“And you climbed the garden wall simply to gain a look at the false Dragon?”
“Yes, my Queen.”
“Do you mean harm to the throne of Andor, or to my daughter, or my son?” Her tone said the last two would gain him even shorter shrift than the first.
“I mean no harm to anyone, my Queen. To you and yours least of all.”
“I will give you justice then, Rand al'Thor,” she said. “First, because I have the advantage of Elaida and Gareth in having heard Two Rivers speech when I was young. You have not the look, but if a dim memory can serve me you have the Two Rivers on your tongue. Second, no one with your hair and eyes would claim that he is a Two Rivers shepherd unless it was true. And that your father gave you a heronmark blade is too preposterous to be a lie. And third, the voice that whispers to me that the best lie is often one too ridiculous to be taken for a lie ... that voice is not proof. I will uphold the laws I have made. I give you your freedom, Rand al'Thor, but I suggest you take a care where you trespass in the future. If you are found on the Palace grounds again, it will not go so easily with you.”
“Thank you, my Queen,” he said hoarsely. He could feel Elaida's displeasure like a heat on his face.
“Tallanvor,” Morgase said, “escort this ... escort my daughter's guest from the Palace, and show him every courtesy. The rest of you go as well. No, Elaida, you stay. And if you will too, please, Lord Gareth. I must decide what to do about these Whitecloaks in the city.”
Tallanvor and the guardsmen sheathed their swords reluctantly, ready to draw again in an instant. Still Rand was glad to let the soldiers form a hollow box around him and to follow Tallanvor. Elaida was only half attending what the Queen was saying; he could feel her eyes on his back. What would have happened if Morgase had not kept the Aes Sedai with her? The thought made him wish the soldiers would walk faster.
To his surprise, Elayne and Gawyn exchanged a few words outside the door, then fell in beside him. Tallanvor was surprised, too. The young officer looked from them back to the doors, closing now.
“My mother,” Elayne said, “ordered him to be escorted from the Palace, Tallanvor. With every courtesy. What are you waiting for?”
Tallanvor scowled at the doors, behind which the Queen was conferring with her advisors. “Nothing, my Lady,” he said sourly, and needlessly ordered the escort forward.
The wonders of the Palace slid by Rand unseen. He was befuddled, snatches of thought spinning by too fast to grasp. You have not the look. This man stands at the heart of it.
The escort stopped. He blinked, startled to find himself in the great court at the front of the Palace, standing at the tall, gilded gates, gleaming in the sun. Those gates would not be opened for a single man, certainly not for a trespasser, even if the DaughterHeir did claim guestright for him.
Wordlessly Tallanvor unbarred a sallyport, a small door set within one gate.
“It is the custom,” Elayne said, “to escort guests as far as the gates, but not to watch them go. It is the pleasure of a guest's company that should be remembered, not the sadness of parting.”
“Thank you, my Lady,” Rand said. He touched the scarf bandaging his head. “For everything. Custom in the Two Rivers is for a guest to bring a small gift. I'm afraid I have nothing. Although,” he added dryly, “apparently I did teach you something of the Two Rivers folk.”
“If I had told Mother I think you are handsome, she certainly would have had you locked in a cell.” Elayne favored him with a dazzling smile. “Fare you well, Rand al'Thor.”
Gaping, he watched her go, a younger version of Morgase's beauty and majesty.
“Do not try to bandy words with her.” Gawyn laughed. “She will win every time.”
Rand nodded absently. Handsome? Light, the DaughterHeir to the throne of Andor! He gave himself a shake to clear his head.
Gawyn seemed to be waiting for something. Rand looked at him for a moment.
“My Lord, when I told you I was from the Two Rivers you were surprised. And everybody else, your mother, Lord Gareth, Elaida Sedai” — a shiver ran down his back — “none of them ...” He could not finish it; he was not even sure why he started. I am Tam al'Thor's son, even if I was not born in the Two Rivers.
Gawyn nodded as if it was for this he had been waiting. Still he hesitated. Rand opened his mouth to take back the unspoken question, and Gawyn said, “Wrap a shoufa around your head, Rand, and you would be the image of an Aielman. Odd, since Mother seems to think you sound like a Two Rivers man, at least. I wish we could have come to know one another, Rand al'Thor. Fare you well.”
