“We didn't come to see Logain,” Rand said patiently. “We just came to see Caemlyn.” He remembered Bunt, and added, “The grandest city in the world.” The shopkeeper's grimace remained in place. “The Light illumine good Queen Morgase,” Rand said hopefully.
“You make any trouble,” the man said sourly, “and there's a hundred men in sound of my voice will take care of you even if the Guards won't.” He paused to spit, just missing Rand's foot. “Get on about your filthy business. ”
Rand nodded as if the man had bid him a cheerful farewell, and pulled Mat away. Mat kept looking back over his shoulder toward the shop, growling to himself, until Rand tugged him into an empty alleyway. With their backs to the street no passerby could see what they were doing. Rand pulled off the sword belt and set to wrapping the sheath and hilt.
“I'll bet he charged you double for that bloody cloth,” Mat said. “Triple.”
It was not as easy as it looked, fastening the strips of cloth and the cord so the whole thing would not fall off.
“They'll all be trying to cheat us, Rand. They think we've come to see the false Dragon, like everybody else. We'll be lucky if somebody doesn't hit us on the head while we sleep. This is no place to be. There are too many people. Let's leave for Tar Valon now. Or south, to Illian. I wouldn't mind seeing them gather for the Hunt of the Horn. If we can't go home, let's just go.”
“I'm staying,” Rand said. “If they're not here already, they'll come here sooner or later, looking for us.”
He was not sure if he had the wrappings done the way everyone else did, but the herons on scabbard and hilt were hidden and he thought it was secure. As he went back out on the street, he was sure that he had one less thing to worry about causing trouble. Mat trailed along beside him as reluctantly as if he were being pulled on a leash.
Bit by bit Rand did get the directions he wanted. At first they were vague, on the order of “somewhere in that direction” and “over that way.” The nearer they came, though, the clearer the instructions, until at last they stood before a broad stone building with a sign over the door creaking in the wind. A man kneeling before a woman with redgold hair and a crown, one of her hands resting on his bowed head. The Queen's Blessing.
“Are you sure about this?” Mat asked.
“Of course,” Rand said. He took a deep breath and pushed open the door.
The common room was large and paneled with dark wood, and fires on two hearths warmed it. A serving maid was sweeping the floor, though it was clean, and another was polishing candlesticks in the corner. Each smiled at the two newcomers before going back to her work.
Only a few tables had people at them, but a dozen men was a crowd for so early in the day, and if none looked exactly happy to see him and Mat, at least they looked clean and sober. The smells of roasting beef and baking bread drifted from the kitchen, making Rand's mouth water.
The innkeeper was fat, he was pleased to see, a pinkfaced man in a starched white apron, with graying hair combed back over a bald spot that it did not quite cover. His sharp eye took them in from head to toe, dusty clothes and bundles and worn boots, but he had a ready, pleasant smile, too. Basel Gill was his name.
“Master Gill,” Rand said, “a friend of ours told us to come here. Thom Merrilin. He — ” The innkeeper's smile slipped. Rand looked at Mat, but he was too busy sniffing the aromas coming from the kitchen to notice anything else. “Is something wrong? You do know him?”
“I know him,” Gill said curtly. He seemed more interested in the flute case at Rand's side now, than in anything else. “Come with me.” He jerked his head toward the back. Rand gave Mat a jerk to get him started, then followed, wondering what was going on.
In the kitchen, Master Gill paused to speak to the cook, a round woman with her hair in a bun at the back of her head who almost matched the innkeeper pound for pound. She kept stirring her pots while Master Gill talked. The smells were so good — two days' hunger made a fine sauce for anything, but this smelled as good as Mistress al'Vere's kitchen — that Rand's stomach growled. Mat was leaning toward the pots, nose first. Rand nudged him; Mat hastily wiped his chin where he had begun drooling.
Then the innkeeper was hurrying them out the back door. In the stableyard he looked around to make sure no one was close, then rounded on them. On Rand. “What's in the case, lad?”
“Thom's flute,” Rand said slowly. He opened the case, as if showing the goldandsilverchased flute would help. Mat's hand crept under his coat.
Master Gill did not take his eyes off Rand. “Aye, I recognize it. I saw him play it often enough, and there's not likely two like that outside a royal court.” The pleasant smiles were gone, and his sharp eyes were suddenly as sharp as a knife. “How did you come by it? Thom would part with his arm as soon as that flute.”
