Knife of Dreams

Robert Jordan

Knife of Dreams - Wheel of Time 11.

 Robert Jordan

 The sweetness of victory and the bitterness of defeat are alike a knife of dreams.

 -From Fog and Steel by Madoc Comadrin
Embers Falling on Dry Grass


 The sun, climbing toward midmorning, stretched Galad's shadow and those of his three armored
companions ahead of them as they trotted their mounts down the road that ran straight through the forest,
dense with oak and leatherleaf, pine and sourgum, most showing the red of spring growth. He tried to
keep his mind empty, still, but small things kept intruding. The day was silent save for the thud of their
horses' hooves.

 No bird sang on a branch, no squirrel chittered. Too quiet for the time of year, as though the forest held
its breath. This had been a major trade route once, long before Amadicia and Tarabon came into being,
and bits of ancient paving stone sometimes studded the hard-packed surface of yellowish clay. A single
farm cart far ahead behind a plodding ox was the only sign of human life now besides themselves. Trade
had shifted far north, farms and villages in the region dwindled, and the fabled lost mines of Aelgar
remained lost in the tangled mountain ranges that began only a few miles to the south. Dark clouds
massing in that direction promised rain by afternoon if their slow advance continued. A red-winged hawk
quartered back and forth along the border of the trees, hunting the fringes. As he himself was hunting. But
at the heart, not on the fringes.

 The manor house that the Seanchan had given Eamon Valda came into view, and he drew rein, wishing
he had a helmet strap to tighten for excuse.

 Instead he had to be content with re-buckling his sword belt, pretending that it had been sitting wrong. 

There had been no point to wearing armor. If the morning went as he hoped, he would have had to
remove breastplate and mail in any case, and if it went badly, armor would have provided little more
protection than his white coat.

 Formerly a deep-country lodge of the King of Amadicia, the building was a huge, blue-roofed structure
studded with red-painted balconies, a wooden palace with wooden spires at the corners atop a stone
foundation like a low, steep-sided hill. The outbuildings, stables and barns, workmen's small houses and
craftsfolks' workshops, all hugged the ground in the wide clearing that surrounded the main house, but
they were nearly as resplendent in their blue-and-red paint. A handful of men and women moved around
them, tiny figures yet at this distance, and children were playing under their elders' eyes. An image of
normality where nothing was normal. His companions sat their saddles in their burnished helmets and
breastplates, watching him without expression. Their mounts stamped impatiently, the animals' morning
freshness not yet worn off by the short ride from the camp.

 "It's understandable if you're having second thoughts, Damodred," Trom said after a time. "It's a harsh
accusation, bitter as gall, but-"

 "No second thoughts for me," Galad broke in. His intentions had been fixed since yesterday. He was
grateful, though. Trom had given him the opening he needed. They had simply appeared as he rode out,
falling in with him without a word spoken. There had seemed no place for words, then. "But what about
you three? You're taking a risk coming here with me. A risk you have no need to take. However the day
runs, there will be marks against you. This is my business, and I give you leave to go about yours." Too
stiffly said, but he could not find words this morning, or loosen his throat.

 The stocky man shook his head. "The law is the law. And I might as well make use of my new rank."
The three golden star-shaped knots of a captain sat beneath the flaring sunburst on the breast of his white
cloak. There had been more than a few dead at Jeramel, including no fewer than three of the Lords
Captain. They had been fighting the Seanchan then, not allied with them.

 "I've done dark things in service to the Light," gaunt-faced Byar said grimly, his deep-set eyes glittering
as though at a personal insult, "dark as moonless midnight, and likely I will again, but some things are too
dark to be allowed." He looked as if he might spit.

 "That's right," young Bornhald muttered, scrubbing a gauntleted hand across his mouth. Galad always
thought of him as young, though the man lacked only a few years on him. Dain's eyes were bloodshot; he
had been at the brandy again last night. "If you've done what's wrong, even in service to the Light, then
you have to do what's right to balance it." 

 Byar grunted sourly. Likely that was not the point he had been making.

 "Very well," Galad said, "but there's no fault to any man who turns back. My business here is mine

 Still, when he heeled his bay gelding to a canter, he was pleased to have them gallop to catch him and
fall in alongside, white cloaks billowing behind. He would have gone on alone, of course, yet their
presence might keep him from being arrested and hanged out of hand. Not that he expected to survive in
any case. What had to be done, had to be done, no matter the price.

 The horses' hooves clattered loudly on the stone ramp that climbed to the manor house, so every man in
the broad central courtyard turned to watch as they rode in: fifty of the Children in gleaming
plate-and-mail and conical helmets, most mounted, with cringing, dark-coated Amadician grooms holding
animals for the rest. The inner balconies were empty except for a few servants who appeared to be
watching while pretending to sweep. Six Questioners, big men with the scarlet shepherd's crook upright
behind the sunflare on their cloaks, stood close around Rhadam Asunawa like a bodyguard, away from
the others. The Hand of the Light always stood apart from the rest of the Children, a choice the rest of
the Children approved. Gray-haired Asunawa, his sorrowful face making Byar look fully fleshed, was the
only Child present not in armor, and his snowy cloak carried just the brilliant red crook, another way of
standing apart. But aside from marking who was present, Galad had eyes for only one man in the
courtyard. Asunawa might have been involved in some way-that remained unclear-yet only the Lord
Captain Commander could call the High Inquisitor to account.

 Eamon Valda was not a large man, yet his dark, hard face had the look of one who expected obedience
as his due. As the very least he was due.

 Standing with his booted feet apart and his head high, command in every inch of him, he wore the
white-and-gold tabard of the Lord Captain Commander over his gilded breast- and backplates, a silk
tabard more richly embroidered than any Pedron Niall had worn. His white cloak, the flaring sun large on
either breast in thread-of-gold, was silk as well, and his gold-embroidered white coat. The helmet
beneath his arm was gilded and worked with the flaring sun on the brow, and a heavy gold ring on his left
hand, worn outside his steel-backed gauntlet, held a large yellow sapphire carved with the sunburst.
Another mark of favor received from the Seanchan.

 Valda frowned slightly as Galad and his companions dismounted and offered their salutes, arm across
the chest. Obsequious grooms came running to take their reins. 

 "Why aren't you on your way to Nassad, Trom?" Disapproval colored Valda's words. "The other Lords
Captain will be halfway there by now."

 He himself always arrived late when meeting the Seanchan, perhaps to assert that some shred of
independence remained to the Children-finding him already preparing to depart was a surprise; this
meeting must be very important-but he always made sure the other high-ranking officers arrived on time
even when that required setting out before dawn.

 Apparently it was best not to press their new masters too far. Distrust of the Children was always strong
in the Seanchan.

 Trom displayed none of the uncertainty that might have been expected from a man who had held his
present rank barely a month. "An urgent matter, my Lord Captain Commander," he said smoothly,
making a very precise bow, neither a hair deeper nor higher than protocol demanded. "A

 Child of my command charges another of the Children with abusing a female relative of his, and claims
the right of Trial Beneath the Light, which by law you must grant or deny."

 "A strange request, my son," Asunawa said, tilting his head quizzically above clasped hands, before
Valda could speak. Even the High Inquisitor's voice was doleful; he sounded pained at Trom's ignorance.

 His eyes seemed dark hot coals in a brazier. "It was usually the accused who asked to give the judgment
to swords, and I believe usually when he knew the evidence would convict him. In any case, Trial
Beneath the Light has not been invoked for nearly four hundred years. Give me the accused's name, and
I will deal with the matter quietly." His tone turned chill as a sunless cavern in winter, though his eyes still
burned. "We are among strangers, and we cannot allow them to know that one of the Children is capable
of such a thing."

 "The request was directed to me, Asunawa," Valda snapped. His glare might as well have been open
hatred. Perhaps it was just dislike of the other man's breaking in. Flipping one side of his cloak over his
shoulder to bare his ring-quilloned sword, he rested his hand on the long hilt and drew himself up. Always
one for the grand gesture, Valda raised his voice so that even people inside probably heard him, and
declaimed rather than merely spoke. 

 "I believe many of our old ways should be revived, and that law still stands. It will always stand, as
written of old. The Light grants justice because the Light is justice. Inform your man he may issue his
challenge, Trom, and face the one he accuses sword-to-sword. If that one tries to refuse, I declare that
he has acknowledged his guilt and order him hanged on the spot, his belongings and rank forfeit to his
accuser as the law states. I have spoken." That with another scowl for the High Inquisitor. Maybe there
really was hatred there.

 Trom bowed formally once more. "You have informed him yourself, my Lord Captain Commander.

 Galad felt cold. Not the cold of fear, but of emptiness. When Dain drunkenly let slip the confused
rumors that had come to his ears, when Byar reluctantly confirmed they were more than rumors, rage had
filled Galad, a bone-burning fire that nearly drove him insane. He had been sure his head would explode
if his heart did not burst first. Now he was ice, drained of any emotion. He also bowed formally. Much of
what he had to say was set in the law, yet he chose the rest with care, to spare as much shame as
possible to a memory he held dear.

 "Eamon Valda, Child of the Light, I call you to Trial Beneath the Light for unlawful assault on the person
of Morgase Trakand, Queen of Andor, and for her murder." No one had been able to confirm that the
woman he regarded as his mother was dead, yet it must be so. A dozen men were certain she had
vanished from the Fortress of the Light before it fell to the Seanchan, and as many testified she had not
been free to leave of her own will.

 Valda displayed no shock at the charge. His smile might have been intended to show regret over Galad's
folly in making such a claim, yet contempt was mingled in it. He opened his mouth, but Asunawa cut in
once more.

 "This is ridiculous," he said in tones more of sorrow than of anger.

 "Take the fool, and we'll find out what Darkfriend plot to discredit the Children he is part of." He
motioned, and two of the hulking Questioners took a step toward Galad, one with a cruel grin, the other
blank-faced, a workman about his work.

 Only one step, though. A soft rasp repeated around the courtyard as Children eased their swords in their
scabbards. At least a dozen men drew entirely, letting their blades hang by their sides. The Amadician
grooms hunched in on themselves, trying to become invisible. Likely they would have run, had they
dared. Asunawa stared around him, thick eyebrows climbing up his forehead in disbelief, knotted fists 

gripping his cloak. Strangely, even Valda appeared startled for an instant.

 Surely he had not expected the Children to allow an arrest after his own proclamation. If he had, he
recovered quickly.

 "You see, Asunawa," he said almost cheerfully, "the Children follow my orders, and the law, not a
Questioner's whims." He held out his helmet to one side for someone to take. "I deny your preposterous
charge, young Galad, and throw your foul lie in your teeth. For it is a lie, or at best a mad acceptance of
some malignant rumor started by Darkfriends or others who wish the Children ill. Either way, you have
defamed me in the vilest manner, so I accept your challenge to Trial Beneath the Light, where I will kill
you." That barely squeezed into the ritual, but he had denied the charge and accepted the challenge; it
would suffice.

 Realizing that he still held the helmet in an outstretched hand, Valda frowned at one of the dismounted
Children, a lean Saldaean named Kashgar, until the man stepped forward to relieve him of it. Kashgar
was only an under-lieutenant, almost boyish despite a great hooked nose and thick mustaches like
inverted horns, yet he moved with open reluctance, and Valda's voice was darker and acrid as he went
on, unbuckling his sword belt and handing that over, too.

 "Take a care with that, Kashgar. It's a heron-mark blade." Unpinning his silk cloak, he let it fall to the
paving stones, followed by his tabard, and his hands moved to the buckles of his armor. It seemed that
he was unwilling to see if others would be reluctant to help him. His face was calm enough, except that
angry eyes promised retribution to more than Galad. "Your sister wants to become Aes Sedai, I
understand, Damodred.

 Perhaps I understand precisely where this originated. There was a time I would have regretted your
death, but not today. I may send your head to the White Tower so the witches can see the fruit of their

 Worry creasing his face, Dain took Galad's cloak and sword belt, and stood shifting his feet as though
uncertain he was doing the right thing. Well, he had been given his chance, and it was too late to change
his mind, now. Byar put a gauntleted hand on Galad's shoulder and leaned close.

 "He likes to strike at the arms and legs," he said in a low voice, casting glances over his shoulder at
Valda. From the way he glared, some matter stood between them. Of course, that scowl differed little
from his normal expression. "He likes to bleed an opponent until the man can't take a step or raise his
sword before he moves for the kill. He's quicker than a viper, too, but he'll strike at your left most often 

and expect it from you."

 Galad nodded. Many right-handed men found it easier to strike so, but it seemed an odd weakness in a
blademaster. Gareth Bryne and Henre Haslin had made him practice alternating which hand was
uppermost on the hilt so he would not fall into that. Strange that Valda wanted to prolong a fight, too. He
himself had been taught to end matters as quickly and cleanly as possible.

 "My thanks," he said, and the hollow-cheeked man made a dour grimace.

 Byar was far from likable, and he himself seemed to like no one save young Bornhald. Of the three, his
presence was the biggest surprise, but he was there, and that counted in his favor.

 Standing in the middle of the courtyard in his gold-worked white coat with his fists on his hips, Valda
turned in a tight circle. "Everyone move back against the walls," he commanded loudly. Horseshoes rang
on the paving stones as the Children and the grooms obeyed. Asunawa and his Questioners snatched
their animals' reins, the High Inquisitor wearing a face of cold fury. "Keep the middle clear. Young
Damodred and I will meet here-"

 "Forgive me, my Lord Captain Commander," Trom said with a slight bow, "but since you are a
participant in the Trial, you cannot be Arbiter.

 Aside from the High Inquisitor, who by law may not take part, I hold the highest rank here after you, so
with your permission...?" Valda glared at him, then stalked over to stand beside Kashgar, arms folded
across his chest. Ostentatiously he tapped his foot, impatient for matters to proceed.

 Galad sighed. If the day went against him, as seemed all but certain, his friend would have the most
powerful man in the Children as his enemy. Likely Trom would have had in any event, but more so now.
"Keep an eye on them," he told Bornhald, nodding toward the Questioners clustered on their horses near
the gate. Asunawa's underlings still ringed him like bodyguards, every man with a hand on his sword hilt.

 "Why? Even Asunawa can't interfere now. That would be against the law."

 It was very hard not to sigh again. Young Dain had been a Child far longer than he, and his father had 

served his entire life, but the man seemed to know less of the Children than he himself had learned. To
Questioners, the law was what they said it was. "Just watch them."

 Trom stood in the center of the courtyard with his bared sword raised overhead, blade parallel to the
ground, and unlike Valda, he spoke the words exactly as they were written. "Under the Light, we are
gathered to witness Trial Beneath the Light, a sacred right of any Child of the Light. The Light shines on
truth, and here the Light shall illuminate justice. Let no man speak save he who has legal right, and let any
who seek to intervene be cut down summarily. Here, justice will be found under the Light by a man who
pledges his life beneath the Light, by the force of his arm and the will of the Light. The combatants will
meet unarmed where I now stand," he continued, lowering the sword to his side, "and speak privately,
for their own ears alone. May the Light help them find words to end this short of bloodshed, for if they
do not, one of the Children must die this day, his name stricken from our rolls and anathema declared on
his memory. Under the Light, it will be so."

 As Trom strode to the side of the courtyard, Valda moved toward the center in the walking stance
called Cat Crosses the Courtyard, an arrogant saunter. He knew there were no words to stop blood
being shed.

 To him, the fight had already begun. Galad merely walked out to meet him. He was nearly a head taller
than Valda, but the other man held himself as though he were the larger, and confident of victory.

 His smile was all contempt, this time. "Nothing to say, boy? Small wonder considering that a
blademaster is going to cut your head off in about one minute. I want one thing straight in your mind
before I kill you, though. The wench was hale the last I saw her, and if she's dead now, I'll regret it." That
smile deepened, both in humor and disdain.

 "She was the best ride I ever had, and I hope to ride her again one day."

 Red-hot, searing fury fountained inside Galad, but with an effort he managed to turn his back on Valda
and walk away, already feeding his rage into an imagined flame as his two teachers had taught him. A
man who fought in a rage, died in a rage. By the time he reached young Bornhald, he had achieved what
Gareth and Henre had called the oneness.

 Floating in emptiness, he drew his sword from the scabbard Bornhald proffered, and the slightly curved
blade became a part of him. 

 "What did he say?" Dain asked. "For a moment there, your face was murderous."

 Byar gripped Dain's arm. "Don't distract him," he muttered.

 Galad was not distracted. Every creak of saddle leather was clear and distinct, every ringing stamp of
hoof on paving stone. He could hear flies buzzing ten feet away as though they were at his ear. He almost
thought he could see the movements of their wings. He was one with the flies, with the courtyard, with the
two men. They were all part of him, and he could not be distracted by himself.

 Valda waited until he turned before drawing his own weapon on the other side of the courtyard, a flashy
move, the sword blurring as it spun in his left hand, leaping to his right hand to make another blurred
wheel in the air before settling, upright and rock-steady before him, in both hands. He started forward,
once more in Cat Crosses the Courtyard.

 Raising his own sword, Galad moved to meet him, without thought assuming a walking stance perhaps
influenced by his state of mind. Emptiness, it was called, and only a trained eye would know that he was
not simply walking. Only a trained eye would see that he was in perfect balance every heartbeat. Valda
had not gained that heron-mark sword by favoritism. Five blademasters had sat in judgment of his skills
and voted unanimously to grant him the title. The vote always had to be unanimous. The only other way
was to kill the bearer of a heron-mark blade in fair combat, one on one. Valda had been younger then
than Galad was now. It did not matter. He was not focused on Valda's death. He focused on nothing.
But he intended Valda's death if he had to Sheathe the Sword, willingly welcoming that heron-mark blade
in his flesh, to achieve it. He accepted that it might come to that.

 Valda wasted no time with maneuvering. The instant he was within range, Plucking the Low-hanging
Apple flashed toward Galad's neck like lightning, as though the man truly did intend to have his head in
the first minute. There were several possible responses, all made instinct by hard training, but Byar's
warnings floated in the dim recesses of his mind, and also the fact that Valda had warned him of this very

 Warned him twice. Without conscious thought, he chose another way, stepping sideways and forward
just as Plucking the Low-hanging Apple became the Leopard's Caress. Valda's eyes widened in surprise
as his stroke missed Galad's left thigh by inches, widened more as Parting the Silk laid a gash down his
right forearm, but he immediately launched into the Dove Takes Flight, so fast that Galad had to dance
back before his blade could bite deeply, barely fending off the attack with Kingfisher Circles the Pond. 

 Back and forth they danced the forms, gliding this way then that across the stone paving. Lizard in the
Thorn-bush met Lightning of Three Prongs. Leaf on the Breeze countered Eel Among the Lily Pads, and
Two Hares Leaping met the Hummingbird Kisses the Honeyrose. Back and forth as smoothly as a
demonstration of the forms. Galad tried attack after attack, but Valda was as fast as a viper. The Wood
Grouse Dances cost him a shallow gash on his left shoulder, and the Red Hawk Takes a Dove another
on the left arm, slightly deeper. River of Light might have taken the arm completely had he not met the
draw-cut with a desperately quick Rain in High Wind. Back and forth, blades flashing continuously, filling
the air with the clash of steel on steel.

 How long they fought, he could not have said. There was no time, only the moment. It seemed that he
and Valda moved like men under water, their motions slowed by the drag of the sea. Sweat appeared on
Valda's face, but he smiled with self-assurance, seemingly untroubled by the slash on his forearm, still the
only injury he had taken. Galad could feel the sweat rolling down his own face, too, stinging his eyes.
And the blood trickling down his arm. Those wounds would slow him eventually, perhaps already had,
but he had taken two on his left thigh, and both were more serious. His foot was wet in his boot from
those, and he could not avoid a slight limp that would grow worse with time. If Valda was to die, it must
be soon.

 Deliberately, he drew a deep breath, then another, through his mouth, another. Let Valda think him
becoming winded. His blade lanced out in Threading the Needle, aimed at Valda's left shoulder and not
quite as fast it could have been. The other man countered easily with the Swallow Takes Flight, sliding
immediately into the Lion Springs. That took a third bite in his thigh; he dared not be faster in defense
than in attack.

 Again he launched Threading the Needle at Valda's shoulder, and again, again, all the while gulping air
through his mouth. Only luck kept him from taking more wounds in those exchanges. Or perhaps the
Light really did shine on this fight.

 Valda's smile widened; the man believed him on the edge of his strength, exhausted and fixated. As
Galad began Threading the Needle, too slowly, for the fifth time, the other man's sword started the
Swallow Takes Flight in an almost perfunctory manner. Summoning all the quickness that remained to
him, Galad altered his stroke, and Reaping the Barley sliced across Valda just beneath his rib cage.

 For a moment it seemed that the man was unaware he had been hit. He took a step, began what might
have been Stones Falling from the Cliff. Then his eyes widened, and he staggered, the sword falling from
his grip to clatter on the paving stones as he sank to his knees. His hands went to the huge gash across
his body as though trying to hold his insides within him, and his mouth opened, glassy eyes fixed on
Galad's face. 

 Whatever he intended to say, it was blood that poured out over his chin.

 He toppled onto his face and lay still.

 Automatically, Galad gave his blade a rapid twist to shake off the blood staining its last inch, then bent
slowly to wipe the last drops onto Valda's white coat. The pain he had ignored now flared. His left
shoulder and arm burned; his thigh seemed to be on fire. Straightening took effort. Perhaps he was nearer
exhaustion than he had thought. How long had they fought? He had thought he would feel satisfaction that
his mother had been avenged, but all he felt was emptiness. Valda's death was not enough. Nothing
except Morgase Trakand alive again could be enough.

 Suddenly he became aware of a rhythmic clapping and looked up to see the Children, each man
slapping his own armored shoulder in approval. Every man. Except Asunawa and the Questioners. They
were nowhere to be seen.

 Byar hurried up carrying a small leather sack and carefully parted the slashes in Galad's coatsleeve.
"Those will need sewing," he muttered, "but they can wait." Kneeling beside Galad, he took rolled
bandages from the sack and began winding them around the gashes in his thigh. "These need sewing, too,
but this will keep you from bleeding to death before you can get it." Others began gathering around,
offering congratulations, men afoot in front, those still mounted behind. None gave the corpse a glance
except for Kashgar, who cleaned Valda's sword on that already bloodstained coat before sheathing it.

 "Where did Asunawa go?" Galad asked.

 "He left as soon as you cut Valda the last time," Dain replied uneasily.

 "He'll be heading for the camp to bring back Questioners."

 "He rode the other way, toward the border," someone put in. Nassad lay just over the border.

 "The Lords Captain," Galad said, and Trom nodded. 

 "No Child would let the Questioners arrest you for what happened here, Damodred. Unless his Captain
ordered it. Some of them would order it, I think." Angry muttering began, men denying they would stand
for such a thing, but Trom quieted them, somewhat, with raised hands. "You know it's true," he said
loudly. "Anything else would be mutiny." That brought dead silence. There had never been a mutiny in the
Children. It was possible that nothing before had come as close as their own earlier display. "I'll write out
your release from the Children, Galad. Someone may still order your arrest, but they'll have to find you,
and you'll have a good start. It will take half the day for Asunawa to catch the other Lords Captain, and
whoever falls in with him can't be back before nightfall."

 Galad shook his head angrily. Trom was right, but it was all wrong. Too much was wrong. "Will you
write releases for these other men? You know Asunawa will find a way to accuse them, too. Will you
write releases for the Children who don't want to help the Seanchan take our lands in the name of a man
dead more than a thousand years?" Several Taraboners exchanged glances and nodded, and so did other
men, not all of them Amadician. "What about the men who defended the Fortress of the Light?

 Will any release get their chains struck off or make the Seanchan stop working them like animals?" More
angry growls; those prisoners were a sore point to all of the Children.

 Arms folded across his chest, Trom studied him as though seeing him for the first time. "What would you
do, then?"

 "Have the Children find someone, anyone, who is fighting the Seanchan and ally with them. Make sure
that the Children of the Light ride in the Last Battle instead of helping the Seanchan hunt Aiel and steal
our nations."

 "Anyone?" a Cairhienin named Doirellin said in a high-pitched voice. No one ever made fun of Doirellin's
voice. Though short, he was nearly as wide as he was tall, there was barely an ounce of fat on him, and
he could put walnuts between all of his fingers and crack them by clenching his fists. "That could mean
Aes Sedai."

 "If you intend to be at Tarmon Gai'don, then you will have to fight alongside Aes Sedai," Galad said
quietly. Young Bornhald grimaced in strong distaste, and he was not the only one. Byar half-straightened
before bending back to his task. But no one voiced dissent. Doirellin nodded slowly, as if he had never
before considered the matter.

 "I don't hold with the witches any more than any other man," Byar said finally, without raising his head 

from his work. Blood was seeping through the bandages even as he wrapped. "But the Precepts say, to
fight the raven, you may make alliance with the serpent until the battle is done." A ripple of nods ran
through the men. The raven meant the Shadow, but everyone knew it was also the Seanchan Imperial

 "I'll fight beside the witches," a lanky Taraboner said, "or even these Asha'man we keep hearing about, if
they fight the Seanchan. Or at the Last Battle. And I'll fight any man who says I'm wrong." He glared as
though ready to begin then and there.

 "It seems matters will play out as you wish, my Lord Captain Commander,"

 Trom said, making a much deeper bow than he had for Valda. "To a degree, at least. Who can say what
the next hour will bring, much less tomorrow?"

 Galad surprised himself by laughing. Since yesterday, he had been sure he would never laugh again.
"That's a poor joke, Trom."

 "It is how the law is written. And Valda did make his proclamation.

 Besides, you had the courage to say what many have thought while holding their tongues, myself among
them. Yours is a better plan for the Children than any I've heard since Pedron Niall died."

 "It's still a poor joke." Whatever the law said, that part had been ignored since the end of the War of the
Hundred Years.

 "We'll see what the Children have to say on the matter," Trom replied, grinning widely, "when you ask
them to follow us to Tarmon Gai'don to fight alongside the witches."

 Men began slapping their shoulders again, harder than they had for his victory. At first it was only a few,
then more joined in, until every man including Trom was signaling approval. Every man but Kashgar, that
was. Making a deep bow, the Saldaean held out the scabbarded heron-mark blade with both hands. 

 "This is yours, now, my Lord Captain Commander."

 Galad sighed. He hoped this nonsense would fade away before they reached the camp. Returning there
was foolish enough without adding in a claim of that sort. Most likely they would be pulled down and
thrown in chains if not beaten to death even without it. But he had to go. It was the right thing to do.

 Daylight began to grow on this cool spring morning, though the sun had yet to show even a sliver above
the horizon, and Rodel Ituralde raised his gold-banded looking glass to study the village below the hill
where he sat his roan gelding, deep in the heart of Tarabon. He did hate waiting for enough light to see.
Careful of a glint off the lens, he held the end of the long tube on his thumb and shaded it with a cupped
hand. At this hour, sentries were at their least watchful, relieved that the darkness where an enemy might
sneak close was departing, yet since crossing from Almoth Plain he had heard tales of Aiel raids inside
Tarabon. Were he a sentry with Aiel perhaps about, he would grow extra eyes. Peculiar that the country
was not milling like a kicked antheap over those Aiel. Peculiar, and perhaps ominous. There were plenty
of armed men to be found, Seanchan and Taraboners sworn to them, and hordes of Seanchan building
farms and even villages, but reaching this far had been almost too easy. Today, the easiness ended.

 Behind him among the trees, horses stamped impatiently. The hundred Domani with him were quiet,
except for an occasional creak of saddle leather as a man shifted his seat, but he could feel their tension.
He wished he had twice as many. Five times. In the beginning, it had seemed a gesture of good faith that
he himself would ride with a force mainly composed of Taraboners. He was no longer certain that had
been the right decision. It was too late for recriminations, in any event.

 Halfway between Elmora and the Amadician border, Serana sat in a flat grassy valley among forested
hills, with at least a mile to the trees in any direction save his, and a small, reed-fringed lake fed by two
wide streams lay between him and the village. Not a place that could be surprised by daylight. It had
been sizable before the Seanchan came, a stopping point for the merchant trains heading east, with over a
dozen inns and nearly as many streets. Village folk were already getting about their day's tasks, women
balancing baskets on their heads as they glided down the village streets and others starting the fires under
laundry kettles behind their houses, men striding along toward their work-places, sometimes pausing to
exchange a few words. A normal morning, with children already running and playing, rolling hoops and
tossing beanbags among the throng. The clang of a smithy rose, dim with the distance. The smoke from
breakfast fires was fading at the chimneys.

 As far as he could see, no one in Serana gave a second glance to the three pairs of sentries with bright
stripes painted across their breastplates, walking their horses back and forth perhaps a quarter of a mile
out. The lake, considerably wider than the village, shielded the fourth side effectively. It seemed the
sentries were an accepted matter of every day, and so was the Seanchan camp that had swollen Serana
to more than twice its former size. 

 Ituralde shook his head slightly. He would not have placed the camp cheek-by-jowl with the village that
way. The rooftops of Serana were all tile, red or green or blue, but the buildings themselves were
wooden; a fire in the town could spread all too easily into the camp, where canvas store-tents the size of
large houses far outnumbered the smaller tents where men slept, and great stacks of barrels and casks
and crates covered twice as much ground as all the tents combined. Keeping lightfingered villagers out
would be all but impossible. Every town had a few tickbirds who picked up anything they thought they
could get away with, and even somewhat more honest men might be tempted by the proximity. The
location did mean a shorter distance to haul water from the lake, and a shorter distance for soldiers to
walk to reach the ale and wine in the village when off-duty, but it suggested a commander who kept slack

 Slack discipline or not, there was activity in the camp, too. Soldiers' hours made farmers' hours seem
restful. Men were checking the animals on the long horselines, bannermen checking soldiers standing in
ranks, hundreds of laborers loading or unloading wagons, grooms harnessing teams. Every day, trains of
wagons came down the road into this camp from east and west, and others departed. He admired the
Seanchan efficiency at making sure their soldiers had what they needed when and where it was needed.
Dragonsworn here in Tarabon, most sour-faced men who believed their dream snuffed out by the
Seanchan, had been willing to tell what they knew if not to ride with him. That camp contained everything
from boots to swords, arrows to horseshoes to water-flasks, enough to outfit thousands of men from the
ground up. They would feel its loss.

 He lowered the looking glass to brush a buzzing green fly away from his face. Two replaced it almost at
once. Tarabon teemed with flies. Did they always come so early here? They would just have begun
hatching at home by the time he reached Arad Doman again. If he did. No; no ill thoughts. When he did.
Tamsin would be displeased, otherwise, and it was seldom wise to displease her too far.

 Most of the men down there were hired workmen, not soldiers, and only a hundred or so of those
Seanchan. Still, a company of three hundred Taraboners in stripe-painted armor had ridden in at noon
the day before, more than doubling their numbers and requiring him to change his plans.

 Another party of Taraboners, as large, had entered the camp at sunset, just in time to eat and bed down
wherever they could lay their blankets.

 Candles and lamp oil were luxuries for soldiers. There was one of those leashed women, a damane, in
the camp, too. He wished he could have waited until she left-they must have been taking her elsewhere;
what use for a damane at a supply camp?-but today was the appointed day, and he could not afford to
give the Taraboners reason to claim he was holding back. Some would snatch at any reason to go their
own way. He knew they would not follow him much longer, yet he needed to hold as many as he could
for a few days more. 

 Shifting his gaze to the west, he did not bother with the looking glass.

 "Now," he whispered, and as though at his command, two hundred men with mail veils across their faces
galloped out of the trees. And immediately halted, cavorting and jockeying for place, brandishing
steel-tipped lances while their leader raced up and down before them gesturing wildly in an obvious effort
to establish some semblance of order.

 At this distance, Ituralde could not have made out faces even with the glass, but he could imagine the
fury on Tornay Lanasiet's features at playing out this charade. The stocky Dragonsworn burned to close
with Seanchan. Any Seanchan. It had been difficult to dissuade him from striking the day they crossed the
border. Yesterday he had been visibly overjoyed finally to scrape the hated stripes indicating loyalty to
the Seanchan from his breastplate. No matter; so far he was obeying his orders to the letter.

 As the sentries nearest Lanasiet turned their mounts to speed toward the village and the Seanchan camp,
Ituralde swung his attention there and raised his looking glass once more. The sentries would find their
warning superfluous. Motion had ceased. Some men were pointing toward the horsemen on the other
side of the village, while the rest seemed to be staring, soldiers and workmen alike. The last thing they
expected was raiders. Aiel raids or no Aiel raids, the Seanchan considered Tarabon theirs, and safely so.
A quick glance at the village showed people standing in the streets staring toward the strange riders. They
had not expected raiders, either. He thought the Seanchan were right, an opinion he would not share with
any Taraboner in the foreseeable future.

 With well-trained men shock could last only so long, however. In the camp, soldiers began racing
toward their horses, many still unsaddled, though grooms had started working as fast as they could.
Eighty-odd Seanchan footmen, archers, formed into ranks and set off running through Serana. At that
evidence that there truly was a threat, people began snatching up the smaller children and herding the
older toward the hoped-for safety of the houses. In moments, the streets were empty save for the
hurrying archers in their lacquered armor and peculiar helmets.

 Ituralde turned the glass toward Lanasiet and found the man galloping his line of horsemen forward.
"Wait for it," he growled. "Wait for it."

 Again it seemed the Taraboner heard his command, finally raising a hand to halt his men. At least they
were still a half-mile or more from the village. The hotheaded fool was supposed to be near a mile away,
on the edge of the trees and still in seeming disorder and easily swept away, but half would have to
suffice. He suppressed the urge to finger the ruby in his left ear. The battle had begun, now, and in battle 

you had to make those following you believe that you were utterly cool, completely unaffected. Not
wanting to knock down a putative ally.

 Emotion seemed to leak from a commander into his men, and angry men behaved stupidly, getting
themselves killed and losing battles.

 Touching the half-moon-shaped beauty patch on his cheek-a man should look his best on a day like
today-he took slow measured breaths until certain that he was as cool inside as his outward display, then
returned his attention to the camp. Most of the Taraboners there were mounted, now, but they waited for
twenty or so Seanchan led by a tall fellow with a single thin plume on his curious helmet to gallop into the
village before falling in behind, yesterday's late-comers trailing at the rear.

 Ituralde studied the figure leading the column, viewing him through the gaps between houses. A single
plume would mark a lieutenant or maybe an under-lieutenant. Which might mean a beardless boy on his
first command or a grizzled veteran who could take your head if you made one mistake.

 Strangely, the damane, marked by the shining silvery leash that connected her to a woman on a another
horse, galloped her animal as hard as anyone. Everything he had heard said damane were prisoners, yet
she appeared as eager as the other woman, the sul'dam. Perhaps

Abruptly his breath caught in his throat and all thought of damane fled.

 There were people still in the street, seven or eight men and women, walking in a cluster and right ahead
of the racing column that they seemed not to hear thundering up behind them. There was no time for the
Seanchan to stop if they wanted to, and good reason not to try with an enemy ahead, but it looked as
though the tall fellow's hand never twitched on his reins as he and the rest rode the people down. A
veteran, then. Murmuring a prayer for the dead, Ituralde lowered the glass. What came next was best
seen without it.

 Two hundred paces beyond the village, the officer started forming his command where the archers had
already stopped and were waiting with nocked arrows. Waving directions to the Taraboners behind, he
turned to peer at Lanasiet through a looking glass. Sunlight glinted off the tube's banding. The sun was
rising, now. The Taraboners began dividing smoothly, lance heads glittering and all slanted at the same
angle, disciplined men falling into ordered ranks to either side of the archers. 

