too certain how hard he was looking. He and Juilin both seemed insufferably pleased that she and Nynaeve were mired inside the inn. They come back bruised or bleeding and don't want us to even stub a toe, she thought wryly. Why did men always think it was right to keep you safer than they kept themselves? Why did they think their injuries mattered less than yours?
From the taste of the meat, she suspected Thom should look in the kitchens here if he wanted to find horses. The thought of eating horse made her stomach queasy. She chose a bowl containing only vegetables, bits of dark mushroom, red peppers and some sort of feathery green sprouts in a pale, tangy sauce. "What shall we discuss today?" Nynaeve asked Egeanin. "You have asked almost every question I can think of." Nearly every one they knew how to answer at any rate. "If you want to learn any more about Aes Sedai, you'll have to go to the Tower as a novice."
Egeanin flinched unconsciously, as she did at any words linking the Power to her. For a moment she stirred the contents of one of the small bowls, frowning at it. "You have not made any real effort," she said slowly, "to keep secret from me that you are looking for someone. Women. If it does not intrude on your secrets, I would ask -" She cut off at a knock on the door.
Bayle Domon strode in without waiting, grim satisfaction warring with uneasiness on his round face. "I have found them," he began, then gave a start at the sight of Egeanin. "You!"
Shockingly, Egeanin knocked over her chair leaping up, and threw a fist at Domon's thick middle almost too fast to see. Somehow Domon caught her wrist in a big hand, twisted - there was a flurried instant where they seemed to be trying to hook each other's ankle with a foot; Egeanin attempted to strike him in the throat - then somehow, she was facedown on the floor, Domon's boot on her shoulder and her arm levered up hard against his knee. Despite that she snatched her belt knife free.
Elayne wove flows of Air around the pair before she even knew she had embraced saidar, freezing them where they were. "What is the meaning of this?" she demanded in her best icy tone.
"How dare you, Master Domon?" Nynaeve's voice was equally cold. "Unhand her!" More warmly, worriedly, she added, "Egeanin, why did you try to hit him? I told you to release her, Domon!"
"He cannot, Nynaeve." Elayne did wish the other woman could at least see flows clearly without being angry. She did try to hit him first. "Egeanin, why?"
The dark-haired woman lay there with eyes shut and mouth tight; her knuckles stood out bloodless from her grip on the knife hilt.
Domon glared from Elayne to Nynaeve, his odd Illianer beard nearly bristling. His head was all that Elayne had left free to move. "The woman do be Seanchan!" he growled.
Elayne exchanged startled looks with Nynaeve. Egeanin? Seanchan? It was impossible. It must be impossible.
"Are you certain?" Nynaeve asked slowly, quietly. She sounded as stunned as Elayne felt.
"I will never forget her face," Domon replied firmly. "A ship captain. It did be she who did take me to Falme, me and my ship, captives to the Seanchan."
Egeanin made no effort to deny it, only lay there gripping her knife. Seanchan. But I like her!
Carefully, Elayne shifted the weave of flows until Egeanin's knife hand lay uncovered to the wrist. "Let go of it, Egeanin," she said, kneeling beside the woman. "Please." After a moment, Egeanin's hand fell open. Elayne picked up the knife and backed away, loosing the flows completely. "Let her up, Master Domon."
"She be Seanchan, Mistress," he protested, "and hard as iron spikes."
"Let her up."
Muttering under his breath, he released Egeanin's wrist, moving, away from her quickly as if he expected she might come at him again. The dark-haired woman - the Seanchan woman - merely stood, though. She worked the shoulder he had wrenched, eyeing him thoughtfully, glanced at the door, then raised her head and waited with every outward appearance of calm. It was hard not to keep on admiring her.
