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Towers of midnight
  • Текст добавлен: 15 октября 2016, 06:27

Текст книги "Towers of midnight"

Автор книги: Robert Jordan

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Текущая страница: 27 (всего у книги 65 страниц)

"I know why you're asking after him," Chet said. There was a man like Chet in nearly every tavern. Old enough to have seen men like Mat be born, grow up, and die, and willing to talk of all those years if you got enough drink in them. Or often if you didn't.

The stubble on Chet's long face was dappled silver, and he wore a lopsided cap. His patched coat had once been black, and the red-and-white insignia on his pocket was too faded to read. It was vaguely military, and one did not usually get scars like the thick, angry one on his cheek and neck from a bar fight.

"Aye," Chet continued, "many are askin' after the leader of that Band. Well, this mug of ale is appreciated, so let me give you some advice. You walk like you know which end of that sword means business, but you'd be a fool to challenge that one. Prince of Ravens, Lord of Luck. He faced old death himself and diced for his future, he did. Ain't never lost a fight."

Mat said nothing. He leaned back in his chair. This was his fourth tavern this night, and in three of them he had been able to find rumors about Matrim Cauthon. Barely a lick of truth to them. Blood and bloody ashes.

Oh, sure, there were tales of other people, too. Most about Rand, each one making the colors swirl when he heard them. Tear had fallen to the Seanchan, no Illian, no Rand had defeated them all and was fighting the Last Battle right now. No! He visited women in their sleep, getting them with child. No, that was the Dark One. No, Mat was the Dark One!

Bloody stories. They were supposed leave Mat alone. Some he could trace back to the Band—like the story of a city full of the dead awakening. But many of the people claimed that the stories had come from their uncle or cousin, or nephew.

Mat flicked Chet a copper. The man tipped his hat politely and went to get himself another drink. Mat did not feel like drinking. He had a suspicion that those pictures of him were part of why the stories were spreading so quickly. In the last tavern he had visited, someone had actually pulled out a copy of the sketch—folded and wrinkled—and shown it to him. Nobody had recognized him so far, though.

The hearthfire continued to crackle. Low Caemlyn was growing, and enterprising men had realized that providing rooms and drinks for the transients could make a healthy profit. So shanties had started to become taverns, and those had begun to grow into full inns.

Wood was in high demand, and many of the mercenary bands had taken to woodcutting. Some worked honestly, paying the Queen's levy for claims. Others worked less legally. There had already been hangings for it. Who would have thought? Men hanging for poaching trees? What next? Men hanging for stealing dirt?

Low Caemlyn had changed drastically, roads springing up, buildings being enlarged. A few years, and Low Caemlyn would be a city itself! They'd have to build another wall to close it in.

The room smelled of dirt and sweat, but no more so than other taverns. Spills were quickly cleaned up and the serving girls looked eager to have work. One in particular gave him a quiet smile, refilling his mug and showing some ankle. Mat made sure to remember her; she would be good for Talmanes.

Mat lifted up his scarf enough to drink. He felt like a fool wearing the scarf this way. But it was too hot for a hooded cloak, and the beard had been torture. Even with the scarf on his face, he did not stand out too much in Low Caemlyn; he was not the only tough walking around with his face obscured. He explained that he had a bad scar he wanted to cover; others assumed he had a bounty on his head. Both were actually true, unfortunately.

He sat for a time, staring into the dancing flames of the hearth. Chet's warning caused an uncomfortable pit to open in Mat's stomach. The greater his reputation grew, the more likely he would be challenged. There would be great notoriety in killing the Prince of the Ravens. Where had they gotten that name? Blood and bloody ashes!

A figure joined him at the fire. Lanky and bony, Noal looked like a scarecrow who had dusted himself off and decided to go to town. Despite his white hair and leathery face, Noal was as spry as men half his age. When he was handling a weapon, anyway. Other times he seemed as clumsy as a mule in a dining parlor.

"You're quite the notable man," Noal said to Mat, holding out his palms to the fire. "When you stumbled across me in Ebou Dar, I had no idea what illustrious company I'd find myself in. Give this a few more months and you'll be more famous than Jain Farstrider."

Mat hunkered down farther into his chair.

"Men always think it would be a grand to be known in every tavern and every city," Noal said softly. "But burn me if it isn't just a headache."

"What do you know of it?"

"Jain complained about it," Noal said softly.

