He settled his cloak on his shoulders and hitched his sword belt around so the sword, and the red cloth wrapped around it, was covered more.
At the foot of the stairs he met Master Gill just starting up. “There's someone been asking after you in the city,” the innkeeper said around his pipe. Rand felt a surge of hope. “Asking after you and those friends of yours, by name. You younglings, anyway. Seems to want you three lads most. ”
Anxiety replaced hope. “Who?” Rand asked. He still could not help glancing up and down the hall. Except for they two, it was empty, from the exit into the alley to the common room door.
“Don't know his name. Just heard about him. I hear most things in Caemlyn, eventually. Beggar.” The innkeeper grunted. “Half mad, I hear. Even so, he could take the Queen's Bounty at the Palace, even with things as hard as they are. On High Days, the Queen gives it out with her own hands, and there's never anyone turned away for any reason. No one needs to beg in Caemlyn. Even a man under warrant can't be arrested while he's taking the Queen's Bounty.”
“A Darkfriend?” Rand said reluctantly. If the Darkfriends know our names...
“You've got Darkfriends on the brain, young fellow. They're around, certainly, but just because the Whitecloaks have everybody stirred up is no reason for you to think the city's full of them. Do you know what rumor those idiots have started now? 'Strange shapes.' Can you believe it? Strange shapes creeping around outside the city in the night.” The innkeeper chuckled till his belly shook.
Rand did not feel like laughing. Hyam Kinch had talked about strange shapes, and there had surely enough been a Fade back there. “What kind of shapes?”
“What kind? I don't know what kind. Strange shapes. Trollocs, probably. The Shadowman. Lews Therin Kinslayer himself, come back fifty feet high. What kind of shapes do you think people will imagine now the idea's in their heads? It's none of our worry.” Master Gill eyed him for a moment. “Going out, are you? Well, I can't say I care for it, myself, even today, but there's hardly anybody left here but me. Not your friend?”
“Mat's not feeling very well. Maybe later.”
“Well, be that as it may. You watch yourself, now. Even today good Queen's men will be outnumbered out there, Light burn the day I ever thought to see it so. Best you leave by the alleyway. There's two of those bloodbedamned traitors sitting across the street watching my front door. They know where I stand, by the Light!”
Rand stuck his head out and looked both ways before slipping into the alley. A bulky man Master Gill had hired stood at the head of the alley, leaning on a spear and watching the people run past with an apparent lack of interest. It was only apparent, Rand knew. The fellow — his name was Lamgwin — saw everything through those heavylidded eyes, and for all his bullish bulk he could move like a cat. He also thought Queen Morgase was the Light made flesh, or near enough. There were a dozen like him scattered around The Queen's Blessing.
Lamgwin's ear twitched when Rand reached the mouth of the alley, but he never took his disinterest off the street. Rand knew the man had heard him coming.
“Watch your back today, man.” Lamgwin's voice sounded like gravel in a pan. “When the trouble starts, you'll be a handy one to have here, not somewhere with a knife in your back.”
Rand glanced at the blocky man, but his surprise was muted. He always tried to keep the sword out of sight, but this was not the first time one of Master Gill's men had assumed he would know his way in a fight. Lamgwin did not look back at him. The man's job was guarding the inn, and he did it.
Pushing his sword back a little further under his cloak, Rand joined the flow of people. He saw the two men the innkeeper had mentioned, standing on upturned barrels across the street from the inn so they could see over the crowd. He did not think they noticed him coming out of the alley. They made no secret of their allegiance. Not only were their swords wrapped in white tied with red, they wore white armbands and white cockades on their hats.
He had not been in Caemlyn long before learning that red wrappings on a sword, or a red armband or cockade, meant support for Queen Morgase. White said the Queen and her involvement with Aes Sedai and Tar Valon were to blame for everything that had gone wrong. For the weather, and the failed crops. Maybe even for the false Dragon.
