For the first day or two Gelb's wiry figure could almost always be found addressing any crewman he could corner, telling his version of the night Rand and the others came on board. Gelb's manner slid from bluster to whines and back again, and his lip always curled when he pointed to Thom or Mat, or especially Rand, trying to lay the blame on them.
“They're strangers,” Gelb pleaded, quietly and with an eye out for the captain. “What do we know of them? The Trollocs came with them, that's what we know. They're in league.”
“Fortune, Gelb, stow it,” growled a man with his hair in a pigtail and a small blue star tattooed on his cheek. He did not look at Gelb as he coiled a line on deck, working it in with his bare toes. All the sailors went barefoot despite the cold; boots could slip on a wet deck. “You'd call your mother Darkfriend if it'd let you slack. Get away from me!” He spat on Gelb's foot and went back to the line.
All the crew remembered the watch Gelb had not kept, and the pigtailed man's was the politest response he got. No one even wanted to work with him. Gelb found himself relegated to solitary tasks, all of them filthy, such as scrubbing the galley's greasy pots, or crawling into the bilges on his belly to search for leaks among years of slime. Soon he stopped talking to anyone. His shoulders took on a defensive hunch, and injured silence became his stance — the more people watching, the more injured, though it earned him no more than a grunt. When Gelb's eyes fell on Rand, however, or on Mat or Thom, murder flashed across his longnosed face.
When Rand mentioned to Mat that Gelb would cause them trouble sooner or later, Mat looked around the boat, saying, “Can we trust any of them? Any at all?” Then he went off to find a place where he could be alone, or as alone as he could get on a boat less than thirty paces from its raised bow to the sternpost where the steering oars were mounted. Mat had spent too much time alone since the night at Shadar Logoth; brooding, as Rand saw it.
Thom said, “Trouble won't come from Gelb, boy, if it comes. Not yet, at least. None of the crew will back him, and he hasn't the nerve to try anything alone. But the others, now ... ? Domon almost seems to think the Trollocs are chasing him, personally, but the rest are beginning to think the danger is past. They might just decide they have had enough. They're on the edge of it, as it is.” He hitched his patchcovered cloak, and Rand had the feeling he was checking his hidden knives — his secondbest set. “If they mutiny, boy, they won't leave passengers behind to tell the tale. The Queen's Writ might not have much force this far from Caemlyn, but even a village mayor will do something about that.” That was when Rand, too, began trying not to be noticed when he watched the
Thom did his part in diverting the crew from thoughts of mutiny. He told stories, with all the flourishes, every morning and every night, and in between he played any song they requested. To support the notion that Rand and Mat wanted to be apprentice gleemen, he set aside a time each day for lessons, and that was an entertainment for the crew, as well. He would not let either of them touch his harp, of course, and their sessions with the flute produced pained winces, in the beginning, at least, and laughter from the crew even while they were covering their ears.
He taught the boys some of the easier stories, a little simple tumbling, and, of course, juggling. Mat complained about what Thom demanded of them, but Thom blew out his mustaches and glared right back.
“I don't know how to play at teaching, boy. I either teach a thing, or I don't. Now! Even a country bumpkin ought to be able to do a simple handstand. Up you go.”
Crewmen who were not working always gathered, squatting in a circle around the three. Some even tried their hand at the lessons Thom taught, laughing at their own fumblings. Gelb stood alone and watched it all darkly, hating them all.
A good part of each day Rand spent leaning on the railing, staring at the shore. It was not that he really expected to see Egwene or any of the others suddenly appear on the riverbank, but the boat traveled so slowly that he sometimes hoped for it. They could catch up without riding too hard. If they had escaped. If they were still alive.
The river rolled on without any sign of life, nor any boat to be seen except the Spray. But that was not to say there was nothing to see, and wonder at. In the middle of the first day, the Arinelle ran between high bluffs that stretched for half a mile on either side. For that whole length the stone had been cut into figures, men and women a hundred feet tall, with crowns proclaiming them kings and queens. No two were alike in that royal procession, and long years separated the first from the last. Wind and rain had worn those at the north end smooth and almost featureless, with faces and details becoming more distinct as they went south. The river lapped around the statues' feet, feet washed to smooth nubs, those that were not gone completely. How long have they stood there, Rand wondered. How long for the river to wear away so much stone? None of the crew so much as looked up from their work, they had seen the ancient carvings so many times before.
