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Towers of midnight
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Текст книги "Towers of midnight"


Автор книги: Robert Jordan






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Текущая страница: 52 (всего у книги 65 страниц)

"What?" Elayne asked.

"Nothing," Birgitte said. "It's good to see you two acting like mother and child, or at least woman and woman, rather than staring at each other like two posts."

"Elayne is Queen," Morgase said stiffly. "Her life belongs to her people, and my arrival threatened to upset her Succession."

"It still might muddy things, Mother," Elayne said. "Your appearance could open old wounds."

"I will have to apologize," Morgase said. "Perhaps offer reparations." She hesitated. "I had intended to stay away, daughter. It would be best if those who hated me still thought me dead. But—"

"No," Elayne said quickly, squeezing her hands. "This is for the best. We simply will have to approach it with skill and care."

Morgase smiled. "You make me proud. You will be a wonderful queen.

Elayne had to force herself to stop beaming. Her mother had never been free with compliments.

"But tell me, before we go further," Morgase said, voice growing more hesitant. "I have heard reports that Gaebril was…"

"Rahvin," Elayne said, nodding. "It's true, Mother."

"I hate him for what he did. I can see him, using me, driving spikes through the hearts and loyalty of my dearest friends. And yet there is a part of me that longs to see him, irrationally."

"He used Compulsion on you," Elayne said softly. "There is no other explanation. We will have to see if any from the White Tower can Heal it."

Morgase shook her head. "Whatever it was, it is faint now, and manageable. I have found another to give my affection."

Elayne frowned.

"I will explain that at another point," Morgase said. "I'm not certain I understand it yet. First we must decide what to do about my return."

"That is easy," Elayne said. "We celebrate!"

"Yes, but—"

"But nothing, Mother," Elayne said. "You have returned to us! The city, the entire nation, will celebrate." She hesitated. "And after that, we will find an important function for you."

"Something that takes me away from the capital, so I cast no unfortunate shadows."

"But a duty that is important, so that you are not thought of as having been put out to pasture." Elayne grimaced. "Perhaps we can give you charge of the western quarter of the realm. I have little pleasure in the reports of what is happening there."

"The Two Rivers?" Morgase asked. "And Lord Perrin Aybara?"

Elayne nodded.

"He is an interesting one, Perrin is," Morgase said thoughtfully. "Yes, perhaps I could be of some use there. We have something of an understanding already."

Elayne raised an eyebrow.

"He was behind my safe return to you," Morgase said. "He is an honest man, and honorable as well. But also a rebel, despite his good intentions. You will not have an easy time of it if you come to blows with that one."

"I'd rather avoid it." She grimaced. The easiest way to deal with it would be to find him and execute him, but of course she wasn't going to do that. Even if reports had her fuming enough to almost wish that she could.

"Well, we shall begin working on a way." Morgase smiled. "It will help you to hear of what happened to me. Oh, and Lini is safe. I don't know if you've worried over her or not."

"To be honest, I didn't," Elayne said, grimacing, feeling a spike of shame. "It seems that the collapse of Dragonmount itself couldn't harm Lini."

Morgase smiled, then began her story. Elayne listened with awe, and not a little excitement. Her mother lived. Light be blessed, so many things had gone wrong recently, but at least one had gone right.

***

The Three-fold Land at night was peaceful and quiet. Most animals were active near dusk and dawn, when it was neither sweltering nor freezing.

Aviendha sat on a small rock outcropping, legs folded beneath her, looking down upon Rhuidean, in the lands of the Jenn Aiel, the clan that was not. Once Rhuidean had been shrouded in protective mists. That was before Rand had come. He'd broken the city in three very important very discomforting ways.

The first was the simplest. Rand had taken away the mist. The city had shed its dome like an algai'd'siswai unveiling his face. She didn't know how Rand had caused the transformation; she doubted that he knew himself. But in exposing the city, he had changed it forever.

The second way Rand had broken Rhuidean was by bringing it water. A grand lake lay beside the city, and phantom moonlight, filtered through clouds above, made the waters shine. The people were calling the lake Tsodrelle'Aman. Tears of the Dragon, though the lake should be called Tears of the Aiel. Rand al'Thor had not known how much pain he would cause in what he revealed. Such was the way with him. His actions were often so innocent.