"Seanchan," Nynaeve growled. She clutched a fistful of her long braids, then gave her hand an odd stare and let go, but her brows were still furrowed and her eyes hard. "Seanchan! Worming your way into our friendship. I thought you had all gone back where you came from. Why are you here, Egeanin? Was our meeting really an accident? Why did you seek us out? Did you mean to lure us somewhere your filthy sul'dam could lock their leashes around our throats?" Egeanin's blue eyes widened fractionally. "Oh, yes," Nynaeve told her sharply. "We know about you Seanchan and your sul'dam and damane. We know more than you. You chain women who channel, but those you use to control them can channel too, Egeanin. For every woman who can channel that you've leashed like an animal, you walk by another ten or twenty every day without realizing it."
"I know," Egeanin said simply, and Nynaeve's mouth fell open.
Elayne thought her own eyes were going to pop out of her head. "You know?" She took a breath and went on in something less like an incredulous squeal. "Egeanin, I think you are lying. I've not met many Seanchan before, and never for more than a few minutes, but I know someone who has. Seanchan don't even hate women who channel. They think they are animals. You'd not take it so easily if you knew, or even believed."
"Women who can wear the bracelet are women who can learn to channel," Egeanin said. "I did not know it could be learned - I was taught a woman either could or could not - but when you told me that girls must be guided if they are not born with it, I reasoned it out: May I sit down?" So cool.
Elayne nodded, and Domon set Egeanin's chair upright, standing behind it while she sat. Looking over her shoulder at him, the dark-haired woman said, "You were not so - difficult... an opponent the last time we met."
"You did have twenty armored soldiers on my deck then, and a damane ready to break my ship apart with the Power. Just because I can hook a shark from a boat, I do no offer to wrestle it in the water." Surprisingly, he grinned at her, rubbing his side where she must have gotten in a blow Elayne had not seen. "You are no so easy an opponent yourself as I did think you would be without your armor and sword."
The woman's world had to have been turned upside down by her own reasoning, but she was taking it matter-of-factly. Elayne could not imagine what would spin her own world topsy-turvy that way, but she hoped that if she ever found out she could face it with Egeanin's calm reserve. I have to stop liking her. She is Seanchan. They'd have collared me far a pet if they could. Light, how do you stop liking someone?
Nynaeve appeared to be having no such difficulty. Planting her fists on the table, she leaned toward Egeanin so fiercely her braids dangled among the small bowls. "Why are you here in Tanchico? I thought you had all fled after Falme. And why have you tried to wriggle your way into our trust like some egg-eating snake? If you think you can collar us, think again!"
"That was never my intention," Egeanin said stiffly. "All I ever wanted from you was to learn about Aes Sedai. I..." For the first time she seemed hesitant, unsure of herself. Compressing her lips, she looked from Nynaeve to Elayne and shook her head. "You are not as I was taught. The Light be upon me, I... like you."
"You like us." Nynaeve made it sound a crime. "That answers none of my questions."
Egeanin hesitated again, then held her head up, defying them to do their worst. "Sul'dam were left behind at Falme. Some deserted after the disaster. A few of us were sent to bring them back. I only found one, but I discovered that an a'dam would hold her." Seeing Nynaeve's fists tighten, she quickly added, "I let her go last night. I will pay dearly if that is ever discovered, but after talking with you, I could not..." Grimacing, she shook her head. "That is why I stayed with you after Elayne revealed herself. I knew Bethamin was a sul'dam. To discover the a'dam held her, that she could... I had to know, to understand, about women who could channel." She took a deep breath. "What do you mean to do with me?" Her hands, folded on the table, did not tremble.
Nynaeve opened her mouth angrily, and closed it again slowly. Elayne knew her difficulty. Nynaeve might hate Egeanin now, but what were they to do with her? It was not clear she had committed any crime in Tanchico, and in any event the Civil Watch seemed interested in nothing beyond saving its own collective skin. She was Seanchan, she had used sul'dam and damane, but on the other hand, she claimed to have let this Bethamin go free. For what crime could they punish her? Asking questions they had answered freely? Making them like her?
"I'd like to stripe your hide till you glow like a sunset," Nynaeve growled. Abruptly her head swung toward Domon. "You found them? You said you found them. Where?" He shifted his feet, shooting a meaning look at the back of Egeanin's head, eyebrows rising in a question.
