In spite of the considerable weight of Olver and all his ugly, Wind managed to thunder over the finish line a clear length ahead of the other horses. Mat grinned and prepared to collect his winnings. Things were looking up.
“It must be nice,” Nalesean commented, “to have a methane-powered jet horse.”
“Don’t even joke about it,” Mat replied, shuffling through his betting dockets, “I thought he was going to ignite when he galloped past that Ebou Dari man with the lit pipe.”
Pockets jingling with cash, Mat walked out of the arena with his cronies in tow. “So,” he said, “what’s the latest?”
“Nynaeve and a few of her hand-picked soldiers went to talk with the Sea Folk,” Nalsean reported, “and the searching parties are going well, except for the Ogier, who are holed up in one warehouse, talking.”
“That was to be expected,” Mat shrugged. “What about the Green Man?”
“Haven’t seen him in a while. For a giant made out of bushes, he does tend to disappear very easily.”
“I thought I told you to keep an eye…” Mat waved a hand. “Never mind,” he glanced across the street, as if by pure random chance he might catch a glimpse of shrubbery, and shook his head. He’d been listening to too much nonsense about him being a super-lucky ta’veren tactical expert. The Great Lord only knew where they were getting their intelligence from, but he could tell it was hilariously misnamed.
He didn’t spot Someshta, but he did see a bizarre-looking trio in the crowd. One was an old man, the other a young woman in a jarringly-plumed hat, the third a tall man in bright green silk and gold braiding. They were attempting to look inconspicuous, which was a laugh. One of them made eye contact with him, and gave a fair approximation of the Secret Darkfriend Nod. Mat Nodded back, and was about to ask Nalsean who the morons were when a tremendous explosion from the direction of the harbour rocked the street.
“Bugger,” he said, “that’ll be Nynaeve getting pissy. I’d better get back to the palace,” he quickened his pace.
“Hey,” a shopkeeper at a nearby stall called out in confusion as he hurried past, “aren’t you going to buy this ring?”
“Why would I want one of your poxy rings?” Mat snapped, and broke into a run.
Melindhra met him outside the door to the throne room. Queen Tylin had been very accommodating once Nynaeve – as she insisted on being called – had had a word with her, and she’d also given up trying to seduce Mat once Melindhra had had a word with her. And with her hair combed across, she looked just as handsome with only one ear anyway. She certainly looked better than almost anybody else Mat knew who had “had a word” with both Nynaeve and Melindhra. Her son Beslan was annoying, but as long as he had plenty of people to get in duels with, he was happy. He’d stopped being so prickly about his honour when Nynaeve channelled a hole in his guts, pulled out his spleen and replaced it with something that she assured him would turn his blood into corrosive bile in his veins if he ever gave her cause to give the word.
“This nest of Wetlanders is indolent and disgusting,” Melindhra said without preamble, “I would not be at all upset if … Nynaeve … chose to reduce them all to ash.”
“Is that what she’s doing down at the harbour?” Mat asked. “What’s got you annoyed now?”
“All these festivals,” Melindhra replied. “I swear they just made up ‘Swovan Night’ on the spot.”
“You look good in the traditional costumes, though,” Mat grinned.
“The fuck up.”
“Did you hear about the bubble of the Great Lord’s presence that popped up in the Rahad the other day?” he went on.
“Hear about it?” Melindhra smiled in reminiscence, “I was right there with one of the search teams. There’s one Festival costume that’s never going to come clean. Come on,” she continued, taking his hand, “why don’t we go down to the harbour and watch them hook bodies out of the water? You’re always saying we should do more things together.”
Noal Charin looked down at the ring he’d just purchased from the hawker. It was long and heavy, a relief carving of a fox chasing some birds. He’d considered trying it on, but opted to pocket it instead, tucking the tasteless piece of jewellery into his pouch near the hilt of one of his long knives.
He had disturbing gaps in his memory, a lot of them. All he knew for sure was that the ring had cost him his last three silver coins, and he would be hungry tonight unless he hunted down a rat for himself. But he also knew he’d done the right thing.
“Hey, you can’t do that in the street,” an indignant voice called. “Get out of here before I call the guard.”
Noal looked down. He also seemed to have a disturbing lack of control over his bodily functions.
There was something important he had to remember, but that could wait until his trousers were clean and dry.
He shuffled away into the Rahad.