 The officer leaned over to converse with the sul'dam. If he turned her and the damane loose now, this
could still turn into a disaster. Of course, it could if he did not, too. The last of the Taraboners, those who
had arrived late, began stretching out in a line fifty paces behind the others, driving their lances
point-down into the ground and pulling their horse-bows from the cases fastened behind their saddles.
Lanasiet, curse the man, was galloping his men forward.

 Turning his head for a moment, Ituralde spoke loudly enough for the men behind him to hear. "Be
ready." Saddle leather creaked as men gathered their reins. Then he murmured another prayer for the
dead and whispered, "Now."

 As one man the three hundred Taraboners in the long line, his Taraboners, raised their bows and loosed.
He did not need the looking glass to see the sul'dam and damane and the officer suddenly sprout arrows.
They were all but swept from their saddles by near a dozen striking each of them at once. Ordering that
had given him a pang, but the women were the most dangerous people on that field. The rest of that
volley cut down most of the archers and cleared saddles, and even as men struck the ground, a second
volley lanced out, knocking down the last archers and emptying more saddles.

 Caught by surprise, the Seanchan-loyal Taraboners tried to fight. Among those still mounted, some
wheeled about and lowered lances to charge their attackers. Others, perhaps seized by the irrationality
that could take men in battle, dropped their lances and tried to uncase their own horse-bows. But a third
volley lashed them, pile-headed arrows driving through breastplates at that range, and suddenly the
survivors seemed to realize that they were survivors. Most of their fellows lay still on the ground or
struggled to stand though pierced by two or three shafts.

 Those still mounted were now outnumbered by their opponents. A few men reined their horses around,
and in a flash the lot of them were running south pursued by one final rain of bowshot that toppled more.

 "Hold," Ituralde murmured. "Hold where you are."

 A handful of the mounted archers fired again, but the rest wisely refrained. They could kill a few more
before the enemy was beyond range, but this group was beaten, and before long they would be counting
every arrow. Best of all, none of them went racing in pursuit.

 The same could not be said of Lanasiet. Cloaks streaming, he and his two hundred raced after the
fleeing men. Ituralde imagined he could hear them yelping, hunters on the trail of running prey. 

 "I think we've seen the last of Lanasiet, my Lord," Jaalam said, reining his gray up beside Ituralde, who
shrugged slightly.

 "Perhaps, my young friend. He may come to his senses. In any case, I never thought the Taraboners
would return to Arad Doman with us. Did you?"

 "No, my Lord," the taller man replied, "but I thought his honor would hold through the first fight."

 Ituralde lifted his glass to look at Lanasiet, still galloping hard. The man was gone, and unlikely to come
to senses he did not possess. A third of his force gone as surely as if that damane had killed them. He
had counted on a few more days. He would need to change plans again, perhaps change his next target.

 Dismissing Lanasiet from his thoughts, he swung the glass to glance at where those people had been
ridden down, and grunted in surprise. There were no trampled bodies. Friends and neighbors must have
come out to carry them away, though with a battle on the edge of the village that seemed about as likely
as them getting up and walking away after the horses passed.

 "It's time to go burn all those lovely Seanchan stores," he said.

 Shoving the looking glass into the leather case tied to his saddle, he donned his helmet and heeled
Steady down the hill, followed by Jaalam and the others in a column of twos. Ruts from farm wagons and
broken-down banks indicated a ford in the eastern stream. "And, Jaalam, tell a few men to warn the
villagers to start moving what they want to save. Tell them to begin with the houses nearest the camp."
Where fire could spread one way, it could the other, too, and likely would.

 In truth, he had already set the important blaze. Breathed on the first embers, at least. If the Light shone
on him, if no one had been overcome by eagerness or given in to despair at the hold the Seanchan had on
Tarabon, if no one had fallen afoul of the mishaps that could ruin the best-laid plan, then all across
Tarabon, above twenty thousand men had struck blows like this, or would before the day was out. And
tomorrow they would do it again. Now all he had to do was raid his way back across better than four
hundred miles of Tarabon, shedding Taraboner Dragonsworn and gathering in his own men, then
re-cross Almoth Plain. If the Light shone on him, that blaze would singe the Seanchan enough to bring
them chasing after him full of fury. A great deal of fury, he hoped. That way, they would run headlong into
the trap he had laid before they ever knew it was there. If they failed to follow, then at least he had rid his
homeland of the Taraboners and bound the Domani Dragonsworn to fight for the King instead of against
him. And if they saw the trap.... 

 Riding down the hillside, Ituralde smiled. If they saw the trap, then he had another plan already laid, and
another behind that. He always looked ahead, and always planned for every eventuality he could imagine,
short of the Dragon Reborn himself suddenly appearing in front of him. He thought the plans he had
would suffice for the moment.

 The High Lady Suroth Sabelle Meldarath lay awake on her bed, staring up at the ceiling. The moon was
down, and the triple-arched windows that overlooked a palace garden were dark, but her eyes had
adjusted so that she could make out at least the outlines of the ornate, painted plasterwork. Dawn was
no more than an hour or two off, yet she had not slept. She had lain awake most nights since Tuon
vanished, sleeping only when exhaustion closed her eyes however hard she tried to keep them open.
Sleep brought nightmares she wished she could forget. Ebou Dar was never truly cold, but the night held
a little coolness, enough to help keep her awake, lying beneath only a thin silk sheet. The question that
tainted her dreams was simple and stark. Was Tuon alive, or dead?

 The escape of the Atha'an Miere damane and Queen Tylin's murder spoke in favor of her death. Three
events of that magnitude happening on one night by chance was pressing coincidence too far, and the first
two were horrifying enough in themselves to indicate the worst for Tuon. Someone was trying to sow fear
among the Rhyagelle, Those Who Come Home, perhaps to disrupt the entire Return. How better to
achieve that than to assassinate Tuon? Worse, it had to be one of their own. Because she had landed
under the veil, no local knew who Tuon was. Tylin had surely been killed with the One Power, by a
sul'dam and her damane. Suroth had leaped at the suggestion that Aes Sedai were to blame, yet
eventually someone who mattered would question how one of those women could enter a palace full of
damane in a city full of damane and escape detection. At least one sul'dam had been necessary to
uncollar the Sea Folk damane.

 And two of her own sul'dam had disappeared at almost the same time.

 In any case, they had been noticed as missing two days later, and no one had seen them since the night
Tuon vanished. She did not believe they were involved, though they had been in the kennels. For one
thing, she could not imagine Renna or Seta uncollaring a damane. They certainly had reasons enough to
sneak away and seek employment far off, with someone ignorant of their filthy secret, someone like this
Egeanin Tamarath who had stolen a pair of a damane. Strange that, for one newly raised to the Blood.
Strange, but unimportant; she could see no way to tie it to the rest. Likely the woman had found the
stresses and complexities of nobility too much for a simple sailor. Well, she would be found and arrested

 The important fact, the potentially deadly fact, was that Renna and Seta were gone, and no one could
say exactly when they had left. If the wrong person noted their departure so close to the critical time and 

made the wrong calculation.... She pressed the heels of her hands against her eyes and exhaled softly,
very near to a groan.

 Even should she escape suspicion of murdering Tuon, if the woman was dead, then she herself would be
required to apologize to the Empress, might she live forever. For the death of the acknowledged heir to
the Crystal Throne, her apology would be protracted, and as painful as it was humiliating; it might end
with her execution, or much worse, with being sent to the block as property. Not that it would actually
come to that, though in her nightmares it often did. Her hand slid beneath the pillows to touch the
unsheathed dagger there. The blade was little longer than her hand, yet more than sharp enough to open
her veins, preferably in a warm bath. If time came for an apology, she would not live to reach Seandar.
The dishonor to her name might even be lessened a little if enough people believed the act was itself an
apology. She would leave a letter explaining it so. That might help.

 Still, there was a chance Tuon remained alive, and Suroth clung to it.

 Killing her and spiriting the body away might be a deep move ordered from Seanchan by one of her
surviving sisters who coveted the throne, yet Tuon had arranged her own disappearance more than once.
In support of the notion, Tuon's der'sul'dam had taken all of her sul'dam and damane into the country for
exercise nine days ago, and they had not been seen since. Exercising damane did not require nine days.
And just today-no; yesterday, now, by a good few hours-Suroth had learned that the Captain of Tuon's
bodyguard also had left the city nine days ago with a sizable contingent of his men and not returned. That
was too much for coincidence, and very nearly proof. Near enough for hope, at least.

 Each of those previous disappearances, however, had been part of Tuon's campaign to win the approval
of the Empress, might she live forever, and be named heir. Each time, some competitor among her sisters
had been forced or emboldened to acts that lowered her when Tuon reappeared. What need had she of
such stratagems now, here? Rack her brains how she would, Suroth could not find a worthy target
outside Seanchan. She had considered the possibility that she herself was the mark, but only briefly and
only because she could think of no one else. Tuon could have stripped her of her position in the Return
with three words. All she needed to do was remove the veil; here, the Daughter of the Nine Moons, in
command of the Return, spoke with the voice of the Empire. Bare suspicion that Suroth was Atha'an
Shadar, what those this side of the Aryth Ocean called a Darkfriend, might have been enough for Tuon to
have handed her over to the Seekers for questioning. No, Tuon was aiming at someone else, or
something else. If she did still live. But she had to.

 Suroth did not want to die. She fingered the blade.

 Who or what else did not matter, except as a clue to where Tuon might be, but that was very important.
Immensely so. Already, despite the announcement of an extended inspection trip, whispers floated 

among the Blood that she was dead. The longer she remained missing, the more those whispers would
grow, and with them the pressure for Suroth to return to Seandar and make that apology. She could only
resist so long before she would be adjudged sei'mosiev so deeply that only her own servants and
property would obey her. Her eyes would be ground into the dirt. Low Blood as well as High, perhaps
even commoners, would refuse to speak to her. Soon after that, she would find herself on a ship
whatever her wishes.

 Without doubt Tuon would be displeased at being found, yet it seemed unlikely her displeasure would
extend so far as Suroth being dishonored and forced to slit her wrists; therefore Tuon must be found.
Every Seeker in Altara was searching for her-those Suroth knew of, at least.

 Tuon's own Seekers were not among the known, yet they must be hunting twice as hard as any others.
Unless they had been taken into her confidence. But in seventeen days, all that had been uncovered was
that ridiculous story of Tuon extorting jewelry from goldsmiths, and that was known to every common
soldier. Perhaps....

 The arched door to the anteroom began to open slowly, and Suroth snapped her right eye shut to
protect her night vision against the light of the outer room. As soon as the gap was wide enough, a
pale-haired woman in the diaphanous robes of a da'covale slipped into the bedchamber and softly closed
the door behind her, plunging the room into pitch blackness. Until Suroth opened her eye again, and
made out a shadowy form creeping toward her bed. And another shadow, huge, suddenly looming in a
corner of the room as Almandaragal rose noiselessly to his feet.

 The lopar could cross the room and snap the fool woman's neck in a heartbeat, but Suroth still gripped
the hilt of her dagger. It was wise to have a second line of defense even when the first seemed

 A pace short of the bed, the da'covale stopped. Her anxious breathing sounded loud in the silence.

 "Working up your courage, Liandrin?" Suroth said harshly. That honey-colored hair, worked in thin
braids, had been enough to name her.

 With a squeak, the da'covale dropped to her knees and bent to press her face to the carpet. She had
learned that much, at least. "I would not harm you, High Lady," she lied. "You know I would not." Her
voice was rushed, in a breathy panic. Learning when to speak and when not seemed as far beyond her as
learning how to speak with proper respect. "We are both bound to serve the Great Lord, High Lady.
Have I not proven I can be useful? I removed Alwhin for you, yes? You said you wished her dead, High 

Lady, and I removed her."

 Suroth grimaced and sat up in the dark, the sheet sliding down to her lap. It was so easy to forget
da'covale were there, even this da'covale, and then you let slip things you should not have. Alwhin had
not been dangerous, merely a nuisance, awkward in her place as Suroth's Voice.

 She had achieved all she had ever wanted in reaching that, and the likelihood of her risking it by so much
as the smallest betrayal had been tiny. True, had she broken her neck falling down a flight of stairs,
Suroth would have felt some small relief from an irritant, but poison that left the woman with bulging eyes
and a blue face was another matter. Even with the search for Tuon, that had brought the Seekers' eyes to
Suroth's household. She had been forced to insist on it, for the murder of her Voice. That there were
Listeners in her household, she accepted; every household had its share of Listeners. Seekers did more
than listen, though, and they might uncover what must remain hidden.

 Masking her anger required surprising effort, and her tone was colder than she wanted. "I hope you did
not wake me merely to plead again, Liandrin."

 "No, no!" The fool raised her head and actually looked straight at her!

 "An officer came from General Galgan, High Lady. He is waiting to take you to the general."

 Suroth's head throbbed with irritation. The woman delayed delivering a message from Galgan and
looked her in the eyes? In the dark, to be sure, yet an urge swept over her to strangle Liandrin with her
bare hands. A second death hard on the heels of the first would intensify the Seekers' interest in her
household, if they learned of it, but Elbar could dispose of the body easily; he was clever in such tasks.

 Except, she enjoyed owning the former Aes Sedai who once had been so haughty with her. Making her
a perfect da'covale in every way would be a great pleasure. It was time to have the woman collared,
however. Already irritating rumors buzzed of an uncollared marath'damane among her servants. It would
be a twelve-day wonder when the sul'dam discovered she was shielded in some way so she could not
channel, yet that would help answer the question of why she had not been leashed before. Elbar would
need to find some Atha'an Shadar among the sul'dam, though. That was never an easy task-relatively few
sul'dam turned to the Great Lord, oddly-and she no longer really trusted any sul'dam, but perhaps
Atha'an Shadar could be trusted more than the rest. 

 "Light two lamps, then bring me a robe and slippers," she said, swinging her legs over the side of the

 Liandrin scrambled to the table that held the lidded sand bowl on its gilded tripod and hissed when she
found it with a careless hand, but she quickly used the tongs to lift out a hot coal, puffed it to a glow, and
lit two of the silvered lamps, adjusting the wicks so the flames held steady and did not smoke. Her tongue
might suggest that she felt herself Suroth's equal rather than a possession, yet the strap had taught her to
obey commands with alacrity.

 Turning with one of the lamps in her hand, she gave a start and a choked cry at the sight of
Almandaragal looming in the corner, his dark, ridge-ringed eyes focused on her. You would think she
had never seen him before! Yet he was a fearsome sight, ten feet tall and near two thousand pounds, his
hairless skin like reddish brown leather, flexing his six toed forepaws so his claws extended and
retracted, extended and retracted.

 "Be at ease," Suroth told the lopar, a familiar command, but he stretched his mouth wide, showing sharp
teeth before settling back to the floor and resting his huge round head on his paws like a hound. He did
not close his eyes again, either. Lopar were quite intelligent, and plainly he trusted Liandrin no more than
she did.

 Despite fearful glances at Almandaragal, the da'covale was quick enough to fetch blue velvet slippers
and a white silk robe intricately embroidered in green, red and blue from the tall, carved wardrobe, and
she held the robe for Suroth to thrust her arms into the sleeves, but Suroth had to tie the long sash herself,
and to thrust out a foot before the woman remembered to kneel and fit the slippers on. Her eyes, but the
woman was incompetent!

 By the dim light, Suroth examined herself in the gilded stand-mirror against the wall. Her eyes were
hollow and shadowed with weariness, the tail of her crest hung down her back in a loose braid for
sleeping, and doubtless her scalp required a razor. Very well. Galgan's messenger would think her
grief-stricken over Tuon, and that was true enough.

 Before learning the general's message, though, she had one small matter to take care of.

 "Run to Rosala and beg her to beat you soundly, Liandrin," she said. 

 The da'covale's tight little mouth dropped open and her eyes widened in shock. "But why?" she whined.
"Me, I have done nothing!"

 Suroth busied her hands with knotting the sash tighter to keep from striking the woman. Her eyes would
be lowered for a month if it was learned that she had struck a da'covale herself. She certainly owed no
explanations to property, yet once Liandrin did become completely trained, she would miss these
opportunities to grind the woman's face in how far she had fallen.

 "Because you delayed telling me of the general's messenger. Because you still call yourself 'I' rather than
Liandrin. Because you meet my eyes."

 She could not help hissing that. Liandrin had huddled in on herself with every word, and now she
directed her eyes to the floor, as if that would mitigate her offense. "Because you questioned my orders
instead of obeying. And last-last, but most importantly to you-because I wish you beaten. Now, run, and
tell Rosala each of these reasons so she will beat you well."

 "Liandrin hears and obeys, High Lady," the da'covale whimpered, at last getting something right, and
flung herself at the door so fast that she lost one of her white slippers. Too terrified to turn back for it, or
perhaps even to notice-and well for her that she was-she clawed the door open and ran. Sending
property for discipline should not bring a sense of satisfaction, but it did. Oh, yes, it did.

 Suroth took a moment to control her breathing. To appear to be grieving was one thing, to appear to be
agitated quite another. She was filled with annoyance at Liandrin, jolting memories of her nightmares,
fears for Tuon's fate and even more so her own, but not until the face in the mirror displayed utter calm
did she follow the da'covale.

 The anteroom to her bedchamber was decorated in the garish Ebou Dari fashion, a cloud-painted blue
ceiling, yellow walls and green and yellow floor tiles. Even replacing the furnishings with her own tall
screens, all save two painted by the finest artists with birds or flowers, did little to relieve the gaudiness.
She growled faintly in her throat at sight of the outer door, apparently left open by Liandrin in her flight,
but she dismissed the da'covale from her mind for the moment and concentrated on the man who stood
there examining the screen that held the image of a kori, a huge spotted cat from the Sen T'jore. Lanky
and graying, in armor striped blue-and-yellow, he pivoted smoothly at the soft sound of her footsteps and
went to one knee, though he was a commoner. The helmet beneath his arm bore three slender blue
plumes, so the message must be important. Of course, it must be important to disturb her at this hour.
She would give him dispensation. This once. 

 "Banner-General Mikhel Najirah, High Lady. Captain-General Galgan's compliments, and he has
received communications from Tarabon."

 Suroth's eyebrows climbed in spite of herself. Tarabon? Tarabon was as secure as Seandar.
Automatically her fingers twitched, but she had not yet found a replacement for Alwhin. She must speak
to the man herself.

 Irritation over that hardened her voice, and she made no effort to soften it. Kneeling instead of prostrate!
"What communications? If I have been wakened for news of Aiel, I will not be pleased,

 Her tone failed to intimidate the man. He even raised his eyes almost to meet hers. "Not Aiel, High
Lady," he said calmly. "Captain-General Galgan wishes to tell you himself, so you can hear every detail

 Suroth's breath caught for an instant. Whether Najirah was just reluctant to tell her the contents of these
communications or had been ordered not to, this sounded ill. "Lead on," she commanded, then swept out
of the room without waiting for him, ignoring as best she could the pair of Deathwatch Guards standing
like statues in the hallway to either side of the door. The "honor" of being guarded by those men in
red-and-green armor made her skin crawl. Since Tuon's disappearance, she tried not to see them at all.

 The corridor, lined with gilded stand-lamps whose flames flickered in errant drafts that stirred tapestries
of ships and the sea, was empty except for a few liveried palace servants, scurrying on early tasks, who
thought deep bows and curtsies sufficient. And they always looked right at her! Perhaps a word with
Beslan? No; the new King of Tarabon was her equal, now, in law at any rate, and she doubted that he
would make his servants behave properly. She stared straight ahead as she walked. That way, she did
not have to see the servants' insults.

 Najirah caught up to her quickly, his boots ringing on the too-bright blue floor tiles, and fell in at her side.
In truth, she needed no guide. She knew where Galgan must be.

 The room had begun as a chamber for dancing, a square thirty paces on a side, its ceiling painted with
fanciful fish and birds frolicking in often confusing fashion among clouds and waves. Only the ceiling
remained to recall the room's beginnings. Now mirrored stand-lamps and shelves full of filed reports in
leather folders lined the pale red walls. Brown-coated clerks scurried along the aisles between the long,
map-strewn tables that covered the green-tiled dancing-floor. A young officer, an under-lieutenant with
no plume on her red-and-yellow helmet, raced past Suroth without so much as a move to prostrate 

herself. Clerks merely squeezed themselves out of her path. Galgan gave his people too much leeway. He
claimed that what he called excessive ceremony at "the wrong time" hindered efficiency; she called it

 Lunal Galgan, a tall man in a red robe richly worked with bright-feathered birds, the hair of his crest
snow white and its tail plaited in a tight but untidy queue that hung to his shoulders, stood at a table near
the center of the room with a knot of other high-ranking officers, some in breastplates, others in robes
and nearly as disheveled as she. It seemed she was not the first to whom he had sent a messenger.

 She struggled to keep anger from her face. Galgan had come with Tuon and the Return, and thus she
knew little of him beyond that his ancestors had been among the first to throw their support to Luthair
Paendrag and that he owned a high reputation as a soldier and a general. Well, reputation and truth were
sometimes the same. She disliked him entirely for himself.

 He turned at her approach and formally laid his hands on her shoulders, kissing her on either cheek, so
she was forced to return the greeting while trying not to wrinkle her nose at the strong, musky scent he
favored. Galgan's face was as smooth as his creases would allow, but she thought she detected a hint of
worry in his blue eyes. A number of the men and women behind him, mainly low Blood and commoners,
wore open frowns.

 The large map of Tarabon spread out on the table in front of her and held flat by four lamps gave reason
enough for worry. Markers covered it, red wedges for Seanchan forces on the move and red stars for
forces holding in place, each supporting a small paper banner inked with their numbers and composition.
Scattered across the map, across the entire map, lay black discs marking engagements, and even more
white discs for enemy forces, many of those without the banners. How could there be any enemies in
Tarabon? It was as secure as....

 "What happened?" she demanded.

 "Raken began arriving with reports from Lieutenant-General Turan about three hours ago," Galgan
began in conversational tones. Pointedly not making a report himself. He studied the map as he talked,
never glancing in her direction. "They aren't complete-each new one adds to the lists, and I expect that
won't change for a while-but what I've seen runs this way. Since dawn yesterday, seven major supply
camps overrun and burned, along with more than two dozen smaller camps. Twenty supply trains
attacked, the wagons and their contents put to the torch. Seventeen small outposts have been wiped out,
eleven patrols have failed to report in, and there have been an additional fifteen skirmishes. Also a few
attacks against our settlers. Only a handful of fatalities, mostly men who tried to defend their belongings,
but a good many wagons and stores burned along with some half-built houses, and the same message
delivered everywhere. Leave Tarabon. All this was done by bands of between two and perhaps five 

hundred men. Estimates are a minimum of ten thousand and perhaps twice that, nearly all Taraboners.
Oh, yes," he finished casually, "and most of them are wearing armor painted with stripes."

 She wanted to grind her teeth. Galgan commanded the soldiers of the Return, yet she commanded the
Corenne, the Forerunners, and as such, she possessed the higher rank in spite of his crest and
red-lacquered fingernails. She suspected the only reason he did not claim that the Forerunners had been
absorbed into the Return by its very arrival was that supplanting her meant assuming responsibility for
Tuon's safety.

 And for that apology, should it become necessary. "Dislike" was too mild a word. She loathed Galgan.

 "A mutiny?" she said, proud of the coolness of her voice. Inside, she had begun to burn.

 Galgan's white queue swung slowly as he shook his head. "No. All reports say our Taraboners have
fought well, and we've had a few successes, taken a few prisoners. Not one of them can be found on the
rosters of loyal Taraboners. Several have been identified as Dragonsworn believed to be up in Arad
Doman. And the name Rodel Ituralde has been mentioned a number of times as the brain behind it all,
and the leader. A Domani.

 He's supposed to be one of the best generals this side of the ocean, and if he planned and carried out all
this," he swept a hand over the map, "then I believe it." The fool sounded admiring! "Not a mutiny. A raid
on a grand scale. But he won't get out with nearly as many men as he brought in."

 Dragonsworn. The word was like a fist clutching Suroth's throat. "Are there Asha'man?"

 "Those fellows who can channel?" Galgan grimaced and made a sign against evil, apparently unconscious
of doing so. "There was no mention of them," he said dryly, "and I rather think there would have been."

 Red-hot anger needed to erupt at Galgan, but screaming at another of the High Blood would lower her
eyes. And, as bad, gain nothing. Still, it had to be directed somewhere. It had to come out. She was
proud of what she had done in Tarabon, and now the country appeared to be halfway back to the chaos
she found when she first landed there. And one man was to blame. "This Ituralde." Her tone was ice. "I
want his head!" 

 "Never fear," Galgan murmured, folding his hands behind his back and bending to examine some of the
small banners. "It won't be long before Turan chases him back to Arad Doman with his tail between his
legs, and with luck, he'll be with one of the bands we snap up."

 "Luck?" she snapped. "I don't trust to luck!" Her anger was open, now, and she did not consider trying
to suppress it again. Her eyes scanned the map as though she could find Ituralde that way. "If Turan is
hunting a hundred bands, as you suggest, he'll need more scouts to run them down, and I want them run
down. Every last one of them. Especially Ituralde. General Yulan, I want four in every five-no, nine in
every ten-raken in Altara and Amadicia moved to Tarabon. If Turan can't find them all with that, then he
can see if his own head will appease me."

 Yulan, a dark little man in a blue robe embroidered with black-crested eagles, must have dressed in too
great a hurry to apply the gum that normally held his wig in place, because he was constantly touching the
thing to make sure it was straight. He was Captain of the Air for the Forerunners, but the Return's
Captain of the Air was only a Banner-General, a more senior man having died on the voyage. Yulan
would have no trouble with him.

 "A wise move, High Lady," he said, frowning at the map, "but may I suggest leaving the raken in
Amadicia and those assigned to Banner-General Khirgan. Raken are the best way we have to locate
Aiel, and in two days we still haven't found those Whitecloaks. That will still give General Turan-"

 "The Aiel are less of a problem every day," she told him firmly, "and a few deserters are nothing." He
inclined his head in assent, one hand keeping his wig in place. He was only low Blood, after all.

 "I hardly call seven thousand men a few deserters," Galgan murmured dryly.

 "It shall be as I command!" she snapped. Curse those so-called Children of the Light! She still had not
decided whether to make Asunawa and the few thousand who had remained da'covale. They had
remained, yet how long before they offered betrayal, too? And Asunawa seemed to hate damane, of all
things. The man was unbalanced!

 Galgan shrugged, utterly unperturbed. A red-lacquered fingernail traced lines on the map as though he
were planning movements of soldiers. "So long as you don't want the to'raken, too, I raise no objections.
That plan must go forward. Altara is falling into our hands with barely a struggle, I'm not ready to move
on Illian yet, and we need to pacify Tarabon again quickly. The people will turn against us if we can't give
them safety." 

 Suroth began to regret letting her anger show. He would raise no objections? He was not ready for Illian
yet? He was all but saying that he did not have to follow her orders, only not openly, not so he had to
take her responsibility along with her authority.

 "I expect this message to be sent to Turan, General Galgan." Her voice was steady, kept so by will
alone. "He is to send me Rodel Ituralde's head if he has to hound the man across Arad Doman and into
the Blight.

 And if he fails to send me that head, I will take his."

 Galgan's mouth tightened briefly, and he frowned down at the map. "Turan sometimes needs a fire lit
under him," he muttered, "and Arad Doman has always been next for him. Very well. Your message will
be sent, Suroth."

 She could stay no longer in the same room with him. Without a word, she left. Had she spoken, she
would have screamed. She stalked all the way back to her rooms without bothering to mask her fury.
The Deathwatch Guards took no notice, of course; they might as well have been carved of stone. Which
made her slam the anteroom door behind her with a crash.

 Perhaps they noticed that!

 Padding toward her bed, she kicked off her slippers, let the robe and sash fall to the floor. She must find
Tuon. She had to. If only she could puzzle out Tuon's target, puzzle out where she was. If only

Suddenly the walls of her bedchamber, the ceiling, even the floor, began to glow with a silvery light.
Those surfaces seemed to have become light. Gaping in shock, she turned slowly, staring at the box of
light that surrounded her, and found herself looking at a woman made of roiling flames, clothed in roiling
flames. Almandaragal was on his feet, awaiting his owner's command to attack.

 "I am Semirhage," the woman of fire said in a voice like a tolling funeral gong. 

 "Belly, Almandaragal!" That command, taught as a child because it amused her to have the lopar
prostrate himself before her, ended with a grunt because she obeyed it herself even as she gave it.
Kissing the red-and-green-patterned carpet, she said, "I live to serve and obey, Great Mistress." There
was no doubt in her mind that this woman was who she said. Who would dare claim that name falsely?
Or could appear as living fire?

 "I think you would also like to rule." The tolling gong sounded faintly amused, but then it hardened.
"Look at me! I dislike the way you Seanchan avoid meeting my eyes. It makes me believe you are hiding
something. You don't want to try hiding anything from me, Suroth."

 "Of course, not, Great Mistress," Suroth said, pushing herself up to sit on her heels. "Never, Great
Mistress." She raised her gaze as far as the other woman's mouth, but she could not make herself raise it

 Surely that would be enough.

 "Better," Semirhage murmured. "Now. How would you like to rule in these lands? A handful of
deaths-Galgan and a few others-and you could manage to name yourself Empress, with my help. It's
hardly important, but circumstances provide the opportunity, and you would certainly be more amenable
than the current Empress has been so far."

 Suroth's stomach clenched. She feared she might vomit. "Great Mistress," she said dully, "the penalty for
that is to be taken before the true Empress, may she live forever, and have your entire skin removed,
great care being taken to keep you alive. After that-"

 "Inventive, if primitive," Semirhage broke in wryly. "But of no account.

 The Empress Radhanan is dead. Remarkable how much blood there is in a human body. Enough to
cover the whole Crystal Throne. Take the offer, Suroth. I will not make it again. You will make certain
matters slightly more convenient, but not enough for me to put myself out a second time."

 Suroth had to make herself breathe. "Then Tuon is the Empress, may she live...." Tuon would take a
new name, rarely to be spoken outside the Imperial family. The Empress was the Empress, might she live

 Wrapping her arms around herself, Suroth began to sob, shaking beyond her ability to stop.
Almandaragal lifted his head and whined at her interrogatively.

 Semirhage laughed, the music of deep gongs. "Grief for Radhanan, Suroth, or is your dislike of Tuon
becoming Empress so deep?"

 Haltingly, in spurts of three or four words broken by unmanageable weeping, Suroth explained. As the
proclaimed heir, Tuon had become Empress the moment her mother died. Except, if her mother had
been assassinated, then it must have been arranged by one of her sisters, which meant that Tuon herself
was surely dead. And none of that made the slightest difference. The forms would be carried out. She
would have to return to Seandar and apologize for Tuon's death, for the death of an Empress, now, to
the very woman who had arranged it. Who would, of course, not take the throne until Tuon's death was
announced. She could not bring herself to admit that she would kill herself first; it was too shaming to say
aloud. Words died as howling sobs racked her. She did not want to die. She had been promised she
would live forever!

 This time, Semirhage's laughter was so shocking that it shut off Suroth's tears. That head of fire was
thrown back, emitting great peals of mirth. At last she regained control, wiping away tears of flame with
fiery fingers. "I see I didn't make myself clear. Radhanan is dead, and her daughters, and her sons, and
half the Imperial Court, as well. There is no Imperial family except for Tuon. There is no Empire. Seandar
is in the hands of rioters and looters, and so are a dozen other cities. At least fifty nobles are contending
for the throne, with armies in the field. There is war from the Aldael Mountains to Salaking. Which is why
you will be perfectly safe in disposing of Tuon and proclaiming yourself Empress. I've even arranged for a
ship, which should arrive soon, to bring word of the disaster." She laughed again, and said something
strange. "Let the lord of chaos rule."

 Suroth gaped at the other woman in spite of herself. The Empire...destroyed? Semirhage had killed
the...? Assassination was not unknown among the Blood, High or low, nor within the Imperial family, yet
for anyone else to reach inside the Imperial family in that way was horrifying, unthinkable. Even one of the
Da'concion, the Chosen Ones.

 But to become Empress herself, even here. She felt dizzy, with a hysterical desire to laugh. She could
complete the cycle, conquering these lands, and then send armies to reclaim Seanchan. With an effort,
she managed to regain possession of herself.

 "Great Mistress, if Tuon really is alive, then...then killing her will be difficult." She had to force those 

words out. To kill the Empress.... Even thinking it was difficult. To become Empress. Her head felt as if it
might float off her shoulders. "She will have her sul'dam and damane with her, and some of her
Deathwatch Guards." Difficult? Killing her would be impossible in those circumstances. Unless Semirhage
could be induced to do it herself. Six damane might well be dangerous even to her. Besides, there was a
saying among commoners. The mighty tell the lesser to dig in the mud and keep their own hands clean.
She had heard it by chance, and punished the man who spoke it, but it was true.

 "Think, Suroth!" The gongs rang strong, imperative. "Captain Musenge and the others would have gone
the same night Tuon and her maid left if they had had any inkling of what she was about. They are looking
for her. You must put every effort into finding her first, but if that fails, her Deathwatch Guards will be less
protection than they seem. Every soldier in your army has heard that at least some of the Guards are
involved with an impostor. The general feeling seems to be that the impostor and anyone connected to
her should be torn apart bodily and the pieces buried in a dungheap. Quietly." Lips of fire curled in a
small, amused smile. "To avoid the shame to the Empire."

 It might be possible. A party of Deathwatch Guards would be easy to locate. She would need to find
out exactly how many Musenge had taken with him, and send Elbar with fifty for every one. No, a
hundred, to account for the damane. And then.... "Great Mistress, you understand I am reluctant to
proclaim anything until I am certain Tuon is dead?"

 "Of course," Semirhage said. The gongs were amused once more. "But remember, if Tuon manages to
return safely, it will matter little to me, so don't dally."

 "I will not, Great Mistress. I intend to become Empress, and for that I must kill the Empress." This time,
saying it was not very hard at all.

 In Pevara's estimation, Tsutama Rath's rooms were flamboyant beyond the point of extravagance, and
her own beginnings as a butcher's daughter played no part in her opinion. The sitting room simply put her
on edge.

 Beneath a cornice carved with swallows in flight and gilded, the walls held two large silk tapestries, one
displaying bright red bloodroses, the other a calma bush covered in scarlet blossoms larger than her two
hands together. The tables and chairs were delicate pieces, if you ignored sufficient carving and gilding for
any throne. The stand-lamps were heavily gilded, too, and the mantel, worked with running horses,
above the red-streaked marble fireplace. Several of the tables held red Sea Folk porcelain, the rarest,
four vases and six bowls, a small fortune in themselves, as well as any number of jade or ivory carvings,
none small, and one figure of a dancing woman, a hand tall, that appeared be carved from a ruby. A
gratuitous display of wealth, and she knew for a fact that aside from the gilded barrel-clock on the
mantel, there was another in Tsutama's bedroom and even one in her dressing room. Three clocks! That 

went far beyond flamboyant, never mind gilding or rubies.

 And yet, the room suited the woman seated across from her and Javindhra.