The third way Rand had broken the city was the most profound. Aviendha was slowly coming to understand this one. Nakomi's words worried her, unnerved her. They had awakened in her shadows of memories, things from potential futures that Aviendha had seen in the rings during her first visit to Rhuidean, but that her mind could not quite recall, at least not directly.

She worried that Rhuidean would stop mattering very soon. Once, the city's ultimate purpose had been to show Wise Ones and clan chiefs their people's secret past. To prepare them for the day when they'd serve the Dragon. That day had come. So who should come to Rhuidean now? Sending the Aiel leaders through the glass columns would be reminding them of toh they had begun to meet.

This bothered Aviendha in ways that itched beneath her skin. She didn't want to acknowledge these questions. She wanted to continue with tradition. But she could not get them out of her head.

Rand caused so many problems. Still, she loved him. She loved him for his ignorance, in a way. It allowed him to learn. And she loved him for the foolish way he tried to protect those who did not want to be protected.

Most of all, she loved him for his desire to be strong. Aviendha had always wanted to be strong. Learn the spear. Fight and earn ji. Be the best.

She could feel him now, distant from her. They were so alike in this way.

Her feet ached from running. She'd rubbed them with the sap of a segade plant, but she could still feel them throbbing. Her boots sat on the stone beside her, along with the fine woolen stockings that Elayne had given her.

She was tired and thirsty—she would fast this night, contemplating, then refill her waterskin at the lake before going into Rhuidean tomorrow. Tonight, she sat and thought, preparing.

The lives of the Aiel were changing. It was strength to accept change when it could not be avoided. If a hold was damaged during a raid and you rebuilt it, you never made it exactly the same way. You took the chance to fix the problems—the door that creaked in the wind, the uneven section of floor. To make it exactly as it had been would be foolishness.

Perhaps traditions—such as coming to Rhuidean, and even living in the Three-fold Land itself—would need to be reexamined eventually. But for now, the Aiel couldn't leave the wetlands. There was the Last Battle. And then the Seanchan had captured many Aiel and made Wise Ones into damane; that could not be allowed. And the White Tower still assumed that all Aiel Wise Ones who could channel were wilders. Something would have to be done about that.

And herself? The more she thought of it, she realized that she couldn't go back to her old life. She had to be with Rand. If he survived the Last Battle—and she intended to fight hard to make certain he did—he would still be a wetlander king. And then there was Elayne. Aviendha and she were going to be sister-wives, but Elayne would never leave Andor. Would she expect Rand to stay with her? Would that mean Aviendha would need to as well?

So troubling, both for herself and her people. Traditions should not be maintained just because they were traditions. Strength was not strength if it had no purpose or direction.

She studied Rhuidean, such a grand place of stone and majesty. Most cities disgusted her with their corrupt filth, but Rhuidean was different. Domed roofs, half-finished monoliths and towers, carefully planned sections with dwellings. The fountains flowed now, and though a large section still bore the scars of when Rand had fought there. Much of that had been cleaned up by the families who lived here, Aiel who had not gone to war.

There would be no shops. No arguments in streets, no murderers in alleys. Rhuidean might have been deprived of meaning, but it would remain a place of peace.

I will go on, she decided. Pass through the glass columns. Perhaps her worries were true, and the passage was now far less meaningful, but she was genuinely curious to see what the others had seen. Besides knowing ones past was important in order to understand the future.

Wise Ones and clan chiefs had been visiting this location for centuries. They returned with knowledge. Maybe the city would show her what to do about her people, and about her own heart.

CHAPTER 46

Working Leather

Androl carefully took the oval piece of leather from the steaming water; it had darkened and curled. He moved quickly, picking it up in his callused fingers. The leather was springy and flexible now.

He quickly sat down at his bench, a square of sunlight coming in through the window on his right side. He wrapped the leather around a thick wooden rod about two inches across, then poked holes around the edges.

From there, he began stitching the leather to another piece he'd prepared earlier. A good stitching around the outside would keep it from fraying. A lot of leatherworkers were casual about stitching. Not Androl. The stitching was what people saw first; it stood out, like paint on a wall.

As he worked, the leather dried and lost some of its springiness, but it was still flexible enough. He made the stitches neat and even. He pulled the last few tight and used them to tie the leather around the wooden rod; he'd cut those last once the leather dried.