Mat grunted. Thom arrived next. He was dressed as a merchant's servant, wearing a blue outfit that was not too fine, but also not in disrepair. He was claiming to have come to Low Caemlyn to determine whether his master would be well advised to put a shopfront here.

Thom pulled off the disguise with aplomb, waxing his mustaches to points and speaking with a faint Murandian accent. Mat had offered to come up with a backstory for his act, but Thom had coughed and said that he already had one worked out. Flaming liar of a gleeman.

Thom pulled up a chair, seating himself delicately, as if he were a servant who thought highly of himself. "Ah, what a waste of my time this was! My master insists that I associate with such rabble as this! And here I find the worst of the lot."

Noal chuckled softly.

"If only," Thom said dramatically, "I had been instead sent to the camp of the majestic, amazing, indestructible, famous Matrim Cauthon! Then I would certainly have—"

"Burn me, Thom," Mat said. "Let a man suffer in peace."

Thom laughed, waving over the serving girl and buying drinks for the three of them. He gave her an extra coin and quietly asked her to keep casual ears from getting too close to the hearth.

"Are you sure you want to meet here?" Noal asked.

"It'll do," Mat said. He did not want to be seen back in camp, lest the gholam look there for him.

"All right, then," Noal said. "We know where the tower is, and can get there, assuming Mat procures us a gateway."

"I will," Mat said.

"I haven't been able to find anyone who has gone inside," Noal continued.

"Some say it's haunted," Thom said, taking a slurp from his mug. "Others say it's a relic from the Age of Legends. The sides are said to be of smooth steel, without an opening. I did find a captain's widow's younger son who once heard a story of someone who found great treasures in the tower. He didn't say how the lad had gotten in, though."

"We know how to get in," Mat said.

"Olver's story?" Noal asked skeptically.

"It's the best we have," Mat said. "Look, the game and the rhyme are about the Aelfinn and Eelfinn. People knew about them once. Those bloody archways are proof of that. So they left the game and the rhyme as warning."

"That game can't be won, Mat," Noal said, rubbing his leathery chin.

"And that's the point of it. You need to cheat."

"But maybe we should try a deal," Thom said, playing with the waxed tip of a mustache. "They did give you answers to your questions."

"Bloody frustrating ones," Mat said. He had not wanted to tell Thom and Noal about his questions—he still had not told them what he had asked.

"But they did answer," Thom said. "It sounds like they had some kind of deal with the Aes Sedai. If we knew what it was the Aes Sedai had that the snakes and foxes wanted—the reason they were willing to bargain—then maybe we could trade it to them for Moiraine."

"If she's still alive," Noal said grimly.

"She is," Thom said, staring straight ahead. "Light send it. She has to be alive."

"We know what they want." Mat glanced at those flames.

"What?" Noal asked.

"Us," Mat replied. "Look, they can see what's going to happen. They did it to me, they did it to Moiraine, if that letter is any clue. They knew she would leave a letter for you, Thom. They knew it. And they still answered her questions."

"Maybe they had to," Thom said.

"Yes, but they don't have to answer straightforwardly," Mat said. "They didn't with me. They answered knowing she would come back to them, And they gave me what they did knowing I'd get pulled back, too. They want me. They want us."

"You don't know that for certain, Mat." Thom set his mug of ale on the floor between his feet and got out his pipe. To Mat's right, men cheered a dice game. "They can answer questions, but that doesn't mean they know everything. Could be like Aes Sedai foretellings."

Mat shook his head. The creatures put memories into his head. He figured they were the memories of people who had touched the tower or been into it. The Aelfinn and the Eelfinn had those memories, and burn him they probably had his, too. Could they watch him, see through his eyes?

He wished again for his medallion, though it would do no good against them. They were not Aes Sedai; they would not use channeling. "They do know things, Thom," Mat said. "They're watching. We won't surprise them."

"Makes them hard to defeat, then," Thom said, lighting a tinder twig with the fire, then using it to light his pipe. "We can't win."

"Unless we break the rules," Mat repeated.

"But they'll know what we're doing," Thom said, "if what you say is true. So we should trade with them."

"And what did Moiraine say, Thom?" Mat said. "In that letter you read every night."

Thom puffed on his pipe, raising an absent hand to his breast pocket, where he kept the letter. "She said to remember what we knew of the game."

"She knows there's no way to win when dealing with them," Mat said. No trades, Thom, no bargains. We go in fighting and we don't leave until we have her."

