Mat grew impatient when they found nothing but dust, or rubble, or colorless rags of wall hangings that crumbled at a touch. Once some wooden chairs stood stacked against a wall; they all fell to bits when Perrin tried to pick one up.
The palaces, with their huge, empty chambers, some of which could have held the Winespring Inn with room to spare on every side and above as well, made Rand think too much of the people who had once filled them. He thought everybody in the Two Rivers could have stood under that round dome, and as for the place with the stone benches ... He could almost imagine he could see the people in the shadows, staring in disapproval at the three intruders disturbing their rest.
Finally even Mat tired, grand as the buildings were, and remembered that he had had only an hour's sleep the night before. Everyone began to remember that. Yawning, they sat on the steps of a tall building fronted by row on row of tall stone columns and argued about what to do next.
“Go back,” Rand said, “and get some sleep.” He put the back of his hand against his mouth. When he could talk again, he said, “Sleep. That's all I want.”
“You can sleep anytime,” Mat said determinedly. “Look at where we are. A ruined city. Treasure.”
“Treasure?” Perrin's jaws cracked. “There isn't any treasure here. There isn't anything but dust.”
Rand shaded his eyes against the sun, a red ball sitting close to the rooftops. “It's getting late, Mat. It'll be dark soon.”
“There could be treasure,” Mat maintained stoutly. “Anyway, I want to climb one of the towers. Look at that one over there. It's whole. I'll bet you could see for miles from up there. What do you say?”
“The towers are not safe,” said a man's voice behind them.
Rand leaped to his feet and spun around clutching his sword hilt, and the others were just as quick.
A man stood in the shadows among the columns at the top of the stairs. He took half a step forward, raised his hand to shield his eyes, and stepped back again. “Forgive me,” he said smoothly. “I have been quite a long time in the dark inside. My eyes are not yet used to the light.”
“Who are you?” Rand thought the man's accent sounded odd, even after Baerlon; some words he pronounced strangely, so Rand could barely understand them. “What are you doing here? We thought the city was empty.”
“I am Mordeth.” He paused as if expecting them to recognize the name. When none of them gave any sign of doing so, he muttered something under his breath and went on. “I could ask the same questions of you. There has been no one in Aridhol for a long time. A long, long time. I would not have thought to find three young men wandering its streets.”
“We're on our way to Caemlyn,” Rand said. “We stopped to take shelter for the night.”
“Caemlyn,” Mordeth said slowly, rolling the name around his tongue, then shook his head. “Shelter for the night, you say? Perhaps you will join me.”
“You still haven't said what you're doing here,” Perrin said.
“Why, I am a treasure hunter, of course.”
“Have you found any?” Mat demanded excitedly.
Rand thought Mordeth smiled, but in the shadows he could not be sure. “I have,” the man said. “More than I expected. Much more. More than I can carry away. I never expected to find three strong, healthy young men. If you will help me move what I can take to where my horses are, you may each have a share of the rest. As much as you can carry. Whatever I leave will be gone, carried off by some other treasure hunter, before I can return for it. ”
“I told you there must be treasure in a place like this,” Mat exclaimed. He darted up the stairs. “We'll help you carry it. Just take us to it.” He and Mordeth moved deeper into the shadows among the columns.
Rand looked at Perrin. “We can't leave him.” Perrin glanced at the sinking sun, and nodded.
They went up the stairs warily, Perrin easing his axe in its belt loop. Rand's hand tightened on his sword. But Mat and Mordeth were waiting among the columns, Mordeth with arms folded, Mat peering impatiently into the interior.
“Come,” Mordeth said. “I will show you the treasure.” He slipped inside, and Mat followed. There was nothing for the others to do but go on.
The hall inside was shadowy, but almost immediately Mordeth turned aside and took some narrow steps that wound around and down through deeper and deeper dark until they fumbled their way in pitchblackness. Rand felt along the wall with one hand, unsure there would be a step below until his foot met it. Even Mat began to feel uneasy, judging by his voice when he said, “It's awfully dark down here.”
