He was led into another room. He thought the furniture here had to have been brought by Turak. It seemed to be made of curves, with no straight lines at all, and the wood was polished to bring out strange graining. There was one chair, on a silk carpet woven in birds and flowers, and one large cabinet made in a circle. Folding screens made new walls.
The man with the braid opened the doors of the cabinet to reveal shelves holding an odd assortment of figurines, cups, bowls, vases, fifty different things, no two alike in size or shape. Domon’s breath caught as Turak carefully set the disk beside its exact twin.
“Cuendillar,” Turak said. “That is what I collect, trader. Only the Empress herself has a finer collection.”
Domon’s eyes almost popped out of his head. If everything on those shelves was truly cuendillar, it was enough to buy a kingdom, or at the least to found a great House. Even a king might beggar himself to buy so much of it, if he even knew where to find so much. He put on a smile.
“High Lord, please accept this piece as a gift.” He did not want to let it go, but that was better than angering this Seanchan. Maybe the Darkfriends will chase him now. “I do be but a simple trader. I want only to trade. Let me sail, and I do promise that—”
Turak’s expression never chang
ed, but the man with the braid cut Domon off with a snapped, “Unshaven dog! You speak of giving the High Lord what Captain Egeanin has already given. You bargain, as if the High Lord were a—a merchant! You will be flayed alive over nine days, dog, and—” The barest motion of Turak’s finger silenced him.
“I cannot allow you to leave me, trader,” the High Lord said. “In this shadowed land of oath-breakers, I find none who can converse with a man of sensibilities. But you are a collector. Perhaps your conversation will be interesting.” He took the chair, lolling back in its curves to study Domon.
Domon put on what he hoped was an ingratiating smile. “High Lord, I do be a simple trader, a simple man. I do no have the way of talking with great Lords.”
The man with the braid glared at him, but Turak seemed not to hear. From behind one of the screens, a slim, pretty young woman appeared on quick feet to kneel beside the High Lord, offering a lacquered tray bearing a single cup, thin and handleless, of some steaming black liquid. Her dark, round face was vaguely reminiscent of the Sea Folk. Turak took the cup carefully in his long-nailed fingers, never looking at the young woman, and inhaled the fumes. Domon took one look at the girl and pulled his eyes away with a strangled gasp; her white silk robe was embroidered with flowers, but so sheer he could see right through it, and there was nothing beneath but her own slimness.
“The aroma of kaf,” Turak said, “is almost as enjoyable as the flavor. Now, trader. I have learned that cuendillar is even more rare here than in Seanchan. Tell me how a simple trader came to possess a piece.” He sipped his kaf and waited.
Domon took a deep breath and set about trying to lie his way out of Falme.
In the room shared by Hurin and Loial, Rand peered through the window at the ordered lines and terraces of Cairhien, the stone buildings and slate roofs. He could not see the Illuminators’ chapter house; even if huge towers and great lords’ houses had not been in the way, the city walls would have prevented it. The Illuminators were on everyone’s tongues in the city, even now, days after the night when they had lofted only one nightflower into the sky, and that early. A dozen different versions of the scandal were being told, discounting minor variations, but none close to the truth.
Rand turned away. He hoped no one had been hurt in the fire, but the Illuminators had not so far admitted there had been a fire. They were a close-mouthed lot about what went on inside their chapter house.
“I will take the next watch,” he told Hurin, “as soon as I come back.”
“There is no need, my Lord.” Hurin bowed as deeply as any Cairhienin. “I can keep watch. Truly, my Lord need not trouble himself.”
Rand drew a deep breath and exchanged looks with Loial. The Ogier only shrugged. The sniffer was growing more formal every day they remained in Cairhien; the Ogier simply commented that humans often acted oddly.
“Hurin,” Rand said, “you used to call me Lord Rand, and you used not to bow every time I looked at you.” I want him to unbend and call me Lord Rand again, he thought with amazement. Lord Rand! Light, we have to get out of here before I start wanting him to bow. “Will you please sit down? You make me tired, looking at you.”
Hurin stood with his back stiff, yet appeared ready to leap to perform any task Rand might request. He neither sat down nor relaxed now. “It wouldn’t be proper, my Lord. We have to show these Cairhienin we know how to be every bit as proper as—”
“Will you stop saying that!” Rand shouted.
“As you wish, my Lord.”
It was an effort for Rand not to sigh again. “Hurin, I’m sorry. I should not have shouted at you.”
“It’s your right, my Lord,” Hurin said simply. “If I don’t do the way you want, it’s your right to shout.”
Rand stepped toward the sniffer with the intention of grabbing the man’s collar and shaking him.
A knock on the connecting door to Rand’s room froze them all, but Rand was pleased to see that Hurin did not wait to ask permission before picking up his sword. The heron-mark blade was at Rand’s waist; going out, he touched its hilt. He waited for Loial to seat himself on his long bed, arranging his legs and the tails of his coat to further obscure the blanket-covered chest under the bed, then yanked open the door.
The innkeeper stood there, rocking with eagerness and pushing his tray at Rand. Two sealed parchments lay on the tray. “Forgive me, my Lord,” Cuale said breathlessly. “I could not wait until you came down, and then you were not in your own room, and—and. . . . Forgive me, but. . . .” He jiggled the tray.
Rand snatched the invitations—there had been so many—without looking at them, took the innkeeper’s arm, and turned him toward the door to the hall. “Thank you, Master Cuale, for taking the trouble. If you’ll leave us alone, now, please. . . .”