Thom hesitated for a moment, then nodded, his pipe beginning to puff.

"Courage to strengthen," Noal said. "Well, we have enough of that, with Mat's luck."

"You don't have to be part of this, you know, Noal," Mat said. "You have no reason to risk yourself on this."

"I'm going," Noal said. "I've seen a lot of places. Most places, actually. But never this one." He hesitated. "It's something I need to do. And that's the end of it."

"Very well," Mat said.

"Fire to blind," Noal said. "What do we have?"

"Lanterns and torches," Mat said, knocking his foot against the sack beside his chair. "And some of those firesticks from Aludra, so we can light them. A few surprises from her, too."

"Fireworks?" Noal asked.

"And a few of those exploding cylinders we used against the Seanchan. She calls them roarsticks."

Thom whistled. "She let you have some?"

"Two. When I presented her with Elayne's agreement, she was ready to let me have almost anything I asked for." Mat grimaced. "She wanted to come along to light them. Herself! Burn me, but that was a tough argument to end. But we've got a whole lot of nightflowers." He tapped the sack beside his chair with the edge of his foot.

"You brought them?" Thom asked.

"I wanted to keep them close," Mat said. "And she only gave them to me today. They're not going to explode by accident, Thom. That doesn't happen very often."

"Well at least move them back from the hearth!" Thom said. He glanced at his pipe and cursed, then scooted his chair a few inches from Mat.

"Next," Noal said, "music to dazzle."

"I got us a variety," Thom said. "I'll bring my harp and flute, but I found us some hand drums and hand cymbals. They can be strapped to the side of your leg and hit with one hand. I also bought an extra flute." He eyed Mat. "A simple one, designed for those with thick, slow fingers."

Mat snorted.

"And finally, iron to bind," Noal said, sliding forward a pack of his own. It clinked faintly as he untied the top, the contents reflecting the deep orange hearthlight. "A set of throwing knives for each of us and two shortswords. Each of pure iron, no steel. I got us some chains, too, and a band of iron to clip around the butt of Mat's spear. It might throw the weight off, though."

"I'll take it," Mat said.

Noal did up his pack again, and the three of them sat before the hearth for a time. In a way, these things they'd gathered were an illusion. A way to reassure themselves that they were doing something to prepare.

But Mat remembered those twisted places beyond the gateways, the angles that were not right, the unnatural landscape. The creatures called snakes and foxes because they defied standard description.

That place was another world. The preparations he did with Thom and Noal might help, but they might also be useless. There was no telling until they stepped into that tower. It felt like not knowing if you had the right antidote until after the snake's teeth were already clamped down on your neck. Eventually, he bade the other two a good night. Noal wanted to head back to the Band's camp, which was now only a ten-minute ride from the city. Thom agreed to go with him, and they took Mat's pack full of nightflowers—though both men looked as if they would rather be carrying a sack full of spiders.

Mat belted his sword on over his coat, took up his staff, then headed back toward his inn. He did not go directly there, though, and instead found himself trailing through the alleys and streets. Shanties and tents had sprung up beside solid buildings as the city-outside-the-city spread along the walls, like mold growing on a loaf of bread.

The sky was dark, but the night was still busy, touts calling from within the lit doorways of inns. Mat made sure the shortsword was visible. There were many who would think to exploit a lone wanderer at night, particularly outside the city walls, where the arm of the law was a little on the flabby side.

The air smelled of impending rain, but it often did these days. He wished it would go on and storm or bloody clear up. It felt as if the air were holding its breath, waiting for something. A blow that never fell, a bell that never rang, a set of dice that never stopped spinning. Just like the ones that thundered in his head.

He felt at the letter from Verin in his pocket. Would the dice stop if he opened it? Maybe it was about the gholam. If he did not retrieve his medallion from Elayne soon, the thing was likely to find him and rip his insides out.

Bloody ashes. He felt like going drinking, forgetting who he was—and who people thought he was—for a while. But if he got drunk, he was likely to let his face show by accident. Perhaps begin to talk about who he really was. You never could tell what a man would do when he was drunk, even if that man was your own self.

He made his way through the city gates and into the New City. The air began to mist with something that was not quite rain, as if the sky had listened to his rant and had decided to allow a little sneeze to spray down on him.

Wonderful, he thought, bloody wonderful.