Stitching done, he added some ornaments. A name across the top, pounded into place using his small mallet and letter-topped pins. The symbols of the Sword and Dragon came next; he'd made those plates himself, based on the pins the Asha'man wore.

At the bottom, using his smaller letter pins, he stamped the words, "Defend. Guard. Protect." As the leather continued to dry, he got out his stain and gauze to carefully color the letters and the designs for contrast.

There was a tranquility to this kind of work; so much of his life was about destruction these days. He knew that had to be. He'd come to the Black Tower in the first place because he understood what was to come. Still, it was nice to create something.

He left his current piece, letting it dry while working on some saddle straps. He measured the straps with the marks on the side of his table then reached for his shears in the tool pouch that hung from the side of his table—he'd made that himself. He was annoyed to discover that they weren't in their place.

Burn the day word got out that I had good shears in here, he thought. Despite Taim's supposedly strict rules for the Black Tower, there was a distressing amount of chaos. Large infractions were punished with harsh measures, but the little things—like wandering into a man's workshop and "borrowing" his shears—were ignored. Particularly if the borrower was one of the M'Hael's favorites.

Androl sighed. His belt knife was waiting at Cuellar's place for sharpening. Well, he thought, Taim does keep telling us to look for excuses to channel… Androl emptied himself of emotion, then seized the Source. It had been months since he'd had trouble doing that—at first, he'd been able to channel only when he was holding a strap of leather. The M'Hael had beaten that out of him. It had not been a pleasant process.

Saidin flooded into him, sweet, powerful, beautiful. He sat for a long moment, enjoying it. The taint was gone. What a wonder that was. He closed his eyes and breathed in deeply.

What would it be like to draw in as much of the One Power as the others could? At times, he thirsted for that. He knew he was weak—weakest of the Dedicated in the Black Tower. Perhaps so weak he should never have been promoted from soldier. Logain had gone to the Lord Dragon about it, and made the promotion happen, against Taim's express wishes.

Androl opened his eyes, then held up the strap and wove a tiny gateway, only an inch across. It burst alive in front of him, slicing the strap in two. He smiled, then let it vanish and repeated the process.

Some said that Logain had forced Androl's promotion only as a dig against Taim's authority. But Logain had said that it was Androl's incredible Talent with gateways that had earned him the title of Dedicated. Logain was a hard man, broken around the edges, like an old scabbard that hadn't been properly lacquered. But that scabbard still held a deadly sword. Logain was honest. A good man, beneath the scuff marks.

Androl eventually finished with the straps. He walked over and snipped the string holding the oval piece of leather in place. It retained its shape, and he held it up to the sunlight, inspecting the stitching. The leather was stiff without being brittle. He fit it onto his forearm. Yes, the molding was good.

He nodded to himself. One of the tricks to life was paying attention to the small details. Focus, make the small things right. If each stitch was secure on an armguard, then it wouldn't fray or snap. That could mean the difference between an archer lasting through a barrage or having to put away his bow.

One archer wouldn't make a battle. But the small things piled up, one atop another, until they became large things. He finished the armguard by affixing a few permanent ties to its back, so one could bind it in place on the arm.

He took his black coat off the back of his chair. The silver sword pin on the high collar glimmered in the window's sunlight as he did up the buttons. He glanced at himself in the glass's reflection, making certain the coat was straight. Small things were important. Seconds were small things, and if you heaped enough of those on top of one another, they became a man's life.

He put the armguard on his arm, then pushed open the door to his small workshop and entered the outskirts of the Black Tower's village. Here, clusters of two-storied buildings were arranged much like any small town in Andor. Peaked roofs, thatched, with straight wooden walls, some stone and brick as well. A double line of them ran down the center of the village. Looking only at those, one might have thought he was strolling through New Braem or Grafendale.

Of course, that required ignoring the men in black coats. They were everywhere, running errands for the M'Hael, going to practice, working on the foundations of the Black Tower structure itself. This place was still a work in progress. A group of soldiers—bearing neither the sword pin nor the red-and-gold Dragon—used the Power to blast a long trough in the ground beside the road. It had been decided that the village needed a canal.

Androl could see the weaves—mostly Earth—spinning around the soldiers. In the Black Tower, you did as much with the Power as you could. Always training, like men lifting stones to build their strength. Light, how Logain and Taim pushed those lads.