 "Flamboyant" was exactly the word for her appearance. Tsutama was a strikingly beautiful woman, her
hair caught in a fine golden net, with firedrops thick at her throat and ears and dressed as always in
crimson silk that molded her full bosom, today with golden scrollwork embroidery to increase the
emphasis. You might almost think she wanted to attract men, if you did not know her. Tsutama had made
her dislike of men well known long before being sent into exile; she would have given mercy to a rabid
dog before a man.

 Back then, she had been hammer-hard, yet many had thought her a broken reed when she returned to
the Tower. For a while, they had. Then everyone who spent any time near her realized that those shifting
eyes were far from nervous. Exile had changed her, only not toward softness.

 Those eyes belonged on a hunting cat, searching for enemies or prey. The rest of Tsutama's face was not
so much serene as it was still, an unreadable mask. Unless you pushed her to open anger, at least. Even
then her voice would remain as calm as smooth ice, though. An unnerving combination.

 "I heard disturbing rumors this morning about the battle at Dumai's Wells," she said abruptly. "Bloody
disturbing." She had the habits now of long silences, no small talk, and sudden, unexpected statements.

 Exile had coarsened her language, too. The isolated farm she had been confined to must have
been...vivid. "Including that three of the dead sisters were from our Ajah. Mother's milk in a cup!" All
delivered in the most even tones. But her eyes stabbed at them accusingly.

 Pevara took that gaze in stride. Any direct look from Tsutama seemed accusing, and on edge or not,
Pevara knew better than to let the Highest see it. The woman swooped on weakness like a falcon. "I
can't see why Katerine would disobey your orders to keep her knowledge to herself, and you cannot
believe Tarna is likely to put discredit on Elaida." Not publicly, at any rate. Tarna guarded her feelings on
Elaida as carefully as a cat guarded a mousehole. "But sisters do get reports from their eyes-and-ears.
We can't stop them learning what happened. I'm surprised it's taken this long."

 "That's so," Javindhra added, smoothing her skirts. The angular woman wore no jewelry aside from the
Great Serpent ring, and her dress was unadorned, and a red deep enough to appear near black. "Sooner 

or later, the facts will all come out if we work till our fingers bleed." Her mouth was so tight she seemed
to be biting something, yet she sounded almost satisfied. Odd, that. She was Elaida's lapdog.

 Tsutama's stare focused on her, and after a moment a flush grew on Javindhra's cheeks. Perhaps as an
excuse to break eye contact, she took a long drink of her tea. From a cup of beaten gold worked with
leopards and deer, of course, Tsutama being as she now was. The Highest continued to stare silently, but
whether at Javindhra or something beyond her, Pevara could no longer say.

 When Katerine brought word that Galina was among the dead at Dumai's Wells, Tsutama had been
raised to replace her by near acclamation. She had possessed a very good reputation as a Sitter, at least
before her involvement in the disgusting events that led to her downfall, and many in the Red believed the
times called for as hard a Highest as could be found. Galina's death had lifted a great weight from
Pevara's shoulders-the Highest, a Darkfriend; oh, that had been agony!-yet she was uncertain about
Tsutama. There was something...wild...about her, now.

 Something unpredictable. Was she entirely sane? But then, the same question could be asked regarding
the whole White Tower. How many of the sisters were entirely sane, now?

 As if sensing her thoughts, Tsutama shifted that unblinking gaze to her.

 It did not make Pevara color or start, as it did so many besides Javindhra, but she did find herself
wishing Duhara were there, just to give the Highest a third Sitter to stare at, just to share them out. She
wished she knew where the woman had gone and why, with a rebel army camped outside Tar Valon.
Over a week ago, Duhara had simply taken ship without a word to anyone, so far as Pevara was aware,
and no one seemed to know whether she had gone north or south. These days, Pevara was suspicious of
everyone and nearly everything.

 "Did you call us here because of something in that letter, Highest?" she said at last. She met that
unsettling stare levelly, yet she was beginning to want a long pull from her own ornate cup, and she
wished it held wine rather than tea. Deliberately she rested the cup on the narrow arm of her chair. The
other woman's gaze made her feel as though spiders were crawling on her skin.

 After a very long moment, Tsutama's eyes dropped to the folded letter in her lap. Only her hand held it
from rolling up into a little cylinder. 

 It was on the very thin paper used for messages sent by pigeon, and the small inked letters clearly visible
through the page appeared to cover it densely.

 "This is from Sashalle Anderly," she said, bringing a wince of pity from Pevara and a grunt that might
have been anything from Javindhra. Poor Sashalle. Tsutama continued without any outward sign of
sympathy, though. "The bloody woman believes Galina escaped, because it is addressed to her. Much of
what she writes merely confirms what we already know from other sources, including Toveine. But,
without naming them, she bloody well says that she is 'in charge of most of the sisters in the city of

 "How can Sashalle be in charge of any sisters?" Javindhra shook her head, her expression denying the
possibility. "Could she have gone insane?"

 Pevara held her silence. Tsutama gave answers when she wished, rarely when you asked. Toveine's
earlier letter, also addressed to Galina, had not mentioned Sashalle at all, or the other two, but of course,
she would have found the entire subject beyond distasteful. Even thinking of it was like eating rotten
plums. Most of her words had been devoted to laying the whole blame for events at Elaida's feet,
however indirectly.

 Tsutama's eyes flickered toward Javindhra like dagger thrusts, but she went on without pausing.
"Sashalle recounts Toveine's bloody visit to Cairhien with the other sisters and the flaming Asha'man,
though she clearly doesn't know about the bloody bonding. She found it all very strange, sisters mingling
with those goat-kissing men on 'tense yet often friendly' terms. Blood and bloody ashes! That is how she
puts it, burn me." Tsutama's tone, suitable for discussing the price of lace, in strong contrast to the
intensity of her eyes, and her language, gave no hint of what she felt on the subject. "Sashalle says that
when they left, they took flaming Warders belonging to sisters she believes are with the boy, so it seems
bloody certain they were looking for him and likely have found him by now. She has no idea why. But
she confirms what Toveine claimed concerning Logain. Apparently, the goat-spawned man is no longer

 "Impossible," Javindhra muttered into her teacup, but softly. Tsutama disliked having her statements
challenged. Pevara kept her opinions to herself and sipped from her own cup. So far, there seemed
nothing in the letter worthy of discussion except how Sashalle could be "in charge" of anything, and she
would rather think of anything other than Sashalle's fate. The tea tasted of blueberries. How had Tsutama
obtained blueberries this early in the spring? Perhaps they had been dried.

 "I will read the rest to you," Tsutama said, unfolding the page and scanning almost to the bottom before
beginning. Apparently Sashalle had been very detailed. What was the Highest not sharing? So many

 I have been so long without communicating because I could not work out how to say what I must, but
now I see that simply telling the facts is the only way. Along with a number of other sisters, who I will
leave to decide for themselves whether to reveal what I am about to, I have sworn an oath of fealty to the
Dragon Reborn which is to last until Tarmon Gai'don has been fought.

 Javindhra gasped loudly, her eyes popping, but Pevara merely whispered, "Ta'veren." It must be that.
Ta'veren had always been her explanation for most of the disturbing rumors out of Cairhien.

 Tsutama read on right over them.

 What I do, I do for the good of the Red Ajah and the good of the Tower.

 Should you disagree, I will surrender myself for your discipline. After Tarmon Gai'don. As you may have
heard, Irgain Fatamed, Ronaille Vevanios and I were all stilled when the Dragon Reborn escaped at
Dumai's Wells.

 We have been Healed, however, by a man named Damer Flinn, one of the Asha'man, and we all seem
to be restored fully. Unlikely as this seems, I swear beneath the Light and by my hope of salvation and
rebirth that it is true. I look forward to my eventual return to the Tower, where I will retake the Three
Oaths to reaffirm my dedication to my Ajah and to the Tower.

 Folding the letter again, she gave her head a small shake. "There's more, but it's all more bloody pleading
that what she's doing is for the Ajah and the Tower." A glitter in her eyes suggested that Sashalle might
come to regret surviving the Last Battle.

 "If Sashalle truly has been Healed," Pevara began, and could not go on.

 She wet her lips with tea, then raised the cup again and took a mouthful. The possibility seemed too
wonderful to hope for, a snowflake that might melt at a touch. 

 "This is impossible," Javindhra growled, though not very strongly. Even so, she directed the comment to
Pevara lest the Highest think it meant for her. A deep scowl made her face harsher. "Gentling cannot be

 Stilling cannot be Healed. Sheep will fly first! Sashalle must be delusional."

 "Toveine might be mistaken," Tsutama said, in a very strong voice, "though if she is, I can't see why these
flaming Asha'man would let Logain be one of them, much less command, but I hardly think Sashalle
could be bloody mistaken about herself. And she doesn't write like a woman having flaming delusions.
Sometimes what is bloody impossible is only bloody impossible until the first woman does it. So. Stilling
has been Healed. By a man. Those toad-spawned Seanchan locusts are chaining every woman they find
who can channel, apparently including a number of sisters. Twelve days past.... Well, you know what
happened as bloody well as I. The world has become a more dangerous place than at any time since the
Trolloc Wars, perhaps since the Breaking itself. Therefore I've decided we will move forward with your
scheme for these flaming Asha'man, Pevara. Distasteful and hazardous, yet burn me, there is no bloody
choice. You and Javindhra will arrange it together."

 Pevara winced. Not for the Seanchan. They were human, whatever strange ter'angreal they possessed,
and they would be defeated eventually.

 Mention of what the Forsaken had done twelve days ago brought a grimace, though, despite her efforts
at keeping a smooth face. So much of the Power wielded in one place could have been no one else. To
the extent she could, she avoided thinking about that or what they might have been trying to accomplish.
Or worse, what they might have accomplished. A second wince came at hearing the proposal to bond
Asha'man named as hers. But that had been inevitable from the moment she presented Tarna's suggestion
to Tsutama, while holding her breath against the eruption she was sure would come. She had even used
the argument of increasing the size of linked circles by including men, against that monstrous display of the
Power. Surprisingly, there had been no eruption, and small reaction of any kind. Tsutama merely said she
would think on it, and insisted on having the relevant papers about men and circles delivered to her from
the Library. The third wince, the largest, was for having to work with Javindhra, for being saddled with
the job at all. She had more than enough on her plate at the moment, besides which, working with
Javindhra was always painful. The woman argued against anything put forward by anyone save herself.
Nearly anything.

 Javindhra had been vehemently against bonding Asha'man, horrified at the notion of Red sisters bonding
anyone almost as much as at bonding men who could channel, yet now that the Highest had commanded
it, she was stymied. Still, she found a way to argue against. "Elaida will never allow it," she muttered.

 Tsutama's glittering eyes caught her gaze and held it. The bony woman swallowed audibly. 

 "Elaida will not know until it is too late, Javindhra. I hide her secrets-the disaster against the Black
Tower, Dumai's Wells-as best I can because she was raised from the Red, but she is the Amyrlin Seat,
of all Ajahs and none. That means she is no longer Red, and this is Ajah business, not hers." A dangerous
tone entered her voice. And she had not cursed once. That meant she was on the edge of open fury. "Do
you disagree with me on this? Do you intend to inform Elaida despite my express wishes?"

 "No, Highest," Javindhra replied quickly, then buried her face in her cup. Strangely, she seemed to be
hiding a smile.

 Pevara contented herself with shaking her head. If it had to be done, and she was certain it must, then
clearly Elaida had to be kept in the dark. What did Javindhra have to smile about? Too many suspicions.

 "I'm very glad that you both agree with me," Tsutama said dryly, leaning back in her chair. "Now, leave

 They paused only to set down their cups and curtsy. In the Red, when the Highest spoke, everyone
obeyed, including Sitters. The sole exception, by Ajah law, was voting in the Hall, though some women
who held the title had managed to ensure that any vote near to their hearts went as they wished. Pevara
was certain Tsutama intended to be one such. The struggle was going to be distinctly unpleasant. She
only hoped she could give as good as she got.

 In the corridor outside, Javindhra muttered something about correspondence and rushed off down the
white floor tiles marked with the red Flame of Tar Valon before Pevara could say a word. Not that she
had intended to say anything, but surely as peaches were poison, the woman was going to drag her heels
in this and leave the whole matter in her lap. Light, but this was the last thing she needed, at the worst
possible time.

 Pausing at her own rooms only long enough to gather her long-fringed shawl and check the hour-a
quarter of an hour to noon; she was almost disappointed that her one clock agreed with Tsutama's;
clocks frequently did not-she left the Red quarters and hurried deeper into the Tower, down into the
common areas below the quarters. The wide hallways were well lighted with mirrored stand-lamps but
almost empty of people, which made them seem cavernous and the frieze-banded white walls stark. The
occasional rippling of a bright tapestry in a draft had an eerie feel, as though the silk or wool had taken on
life. The few people she saw were serving men and women with the Flame of Tar Valon on their chests,
scurrying along about their chores and barely pausing long enough to offer hurried courtesies. They kept
their eyes lowered. With the Ajahs separated into all but warring camps, fetid tension and antagonism 

filled the Tower, and the mood had infected the servants. Frightened them, at least.

 She could not be sure, but she thought fewer than two hundred sisters remained in the Tower, most
keeping to their Ajah quarters except for necessity, so she really did not expect to see another sister

 When Adelorna Bastine glided up the short stairs from a crossing corridor almost right in front of her,
she was so surprised she gave a start. Adelorna, who made slimness appear stately despite her lack of
height, walked on without acknowledging Pevara in any way. The Saldaean woman wore her shawl,
too-no sister was seen outside her Ajah quarters without her shawl, now-and was followed by her three
Warders. Short and tall, wide and lean, they wore their swords, and their eyes never ceased moving.
Warders wearing swords and plainly guarding their Aes Sedai's back, in the Tower. That was all too
common, yet Pevara could have wept at it. Only, there were too many reasons for weeping to settle on
one; instead she set about solving what she could.

 Tsutama could command Reds to bond Asha'man, command them not to go running to Elaida, but it
seemed best to begin with sisters who might be willing to entertain the notion without being ordered,
especially with rumors spreading of three Red sisters dead at Asha'man hands. Tarna Feir had already
entertained it, so a very private conversation with her was in order. She might know others of a like mind.
The greatest difficulty would be approaching the Asha'man with the idea. They were very unlikely to
agree just because they themselves had already bonded fifty-one sisters. Light of the world, fifty-one!
Broaching the subject would require a sister who possessed diplomacy and a way with words. And iron
nerve. She was still mulling over names when she saw the woman she had come to meet, already at the
appointed place, apparently studying a tall tapestry.

 Tiny and willowy, and regal in her pale silver silk with a slightly darker lace at her neck and wrists, Yukiri
appeared throughly engrossed in the tapestry and quite at her ease. Pevara could only recall seeing her
the slightest bit flustered on one occasion, and putting Talene to the question had been nerve-racking for
everyone there. Yukiri was alone, of course, though of late she had been heard to say she was thinking of
taking a Warder again. Doubtless that was equal parts the current times and their own present situation.
Pevara could have done with a Warder or two herself.

 "Is there any truth in this, or is it all the weaver's fancy?" she asked, joining the smaller woman. The
tapestry showed a long-ago battle against Trollocs, or was purported to. Most such things were made
long after the fact, and the weavers usually went by hearsay. This one was old enough to need the
protection of a warding to keep it from falling apart.

 "I know as much about tapestries as a pig knows about blacksmithing, Pevara." For all her elegance,
Yukiri seldom let long pass without revealing her country origins. The silvery gray fringe of her shawl 

swung as she gathered it around her. "You're late, so let's be brief. I feel like a hen being watched by a
fox. Marris broke this morning, and I gave her the oath of obedience myself, but as with the others, her
'one other' is out of the Tower. With the rebels, I think." She fell silent as a pair of serving women
approached up the hallway carrying a large wicker laundry basket with neatly folded bed linens bulging
from the top.

 Pevara sighed. It had seemed so encouraging, at the start. Terrifying and nearly overwhelming, too, yet
they had appeared to be making a good beginning. Talene had only known the name of one other Black
sister actually in the Tower at present, but once Atuan had been kidnapped-Pevara would have liked to
think of it as an arrest, yet she could not when they seemed to be violating half of Tower Law and a good
many strong customs besides-once Atuan was safely in hand, she had soon been induced to surrender
the names of her heart: Karale Sanghir, a Domani Gray, and Marris Thornhill, an Andoran Brown. Only
Karale among them had a Warder, though he had turned out to be a Darkfriend, too.

 Luckily, soon after learning that his Aes Sedai had betrayed him, he had managed to take poison in the
basement room where he had been confined while Karale was questioned. Strange to think of that as
lucky, but the Oath Rod only worked on those who could channel, and they were too few to guard and
tend prisoners.

 It had been such a bright beginning, however fraught, and now they were at an impasse unless one of the
others returned to the Tower, back to searching for discrepancies between what sisters claimed to have
done and what it could be proven they actually had, something made harder by the inclination of most
sisters to be oblique in nearly everything. Of course, Talene and the other three would pass along
whatever they knew, whatever came into their hands-the oath of obedience took care of that-but any
message very much more important than "take this and put it in that place" would be in a cipher known
only to the woman who sent it and the woman it was directed to. Some were protected by a weave that
made the ink vanish if the wrong hand broke the seal; that could be done with so little of the Power it
might go unnoticed unless you were looking for it, and there appeared to be no way to circumvent the

 If they were not at an impasse, then their flow of success was reduced to a creeping trickle. And always
there was the danger that the hunted would learn of them and become the hunters. Invisible hunters, for
all practical purposes, just as they now seemed invisible prey.

 Still, they had four names plus four sisters in hand who would admit they were Darkfriends, though likely
Marris would be as quick as the other three to claim she now rejected the Shadow, repented of her sins,
and embraced the Light once more. Enough to convince anyone. Supposedly, the Black Ajah knew
everything that passed in Elaida's study, yet it might be worth the risk. Pevara refused to believe Talene's
claim that Elaida was a Darkfriend. After all, she had initiated the hunt. The Amyrlin Seat could rouse the
entire Tower. Perhaps a revelation that the Black Ajah truly existed might do what the appearance of the
rebels with an army had failed to, stop the Ajahs from hissing at one another like strange cats and bind 

them back together. The Tower's wounds called for desperate remedies.

 The serving women passed beyond earshot, and Pevara was about to bring up the suggestion when
Yukiri spoke again.

 "Last night, Talene received an order to appear tonight before their 'Supreme Council.'" Her mouth
twisted around the words in distaste. "It seems that happens only if you're being honored or given a very,
very important assignment. Or if you're to be put to the question." Her lips almost writhed. What they had
learned about the Black Ajah's means of putting someone to the question was as nauseating as it was

 Forcing a woman into a circle against her will? Guiding a circle to inflict pain? Pevara felt her stomach
writhing. "Talene doesn't think she's to be honored or given an assignment," Yukiri went on, "so she
begged to be hidden away. Saerin put her in a room in the lowest basement. Talene may be wrong, but I
agree with Saerin. Risking it would be letting a dog into the chicken yard and hoping for the best."

 Pevara stared up at the tapestry stretching well above their heads.

 Armored men swung swords and axes, stabbed spears and halberds at huge, man-like shapes with
boars' snouts and wolves' snouts, with goats' horns and rams' horns. The weaver had seen Trollocs. Or
accurate drawings. Men fought alongside the Trollocs, too. Darkfriends. Sometimes, fighting the Shadow
required spilling blood. And desperate remedies.

 "Let Talene go to this meeting," she said. "We'll all go. They won't expect us. We can kill or capture
them and decapitate the Black at a stroke. This Supreme Council must know the names of all of them.
We can destroy the whole Black Ajah."

 Lifting an edge of the fringe on Pevara's shawl with a slim hand, Yukiri frowned at it ostentatiously. "Yes,
red. I thought it might have turned green when I wasn't looking. There will be thirteen of them, you know.

 Even if some of this 'Council' are out of the Tower, the rest will bring in sisters to make up the number."

 "I know," Pevara replied impatiently. Talene had been a fount of information, most of it useless and much 

of it horrifying, almost more than they could take in. "We take everyone. We can order Zerah and the
others to fight alongside us, and even Talene and that lot. They'll do as they're told." In the beginning, she
had been uneasy about that oath of obedience, but over time you could become accustomed to anything.

 "So, nineteen of us against thirteen of them," Yukiri mused, sounding much too patient. Even the way she
adjusted her shawl radiated patience.

 "Plus whoever they have watching to make sure their meeting isn't disturbed. Thieves are always the
most careful of their purses." That had the irritating sound of an old saying. "Best to call the numbers even
at best, and probably favoring them. How many of us die in return for killing or capturing how many of
them? More importantly, how many of them escape? Remember, they meet hooded. If just one escapes,
then we won't know who she is, but she'll know us, and soon enough, the whole Black Ajah will know,
too. It sounds to me less like chopping off a chicken's head than like trying to wrestle a leopard in the

 Pevara opened her mouth, then closed it without speaking. Yukiri was right. She should have tallied the
numbers and reached the same conclusion herself. But she wanted to strike out, at something, at
anything, and small wonder. The head of her Ajah might be insane; she was tasked with arranging for
Reds, who by ancient custom bonded no one, to bond not just any men, but Asha'man; and the hunt for
Darkfriends in the Tower had reached a stone wall. Strike out? She wanted to bite holes through bricks.

 She thought their meeting was at an end-she had come only to learn how matters progressed with
Marris, and a bitter harvest that had turned out-but Yukiri touched her arm. "Walk with me awhile.
We've been here too long, and I want to ask you something." Nowadays, Sitters of different Ajahs
standing together too long made rumors of plots sprout like mushrooms after rain. For some reason,
talking while walking seemed to cause many fewer. It made no sense, but there it was.

 Yukiri took her time getting to her question. The floor tiles turned from green-and-blue to
yellow-and-brown as they walked along one of the main corridors that spiraled gently through the
Tower, down five floors without seeing anyone else, before she spoke. "Has the Red heard from anyone
who went with Toveine?"

 Pevara almost tripped over her own slippers. She should have expected it, though. Toveine would not
have been the only one to write from Cairhien. "From Toveine herself," she said, and told almost
everything that had been in Toveine's letter. Under the circumstances, there was nothing else she could
do. She did hold back the accusations against Elaida, and also how long ago the letter had arrived. The
one was still Ajah business, she hoped, while the other might require awkward explanations. 

 "We heard from Akoure Vayet." Yukiri walked a few paces in silence, then muttered, "Blood and
bloody ashes!"

 Pevara's eyebrows rose in shock. Yukiri was often earthy, but never vulgar before this. She noted that
the other woman had not said when Akoure's letter arrived, either. Had the Gray received other letters
from Cairhien, from sisters who had sworn to the Dragon Reborn? She could not ask. They trusted one
another with their lives in this hunt, and still, Ajah business was Ajah business. "What do you intend doing
with the information?"

 "We will keep silent for the good of the Tower. Only the Sitters and the head of our Ajah know.
Evanellein is for pulling Elaida down because of this, but that can't be allowed now. With the Tower to
mend and the Seanchan and Asha'man to be dealt with, perhaps never." She did not sound happy over

 Pevara stifled her irritation. She could not like Elaida, yet you did not have to like the Amyrlin Seat. Any
number of very unlikeable women had worn the stole and done well for the Tower. But could sending
fifty-one sisters into captivity be called doing well? Could Dumai's Wells, with four sisters dead and more
than twenty delivered into another sort of captivity, to a ta'veren? No matter. Elaida was Red-had been
Red-and far too long had passed since a Red gained the stole and staff. All the rash actions and
ill-considered decisions seemed things of the past since the rebels appeared, and saving the Tower from
the Black Ajah would redeem her failures.

 That was not how she put it, of course. "She began the hunt, Yukiri; she deserves to finish it. Light,
everything we've uncovered so far has come by chance, and we are at a full stop. We need the authority
of the Amyrlin Seat behind us if we're to get any further."

 "I don't know," the other woman said, wavering. "All four of them say the Black knows everything that
happens in Elaida's study." She bit at her lip and shrugged uncomfortably. "Perhaps if we can meet her
alone, away from her study-"

 "There you are. I've been looking everywhere."

 Pevara turned calmly at the sudden voice behind them, but Yukiri gave a start and muttered something
pungent almost under her breath. If she kept this up, she would be as bad as Doesine. Or Tsutama. 

 Seaine hurried down to them with the fringe of her shawl swinging and her thick black eyebrows rising in
surprise at Yukiri's glare. How like a White, logical in everything and often blind to the world around

 Half the time, Seaine seemed unaware they were in any danger at all.

 "You were looking for us?" Yukiri almost growled, planting her fists on her hips. Despite her diminutive
size, she gave a good impression of fierce looming. Doubtless part of that was for being startled, but she
still believed Seaine should be guarded closely for her own protection, no matter what Saerin had
decided, and here the woman was, out and about alone.

 "For you, for Saerin, for anyone," Seaine replied calmly. Her earlier fears, that the Black Ajah might
know what work Elaida had assigned her, were quite gone. Her blue eyes held warmth, yet otherwise
she was back to being the prototypical White, a woman of icy serenity. "I have urgent news," she said as
though it were anything but. "The lesser is this.

 This morning I saw a letter from Ayako Norsoni that arrived several days ago. From Cairhien. She and
Toveine and all the others have been captured by the Asha'man and...." Tilting her head to one side, she
studied them in turn. "You aren't surprised in the slightest. Of course.

 You've seen letters, too. Well, there's nothing to be done about it now, anyway."

 Pevara exchanged looks with Yukiri, then said, "This is the less urgent, Seaine?"

 The White Sitter's composure faded into worry, tightening her mouth and creasing the corners of her
eyes. Her hands tightened into fists gripping her shawl. "For us, it is. I've just come from answering a
summons to Elaida. She wanted to know how I was getting on." Seaine took a deep breath. "With
discovering proof that Alviarin entered a treasonous correspondence with the Dragon Reborn. Really,
she was so circumspect in the beginning, so indirect, it's no wonder I misunderstood what she wanted."

 "I think that fox is walking on my grave," Yukiri murmured. 

 Pevara nodded. The notion of approaching Elaida had vanished like summer dew. Their one assurance
that Elaida was not herself Black Ajah had been that she instigated the hunt for them, but since she had
done no such thing.... At least the Black Ajah remained in ignorance of them. At least they had that, still.
But for how much longer?

 "On mine, too," she said softly.

 Alviarin glided along the corridors of the lower Tower with an outward air of serenity that she held on to
hard. Night seemed to cling to the walls despite the mirrored stand-lamps, the ghosts of shadows dancing
where none should be. Imagination, surely, yet they danced on the edges of vision. The hallways were
very nearly empty, though the second sitting of supper had just ended. Most sisters preferred to have
food brought up to their rooms, these days, but the hardier and the more defiant ventured to the dining
halls from time to time, and a handful still took many of their meals below. She would not risk sisters
seeing her appear flustered or hurried; she refused to let them believe she was scuttling about furtively. In
truth, she disliked anyone looking at her at all. Outwardly calm, she seethed inside.

 Abruptly she realized that she was fingering the spot on her forehead where Shaidar Haran had touched
her. Where the Great Lord himself had marked her as his. Hysteria bubbled almost to the surface with
that thought, but she maintained a smooth face by sheer will and gathered her white silk skirts slightly.
That should keep her hands occupied. The Great Lord had marked her. Best not to think on that. But
how to avoid it? The Great Lord.... On the outside she displayed absolute composure, but within was a
swirling tangle of mortification and hatred and very near to gibbering terror. The external calm was what
mattered, though.

 And there was a seed of hope. That mattered, too. An odd thing to think of as hopeful, yet she would
hang on to anything that might keep her alive.

 Stopping in front of a tapestry that showed a woman wearing an elaborate crown kneeling to some
long-ago Amyrlin, she pretended to examine it while glancing quickly to left and right. Aside from her, the
corridor remained as barren of life as an abandoned tomb. Her hand darted behind the edge of the
tapestry, and in an instant she was walking on again, clutching a folded message. A miracle that it had
reached her so quickly. The paper seemed to burn her palm, but she could not read it here. At a
measured pace, she climbed reluctantly to the White Ajah quarters. Calm and unfazed by anything, on
the outside. The Great Lord had marked her. Other sisters were going to look at her.

 The White was the smallest of the Ajahs, and barely more than twenty of its sisters were in the Tower at
present, yet it seemed that nearly all of them were out in the main hallway. The walk along the plain white
floor tiles seemed like running a gauntlet. 

 Seaine and Ferane were heading out despite the hour, shawls draped along their arms, and Seaine gave
her a small smile of commiseration, which made her want to kill the Sitter, always thrusting her sharp nose
in where it was unwanted. Ferane held no sympathy. She scowled with more open fury than any sister
should have allowed herself to show. All Alviarin could do was try to ignore the copper-skinned woman
without being obvious. Short and stout, with her usually mild round face and an ink smudge on her nose,
Ferane was no one's image of a Domani, but the First Reasoner possessed a fierce Domani temper. She
was quite capable of handing down a penance for any slight, especially to a sister who had "disgraced"
both herself and the White.

 The Ajah felt keenly the shame of her having been stripped of the Keeper's stole. Most felt anger at the
loss of influence, as well. There were far too many glares, some from sisters who stood far enough below
her that they should leap to obey if she gave a command. Others deliberately turned their backs.

 She made her way through those frowns and snubs at a steady pace, unhurried, yet she felt her cheeks
beginning to heat. She tried to immerse herself in the soothing nature of the White quarters. The plain
white walls, lined with silvered stand-mirrors, held only a few simple tapestries, images of snowcapped
mountains, shady forests, stands of bamboo with sunlight slanting through them. Ever since attaining the
shawl she had used those images to help her find serenity in times of stress. The Great Lord had marked
her. She clutched her skirts in fists to hold her hands at her sides. The message seemed to burn her hand.
A steady, measured pace.

 Two of the sisters she passed ignored her simply because they did not see her. Astrelle and Tesan were
discussing food spoilage. Arguing, rather, faces smooth but eyes heated and voices on the brink of heat.

 They were arithmetists, of all things, as if logic could be reduced to numbers, and they seemed to be
disagreeing on how those numbers were used.

 "Calculating with Radun's Standard of Deviation, the rate is eleven times what it should be," Astrelle said
in tight tones. "Furthermore, this must indicate the intervention of the Shadow-"

 Tesan cut her off, beaded braids clicking as she shook her head. "The Shadow, yes, but Radun's
Standard, it is outdated. You must use Covanen's First Rule of Medians, and calculate separately for
rotting meat or rotten. The correct answers, as I said, are thirteen and nine. I have not yet applied it to
the flour or the beans and the lentils, but it seems intuitively obvious-" 

 Astrelle swelled up, and since she was a plump woman with a formidable bosom, she could swell
impressively. "Covanen's First Rule?" she practically spluttered, breaking in. "That hasn't been properly
proven yet. Correct and proven methods are always preferable to slipshod...."

 Alviarin very nearly smiled as she moved on. So someone had finally noticed that the Great Lord had
laid his hand on the Tower. But knowing would not help them change matters. Perhaps she had smiled,
but if so, she crushed it as someone spoke.

 "You'd grimace too, Ramesa, if you were being strapped every morning before breakfast," Norine said,
much too loudly and plainly meaning for Alviarin to hear. Ramesa, a tall slender woman with silver bells
sewn down the sleeves of her white-embroidered dress, looked startled at being addressed, and likely
she was. Norine had few friends, perhaps none. She went on, cutting her eyes toward Alviarin to see
whether she had noticed. "It is irrational to call a penance private and pretend nothing is happening when
the Amyrlin Seat has imposed it. But then, her rationality has always been overrated, in my opinion."

 Fortunately, Alviarin had only a short way further to reach her rooms.

 Carefully she closed the outer door and latched the latch. Not that anyone would disturb her, but she
had not survived by taking chances except where she had to. The lamps were lit, and a small fire burned
on the white marble hearth against the cool of an early spring evening. At least the servants still performed
their duties. But even the servants knew.

 Silent tears of humiliation began to stream down her cheeks. She wanted to kill Silviana, yet that would
only mean a new Mistress of Novices laying the strap across her every morning until Elaida relented.
Except that Elaida would never relent. Killing her would be more to the point, yet such killings had to be
carefully rationed. Too many unexpected deaths would cause questions, perhaps dangerous questions.

 Still, she had done what she could against Elaida. Katerine's news of this battle was spreading through
the Black Ajah, and beyond it already.

 She had overheard sisters who were not Black talking of Dumai's Wells in detail, and if the details had
grown in the telling, so much the better.

 Soon, the news from the Black Tower would have diffused through the White Tower, too, likely
expanding in the same way. A pity that neither would be sufficient to see Elaida disgraced and deposed, 

with those cursed rebels practically on the bridges, yet Dumai's Wells and the disaster in Andor hanging
over her head would keep her from undoing what Alviarin had done. Break the White Tower from
within, she had been ordered. Plant discord and chaos in every corner of the Tower. Part of her had felt
pain at that command, a part of her still did, yet her greater loyalty was to the Great Lord. Elaida herself
had made the first break in the Tower, but she had shattered half of it beyond mending.

 Abruptly she realized that she was touching her forehead again and snatched her hand down. There was
no mark there, nothing to feel or see.

 Every time she glanced into a mirror, she checked in spite of herself.

 And yet, sometimes she thought people were looking at her forehead, seeing something that escaped her
own eyes. That was impossible, irrational, yet the thought crept in no matter how often she chased it
away. Dashing tears from her face with the hand holding the message from the tapestry, she pulled the
other two she had retrieved out of her belt pouch and went to the writing table, standing against the wall.

 It was a plain table, and unadorned like all of her furnishings, some of which she suspected might be of
indifferent workmanship. A trivial matter; so long as furniture did what it was supposed to do, nothing
more mattered. Dropping the three messages on the table beside a small, beaten copper bowl, she
produced a key from her pouch, unlocked a brass-banded chest sitting on the floor beside the table, and
sorted through the small leatherbound books inside until she found the three she needed, each protected
so that the ink on the pages would vanish if any hand but hers touched them. There were far too many
ciphers in use for her to keep them in memory. Losing these books would be a painful trial, replacing
them arduous, hence the stout chest and the lock. A very good lock. Good locks were not trivialities.

 Quickly she stripped off the thin strips of paper wrapping the message recovered from behind the
tapestry, held them to a lamp flame and dropped them into the bowl to burn. They were only directions
as to where the message was to be left, one meant for each woman in the chain, the extra strips merely a
way of disguising how many links the message had to go through to reach its recipient. Too many
precautions were an impossibility. Even the sisters of her own heart believed her no more than they. Only
three on the Supreme Council knew who she was, and she would have avoided that had it been possible.
There could never be too many precautions, especially now.

 The message, once she worked it out, bending to write on another sheet, was much as she had expected
since the previous night when Talene failed to appear. The woman had left the Green quarters early
yesterday carrying fat saddlebags and a small chest. Not having a servant carry them; she had performed
the task herself. No one seemed to know where she had gone. The question was, had she panicked on
receiving her summons to the Supreme Council, or was there something more? Something more, Alviarin
decided. Talene had looked to Yukiri and Doesine as though seeking...guidance, perhaps. She was sure 

she had not imagined it.

 Could she have? A very small seed of hope. There must be something more.

 She needed a threat to the Black, or the Great Lord would withdraw his protection.

 Angrily, she pulled her hand away from her forehead.