"I do not believe she is a Darkfriend," Elayne said when Nynaeve hesitated.
"I certainly am not!" Egeanin's stare was fierce-eyed and offended.
Folding her arms as if to keep from tugging her braids, Nynaeve glared at the woman, then shifted an accusatory frown to Domon, as though this entire mess were his fault. "There isn't anywhere to lock her," she said finally, "and Rendra would surely demand reasons. Go ahead, Master Domon."
He gave a last, doubtful look at Egeanin. "At the Panarch's Palace, one of my men did see two of the women on your list. The one with the cats, and the Saldaean woman."
"Are you certain?" Nynaeve said. "At the Panarch's Palace? I wish you had seen for yourself. More women than Marillin Gemalphin like cats. And Asne Zeramene is not the only woman from Saldaea, even in Tanchico."
"A narrow-faced blue-eyed woman with a wide nose feeding a dozen cats in this city where people do eat cats? In the company of another with that Saldaean nose and tilted eyes? That is no so common a pair, Mistress al'Meara."
"It is not," she agreed. "But the Panarch's Palace? Master Domon, in case you have forgotten, five hundred Whitecloaks guard that place, commanded by an Inquisitor of the Hand of the Light! Jaichim Carridin and his officers at least must know Aes Sedai on sight. Would they remain if they saw the Panarch sheltering Aes Sedai?" He opened his mouth, but Nynaeve's point was telling, and nothing came out.
"Master Domon," Elayne said, "what was one of your men doing at the Panarch's Palace?"
He tugged at his beard in an embarrassed way, and rubbed his bare upper lip with a wide finger. "You see, the Panarch Amathera do be known to like ice peppers, the white kind that be very hot, and whether or no she be amenable to gifts herself, the customs men will know who did give her one and be more amenable themselves."
"Gifts?" Elayne said in her best reproving voice. "You were more honest on the docks, and called them bribes." Surprisingly, Egeanin had twisted around in her chair to give him a disapproving look, too.
"Fortune prick me," he muttered, "you did no ask me to give up my trade. And I would no if you did, no if you did bring my aged mother to ask. A man do have a right to his trade." Egeanin snorted and righted herself.
"His bribes are not our problem, Elayne." Nynaeve sounded exasperated. "I don't care if he bribes the entire city and smuggles -" A rap at the door cut her off. With a cautioning look at the others, she snapped "You sit quiet" to Egeanin, and raised her voice. "Come."
Juilin stuck his head into the room with that silly cylindrical cap on, frowning as usual at Domon. The gash on his dark cheek, the blood already dried, was not unusual either; the streets were rougher now by daylight than they had been by dark in the beginning. "May I speak to you alone, Mistress al'Meara?" he said when he saw Egeanin sitting at the table.
"Oh, come in," Nynaeve told him sharply. "After what she's heard already, it won't matter if she hears a little more. Have you found them in the Panarch's Palace, too?"
In the act of shutting the door, he shot an unreadable, tight-mouthed glance at Domon. The smuggler smiled, showing too many teeth. For a moment it seemed they might come to blows.
"So the Illianer is ahead of me," Juilin muttered ruefully. Ignoring Domon, he addressed Nynaeve. "I told you the woman with the white stripe would lead me to them. That is a very distinctive thing. And I saw the Domani woman there, too. From a distance - I am not fool enough to wade into a school of silverpike - but I cannot believe there is another Domani woman besides Jeaine Caide in all of Tarabon."
"You mean they are in the Panarch's Palace?" Nynaeve exclaimed.
Juilin's face did not change, but his dark eyes widened slightly, flickered toward Domon. "So he had no proof," he murmured in a satisfied tone.
"I did have proof," Domon avoided looking at the Tairen. "If you did no accept it before this fisherman did come, Mistress al'Meara, it be no fault of mine."
Juilin drew himself up, but Elayne cut in before the thief-catcher could speak. "You both found them, and you both brought proof. Very likely neither would have been sufficient without the other. Now we know where they are because of you both." If anything, they looked more disgruntled than before. Men could be absolutely silly at times.
