For a moment Rand lay panting and staring up at the boom swinging back and forth above him. That has to have used up my luck, he thought. There can't be any more after that.
Shakily he got to his feet and picked up his sword, for once holding it in both hands the way Lan had taught him, but there was nothing left on which to use it. The gap of black water between the boat and the bank was widening quickly; the cries of the Trollocs were fading behind in the night.
As he sheathed his sword and slumped against the railing, a stocky man in a coat that hung to his knees strode up the deck to glare at him. Long hair that fell to his thick shoulders and a beard that left his upper lip bare framed a round face. Round but not soft. The boom swung out again, and the bearded man spared part of his glare for that as he caught it; it made a crisp splat against his broad palm.
“Gelb!” he bellowed. “Fortune! Where do you be, Gelb?” He spoke so fast, with all the words running together, that Rand could barely understand him. “You can no hide from me on my own ship! Get Floran Gelb out here!”
A crewman appeared with a bull'seye lantern, and two more pushed a narrowfaced man into the circle of light it cast. Rand recognized the fellow who had offered him the boat. The man's eyes shifted from side to side, never meeting those of the stocky man. The captain, Rand thought. A bruise was coming up on Gelb's forehead where one of Rand's boots had caught him.
“Were you no supposed to secure this boom, Gelb?” the captain asked with surprising calm, though just as fast as before.
Gelb looked truly surprised. “But I did. Tied it down tight. I admit I'm a little slow about things now and then, Captain Domon, but I get them done.”
“So you be slow, do you? No so slow at sleeping. Sleeping when you should be standing watch. We could be murdered to a man, for all of you.”
“No, Captain, no. It was him.” Gelb pointed straight at Rand. “I was on guard, just like I was supposed to be, when he sneaked up and hit me with a club.” He touched the bruise on his head, winced, and glared at Rand. “I fought him, but then the Trollocs came. He's in league with them, Captain. A Darkfriend. In league with the Trollocs.”
“In league with my aged grandmother!” Captain Domon roared. “Did I no warn you the last time, Gelb? At Whitebridge, off you do go! Get out of my sight before I put you off now.” Gelb darted out of the lantern light, and Domon stood opening and closing his hands while he stared at nothing. “These Trollocs do be following me. Why will they no leave me be? Why?”
Rand looked over the rail and was shocked to find the riverbank no longer in sight. Two men manned the long steering oar that stuck out over the stern, and there were six sweeps working to a side now, pulling the ship like a waterbug further out into the river.
“Captain,” Rand said, “we have friends back there. If you go back and pick them up, I am sure they'll reward you.”
The captain's round face swung toward Rand, and when Thom and Mat appeared he included them in his expressionless stare as well.
“Captain,” Thom began with a bow, “allow me to —”
“You come below,” Captain Domon said, “where I can see what manner of thing be hauled up on my deck. Come. Fortune desert me, somebody secure this horncursed boom!” As crewmen rushed to take the boom, he stumped off toward the stern of the boat. Rand and his two companions followed.
Captain Domon had a tidy cabin in the stern, reached by climbing down a short ladder, where everything gave the impression of being in its proper place, right down to the coats and cloaks hanging from pegs on the back of the door. The cabin stretched the width of the ship, with a broad bed built against one side and a heavy table built out from the other. There was only one chair, with a high back and sturdy arms, and the captain took that himself, motioning the others to find places on various chests and benches that were the only other furnishings. A loud harrumph stopped Mat from sitting on the bed.
“Now,” said the captain when they were all seated. “My name be Bayle Domon, captain and owner of the Spray, which be this ship. Now who be you, and where be you going out here in the middle of nowhere, and why should I no throw you over the side for the trouble you've brought me?”
Rand still had as much trouble as before in following Domon's rapid speech. When he worked out the last part of what the captain had said he blinked in surprise. Throw us over the side?
Mat hurriedly said, “We didn't mean to cause you any trouble. We're on our way to Caemlyn, and then to —”
“And then where the wind takes us,” Thom interrupted smoothly. “That's how gleemen travel, like dust on the wind. I am a gleeman, you understand, Thom Merrilin by name.” He shifted his cloak so the multihued patches stirred, as if the captain could have missed them. “These two country louts want to become my apprentices, though I am not yet sure I want them.” Rand looked at Mat, who grinned.