 She never considered using the small ter'angreal she had hidden away to call Mesaana. For one thing,
one very important thing, the woman surely intended to kill her, very likely despite the Great Lord's

 On the instant, if that protection were lost. She had seen Mesaana's face, knew of her humiliation. No
woman would let that pass, especially not one of the Chosen. Every night she dreamed of killing
Mesaana, often daydreamed of how to manage it successfully, yet that must wait on finding her without
the woman knowing herself found. In the meanwhile, she needed more proof. It was possible that neither
Mesaana nor Shaidar Haran would see Talene as verification of anything. Sisters had panicked and run in
the past, if rarely, and assuming Mesaana and the Great Lord were ignorant of that would be dangerous.

 In turn she touched the ciphered message and the clear copy to the lamp flame and held each by a
corner until they had burned nearly to her fingers before dropping them atop the ashes in the bowl. With
a smooth black stone that she kept as a paperweight, she crushed the ashes and stirred them about. She
doubted that anyone could reconstitute words from ash, but even so....

 Still standing, she deciphered the other two messages and learned that Yukiri and Doesine both slept in
rooms warded against intrusion. That was unsurprising-hardly a sister in the Tower slept without warding
these days-but it meant kidnapping either would be difficult. That was always easiest when carried out in
the depths of the night by sisters of the woman's own Ajah. It might yet turn out those glances were
happenstance, or imagination. She needed to consider the possibility.

 With a sigh, she gathered more of the small books from the chest and gently eased herself onto the
goose-down cushion on the chair at the writing table. Not gently enough to stop a wince as her weight
settled, though. She barely stifled a whimper. At first, she had thought the humiliation of Silviana's strap
far worse than the pain, but the pain no longer really faded. Her bottom was a mass of bruises. And
tomorrow, the Mistress of Novices would add to them. And the day after that, and the day after.... A 

bleak vision of endless days howling under Silviana's strap, of fighting to meet the eyes of sisters who
knew all about the visits to Silviana's study.

 Trying to chase those thoughts away, she dipped a good steel-nibbed pen and began to write out
ciphered orders on thin sheets of paper. Talene must be found and brought back, of course. For
punishment and execution, if she had simply panicked, and if she had not, if she had somehow found a
way to betray her oaths.... Alviarin clung to that hope while she commanded a close watch put on Yukiri
and Doesine. A way had to be found to take them. And if they were caught up in chance and
imagination, something could still be manufactured from whatever they said. She would guide the flows in
the circle. Something could be made.

 She wrote furiously, unaware that her free hand had risen to her forehead, searching for the mark.

 Afternoon sunlight slanted through the tall trees on the ridge above the vast Shaido encampment,
dappling the air, and songbirds trilled on the branches overhead. Redbirds and bluejays flashed by,
slashes of color, and Galina smiled. Heavy rain had fallen in the morning, and the air still held a touch of
coolness beneath sparse, slowly drifting white clouds. Likely her gray mare, with its arched neck and
lively step, had been the property of a noblewoman, or at the least a wealthy merchant.

 No one else but a sister could have afforded such a fine animal. She enjoyed these rides on the horse
she had named Swift, because one day it would carry her swiftly to freedom; just as she enjoyed this time
alone to dwell on what she would do once she had her freedom. She had plans for repaying those who
had failed her, beginning with Elaida. Thinking about those plans, about their eventual fruition, was most

 At least, she enjoyed her rides so long as she managed to forget that the privilege was as much a mark
of how thoroughly Therava owned her as were the thick white silk robe she wore and her
firedrop-studded belt and collar. Her smile faded into a grimace. Adornments for a pet that was allowed
to amuse itself when not required to amuse its owner. And she could not remove those jeweled markers,
even out here. Someone might see. She rode here to get away from the Aiel, yet they could be
encountered in the forest, too. Therava might learn of it. Difficult as it was to admit to herself, she feared
the hawk-eyed Wise One to her bones. Therava filled her dreams, and they were never pleasant. Often
she woke sweat-soaked and weeping. Waking from those nightmares was always a relief, whether or not
she managed to get any sleep for the rest of the night.

 There was never any order against escape on these rides, an order she would have had to obey, and
that lack produced its own bitterness. 

 Therava knew she would return, no matter how she was mistreated, in the hope that some day the Wise
One might remove that cursed oath of obedience. She would be able to channel again, when and as she

 Sevanna sometimes made her channel to perform menial tasks, or just to demonstrate that she could
command it, but that occurred so seldom that she hungered for even that chance to embrace saidar.
Therava refused to let her so much as touch the Power unless she begged and groveled, but then refused
her permission to channel a thread. And she had groveled, abased herself completely, just to be granted
that scrap. She realized that she was grinding her teeth, and forced herself to stop.

 Perhaps the Oath Rod in the Tower could lift that oath from her as well as the nearly identical rod in
Therava's possession, yet she could not be sure. The two were not identical. It was only a difference in
marking, yet what if that indicated that an oath sworn on one was particular to that rod? She dared not
leave without Therava's rod. The Wise One often left it lying in the open in her tent, but you will never
pick that up, she had said.

 Oh, Galina could touch that wrist-thick white rod, stroke its smooth surface, yet however hard she
strained, she could not make her hand close on it. Not unless someone handed it to her. At least, she
hoped that would not count as picking the thing up. It had to be so. Just the thought that it might not be
filled her with bleakness. The yearning in her eyes when she gazed at the rod brought Therava's rare

 Does my little Lina want to be free of her oath? she would say mockingly. Then Lina must be a very
good pet, because the only way I will consider freeing you is for you to convince me that you will remain
my pet even then.

 A lifetime of being Therava's plaything and the target for her temper? A surrogate to be beaten whenever
Therava raged against Sevanna? Bleakness was not strong enough to describe her feelings on that.
Horror was more like it. She feared she might go mad if that happened. And equally, she feared there
might be no escape into madness.

 Mood thoroughly soured, she shaded her eyes to check the height of the sun. Therava had merely said
that she would like her back before dark, and a good two hours of daylight remained, but she sighed with
regret and immediately turned Swift downslope through the trees toward the camp. The Wise One
enjoyed finding ways to enforce obedience without direct commands. A thousand ways to make her
crawl. For safety, the woman's slightest suggestion must be taken as a command. Being a few minutes
late brought punishments that made Galina cringe at the memories. Cringe and heel the mare to a faster
pace through the trees. 

 Therava accepted no excuses.

 Abruptly an Aielman stepped out in front of her from behind a thick tree, a very tall man in cadin'sor with
his spears thrust through the harness that held his bowcase on his back and his veil hanging on his chest.
Without speaking, he seized her bridle.

 For an instant, she gaped at him, then drew herself up indignantly.

 "Fool!" she snapped. "You must know me by now. Release my horse, or Sevanna and Therava will take
turns removing your skin!"

 These Aiel usually showed little on their faces, yet she thought his green eyes widened slightly. And then
she screamed as he seized the front of her robe in a huge fist and jerked her from the saddle.

 "Be silent, gai'shain," he said, but as though he cared nothing for whether she obeyed.

 At one time she would have had to, but once they realized that she obeyed any order from anyone, there
had been too many who enjoyed sending her on foolish errands that kept her occupied when Therava or
Sevanna wanted her. Now, she need obey only certain Wise Ones and Sevanna, so she kicked and
flailed and screamed in desperate hope of attracting someone who knew she belonged to Therava. If
only she were allowed to carry a knife. Even that would have been a help. How could this man not
recognize her, or at least know what her jeweled belt and collar meant? The encampment was immense,
as filled with people as many large cities, yet it seemed that everyone could point out Therava's pet
wetlander. The woman would have this fellow skinned, and Galina meant to enjoy every minute of

 All too quickly it became apparent that a knife would have been no use at all. Despite her struggles, the
brute handled her easily, pulling her cowl down over her head, blinding her, then stuffing as much of it as
he could into her mouth before binding it there. Then he flipped her face down and bound her wrists and
ankles tightly. As easily as if she had been a child! She still thrashed, but it was wasted effort.

 "He wanted some gai'shain that aren't Aiel, Gaul, but a gai'shain in silk and jewels, and out riding?" a 

man said, and Therava stiffened.

 That was no Aielman. Those were the accents of Murandy! "Sure and that's none of your ways, is it?"

 "Shaido." The word was spat out like a curse.

 "Well, we still need to find a few more if he's to learn anything useful. Maybe more than a few. There are
tens of thousands of folks in white down there, and she could be anywhere among them."

 "I think maybe this one can tell Perrin Aybara what he needs to know, Fager Neald."

 If she had stiffened before, now she froze. Ice seemed to form in her stomach, and in her heart. Perrin
Aybara had sent these men? If he attacked the Shaido trying to rescue his wife, he would be killed,
destroying her leverage with Faile. The woman would not care what was revealed, with her man dead,
and the others had no secrets they feared having known. In horror, Galina saw her hopes of obtaining the
rod melting away. She had to stop him. But how?

 "And why would be you thinking that, Gaul?"

 "She is Aes Sedai. And a friend of Sevanna, it seems."

 "Is she, now?" the Murandian said in a thoughtful tone. "Is she that?"

 Strangely, neither man sounded the least uneasy over laying hands on an Aes Sedai. And the Aielman
apparently had done so fully aware of what she was. Even if he was a renegade Shaido, he had to be
ignorant of the fact that she could not channel without permission. Only Sevanna and a handful of the
Wise Ones knew that. This was all growing more confusing by the moment.

 Suddenly she was lifted into the air and laid on her belly. Across her own saddle, she realized, and the
next moment she was bouncing on the hard leather, one of the men using a hand to keep her from falling
as the mare began to trot. 

 "Let us go to where you can make us one of your holes, Fager Neald."

 "Just the other side of the slope, Gaul. Why, I've been here so often, I can make a gateway nearly
anywhere at all. Do you Aiel run everywhere?"

 A gateway? What was the man blathering about? Dismissing his nonsense, she considered her options,
and found none good. Bound like a lamb for market, gagged so she would not be heard ten paces away
if she shrieked her lungs out, her chances of escape were nonexistent unless some of the Shaido sentries
intercepted her captors. But did she want them to?

 Unless she reached Aybara, she had no way to stop him from ruining everything. On the other hand,
how many days off did his camp lie? He could not be very near, or the Shaido would have found him by
now. She knew scouts had been making sweeps as far as ten miles from the camp.

 However many days were required to reach him, it would take as many to return. Not merely minutes
late, but days late.

 Therava would not kill her for it. Just make her wish she were dead. She could explain. A tale of being
captured by brigands. No, just a pair; it was hard enough to believe two men had gotten this near the
encampment, much less a band of brigands. Unable to channel, she had needed time to escape. She
could make the tale convincing. It might persuade Therava.

 If she said.... It was useless. The first time Therava had punished her for being late, it had been because
her cinch broke and she had had to walk back leading her horse. The woman had not accepted that
excuse, and she would not accept being kidnapped, either. Galina wanted to weep. In fact, she realized
that she was weeping, hopeless tears she was helpless to stop.

 The horse halted, and before she could think, she convulsed wildly, trying to fling herself off the saddle,
screaming as loudly as her gag permitted. They had to be trying to avoid sentries. Surely Therava would
understand if the sentries returned with her and her captors, even if she was late. Surely she could find a
way to handle Faile even with her husband dead. 

 A hard hand smacked her rudely. "Be silent," the Aielman said, and they began to trot again.

 Her tears began again, too, and the silk cowl covering her face grew damp. Therava was going to make
her howl. But even while she wept, she began to work on what she would say to Aybara. At least she
could salvage her chances of obtaining the rod. Therava was going to.... No. No!

 She needed to concentrate on what she could do. Images of the cruel-eyed Wise One holding a switch
or a strap or binding cords reared in her mind, but every time she forced them down while she went over
every question Aybara might ask and what answers she would give him. On what she would say to make
him leave his wife's safety in her hands.

 In none of her calculations had she expected to be lifted down and stood upright no more than an hour
after being captured.

 "Unsaddle her horse, Noren, and picket it with the others," the Murandian said.

 "Right away, Master Neald," came a reply. In a Cairhienin accent.

 The bonds around her ankles fell away, a knife blade slid between her wrists, severing those cords, and
then whatever held her gag in place was untied. She spat out silk sodden with her own saliva and jerked
the cowl back.

 A short man in a dark coat was leading Swift away through a straggle of large, patched brown tents and
small, crude huts that seemed made from tree branches, including pine boughs with brown needles. How
long for pine to turn brown? Days, surely, perhaps weeks. The sixty or seventy men tending cookfires or
sitting on wooden stools looked like farmers in their rough coats, but some were sharpening swords, and
spears and halberds and other polearms stood stacked in a dozen places. Through the gaps between the
tents and huts, she could see more men moving about to either side, a number of them in helmets and
breastplates, mounted and carrying long, streamered lances. Soldiers, riding out on patrol. How many
more lay beyond her sight? No matter. What was in front of her eyes was impossible! The Shaido had
sentries further from their camp than this. She was certain they did!

 "If the face wasn't enough," Neald murmured, "that cool, calculating study would convince me. Like
she's examining worms under a rock she's turned over." A weedy fellow in a black coat, he knuckled his
waxed mustaches in an amused way, careful not to spoil the points. He wore a sword, but he certainly 

had no look of soldier or armsman about him.

 "Well, come along then, Aes Sedai," he said, clasping her upper arm.

 "Lord Perrin will be wanting to ask you some questions." She jerked free, and he calmly took a firmer
grip. "None of that, now."

 The huge Aielman, Gaul, took her other arm, and she could go with them or be dragged. She walked
with her head high, pretending they were merely an escort, but anyone who saw how they held her arms
would know differently. Staring straight ahead, she was still aware of armed farmboys-most were
young-staring at her. Not gaping in astonishment, just watching, considering. How could they be so
high-handed with an Aes Sedai? Some of the Wise Ones who were unaware of the oath holding her had
begun expressing doubt that she was Aes Sedai because she obeyed so readily and truckled so for
Therava, but these two knew what she was.

 And did not care. She suspected those farmers knew, too, and yet none displayed any surprise at how
she was being treated. It made the back of her neck prickle.

 As they approached a large red-and-white striped tent with the doorflaps tied back, she overheard
voices from inside.

 "...said he was ready to come right now," a man was saying.

 "I can't afford to feed one more mouth when I don't know for how long," another man replied. "Blood
and ashes! How long does it take to arrange a meeting with these people?"

 Gaul had to duck into the tent, but Galina strode in as though entering her own rooms in the Tower. A
prisoner she might be, yet she was Aes Sedai, and that simple fact was a powerful tool. And weapon.
Who was he trying to arrange a meeting with? Not Sevanna, surely. Let it be anyone but Sevanna.

 In stark contrast to the ramshackle camp outside, there was a good flowered carpet for a floor here, and
two silk hangings embroidered with flowers and birds in a Cairhienin fashion hung from the roof poles.
She focused on a tall, broad-shouldered man in his shirtsleeves with his back to her, leaning on his fists 

against a slender-legged table that was decorated with lines of gilding and covered with maps and sheets
of paper. She had only glimpsed Aybara at a distance in Cairhien, yet she was sure this was the farmboy
from Rand al'Thor's home village in spite of the silk shirt and well-polished boots. Even the turndowns
were polished. If nothing else, everyone in the tent seemed to be looking to him.

 As she walked into the tent, a tall woman in high-necked green silk with small touches of lace at her
throat and wrists, black hair falling in waves to her shoulders, laid a hand on Aybara's arm in a familiar
manner. Galina recognized her. "She seems cautious, Perrin," Berelain said.

 "Wary of a trap, in my estimation, Lord Perrin," put in a graying, hard-bitten man in an ornate breastplate
worn over a scarlet coat. A

 Ghealdanin, Galina thought. At least he and Berelain explained the presence of soldiers, if not how they
could be where they could not possibly be.

 Galina was very glad she had not encountered the woman in Cairhien. That would have made matters
now more than merely awkward. She wished her hands were free to wipe the residue of tears from her
face, but the two men held onto her arms firmly. There was nothing to be done about it.

 She was Aes Sedai. That was all that mattered. That was all she would allow to matter. She opened her
mouth to take command of the situation....

 Aybara suddenly looked over his shoulder at her, as though he had sensed her presence in some way,
and his golden eyes froze her tongue. She had dismissed tales that the man had a wolf's eyes, but he did.
A wolf's hard eyes in a stone-hard face. He made the Ghealdanin look almost soft.

 A sad face behind that close-cropped beard, as well. Over his wife, no doubt. She could make use of

 "An Aes Sedai wearing gai'shain white," he said flatly, turning to face her. He was a large man, if not
nearly so large as the Aielman, and he loomed just by standing there, those golden eyes taking in

 "And a prisoner, it seems. She didn't want to come?"

 "She thrashed like a trout on the riverbank while Gaul was tying her up, my Lord," Neald replied.
"Myself, I had nothing to do but stand and watch."

 A strange thing to say, and in such a significant tone. What could he have...? Abruptly she became
aware of another man in a black coat, a stocky, weathered fellow with a silver pin in the shape of a
sword fastened to his high collar. And she remembered where she had last seen men in black coats.
Leaping out of holes in the air just before everything turned to utter disaster at Dumai's Wells. Neald and
his holes, his gateways. These men could channel.

 It took everything she could summon not to try jerking free of the Murandian's clasp, not to edge away.
Just being this close to him made her stomach writhe. Being touched by him.... She wanted to whimper,
and that surprised her. Surely she was tougher than that! She concentrated on maintaining an appearance
of calm while trying to work moisture back into her suddenly dry mouth.

 "She claims friendship with Sevanna," Gaul added.

 "A friend of Sevanna," Aybara said, frowning. "But wearing a gai'shain robe. A silk robe, and jewels, but
still.... You didn't want to come, but you didn't channel to try stopping Gaul and Neald from bringing you.
And you're terrified." He shook his head. How did he know she was afraid?

 "I'm surprised to see an Aes Sedai with the Shaido after Dumai's Wells.

 Or don't you know about that? Let her go, let her go. I doubt she'll take off running since she let you
bring her this far."

 "Dumai's Wells does not matter," she said coldly as the men's hands fell away. The pair remained on
either side of her like guards, though, and she was proud of the steadiness of her voice. A man who
could channel.

 Two of them, and she was alone. Alone, and unable to channel a thread. 

 She stood straight, head erect. She was Aes Sedai, and they must see her every inch an Aes Sedai.
How could he know she was afraid? Not a shred of fear tinged her words. Her face might as well been
carved of stone for all she let show. "The White Tower has purposes none but Aes Sedai can know or
understand. I am about White Tower business, and you are interfering. An unwise choice for any man."
The Ghealdanin nodded ruefully, as though he had learned that lesson personally; Aybara merely looked
at her, expressionless.

 "Hearing your name was the only reason I didn't do something drastic to these two," she continued. If
the Murandian or the Aielmen brought up how long that had taken, she was ready to claim that she had
been stunned at first, but they held silent, and she spoke quickly and forcefully. "Your wife Faile is under
my protection, as well as Queen Alliandre, and when my business with Sevanna is done, I will take them
to safety with me and help them reach wherever they wish to go. In the meanwhile, however, your
presence here endangers my business, White Tower business, which I cannot allow. It also endangers
you, and your wife, and Alliandre. There are tens of thousands of Aiel in that camp.

 Many tens of thousands. If they descend on you, and their scouts will find you soon if they haven't
already, they will wipe all of you from the face of the earth. They may harm your wife and Alliandre for it,
as well. I may not be able to stop Sevanna. She is a harsh woman, and many of her Wise Ones can
channel, nearly four hundred of them, all willing to use the Power to do violence, while I am one Aes
Sedai, and constrained by my Oaths. If you wish to protect your wife and the Queen, turn away from
their camp and ride as hard as you can. They may not attack you if you are obviously retreating. That is
the only hope you or your wife have." There. If only a few of the seeds she had planted took root, they
should be enough to turn him back.

 "If Alliandre is in danger, Lord Perrin," the Ghealdanin began, but Aybara stopped him with a raised
hand. That was all it took. The soldier's jaw tightened till she thought she might hear it creak, yet he
remained silent.

 "You've seen Faile?" the young man said, excitement touching his voice.

 "She's well? She hasn't been harmed?" The fool seemed not to have a word she said beyond mention of
his wife.

 "Well, and under my protection, Lord Perrin." If this jumped-up country boy wanted to call himself a
lord, she would tolerate it for the moment. 

 "She and Alliandre, both." The soldier glowered at Aybara, but he did not take the opportunity to speak.
"You must listen to me. The Shaido will kill you-"

 "Come here and look at this," Aybara broke in, turning to the table and drawing a large page toward

 "You must forgive his lack of manners, Aes Sedai," Berelain murmured, handing her a worked silver cup
of dark wine. "He is under considerable strain, as you might understand in the circumstances. I haven't
introduced myself. I am Berelain, the First of Mayene."

 "I know. You may call me Alyse."

 The other woman smiled as though she knew that was a false name, yet accepting it. The First of
Mayene was far from unsophisticated. A pity she had to deal with the boy instead; sophisticated people
who thought they could dance with Aes Sedai were easily led. Country folk could prove stubborn out of
ignorance. But the fellow should know something of Aes Sedai by now. Perhaps ignoring him would give
him reason to think on who and what she was.

 The wine tasted like flowers on her tongue. "This is very good," she said with genuine gratitude. She had
not tasted decent wine for weeks.

 Therava would not permit her a pleasure the Wise One denied herself. If the woman learned that she
had found several barrels in Malden, she would not even have mediocre wine. And surely would be
beaten as well.

 "There are other sisters in the camp, Alyse Sedai. Masuri Sokawa and Seonid Traighan, and my own
advisor, Annoura Larisen. Would you like to speak to them after you finish with Perrin?"

 With feigned casualness, Galina drew up her cowl till her face was shadowed and took another swallow
of wine for time to think. Annoura's presence was understandable, given Berelain's, but what were the
other two doing there? They had been among those who fled the Tower after Siuan was deposed and
Elaida raised. True, none of them would know of her involvement in kidnapping the al'Thor boy for
Elaida, but still.... 

 "I think not," she murmured. "Their business is theirs, and mine is mine." She would have given a great
deal to know their business, but not at the cost of being recognized. Any friend of the Dragon Reborn
might have...notions...about a Red. "Help me convince Aybara, Berelain. Your Winged Guards are no
match for what the Shaido will send against them.

 Whatever Ghealdanin you have with you won't make a difference. An army will make no difference. The
Shaido are too many, and they have hundreds of Wise Ones ready to use the One Power as a weapon. I
have seen them do it. You may die, too, and even if you are captured, I can't promise I can make
Sevanna release you when I leave."

 Berelain laughed as though thousands of Shaido and hundreds of Wise Ones who could channel were of
no account. "Oh, have no fear they will find us. Their camp lies a good three-day ride from here, perhaps
four. The terrain turns rough not far from where we are."

 Three days, perhaps four. Galina shivered. She should have put it together before this. Three or four
days of ground covered in less than an hour. Through a hole in the air created with the male half of the
Power. She had been near enough for saidin to touch her. She kept her voice steady, though. "Even so,
you must help me convince him not to attack. It would be disastrous, for him, for his wife, for everyone
involved. Beyond that, what I am doing is important to the Tower. You have always been a strong
supporter of the Tower." Flattery, for the ruler of a single city and a few hides of land, but flattery oiled
the insignificant as well as it did the mighty.

 "Perrin is stubborn, Alyse Sedai. I doubt you'll change his mind. That isn't easy to do once he has it set."
For some reason, the young woman smiled a smile mysterious enough to credit a sister.

 "Berelain, could you have your talk later?" Aybara said impatiently, and it was not a suggestion. He
tapped the sheet of paper with a thick finger. "Alyse, would you look at this?" That was not a suggestion,
either. Who did the man think he was, ordering an Aes Sedai?

 Still, moving to the table took her a little way from Neald. It brought her nearer the other one, who was
studying her intently, but he was on the other side of the table. A feeble barrier, yet she could ignore him
by looking at the sheet of paper under Aybara's finger. Keeping her eyebrows from rising was difficult.
The town of Malden was outlined there, complete with the aqueduct that brought water from a lake five
miles away, and also a rough outline of the Shaido camp surrounding the city. The real surprise was that
markings seemed to indicate the arrival of septs since the Shaido reached Malden, and the number of
those meant his men had been observing the camp for some time. Another map, roughly sketched,
seemed to show the city itself in some detail. 

 "I see you have learned how large their camp is," she said. "You must know rescuing her is hopeless.
Even if you have a hundred of those men," speaking of them was not easy, and she could not entirely
keep the contempt from her voice, "it isn't enough. Those Wise Ones will fight back. Hundreds of them.
It would be a slaughter, thousands dead, your wife perhaps among them. I have told you, she and
Alliandre are under my protection. When my business is finished, I will take them to safety.

 You have heard me say it, so by the Three Oaths you know it is true.

 Don't make the mistake of thinking that your connection to Rand al'Thor will protect you if you interfere
in what the White Tower is doing. Yes, I know who you are. Did you think your wife wouldn't tell me?
She trusts me, and if you want to keep her safe, you must trust me, too."

 The idiot looked at her as though her words had flown over his head without touching his ears. Those
eyes were truly unsettling. "Where does she sleep? Her, and everyone else who was captured with her.
Show me."

 "I cannot," she replied levelly. "Gai'shain seldom sleep in the same place two nights running." With that lie
vanished the last chance that she could leave Faile and the others alive. Oh, she had never intended to
increase the risk of her own escape by aiding them, but that could always have been explained later by
some change in circumstances. She could not hazard the possibility that they might actually escape one
day and uncover her direct lie, however.

 "I will get her free," he growled, almost too softly for her to hear.

 "Whatever it takes."

 Her thoughts raced. There seemed no way to divert him from it, but perhaps she could delay him. She
had to do at least that. "Will you at least hold off your attack? I may be able to conclude my affairs in a
few more days, perhaps a week." A deadline should sharpen Faile's efforts. Before, it would have been
dangerous; a threat not carried out lost all force, and the chance had been too great that the woman might
be unable to get the rod in time. Now, the chance became necessary. "If I can do that, and bring your
wife and others out, there will be no reason for you to die needlessly. One week." 

 Frustration painting his face, Aybara thumped his fist on the table hard enough to make it bounce. "You
can have a few days," he growled, "maybe even a week or more, if-" He bit off whatever he had been
about to say.

 Those strange eyes centered on her face. "But I can't promise how many days," he went on. "If I had my
druthers, I'd be attacking now. I won't leave Faile a prisoner a day longer than I have to while I wait on
Aes Sedai schemes for the Shaido to bear fruit. You say she's under your protection, but how great a
protection can you really give, wearing that robe? There are signs of drunkenness in the camp. Even
some of their sentries drink. Are the Wise Ones given to it as well?"

 The sudden shift nearly made her blink. "The Wise Ones drink only water, so you needn't think you can
find them all in a stupor," she told him dryly. And quite truthfully. It always amused her when the truth
served her purposes. Not that the Wise Ones' example was bearing much fruit.

 Drunkenness was rife among the Shaido. Every raid brought back all the wine that could be found.
Dozens and dozens of small stills produced vile brews from grains, and every time the Wise Ones
destroyed a still, two sprang up in its place. Letting him know that would only encourage him, though.
"As for the others, I have been with armies before this and seen more drinking than I have among the
Shaido. If a hundred are drunk among tens of thousands, what gain is there for you? Really, it will be
better if you promise me a week. Two would be better still."

 His eyes flashed to the map, and his right hand made a fist again, but there was no anger in his voice.
"Do the Shaido go inside the town walls very often?"

 She set the winecup down on the table and drew herself up. Meeting that yellow-eyed gaze required
effort, yet she managed without a falter. "I think it's past time you showed proper respect. I am an Aes
Sedai, not a servant."

 "Do the Shaido go inside the town walls very often?" he repeated in exactly the same even tone. She
wanted to grind her teeth.

 "No," she snapped. "They've looted everything worth stealing and some things that aren't." She regretted
the words as soon as they left her tongue. They had seemed safe, until she remembered men who could
leap through holes in the air. "That isn't to say they never enter. Most days, a few go in. There might be
twenty or thirty at any time, more on occasion, in groups of two or three." Did he have the wit to see
what that would mean? Best to make sure he saw. "You could not secure them all. Inevitably, some will 

escape to warn the camp."

 Aybara only nodded. "When you see Faile, tell her that on the day she sees fog on the ridges and hears
wolves howl by daylight, she and the others must go to Lady Cairen's fortress at the north end of the city
and hide there. Tell her I love her. Tell her I'm coming for her."

 Wolves? Was the man demented? How could he ensure that wolves would...?

 Suddenly, with those wolf's eyes on her, she was not sure she wanted to know.

 "I will tell her," she lied. Perhaps he only meant to use the men in black coats to grab his wife? But why
wait at all, in that case? Those yellow eyes hid secrets she wished she knew. Who was he trying to meet?

 Clearly not Sevanna. She would have thanked the Light for that if she had not abandoned that
foolishness long since. Who was ready to come to him right away? One man had been mentioned, but
that might mean a king with an army. Or al'Thor himself? Him, she prayed never to see again.

 Her promise seemed to release something in the young man. He exhaled slowly, and a tension she had
not noticed left his face. "The trouble with a blacksmith's puzzle," he said softly, tapping the outline of
Malden, "is always getting the key piece into place. Well, that's done.

 Or soon will be."

 "Will you stay for supper?" Berelain asked. "The hour is near."

 The light was dimming in the open doorway. A lean serving woman in dark wool, her white hair in a bun
on the back of her head, entered and began lighting the lamps.

 "Will you promise me at least a week?" Galina demanded, but Aybara shook his head. "In that case,
every hour is important." She had never intended staying a moment longer than necessary, but she had to
force her next words out. "Will you have one of me back to as near the camp as 


 "Do it, Neald," Aybara commanded. "And at least try to be polite." He said that!

 She drew a deep breath and pushed her cowl back. "I want you to hit me, here." She touched her
cheek. "Hard enough to bruise."

 Finally she had said something that got through to the man. Those yellow eyes widened, and he tucked
his thumbs behind his belt as though securing his hands. "I will not," he said, sounding as though she were

 The Ghealdanin's mouth hung open, and the serving woman was staring at her, the burning taper in her
hand hanging dangerously near her skirts.

 "I require it," Galina said firmly. She would need every scrap of verisimilitude she could find with
Therava. "Do it!"

 "I don't believe he will," Berelain said, gliding forward with her skirts gathered. "He has very country
ways. If you will permit me?"

 Galina nodded impatiently. There was nothing for it, though the woman likely would not leave a very
convincing.... Her vision went dark, and when she could see again, she was swaying slightly. She could
taste blood. Her hand went to her cheek, and she winced.

 "Too hard?" Berelain inquired anxiously.

 "No," Galina mumbled, fighting to keep her face smooth. Had she been able to channel, she would have
torn the woman's head off! Of course, if she could have channeled, none of this would be necessary.
"Now, the other cheek. And have someone fetch my horse."

 She rode into the forest with the Murandian, to a place where several of the huge trees lay toppled and 

oddly slashed, sure it would be difficult for her to use his hole in the air, but when the man produced a
vertical silver-blue slash that widened into a view of steeply climbing land, she did not think of tainted
saidin at all as she heeled Swift through the opening. Never a thought except of Therava.

 She almost howled when she realized she was on the opposite side of the ridge from the encampment.
Frantically she raced the sinking sun. And lost.

 She had been right, unfortunately. Therava did not accept excuses. She was particularly upset over the
bruises. She herself never marred Galina's face. What followed easily equaled her nightmares. And it
lasted much longer. At times, when she was screaming her loudest, she almost forgot her desperate need
to get the rod. But she clung to that.

 Obtain the rod, kill Faile and her friends, and she would be free.

 Egwene regained awareness slowly, and muzzy as she was, barely had the presence of mind to keep her
eyes closed. Pretending still to be unconscious was all too easy. Her head lay slumped on a woman's
shoulder, and she could not have lifted it had she tried. An Aes Sedai's shoulder; she could sense the
woman's ability. Her brain felt stuffed with wool, her thoughts were slow and veering, her limbs all but

 Her wool riding dress and cloak were dry, she realized, despite the soaking she had received in the
river. Well, that was easily managed with the Power. Small chance they had channeled the water from
her garments for her comfort, though. She was seated, wedged in between two sisters, one of whom
wore a flowery perfume, each using a hand to keep her more or less upright. They were in a coach by
the way they all swayed and the clatter of a trotting team's horseshoes on paving stones.

 Carefully, she opened her eyes to narrow slits.

 The coach's side curtains were tied back, though the stink of rotting garbage made her think it would
have been better to pull them shut.

 Garbage, rotting! How could Tar Valon have come to that? Such neglect of the city was reason enough
by itself for Elaida to be removed. The windows let in enough moonlight for her to dimly make out three
Aes Sedai seated facing her, in the rear of the coach. Even had she not known they could channel, their
fringed shawls would have made it certain. In Tar Valon, wearing a shawl with fringe could result in 

unpleasantness for a woman who was not Aes Sedai. Oddly, the sister on the left appeared to be
huddling against the side of the coach, away from the other two, and if they were not exactly huddling, at
least they were sitting very close together, as though avoiding contact with the third Aes Sedai. Very odd.

 Abruptly it came to her that she was not shielded. Muddled she might be, but that made no sense at all.
They could feel her strength, as she could theirs, and while none was weak, she thought she could
overcome all five if she were quick enough. The True Source was a vast sun just beyond the edge of
sight, calling to her. The first question was, did she dare try yet? In the state her head was, thought
wading through knee-deep mud, whether she could actually embrace saidar was uncertain, and succeed
or fail, they would know once she tried. Best to try recovering a little beforehand. The second question
was, how long did she dare wait? They would not let her go unshielded forever.

 Experimentally, she tried wiggling her toes inside her stout leather shoes, and was delighted when they
moved obediently. Life seemed to be returning slowly to her arms and legs. She thought she might be
able to raise her head now, if unsteadily. Whatever they had given her was wearing off. How long?

 Events were taken out of her hands by the dark-haired sister sitting in the middle of the rear seat, who
leaned forward and slapped her so hard that she toppled onto the lap of the woman she had been leaning

 Her hand went to her stinging cheek on its own volition. So much for pretending unconsciousness.

 "There was no need for that, Katerine," a raspy voice said above her as its owner lifted her upright
again. She could hold her head up, just, it turned out. Katerine. That would be Katerine Alruddin, a Red.
It seemed important to identify her captors for some reason, though she knew nothing of Katerine
beyond her name and Ajah. The sister she had fallen onto was yellow-haired, but her moon-shadowed
face belonged to a stranger. "I think you gave her too much of the forkroot," the woman went on.

 A chill flashed through her. So that was what she had been fed! She racked her brain for everything
Nynaeve had told her about that vile tea, but her thoughts were still slow. Better, though, it seemed. She
was sure Nynaeve had said the effects took some time to go away completely.

 "I gave her the exact dose, Felaana," the sister who had slapped her replied dryly, "and as you can see,
it is leaving her precisely as it should. I want her able to walk by the time we reach the Tower. I certainly
don't intend to help carry her again," she finished with a glare for the sister seated to Egwene's left, who
shook her head, beaded braids clicking faintly. That was Pritalle Nerbaijan, a Yellow who had done her
best to avoid teaching novices or Accepted and made little secret of her dislike for the task when forced 

to it.

 "To have my Harril carry her, it would have been improper, yes?" she said coldly. In fact, icily. "Myself,
I will be glad if she can walk, but if not, so be it. In any case, I look forward to handing her over to
others. If you do not want to carry her again, Katerine, I do not want to stand guard over her half the
night in the cells." Katerine gave a dismissive toss of her head.

