The Great Hunt

The Great Hunt: Page 100

The man halted in midstep, one foot in the air and a frightened look suddenly on his face. It was a hard face, but he looked as if he wanted to run. Instead, he turned to her and bowed, hands on knees, eyes fixed on her boots. "How may this one serve the captain?" he asked in a tight voice.
"You are a merchant?" Egeanin said. "You have sworn the oaths?"
Captain. Yes." He did not ta

"What do you tell the people when you take your wagons inland?"
"That they must obey the Forerunners, Captain, await the Return, and serve Those Who Come Home."
"And do you never think to use that sword against us?"
The man's hands went whiteknuckled gripping his knees, and there was suddenly sweat in his voice. "I have sworn the oaths, Captain. I obey, await, and serve."
"You see?" Egeanin said, turning to Domon. "There is no reason to forbid them weapons. There must be trade, and merchants must protect themselves from bandits. We allow the people to come and go as they will, so long as they obey, await, and serve. Their forefathers broke their oaths, but these have learned better." She started back up the hill, and the soldiers pushed Domon after her.
He looked back at the merchant. The man stayed bent as he was till Egeanin was ten paces up the street, then he straightened and hurried the other way, leaping down the sloping street.
Egeanin and his guards did not look around, either, when a mounted Seanchan troop passed them, climbing the street. The soldiers rode creatures that looked almost like cats the size of horses, but with lizards' scales rippling bronze beneath their saddles. Clawed feet grasped the cobblestones. A threeeyed head turned to regard Domon as the troop climbed by; aside from everything else, it seemed too - knowing - for Domon's peace of mind. He stumbled and almost fell. All along the street, the Falmen were pressing themselves back against the fronts of the buildings, some closing their eyes. The Seanchan paid them no heed.
Domon understood why the Seanchan could allow the people as much freedom as they did. He wondered if he would have had nerve enough to resist. Damane. Monsters. He wondered if there was anything to stop the Seanchan from marching all the way to the Spine of the World. No my business, he reminded himself roughly, and considered whether there was any way to avoid the Seanchan in his future trading.
They reached the top of the incline, where the town gave way to hills. There was no town wall. Ahead were the inns that served merchants who traded inland, and wagon yards and stables. Here, the houses would have made respectable manors for the minor lords in Illian. The largest of them had an honor guard of Seanchan soldiers out front, and a blueedged banner bearing a golden, spreadwinged hawk rippling above it. Egeanin surrendered her sword and dagger before taking Domon inside. Her two soldiers remained in the street. Domon began to sweat. He smelled a lord in this; it was never good to do business with a lord on the
lord's own ground.
In the front hall Egeanin left Domon at the door and spoke to a servant. A local man, judging by the full sleeves of his shirt and the spirals embroidered across his chest; Domon believed he caught the words "High Lord." The servant hurried away, returning finally to lead them to what was surely the largest room in the house. Every stick of furniture had been cleared out of it, even the rugs, and the stone floor was polished to a bright gleam. Folding screens painted with strange birds hid walls and windows.
Egeanin stopped just inside the room. When Domon tried to ask where they were and why, she silenced him with a savage glare and a wordless growl. She did not move, but she seemed on the point of bouncing on her toes. She held whatever it was she had taken from his ship as if it were precious. He tried to imagine what it could be.
Suddenly a gong sounded softly, and the Seanchan woman dropped to her knees, setting the silkwrapped something carefully beside her. At a look from her, Domon got down as well. Lords had strange ways, and he suspected Seanchan lords might have stranger ones than he knew.
Two men appeared in the doorway at the far end of the room. One had the left side of his scalp shaved, his remaining pale golden hair braided and hanging down over his ear to his shoulder. His deep yellow robe was just long enough to let the toes of yellow slippers peek out when he walked. The other wore a blue silk robe, brocaded with birds and long enough to trail nearly a span on the floor behind him. His head was shaved bald, and his fingernails were at least an inch long, those on the first two fingers of each hand lacquered blue. Domon's mouth dropped open.
"You are in the presence of the High Lord Turak," the yellowhaired man intoned, "who leads Those Who Come Before, and succors the Return."
Egeanin prostrated herself with her hands at her sides. Domon imitated her with alacrity. Even the High Lords of Tear would no demand this, he thought. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Egeanin kissing the floor. With a grimace, he decided there was a limit to imitation. They can no see whether I do or no anyway.
Egeanin suddenly stood. He started to rise as well, and made it as far as one knee before a growl in her throat and a scandalized look on the face of the man with the braid put him back down, face to the floor and muttering under his breath. I would no do this for the King of Illian and the Council of Nine together.
"Your name is Egeanin?" It had to be the voice of the man in the blue robe. His slurring speech had a rhythm almost like singing.
"I was so named on my swordday, High Lord," she replied humbly.
"This is a fine specimen, Egeanin. Quite rare. Do you wish a payment?"
"That the High Lord is pleased is payment enough. I live to serve, High Lord."
"I will mention your name to the Empress, Egeanin. After the Return, new names will be called to the Blood. Show yourself fit, and you may shed the name Egeanin for a higher."
"The High Lord honors me."
You may leave me."
Domon could see nothing but her boots backing out of the room, pausing at intervals for bows. The door closed behind her. There was a long silence. He was watching sweat from his forehead drip onto the floor when Turak spoke again.
"You may rise, trader."
Domon got to his feet, and saw what Turak held in his longnailed fingers. The cuendillar disk shaped into the ancient seal of the Aes Sedai. Remembering Egeanin's reaction when he mentioned Aes Sedai, Domon began to sweat in earnest. There was no animosity in the High Lord's dark eyes, only a slight curiosity, but Domon did not trust lords.
"Do you know what this is, trader?"
"No, High Lord." Domon's reply was as steady as a rock; no trader lasted long who could not lie with a straight face and an easy voice.
"And yet you kept it in a secret place."
"I do collect old things, High Lord, from times past. There do be those who would steal such, did the

Turak regarded the blackandwhite disk for a moment. "This is cuendillar, trader - do you know that name? - and older than you perhaps know. Come with me."
Domon followed the man cautiously, feeling a little more sure of himself. With any lord of the lands he knew, if guards were going to be summoned, they already would have been. But the little he had seen of Seanchan told him they did not do things as other men did. He schooled his face to stillness.
He was led into another room. He thought the furniture here had to have been brought by Turak. It seemed to be made of curves, with no straight lines at all, and the wood was polished to bring out strange graining. There was one chair, on a silk carpet woven in birds and flowers, and one large cabinet made in a circle. Folding screens made new walls.
The man with the braid opened the doors of the cabinet to reveal shelves holding an odd assortment of figurines, cups, bowls, vases, fifty different things, no two alike in size or shape. Domon's breath caught as Turak carefully set the disk beside its exact twin.
"Cuendillar," Turak said. "That is what I collect, trader. Only the Empress herself has a finer collection."
Domon's eyes almost popped out of his head. If everything on those shelves was truly cuendillar, it was enough to buy a kingdom, or at the least to found a great House. Even a king might beggar himself to buy so much of it, if he even knew where to find so much. He put on a smile.
"High Lord, please accept this piece as a gift." He did not want to let it go, but that was better than angering this Seanchan. Maybe the Darkfriends will chase him now. "I do be but a simple trader. I want only to trade. Let me sail, and I do promise that - "
Turak's expression never changed, but the man with the braid cut Domon off with a snapped, "Unshaven dog! You speak of giving the High Lord what Captain Egeanin has already given. You bargain, as if the High Lord were a - a merchant! You will be flayed alive over nine days, dog, and - " The barest motion of Turak's finger silenced him.

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