Before the boat was even pulled snug against the dock, carriages appeared at the end of the dock, tall and lacquered shiny black, each one with a name painted on the door in large letters, gold or scarlet. The carriages' passengers hurried up the gangplank as soon as it dropped in place, smoothfaced men in long velvet coats and silklined cloaks and cloth slippers, each followed by a plainly dressed servant carrying his ironbound moneybox.

They approached Captain Domon with painted smiles that slipped when he abruptly roared in their faces. “You!” He thrust a thick finger past them, stopping Floran Gelb in his tracks at the length of the boat. The bruise on Gelb's forehead from Rand's boot had faded away, but he still fingered the spot from time to time as if to remind himself. “You've slept on watch for the last time on my vessel! Or on any vessel, if I have my way of it. Choose your own side — the dock or the river — but off my vessel now!”


Gelb hunched his shoulders, and his eyes glittered hate at Rand and his friends, at Rand especially, a poisonous glare. The wiry man looked around the deck for support, but there was little hope in that look. One by one, every man in the crew straightened from what he was doing and stared back coldly. Gelb wilted visibly, but then his glare returned, twice as strong as it had been. With a muttered curse he darted below to the crew's quarters. Domon sent two men after him to see he did no mischief and dismissed him with a grunt. When the captain turned back to them, the merchants took up their smiles and bows as if they had never been interrupted.

At a word from Thom, Mat and Rand began gathering their things together. There was not much aside from the clothes on their backs, not for any of them. Rand had his blanketroll and saddlebags, and his father's sword. He held the sword for a minute, and homesickness rolled over him so strongly that his eyes stung. He wondered if he would ever see Tam again. Or home? Home. Going to spend the rent of your life running, running and afraid of your own dreams. With a shuddering sigh he slipped the belt around his waist over his coat.

Gelb came back on deck, followed by his twin shadows. He looked straight ahead, but Rand could still feel hatred coming off him in waves. Back rigid and face dark, Gelb walked stifflegged down the gangplank and pushed roughly into the thin crowd on the dock. In a minute he was gone from sight, vanished beyond the merchants' carriages.

There were not a great many people on the dock, and those were a plainly dressed mix of workmen, fishermen mending nets, and a few townspeople who had come out to see the first boat of the year to come downriver from Saldaea. None of the girls was Egwene and no one looked the least bit like Moiraine, or Lan, or anyone else Rand was hoping to see.

“Maybe they didn't come down to the dock,” he said.

“Maybe,” Thom replied curtly. He settled his instrument cases on his back with care. “You two keep an eye out for Gelb. He will make trouble if he can. We want to pass through Whitebridge so softly that nobody remembers we were here five minutes after we're gone.”

Their cloaks flapped in the wind as they walked to the gangplank. Mat carried his bow crossed in front on his chest. Even after all their days on the boat, it still got a few looks from the crewmen; their bows were short affairs.

Captain Domon left the merchants to intercept Thom at the gangplank.

“You be leaving me now, gleeman? Can I no talk you into continuing on? I be going all the way down to Illian, where folk have a proper regard for gleemen. There be no finer place in the world for your art. I'd get you there in good time for the Feast of Sefan. The competitions, you know. A hundred gold marks for the best telling of The Great Hunt of the Horn.”

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“A great prize, Captain,” Thom replied with an elaborate bow and a flourish of his cloak that set the patches to fluttering, “and great competitions, which rightly draw gleemen from the whole world over. But,” he added dryly, “I fear we could not afford the fare at the rates you charge.”

“Aye, well, as to that ...” The captain produced a leather purse from his coat pocket and tossed it to Thom. It clinked when Thom caught it. “Your fares back, and a bit more besides. The damage was no so bad as I thought, and you've worked your way and more with your tales and your harp. I could maybe manage as much again if you stay aboard to the Sea of Storms. And I would set you ashore in Illian. A good gleeman can make his fortune there, even aside from the competitions.”

Thom hesitated, weighing the purse on his palm, but Rand spoke up. “We're meeting friends here, Captain, and going on to Caemlyn together. We'll have to see Illian another time.”