Androl moved out onto the newly graveled roadway. Much of that gravel bore melted edges from where it had been blasted. They had brought in boulders—through gateways, on weaves of Air—then shattered them with explosive weaves. It had been like a war zone, rocks shattering, spraying chips. With Power—and training—like that, the Asha'man would be able to reduce city walls to rubble.

Androl continued on his way. The Black Tower was a place of strange sights, and melted gravel wasn't nearly the strangest of them. Neither were the soldiers tearing up ground, following Androl's own careful surveying. Lately, the strangest sight to him was the children. They ran and played, jumping into the trough left behind by the working soldiers, sliding down its earthen sides, then scrambling back up.

Children. Playing in the holes created by saidin blasts. The world was changing. Androl's own granma—so ancient she'd lost every tooth in her mouth—had used stories of men channeling to frighten him into bed on nights when he tried to slip outside and count the stars. The darkness outside hadn't frightened him, nor had stories of Trollocs and Fades. But men who could channel… that had terrified him.

Now he found himself here, grown into his middle years, suddenly afraid of the dark but completely at peace with men who could channel. He walked down the road, gravel crunching beneath his boots. The children came scrambling up out of the ditch and flocked around him. He idly brought out a handful of candies, purchased on the last scouting mission.

"Two each," he said sternly as dirty hands reached for the candies. "And no shoving, mind you." Hands went to mouths, and the children gave him bobbed heads in thanks, calling him "Master Genhald," before racing away. They didn't go back to the trench, but invented a new game, running off toward the fields to the east.

Androl brushed off his hands, smiling. Children were so adaptable. Before them, centuries of tradition, terror and superstition could melt away like butter left too long in the sun. But it was good that they'd chosen to leave the trench. The One Power could be unpredictable.

No. That wasn't right. Saidin was very predictable. The men who wielded it, however… well, they were a different story.

The soldiers halted their work and turned to meet him. He wasn't a full Asha'man, and didn't merit a salute, but they showed him respect. Too much. He wasn't sure why they deferred to him. He was no great man, particularly not here, in the Black Tower.

Still, they nodded to him as he passed. Most of these were among the men who had been recruited from the Two Rivers. Sturdy lads and men, eager, though many were on the young side. Half of them didn't need to shave but once a week. Androl walked up to them, then inspected their work, eyeing the line of string he'd tied to small stakes. He nodded in approval. "Angle is good, lads," he said. "But keep the sides steeper, if you can."

"Yes, Master Genhald," said the one leading the team. Jaim Torfinn was his name, a spindly young man with dusty brown hair. He still held he Power. That raging river of strength was so enticing. Rare was the man who could release it without a sense of loss.

The M'Hael encouraged them to keep hold of it, said that holding it taught them to control it. But Androl had known seductive sensations somewhat like saidin before—the exhilaration of battle, the intoxication of rare drinks from the Isles of the Sea Folk, the heady feeling of victory. A man could be swept up in those feelings and lose control of himself, forgetting who he was. And saidin was more seductive than anything else he'd experienced.

He said nothing to Taim about his reservations. He had no business lecturing the M'Hael.

"Here," Androl said, "let me show you what I mean by straight." He took a deep breath, then emptied himself of feeling. He used the old soldier's trick to do that—he'd been taught it by his first instructor in the sword, old one-armed Garfin, whose heavy rural Illianer accent had been virtually incomprehensible. Of course, Androl himself had a faint Taraboner accent, he was told. It had faded over the years since he'd last been home.

Within the nothing—the void—Androl could feel the raging force that was saidin. He grabbed it as a man grabbed the neck of a horse running wild, hoping to steer in some small way but mostly just trying to hold on.

Saidin was wonderful. Yes, it was more powerful than any intoxicant. It made the world more beautiful, more lush. Holding that terrible Power, Androl felt as if he'd come to life, leaving the dry husk of his former self behind. It threatened to carry him away in its swift currents.

He worked quickly, weaving a tiny trickle of Earth—the best he could manage, for Earth was where he was weakest—and carefully shaved the sides of the canal. "If you leave too much jutting out," he explained as he worked, "then the canal flow will stay muddy as it washes away the earth on the sides. The straighter and more firm the sides, the better. You see?"