He did not want to get involved in Caemlyn politics. Only, it was too late, now. It was not just that he had already chosen — by accident, but there it was. Matters in the city had gone beyond letting anyone stay neutral. Even outlanders wore cockades and armbands, or wrapped their swords, and more wore the white than the red. Maybe some of them did not think that way, but they were far from home and that was the way sentiment was running in Caemlyn. Men who supported the Queen went about in groups for their own protection, when they went out at all.
Today, though, it was different. On the surface, at least. Today, Caemlyn celebrated a victory of the Light over the Shadow. Today the false Dragon was being brought into the city, to be displayed before the Queen before he was taken north to Tar Valon.
No one talked about that part of it. No one but the Aes Sedai could deal with a man who could actually wield the One Power, of course, but no one wanted to talk about it. The Light had defeated the Shadow, and soldiers from Andor had been in the forefront of the battle. For today, that was all that was important. For today, everything else could be forgotten.
Or could it, Rand wondered. The crowd ran, singing and waving banners, laughing, but men displaying the red kept together in knots of ten or twenty, and there were no women or children with them. He thought there were at least ten men showing white for every one proclaiming allegiance to the Queen. Not for the first time, he wished white cloth had been the cheaper. But would Master Gill have helped if you'd been showing the white?
The crowd was so thick that jostling was inevitable. Even Whitecloaks did not enjoy their little open spaces in the throng today. As Rand let the crowd carry him toward the Inner City, he realized that not all animosities were being reined in. He saw one of the Children of the Light, one of three, bumped so hard he almost fell. The Whitecloak barely caught himself and started an angry oath at the man who had bumped him when another man staggered him with a deliberate, aimed shoulder. Before matters could go any further the Whitecloak's companions pulled him over to the side of the street to where they could shelter in a doorway. The three seemed caught between their normal glaring stare and disbelief. The crowd streamed on by as if none had noticed, and perhaps none had.
No one would have dared do such a thing two days earlier. More, Rand realized, the men who had done the bumping wore white cockades on their hats. It was widely believed the Whitecloaks supported those who opposed the Queen and her Aes Sedai advisor, but that made no difference. Men were doing things of which they had never before thought. Jostling a Whitecloak, today. Tomorrow, perhaps pulling down a Queen? Suddenly he wished there were a few more men close to him showing red; jostled by white cockades and armbands, he abruptly felt very alone.
The Whitecloaks noticed him looking at them and stared back as if meeting a challenge. He let a singing swirl in the crowd sweep him out of their sight, and joined in their song.
"Forward the Lion,
forward the Lion,
the White Lion takes the field.
Roar defiance at the Shadow.
Forward the Lion,
forward, Andor triumphant."
The route that would bring the false Dragon into Caemlyn was well known. Those streets themselves were kept clear by solid lines of the Queen's Guards and redcloaked pikemen, but people packed the edges of them shoulder to shoulder, even the windows and the rooftops. Rand worked his way into the Inner City, trying to get closer to the Palace. He had some thought of actually seeing Logain displayed before the Queen. To see the false Dragon and a Queen, both... That was something he had never dreamed of back home.
The Inner City was built on hills, and much of what the Ogier had made still remained. Where streets in the New City mostly ran every which way in a crazyquilt, here they followed the curves of the hills as if they were a natural part of the earth. Sweeping rises and dips presented new and surprising vistas at every turn. Parks seen from different angles, even from above, where their walks and monuments made patterns pleasing to the eye though barely touched with green. Towers suddenly revealed, tilecovered walls glittering in the sunlight with a hundred changing colors. Sudden rises where the gaze was thrown out across the entire city to the rolling plains and forests beyond. All in all, it would have been something to see if not for the crowd that hurried him along before he had a chance to really take it in. And all those curving streets made it impossible to see very far ahead.
Abruptly he was swept around a bend, and there was the Palace. The streets, even following the natural contours of the land, had been laid out to spiral in on this — this gleeman's tale of pale spires and golden domes and intricate stonework traceries, with the banner of Andor waving from every prominence, a centerpiece for which all the other vistas had been designed. It seemed more sculpted by an artist than simply buil