“He gave it to me.” Rand took Thom's bundled cloak from his back and set it on the ground, unfolding enough to show the colored patches, as well as the end of the harp case. “Thom's dead, Master Gill. If he was your friend, I'm sorry. He was mine, too.”
“Dead, you say. How?”
“A ... a man tried to kill us. Thom pushed this at me and told us to run.” The patches fluttered in the wind like butterflies. Rand's throat caught; he folded the cloak carefully back up again. “We'd have been killed if it hadn't been for him. We were on our way to Caemlyn together. He told us to come here, to your inn. ”
“I'll believe he's dead,” the innkeeper said slowly, “when I see his corpse.” He nudged the bundled cloak with his toe and cleared his throat roughly. “Nay, nay, I believe you saw whatever it was you saw; I just don't believe he's dead. He's a harder man to kill than you might believe, is old Thom Merrilin.”
Rand put a hand on Mat's shoulder. “It's all right, Mat. He's a friend.”
Master Gill glanced at Mat, and sighed. “I suppose I am at that.”
Mat straightened up slowly, folding his arms over his chest. He was still watching the innkeeper warily, though, and a muscle in his cheek twitched.
“Coming to Caemlyn, you say?” The innkeeper shook his head. “This is the last place on earth I'd expect Thom to come, excepting maybe it was Tar Valon.” He waited for a stableman to pass, leading a horse, and even then he lowered his voice. “You've trouble with the Aes Sedai, I take it.”
“Yes,” Mat grumbled at the same time that Rand said, “What makes you think that?”
Master Gill chuckled dryly. “I know the man, that's what. He'd jump into that kind of trouble, especially to help a couple of lads about the age of you...” The reminiscence in his eyes flickered out, and he stood up straight with a chary look. “Now ... ah ... I'm not making any accusations, mind, but ... ah ... I take it neither of you can ... ah ... what I'm getting at is . . . ah ... what exactly is the nature of your trouble with Tar Valon, if you don't mind my asking?”
Rand's skin prickled as he realized what the man was suggesting. The One Power. “No, no, nothing like that. I swear. There was even an Aes Sedai helping us. Moiraine was ...” He bit his tongue, but the innkeeper's expression never changed.
“Glad to hear it. Not that I've all that much love for Aes Sedai, but better them than ... that other thing.” He shook his head slowly. “Too much talk of that kind of thing, with Logain being brought here. No offense meant, you understand, but ... well, I had to know, didn't I?”
“No offense,” Rand said. Mat's murmur could have been anything, but the innkeeper appeared to take it for the same as Rand had said.
“You two look the right sort, and I do believe you were — are — friends of Thom, but it's hard times and stony days. I don't suppose you can pay? No, I didn't think so. There's not enough of anything, and what there is costs the earth, so I'll give you beds — not the best, but warm and dry — and something to eat, and I cannot promise more, however much I'd like.”
“Thank you,” Rand said with a quizzical glance at Mat. “It's more than I expected.” What was the right sort, and why should he promise more?
“Well, Thom's a good friend. An old friend. Hotheaded and liable to say the worst possible thing to the one person he shouldn't, but a good friend all the same. If he doesn't show up ... well, we'll figure something out then. Best you don't talk any more talk about Aes Sedai helping you. I'm a good Queen's man, but there are too many in Caemlyn right now who'd take it wrong, and I don't mean just the Whitecloaks.”
Mat snorted. “For all I care, the ravens can take every Aes Sedai straight to Shayol Ghul!”
“Watch your tongue,” Master Gill snapped. “I said I don't love them; I didn't say I'm a fool thinks they're behind everything that's wrong. The Queen supports Elaida, and the Guards stand for the Queen. The Light send things don't go so bad that changes. Anyway, lately some Guards have forgotten themselves enough to be a little rough with folks they overhear speaking against Aes Sedai. Not on duty, thank the Light, but it's happened, just the same. I don't need offduty Guards breaking up my common room to teach you a lesson, and I don't need Whitecloaks egging somebody on to paint the Dragon's Fang on my door, so if you want any help out of me, you just keep thoughts about Aes Sedai to yourself, good or bad.” He paused thoughtfully, then added, “Maybe it's best you don't mention Thom's name, either, where anyone but me can hear. Some of the Guards have long memories, and so does the Queen. No ne