The paving stones soon grew wet from the not-rain, and the streetlamps glowed with balls of vaporous haze. Mat hunkered down, scarf still covering his face as if he were a bloody Aielman. Had he not been too hot only a little bit ago?

He was as eager as Thom to move on and find Moiraine. She had made a mess of his life, but Mat supposed he owed her for that. Better to live in this mess than to be trapped back in the Two Rivers, living a boring life without realizing how boring it was. Mat was not like Perrin, who had mooned over leaving the Two Rivers before they had even gotten to Baerlon. An image of Perrin flashed in his head, and Mat banished it.

And what of Rand? Mat saw him sitting on a fine chair, staring down at the floor in front of himself in a dark room, a single lamp flickering. He looked worn and exhausted, his eyes wide, his expression grim. Mat shook his head to dispel that image as well. Poor Rand. The man probably thought he was a bloody blackferret or something by now, gnawing on pinecones. But it was likely a blackferret that wanted to live back in the Two Rivers.

No, Mat did not want to go back. There was no Tuon back in the Two Rivers. Light, well, he would have to figure out what to do with Tuon. But he did not want to be rid of her. If she were still with him, he would let her call him Toy without complaining. Well, not much anyway.

Moiraine first. He wished he knew more about the Aelfinn and Eelfinn and their bloody tower. Nobody knew about it, nobody spoke more than legends, nobody had anything useful to say… …nobody but Birgitte. Mat stopped in the street. Birgitte. She had been the one to tell Olver how to get into the Tower. How had she known?

Cursing himself for a fool, he turned toward the Inner City. The streets were emptying of the traffic that had burdened them before the almost-rain began. Soon Mat felt he had the whole city to himself; even the cutpurses and beggars withdrew.

For some reason, that put him on edge more than being stared at. It was not natural. Someone should have tried at least to bloody shadow him to see if he was worth picking off. Once again, he longed for his medallion. He had been an idiot to give that away. Better to have cut off his own bloody hand and offered that to Elayne as payment! Was the gholam there, in that darkness, somewhere?

There should have been toughs on the street. Cities were full of them. That was practically one of the bloody requirements for a city. A town hall, a few inns and a tavern, and several blunt-faced fellows whose only desire was to pound you into the mud and spend your coin on drink and women– He passed a courtyard and headed through the Mason's Gate into the Inner City, the white archway almost seeming to glow, rain-slick in the phantom light of the clouded moon. Mat's quarterstaff knocked against the paving stones. The gate guards were huddled and quiet in their cloaks, Like statues, not men at all. The entire place felt like a tomb. A ways past the gate, he passed an alleyway, and hesitated. He thought he could see a group of shadowy forms inside. Tall buildings rose on either side, grand Ogier masonry. A grunt sounded from inside the alleyway. "A robbery?" Mat said with relief.

A hulking figure looked back out of the alleyway. Moonlight revealed fellow with dark eyes and a long cloak. He seemed stunned to find Mat standing there. He pointed with a thick-fingered hand, and three of his companions made for Mat.

Mat relaxed, wiping his brow free of rainwater. So there were footpads out this night. What a relief. He had been jumping at nothing!

A thug swung his cudgel at Mat. Mat had worn the shortsword on the right side intentionally; the thug took the bait, assuming that Mat would move to draw the weapon.

Instead, Mat brought up the quarterstaff swiftly, snapping the butt against the man's leg. The footpad stumbled, and Mat swung into the man's head. The drizzle, which was nearly a proper rain by now, sprayed off the cutpurse as he fell, tripping one of his companions.

Mat stepped back and slammed the top of the quarterstaff down on the head of the tripping thug. He went down on top of his companion. The third man looked back toward his leader, who held to the collar of a gangly man Mat could barely make out in the shadows. Mat took the opportunity to leap over the small pile of unconscious thugs, swinging at the third man. The footpad brought his cudgel up to protect his head, so Mat slammed his quarterstaff into the man's foot. He then swung the quarterstaff, knocking aside the third man's weak parry, and dropped him with a blow to the face.

Mat casually flipped a knife toward the leader of the gang, who was charging forward. The leader gurgled, stumbled in the drizzle, clawing at the knife in his neck. The others Mat would leave unconscious—poor fools, maybe they would take this warning and reform.

Mat stepped to the side as the leader stumbled past, then finally collapsed on top of his three companions. Mat kicked him over, pulled out the knife, then cleaned it. Finally, he glanced at the victim of the robbery. "Sure am glad to see you," Mat said. "You… you are?" the man asked.