 The cells. Of course; she was bound for one of those small, dark rooms on the first level of the Tower's
basement. Elaida would charge her with falsely claiming to be the Amyrlin Seat. The penalty for that was

 Strangely, that brought no fear. Perhaps it was the herb working on her.

 Would Romanda or Lelaine give way, agreeing to raise Amyrlin after she was dead? Or would they
continue to struggle with one another until the entire rebellion faltered and failed, and the sisters straggled
back to Elaida? A sad thought, that. Bone-deep sad. But if she could feel sorrow, the forkroot was not
quenching her emotions, so why was she not afraid? She thumbed her Great Serpent ring. At least, she
tried to, and discovered it gone. Anger flared, white-hot. They might kill her, but they would not deny she
was Aes Sedai.

 "Who betrayed me?" she asked, pleased that her tone was even and cool.

 "It can't hurt to tell me, since I'm your prisoner." The sisters stared at her as though surprised she had a

 Katerine leaned forward casually, raising her hand. The Red's eyes tightened when pale-haired Felaana
lunged to catch the slap before it could land on Egwene.

 "She will no doubt be executed," the raspy-voiced woman said firmly, "but she is an initiate of the
Tower, and none of us has the right to beat her."

 "Take your hand off me, Brown," Katerine snarled, and shockingly, the light of saidar enveloped her. 

 In an instant the glow surrounded every woman in the coach except Egwene. They eyed one another like
strange cats on the brink of hissing, on the brink of lashing out with claws. No, not everyone; Katerine
and the taller sister seated against her flank never glanced at one another.

 But they had glares aplenty for the rest. What under the Light was going on? The mutual hostility was so
thick in the air, she could have sliced it like bread.

 After a moment, Felaana released Katerine's wrist and leaned back, yet no one released the Source.
Egwene suddenly suspected that no one was willing to be the first. Their faces were all serene in the pale
moonlight, but the Brown's hands were knotted in her shawl, and the sister leaning away from Katerine
was smoothing her skirts repeatedly.

 "About time for this, I think," Katerine said, weaving a shield. "We wouldn't want you to try
anything...futile." Her smile was vicious. Egwene merely sighed as the weave settled on her; she doubted
she could have embraced saidar yet in any case, and against five already full of the Power, success would
have lasted moments at most. Her mild reaction appeared to disappoint the Red. "This may be your last
night in the world," she went on. "It wouldn't surprise me in the slightest if Elaida had you stilled and
beheaded tomorrow."

 "Or even tonight," her lanky companion added, nodding. "I think Elaida may be that eager to see the end
of you." Unlike Katerine, she was merely stating a fact, but she was surely another Red. And watching
the other sisters, as though she suspected one of them might try something.

 This was very strange!

 Egwene held on to her composure, denying them the response they wanted.

 The response Katerine wanted, at least. She was determined to maintain her dignity right to the
headsman's block. Whether or not she had managed to do well as Amyrlin, she would die in a manner
fitting for the Amyrlin Seat.

 The woman huddling away from the two Reds spoke, and her voice, full of Arafel, allowed Egwene to
put a name to the hard, narrow face, dimly seen by moonlight. Berisha Terakuni, a Gray with a reputation 

for the strictest, and often harshest, interpretation of the law. Always to the letter, of course, but never
with any sense of mercy. "Not tonight or tomorrow, Barasine, not unless Elaida is willing to summon the
Sitters in the middle of the night, and they're willing to answer. This requires a High Court, no thing of
minutes or even hours, and the Hall seems less eager to please Elaida than she might wish, small wonder.
The girl will be tried, but the Hall will sit in the matter when they choose, I think."

 "The Hall will come when Elaida calls or she'll hand them all penances that will make them wish they
had," Katerine sneered. "The way Jala and Merym galloped off when we saw who we'd caught, she
knows by now, and I'll wager that for this one, Elaida will drag Sitters from their beds with her own
hands if she must." Her voice grew smug, and cutting at the same time. "Perhaps she will name you to the
Chair of Pardon. Would you enjoy that?"

 Berisha drew herself up indignantly, shifting her shawl on her arms. In some instances, the Chair of
Pardon faced the same penalty as the one she defended. Perhaps this charge required it; despite Siuan's
best efforts to complete her education, Egwene did not know.

 "What I want to hear," the Gray said after a moment, ostentatiously ignoring the women on the seat with
her, "is what did you do to the harbor chain? How can it be undone?"

 "It can't be undone," Egwene replied. "You must know that it's cuendillar, now. Even the Power won't
break it, only strengthen it. I suppose you could sell it if you tear down enough of the harbor wall to
remove it. If anyone can afford a piece of cuendillar that big. Or would want such a thing."

 This time, no one tried to stop Katerine from slapping her, and very hard, too. "Hold your tongue!" the
Red snapped.

 That seemed good advice unless she wanted to be slapped silly. She could taste blood in her mouth
already. So Egwene held her tongue, and silence descended on the rolling coach, the others all glowing
with saidar and watching each other suspiciously. It was incredible! Why had Elaida ever chosen women
who clearly detested one another for tonight's task? As a demonstration of her power, just because she
could? No matter. If Elaida allowed her to live through the night, at least she could let Siuan know what
had happened to her-and likely to Leane, as well. She could let Siuan know they had been betrayed.
And pray that Siuan could track down the betrayer. Pray that the rebellion would not collapse. She
offered a small prayer for that on the spot. It was much more important than the other.

 By the time the coachman reined in the team, she had recovered enough to follow Katerine and Pritalle
from the coach unaided, though her head still felt a trifle thick. She could stand, but she doubted she had 

the strength to run far, not that trying would achieve anything beyond being halted after a few steps. So
she stood calmly beside the dark-lacquered coach and waited as patiently as the four-horse team in their

 After all, she was harnessed, too, in a manner of speaking. The White Tower loomed over them, a thick
pale shaft rearing into the night. Few of its windows were alight, but some of those were near the very
top, perhaps in the rooms Elaida occupied. It was very strange. She was a prisoner and unlikely to live
much longer, yet she felt she had come home. The Tower seemed to renew her vigor.

 Two Tower-liveried backriders, the Flame of Tar Valon on their chests, had dismounted from the rear
of the coach to unfold the steps, and they stood offering a white-gloved hand to each woman who
dismounted, but only Berisha availed herself, and only because it let her reach the paving stones quickly
while eyeing the other sisters, Egwene suspected.

 Barasine gave the fellows such looks that one gulped audibly and the other's face grew pale. Felaana,
busy trying to watch the others, merely waved the men away irritably. All five still held saidar, even here.

 They were at the main rear entrance, stone-railed marble stairs descending from the second level
beneath four massive bronze lanterns that cast a wide pool of flickering light, and to her surprise, a single
novice stood alone at the foot of the stairs, clutching her white cloak against a slight chill in the air. She
had more than half-expected Elaida to meet them in person, to gloat over her capture with a retinue of
sycophants. That the novice was Nicola Treehill was a second surprise. The last place she would have
thought to find the runaway was inside the White Tower itself.

 By the way Nicola's eyes widened when Egwene emerged from the coach, the novice was more startled
than herself, but she dropped a neat if hasty curtsey to the sisters. "The Amyrlin says she...she is to be
handed over to the Mistress of Novices, Katerine Sedai. She says that Silviana Sedai has her

 "So, it seems you'll be birched tonight, at least," Katerine murmured with a smile. Egwene wondered
whether the woman hated her personally, or for what she represented, or simply hated everyone.
Birched. She had never seen it done, but she had heard a description. It sounded extremely painful. She
met Katerine's gaze levelly, and after a moment the smile faded. The woman looked about to strike her
again. The Aiel had a way of dealing with pain. They embraced it, gave themselves over to it without
fighting or even trying to hold back screams. Perhaps that would help. The Wise Ones said that way the
pain could be cast off without keeping its hold on you. 

 "If Elaida means to drag this out unnecessarily, I'll have no more part in it tonight," Felaana announced,
frowning at everyone in sight including Nicola. "If the girl is to be stilled and executed, that should be
sufficient." Gathering her skirts, the yellow-haired sister darted past Nicola up the stairs. Actually running!
The glow of saidar still surrounded her as she vanished inside.

 "I agree," Pritalle said coolly. "Harril, I think I'll walk with you while you stable Bloodlance." A dark,
stocky man, who had come out of the darkness leading a tall bay, bowed to her. Stone-faced, he wore a
Warder's chameleon cloak that made most of him seem not to be there when he stood still and rippled
with colors when he moved. Silently he followed Pritalle off into the night, but watching over his shoulder,
guarding Pritalle's back. The light remained around her, too. There was something here that Egwene was

 Suddenly, Nicola spread her skirts in another curtsy, deeper this time, and words burst out of her in a
rush. "I'm sorry I ran away, Mother. I thought they'd let me go faster here. Areina and I thought-"

 "Don't call her that!" Katerine barked, and a switch of Air caught the novice across the bottom hard
enough to make her squeal and jump. "If you're attending the Amyrlin Seat tonight, child, get back to her
and tell her I said her orders will be carried out. Now, run!"

 With one last, frantic glance at Egwene, Nicola gathered her cloak and her skirts and went scrambling
up the stairs so fast that twice she stumbled and nearly fell. Poor Nicola. Her hopes had surely been
disappointed, and if the Tower discovered her age.... She must have lied about that to betaken in; lying
was one of her several bad habits.

 Egwene dismissed the girl from her mind. Nicola was no longer her concern.

 "There was no need to frighten the child out of her wits," Berisha said, surprisingly. "Novices need to be
guided, not bludgeoned." A far cry from her views on the law.

 Katerine and Barasine rounded on the Gray together, staring at her intently. Only two cats, now, but
rather than another cat, they saw a mouse.

 "Do you mean to come with us to Silviana alone?" Katerine asked with a decidedly unpleasant smile
twisting her lips. 

 "Aren't you afraid, Gray?" Barasine said, a touch of mockery in her voice. For some reason, she swung
one arm a little so the long fringe of her shawl swayed. "Just the one of you, and two of us?"

 The two backriders stood like statues, like men who desired heartily to be anywhere else and hoped to
remain unnoticed if sufficiently still.

 Berisha was no taller than Egwene, but she drew herself up and clutched her shawl around her "Threats
are specifically prohibited by Tower-"

 "Did Barasine threaten you?" Katerine cut in softly. Softly, yet with sharp steel wrapped in it. "She just
asked whether you are afraid.

 Should you be?"

 Berisha licked her lips uneasily. Her face was bloodless, and her eyes grew wider and wider, as though
she saw things she had no wish to see.

 "I...I think I will take a walk in the grounds," she said at last, in a strangled voice, and sidled away
without ever taking her eyes from the two Reds. Katerine gave a small, satisfied laugh.

 This was absolute madness! Even sisters who hated one another to the toenails did not behave in this
fashion. No woman who gave in to fear as easily as Berisha had could ever have become Aes Sedai in
the first place. Something was wrong in the Tower. Very wrong.

 "Bring her," Katerine said, starting up the stairs.

 At last releasing saidar, Barasine gripped Egwene's arm tightly and followed. There was no choice save
to gather her divided skirts and go along without a struggle. Yet her spirits were oddly buoyant. 

 Entering the Tower truly did feel like returning home. The white walls with their friezes and tapestries, the
brightly colored floor tiles, seemed as familiar as her mother's kitchen. More so, in a way; it had been far
longer since she saw her mother's kitchen than these hallways.

 She took in the strength of home with every breath. But there was strangeness, too. The stand-lamps
were all alight, and the hour could not be all that late, yet she saw no one. There were always a few
sisters gliding along the corridors, even in the dead of night. She remembered that vividly, catching sight
of some sister while running on an errand in the small hours and despairing that she would ever be so
graceful, so queenly. Aes Sedai kept their own hours, and some Browns hardly liked being awake during
daylight at all. Night held fewer distractions from their studies, fewer interruptions to their reading.

 But there was no one. Neither Katerine nor Barasine made any comment as they walked along hallways
lifeless except for the three of them.

 Apparently this silent emptiness was a matter of course, now.

 As they reached pale stone stairs set in an alcove, another sister finally appeared, climbing from below.
A plump woman in a red-slashed riding dress, with a mouth that looked ready to smile, she wore her
shawl, edged with long red silk fringe, draped along her arms. Katerine and the others might well have
worn theirs to mark them out clearly at the docks-no one in Tar Valon would bother a woman wearing a
fringed shawl, and most kept clear, if they could, particularly men-but why here?

 The newcomer's thick black eyebrows raised over bright blue eyes at the sight of Egwene, and she
planted her fists on ample hips, letting her shawl slide to her elbows. Egwene did not think she had ever
seen the woman before, but apparently, the reverse was not true. "Why, that's the al'Vere girl. They sent
her to Southharbor? Elaida will give you a pretty for this night's work; yes, she will. But look at her. Look
at how she stands so. You'd think the pair of you were an honor guard for escort. I'd have thought she'd
be weeping and wailing for mercy."

 "I believe the herb is still dulling her senses," Katerine muttered with a sidelong scowl for Egwene. "She
doesn't seem to realize her situation." Barasine, still holding Egwene's arm, gave her a vigorous shake, but
after a small stagger she managed to catch her balance and kept her face smooth, ignoring the taller
woman's glares.

 "In shock," the plump Red said, nodding. She did not sound exactly sympathetic, but after Katerine, she
was near enough. "I've seen that before." 

 "How did matters go at Northharbor, Melare?" Barasine asked.

 "Not so well as with you, it seems. With everyone else squealing to themselves like shoats caught under
a fence over there being two of us, I was afraid we'd scare off who we were trying to catch. It's a good
thing there were two of us who would talk to one another. As it was, all we caught was a wilder, and not
before she turned half the harbor chain to cuendillar. We ended up near killing the coach-horses by
galloping back like, well, like we'd caught your prize. Zanica insisted. Even put her Warder up in place of
the coachman."

 "A wilder," Katerine said contemptuously.

 "Only half?" Relief stood out clearly in Barasine's voice. "Then Northharbor isn't blocked."

 Melare's eyebrows climbed again as the implications sank in. "We'll see how clear it is in the morning,"
she said slowly, "when they let down the half that's still iron. The rest of it stands out stiff like, well, like a
bar of cuendillar. Myself, I doubt any but smaller vessels will be able to cross." She shook her head with
a puzzled expression. "There was something strange, though. More than strange. We couldn't find the
wilder, at first. We couldn't feel her channeling. There was no glow around her, and we couldn't see her
weaves. The chain just started turning white. If Arebis's Warder hadn't spotted the boat, she might have
finished and gotten away."

 "Clever Leane," Egwene murmured. For an instant, she squeezed her eyes shut. Leane had prepared
everything in advance, before coming in sight of the harbor, all inverted and her ability masked. If she
herself had been as clever, she likely would have escaped cleanly. But then, hindsight always saw

 "That's the name she gave," Melare said, frowning. The woman's eyebrows, like dark caterpillars, were
very expressive. "Leane Sharif. Of the Green Ajah. Two very stupid lies. Desala is striping her from top
to bottom down there, but she won't budge. I had to come up for a breath. I never liked flogging, even
for one like that. Do you know this trick of hers, child? How to hide your weaves?"

 Oh, Light! They thought Leane was a wilder pretending to be Aes Sedai. 

 "She's telling the truth. Stilling cost her the ageless look and made her appear younger. She was Healed
by Nynaeve al'Meara, and since she was no longer of the Blue, she chose a new Ajah. Ask her questions
only Leane Sharif could know the answers-" Speech ended for her as a ball of Air filled her mouth,
forcing her jaws wide till they creaked.

 "We don't have to listen to this nonsense," Katerine growled.

 Melare stared into Egwene's eyes, though. "It sounds senseless, to be sure," she said after a moment,
"but I suppose it wouldn't hurt to ask a few questions besides, 'What is your name?' At worse, it'll cut the
tedium of the woman's answers. Shall we take her down to the cells, Katerine? I don't dare leave Desala
alone with the other one for long.

 She despises wilders, and she purely hates women who claim to be Aes Sedai."

 "She's not going to the cells, yet," Katerine replied. "Elaida wants her taken to Silviana."

 "Well, as long as I learn that trick from this child or the other one."

 Hitching her shawl up onto her shoulders, Melare took a deep breath and headed back down the stairs,
a woman with labor ahead of her she was not looking forward to. She gave Egwene hope for Leane,
though. Leane was "the other one," now, no longer "the wilder."

 Katerine set off down the corridor walking quickly, and in silence, but Barasine pushed Egwene ahead
of her after the other Red, muttering half under her breath about how ridiculous it was to think that a
sister could learn anything from a wilder, or from a jumped-up Accepted who told outlandish lies.
Maintaining some shreds of dignity was difficult, to say the least, while being shoved down a hallway by a
long-legged woman with your mouth gaping open as wide as it would go and drool leaking down your
chin, but she managed as best she could. In truth, she hardly thought about it. Melare had given her too
much to think on.

 Melare added to the sisters in the coach. It could hardly mean what it seemed to, but if it did....

 Soon the blue-and-white floor tiles became red-and-green, and they approached an unmarked wooden 

door between two tapestries of flowered trees and stout-beaked birds so colorful they seemed unlikely
to be real. Unmarked, but bright with polish and known to every initiate of the Tower. Katerine rapped
on the door with what might almost have been a display of diffidence, and when a strong voice inside
called, "Come," she drew a deep breath before pushing the door open. Did she have bad memories of
entering here as novice or Accepted, or was it the woman who awaited them who made her hesitant?

 The study of the Mistress of Novices was exactly as Egwene recalled, a small, dark-paneled room with
plain, sturdy furnishings. A narrow table by the doorway was lightly carved in a peculiar pattern, and bits
of gilt clung to the carved frame of the mirror on one wall, but nothing else was decorated in any way.
The stand-lamps and the pair of lamps on the writing table were unadorned brass, though of six different
patterns. The woman who held the office usually changed when a new Amyrlin was raised, yet Egwene
was ready to wager that a woman who had come to this room as a novice two hundred years ago would
recognize nearly every stick and perhaps everything.

 The current Mistress of Novices-in the Tower, at least-was on her feet when they entered, a stocky
woman nearly as tall as Barasine, with a dark bun on the back of her head and a square, determined
chin. There was an air of brooking no nonsense about Silviana Brehon. She was a Red, and her
charcoal-colored skirts had discreet red slashes, but her shawl lay draped across the back of the chair
behind the writing table. Her large eyes were unsettling, however. They seemed to take in everything
about Egwene in a glance, as though the woman not only knew every thought in her head, but also what
she would think tomorrow.

 "Leave her with me and wait outside," Silviana said in a low, firm voice.

 "Leave her?" Katerine said incredulously.

 "Which words did you not understand, Katerine? Need I repeat myself?"

 Apparently she did not. Katerine flushed, but she said no more. The glow of saidar surrounded Silviana,
and she took over the shield smoothly, without giving any opening when Egwene might have embraced
the Power herself. She was certain that she could, now. Except that Silviana was far from weak; there
was no hope she could break the woman's shield. The gag of Air disappeared at the same time, and she
contented herself with digging a handkerchief from her belt pouch and calmly wiping her chin.

 The pouch had been searched-she always kept the handkerchief on top, not beneath everything else-but
learning whether anything besides her ring had been taken would have to wait. There had not been
anything of much use to a prisoner in any case. A comb, a packet of needles, some small scissors, odds 

and ends. The Amyrlin's stole. What sort of dignity she could maintain while being birched was beyond
her, but that was the future; this was now.

 Silviana studied her, arms folded beneath her breasts, until the door closed behind the other two Reds.
"You aren't hysterical, at least," she said then. "That makes matters easier, but why aren't you hysterical?"

 "Would it do any good?" Egwene replied, returning the handkerchief to her pouch. "I can't see how."

 Silviana strode to the writing table and stood reading from a sheet of paper there, occasionally glancing
up. Her expression was a perfect mask of Aes Sedai serenity, unreadable. Egwene waited patiently,
hands folded at her waist. Even upside down she could recognize Elaida's distinctive hand on that page, if
not read what it said. The woman need not think she would grow nervous at waiting. Patience was one of
the few weapons left to her, at present.

 "It seems the Amyrlin has been mulling over what to do about you for some time," Silviana said finally. If
she had expected Egwene to begin shifting her feet or wringing her hands, she gave no sign of
disappointment. "She has a very complete plan ready. She doesn't want the Tower to lose you. Nor do I.
Elaida has decided that you have been used as a dupe by others and should not be held accountable. So
you will not be charged with claiming to be Amyrlin. She has stricken your name from the roll of the
Accepted and entered it in the novice book again. I agree with that decision, frankly, though it's never
been done before.

 Whatever your ability with the Power, you missed almost everything else you should have learned as a
novice. You needn't fear that you'll have to take the test again, though. I wouldn't force anyone to go
through that twice."

 "I am Aes Sedai by virtue of having been raised to the Amyrlin Seat,"

 Egwene replied calmly. There was no incongruity in fighting for a title when claiming it might still lead to
her death. Acquiescence would be as sharp a blow to the rebellion as her execution. Maybe sharper. A
novice again? That was laughable! "I can cite the relevant passages in the law, if you wish."

 Silviana arched an eyebrow and sat down to open a large leather bound book. The punishments book.
Dipping her pen in the simple glass ink jar, she made a notation. "You've just earned your first visit to me.
I'll give you the night to think about it rather than putting you over my knee now. Let's hope 

contemplation increases the salubrious effect."

 "Do you think you can make me deny who I am with a spanking?" Egwene was hard put to keep
incredulity from her voice. She was not sure she succeeded.

 "There are spankings and spankings," the other woman replied. Wiping the nib clean on a scrap, she
replaced the pen in its glass holder and considered Egwene. "You're accustomed to Sheriam Bayanar as
Mistress of Novices." Silviana shook her head disparagingly. "I've browsed her punishments book. She
let the girls get away with too much, and was far too lenient with her favorites. As a result, she was
forced to deal out correction much more often that she should have had to. I record a third of the
punishments in a month that Sheriam did, because I make sure that everyone I punish leaves here wishing
above all things never to be sent to me again."

 "Whatever you do, you'll never make me deny who I am," Egwene said firmly. "How can you possibly
think you can make this work? Am I to be escorted to classes, shielded all the while?"

 Silviana leaned back against her shawl, resting her hands on the edge of the table. "You mean to resist as
long as you can, do you?"

 "I will do what I must."

 "And I will do what I must. During the day, you will not be shielded at all. But every hour you will be
given a mild tincture of forkroot."

 Silviana's mouth twisted on the word. She picked up the sheet that contained Elaida's notes as if to read,
then let it drop back onto the tabletop, rubbing her fingertips as though something noxious clung to them.
"I cannot like the stuff. It seems aimed directly at Aes Sedai.

 Someone who cannot channel can drink five times the amount that makes a sister pass out and barely
grow dizzy from it. A disgusting brew. Yet useful, it seems. Perhaps it can be used on those Asha'man.
The tincture won't make you dizzy, but you won't be able to channel enough to cause any problems. Only
trickles. Refuse to drink, and it will be poured down your throat anyway. You'll be closely watched as
well, so you don't try to slip away afoot. At night, you will be shielded, since giving you enough forkroot
to make you sleep through the night would leave you doubled up with stomach cramps the next day. 

 "You are a novice, Egwene, and you will be a novice. Many sisters still consider you a runaway, no
matter what orders Siuan Sanche gave, and others doubtless will think Elaida wrong not to have you

 They'll watch for every infraction, every fault. You may sneer at a spanking now, before you've received
it, but when you're being sent to me for five, six, seven every day? We'll see how long it takes you to
change your mind."

 Egwene surprised herself by giving a small laugh, and Silviana's eyebrows shot up. Her hand twitched as
though to reach for her pen.

 "Did I say something funny, child?"

 "Not at all," Egwene replied truthfully. It had occurred to her that she could deal with the pain by
embracing it in the Aiel manner. She hoped it worked, but there went all hope for dignity. While she was
being punished, at least. For the rest, she could only do what she could.

 Silviana glanced at her pen, but finally stood without touching it.

 "Then I am done with you. For tonight. I will see you before breakfast, however. Come with me."

 She started for the door, confident that Egwene would follow, and Egwene did. Attacking the other
woman physically would achieve no more than another entry in the book. Forkroot. Well, she would find
a way around that somehow. If not.... She refused to think about that.

 Katerine and Barasine were startled to say the least at hearing Elaida's plans for Egwene, and not best
pleased to learn that they would be watching her and shielding her while she slept, although Silviana told
them she would arrange for other sisters to come after an hour or two.

 "Why both of us?" Katerine wanted to know, which earned her a wry glance from Barasine. If only one
were sent, it surely would not be Katerine, who stood higher. 

 "Firstly, because I said so." Silviana waited until the other two Reds nodded in acceptance. They did so
with obvious reluctance, but not enough to make her wait long. She had not put on her shawl to come
into the hallway, and in some odd fashion, she seemed the one out of place.

 "And secondly, because this child is tricky, I think. I want her watched carefully awake or asleep. Which
of you has her ring?"

 After a moment, Barasine produced the circle of gold from her belt pouch, muttering, "I only thought to
keep it as a memento. Of the rebels being brought to heel. They're finished, now, for sure." A memento?
It was stealing was what it was!

 Egwene reached for the ring, but Silviana's hand got there first, and it was into her pouch that the ring
went. "I'll keep this until you have the right to wear it again, child. Now take her to the novice quarters
and settle her in. A room should have been prepared by now."

 Katerine resumed the shield, and Barasine reached for Egwene's arm again, but Egwene stretched out a
hand toward Silviana. "Wait. There's something I must tell you." She had agonized over this. It would be
all too easy to reveal far more than she wanted. But she had to do it. "I have the Talent of Dreaming. I've
learned to tell the true dreams, and to interpret some of them. I dreamt of a glass lamp that burned with a
white flame. Two ravens flew out of mist, struck the lamp, and flew on.

 The lamp wobbled, flinging off droplets of flaming oil. Some of those burned up in midair, other landed
scattered about, and the lamp still wobbled on the edge of falling. It means the Seanchan will attack the
White Tower and do great harm."

 Barasine sniffed. Katerine gave a derisive snort.

 "A Dreamer," Silviana said flatly. "Is there anyone who can back up your claim? And if there is, how can
be sure your dream means the Seanchan?

 Ravens would indicate the Shadow, to me." 

 "I'm a Dreamer, and when a Dreamer knows, she knows. Not the Shadow. The Seanchan. As for who
knows what I can do...." Egwene shrugged. "The only one you can reach is Leane Sharif, who's being
held in the cells below."

 She saw no way to bring the Wise Ones into this, not without revealing entirely too much.

 "That woman is a wilder, not B," Katerine began angrily, but her mouth snapped shut when Silviana
raised a peremptory hand.

 The Mistress of Novices studied Egwene carefully, her face still an unreadable mask of calmness. "You
truly believe you are what you say," she said finally. "I do hope your Dreaming won't cause as many
problems as young Nicola's Foretelling. If you truly can Dream. Well, I will pass along your warning. I
can't see how the Seanchan could strike at us here in Tar Valon, but watchfulness never hurts. And I'll
question this woman being held below. Carefully. And if she fails to back up your tale, then your visit to
me in the morning will be even more memorable for you."

 She waved her hand at Katerine. "Take her away before she hands me another nugget and keeps me
from getting any sleep at all tonight."

 This time, Katerine muttered as much as Barasine. But they both waited until they were beyond earshot
of Silviana. That woman was going to be a formidable opponent. Egwene hoped embracing pain worked
as well as the Wise Ones claimed. Otherwise.... Otherwise did not bear thinking about.

 A lean, gray-haired serving woman gave them directions to the room she had just finished making up, on
the third gallery of the novice quarters, and hurried on after brief curtsies to the two Reds. She never so
much as glanced at Egwene. What was another novice to her? It tightened Egwene's jaw. She was going
to have to make people not see her as just another novice.

 "Look at her face," Barasine said. "I think it's finally settling in on her."

 "I am who I am," Egwene replied calmly. Barasine pushed her toward the stairs that rose through the
hollow column of railed galleries, lit by the fat, waning moon. A breeze sighed through, the only sound. It
all seemed so peaceful. There was no light showing around any door. The novices would be asleep by 

now, except for those who had late chores or tasks. It was peaceful for them. Not for Egwene, though.

 The tiny, windowless room might almost have been the one she had occupied when she first came to the
Tower, with its narrow bed built against the wall and a small fire burning on the little brick hearth.

 The lamp on the small table was lit, but it lighted little more than the tabletop, and the oil must have gone
bad, because it gave off a faint, unpleasant stink. A washstand completed the furnishings, except for a
three-legged stool, onto which Katerine promptly lowered herself, adjusting her skirts as through on a
throne. Realizing there was nowhere for her to sit, Barasine crossed her arms beneath her breasts and
frowned at Egwene.

 The room was quite crowded with three women in it, but Egwene pretended the other two did not exist
as she readied herself for bed, hanging her cloak and belt and dress on three of the pegs set along one
rough-plastered white wall. She did not ask for help with her buttons.

 By the time she laid her neatly rolled stockings atop her shoes, Barasine had settled herself cross-legged
on the floor and was immersed in a small, leatherbound book that she must have carried in her belt
pouch. Katerine kept her eyes on Egwene as though she expected her to make a break for the door.

 Crawling beneath the light woolen blanket in her shift, Egwene settled her head on the small pillow-not a
goose-down pillow, that was for sure!-and went through the exercises, relaxing her body one part at a
time, that would put her to sleep. She had done that so often that it seemed no sooner had she begun,
than she was asleep...

 ...and floating, formless, in a darkness that lay between the waking world and Tel'aran'rhiod, the narrow
gap between dream and reality, a vast void filled with a myriad of twinkling specks of light that were all
the dreams of all the sleepers in the world. They floated around her, in this place with no up or down, as
far as the eye could see, flickering out as a dream ended, springing alight as one began. She could
recognize some at sight, put a name to the dreamer, but she did not see the one she sought.

 It was to Siuan she needed to speak, Siuan who likely knew by now that disaster had struck, who might
be unable to sleep until exhaustion took her under. She settled herself to wait. There was no sense of time
here; she would not grow bored with waiting. But she had to work out what to say. So much had
changed since she wakened. She had learned so much. 

 Then, she had been sure she would die soon, sure the sisters inside the Tower were a solid army behind
Elaida. Now.... Elaida thought her safely imprisoned. No matter this talk of making her a novice again;
even if Elaida really believed it, Egwene al'Vere did not. She did not consider herself a prisoner, either.
She was carrying the battle into the heart of the Tower itself. If she had had lips there, she would have


 When Last Sounds 

The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend
fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again. In one Age,
called the Third Age by some, an Age yet to come, an Age long past, a wind rose above the broken
mountain named Dragonmount. The wind was not the beginning. There are neither beginnings nor endings
to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But it was a beginning.

 Born beneath the glow of a fat, sinking moon, at an altitude where men could not breathe, born among
writhing currents heated by the fires inside the ragged peak, the wind was a zephyr in the beginning, yet it
gained in strength as it rushed down the steep, rugged slope. Carrying ash and the stench of burning sulfur
from the heights, the wind roared across the sudden, snowy hills that reared from the plain surrounding
the impossible height of Dragonmount, roared and tossed trees in the night.

 Eastward out of the hills the wind howled, across a large pasture encampment, a considerable village of
tents and wooden walkways lining streets of frozen ruts. Soon enough the ruts would melt and the last of
the snow vanish, replaced by spring rains and mud. If the encampment remained that long. Despite the
hour, many among the AesSedai were awake, gathered in small groups warded against eavesdropping,
discussing what had transpired this night. No few of those discussions were quite animated, little short of
argument, and some held undeniable heat. Fists might have been shaken or worse had they not belonged
to Aes Sedai. What to do next was the question. Every sister knew the news from the riverbank by now,
if the details remained sketchy. The Amyrlin herself had gone in secret to seal Northharbor, and her boat
had been found overturned and caught in the reeds. Survival in the swift, icy currents of the Erinin was
unlikely, and hour by hour it had become more so, until certainty hardened. The Amyrlin Seat was dead.
Every sister in the camp knew that her future and perhaps her life hung by a thread, not to mention the
future of the White Tower itself. What to do now? Yet voices fell silent and heads came up as the fierce
blast struck the camp, fluttering tent canvas like flags, pelting it with clods of snow. The sudden stink of
burning sulphur hung heavy in the air, announcing where that wind had come from, and more than one
Aes Sedai offered a silent prayer against evil. In moments, though, the wind had passed, and the sisters
bent back to their deliberations on a future bleak enough to fit the sharp, fading stench left behind. 

 On the wind roared toward Tar Valon, gaining strength as it went, shrieking over military camps near the
river where soldiers and camp followers sleeping on the ground suddenly had their blankets stripped off
and those in tents awoke to canvas jerking and sometimes whipping away into the darkness as tent pegs
gave way or guy ropes snapped. Laden wagons rocked and toppled, and banners stood out stiff before
they were uprooted, their hurtling staffs now spears that pierced whatever lay in their path. Leaning
against the gale, men struggled to the horselines to calm animals that reared and screamed in fear. None
knew what the Aes Sedai knew, yet the biting, sulphurous smell that filled the chill night air seemed an ill
omen, and hardened men offered their prayers aloud as fervently as the beardless boys. Camp followers
added their own, and loudly, armorers and farriers and fletchers, wives and laundresses and
seamstresses, all clutched by the sudden fear that something darker than blackness stalked the night.

 The fierce flutter of canvas overhead, near to ripping, the babble of voices and the screams of horses,
loud enough to cut through the wailing wind, helped Siuan Sanche struggle awake for the second time.

 The abrupt stink of burning sulphur made her eyes water, and she was grateful for it. Egwene might be
able to don and doff sleep like a pair of stockings, but the same was not true for her. Sleep had been
hard enough to come by after she finally made herself lie down. Once the news had reached her from the
riverbank, she had been sure she never would sleep short of utter exhaustion. She had offered prayers
for Leane, but all of their hopes rested on Egwene's shoulders, and all of their hopes seemed gutted and
hung up to dry. Well, she had exhausted herself with nerves and worry and pacing. Now there was hope
again, and she did not dare let her leaden eyelids close for fear she would sink back into slumber and not
wake till midday, if then. The ferocious wind abated, but people's shouts and horses' cries did not.

 Wearily, she tossed aside her blankets and stood up unsteadily. Her bedding was hardly comfortable,
laid out on the canvas ground-cloth in a corner of the not-very-large square tent, yet she had come here,
though it meant riding. Of course, she had been near falling down by then, and likely not in her right mind
from grief. She touched the twisted ring ter'angreal hanging from a leather cord around her neck. Her first
waking, every bit as hard as this one, had been to fetch that from her belt pouch. Well, the grief was
vanquished now, and that was adequate to keep her moving. A sudden yawn made her jaws creak like
rusty oarlocks. Barely adequate. You would have thought Egwene's message, the fact that Egwene was
alive to send a message, would be enough to banish bone-weariness. Not so, it appeared.