"The Panarch's Palace." Nynaeve jerked a fistful of braids, then flung the long plaits over her shoulder with a toss of her head. "What they are after must be there. But if they have it, why are they still in Tanchico? The palace is huge. Maybe they haven't found it yet. Not that that helps if we are out here while they are inside!"
Thom, as usual, entered without knocking, taking in everyone at one glance. "Mistress Egeanin," he murmured, with an elegant bow his limp did nothing to diminish. "Nynaeve, if I could speak with you alone, I have important news."
The fresh bruise on his leathery cheek made Elayne even angrier than the new tear in his good brown cloak. The man was too old to be braving the streets of Tanchico. Or any rough streets, for that matter. It was time she arranged a pension for him, and somewhere safe and comfortable to live. No more gleeman wanderings from village to village for him. She would see to it.
Nynaeve gave Thom a sharp look. "I've no time for that now. The Black sisters are in the Panarch's Palace, and for all I know, Amathera is helping them search it from cellar to attic."
"I found out less than an hour ago," he said disbelievingly. "How did you...?" He looked at Domon and Juilin, both still glowering like boys who had each wanted the whole cake.
It was obvious that he dismissed either as Nynaeve's source of information. Elayne felt like grinning. He did so pride himself on knowing all the undercurrents, all the hidden doings. "The Tower has its ways, Thom," she told him, cool and mysterious. "It is best not to inquire too closely into the methods of Aes Sedai." He frowned, bushy white eyebrows drawing down uncertainly. Most satisfactory. She became aware of Juilin and Domon frowning at her, too, and suddenly it was all she could do not to blush. If they talked, she would look a fool. They would, eventually; men did. Best to bury it quickly and hope. "Thom, have you heard anything that might indicate whether Amathera is a Darkfriend?"
"Nothing." He tugged one long mustache irritably. "Apparently she has not seen Andric since donning the Crown of the Tree. Maybe the troubles in the streets make travel between the King's Palace and the Panarch's too dangerous. Maybe she has simply realized that her power equals his now, and is no longer as compliant as before. Nothing to say what her allegiances are." With a glance at the dark-haired woman in the chair, he added, "I am grateful for the aid Mistress Egeanin gave you with those robbers, but to now I have thought she was a casually met friend. May I ask who she is to be brought into this? I seem to recall you threatening to tie a knot in any careless tongues, Nynaeve."
"She's Seanchan," Nynaeve told him. "Close your mouth before you swallow a moth, Thom, and sit down. We can eat while we try to figure out what to do."
"In front of her?" Thom said. "Seanchan?" He had heard some of the story of Falme from Elayne - some of it - and he had certainly heard the rumors here; he studied Egeanin as if wondering where she hid her horns. Juilin seemed to be strangling, if his bulging eyes were any indication; he must have heard the Tanchican rumors, too.
"Do you suggest I ask Rendra to lock her in a storeroom?" Nynaeve asked calmly. "That would cause comment, wouldn't it? I'm fairly certain three big, hairy men can protect Elayne and me if she pulls a Seanchan army out of her pouch. Sit, Thom, or else eat standing up, but stop staring. All of you, sit. I mean to eat before it grows cold."
They did, Thom looking as ill-contented as Juilin and Domon. Sometimes Nynaeve's bullying manner did seem to work. Perhaps Rand would respond to occasional bullying.
Putting Rand out of her mind, Elayne decided it was time to add something of worth. "I cannot see how the Black sisters can be in the Panarch's Palace without Amathera's knowledge," she said, pulling her chair under her. "As I see it, that makes for three possibilities. One, Amathera is a Darkfriend. Two, she thinks they are Aes Sedai. And three, she is their prisoner." For some reason, Thom's approving nod made her feel warm inside. Silly. Even if he did know the Game of Houses, he was just a foolish bard who had thrown it all away to become a gleeman. "In any case, she will help them look for what they seek, but it seems to me that if she thinks they are Aes Sedai, we might be able to gain her help with the truth. And if she is a prisoner, we could gain it by freeing her. Even Liandrin and her companions could not hold on to the palace if the Panarch ordered it cleared, and that would give us a free hand to search."