"Sure am," Mat said, standing up straight. "I thought the thieves were not out tonight. A city without cutpurses, well, that's like a field without weeds. And if there were no weeds, what would you need a farmer for? Bloody inhospitable, I tell you."

The rescued man stumbled forward on shaky feet. He seemed confused by what Mat had said, but he scrambled up, taking Mat's hand "Thank you!" The man had a nasal voice. "Thank you so, so much." In the faint moonlight, Mat could barely make out a wide face with buck teeth atop an awkwardly thin body.

Mat shrugged, setting aside his staff and unwinding his scarf—which was getting sodden—and beginning to wring it free. "I'd stay away from traveling by yourself at night, if I were you, friend."

The man squinted in the darkness. "You!" he said, voice nearly a squeak.

Mat groaned. "Blood and bloody ashes! Can't I go anywhere without—"

He cut off as the man lunged, a dagger flashing in the faint moonlight. Mat cursed, and snapped his scarf in front of him. The dagger hit the cloth instead of Mat's gut, and Mat quickly twisted his hands, tying the assassin's dagger in lengths of cloth.

The man yelped, and Mat released the scarf and pulled out a pair of knives, one in each hand, releasing them by reflex. They took the assassin in the eyes. One in each eye. Light! Mat had not been aiming for the eyes.

The man collapsed to the wet paving stones.

Mat stood breathing in and out. "Mother's milk in a cup! Mother's bloody milk!" He grabbed his quarterstaff, glancing about him, but the gloomy street was empty. "I rescued you. I rescued you, and you try to stab me?"

Mat knelt down beside the corpse. Then, grimly certain what he would find, he fished in the man's pouch. He came out with a couple of coins—gold coins—and a folded-up piece of paper. Moonlight revealed Mat's face on it. He crinkled the paper and shoved it in his pocket.

One in each bloody eye. Better than the man deserved. Mat retied his scarf, grabbed his knives, then walked out onto the street, wishing he had left the assassin to his fate.

Birgitte folded her arms, leaning against a marble pillar and watching as Elayne sat enjoying an evening presentation of "players." Groups like this—acting out stories—had become very popular in Cairhien, and were now trying to achieve the same success in Andor. One of the palace halls, where bards performed, had been adapted to allow the players to act out their stories.

Birgitte shook her head. What was the good of acting out fake stories.

Why not go live a few stories of your own? Besides, she'd prefer a bard any day. Helpfully this fashion of seeing "players" would die quickly. This particular story was a retelling of the tragic marriage and death of the Princess Walishen, slain by beasts of the Shadow. Birgitte was familiar with the ballad that the players had adapted to form their story. In fact, they sang parts of it during the performance. It was remarkable how little that song had changed over the years. Some different names, a few different notes, but the same overall. Much like her own lives. Repeated over and over, but with little variations. Sometimes she was a soldier. Sometimes she was a forest woman, with no formal military training. She'd been a general once or twice, unfortunately. She'd rather leave that particular job for someone else.

She'd been a guard, a noble thief, a lady, a peasant, a killer and a savior. But she had never before been a Warder. The unfamiliarity didn't bother her; in most of her lives, she had no knowledge of what had come before. What she could draw from her previous lives now was a boon, yes, but she had no right to those memories.

That didn't stop her heart from twisting each time one of those memories faded. Light! If she couldn't be with Gaidal this time around, couldn't she at least remember him? It was as if the Pattern didn't know what to do with her. She'd been forced into this life, shoving other threads aside, taking an unexpected place. The Pattern was trying to weave her in. What would happen when all of the memories faded? Would she remember waking up as an adult with no history? The thought terrified her as no battlefield ever had.

She nodded to one of her Guardswomen, Kaila Bent, who passed by the back row of the makeshift theater and saluted.

"Well?" Birgitte asked, stepping around the corner to speak with Kaila. "Nothing to report," Kaila said. "All is well." She was a lanky fire-haired woman, and had taken very easily to wearing the trousers and coat of a Guardswoman. "Or, all is as well as it could be while having to suffer through 'The Death of Princess Walishen'."

"Stop complaining," Birgitte said, suppressing a wince as the diva—so the players called her—began a particularly shrill aria—so they called a song by yourself. Why did the players need so many new names for things? "You could be out patrolling in the rain."