The soldiers nodded. Sweat had beaded on their brows, flakes of dirt sticking to their foreheads and cheeks. But their black coats were clean, particularly the sleeves. You could judge a man's respect for his uniform by whether or not he used the sleeve to wipe his brow on a day like this. The Two Rivers lads used handkerchiefs.

The more senior Asha'man, of course, rarely sweated at all. It would take these lads more practice to get that down while concentrating so much. "Good men," Androl said, standing up and glancing over them Androl laid a hand on Jaim's shoulder. "You lads are doing a fine job here The Two Rivers, it grows men right."

The lads beamed. It was good to have them, particularly compared to the quality of men Taim had been recruiting lately. The M'Hael's scouts claimed they took whoever they could find, yet why was it that most they brought back had such angry, unsettling dispositions?

"Master Genhald?" asked one of the soldiers.

"Yes, Trost?" Androl asked.

"Have you… Have you heard anything of Master Logain?"

The others looked hopeful.

Androl shook his head. "He hasn't returned from his scouting mission. I'm sure he'll be back soon."

The lads nodded, though he could see that they were beginning to worry. They had a right to. Androl had been worrying for weeks now. Ever since Logain had left in the night. Where had he gone? Why had he taken Donalo, Mezar and Welyn—three of the most powerful Dedicated loyal to him—along?

And now there were those Aes Sedai camped outside, supposedly sent with authority from the Dragon to bond Asha'man. Taim had given one of his half-smiles at that, the kind that never reached his eyes, and told them the group from the White Tower had first pick, since they'd come first. The others waited, impatiently.

"The M'Hael," one of the Two Rivers men said, expression growing dark. "He—"

"Keep your heads on your shoulders," Androl interrupted, "and don't make waves. Not yet. We wait for Logain."

The men sighed, but nodded. Distracted by the conversation, Androl almost didn't notice when the shadows nearby began creeping toward him. Shadows of men, lengthening in the sunlight. Shadows within the trough. Shadows of rocks and clefts in the earth. Slowly, deviously, they turned toward Androl. Androl steeled himself, but couldn't dispel the panic. This one terror he could feel despite the void.

They came whenever he held saidin for too long. He released it immediately, and the shadows reluctantly crept back to their places.

The Two Rivers lads watched him, discomfort in their faces. Could they see the wild cast to Androl's eyes? Nobody spoke of the… irregularities that afflicted men of the Black Tower. It just wasn't done. Like whispering dirty family secrets.

The taint was cleansed. These lads would never have to feel the things that Androl did. Eventually, he and the others who had been in the Tower before the cleansing would become rarities. Light, but he couldn't understand why anyone would listen to him. Weak in the Power and insane to boot?

And the worst part was, he knew—deeply, down to his very center—that those shadows were real. Not just some madness concocted by his mind. They were real, and they would destroy him if they reached him.

They were real. They had to be.

Oh, Light, he thought, gritting his teeth. Either option is terrifying. Either I'm insane or the darkness itself wants to destroy me.

That was why he could no longer sleep at nights without huddling in fear. Sometimes he could go hours holding the Source without seeing the shadows. Sometimes only minutes. He took a deep breath.

"All right," he said, satisfied that his voice—at least—sounded in control. "You best get back to work. Keep that slope moving the right direction, mind you. We'll have a mess and a half to deal with if the water overflows and floods this area."

As they obeyed, Androl left them, cutting back through the village. Near the center stood the barracks, five large, thick-stoned buildings for the soldiers, a dozen smaller buildings for the Dedicated. Right now, this little village was the Black Tower. That would change. A tower proper was being built nearby, the foundation already dug.

He could visualize what the place might someday look like. He'd once worked with a master architect—one of a dozen different apprenticeships he'd held in a life that sometimes seemed to have lasted too long. Yes, he could see it in his mind's eye. A domineering black stone tower, Power-built. Strong, sturdy. At its base would be blockish square structures with crenelated tops.

This village would grow to become a town, then a large city, as vast as Tar Valon. The streets had been built to allow the passing of several wagons at a time. New sections were surveyed and laid. It bespoke vision and planning. The streets themselves whispered of the Black Tower's destiny.