 Channeling a globe of light long enough to see the box-lantern on the main tent pole, she lit it with a
thread of Fire. The single flame gave a very pale, flickering illumination. There were other lamps and
lanterns, but Gareth went on so about how little lamp oil there was in stock. The brazier, she left unlit;
Gareth was not so parsimonious with charcoal as oil-charcoal was easier to come by-but she was barely
aware of the frigid air. She frowned at his bedding, still lying untouched on the other side of the tent. He
surely was aware of the boat's discovery and who it had carried. The sisters did their best to keep
secrets from him, but somehow, they succeeded less often than most believed. More than once he had
startled her with what he knew. Was he out there in the night organizing his soldiers for whatever the Hall
decided? Or had he already departed, leaving a lost cause? No longer lost, yet he must be unaware of

 "No," she muttered, feeling an odd sense of. . . treachery . . . that she had cast doubt on the man, even in
her own mind. He would still be there at sunrise, and for every sunrise until the Hall commanded him to
leave. Maybe longer. She did not believe he would abandon Egwene whatever the Hall commanded. He
was too stubborn, proud. No; it was not that. Gareth Bryne's word was his honor. Once given, he would
not take it back unless released, whatever the cost to himself. And maybe, just maybe, he had other
reasons to stay. She refused to think of that.

 Putting Gareth out of her mind-why had she come to his tent? It would have been so much easier to lie
down in her own in the sisters' camp, cramped as it was, or even to have kept the weeping Chesa
company, though on second thought, that last might have been beyond her. She could not abide weeping,
and Egwene's maid would not stop- putting Gareth firmly out of her head, she ran a hasty brush through
her hair, changed her shift for a fresh one, and dressed as quickly as she could in the dim light. Her plain
blue wool riding dress was rumpled, and spotted with mud on the hem besides-she had gone down to
see the boat for herself-but she did not take the time to clean and press it with the Power. She had to

 The tent was far from the spacious affair you would have expected of a general, so hurrying meant
bumping her hip against a corner of the writing table hard enough that one of the legs almost folded
before she could catch it, nearly tripping over the camp stool, the only thing approaching a chair, and
barking her shins on the brass-bound chests that lay scattered about. That brought a curse that would
have singed any listener's ears. The things served double duty, seats as well as storage, and one with a
flat top did for a makeshift washstand with a white pitcher and bowl. In truth, they were arrayed in a neat
enough fashion, but one peculiar to him. He could find his way through that maze in pitch dark. Anyone
else would break a leg trying to reach his bedding. She supposed he must have a concern for assassins,
though he had never voiced it.

 Gathering her dark cloak from atop one of the chests and folding it over her arm, she paused on the
point of snuffing the lantern with a flow of Air. For a moment she stared at Gareth's second pair of boots,
standing at the foot of his bedding. Channeling another small sphere of light, she moved it close to the
boots. As she had thought. Freshly blacked. The bloody man insisted she work off her debt, then
sneaked in behind her back-or worse, under her nose while she slept-and blacked his own bloody
boots! Gareth bloody Bryne treated her like a maidservant, never so much as tried to kiss her . . . !

 She jerked upright, her mouth going taut as a mooring rope. Now where had that thought come from?
No matter what Egwene claimed, she was not in love with Gareth bloody Bryne! She was not! She had
too much work in front of her to get caught in that kind of foolishness. That's why you stopped wearing
embroidery, I suppose, a small voice whispered in the back of her head. All those pretty things, stuffed
into chests because you're afraid. Afraid? Burn her if she was afraid of him or any man! 

 Carefully channeling Earth, Fire and Air just so, she laid the weave on the boots. Every last bit of the
blacking, and most of the dye as well, came away and formed into a neat, glistening sphere that floated in
the air, leaving the leather decidedly gray. For a moment she contemplated depositing the ball among his
blankets. That would be a suitable surprise for him when he finally lay down!

 With a sigh, she pushed open the doorflap and took the ball outside into the darkness to let it splash
onto the ground. The man had a short and extremely disrespectful way when she let her temper carry her
too far, as she had discovered the first time she hit him over the head with the boots she was cleaning.
And when he made her so angry she put salt in his tea. Quite a lot of salt, but it had not been her fault he
was hurried enough to drain the cup in a gulp. To try to, at any rate. Oh, he never seemed to mind when
she shouted, and sometimes he shouted back-sometimes he just smiled, which was purely infuriating!-yet
he had his limits. She could have stopped him with a simple weave of Air, of course, but she had her
honor as much as he had his, burn him! Anyway, she had to stay close to him. Min said so, and the girl
seemed infallible. That was the only reason she had not stuffed a fistful of gold down Gareth Bryne's
throat and told him he was paid and be burned. The only reason! Besides her own honor, of course.

 Yawning, she left the dark puddle shining in the cold moonlight. If he stepped in it before it dried and
tracked the mess inside, the blame would be his own and none of hers. At least the sulphur smell had
faded a little. Her eyes had stopped overflowing, though what she could see was turmoil.

 This sprawling, night-shrouded camp had never had much order. The rutted streets were straight
enough, true, and wide for moving soldiers, but for the rest it had always seemed a haphazard array of
tents and rough shelters and stone-lined pits for cook fires. Now, it looked much as if it had been under
attack. Collapsed tents lay everywhere, some tossed atop others that still stood, though a good many of
those stood askew, and dozens of wagons and carts lay on their sides or upside down. Voices on every
side called for help with the injured, of whom there appeared to be a fair number. Men limped along the
street in front of Gareth's tent supported by other men, while several small groups hurried by carrying
blankets being used as stretchers. Farther away she could see four blanket-covered shapes on the
ground, three attended by kneeling women who rocked back and forth as they keened.

 She could do nothing for the dead, but she could offer her ability with Healing to the others. That was
hardly her greatest skill, not very strong at all, though it seemed to have returned to her fully when
Ny-naeve Healed her, yet she doubted there was another sister anywhere in the camp. They did avoid
the soldiers, most of them. Her ability would be better than none. She could, except for the news she
carried. It was urgent that it reach the right people as soon as possible. So she closed her ears to the
groans and the keens alike, ignored dangling arms and rags clutched to bleeding heads, and hurried to the
horselines on the edge of the camp, where the oddly sweet smell of horse dung was beginning to win
over the sulphur. A rawboned, unshaven fellow with a haggard glare on his dark face tried to rush past
her, but she caught his rough coatsleeve.

 "Saddle me the mildest horse you can find," she told him, "and do it right now." Bela would have done 

nicely, but she had no notion where among all those animals the stout mare was tied and no intention of
waiting for her to be found.

 "You want to go riding?" he said incredulously, jerking his sleeve free. "If you own a horse, then saddle it
yourself, if you're fool enough to. Me, I've the rest of the night ahead of me in the cold tending the ones
what's hurt themselves, and lucky if at least one don't die."

 Siuan ground her teeth. The imbecile took her for one of the seamstresses. Or one of the wives! For
some reason, that seemed worse. She stuck her right fist in front of his face so quickly that he stepped
back with a curse, but she shoved her hand close enough to his nose that her Great Serpent ring had to
be only thing he could see. His eyes crossed, staring at it. "The mildest mount you can find," she said in a
flat voice. "But quickly."

 The ring did the trick. He swallowed, then scratched his head and stared along the horselines, where
every animal seemed be either stamping or shivering. "Mild," he muttered. "I'll see what I can do, Aes
Sedai. Mild." Touching a knuckle to his forehead, he hurried off down the rows of horses still muttering
to himself.

 Siuan did a little muttering herself as she paced, three strides this way and three that. Snow trampled to
slush and frozen again crunched under her stout shoes. From what she could see, it might take him hours
to find anything that would not pitch her off if it heard a grunter jump. Swinging her cloak around her
shoulders, she shoved the small silver circle pin in place with an impatient jab, nearly stabbing her own
thumb. Afraid, was she? She would show Gareth bloody, bloody Bryne! Back and forth, back and forth.
Perhaps she should walk the whole long way. It would be unpleasant, but better than being dumped from
the saddle and maybe breaking bones in the bargain. She never mounted a horse, including Bela, without
thinking of broken bones. But the fellow returned with a dark mare bearing a high-cantled saddle.

 "She's mild?" Siuan demanded skeptically. The animal was stepping as though ready to dance, and
looked sleek. That was supposed to indicate speed.

 "Nightlily here's meek as milk-water, Aes Sedai. Belongs to my wife, and Nemaris is on the delicate
side. She don't like a mount what gets frisky."

 "If you say so," she replied, and sniffed. Horses were seldom meek in her experience. But there was
nothing for it. 

 Taking the reins, she clambered awkwardly into the saddle, then had to shift so she was not sitting on
her cloak and half-strangling herself every time she moved. The mare did dance, however she sawed the
reins. She had been sure it would. Trying to break her bones already. A boat now-with one oar or two, a
boat went where you wanted and stopped when you wanted, unless you were a complete fool about
tides and currents and winds. But horses possessed brains, however small, and that meant they might
take it into their minds to ignore bridle and reins and what the rider wanted. That had to be considered
when you had to straddle a bloody horse.

 "One thing, Aes Sedai," the man said as she was trying to find a comfortable seat. Why did saddles
always seem harder than wood? "I'd keep her to a walk tonight, was I you. That wind, you know, and all
that stink, well, she might be just a touch-"

 "No time," Siuan said, and dug her heels in. Meek-as-milk-water Nightlily leaped ahead so fast that she
nearly pitched backward over the cantle. Only a quick grab at the pommel kept her in the saddle. She
thought the fellow shouted something after her, but she could not be certain. What in the Light did this
Nemaris consider a frisky horse? The mare sped out of the camp as though trying to win a race, sped
toward the falling moon and Dragonmount, a dark spike rising against the starry sky.

 Cloak billowing behind, Siuan made no effort to slow her, rather digging in her heels again and slapping
the mare's neck with the reins as she had seen others do to urge speed. She had to reach the sisters
before anybody did something irretrievable. All too many possibilities came to mind. The mare galloped
past small thickets and tiny hamlets and sprawling farms with their stone-walled pastures and fields. Snug
beneath snow-covered slate roofs, behind walls of stone or brick, the inhabitants had not been roused by
that fierce wind; every building lay dark and still. Even the bloody cows and sheep were probably
enjoying a good nights sleep. Farmers always had cows and sheep. And pigs.

 Bouncing around on the hard leather of the saddle, she tried leaning forward over the mare's neck. That
was how it was done; she had seen it. Almost immediately she lost the left stirrup and nearly slid off on
that side, barely clawing her way back to get her foot back in place. The only thing to do was sit bolt
upright, one hand clutching the pommel in a deathgrip, the other tighter still on the reins. Her flailing cloak
tugged uncomfortably against her throat, and she jounced up and down so hard that her teeth clicked if
she opened her mouth at the wrong time, but she hung on, and even heeled the animal once more. Ah,
Light, but she was going to be bruised within an inch of her life come sunrise. On through the night,
smacking the saddle with the mare's every bounding stride. At least her clenched teeth kept her from

 At last the horselines and rows of wagons that ringed the Aes Sedai camp appeared out of the darkness
though a thin rim of trees, and with a sigh of relief, she hauled back on the reins as hard as she could. For
a horse moving this fast, surely it required hard hauling to stop. Nightlily did stop, so abruptly that she
would have hurdled over its head if the mare had not reared at the same time. Wide-eyed, she clung to 

the animal's neck until it finally settled all four hooves to the ground again. And for some little time after,
as well.

 Nightlily was breathing hard, too, she realized. Panting, really. She felt no sympathy. The fool animal had
tried to kill her, just the way horses would! Recovering herself took a moment, but then she pulled her
cloak straight, gathered the reins and rode past the wagons and the long lines of horses at a sedate walk.
Shadowy men moved in the darkness along the horselines, doubtless grooms and farriers seeing to the
visibly unsettled animals. The mare seemed more biddable, now. Really, this was not too bad at all.

 As she entered the camp proper, she hesitated only a moment before embracing saidar. Strange to think
of a camp full of Aes Sedai as dangerous, yet two sisters had been murdered here. Considering the
circumstances of their deaths, it seemed unlikely that holding the Power would be enough to save her if
she was the next target, but saidar at least gave an illusion of safety. So long as she remembered it was
only illusion. After a moment, she wove the flows of Spirit that would hide her ability and the glow of the
Power. There was no need to advertise, after all.

 Even at this hour, with the moon low in the west, there were a few people out on the wooden walkways,
serving women and workmen scurrying about late tasks. Or perhaps early would be a better word now.
Most of the tents, in nearly every size and shape imaginable, were dark, but a number of the larger ones
glowed with the light of lamps or candles. Unsurprising under the circumstances. Every lit tent had men
around it, or gathered in front. Warders. No one else could stand so still they seemed to fade into the
night, especially not in this icy night. With the Power filling her, she could make out others, their Warders'
cloaks making them vanish in the shadows. Between the murdered sisters and what their bonds to their
Aes Sedai must be carrying to them, not surprising at all. She suspected more than one sister was ready
to tear her own hair, or someone else's. They took note of her, heads swiveling to follow her passage as
she rode slowly along the frozen ruts, searching.

 The Hall had to be informed, of course, but others needed to hear first. In her estimation, they were
much more likely to do something . . . precipitate. And quite possibly disastrous. Oaths held them, but
oaths given under duress, to a woman they now believed dead. For the Hall, for most of the Hall, they
had nailed their flag to the mast in accepting a seat. None oithem would be jumping until they were very,
very sure where they would land.

 Sheriam's tent was too small for what she was sure she would find, and dark besides, she noted in
passing. She very much doubted the woman was asleep inside, though. Morvrin's, big enough to sleep
four comfortably, would have done if there was room among all the books the Brown had managed to
acquire on the march, but that was dark as well. Her third choice provided a catch, though, and she
reined in Nightlily well short of it. 

 Myrelle had two peaked tents in the camp, one for herself and one for her three Warders-the three she
dared acknowledge-and her own shone brightly, the shadows of women moving on the patched canvas
walls. Three dissimilar men stood on the walkway in front of the tent-their stillness marked them
Warders-but she ignored them for the moment. What exactly were they talking about inside? Certain that
it was useless effort, she wove Air with just a hint of Fire; her weave touched the tent and struck a barrier
against eavesdropping. Inverted, of course, and so invisible to her. She had only made the attempt on the
chance they were being careless. Small possibility of that with the secrets they had to hide. The shadows
against the canvas were still, now. So they knew someone had tried. She rode the rest of the way
wondering what they had been talking about.

 As she dismounted-well, at least she managed to turn half-falling off into something akin to jumping
down-one of the Warders, Sheriam's Arinvar, a lean Cairhienin little taller than she, stepped forward to
reach for the reins with a small bow, but she waved him away. Releasing saidar, she tied the mare to one
of the wooden slats of the walkway using a knot that would have held a sizable boat against heavy wind
and a strong current. None of those casual loops that others used, not for her. She might dislike riding,
but when she tied a horse, she wanted it there when she came back. Arinvar's eyebrows climbed as he
watched her finish the knot, but he would not be the one who had to pay for the bloody animal if it got
loose and lost itself.

 Only one of the other two Warders belonged to Myrelle, Avar Hachami, a Saldaean with a nose like an
eagle's beak and thick, gray-streaked mustaches. After sparing her one glance and a slight inclination of
his head, he returned to watching the night. Morvrin's Jori, short and bald and nearly as wide as he was
tall, did not acknowledge her at all. His eyes studied the darkness, and his hand rested lightly on his long
sword hilt. Supposedly he was among the best of the Warders with a blade. Where were the others? She
could not ask, of course, any more than she could ask who was within. The men would have been
shocked to their bones. None of them tried to stop her from entering. At least matters had not gotten that

 Inside, where two braziers gave off the scent of roses and made the air almost toasty compared to the
night, she found almost everyone she had hoped for, and all watching to see who entered.

 Myrelle herself, sitting on a sturdy straight-chair in a silk robe covered with red and yellow flowers, her
arms folded beneath her breasts, wore such a perfect expression of calm on her olive face that it only
pointed up the heat in her dark eyes. The light of the Power shone around her. It was her tent, after all;
she would be the one to weave a ward here. Sheriam, seated on one end of Myrelle's cot with a straight
back, pretended to be adjusting her blue-slashed skirts; her expression was as fiery as her hair, and it
grew hotter when she saw Siuan. She was not wearing the Keeper's stole, a bad sign.

 "I might have expected it would be you," Carlinya said coldly, fists on her hips. She was never a warm
woman, but now the ringlets that stopped well short of her shoulders framed a face that seemed carved
from ice nearly as pale as her dress. "I will not have you trying to listen in on my private conversations, 

Siuan." Oh, yes; they thought everything was at an end.

 Round-faced Morvrin, for once not appearing at all absentminded or sleepy-eyed despite the creases in
her brown wool skirt, walked around the small table where a tall silver pitcher and five silver cups sat on
a lacquered tray. It seemed no one felt like tea; the cups were all dry. Dipping into her belt pouch, the
graying sister thrust a carved horn comb into Siuan's hand. "You are all windblown, woman. Fix your hair
before some lout takes you for a tavern trull instead of an Aes Sedai and tries to dandle you on his knee."

 "Egwene and Leane are alive and prisoners inside the Tower," Siuan announced, more calmly than she
felt. A tavern trull? Touching her hair, she discovered that the other woman was right and began working
the comb through the tangles. If you wanted to be taken seriously, you could not look as though you had
been tussling in an alley. She had enough difficulty with that as it was, now, and would have until some
years after she could lay hands on the Oath Rod again. "Egwene spoke to me in my dreams. They
succeeded in blocking the harbors, near enough, but they were captured. Where are Beonin and Nisao?
One of you go fetch them. I don't want to scale the same fish twice."

 There. If they thought themselves free of their oaths, and free of Eg-wene's orders to obey her, that
should disabuse them. Except that no one moved to obey.

 "Beonin wanted her bed," Morvrin said slowly, studying Siuan. A very intense study. A sharp mind hid
behind that placid face. "She was too tired to talk any more. And why would we have asked Nisao to
join us?" That earned a small frown from Myrelle, who was Nisao's friend, but the other two nodded
agreement. They and Beonin thought of Nisao as apart from themselves in spite of the oaths of fealty they
shared. In Siuan's opinion, these women had never stopped believing they might still guide events
somehow, even after the rudder had long since been taken from their hands.

 Sheriam rose from the cot as though about to rush off, even gathering her skirts, but that had nothing to
do with Siuan's command. Anger had vanished, replaced by shining eagerness. "We dont need them for
the moment in any case. 'Prisoners' means the deep cells until the Hall convenes for a trial. We can Travel
there and free them before Elaida knows what is happening."

 Myrelle gave a sharp nod and stood, reaching to undo the sash of her robe. "Best if we leave the
Warders behind, I think. They won't be needed in this." She drew more deeply on the Source, already

 "No!" Siuan said sharply, and winced as the comb caught in her hair. Sometimes she thought of cutting it
shorter than Carlinya's, for convenience, but Gareth had complimented her, saying how much he liked the 

way it brushed her shoulders. Light, could she not escape the man even here? "Egwene isn't to be tried,
and she isn't in the deep cells. She wouldn't tell me where she is being held except to say that she is
guarded constantly. And she orders that there be no attempt to rescue her that involves sisters."

 The other women stared at her in shocked silence. In truth, she herself had argued the point with
Egwene, to no avail. It had been an order, delivered by the Amyrlin Seat in full fig.

 "What you're saying is irrational," Carlinya said finally. Her tone was still cool, her face serene, but her
hands smoothed her embroidered white skirts unnecessarily. "If we capture Elaida, we will try her and
very likely still her." If. Their doubts and fears were not put to rest yet. "Since she has Egwene, surely she
will do the same. I don't need Beonin to tell me what the law says in that regard."

 "We must rescue her, whatever she wants!" Sheriam's voice was hot as Carlinya's was chill, and her
green eyes sparkled. Her hands had turned to fists gripping her skirts. "She cannot realize the danger she
is in. She must be in shock. Did she give you any hints where she's held?"

 "Don't try to hide things from us, Siuan," Myrelle said firmly. Her eyes seemed almost on fire, and she
jerked the silk sash tighter for emphasis. "Why would she hide where she's being held?"

 "For fear of what you and Sheriam suggest." Giving up on the wind-whipped tangles, Siuan tossed the
comb down on the table. She could not stand there combing her hair and expect them to pay attention.
Tousled would have to do. "She is guarded, Myrelle. By sisters. And they won't give her up easily. If we
try a rescue, Aes Sedai will die at the hands of Aes Sedai, sure as silverpike spawn in the reeds. It's
happened once, but it must not happen again, or all hope dies of reuniting the Tower peacefully. We
cannot allow it to happen again. So there is to be no rescue. As to why Elaida has decided not to try her,
I can't say." Egwene had been vague on that, as if she did not understand either. But she had been
definite on the facts, and it was not a claim she would make unless she was sure.

 "Peacefully," Sheriam muttered, sinking back onto the cot. She imbued the word with a world of
bitterness. "Was there ever any chance of that, from the beginning? Elaida has abolished the Blue Ajah!
What chance of peace is there?"

 "Elaida cannot simply do away with an Ajah," Morvrin murmured, as though that had anything to do with
anything. She patted Sheriam's shoulder, but the fire-haired woman sullenly shrugged off her plump hand. 

 "There is always a chance," Carlinya said. "The harbors are blocked, strengthening our position. The
negotiators meet every morning . . ." Trailing off with a troubled look in her eyes, she poured a cup of tea
and drank half of it down in one go without adding honey. Blocking the harbors likely would have put an
end to the negotiations by itself, not that they had seemed to be going anywhere. Would Elaida let them
continue with Egwene in her hands besides?

 "I do not comprehend why Elaida would not have Egwene put on trial," Morvrin said, "since conviction
would be sure and certain, but the fact remains that she is a prisoner." She displayed none of Sheriam or
Myrelle's heat and none of Carlinya's coldness. She was simply presenting the facts, with only a slight
tightness of her mouth. "If she is not to be tried, then without any doubt she is to be broken. She has
proven to be a stronger woman than I took her for at first, but no one is strong enough to resist the White
Tower when it decides to break her. We must consider the consequences if we don't get her out before it

 Siuan shook her head. "She isn't even going to be birched, Morvrin. I don't understand why either, but
she'd hardly tell us to leave her if she thought they were going to torture-"

 She broke off as the tentflap was pushed open and Lelaine Akashi stepped in, blue-fringed shawl
draped along her arms. Sheriam stood, though she need not have; Lelaine was a Sitter, but Sheriam was
the Keeper. Then again, Lelaine was imposing in blue-slashed velvet despite her slenderness, dignity
made flesh, with an air of authority that seemed greater than ever tonight. Every hair in place, she might
have been entering the Hall after a sound night's sleep.

 Smoothly Siuan turned to the table and picked up the pitcher as if in anticipation. That normally would
have been her role in this company, to pour tea and speak when her opinion was sought. Perhaps if she
remained quiet, Lelaine would be about her business with the others and leave quickly without giving her
a second glance. The woman seldom did give her that much.

 "I thought that horse outside was the same I saw you ride in on, Siuan." Lelaine's gaze ran over the other
sisters, each of them absolutely smooth-faced now. "Am I interrupting?"

 "Siuan says Egwene is alive," Sheriam said as though relating the price of delta perch on the dockhead.
"And Leane. Egwene spoke to Siuan's dreams. She refuses any attempt at a rescue." Myrelle gave her a
sidelong glance, unreadable, but Siuan could have boxed her ears! Likely Lelaine would have been the
next she sought out, but to tell her in her own way, not spilled out on the wharf like this. Of late, Sheriam
had become as flighty as a novice! 

 Pursing her lips, Lelaine directed a look like twin awls at Siuan. "Did she, now? You really should be
wearing your stole, Sheriam. You are the Keeper. Will you walk with me, Siuan? It's been far too long
since we had a conversation alone." With one hand, she drew back the doorflap, shifting that penetrating
gaze to the other sisters. Sheriam blushed as only a redhead could, brilliantly, and fumbled the narrow
blue stole from her belt pouch to lay it across her shoulders, but Myrelle and Carlinya met Lelaine's study
with level eyes. Morvrin had begun tapping her round chin with a fingertip as though unaware of anyone
else. She might well have been. Morvrin was like that.

 Had Egwene's orders sunk in? Siuan had no chance even for a firm look while putting the pitcher down.
A suggestion from a sister of Lelaine's standing, Sitter or not, was a command to one of Siuan's standing.
Gathering her cloak and skirts, she went out, murmuring thanks to Lelaine for holding the flap for her.
Light, she hoped those fools had listened to what she said.

 Four Warders stood outside now, but one of them was Lelaine's Burin, a copper-skinned stump of a
Domani wrapped in a Warder cloak that made most of him seem not there, and Avar had been replaced
by another of Myrelle's, Nuhel Dromand, a tall, burly man with an Illianer beard that left his upper lip
bare. The man was so still you might have thought him a statue if not for the wisps of mist in front of his
nostrils. Arinvar bowed to Lelaine, a quick courtesy, though formal. Nuhel and Jori did not let their
vigilance slacken. Nor did Burin, for that matter.

 The knot that secured Nightlily took as long to undo as it had to tie, but Lelaine waited patiently until
Siuan straightened with the reins in her hands, then set off at a slow pace along the wooden walkway past
dark tents. Moonshadows masked her face. She did not embrace the Power, so Siuan could not either.
Trailed by Burin, Siuan walked beside Lelaine leading the mare, holding her silence. It was the Sitter's
place to begin, and not only because she was a Sitter. Siuan fought the urge to bend her neck and so lose
the extra inch she had on the other woman. She seldom thought any longer of the time when she had
been Amyrlin. She had been embraced as Aes Sedai once more, and part of being Aes Sedai meant
fitting into your niche among the sisters instinctively. The bloody horse nuzzled at her hand as though it
thought itself a pet, and she shifted the reins to her other hand long enough to wipe her fingers on her
cloak. Filthy slobbering beast. Lelaine eyed her sideways, and she felt her cheeks heating. Instinct.

 "Strange friends you have, Siuan. I believe some of them were in favor of sending you away when you
first appeared in Salidar. Sheriam, I might comprehend, though I'd think the fact that she stands so much
higher than you now would make for awkwardness. That was the major reason I avoided you myself, to
avoid awkwardness."

 Siuan nearly gaped in astonishment. That came very near to talking about what was never to be talked
about, very near, a transgression she would never had expected from this woman. From herself,
perhaps-she had fitted herself into her niche, yet she was who she was-but never from Lelaine! 

 "I hope you and I can become friends again, Siuan, though I can understand if that proves impossible.
This meeting tonight confirms what Faolain told me." Lelaine gave a small laugh and folded her hands at
her waist. "Oh, don't grimace so, Siuan. She didn't betray you, at least not intentionally. She made one
slip too many, and I decided to press her, rather hard. Not the way to treat another sister, but then, she's
really just an Accepted until she can be tested and passes. Faolain will make a fine Aes Sedai. She was
very reluctant to surrender everything she gave. Just bits and pieces, really, and a few names, but put
together with you in that gathering, it gives me a complete picture, I think. I suppose I can let her free of
confinement now. She certainly won't think of spying on me again. You and your friends have been very
faithful to Egwene, Siuan. Can you be as faithful to me?"

 So that was why Faolain had seemed to go into hiding. How many "bits and pieces" had she revealed
while being "pressed hard"? Faolain did not know everything, yet it would be best to assume that Lelaine
did. But assume while revealing nothing unless she herself was pressed hard.

 Siuan stopped dead, drawing herself up. Lelaine halted, too, clearly waiting for her to speak. Even with
her face half in shadow that was clear. Siuan had to steel herself to confront this woman. Some instincts
were buried in the bone for Aes Sedai. "I'm faithful to you as a Sitter for my Ajah, but Egwene al'Vere is
the Amyrlin Seat."

 "So she is." Lelaine's expression remained unruffled, as much as Siuan could make out. "She spoke in
your dreams? Tell me what you know of her situation, Siuan." Siuan glanced over her shoulder at the
stocky Warder. "Don't mind him," the Sitter said. "I haven't kept a secret from Burin in twenty years."

 "In my dreams," Siuan agreed. She certainly did not intend to admit that had been only to summon her to
Salidar in Tel'aran'rhiod. She was not supposed to have that ring in her possession. The Hall would take
it away if they learned of it. Calmly-outwardly calm, at least- she related what she had told Myrelle and
the others, and more. But not everything. Not the certainty of betrayal. That had to have come from the
Hall itself-no one else had known of the plan to block the harbor, except the women involved-though
whoever was accountable could not have known they were betraying Egwene. Only helping Elaida,
which was mystery enough. Why would any among them want to help Elaida? There had been talk of
Elaida's secret adherents from the start, yet she herself had long since dismissed the notion. Most
assuredly every Blue fervently wanted Elaida pulled down, but until she knew who was responsible, no
Sitter, not even a Blue, would learn everything. "She's called a sitting of the Hall for tomorrow . . . no, it
would be tonight, now, when Last sounds," she finished. "Inside the Tower, in the Hall of the Tower."

 Lelaine laughed so hard that she had to brush a tear from her eye. "Oh, that is priceless. The Hall to sit
right under Elaida's nose, as it were. I almost wish I could let her know just to see her face." Just as
abruptly, she turned serious again. Lelaine had always had a ready laugh, when she chose to let it out, but
the core of her was always serious. "So Egwene thinks the Ajahs may be turning on one another. That
hardly seems possible. She's only seen a handful of sisters, you say. Still, it bears looking into the next 

time in Tel'aran'rhiod. Perhaps someone can see what they can find in the Ajah quarters instead of
concentrating on Elaida's study."

 Siuan barely suppressed a wince. She planned to do a little searching in Tel'aran'rhiod herself. Whenever
she went to the Tower in the World of Dreams, she was a different woman in a different dress every time
she turned a corner, but she would have to be even more cautious than usual.

 "Refusing rescue is understandable, I suppose, even laudable-no one wants any more dead sisters-but
very risky," Lelaine went on. "No trial, and not even a birching? What can Elaida be playing at? Can she
think to make her take up as Accepted again? That hardly seems likely." But she gave a small nod, as
though considering it.

 This was heading in a dangerous direction. If sisters convinced themselves they knew where Egwene
might be, the chance increased that someone would try to bring her out, Aes Sedai guards or no. Trying
at the wrong place could be as risky as at the right one, if not more so. Worse, Lelaine was ignoring

 "Egwene has called the Hall to sit," Siuan asked acidly. "Will you go?" Reproving silence answered her,
and her cheeks grew hot again. Some things were buried in the bone.

 "Of course, I will go," Lelaine said at last. A direct statement, yet there had been a pause. "The entire
Hall will go. Egwene ai'Vere is the Amyrlin Seat, and we have more than sufficient dream tefangreal.
Perhaps she will explain how she believes she can hold out if Elaida orders her broken. I would very
much like to hear that."

 "Then what are you asking me to be faithful to you about?"

 Instead of answering, Lelaine resumed her slow walk through the moonlight, carefully adjusting her
shawl. Burin followed her, a half-invisible lion in the night. Siuan hurried to catch up, tugging Nightlily after
her, fending off the fool mare's attempts to nuzzle her hand again.

 "Egwene al'Vere is the lawful Amyrlin Seat," Lelaine said finally. "Until she dies. Or is stilled. Should
either happen, we would be back to Romanda trying for the staff and the stole and me forestalling her."
She snorted. "That woman would be a disaster as bad as Elaida. Unfortunately, she had enough support
to forestall me, as well. We'd be back to that, except that if Egwene dies or is stilled, you and your 

friends will be as faithful to me as you've been to Egwene. And you will help me gain the Amyrlin Seat in
spite of Romanda."

 Siuan felt as though her stomach had turned to ice. No Blue would have been behind the first betrayal,
but one Blue, at least, had reason to betray Egwene now.


 The Dark One's Touch

 Beonin woke at first light, as was her habit, though little of the dawn trickled into her tent past the closed
doorflap. Habits were good when they were the right habits. She had taught herself a number over the
years. The air inside the tent held a touch of the night's chill, but she left the brazier unlit. She did not
intend to remain long. Channeling briefly, she lit a brass lamp, then heated the water in the white-glazed
pitcher and washed her face at the rickety washstand with its bubbled mirror. Nearly everything in the
small round tent was unsteady, from the tiny table to her narrow camp cot, and the only sturdy piece, a
low-backed chair, was rude enough to have come from the poorest farm kitchen. She was accustomed
to making do, though. Not all of the judgments she had been called on to make had been given in
palaces. The meanest hamlet also deserved justice. She had slept in barns and even hovels to make it so.

 Moving deliberately, she put on the best riding dress she had with her, a plain gray silk that was very
well cut, and snug boots that came to her knees, then began brushing her dark golden hair with an
ivory-backed hairbrush that had belonged to her mother. Her reflection in the mirror was slightly
distorted. For some reason, that irritated her this morning.

 Someone scratched at the tentflap, and a man called cheerily in a Murandian accent, "Breakfast, Aes
Sedai, if it pleases you." She lowered the brush and opened herself to the Source.

 She had not acquired a personal serving woman, and it often seemed a new face brought every meal, yet
she remembered the stout, graying man with a permanent smile who entered at her command carrying a
tray covered with a white cloth.

 "Leave it on the table, please, Ehvin," she said, releasing saidar, and was rewarded with a widening of
his smile, a deep bow over the tray, and another before he left. Too many sisters forgot the small
courtesies to those beneath them. Small courtesies were the lubricant of daily life. 

 Eyeing the tray without enthusiasm, she resumed her brushing, a twice-a-day ritual that she always found
soothing. Rather than finding comfort in the brush sliding through her hair this morning, however, she had
to make herself complete the full one hundred strokes before laying the brush on the washstand beside
the matching comb and hand mirror. Once, she could have taught the hills patience, yet that had become
harder and harder since Salidar. And nearly impossible since Murandy. So she schooled herself to it, as
she had schooled herself to go to the White Tower against her mother's stern wishes, schooled herself to
accept the Tower's discipline along with its teaching. As a girl, she had been headstrong, always aspiring
to more. The Tower had taught her that you could achieve much if you could control yourself. She prided
herself on that ability.

 Self-control or no self-control, lingering over her breakfast of stewed prunes and bread proved as
difficult as completing her ritual with the hairbrush. The prunes had been dried, and perhaps too old to
begin with; they had been stewed to mush, and she was sure she had missed a few of the black flecks
that decorated the crusty bread. She tried to convince herself that anything that crunched between her
teeth was a barley grain or a rye seed. This was not the first time she had eaten bread containing weevils,
yet it was hardly a thing to enjoy. The tea had a strange aftertaste, too, as though that also was beginning
to spoil.

 When she finally replaced the linen cloth over the carved wooden tray, she very nearly sighed. How long
before nothing edible remained in the camp? Was the same happening inside Tar Valon? It must be so.
The Dark One was touching the world, a thought as bleak as a field of jagged stones. But victory would
come. She refused to entertain any other possibility. Young al'Thor had a great deal to answer for, a very
great deal, yet he would-must!-achieve that somehow. Somehow. But the Dragon Reborn lay beyond
her purview; all she could do was watch events unfold from afar. She had never liked sitting to one side
and watching.

 All this bitter musing was useless. It was time to be moving. She stood up so quickly that her chair
toppled over backward, but she left it lying there on the canvas ground-cloth.

 Putting her head out at the doorflap, she found Tervail on a stool on the walkway, his dark cloak thrown
back, leaning on the scabbarded sword propped between his boots. The sun stood on the horizon,
two-thirds of a bright golden ball, yet dark clouds in the other direction, massing around Dragonmount,
suggested more snow before long. Or perhaps rain. The sun felt close to warm after the previous night.
Either way, with luck she could be snug indoors soon.