Rand stood watching Gawyn's retreating back until an impatient cough from Tallanvor reminded him where he was. He ducked through the sallyport, barely clearing his heels before Tallanvor slammed it behind him. The bars inside were jammed into place loudly.
The oval plaza in front of the Palace was empty, now. All the soldiers gone, all the crowds, trumpets, and drums vanished in silence. Nothing left but a scattering of litter blowing across the pavement and a few people hurrying about their business now that the excitement was done. He could not make out if they showed the red or the white.
With a start he realized he was standing right in front of the Palace gates, right where Elaida could find him easily once she finished with the Queen. Pulling his cloak close, he broke into a trot, across the plaza and into the streets of the Inner City. He looked back frequently to see if anyone was following him, but the sweeping curves kept him from seeing very far. He could remember Elaida's eyes all too well, though, and imagined them watching. By the time he reached the gates to the New City, he was running.
Old Friends, and New Threats
Back at The Queen's Blessing, Rand threw himself against the front doorframe, panting. He had run all the way, not caring if anyone saw that he wore the red, or even if they took his running as an excuse to chase him. He did not think even a Fade could have caught him.
Lamgwin was sitting on a bench by the door, a brindle cat in his arms, when he came running up. The man stood to look for trouble the way Rand had come, still calmly scratching behind the cat's ears. Seeing nothing, he sat back down again, careful not to disturb the animal. “Fools tried to steal some of the cats a while back,” he said. He examined his knuckles before going back to his scratching. “Good money in cats these days.”
The two men showing the white were still across the way, Rand saw, one with a black eye and a swollen jaw. That one wore a sour scowl and rubbed his sword hilt with a sullen eagerness as he watched the inn.
“Where's Master Gill?” Rand asked.
“Library,” Lamgwin replied. The cat began purring, and he grinned. “Nothing bothers a cat for long, not even somebody trying to stick him in a sack.”
Rand hurried inside, through the common room, now with its usual complement of men wearing the red and talking over their ale. About the false Dragon, and whether the Whitecloaks would make trouble when he was taken north. No one cared what happened to Logain, but they all knew the DaughterHeir and Lord Gawyn would be traveling in the party, and no man there would countenance any risk to them.
He found Master Gill in the library, playing stones with Loial. A plump tabby sat on the table, feet tucked under her, watching their hands move over the crosshatched board.
The Ogier placed another stone with a touch oddly delicate for his thick fingers. Shaking his head, Master Gill took the excuse of Rand's appearance to turn from the table. Loial almost always won at stones. “I was beginning to worry where you were, lad. Thought you might have had trouble with some of those whiteflashing traitors, or run into that beggar or something. ”
For a minute Rand stood there with his mouth open. He had forgotten all about that bundleofrags of a man. “I saw him,” he said finally, “but that's nothing. I saw the Queen, too, and Elaida; that's where the trouble is. ”
Master Gill snorted a laugh. “The Queen, eh? You don't say. We had Gareth Bryne out in the common room an hour or so ago, armwrestling the Lord CaptainCommander of the Children, but the Queen, now ... that's something.”
“Blood and ashes,” Rand growled, “everybody thinks I'm lying today.” He tossed his cloak across the back of a chair and threw himself onto another. He was too wound up to sit back. He perched on the front edge, mopping his face with a handkerchief. “I saw the beggar, and he saw me, and I thought ... That's not important. I climbed up on a wall around a garden, where I could see the plaza in front of the Palace, where they took Logain in. And I fell off, on the inside.”
“I almost believe you aren't making fun,” the innkeeper said slowly.
“Ta'veren, ” Loial murmured.
“Oh, it happened,” Rand said. “Light help me, it did.”
Master Gill's skepticism melted slowly as he went on, turning to quiet alarm. The innkeeper leaned more and more forward until he was perched on the edge of his chair the same as Rand was. Loial listened impassively, except that every so often he rubbed his broad nose and the tufts on his