"The problem is discovering whether she is ally, dupe or captive," Thom said, gesturing with his pair of sursa. He knew how to use the things perfectly!
Juilin shook his head. "The real problem is to reach her, whatever her situation. Jaichim Carridin has five hundred Whitecloaks around the palace like fisher-birds around the docks. The Panarch's Legion has nearly twice that, and the Civil Watch almost as many. Few of the ring forts are held half so well."
"We are not going to fight them," Nynaeve said dryly. "Stop thinking with the hair on your chest. This is a time for wits, not muscle. As I see it..."
The discussion went on through the meal, continuing after the last small bowl was emptied. Egeanin even offered a few cogent comments after a while spent silently, not eating and not seeming to listen. She had a sharp mind and Thom readily accepted any of her suggestions he agreed with, though he stubbornly rejected out of hand those he did not, just the way he treated everyone else. Even Domon, rather surprisingly, supported Egeanin when Nynaeve wanted her to keep quiet. "She do make sense, Mistress al'Meara. Only a fool do reject sense, wherever it do come from."
Unfortunately, knowing where the Black sisters were did little good without knowing whether or not Amathera was with them; that, or what they were after. In the end, almost two hours of discussion came to not much more than that and a few suggestions as to how to find out about Amathera. All of which, it seemed, were to be used by the men with their spiderweb of contacts crisscrossing Tanchico.
None of the fool men wanted to leave them alone with one of the Seanchan - until Nynaeve became angry enough to wrap them all three in flows of Air while they dithered before the door. "Do you not think," she said icily, surrounded by the glow of saidar, "that one of us might be able to do the same to her if she says boo?" She would not release any of them until they all nodded their heads, the only bits they could move.
"You keep a taut crew," Egeanin said as soon as the door closed behind them.
"Be quiet, Seanchan!" Nynaeve folded her arms tightly; she seemed to have given up trying to pull at those braids when she was angry. "Sit down, and-be-quiet!"
It was frustrating waiting there, staring at the plum trees and falling blossoms painted on the windowless walls, pacing the floor or watching Nynaeve pace, while Thom and Juilin and Domon were out actually doing something. Yet it was worse when each man came back at intervals, to report another trail faded away to nothing, another thread snapped, hear what the others had learned, and hurry out again.
The first time Thom returned - with a second purple bruise, on the other cheek - Elayne said, "Wouldn't you do better here, Thom, where you could hear whatever Juilin and Master Domon report? You could evaluate much better than Nynaeve or I."
He shook his foolish shaggy white head while Nynaeve sniffed loudly enough to be heard in the hallway. "I've a lead to a house on the Verana, where Amathera supposedly went sneaking some nights before she was raised Panarch." And he was gone before she could say another word.
When he next returned - limping distinctly more, reporting that the house was the home of Amathera's old nurse - Elayne spoke in her firmest voice. "Thom, I want you to sit down. You will stay here. I will not have you getting yourself hurt."
"Hurt?" he said. "Child, I never felt better in my life. Tell Juilin and Bayle there is supposedly a woman named Cerindra somewhere in this city who claims to know all sorts of dark secrets about Amathera." And off he hobbled, cloak swirling behind him. He had another tear in that, too. Stubborn, stubborn, foolish old man.
Once a clamor penetrated the thick walls, brutal shouts and cries from the street. Rendra bustled into the room just when Elayne had decided to go down and see for herself what it was. "Some little trouble outside. Do not disturb yourself. Bayle Domon's men, they keep it away from us, yes. I did not want you to worry."
"A riot here?" Nynaeve said sharply. The immediate neighborhood of the inn had been one of the few calm areas in the city.
"Not to worry," Rendra said soothingly. "Perhaps they want food. I will tell them where Bayle Domon's soup kitchen is, and they will go away."