 Tervail gave a small nod to acknowledge her without stopping what appeared to be an idle study of
everyone who moved in his sight. There were none but laborers at the moment, men in rough woolens
carrying baskets on their backs, men and women just as roughly clad driving high-wheeled carts, laden 

with bound firewood and sacks of charcoal and water barrels, that clattered along the rutted street. At
least, his scrutiny would have seemed idle to someone lacking the Warder bond with him. Her Tervail, he
was focused as a drawn arrow. It was only the men he studied, and his gaze lingered on those he did not
know personally. With two sisters and a Warder dead at the hands of a man who could channel-it
seemed beyond possibility there could be two murderers of that sort-everyone was leery of strange men.
Everyone who knew, at least. The news had hardly been shouted abroad.

 How he thought he might recognize the killer was beyond her unless the man carried a banner, but she
would not upbraid or belittle him for trying to perform his duty. Whipcord lean, with a strong nose and a
thick scar along his jaw earned in her sendee, he had been little more than a boy when she found him,
cat-quick and already one of the finest swordsmen in her native Tarabon, and for all the years since there
had never been a moment when he did less. At least twenty times he had saved her life. Quite aside from
brigands and footpads too ignorant to recognize an Aes Sedai, the law could be dangerous when one
side or the other became desperate not to have the judgment go against them, and often he had spotted
the peril before she herself.

 "Saddle Winterfinch for me and bring your own horse," she told him. "We are going for the little ride."

 Tervail raised one eyebrow slightly, half-glancing in her direction, then attached the scabbard to the right
side of his belt and set off down the wooden walkway toward the horselines, walking very quickly. He
never asked unnecessary questions. Perhaps she was more agitated within than she believed.

 Ducking back inside, she carefully wrapped the hand mirror in a silk scarf woven in a black-and-white
Tairen maze and tucked it into one of the two large pockets sewn inside her good gray cloak, along with
the hairbrush and comb. Her neatly folded shawl and a small box of intricately carved blackwood went
into the other. The box contained a few pieces of jewelry, some that had come down from her mother
and the rest from her maternal grandmother. She herself seldom wore jewelry aside from her Great
Serpent ring, yet she always took the box and the brush, comb and mirror with her when she journeyed,
reminders of the women whose memories she loved and honored, and of what they had taught her. Her
grandmother, a noted advocate in Tanchico, had infused her with a love for the intricacies of the law,
while her mother had demonstrated that it was always possible to better yourself. Advocates rarely
became wealthy, though Collaris certainly had been more than comfortable, yet despite her disapproval,
her daughter Aeldrine had become a merchant and amassed a tidy fortune buying and selling dyes. Yes, it
was always possible to better yourself, if you seized the moment when it appeared, as she had when
Elaida aRoihan deposed Siuan Sanche. Matters since had not gone anywhere near as she had foreseen,
of course. Matters seldom did. That was why a wise woman always planned alternative paths.

 She considered waiting inside for Tervail to return-he could not fetch two horses in mere minutes-but
now that the time had actually arrived, her last stores of patience seemed to flee. Settling the cloak
around her shoulders, she snuffed the lamp with an air of finality. Outside, however, she forced herself to
stand in one place rather than pacing along the walkway's rough planks. Pacing would attract eyes, and 

perhaps some sister who thought she was fearful of being alone. In all truth, she was afraid, a little. When
a man could kill you, unseen, undetected, it was most reasonable to be afraid. She did not want
company, though. She pulled up her cowl, signaling a desire for privacy, and drew the cloak around her.

 A gray cat, notch-eared and lean, began stropping himself against her ankles. There were cats all over
the camp; they appeared anywhere that Aes Sedai gathered, tame as house pets however feral they had
been before. After a few moments without having his ears scratched, the cat strolled away, as proud as a
king, in search of someone who would see to them. He had plenty of candidates.

 Just moments earlier there had been only roughly garbed laborers and cart drivers in view, but now the
camp began to bustle. Clusters of white-clad novices, the so-called "families," scurried along the
walkways to reach their classes, held in any tent large enough to accommodate them, or even in the
open. Those who hurried by her ceased their childish prattle to offer perfect curtsies in passing. The sight
never ceased to amaze her. Or to produce anger. A fair number of those "children" were well into their
middle years or older-no few had at least some gray in their hair, and some were grandmothers!-yet they
were bending to the ancient routines as well as any girl she had ever seen come to the Tower. And so
many. A seemingly endless flood pouring down the streets. How much had the Tower lost through its
focus on bringing in girls born with the spark and those already on the brink of channeling through their
own fumbling while leaving the rest to find their way to Tar Valon as they would or could? How much
lost through insisting no girl above eighteen could submit to the discipline? Change was nothing she had
ever sought-law and custom ruled an Aes Sedai's life, a bedrock of stability-and some changes, such as
these novice families, seemed too radical to go on, but how much had the Tower lost?

 Sisters glided along the walkways, too, usually in pairs or even threes, usually trailed by their Warders.
The flow of novices parted around them in ripples of curtsies, ripples made jagged by the stares directed
at the sisters, who pretended not to notice. Very few of the Aes Sedai lacked the glow of the Power
around them. Beonin came close to clicking her tongue in irritation. The novices knew that Anaiya and
Kairen were dead-there had been no thought of hiding the funeral pyres-but telling them how the two
sisters had died would simply have frightened them. The newest, added to the novice book in Mu-randy,
had worn white long enough to be aware that sisters walking about filled with saidar was beyond unusual,
though. Eventually that alone would frighten them, and to no purpose. The killer seemed unlikely to strike
in public, with dozens of sisters about.

 Five mounted sisters riding slowly eastward, none carrying the light of saidar, caught her eye. Each was
followed by a small entourage, generally a secretary, a serving woman, perhaps a serving man as well in
case of heavy lifting, and some Warders. All rode with their hoods up, but she had no difficulty making
out who was who. Varilin, of her own Gray, would have been tall as a man, while Takima, the Brown,
was a tiny thing. Saroiya's cloak was flamboyant with white embroidery- she must use saidar to keep it
so sparkling bright-and a pair of Warders trailing Faiselle marked her as clearly as her brilliant green
cloak. Which made the last, wrapped in dark gray, Magla, the Yellow. What would they find when they
reached Darein? Surely not negotiators from the Tower, not now. Perhaps they thought they must go
through the motions anyway. People frequently continued to go on as they had been after all purpose in it
had been lost. That seldom lasted long with Aes Sedai, however. 

 "They hardly seem to be together at all, do they, Beonin? You might think they just happened to be
riding in the same direction."

 So much for the cowl providing a modicum of privacy. Luckily, she was practiced at suppressing sighs,
or anything else that might give away more than she wished. The two sisters who had stopped beside her
were much of a height, both small-boned, dark-haired and brown-eyed, but there resemblance ended.
Ashmanaille's narrow face, with its pointed nose, seldom displayed any emotion at all. Her silk dress,
slashed with silver, might have come from a tirewoman's hands only moments before, and silver
scrollwork decorated the edges of her fur-lined cloak and cowl. Phaedrine's dark wool bore a number of
creases, not to mention several stains, her woolen cloak was unadorned and needed darning, and she
frowned much too often, as she was doing right then. She might have been pretty without that. An odd
pair of friends, the usually unkempt Brown and the Gray who paid as much attention to her clothes as to
anything else.

 Beonin glanced at the departing Sitters. They did appear to be riding in the same direction by chance
more than riding together. It was a measure of her upset this morning that she had failed to note that.
"Perhaps," she said turning to face her unwanted visitors, "they are contemplating the consequences of
last night, yes, Ashmanaille?" Unwelcome or not, courtesy must be observed.

 "At least the Amyrlin is alive," the other Gray replied, "and by what I've been told, she will remain alive
and . . . healthy. Her and Leane both." Not even Nynaeve's Healing of Siuan and Leane could make
anyone speak of stilling with ease.

 "Alive and a captive, it is better than being beheaded, I suppose. But not a great deal better." When
Morvrin woke her to tell her the news, it had been hard to share the Brown's excitement. Excitement for
Morvrin, at least. The woman had worn a small grin. Beonin had never considered altering her plans,
though. Facts, they must be faced. Egwene was a prisoner, and that was that. "Do you not agree,

 "Of course," the Brown replied curtly. Curtly! But that was Phaedrine, always so immersed in whatever
had caught her attention that she forgot how she should behave. And she was not done. "But that is not
why we sought you. Ashmanaille says you have considerable acquaintance with murders." A sudden gust
of wind snatched at their cloaks, but Beonin and Ashmanaille caught theirs smoothly. Phaedrine let hers
swirl behind her, eyes intent on Beonin.

 "Perhaps you have had some thoughts on our murders, Beonin," Ashmanaille said smoothly. "Will you 

share them with us? Phaedrine and I have been putting our heads together, but we are getting nowhere.
My own experience is more with civil matters. I know that you have gotten to the bottom of a number of
unnatural deaths."

 Of course she had thought on the murders. Was there a sister in the camp who had not? She herself
could not have avoided it had she tried. Finding a murderer was a joy, far more satisfying than settling a
boundary dispute. It was the most heinous of crimes, the theft of what could never be recovered, all the
years that would never be lived, all that might have been done in them. And these were the deaths of Aes
Sedai, which surely made it personal for every sister in the camp. She waited for a last covey of
white-clad women, two with gray hair, to make their curtsies and hurry on. The number of novices on the
walkways was finally beginning to thin out. The cats seemed to be following them. Novices were more
free with petting than most sisters.

 "The man who stabs from greed," she said once the novices were beyond hearing, "the woman who
poisons from jealousy, they are one thing. This is quite another altogether. There are two killings, surely
by the same man, but well over a week apart. That implies both the patience and the planning. The
motive is unclear, yet it seems very unlikely that he chose his victims by chance. Knowing no more of him
than the fact that he can channel, you must begin by looking at what ties the victims together. In this case,
Anaiya and Kairen, they were both Blue Ajah. So I ask myself, what connection has the Blue Ajah with
a man who can channel? The answer comes back, Moiraine Damodred and Rand al'Thor. And Kairen,
she also had contact with him, yes?"

 Phaedrine's frown deepened to near a scowl. "You cannot be suggesting be is the killer." Really, she was
getting much too far above herself.

 "No," Beonin said coolly. "I am saying you must follow the connection. Which leads to the Asha'man.
Men who can channel. Men who can channel, who know how to Travel. Men who have some reason to
fear Aes Sedai, perhaps particular Aes Sedai more than others. A connection is not the proof," she
admitted reluctantly, "but it is suggestive, yes?"

 "Why would an Asha'man come here twice and each time kill one sister? That sounds as though the
killer wanted those two and no others." Ashmanaille shook her head. "How could he know when Anaiya
and Kairen would be alone? You cannot think he is lurking about disguised as a workman. From all I
hear, these Asha'man are far too arrogant for that. To me, it seems more likely we have an actual
workman who can channel and bears a grudge of some sort."

 Beonin sniffed dismissively. She could feel Tervail approaching. He must have run to be back so soon.
"And why would he have waited until now? The last workmen, they were taken on in Murandy, more
than a month ago." 

 Ashmanaille opened her mouth, but Phaedrine darted in, quick as a sparrow snatching a crumb. "He
might have only just learned how. A male wilder, as it were. I've overheard workmen talking. As many
admire the Asha'man as fear them. I've even heard some say they wish they had the nerve to go to the
Black Tower themselves."

 The other Gray's left eyebrow twitched, as much as both shooting to her hairline in another woman. The
two were friends, yet she could not be pleased with Phaedrine plucking the words from her mouth in that
way. All she said, though, was "An Asha'man could find him, I'm sure."

 Beonin let herself feel Tervail, waiting only a few paces behind her, now. The bond carried a steady flow
of unwavering calm and patience as strong as the mountains. How she wished she could draw on that as
she could on his physical strength. "That is most unlikely to happen,

 I'm sure you will agree." she said thinly. Romanda and the others might have stood in favor of this
nonsensical "alliance" with the Black Tower, but from that moment on they had fought like drunken cart
drivers over how to implement it, how to word the agreement, how to present it, every single detail corn
apart, put back together and torn apart again. The thing was doomed, thank the Light.

 "I must go," she told them, and turned to take Winterfinch's reins from Tervail. His tall bay gelding was
sleek and powerful and fast, a trained warhorse. Her brown mare was stocky, and not fast, yet she had
always preferred endurance to speed. Winterfinch could keep going long after taller, supposedly more
powerful animals gave up. Putting a foot in the stirrup, she paused with her hands on tall pommel and
can-tie. "Two sisters dead. Ashmanaille, and both Blues. Find sisters who knew them and learn what else
they had in common. To locate the murderer, you must follow the connections."

 "I doubt very much they will lead to Asha'man. Beonin."

 "The important thing is that the killer is found," she replied, pulling herself into the saddle, and turned
Winterfinch away before the other woman could go on. An abrupt ending, and discourteous, but she had
no more wisdom to offer, and time seemed to press down on her, now. The sun was clear of the horizon
and climbing. After so long, time pressed very hard indeed.

 The ride to the Traveling ground used for departures was short. but near a dozen Aes Sedai were
waiting in a line outside the call canvas wall, some leading horses, some cloakless as if they expected to 

be indoors before long, and one or two wearing their shawls for some reason. About half were
accompanied by Warders, several of whom wore their color-shifting cloaks. The one thing the sisters
shared was that each shone with the glow of the Power. Tervail expressed no surprise at their
destination, of course, but more than that, the Warder bond continued to carry steady calm. He trusted
her. A silvery flash appeared inside che walls, and after sufficient time to count slowly to thirty, a pair of
Greens who could not make a gateway alone entered together with four Warders leading horses. The
custom of privacy already had attached itself to Traveling. Unless someone allowed you to see her weave
a gateway, trying to learn where she was going was accounted akin to asking direct questions about her
business. Beonin waited patiently on Winterfinch, with Tervail towering over her on Hammer. At least the
sisters here respected her raised cowl. Or perhaps they had their own reasons for silence. Either way,
she did not have to talk with anyone. At this moment, that would have been insupportable.

 The line in front of her dwindled quickly, and soon enough she and Tervail were dismounting at the head
of a much shorter line, only three sisters. He held aside the heavy canvas flap for her to enter first. Hung
between tall poles, the wall enclosed a space of nearly twenty paces by twenty where frozen slush
covered the ground, an uneven surface marked by footprints and hooiprints atop one another and scored
in the middle by a razor-straight line. Everyone used the middle. The ground glistened faintly, perhaps the
beginning of another thaw that would turn it all to slush that might well freeze again. Spring came later
here than in Tarabon, but it was on the brink.

 As soon as Tervail let the canvas fall, she embraced saidarand wove Spirit almost caressingly. This
weave fascinated her. a rediscovery of something thought lost forever and surely the greatest of Egwene
al'-Veres discoveries. Every time she wove it she felt a sense of wonder, so familiar as novice and even
Accepted, that had not come to her since she attained the shawl. Something new and marvelous. The
vertical silvery line appeared in front of her, right atop the scoring on the ground. and suddenly became a
gap that widened, the view through appearing to rotate until she was faced by a square hole in the air,
more than two paces by two, that showed snow-draped oaks with heavy spreading limbs. A light breeze
blew through the gateway, rippling her cloak. She had often enjoyed walking in that grove, or sitting on
one of the low branches for hours reading, though never in snow.

 Tervail did not recognize it, and darted through, sword in hand. tugging Hammer behind him, the
warhorse's hooves kicking up puffs of snow on the other side. She followed a little more slowly and let
the weave dissipate almost reluctantly. It truly was wondrous.

 She found Tervail looking at what rose above the treetops in the near distance, a thick pale shaft rearing
against the sky. The White Tower. His face was very still, and the bond seemed filled with stillness, too.
"I think me you are planning something dangerous. Beonin." He still held his blade bared, though lowered

 She laid a hand on his left arm. That should be enough to reassure him: she would never have impeded
his sword arm if there was any real danger. "No more dangerous than is ne. ..." 

 The words trailed off as she saw a woman some thirty paces away walking slowly toward her through
the grove of massive trees. She must have been behind a tree before. An Aes Sedai in a dress of
old-fashioned cut, with straight white hair held back by a pearl-studded cap of silver wire and falling to
her waist. It could not be. That strong face with its dark, tilted eyes and hooked nose was unmistakable,
though. Unmistakable, but Turanine Merdagon had died when Beonin was Accepted. In midstep, the
woman vanished.

 "What is it?" Tervail spun, his sword coming up, to stare in the direction she had been looking. "What
frightened you?"

 "The Dark One, he is touching the world," she said softly. It was impossible! Impossible, but she was
not given to delusions or fancies. She had seen what she had seen. Her shiver had nothing to with
standing ankle-deep in snow. Silently, she prayed. May the Light illumine me all of my days, and may I
shelter in the Creator's hand in the sure and certain hope of salvation and rebirth.

 When she told him about seeing a sister more than forty years dead, he did not try to dismiss it as
hallucination, merely muttered his own prayer half under his breath. She felt no fear in him, though. Plenty
in herself, but none in him. The dead could not frighten a man who took each day as his last. He was not
so sanguine when she revealed what she intended. Part of it, anyway. She did so looking into the hand
mirror and weaving very carefully. She was not as adept with Illusion as she would have liked. The face
in the mirror changed as the weave settled on her. It was not a great change, but the face was no longer
an Aes Sedai's face, no longer Beonin Marinye's face, just that of a woman who looked vaguely like her,
though with much paler hair.

 "Why do you want to reach Elaida?" he demanded suspiciously. Abruptly the bond carried an edge.
"You mean to get close to her then lower the Illusion, yes? She will attack you, and- No, Beonin. If it
must be done, let me go. There are too many Warders in the Tower for her to know them all, and she
will never expect a Warder to attack her. I can put a dagger in her heart before she knows what is
happening.'' He demonstrated, a short blade appearing in his right hand quick as lightning.

 "What I do, I must do myself, Tervail." Inverting the Illusion and tying it off, she prepared several other
weaves just in case matters went too far awry, inverting them also, then began another, a very complex
weave that she laid on herself. That would hide her ability to channel. She had always wondered why
some weaves, such as Illusion, could be placed on yourself while it was impossible to make others, such
as Healing, touch your own body. When she had asked that question as Accepted. Turanine had said in
that memorable deep voice, "As well ask why water is wet and sand dry. child. Put your mind on what is
possible rather than why some things are not." Good advice, yet she never had been able to accept the
second part. The dead were walking. May the Light illumine me all the days of. . . . She tied off the last 

weave and removed her Great Serpent ring, tucking it into her belt pouch. Now she could stand beside
any Aes Sedai unrecognized for what she was. "You have always trusted me to know what is best." she
went on. "Do you still?"

 His face remained as smooth as a sister's, yet the bond brought an instant of shock. "But of course,

 "Then take Winterfinch and go into the city. Hire a room at an inn until I come for you." He opened his
mouth, but she raised an admonitory hand. "Go, Tervail."

 She watched him disappear through the trees, leading both horses, then turned to face the Tower. The
dead were walking. But all that mattered was that she reach Elaida. Only that.

 Gusts of wind rattled the casements set in the windows. The fire on the white marble hearth had warmed
the air to the point that moisture condensed on the glass panes and trickled down like raindrops. Seated
behind her gilded writing table with her hands calmly folded on the tabletop, Elaida do Avriny a'Roihan,
the Watcher of the Seals, the Flame of Tar Valon, the Amyrlin Seat, kept a smooth face while she
listened to the man in front of her rant, shoulders hunched and shaking his fist.

 "... did be kept bound and gagged for most of the voyage, confined day and night to a cabin better
called a cupboard! For that, I demand the captain of that vessel be punished, Elaida. More, I do demand
an apology from you and from the White Tower. Fortune stab me, the Amyrlin Seat does no have the
right to kidnap kings any longer! The White Tower does no have that right! I do demand. . . ."

 He was repeating himself again. The man barely paused for breath. It was difficult to keep her attention
on him. Her eyes wandered to the bright tapestries on the walls, the neatly arrayed red roses on white
plinths in the corners. Tiresome, maintaining outward calm while enduring this tirade. She wanted to stand
up and slap him. The audacity of the man! To speak so to the Amyrlin Seat! But enduring calmly served
her purpose better. She would let him exhaust himself.

 Mattin Stepaneos den Balgar was muscular, and he might have been good-looking when young, but the
years had proven unkind. The white beard that left his upper lip bare was neatly trimmed, but the hair had
retreated from most of his scalp, his nose had been broken more than once, and his scowl deepened
creases on his flushed face that needed no deepening. His green silk coat, embroidered on the sleeves
with the Golden Bees of Illian. had been brushed and cleaned well, short of a sister channeling to do the
work, yet it had been his only coat for the voyage, and not all the stains had come out. The ship carrying
him had been slow, arriving late the day before, but for once, she was not displeased with someone else's 

slowness. The Light only knew what a mess Alviarin would have made of matters had he arrived in a
timely fashion. The woman deserved to go to the headsman for the mire she had driven the Tower into, a
mire Elaida now had to dig out of, much less for daring to blackmail the Amyrlin Seat.

 Mattin Stepaneos cut off abruptly, taking half a step back on the patterned Taraboner carpet. Elaida
wiped the frown from her face. Thinking of Alviarin always made her glare unless she was careful.

 "Your rooms are comfortable enough for you?" she said into the silence. "The serving men are suitable?"

 He blinked at the sudden change of direction. "The rooms do be comfortable and the serving men
suitable," he replied in a much milder tone, perhaps remembering her frown. "Even so, I-"

 "You should be grateful to the Tower. Mattin Stepaneos, and to me. Rand al'Thor took Illian only days
after you departed the city. He took the Laurel Crown, as well. The Crown of Swords, he named it. Can
you believe he would have faltered in cutting off your head to take it? I knew you would not leave
voluntarily. I saved your life." There. He should believe it had been done with his best interests at heart,

 The fool had the temerity to snort and fold his arms across his chest. "I am no a toothless old hound yet,
Mother. I did face death defending Illian many times. Do you believe I fear dying so much I would rather
be your guest' for the rest of my life?" Still, that was the first time he had given her her proper title since
entering the room.

 The ornate gilded case clock standing against the wall chimed, small figures of gold and silver and
enamel moving on three levels. On the highest, above the clockface, a king and queen knelt to an Amyrlin
Seat. Unlike the wide stole resting on Elaida's shoulders, that Amyr-lin's stole still had seven stripes. She
had not yet gotten around to bringing in an enameler. There was so much to be done that was so much
more important.

 Adjusting her stole on the bright red silk of her dress, she leaned back so the Flame of Tar Valon.
picked out in moonstones on the tall gilded chairback, would stand directly above her head. She intended
to make the man take in every symbol of who she was and what she represented. Had the Flame-topped
staff been at hand, she would have held it under his crooked nose. "A dead man can reclaim nothing, my
son. From here, with my help, it may be that you can reclaim your crown and your nation." 

 Mattin Stepaneos' mouth opened a crack and he inhaled deeply, like a man scenting a home he had
never thought to see again. "And how would you arrange that. Mother? I understand the City do be held
by these . . . Asha'man," he fumbled the cursed name slightly, "and Aiel who follow the Dragon Reborn."
Someone had been talking to him, telling him too much. His news of events was to be strictly rationed. It
seemed his serving man would have to be replaced. But hope had washed the anger from his voice, and
that was to the good.

 "Regaining your crown will require planning, and time," she told him, since at the moment she had no
idea of how it could be accomplished. She certainly intended to find a way, however. Kidnapping the
King of Illian had been meant to demonstrate her power, but restoring him to a stolen throne would
demonstrate it even further. She would rebuild the full glory of the White Tower at its highest, the days
when thrones trembled if the Amyrlin Seat frowned.

 "I am sure you are still weary from your journey." she said, standing. Just as if he had undertaken it of his
own free will. She hoped he was intelligent enough to make that pretense, too. It would serve them both
far better than the truth in the days to come. "We will dine together at midday and discuss what might be
done. Cariandre, escort His Majesty to his rooms and see to fetching a tailor. He will need new clothes
made. A gift from me." The plump Ghealdanin Red who had been standing still as a mouse beside the
door to the anteroom glided forward to touch his arm. He hesitated, reluctant to go, but Elaida continued
as though he were already leaving. "Tell Tarna to come in to me, Cariandre. I have a great deal of work
today," she added for his benefit.

 At last Mattin Stepaneos let himself be turned, and she sat down again before he reached the door.
Three lacquered boxes were arranged just so on the tabletop, one her correspondence box, where she
kept recently received letters and reports from the Ajahs. The Red shared whatever their eyes-and-ears
learned-she thought they did-but the other Ajahs still provided only dribbles, though they had produced a
number of unwelcome pieces of information in the last week or so. Unwelcome in part because they
indicated contact with the rebels that must go beyond those farcical negotiations. It was the fat,
gold-embossed leather folder in front of her that she opened, however. The Tower itself generated
enough reports to have buried the table had she tried to read them all herself, and Tar Valon produced
ten times as many. Clerks handled the vast majority, selecting only the most important for her to read.
They still made a thick stack.

 "You wanted me. Mother?" Tarna said coolly, shutting the door behind her. There was no disrespect in
it; the yellow-haired woman was cold by nature, her blue eyes icy. Elaida did not mind that. What
irritated her was that the bright red Keeper's stole around Tarna's neck was little more than a wide
ribbon. Her pale gray dress was slashed with enough red to display her pride in her Ajah, so why was
her stole so narrow? But Elaida had a great deal of trust in the woman, and of late that was a rare

 "What news from the harbor, Tarna?" There was no need to say which. Southharbor alone had any 

hope of remaining functional without massive repairs.

 "Only riverships of the shallowest draft can enter," Tarna said, crossing the carpet to stand in front of the
writing table. She might have been discussing the possibility of rain. Nothing fazed her. "But the rest are
taking turns tying up to the part of the chain that's cuendil-lar so they can off-load into barges. The ship
captains complain, and it takes considerably longer, yet for the time being, we can make do."

 Elaida's mouth compressed, and she drummed her fingers on the tabletop. For the time being. She could
not begin to repair the harbors until the rebels finally collapsed. So far, they had not launched an assault,
thank the Light. That might begin with soldiers only, yet sisters certainly would be drawn into it,
something they must want to evade as much as she did. But razing the harbor towers, as repairs would
require, laying the harbors open and defenseless, might lead them to desperate acts. Light! Fighting must
be avoided, if at all possible. She intended to fold their army into the Tower Guard once they realized
they were finished and returned to the Tower. Part of her already thought as if Gareth Bryne were
commanding the Tower Guard for her. An infinitely better man for High Captain than Jimar Chubain. The
world would know the White Tower's influence then! She did not want her soldiers killing one another,
any more than she wanted the Tower weakened by her Aes Sedai killing one another. The rebels were
hers as much as those inside the Tower, and she meant to make them acknowledge it.

 Picking up the top sheet from the stack of reports, she scanned it rapidly. "Apparently, despite my
express order, the streets are still not being cleaned. Why?"

 An uneasy light appeared in Tarna's eyes, the first time Elaida had ever seen her look troubled. "People
are frightened. Mother. They don't leave their homes except at need, and with great reluctance even then.
They say they have seen the dead walking in the streets."

 "This has been confirmed?" Elaida asked quietly. Her blood suddenly seemed chill. "Have any sisters
seen them?"

 "None in the Red, that I know of." The others would speak with her as Keeper, yet not freely, not to
share confidences. How under the Light was that to be mended? "But people in the city are adamant.
They have seen what they've seen."

 Slowly, Elaida set the page down to one side. She wanted to shiver. So. She had read everything she
could find concerning the Last Battle, even studies and Foretellings so old they had never been translated
out of the Old Tongue and had lain covered in dust in the darkest corners of the library. The al'Thor boy
had been a harbinger, but now it seemed that Tarmon Gai'don would come sooner than anyone had 

thought. Several of those ancient Foretellings, from the earliest days of the Tower, said the dead
appearing was the first sign, a thinning of reality as the Dark One gathered himself. There would be worse
before long.

 "Have the Tower Guards drag able-bodied men out of their houses, if need be," she said calmly. "I want
those streets clean, and I want to hear that a start was made today. Today!"

 The other woman's pale eyebrows lifted in surprise-she bad lost her usual frigid self-control!-but all she
said, of course, was. "As you command. Mother."

 Elaida projected serenity, but it was a charade. What would come, would come. And she still had
secured no hold on the al'Thor boy. To think she had once had him right under her hand! If only she had
known then. Curse Alviarin and that triply cursed proclamation calling anathema on anyone who
approached him save through the Tower. She would have recalled it, except That would seem weakness,
and in any case, the damage had been done beyond simple mending. Still, soon she would have Elayne
back in hand, and the Royal House of An-dor was the key to winning Tarmon Gai'don. That, she had
Foretold long ago. And news of rebellion against the Seanchan sweeping across Tarabon had been very
pleasant reading. Not everything was a tangle of briars stabbing her from every side.

 Scanning the second report, she grimaced. No one liked sewers, yet they were one-third of the life's
blood of a city, the other two being trade and clean water. Without the sewers, Tar Valon would become
prey to a dozen diseases, overwhelming anything the sisters could do, not to mention even more
malodorous than the rotting garbage must have made the streets already. Though trade was cut to a
trickle for the moment, the water still came in at the upriver end of the island and was distributed to
watertowers throughout the city, then to fountains, ornamental and plain, that anyone was free to use, but
now it seemed the sewer outlets on the downriver end of the island were nearly clogged. Dipping her pen
in the ink jar, she scrawled I WANT THESE CLEARED BY TOMORROW across the top of the page
and signed her name below. If the clerks had any sense, the work was already underway, but she never
accused clerks of having much sense.

 The next report made her own eyebrows rise. "Rats inside the Tower?" That was beyond serious! This
should have been on top! "Have someone check the Wards, Tarna." Those Wardings had held since the
Tower was built, but perhaps they could have weakened after three thousand years. How many of those
rats were the Dark One's spies?

 A rap came at the door, followed an instant later by a plump Accepted named Anemara, who spread
her striped skirts in a deep curtsy. "If it pleases you, Mother, Felaana Sedai and Negaine Sedai have
brought a woman to you they found wandering in the Tower. They say she wants to present a petition to
the Amyrlin Seat.'' 

 "Tell her to wait and offer her tea, Anemara." Tarna said briskly. "The Mother is busy-"

 "No, no," Elaida broke in. "Send them in, child. Send them in." It had been too long since anyone had
come to present her with a petition. She was of a mind to grant whatever it was. if it was not too
ridiculous. Perhaps that would restart the flow. It was far too long since any sisters had come to her
without being summoned, too. Perhaps the two Browns would end that drought, as well.

 But only one woman entered the room, carefully closing the door behind her. By her silk riding dress and
good cloak, she appeared to be a noblewoman or a prosperous merchant, a supposition supported by
her confident manner. Elaida was sure she had never met the woman before, yet there seemed something
vaguely familiar about that face framed by hair even fairer than Tarna's.

 Elaida stood and started around the table, hands outstretched and an unaccustomed smile on her face.
She tried to make it seem welcoming. "I understand that you have a petition for me, my daughter. Tarna,
pour her some tea." The silver pot sitting on a silver tray atop the side table must still be at least warm.

 "The petition, it was something I let them believe in order to reach you unbruised, Mother," the woman
replied in Taraboner accents, curtsying, and halfway through that, her face was suddenly that of Beonin

 Embracing saidar, Tarna wove a shield on the woman, but Elaida contented herself with planting her fists
on her hips.

 "To say that I'm surprised you dare show me your face would be an understatement, Beonin."

 "I managed to become part of what you might call the ruling council in Salidar," the Gray said calmly. "I
made sure they sat there and did nothing, and I put the rumors about that many among them were in truth
your secret adherents. The sisters, they were looking at one another with so much suspicion. I think me
most might have returned to the Tower soon at that point, but then other Sitters beside the Blues
appeared. The next 1 knew, they had chosen their own Hall of the Tower, and the ruling council, it was
done. Still, I continued to do what 1 could. I know that you commanded me to remain with them until
they were all ready to return, but that must happen within days, now. If I may say, Mother, it was the
most excellent decision not to try Egwene. For one thing, she has the genius for discovering new weaves,
even better than Elayne Trakand or Nynaeve al'Meara. For another, before they raised her. Lelaine and 

Romanda struggled with one another to be named Amyrlin. With Egwene alive, they will struggle again,
but neither can succeed, yes? Me. I think very soon now sisters will begin following behind me. In a
week or two, Lelaine and Romanda will find themselves alone with the remainder of their so-called Hall."

 "How did you know the al'Vere girl wasn't to be tried?" Elaida demanded. "How did you know she's
even alive? Unshield her, Tarna!"

 Tarna complied, and Beonin gave her a nod as if in gratitude. A small gratitude. Those large blue-gray
eyes might make Beonin appear constantly startled, but she was a very composed woman. Combine
composure with a wholehearted dedication to the law and also ambition, which she possessed in as great
a measure, and Elaida had known immediately that Beonin was the one to send off after the sisters fleeing
the Tower. And the woman had failed utterly! Oh, she had apparently sowed a little dissension, but
really, she had achieved nothing of what Elaida had expected from her. Nothing! She would find her
rewards commensurate with her failure.

 "Egwene, she can enter Tel'aran'rhiod simply by going to sleep, Mother. 1 myself have been there and
seen her, but I must use a ter'augreal. I could not acquire any of those the rebels have to bring with me.
In any event, she spoke to Siuan Sanche, in her dreams, it is claimed, though I think more likely in the
World of Dreams. Apparently, she said that she is a prisoner, but she would not tell where, and she
forbade any rescue attempt. May I pour myself that tea?"

 Elaida was so stunned she could not speak. She motioned Beonin to the side table, and the Gray
curtsied again before going over to feel the silver pitcher cautiously with the back of her hand. The girl
could enter Tel'aran'rhiod? And there were ter'augreal that allowed the same thing? The World of
Dreams was almost a legend. And according to those troubling scraps the Ajahs had deigned to share
with her, the girl had rediscovered the weave for Traveling and made any number of other discoveries as
well. They had been the determining factor in her decision to preserve the girl for the Tower, but this on
top of it?

 "If Egwene can do this, Mother, perhaps she really is a Dreamer," Tarna said. "The warning she gave

 "Is useless, Tarna. The Seanchan are still deep in Altara and barely touching Illian." At least the Ajahs
were willing to pass on everything they learned of the Seanchan. Or rather, she hoped they passed on
everything. The thought roughened her voice. "Unless they learn to Travel, can you think of any
precaution I need to take beyond what is already in place?" She could not, of course. The girl had
forbidden a rescue. That was good on the face of it, but it indicated she still thought of herself as Amyrlin.
Well, Silviana would remove that nonsense from her head soon enough if the sisters teaching her classes
failed. "Can she be fed enough of that potion to keep her out of Te/'aran'rhiod?" 

 Tarna grimaced slightly-no one liked that vile brew, even the Browns who had brought themselves to
test it-and shook her head. "We can make her sleep through the night, but she would be useless for
anything the next day, and who can say whether it would affect this ability of hers."

 "May I pour for you, Mother?" Beonin said, balancing a thin white teacup on her fingertips. "Tarna? The
most important news i have-"

 "I don't care for any tea." Elaida said harshly. "Did you bring back anything to save your skin from your
miserable failure? Do you know the weave for Traveling, or this Skimming, or. . . ." There were so many.
Perhaps they were all Talents and skills that had been lost, but apparently most had not been named yet.