“Yes, yes,” Mordeth replied. The man seemed to be having no trouble at all with the dark. “There are lights below. Come.”
Indeed the winding stairs abruptly gave way to a corridor dimly lit by scattered, smoky torches set in iron sconces on the walls. The flickering flames and shadows gave Rand his first good look at Mordeth, who hurried on without pausing, motioning them to follow.
There was something odd about him, Rand thought, but he could not pick out what it was, exactly. Mordeth was a sleek, somewhat overfed man, with drooping eyelids that made him seem to be hiding behind something and staring. Short, and completely bald, he walked as if he were taller than any of them. His clothes were certainly like nothing Rand had ever seen before, either. Tight black breeches and soft red boots with the tops turned down at his ankles. A long, red vest thickly embroidered in gold, and a snowy white shirt with wide sleeves, the points of his cuffs hanging almost to his knees. Certainly not the kind of clothes in which to run through a ruined city in search of treasure. But it was not that which made him seem strange, either.
Then the corridor ended in a tilewalled room, and he forgot about any oddities Mordeth might have. His gasp was an echo of his friends. Here, too, light came from a few torches staining the ceiling with their smoke and giving everyone more than one shadow, but that light was reflected a thousand times by the gems and gold piled on the floor, mounds of coins and jewelry, goblets and plates and platters, gilded, gemencrusted swords and daggers, all heaped together carelessly in waisthigh mounds.
With a cry Mat ran forward and fell to his knees in front of one of the piles. “Sacks,” he said breathlessly, pawing through the gold. “We'll need sacks to carry all of this.”
“We can't carry it all,” Rand said. He looked around helplessly; all the gold the merchants brought to Emond's Field in a year would not have made the thousandth part of just one of those mounds. “Not now. It's almost dark.”
Perrin pulled an axe free, carelessly tossing back the gold chains that had been tangled around it. Jewels glittered along its shiny black handle, and delicate gold scrollwork covered the twin blades. “Tomorrow, then,” he said, hefting the axe with a grin. “Moiraine and Lan will understand when we show them this.”
“You are not alone?” Mordeth said. He had let them rush past him into the treasure room, but now he followed. “Who else is with you?”
Mat, wrist deep in the riches before him, answered absently. “Moiraine and Lan. And then there's Nynaeve, and Egwene, and Thom. He's a gleeman. We're going to Tar Valon. ”
Rand caught his breath. Then the silence from Mordeth made him look at the man.
Rage twisted Mordeth's face, and fear, too. His lips pulled back from his teeth. “Tar Valon!” He shook clenched fists at them. “Tar Valon! You said you were going to this ... this ... Caemlyn! You lied to me!”
“If you still want,” Perrin said to Mordeth, “we'll come back tomorrow and help you.” Carefully he set the axe back on the heap of gemencrusted chalices and jewelry. “If you want.”
“No. That is ...” Panting, Mordeth shook his head as if he could not decide. “Take what you want. Except... Except...”
Suddenly Rand realized what had been nagging at him about the man. The scattered torches in the hallway had given each of them a ring of shadows, just as the torches in the treasure room did. Only ... He was so shocked he said it out loud. “You don't have a shadow.”
A goblet fell from Mat's hand with a crash.
Mordeth nodded, and for the first time his fleshy eyelids opened all the way. His sleek face suddenly appeared pinched and hungry. “So.” He stood straighter, seeming taller. “It is decided.” Abruptly there was no seeming to it. Like a balloon Mordeth swelled, distorted, head pressed against the ceiling, shoulders butting the walls, filling the end of the room, cutting off escape. Hollowcheeked, teeth bared in a rictus snarl, he reached out with hands big enough to engulf a man's head.
With a yell Rand leaped back. His feet tangled in a gold chain, and he crashed to the floor, the wind knocked out of him. Struggling for breath, he struggled at the same time for his sword, fighting his cloak, which had become wrapped around the hilt. The yells of his friends filled the room, and the clash of gold platters and goblets clattering across the floor. Suddenly an agonized scream sh