The noise did die down after a while, and Rendra sent up some wine. Not until the serving man was leaving, with a sulky look on his face, did Elayne realize it was the young man with the beautiful brown eyes. The man had begun reacting to her coldest stares as if they were smiles. Did the fool think she had time to notice him now?
Waiting and pacing, pacing and waiting. Cerindra turned out to be a tirewoman dismissed for theft; not at all grateful for not being imprisoned, she would make any accusation against Amathera that was suggested to her. A fellow who claimed to have proof that Amathera was Aes Sedai and Black Ajah also claimed that the same documents proved King Andric the Dragon Reborn. The group of women whom Amathera used to meet in secret were friends Andric despised, and the shocking discovery that she financed several smuggling craft led nowhere. Almost every noble but the King himself had a finger in smuggling. Every trail ended that way. The worst Thom could discover was that Amathera had convinced two handsome young lords that each was the true love of her life and Andric only a means to an end. On the other hand, she had given audiences in the Panarch's Palace to various lords, both alone and in company with various women recognizable as Liandrin and others on the list, and reportedly asked and accepted their advice for her decisions. Ally, or captive?
When Juilin came back, a good three hours after sunset, spinning a thumb-thick staff of ridged wood and muttering about some pale-haired fellow who had tried to rob him, Thom and Domon were already slumped disconsolately at the table with Egeanin.
"This will be Falme again," Domon growled at the air. The stout cudgel he had acquired somewhere lay in front of him, and he wore a short sword at his belt now. "Aes Sedai. The Black Ajah. Meddling with the Panarch. If we do no find something tomorrow, I do mean to take myself out of Tanchico. The next day for certain, if my own sister do ask me to stay!"
"Tomorrow," Thom said wearily, elbows on the table and chin on fists. "I am too tired to think straight any longer. I found myself listening to a laundryman from the Panarch's Palace who claims he has heard Amathera singing bawdy songs, the sort you hear in the roughest taverns on the docks. I actually listened to him."
"For me," Juilin said, reversing a chair to straddle it, "I mean to look on tonight. I found a roofman who says the woman he keeps company with was another of Amathera's tirewomen. According to him, Amathera discharged all of her tirewomen without warning the same evening she was invested Panarch. He will take me to talk with her after he finishes some business of his own at a merchant's house."
Nynaeve moved to the end of the table, fists on hips. "You will not be going anywhere tonight, Juilin. The three of you will be taking turns guarding our door." The men protested volubly, of course, all together.
"I do have my own trade to keep up, and if I must spend my days asking questions for you..."
"Mistress al'Meara, this woman is the first person I have found who's actually seen Amathera since she was raised..."
"Nynaeve, I'll hardly be able to find a rumor tomorrow, much less trace it, if I spend the night playing at..."
She let them argue themselves out. When they began to trail off, obviously thinking her convinced, she said, "Since we have nowhere else to keep the Seanchan woman, she will have to sleep with us. Elayne, will you ask Rendra to have a pallet made Up? On the floor will do nicely." Egeanin glanced at her, but said nothing.
The men were neatly boxed; either they refused flatly, and openly broke their word to do as Nynaeve said, or else argued on, sounding as if they were whining. They glowered and spluttered - and acquiesced.
Rendra was clearly surprised they requested only a pallet, but accepted the tale that Egeanin feared to risk the streets at night. She did look miffed when Thom seated himself in the hall beside their door. "Those fellows, they did not get inside however hard they tried. I told you the soup kitchen would take them away, yes? Guests at the Three Plum Court have no need for the bodyguards on their rooms."
"I am sure not," Elayne told her, gently trying to push her out with the door. "It's just that Thom and the others do worry so. You know how men are." Thom shot her a hawkish stare beneath those thick white eyebrows, but Rendra sniffed, agreeing that she did indeed know, and let Elayne shut the door.
Nynaeve immediately turned to Egeanin, who Was spreading her pallet on the far side of the bed. "Take off your clothes, Seanchan. I want to be sure you don't have another knife hidden away."
Egeanin calmly stood and undressed down to her linen shift. Nynaeve searched through her dress thoroughly, then insisted on searching Egeanin as well, and none too gently. Finding nothing did not seem to soothe her.