Thom's mouth twisted wryly, then he blew out his long mustaches and tucked the purse into his pocket. “Perhaps if the people we are to meet are not here, Captain.”

“Aye,” Domon said sourly. “You think on it. Too bad I can no keep Gelb aboard to take the others' anger, but I do what I say I will do. I suppose I must ease up now, even if it means taking three times as long to reach Illian as I should. Well, mayhap those Trollocs were after you three.”

Rand blinked but kept silent, but Mat was not so cautious.

“Why do you think they weren't?” he demanded. “They were after the same treasure we were hunting.”

“Mayhap,” the captain grunted, sounding unconvinced. He combed thick fingers through his beard, then pointed at the pocket where Thom had put the purse. “Twice that if you come back to keep the men's minds off how hard I work them. Think on it. I sail with the first light on the morrow.” He turned on his heel and strode back to the merchants, arms spreading wide as he began an apology for keeping them waiting.

Thom still hesitated, but Rand hustled him down the gangplank without giving him a chance to argue, and the gleeman let himself be herded. A murmur passed through the people on the dock as they saw Thom's patchcovered cloak, and some called out to discover where he would be performing. So much for not being noticed, Rand thought, dismayed. By sundown it would be all over Whitebridge that there was a gleeman in town. He hurried Thom along, though, and Thom, wrapped in sulky silence, did not even try to slow down enough to preen under the attention.

The carriage drivers looked down at Thom with interest from their high perches, but apparently the dignity of their positions forbade shouting. With no idea of where to go exactly, Rand turned up the street that ran along the river and under the bridge.

“We need to find Moiraine and the others,” he said. “And fast. We should have thought of changing Thom's cloak.”

Thom suddenly shook himself and stopped dead. “An innkeeper will be able to tell us if they're here, or if they've passed through. The right innkeeper. Innkeepers have all the news and gossip. If they aren't here ...” He looked back and forth from Rand to Mat. “We have to talk, we three.” Cloak swirling around his ankles, he set off into the town, away from the river. Rand and Mat had to step quickly to keep up.

The broad, milkwhite arch that gave the town its name dominated Whitebridge as much close up as it did from afar, but once Rand was in the streets he realized that the town was every bit as big as Baerlon, though not so crowded with people. A few carts moved in the streets, pulled by horse or ox or donkey or man, but no carriages. Those most likely all belonged to the merchants and were clustered down at the dock.

Shops of every description lined the streets, and many of the tradesmen worked in front of their establishments, under the signs swinging in the wind. They passed a man mending pots, and a tailor holding folds of cloth up to the light for a customer. A shoemaker, sitting in his doorway, tapped his hammer on the heel of a boot. Hawkers cried their services at sharpening knives and scissors, or tried to interest the passersby in their skimpy trays of fruit or vegetables, but none was getting much interest. Shops selling food had the same pitiful displays of produce Rand remembered from Baerlon. Even the fishmongers displayed only small piles of small fish, for all the boats on the river. Times were not really hard yet, but everyone could see what was coming if the weather did not change soon, and those faces that were not fixed into worried frowns seemed to stare at something unseen, something unpleasant.

Where the White Bridge came down in the center of the town was a big square, paved with stones worn by generations of feet and wagon wheels. Inns surrounded the square, and shops, and tall, red brick houses with signs out front bearing the same names Rand had seen on the carriages at the dock. It was into one of those inns, seemingly chosen at random, that Thom ducked. The sign over the door, swinging in the wind, had a striding man with a bundle on his back on one side and the same man with his head on a pillow on the other, and proclaimed The Wayfarers' Rest.

The common room stood empty except for the fat innkeeper drawing ale from a barrel and two men in rough workman's clothes staring glumly into their mugs at a table in the back. Only the innkeeper looked up when they came in. A shoulderhigh wall split the room in two from front to back, with tables and a blazing fireplace on each side. Rand wondered idly if all innkeepers were fat and losing their hair.

Rubbing his hands together briskly, Thom commented to the innkeeper on the late cold and ordered hot spiced wine, then added quietly, “Is there somewhere my friends and I could talk witho

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