“That be all very well, man,” Captain Domon said placidly, “but it tells me nothing. Less. Fortune prick me, that place be on no road to Caemlyn from anywhere I ever heard tell of.”
“Now that is a story,” Thom said, and he straightaway began to unfold it.
According to Thom, he had been trapped by the winter snows in a mining town in the Mountains of Mist beyond Baerlon. While there he heard legends of a treasure dating from the Trolloc Wars, in the lost ruin of a city called Aridhol. Now it just so happened that he had earlier learned the location of Aridhol from a map given him many years ago by a dying friend in Illian whose life he had once saved, a man who expired breathing that the map would make Thom rich, which Thom never believed until he heard the legends. When the snows melted enough, he set out with a few companions, including his two wouldbe apprentices, and after a journey of many hardships they actually found the ruined city. But it turned out the treasure had belonged to one of the Dreadlords themselves, and Trollocs had been sent to fetch it back to Shayol Ghul. Almost every danger they really had faced — Trollocs, Myrddraal, Draghkar, Mordeth, Mashadar — assailed them at one point or another of the story, though the way Thom told it they all seemed to be aimed at him personally, and to have been handled by him with the greatest adroitness. With much derringdo, mostly by Thom, they escaped, pursued by Trollocs, though they became separated in the night, until finally Thom and his two companions sought refuge on the last place left to them, Captain Domon's most welcome ship.
As the gleeman finished up, Rand realized his mouth had been hanging open for some time and shut it with a click. When he looked at Mat, his friend was staring wideeyed at the gleeman.
Captain Domon drummed his fingers on the arm of his chair. “That be a tale many folk would no believe. Of course, I did see the Trollocs, did I no.”
Every word true,“ Thom said blandly, ”from one who lived it."
“Happen you have some of this treasure with you?”Thom spread his hands regretfully. “Alas, what little we managed to carry away was with our horses, which bolted when those last Trollocs appeared. All I have left are my flute and my harp, a few coppers, and the clothes on my back. But believe me, you want no part of that treasure. It has the taint of the Dark One. Best to leave it to the ruins and the Trollocs.”
“So you've no money to pay your passage. I'd no let my own brother sail with me if he could no pay his passage, especially if he brought Trollocs behind him to hack up my railings and cut up my rigging. Why should I no let you swim back where you came from, and be rid of you?”
“You wouldn't just put us ashore?” Mat said. “Not with Trollocs there?”
“Who said anything about shore?” Domon replied dryly. He studied them a moment, then spread his hands flat on the table. “Bayle Domon be a reasonable man. I'd no toss you over the side if there be a way out of it. Now, I see one of your apprentices has a sword. I need a good sword, and fine fellow that I be, I'll let you have passage far as Whitebridge for it.”
Thom opened his mouth, and Rand spoke up quickly, “No!” Tam had not given it to him to trade away. He ran his hand down the hilt, feeling the bronze heron. As long as he had it, it was as if Tam were with him.
Domon shook his head. “Well, if it be no, it be no. But Bayle Domon no give free passage, not to his own mother.”
Reluctantly Rand emptied his pocket. There was not much, a few coppers and the silver coin Moiraine had given him. He held it out to the captain. After a second, Mat sighed and did the same. Thom glared, but a smile replaced it so quickly that Rand was not sure it had been there at all.
Captain Domon deftly plucked the two fat silver coins out of the boys' hands and produced a small set of scales and a clinking bag from a brassbound chest behind his chair. After careful weighing, he dropped the coins in the bag and returned them each some smaller silver and copper. Mostly copper. “As far as Whitebridge,” he said, making a neat entry in a leatherbound ledger.
“That's a dear passage just to Whitebridge,” Thom grumbled.
“Plus damages to my vessel,” the captain answered placidly. He put the scales and the bag back in the chest and closed it in a satisfied way. “Plus a bit for bringing Trollocs down on me so I must run downriver in the night when there be shallows apl