"I could?" Kaila asked, sounding eager. "Why didn't you say so sooner? Maybe I'll get struck by lightning. That might be preferable." Birgitte snorted. "Get back to your rounds." Kaila saluted and left. Birgitte tuned back into the theater, leaning against the pillar. Perhaps she should have brought some wax to stuff in her ears. She glanced over at Elayne. The Queen sat with a calm demeanor, watching the play. At times, Birgitte felt more like a nursemaid than a bodyguard. How did you protect a woman who seemed, at times, so determined to see herself dead?

And yet, Elayne was also so very capable. Like tonight; she'd somehow convinced her most bitter rival to attend this play. That was Ellorien sitting over in the eastern row; the woman's last parting from the palace had been so bitter that Birgitte hadn't expected her to return unless she was in chains. Yet here she was. It whispered of a political maneuver by Elayne that was thirteen steps more subtle than Birgitte had a mind for.

She shook her head. Elayne was a queen. Volatility and all. She'd be good for Andor. Assuming Birgitte could keep that golden-haired head from being lopped off its neck.

After some time suffering through the singing, Kaila approached again. Birgitte stood up straight, curious at the woman's quick pace. "What?" she asked quietly.

"You looked bored," Kaila whispered, "so I thought I'd bring this to you. Disturbance at the Plum Gate." That was the southeastern entrance to the palace grounds. "Someone tried to sneak through."

"Another beggar looking for scraps? Or a spy for one of the lordlings, hoping to listen in?"

"I don't know," Kaila said. "I heard the news thirdhand from Calison as we passed on patrol. He said the Guardsmen have the intruder in custody at the gate."

Birgitte glanced to the side. It looked like another solo was about to begin. "You have command here; hold this post and take reports. I'll go stretch my legs and check on this disturbance."

"Bring me some wax for my ears when you come back, would you?"

Birgitte chuckled, leaving the theater and stepping into a white-and-red palace hallway. Though she had Guardswomen and men with extra bows at the hallways, Birgitte herself carried a sword, for an assassination attempt would most likely turn to close-quarters fighting.

Birgitte trotted down the hallway, glancing out a window when she passed. The sky leaked a strengthening drizzle. Utterly dreary. Gaidal would have liked this weather. He loved the rain. On occasion, she'd joked that drizzle suited his face better, making him less likely to frighten children. Light, but she missed that man.

The most direct route to the Plum Gate took her through the servants quarters. In many palaces, this would have meant entering a section of the building that was more drab, meant for less important people. But this building had been Ogier built, and they had particular views about such things. The marble stonework here was as grand as it was elsewhere, with tiled mosaics of red and white. The rooms, while small by royal standards, were each large enough to hold an entire family. Birgitte generally preferred to take her meals in the servants' large, open dining hall. Four separate hearths crackled here in defiance of the dreary night, and off-duty servants and Guards laughed and chatted. Some said you could judge a monarch by the way he treated those who served him. If that were the case, then the Andoran palace had been designed in a way to encourage the best in its queens.

Birgitte reluctantly passed by the inviting scents of food and instead pushing her way out into the cold summer storm. The chill wasn't biting. Just uncomfortable. She pulled up the hood of her cloak and crossed the slick paving down to the Plum Gate. The gatehouse was alight with an orange glow, and the Guardsmen on watch stood outside in wet cloaks, halberds held to the side.

Birgitte marched up to the gatehouse, water dripping from the lip of her hood, then pounded on the thick oak door. It opened, revealing the bald-headed, mustached face of Renald Macer, sergeant on duty. A stout man, he had wide hands and a calm temperament. She always thought he should be in a shop somewhere making shoes, but the Guard took all types, and dependability was often more important than skill with the sword.

"Captain-General!" he exclaimed. "What are you doing here?"

"Getting rained on," she snapped.

"Oh, my!" He stepped back, making way for her to enter the gatehouse. It had a single crowded room. The soldiers were on storm shift—meaning twice as many men would work the gate as usual, but they would only have to stand outside an hour before rotating with the men warming inside the gatehouse.

Three Guardsmen sat at a table, throwing dice into a dicing box while an open-fronted iron stove consumed logs and warmed tea. Dicing with the tour soldiers was a wiry man with a black scarf wrapped around the bottom of his face. His clothing was scruffy, his head topped by a mop of wet brown hair kicking out in all directions. Brown eyes glanced at Birgitte over the top of the scarf, and the man sank down a little in his seat.

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