The Great Hunt (The Wheel of Time 2) - Page 115

It was a long passage to Falme, and Domon finally persuaded the Seanchan to talk, a little. A dark-eyed man in his middle years, with an old scar above his eyes and another nicking his chin, his name was Caban, and he had nothing but contempt for anyone this side of the Aryth Ocean. That gave Domon a moment’s pause. Maybe they truly do be. . . . No, that do be madness. Caban’s speech had the same slur as Egeanin’s, but where hers was silk sliding across iron, his was leather rasping on rock, and mostly he wanted to talk about battles, drinking, and women he had known. Half the time, Domon was not certain if he were speaking of here and now, or of wherever he had come from. The man was certainly not forthcoming about anything Domon wanted to know.

Once Domon asked about the damane. Caban reached up from where he sat in front of the helmsman and put the point of his sword to Domon’s throat. “Watch what your tongue touches, or you will lose it. That’s the business of the Blood, not your kind. Or mine.” He grinned while he said it, and as soon as he was done, he went back to sliding a stone along his heavy, curved blade.

Domon touched the point of blood welling above his collar and resolved not to ask that again, at least.

The closer the two vessels came to Falme, the more of the tall, square-looking Seanchan ships they passed, some under sail, but more anchored. Every one was bluff-bowed and towered, as big as anything Domon had ever seen, even among the Sea Folk. A few local craft, he saw, with their sharp bows and slanted sails, darted across the green swells. The sight gave him confidence that Egeanin had spoken the truth about letting him go free.

When Spray came up on the headland where Falme stood, Domon gaped at the numbers of the Seanchan ships anchored off the harbor. He tried counting them and gave up at a hundred, less than halfway done. He had seen as many ships in one place before—in Illian, and Tear, and even Tanchico—but those vessels had included many smaller craft. Muttering glumly to himself, he took Spray into the harbor, shepherded by her great Seanchan watchdog.

Falme stood on a spit of land at the very tip of Toman Head, with nothing further west of it except the Aryth Ocean. High cliffs ran to the harbor mouth on both sides, and atop one of those, where every ship running into the harbor had to pass under them, stood the towers of the Watchers Over the Waves. A cage hung over the side of one of the towers, with a man sitting in it despondently, legs dangling through the bars.

“Who is that?” Domon asked.

Caban had finally given over sharpening his sword, after Domon had begun to wonder if he meant to shave with it. The Seanchan glanced up to where Domon pointed. “Oh. That is the First Watcher. Not the one who sat in the chair when we first came, of course. Every time he dies, they choose another, and we put him in the cage.”

“But why?” Domon demanded.

Caban’s grin showed too many teeth. “They watched for the wrong thing, and forgot when they should have been remembering.”

Domon tore his eyes away from the Seanchan. Spray slid down the last real sea swell and into the quieter waters of the harbor. I do be a trader, and it is none of my business.

Falme rose from stone docks up the slopes of the hollow that made the harbor. Domon could not decide whether the dark stone houses made up a goodly sized town or a small city. Certainly he saw no building in it to rival the smallest palace in Illian.

He guided Spray to a place at one of the docks, and wondered, while the crew tied the ship fast, if the Seanchan might buy some of the fireworks in his hold. None of my business.

To his surprise, Egeanin had herself rowed to the dock with her damane. There was another woman wearing the bracelet this time, with the red panels and forked lightning on her dress, but the damane was the same sad-faced woman who never looked up unless the other spoke to her. Egeanin had Domon and his crew herded off the ship to sit on the dock under the eyes of a pair of her soldiers—she seemed to think no more were needed, and Domon was not about to argue with her—while others searched Spray under her direction. The damane was part of the search.

Down the dock, a thing appeared. Domon could think of no other way to describe it. A hulking creature with a leathery, gray-green hide and a beak of a mouth in a wedge-shaped head. And three eyes. It lumbered along beside a man whose armor bore three painted eyes, just like those of the creature. The local people, dockmen and sailors in roughly embroidered shirts and long vests to their knees, shied away as the pair passed, but no Seanchan gave them a second glance. The man with the beast seemed to be directing it with hand signals.

Man and creature turned in among the buildings, leaving Domon staring and his crew muttering to themselves. The two Seanchan guards sneered at them silently. No my business, Domon reminded himself. His business was his ship.

The air had a familiar smell of salt water and pitch. He shifted uneasily on the stone, hot from the sun, and wondered what the Seanchan were searching for. What the damane was searching for. Wondered what that thing had been. Gulls cried, wheeling above the harbor. He thought of the sounds a caged man might make. It is no my business.

Eventually Egeanin led the others back onto the dock. The Seanchan captain had something wrapped in a piece of yellow silk, Domon noted warily. Something small enough to carry in one hand, but which she held carefully in both.

He got to his feet—slowly, for the soldiers’ sake, though their eyes held the same contempt Caban’s did. “You see, Captain? I do be only a peaceful trader. Perhaps your people would care to buy some fireworks?”

“Perhaps, trader.” There was an air of suppressed excitement about her that made him uneasy, and her next words increased the feeling. “You will come with me.”

She told two soldiers to come along, and one of them gave Domon a push to get him started. It was not a rough shove; Domon had seen farmers push a cow in the same way to make it move. Setting his teeth, he followed Egeanin.

The cobblestone street climbed the slope, leaving the smell of the harbor behind. The slate-roofed houses grew larger and taller as the street climbed. Surprisingly for a town held by invaders, the streets held more local people than Seanchan soldiers, and now and again a curtained palanquin was borne past by bare-chested men. The Falmen seemed to be going about their business as if the Seanchan were not there. Or almost not there. When palanquin or soldier passed, both poor folk, with only a curling line or two worked on their dirty clothes, and the richer, with shirts, vests, and dresses covered from shoulder to waist in

intricately embroidered patterns, bowed and remained bent until the Seanchan were gone. They did the same for Domon and his guard. Neither Egeanin nor her soldiers so much as glanced at them.

Domon realized with a sudden shock that some of the local people they passed wore daggers at their belts, and in a few cases swords. He was so surprised that he spoke without thinking. “Some of them be on your side?”

Egeanin frowned over her shoulder at him, obviously puzzled. Without slowing, she looked at the people and nodded to herself. “You mean the swords. They are our people, now, trader; they have sworn the oaths.” She stopped abruptly, pointing at a tall, heavy-shouldered man with a heavily embroidered vest and a sword swinging on a plain leather baldric. “You.”

The man halted in mid-step, one foot in the air and a frightened look suddenly on his face. It was a hard face, but he looked as if he wanted to run. Instead, he turned to her and bowed, hands on knees, eyes fixed on her boots. “How may this one serve the captain?” he asked in a tight voice.

“You are a merchant?” Egeanin said. “You have sworn the oaths?”

“Yes, Captain. Yes.” He did not take his eyes from her feet.

“What do you tell the people when you take your wagons inland?”

“That they must obey the Forerunners, Captain, await the Return, and serve Those Who Come Home.”

Tags: Robert Jordan The Wheel of Time Fantasy
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