Another time, when the eastward shore had become flat grassland again, broken only occasionally by thickets, the sun glinted off something in the distance. “What can that be?” Rand wondered aloud. “It looks like metal.”
Captain Domon was walking by, and he paused, squinting toward the glint. “It do be metal,” he said. His words still ran together, but Rand had come to understand without having to puzzle it out. “A tower of metal. I have seen it close up, and I know. River traders use it as a marker. We be ten days from Whitebridge at the rate we go.”
“A metal tower?” Rand said, and Mat, sitting crosslegged with his back against a barrel, roused from his brooding to listen.
The captain nodded. “Aye. Shining steel, by the look and feel of it, but no spot of rust. Two hundred feet high, it be, as big around as a house, with no a mark on it and never an opening to be found.”
“I'll bet there's treasure inside,” Mat said. He stood up and stared toward the far tower as the river carried the Spray beyond it. “A thing like that must have been made to protect something valuable.”
“Mayhap, lad,” the captain rumbled. “There be stranger things in the world than this, though. On Tremalking, one of the Sea Folk's isles, there be a stone hand fifty feet high sticking out of a hill, clutching a crystal sphere as big as this vessel. There be treasure under that hill if there be treasure anywhere, but the island people want no part of digging there, and the Sea Folk care for naught but sailing their ships and searching for the Coramoor, their Chosen One.”
“I'd dig,” Mat said. “How far is this ... Tremalking?” A clump of trees slid in front of the shining tower, but he stared as if he could see it yet.
Captain Domon shook his head. “No, lad, it no be the treasure that makes for seeing the world. If you find yourself a fistful of gold, or some dead king's jewels, all well and good, but it be the strangeness you see that pulls you to the next horizon. In Tanchico — that be a port on the Aryth Ocean — part of the Panarch's Palace were built in the Age of Legends, so it be said. There be a wall there with a frieze showing animals no man living has ever seen.”
“Any child can draw an animal nobody's ever seen,” Rand said, and the captain chuckled.
“Aye, lad, so they can. But can a child make the bones of those animals? In Tanchico they have them, all fastened together like the animal was. They stand in a part of the Panarch's Palace where any can enter and see. The Breaking left a thousand wonders behind, and there been half a dozen empires or more since, some rivaling Artur Hawkwing's, every one leaving things to see and find. Lightsticks and razorlace and heartstone. A crystal lattice covering an island, and it hums when the moon is up. A mountain hollowed into a bowl, and in its center, a silver spike a hundred spans high, and any who comes within a mile of it, dies. Rusted ruins, and broken bits, and things found on the bottom of the sea, things not even the oldest books know the meaning of. I've gathered a few, myself. Things you never dreamed of, in more places than you can see in ten lifetimes. That be the strangeness that will draw you on.”
“We used to dig up bones in the Sand Hills,” Rand said slowly. “Strange bones. There was part of a fish — I think it was a fish — as big as this boat, once. Some said it was bad luck, digging in the hills.”
The captain eyed him shrewdly. “You thinking about home already, lad, and you just set out in the world? The world will put a hook in your mouth. You'll set off chasing the sunset, you wait and see ... and if you ever go back, your village'll no be big enough to hold you.”
“No!” He gave a start. How long had it been since he had thought of home, of Emond's Field? And what of Tam? It had to be days. It felt like months. “I will go home, one day, when I can. I'll raise sheep, like... like my father, and if I never leave again it will be too soon. Isn't that right, Mat? As soon as we can we're going home and forget all this even exists. ”
With a visible effort Mat pulled away from staring upriver after the vanished tower. “What? Oh. Yes, of course. We'll go home. Of course.” As he turned to go, Rand heard him muttering under his breath. “I'll bet he just doesn't want anybody else going after the treasure.” He did not seem to re