Androl followed a worn pathway through the scrub grass. Distant booms and snaps echoed across the plains like the sounds of a whip being cracked. Each man had his own reasons for coming. Revenge, curiosity, desperation, lust for power. Which was Androl's reason? All four, perhaps?

He left the village, and eventually rounded a line of trees and came to the practice range—a small canyon between two hills. A line of men stood channeling Fire and Earth. The hills needed to be leveled to make land for farming. An opportunity to practice.

These men were mostly Dedicated. Weaves spun in the air, much more skillful and powerful than those the Two Rivers lads had used. These were streamlined, like hissing vipers or striking arrows. Rocks exploded and bursts of dirt sprayed into the air. The blasting was done in an unpredictable pattern to confuse and disorient foes. Androl could imagine a group of cavalry thundering down that slope, only to be surprised by exploding Earth. A single Dedicated could wipe out dozens of riders in moments.

Androl noted with dissatisfaction that the working men stood in two groups. The Tower was beginning to split and divide, those loyal to Logain shunned and ostracized. On the right, Canler, Emarin and Nalaam worked with focus and dedication, joined by Jonneth Dowtry—the most skilled soldier among the Two Rivers lads. On the left, a group of Taim's cronies were laughing among themselves. Their weaves were more wild, but also much more destructive. Coteren lounged at the back, leaning against a leafy hardgum tree and overseeing the work.

The workers took a break and called for a village boy to bring water. Androl walked up, and Arlen Nalaam saw him first, waving with a broad smile. The Domani man wore a thin mustache. He was just shy of his thirtieth year, though he sometimes acted much younger. Androl was still smarting from the time Nalaam had put tree sap in his boots.

"Androl!" Nalaam called. "Come tell these uncultured louts what a Retashen Dazer is!"

"A Retashen Dazer?" Androl said. "It's a drink. Mix of mead and ewe's milk. Foul stuff."

Nalaam looked at the others proudly. He had no pins on his coat. He was only a soldier, but he should have been advanced by now.

"You bragging about your travels again, Nalaam?" Androl asked, unlacing the leather armguard.

"We Domani get around," Nalaam said. "You know, the kind of work my father does, spying for the Crown…"

"Last week you said your father was a merchant," Canler said. The sturdy man was the oldest of the group, his hair graying, his square face worn from many years in the sun.

"He is," Nalaam said. "That's his front for being a spy!"

"Aren't women the merchants in Arad Doman?" Jonneth asked, rubbing his chin. He was a large, quiet man with a round face. His entire family—his siblings, his parents, and his grandfather Buel—had relocated to the village rather than letting him come alone.

"Well, they're the best," Nalaam said, "and my mother is no exception. We men know a thing or two, though. Besides, since my mother was busy infiltrating the Tuatha'an, my father had to take over the business."

"Oh, now that's just ridiculous," Canler said with a scowl. "Who would ever want to infiltrate a bunch of Tinkers?"

"To learn their secret recipes," Nalaam said. "It's said that a Tinker can cook a pot of stew so fine that it will make you leave house and home to travel with them. It's true, I've tasted it myself, and I had to be tied in a shed for three days before the effect wore off."

Canler sniffed. However, after a moment, the farmer added, "So… did she find the recipe or not?"

Nalaam launched into another story, Canler and Jonneth listening intently. Emarin stood to the side, looking on with amusement—he was the other soldier in the group, bearing no pins. He was an older man, with thin hair and wrinkles at his eyes. His short white beard was trimmed to a point.

The distinguished man was something of an enigma; he'd arrived with Logain one day, and had said nothing of his past. He had a poised bearing and a delicate way of speaking. He was a nobleman, that was certain. But unlike most other noblemen in the Black Tower, Emarin made no attempt at asserting his presumed authority. Many noblemen took weeks to learn that once you joined the Black Tower, your outside rank was meaningless. That made them sullen and snappish, but Emarin had taken to life in the Tower immediately.

It took a nobleman with true dignity to follow the orders of a commoner half his age without complaint. Emarin took a sip of water from the serving boy, thanking the lad, then stepped up to Androl. He nodded toward Nalaam, who was still talking to the others. "That one has the heart of a gleeman."

Androl grunted. "Maybe he can use it to earn some extra coin. He still owes me a new pair of socks."

"And you, my friend, have the soul of a scribe!" Emarin laughed. "You never forget a thing, do you?"


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