"Hands behind your back, Seanchan. Elayne, bind her."
"Nynaeve, I don't think she -"
"Bind her with the Power, Elayne," Nynaeve said roughly, "or I'll cut strips from her dress and bind her hands and heels. You remember how she handled those fellows in the street. Probably her own hirelings. She could probably kill us in our sleep with her bare hands."
"Really, Nynaeve, with Thom outside -"
"She's Seanchan! Seanchan, Elayne!" She sounded as if she hated the dark-haired woman for a personal wrong, which made no sense. Egwene had been in their hands, but not Nynaeve. The set of her jaw said she meant to have her way, with the Power or with ropes if she could find them.
Egeanin had already placed her wrists together in the small of her back, compliant if not meek. Elayne wove a flow of Air around them and tied it off; at least it would be more comfortable than bindings cut out of her dress. Egeanin flexed her arms slightly, testing the bonds she could not see, and shivered. She could as easily have broken steel chains. Shrugging, she laid herself down awkwardly on the pallet and turned her back to them.
Nynaeve began undoing her own dress. "Let me have the ring, Elayne."
"Are you sure, Nynaeve?" She looked at Egeanin in a significant manner. The woman seemed to be paying no attention to them.
"She'll not go running to betray us tonight." Pausing to pull the dress over her head, Nynaeve sat on the edge of the bed in her thin silk Taraboner shift to roll down her stockings. "Tonight is the agreed night. Egwene will expect one of us, and it is my turn. She will be worried if neither of us appears."
Elayne fished the leather cord around her neck out of the bosom of her dress. The stone ring, all flecks and stripes in blue and brown and red, lay snuggled against the golden serpent eating its own tail. Unknotting the string long enough to hand the ter'angreal to Nynaeve, she retied and replaced it. Nynaeve strung the stone ter'angreal with her own Great Serpent ring and Lan's heavy gold ring, let them hang between her breasts.
"Give me an hour after you are certain I'm asleep," she said, stretching out atop the blue coverlet. "It should take no longer than that. And keep an eye on her."
"What can she do bound, Nynaeve?" Elayne hesitated before adding, "I don't think she would try to harm us if she were loose."
"Don't you dare!" Nynaeve raised her head to glare at Egeanin's back, then lay back on the pillows again. "An hour, Elayne." Closing her eyes, she wriggled to make herself more comfortable. "That should be more than enough," she murmured.
Hiding a yawn behind her hand, Elayne brought the low stool to the foot of the bed, where she could watch Nynaeve, and Egeanin, too, though that hardly seemed necessary. The woman lay huddled on her pallet with her knees up, hands securely fastened. It had been a strangely tiring day considering that they had never left the inn. Nynaeve was already muttering softly in her sleep. With her elbows jutting out.
Egeanin lifted her head and looked over her shoulder. "She hates me, I think."
"Go to sleep." Elayne stifled another yawn.
"You do not."
"Don't be too sure of yourself," she said firmly. "You are taking this very calmly. How can you be so calm?"
"Calm?" The other woman's hands moved involuntarily, twisting at her Air-woven bonds. "I am so terrified I could weep." She did not sound it. Yet it sounded the simple truth.
"We won't harm you, Egeanin." Whatever Nynaeve wanted, she would see to that. "Go to sleep." After a moment Egeanin's head lowered.
An hour. It was right not to worry Egwene needlessly, but she wished that hour could be spent on their problem instead of wandering uselessly in Tel'aran'rhiod. If they could not find out whether Amathera was prisoner or captive... Set that aside; I won't puzzle it out here. Once they did find out, how could they get inside the palace with all those soldiers about, and the Civil Watch, not to mention Liandrin and the others?
Nynaeve had started snoring softly, a habit she denied even more heatedly than she did flinging her elbows about. Egeanin appeared to be taking the long, slow breaths of deep sleep. Yawning into the back of her hand, Elayne shifted on the hard wooden seat and began planning how to sneak into the Panarch's Palace.