 The Gray peered at her across the teacup, her face very still. "Yes." she said at last. "I cannot make
cuendillar, but I can make the new Healing weaves work as well as most sisters, and I know them all."
An edge of excitement crept into her voice. "The most marvelous is Traveling." Without asking
permission, she embraced the Source and wove Spirit. A vertical line of silver appeared against one wall
and widened into a view of snow-covered oaks. A cold breeze blew into the room. making the flames
dance in the fireplace. "That is called a gateway. It can only be used to reach a place you know well, but
you learn a place by making a gateway there, and to go somewhere you do not know well, you use
Skimming." She altered the weave, and the opening dwindled into that silvery line once more then
widened again. The oaks were replaced by blackness, and a gray-painted barge, railed and gated, that
floated on nothing against the opening.

 "Release the weave," Elaida said. She had the feeling that if she walked over to that barge, the darkness
would extend as far as she could see in any direction. That she could fall in it forever. It made her queasy.
The opening-the gateway-vanished. The memory remained, however.

 Resuming her seat behind the table, she opened the largest of the lacquered boxes, decorated with red
roses and golden scrollwork. From the top tray, she picked up a small ivory carving, a fork-tailed
swallow dark yellow with years, and stroked her thumb along the curved wings. "You will not teach these
things to anyone without receiving my permission."

 "But . . . why ever not, Mother?"

 "Some of the Ajahs oppose the Mother almost as strongly as those sisters beyond the river," Tarna said. 

 Elaida shot a dark look at her Keeper, but that cool visage absorbed it without changing a hair. "I will
decide who is . . . reliable enough . . . to be taught, Beonin. I want your promise. No. I want your oath.'

 "On my way here, I saw sisters of different Ajahs glaring at one another. Glaring. What has happened in
the Tower, Mother?"

 "Your oath, Beonin."

 The woman stood peering into her teacup long enough that Elaida was beginning to think she would
refuse. But ambition won out. She had tied herself to Elaida's skirts in the hope of preferment, and she
would not abandon that now. "Under the Light and by my hope of salvation and rebirth, I swear that I
will teach the weaves I learned among the rebels to no one without the permission of the Amyrlin Seat."
She paused, taking a sip from the cup. "Some sisters in the Tower, they are perhaps less reliable than you
think. I tried to stop it, but that 'ruling council' sent ten sisters to return to the Tower and spread the tale
of the Red Ajah and Logain." Elaida recognized few of the names she reeled off, until the last. That one
made her sit bolt upright.

 "Shall I have them arrested. Mother?" Tarna asked, still as chill as ice.

 "No. Have them watched. Watch whoever they associate with." So there uas a conduit between the
Ajahs inside the Tower and the rebels. How deeply had the rot spread? However deep, she would clean
it out!

 "That may be difficult as matters stand, Mother."

 Elaida slapped the table with her free hand, a sharp crack. "I didn't ask whether it would be difficult. I
said do it! And inform Meidani that I invite her to dinner this evening." The woman had been persistent in
trying to resume a friendship that had ended many years before. Now she knew why. "Go and do that
now." A shadow crossed Tarna's face as she curtsied. "Don't worry," Elaida said. "Beonin can feel free
to teach you every weave she knows." She did trust Tarna. after all, and it certainly made her expression
brighter, if not warmer. 

 As the door closed behind her Keeper. Elaida pushed the leather folder to one side and leaned her
elbows on the table, focusing on Beonin. "Now. Show me everything."


 At the Gardens

 A ran'gar arrived in answer to Moridin's summons, spoken into her furious dreams, to find him not yet
there. That was hardly surprising; he liked to make an entrance. Eleven tall armchairs, carved and gilded,
sat in a circle in the middle of the striped wooden floor, but they were empty. Semirhage. all in black as
usual, looked around to see who had entered, then returned to her huddled conversation with
Demandred and Mesaana in one corner of the room. Deman-dred's hook-nosed face carried an
expression of anger that only made him more striking. Not enough to attract her, of course. He was far
too dangerous for that. That well-fitted coat of bronze silk, with falls of snowy lace at neck and wrists,
suited him, however. Mesaana also wore the style of this Age, a darker, pattern-embroidered bronze.
She appeared wan and subdued, for some reason, almost as if she had taken ill. Well, that was possible.
This Age had a number of nasty diseases. and it seemed unlikely even she would trust Semirhage for
Healing. Graendal, the only other human present, stood in the corner opposite cradling a delicate crystal
goblet filled with dark wine, but watching the trio rather than drinking. Only idiots ignored being studied
by Graendal, yet the three went on with their fierce murmurs.

 The chairs jarred with the rest of their surroundings. The room appeared to have view-walls, though the
stone arch of a doorway destroyed the illusion. The chairs could have been anything, here in
Tel'aran'rhiod, so why not something to suit the room, and why eleven when that was surely two more
than needed? Asmodean and Sammael must be as dead as Be'lal and Rahvin. Why not the usual dilating
door of a view-room? The display made the floor seem to be surrounded by the Ansaline Gardens, with
Cormalinde Masoon's immense sculptures of stylized humans and animals towering over low buildings
themselves like delicate sculptures in spinglass. At the Gardens only the finest wines had been served, the
finest dishes, and it almost always had been possible to impress a beautiful woman with large winnings at
the chinje wheels, though cheating enough to win consistently had been difficult. Difficult, but necessary
for a scholar who lacked wealth. All gone, in ruins by the third year of the war.

 A golden-haired, ever-smiling zomara in a flowing white blouse and tight breeches bowed fluidly and
offered Aran'gar a crystal goblet of wine on a silver tray. Graceful and beautifully androgynous,
apparently human despite those dead black eyes, the creatures had been one of Aginor's less inspired
creations. Still, even in their own Age, when Moridin had been called Ishamael-there was no longer any
doubt in her mind of who he was-he had trusted the creatures above any human servant, despite their
uselessness for every other task. Somewhere he must have found a stasis box stuffed with the tilings. He
had dozens, although he seldom brought them out. Yet ten more stood waiting, graceful while standing
still. He must consider this meeting more important than most. 

 Taking the goblet, she waved the zomara away, though it was already turning before she gestured. She
hated the creatures' ability to know what was in her head. At least it could not communicate what it
learned to anyone. Memories of anything but commands faded in minutes. Even Aginor possessed sense
enough to see the need for that. Would he appear today? Osan'gar had missed every meeting since the
failure at Shadar Logoth. The true question was, was he among the dead or was lie moving in secret,
perhaps at the Great Lord's direction? Either way, his absences presented delicious opportunities, but the
latter presented as many dangers. Dangers had been much on her mind lately.

 Casually, she strolled over to Graendal. "Who do you think arrived first, Graendal? The Shadow take
me, whoever it was chose a depressing setting." Lanfear had preferred meetings that floated in endless
night, yet this was worse in its own way, like meeting in a cemetery.

 Graendal smiled thinly. At least, she attempted a thin smile, but no amount of effort would make those
lips thin. Lush was the word for all of Graendal, lush and ripe and beautiful, and barely concealed by the
gray mist of her streith gown. Though perhaps she should not have worn quite so many rings, all but one
adorned with gems. The coronet encrusted with rubies clashed with her sun-gold hair, too. The emerald
necklace Delana had provided went much better with her own green satin silks. Of course, while the
emeralds were real, her silks were a product of the World of Dreams. She would have attracted too
much notice in the waking world with a dress cut so low, if it would even stay up, there. And there was
the slit that bared her left leg to the hip. Her legs were better than Graendal's. She had considered two
slits. Her abilities here were not as large as some-she could not find Egwene's dreams without the girl
right beside her-but she could manage the clothes she wanted. She enjoyed having her body admired,
and the more she flaunted it, the more the others took her for inconsequential.

 "I arrived first," Graendal said, frowning slightly into her wine. "I have fond memories of the Gardens."

 Aran'gar managed a laugh. "So do I, so do I." The woman was a fool like the rest, living in the past
among the tatters of what was lost. "We'll never see the Gardens again, but we'll see their like." She
herself was the only one of them suited to rule in this Age. She was the only one who understood
primitive cultures. They had been her specialty before the war. Still, Graendal had useful skills, and a
wider range of contacts among the Friends of the Dark than she herself had, though the other woman
would certainly disapprove of how Aran'gar meant to use them should she learn. "Has it occurred to you
that all of the others have alliances, while you and I stand alone?" And Osan'gar, if he was alive, but there
was no need to bring him into this.

 Graendal's gown turned a darker gray, regrettably obscuring the view. It was real streith. Aran'gar had
found a pair of stasis-boxes herself. but filled with the most appalling rubbish for the most part. "Has it
occurred to you that this room must have ears? The zomaran were here when I arrived." 

 "Graendal." She purred the name. "If Moridin is listening, he'll assume I'm trying to get into your bed. He
knows I never made alliances with anyone." In truth, she had made several, but her allies always seemed
to suffer fatal misfortunes once their usefulness ended, and they took all knowledge of the affiliations to
their graves. Those who found graves.

 The streith went black as midnight in Larcheen. and spots of color appeared on Graendal's creamy
cheeks. Her eyes became blue ice. But her words were at odds with her face, and her gown faded to
near transparency as she spoke, slowly, sounding thoughtful. "An intriguing notion. One I've never before
considered. I might do so now. Perhaps. You will have to . . . convince me, though." Good. The other
woman was as quick-witted as ever. It was a reminder that she must be careful. She meant to use
Graendal and dispose of her, not be caught in one of her traps.

 "I am very good at convincing beautiful women." She stretched out a hand to caress Graendal's cheek.
Now was not too soon to begin convincing the others. Besides, something more than an alliance might
come of it. She had always fancied Graendal. She no longer really remembered having been a man. In
her memories, she wore the body she did now, which did make for a few oddities, yet that body's
influence had not changed everything. Her appetites had not altered, only broadened. She would like
very much to have that streith gown. And anything else useful that Graendal might possess, of course, but
she dreamed of wearing that dress sometimes. The only reason she was not wearing one now was that
she would not have the other woman thinking she had imitated her.

 The streith remained barely opaque, but Graendal stepped away from the caress looking past Aran'gar,
who turned to find Mesaana approaching, flanked by Demandred and Semirhage. He still appeared
angry, and Semirhage coolly amused. Mesaana was still pale, but no longer subdued. No. not subdued at
all. She was a hissing coreer. spitting venom.

 "Why did you let her go. Aran'gar? You were supposed to be controlling her! Were you so busy playing
your little dream-games with her that you forgot to learn what she was thinking? The rebellion will fall
apart without her for a figurehead. All my careful planning ruined because you couldn't keep a grasp on
one ignorant girl!"

 Aran'gar held on to her temper firmly. She could hold it, when she was willing to make the effort. Instead
of snarling, she smiled. Could Mesaana actually have based herself inside the White Tower? How
wonderful it would be if she could find a way to split that threesome apart. "I listened in on a sitting of the
rebels' Hall last night. In the World of Dreams, so they could meet inside the White Tower, with Egwene
leading it. She's not the figurehead you believe. I've tried telling you before, but you never listened." That
came out too hard. With an effort, and it required effort, she moderated her tone. "Egwene told them all
about the situation inside the Tower, the Ajahs at one another's throats. She convinced them it's the
Tower that is about to fall apart, and that she might be able to help it along from where she is. Were I 

you, I'd worry whether the Tower can hold together long enough to keep this conflict going."

 "They're determined to hold on?" Mesaana murmured, half under her breath. She nodded. "Good.
Good. Then everything is proceeding according to plan. I had been thinking I would need to stage some
sort of'rescue,' but perhaps I can wait until Elaida has broken her. Her return should create even more
confusion, then. You need to sow more dissension, Aran'gar. Before I'm done, I want these so-called
Aes Sedai hating each other in their blood."

 Kzomara appeared, bowing gracefully as it offered a tray with three goblets. Mesaana and her
companions took the wine without a glance at the creature, and it bowed again before flowing away.

 "Dissension was always something she was good at." Semirhage said. Demandred laughed.

 Aran'gar forced her anger down. Sipping her own wine-it was quite good, with a heady aroma, if
nowhere near the vintages served at the Gardens-she laid her free hand on Graendal's shoulder and
toyed with one of those sun-colored curls. The other woman never flinched, and the streith remained a
bare mist. Either she was enjoying this, or she had better control of herself than seemed possible.
Semirhage's smile grew more amused. She. too, took her pleasures where she found them, though
Semirhage's pleasures had never attracted Aran'gar.

 "If you're going to fondle one another." Demandred growled, "do it in private."

 "Jealous?" Aran'gar murmured, and laughed lightly at his scowl. "Where is the girl kept. Mesaana? She
didn't say."

 Mesaana's big blue eyes narrowed. They were her best feature, yet only ordinary when she frowned.
"Why do you want to know? So you can 'rescue' her yourself? I won't tell you."

 Graendal hissed, and Aran'gar realized that her hand had become a fist in that golden hair, bending
Graendal's head back. The other woman's face remained tranquil, but her gown was a red mist and
rapidly growing darker, more opaque. Aran'gar loosened her grip, holding on lightly. One of the first
steps was making your quarry accustomed to your touch. She did nothing to keep the anger from her
voice this time, however. Her bared teeth were an undisguised snarl. "I want the girl, Mesaana. Without
her, I have much weaker tools to work with." 

 Mesaana sipped wine calmly before responding. Calmly! "By your own account, you don't need her at
all. It has been my plan from the start, Aran'gar. I will adapt it according to need, but it is mine. And I will
decide when and where the girl is set free."

 "No, Mesaana, I will decide when and where, or whether, she is freed," Moridin announced, striding
through the stone arch. So he had set ears in place. He was in unrelieved black this time, a black
somehow darker than what Semirhage wore. As usual. Moghedien and Cyn-dane followed him, both
attired in identical red-and-black that suited neither. What hold did he have on them? Moghedien, at
least, had never willingly followed anyone. As for that beautiful, bosomy little pale-haired doll Cyndane. .
. . Aran'gar had approached her, just to see what might be learned, and the girl had coldly threatened to
rip her heart out if Aran'gar touched her again. Hardly the words of someone who submitted easily.

 "Sammael appears to have resurfaced," Moridin announced, crossing the floor to take a seat. He was a
big man, and he made the ornate high-backed chair seem a throne. Moghedien and Cyndane sat down to
either side of him, but interestingly, not until he had. Zomaran in snowy white were there instantly with
wine, yet Moridin received his first. Whatever was at work there, the zomaran sensed it.

 "That hardly seems possible," Graendal said as they all moved to take chairs. Her gown was dark gray
now, concealing everything. "He must be dead." No one moved quickly, though. Moridin was Nae'blis.
yet no one except Moghedien and Cyndane was willing to display any hint of subservience. Aran'gar
certainly was not.

 She took a seat across from Moridin, where she could watch him without seeming to. And Moghedien
and Cyndane. Moghedien was so still she would have faded into the chair except for her bright dress.
Cyndane was a queen, her face chiseled from ice. Trying to pull down the Nae'blis was dangerous, yet
those two might hold the key. If she could figure out how to turn it. Graendal sat down beside her, and
the chair was suddenly closer. Aran'gar could have laid her hand on the other woman's wrist but
refrained from anything more than a slow smile. It was best to keep her mind centered right then.

 "He could never have borne staying hidden this long,' Demandred put in, lounging into his chair between
Semirhage and Mesaana, legs crossed as though perfectly at ease. That seemed doubtful. He was
another who was unreconciled, she was sure. "Sammael needed to have every eye directed at him."

 "Nevertheless, Sammael, or someone disguised as him, gave orders to Myrddraal, and they obeyed, so
it was one of the Chosen." Moridin scanned around the chairs as though he could detect who it had been.
Black saa trickled across his blue eyes in a continuous stream. She had no regrets that the True Power
was limited to his use alone, now. The price was much too high. Ishamael had certainly been at least half 

insane, and he still was as Moridin. How long before she could remove him?

 "Are you going to tell us what these orders were?' Semirhage's tone was cool, and she sipped her wine
calmly, watching Moridin over the goblet's rim. She sat very erect, but she always did. She too appeared
completely at ease, yet that was unlikely.

 Moridin's jaw tightened. "I don't know.'' he said at last, reluctantly. He never liked saying that. "But they
sent a hundred Myrddraal and thousands of Trollocs into the Ways."

 "That sounds like Sammael," Demandred said thoughtfully, twisting his goblet and studying the swirling
wine. "Perhaps I was mistaken." A remarkable admission, coming from him. Or an attempt to hide being
the one who had worn Sammael as a disguise. She would like very much to know who had begun
playing her own game. Or whether Sammael really was alive.

 Moridin grunted sourly. "Pass orders to your Friends of the Dark. Any report of Trollocs or Myrddraal
outside the Blight is to be handed to me as soon as you receive it. The Time of Return is coming soon.
No one is allowed to go adventuring on their own any longer." He studied them again, each in turn save
for Moghedien and Cyndane. With a smile even more languorous than Graendal's, Aran'gar met his gaze.
Mesaana shrank back from it.

 "As you learned to your sorrow," he told Mesaana, and impossible as it seemed, her face went paler
still. She took a long drink from her goblet, her teeth clicking on the crystal. Semirhage and Demandred
avoided looking at her.

 Aran'gar exchanged looks with Graendal. Something had been done to punish Mesaana's failure to
appear at Shadar Logoth. but what? Once, dereliction on that scale would have meant death. They were
too few for that. now. Cyndane and Moghedien appeared as curious as she was, so they did not know

 "We can see the signs as clearly as you, Moridin," Demandred said irritably. "The Time is near. We need
to find the rest of the seals on the Great Lord's prison. I've had my followers searching everywhere, but
they've found nothing.''

 "Ah, yes. The seals. Indeed, they must be found." Moridin's smile was almost complacent. "Only three
remain, all in al'Thor's possession. though I doubt he has them with him. They're too susceptible to 

breaking, now. He will have hidden them. Direct your people to places he has been. Search them

 "The easiest way is to kidnap Lews Therin." In strong contrast to her ice-maiden appearance, Cyndane's
voice was breathy and sultry, a voice made for lying on soft pillows wearing very little. There was
considerable heat in those big blue eyes, now. A searing heat. "I can make him tell where the seals are."

 "No!" Moridin snapped, fixing her with a steady stare. "You would 'accidentally' kill him. The time and
manner of al'Thor's death will be at my choosing. No one else." Strangely, he put his free hand to the
breast of his coat, and Cyndane flinched. Moghedien shivered. "No one else," he repeated, in a hard

 "No one else," Cyndane said. When he lowered his hand, she exhaled softly then took a swallow of
wine. Sweat glistened on her forehead.

 Aran'gar found the exchange illuminating. It seemed that once she had disposed of Moridin, she would
have Moghedien and the girl on leashes. Very good, indeed.

 Moridin straightened himself in his chair, directing that stare at the rest of them. "That goes for all of you.
Al'Thor is mine. You will not harm him in any way!" Cyndane bent her head over her goblet, sipping, but
the hatred in her eyes was plain. Graendal had said she was not Lanfear. that she was weaker in the One
Power, but she surely was fixated on al'Thor. and she called him by the same name Lanfear had always

 "If you want to kill someone," he went on. "kill these two!" Suddenly the semblances of two young men
in rough country clothes stood in the center of the circle, turning so that everyone could get a good look
at their faces. One was tall and wide, with yellow eyes, of all things, while the other was not quite slender
and wore a cheeky grin. Creations of Tel aran'driod they moved stiffly and their expressions never
altered. "Perrin Aybara and Mat Cauthon are ta'veren, easily found. Find them, and kill them."

 Graendal laughed, a mirthless sound. "Finding ta'veren was never as simple as you made out, and now
it's harder than ever. The whole Pattern is in flux, full of shifts and spikes."

 "Perrin Aybara and Mat Cauthon," Semirhage murmured, inspecting the two shapes. "So that is what
they look like. Who knows, Moridin. If you had shared this with us before now. they might already have 

been dead."

 Moridin's fist came down hard on the arm of his chair. "Find them! Make doubly sure that your
followers know their faces. Find Aybara and Cauthon and kill them! The Time is coming, and they must
be dead!"

 Aran'gar took a sip of her wine. She had no objections to killing these two if she happened to come
across them, but Moridin was going to be terribly disappointed over Rand al'Thor.


 A Deal

 Perrin sat Stepper's saddle a little back from the edge of the trees and watched the large meadow where
red and blue wildflowers were beginning to poke through the winter-brown grass that the now vanished
snows had flattened into a mat. This stand was mainly leatherleaf that kept its broad dark foliage through
the winter, but only a few small pale leaves decorated the branches of the sweet-gums among them. The
dun stallion stamped a hoof with an impatience Perrin shared, though he let none of it show. The sun
stood almost overhead; he had been waiting there nearly an hour. A stiff, steady breeze blew out of the
west, down the meadow toward him. That was good.

 Every so often his gauntleted hand stroked a nearly straight branch hacked from an oak. thicker than his
forearm and more than twice as long, that lay across the saddle in front of him. For half its length he had
shaved two sides flat and smooth. The meadow, ringed by huge oaks and leatherleaf, towering pine and
shorter sweetgum, was less than six hundred paces wide, though longer than that. The branch should be
broad enough. He had planned for every possibility he could imagine. The branch fit more than one.

 "My Lady First, you should return to the camp," Gallenne said, not for the first time, rubbing irritably at
his red eyepatch. His crimson plumed helmet hung from the pommel of his saddle, leaving his
shoulder-length gray hair uncovered. He had been heard to say. in Berelain's hearing, that most of those
gray hairs were presents from her. His black warhorse tried to take a nip at Stepper, and he reined the
heavy-chested gelding sharply without taking his attention from Bere-lain. He had counseled against her
coming in the first place. "Grady can take you back and return while the rest of us wait a while longer to
see whether the Seanchan are going to show up." 

 "I will remain. Captain. I will remain." Berelain's tone was firm and calm, yet beneath her usual smell of
patience lay an edge of concern. She was not so certain as she made herself sound. She had taken to
wearing a light perfume that smelled of flowers. Perrin sometimes found himself trying to puzzle out which
flowers, but he was too focused for idle thoughts today.

 Vexation spiked in Annouras scent, though her ageless Aes Sedai face, framed by dozens of thin braids,
remained as smooth as ever. But then, the beak-nosed Gray sister had smelled vexed ever since the rift
between her and Berelain. It was her own fault, visiting Masema behind Berelain's back. She also had
counseled Berelain to stay behind. Annoura edged her brown mare closer to the First of Mayene, and
Berelain moved her white mare just that far away without so much as a glance in her advisor's direction.
Vexation spiked again.

 Berelain's red silk dress, heavily embroidered in golden scrollwork, displayed more bosom than she had
in some time, though a wide necklace of firedrops and opals provided a degree of modesty. A wide
matching belt, supporting a jeweled dagger, cinched her waist. The narrow crown of Mayene resting on
her black hair, holding a golden hawk in flight above her brows, appeared ordinary beside the belt and
necklace. She was a beautiful woman, the more so, it seemed to him, since she had stopped chasing him.
though still not a patch on Faile, of course.

 Annoura wore an unadorned gray riding dress, but most of them were in their best. For Perrin, that was
a dark green silk coat with silver embroidery covering the sleeves and shoulders. He was not much for
fancy clothes-Faile had chivvied him into buying what little he had; well, she had chivvied him gently-but
today he needed to impress. If the wide, plain leather belt fastened over the coat spoiled the impression a
little, so be it.

 "She must come," Arganda muttered. A short stocky man, Alliandre's First Captain had not removed his
silvered helmet with its three short white plumes, and he sat his saddle, easing his sword in its scabbard,
as though awaiting a charge. His breastplate was silver-plated, too. He would be visible for miles out in
the sunlight. "She must!"

 "The Prophet says they won't." Aram put in, and not softly, heeling his leggy gray up beside Stepper.
The brass wolfhead pommel of his sword stuck up over the shoulder of his green-striped coat. Once. he
had seemed too good looking for a man, but now his face grew grimmer every day. There was a
haggardness about him, his eyes sunken and his mouth tight. "The Prophet says either that, or it's a trap.
He says we shouldn't trust the Seanchan."

 Perrin held his silence, but felt his own spike of irritation, as much with himself as with the onetime
Tinker. Balwer had informed him that Aram had begun spending time with Masema. yet it had seemed
unnecessary to tell the man not to let Masema know everything Perrin was doing. There was no putting 

the egg back into the shell, but he would know better in the future. A workman should know his tools,
and not use them to breaking. The same went for people. As for Masema, no doubt he was afraid they
would meet someone who knew he himself was dealing with the Seanchan.

 They were a large party, though most would remain right there among the trees. Fifty of Berelain's
Winged Guards in rimmed red helmets and red breastplates, scarlet streamers floating from their slender
steel-tipped lances, were mounted behind the golden hawk on blue of Mayene, rippling on the breeze.
Beside them fifty Ghealdanin in burnished breastplates and dark green conical helmets sat their horses
behind Ghealdan's three silver stars on red. The streamers on their lances were green. They made a
brave show, yet all of them together were far less deadly than Jur Grady, with his weathered farmer's
face, even if they made him appear drab in his plain black coat with a silver sword pin on the high collar.
He knew it. whether or not they did. and he stood beside his bay gelding with the ease of a man resting
before the day's labor.

 In contrast, Leof Torfinn and Tod al'Caar, the only other Two Rivers men present, were still all but
bouncing in their saddles with excitement despite the long wait. It might have taken some of their pleasure
away had they known they had been chosen in large part because they came nearest fitting their
borrowed coats of dark, finely woven green wool. Leof carried Perrin's own Red Wolfhead banner. Tod
the Red Eagle of Manetheren, both rippling on staffs a little longer than the lances. They had almost come
to blows over who was to carry which. Perrin hoped it was not because neither wanted to carry the
red-bordered Wolfhead. Leof looked happy enough. Tod looked ecstatic. Of course, he did not know
why Perrin had brought the thing along. In any trade, you needed to make the other fellow think he was
getting something extra, as Mat's father often said. Colors swirled in Perrin's head, and for a brief instant
he thought he saw Mat talking to a small dark woman. He shook off the image. Here and now today,
were all that mattered. Faile was all that mattered.

 "They will come," Arganda snapped in answer to Aram, though he glared through the face-bars of his
helmet as if expecting a challenge.

 "What if they don't?" Gallenne demanded, his one eye scowling as fiercely as Arganda's pair. His
red-lacquered breastplate was not much better than Arganda's silvered one. Small chance they could be
talked into painting them something dull. "What if it is a trap?" Arganda growled, almost a wolf's guttural
growl. The man was near the end of his tether.

 The breeze brought the scent of horses only moments before Perrin's ears caught the first bluetits' trills,
too distant for anyone else to hear. They came from the trees flanking the meadow. Large parties of men.
perhaps unfriendly, were entering the woods. More trills sounded, closer.

 "They're here," he said, which earned him looks from Arganda and Gallenne. He tried to avoid revealing 

the acuteness of his hearing, or his sense of smell, yet that pair had been on the point of coming to blows.
The relayed trills grew nearer, and everyone could hear them. The two men's looks grew odd.

 "I can't risk the Lady First if there's any chance of a trap." Gallenne said, buckling on his helmet. They all
knew what the signal meant.

 "The choice is mine. Captain." Berelain replied before Perrin could open his mouth.

 "And your safety is my responsibility, my Lady First."

 Berelain drew breath, her face darkening, but Perrin got there first. "I told you how we're going to spring
that trap, if that's what it is. You know how suspicious the Seanchan are. Likely they're worried about us
ambushing them." Gallenne harrumphed loudly. The patience in Bere-lain's smell flickered, then settled in
again rock steady.

 "You should listen to him, Captain." she said with a smile for Perrin. "He knows what he is doing."

 A party of riders appeared at the far end of the meadow and drew rein. Tallanvor was easy to pick out.
In a dark coat and mounted on a good dappled gray, he was the only man not wearing armor vividly
striped in red and yellow and blue. The other pair unarmored were women, one in blue with red on her
skirts and breast, the other in gray. The sun reflected off something connecting them. So. A sul'dam and
damane. There had been no mention of that in all the negotiations carried out through Tallanvor, but
Perrin had counted on it.

 "It's time," he said, gathering Stepper's reins one-handed. "Before she decides we're not coming."

 Annoura managed to get close enough to lay a hand on Berelain's arm for a moment before the other
woman could move her mare away. "You should let me come with you. Berelain. You may need my
counsel, yes? This sort of negotiation, it is my specialty."

 "I suspect the Seanchan know an Aes Sedai face by now. don't you. Annoura? I hardly think they'd
negotiate with you. Besides," Berelain added, in a too sweet voice, "you must remain here to assist
Master Grady." 

 Spots of color appeared briefly on the Aes Sedai s cheeks, and her wide mouth tightened. It had taken
the Wise Ones to make her agree to take orders from Grady today, though Perrin was just as glad he did
not know how they had done it, and she had been trying to wiggle out ever since leaving the camp.

 "You stay, too," Perrin said when Aram made to ride forward. "You've been hotheaded lately, and I
won't risk you saying or doing the wrong thing out there. I won't risk Faile on it." That was true. No need
to say he would not risk the man carrying what was said out there back to Masema. "You understand?"

 Bubbles of disappointment filled Aram's scent, but he nodded, however reluctantly, and rested his hands
on the pommel of his saddle. He might come close to worshiping Masema, but he would give his life a
hundred times over rather than risk Faile's. On purpose, anyway. What he did without thinking was
another matter.

 Perrin rode out of the trees flanked by Arganda on one side and Berelain and Gallenne on the other. The
banners followed behind, and ten Mayeners and ten Ghealdanin in a column of twos. As they walked
their mounts forward, the Seanchan started toward them, also in column, with Tallanvor riding beside the
leaders, one on a roan, the other a bay. The horses' hooves made no sound on the thick mat of dead
grass. The forest had gone silent, even to Perrin's ears.

 While the Mayeners and Ghealdanin spread out in a line, and most of the Seanchan in their brightly
painted armor did the same, Perrin and Berelain advanced toward Tallanvor and two of the armored
Seanchan, one with three thin blue plumes on that lacquered helmet that was so like an insect's head, the
other with two. The sul'dam and damane came, too. They met in the middle of the meadow, surrounded
by wildflowers and silence, with six paces between them.

 As Tallanvor positioned himself to one side between the two groups, the armored Seanchan removed
their helmets with hands in steel-backed gauntlets that were striped like the rest of their armor. The
two-plumed helmet revealed a yellow-haired man with half a dozen scars seaming his square face. He
was a hard-bitten man who smelled of amusement, strangely, but it was the other who interested Perrin.
Mounted on the bay, a trained warhorse if he had ever seen one, she was tall and broad-shouldered for a
woman, though lean otherwise, and not young. Gray marked the temples of her close-cut, tightly curled
black hair. As dark as good topsoil, she displayed only two scars, one slanting across her left cheek. The
other, on her forehead, had taken part of her right eyebrow. Some people thought scars a sign of
toughness. It seemed to Perrin that fewer scars meant that you knew what you were doing. Confidence
filled the scent of her in the breeze. 

 Her gaze flickered across the fluttering banners. He thought she paused slightly on Manetheren's Red
Eagle, and again on Mayene's Golden Hawk, yet she quickly settled to studying him. Her expression
never altered a whit, but when she noticed his yellow eyes, something unidentifiable entered her scent,
something sharp and hard. When she saw the heavy blacksmith's hammer in its loop on his belt, the
strange scent grew.

 "I give you Perrin t'Bashere Aybara, Lord of the Two Rivers, Liege Lord to Queen Alliandre of
Ghealdan," Tallanvor announced, raising a hand toward Perrin. He claimed the Seanchan were sticklers
for formality, but Perrin had no idea whether this was a Seanchan ceremony or something from Andor.
Tallanvor could have made it up for all of him. "I give you Berelain sur Paendrag Paeron, First of
Mayene, Blessed of the Light, Defender of the Waves, High Seat of House Paeron." With a bow to the
pair of them, he shifted his reins and raised the other hand toward the Seanchan. "I give you
Banner-General Tylee Khirgan of the Ever Victorious Army, in service to the Empress of Seanchan. I
give you Captain Bakayar Mishima of the Ever Victorious Army, in service to the Empress of Seanchan."
Another bow, and Tal-lanvor turned his gray to ride back to a place beside the banners. His face was as
grim as Aram's, but he smelled of hope.

 "I'm glad he didn't name you the Wolf King, my Lord," the Banner-General drawled. The way she
slurred her words, Perrin had to listen hard to make out what she was saying. "Otherwise, I'd think
Tarmon Gai'don was on us. You know the Prophecies of the Dragon? 'When the Wolf King carries the
hammer, thus are the final days known. When the fox marries the raven, and the trumpets of battle are
blown.' I never understood that second line, myself. And you. my Lady. Sur Paendrag. That would mean
from Paendrag?"

 "My family is descended from Artur Paendrag Tanreall," Berelain replied, holding her head high. An
eddy in the breeze brought a whiff of pride among the patience and perfume. They had agreed that Perrin
was to do all of the talking-she was there to dazzle the Seanchan with a beautiful young ruler, or at least
to lend weight to Perrin with it- but he supposed she had to answer a direct question.

 Tylee nodded as though that were exactly the answer she expected. "That makes you a distant cousin of
the Imperial family, my Lady. No doubt the Empress, may she live forever, will honor you. So long as
you make no claims to Hawkwing's empire yourself, anyway."

 "The only claim I make is to Mayene," Berelain said proudly. "And that I will defend to my last breath."

 "I didn't come here to talk about the Prophecies or Hawkwing or your Empress," Perrin said irritably.
For the second time in a matter of moments those colors tried to coalesce in his head only to be
dispelled. He had no time. The Wolf King? Hopper would come as near to laughing as a wolf could over
that. Any wolf would. Still, he felt a chill. He had not realized that he was mentioned in the Prophecies. 

And his hammer was a harbinger of the Last Battle? But nothing mattered except Faile. Only her. And
whatever it took to free her. "The agreement for this meeting was no more than thirty in either party. but
you have men in the woods on both sides of us. A lot of men."

 "So do you." Mishima said with grin distorted by a white scar that met the corner of his mouth, "or you
wouldn't know about ours." His drawl was worse than hers.

 Perrin kept his eyes on the Banner-General. "As long as they both remain, there's the chance of
accidents. I don't want any accidents. I want my wife back from the Shaido."

 "And how do you propose we avoid accidents?" Mishima said, idly flipping his reins. He sounded as
though the question was not urgent. It seemed Tylee was content to let him do the talking while she
observed Perrin's reactions. "Are we supposed to trust you if we send our men out first, or you to trust
us if we ask you to withdraw first? 'On the heights, the paths are paved with daggers.' There isn't much
room for trust. I suppose we could both order our men to pull back at the same time, but one side might

 Perrin shook his head. "You're going to have to trust me. Banner-General. I have no reason to want to
attack you or capture you, and every reason not to. I can't be sure of the same about you. You might
think capturing the First of Mayene worth a little betrayal." Berelain laughed softly. It was time tor the
branch. Not just to force the Sean-chan out of the woods first, but to convince them that they needed
what he could offer. He stood the branch upright on the saddle in front of him. "I expect your men are
probably good soldiers. My men aren't soldiers, though they've fought Trollocs and Shaido and done
well against both." Gripping the branch at its base, he held it high overhead, the shaved sides uppermost
and facing either side. "But they're used to hunting lions and leopards and ridgecats come down out of the
mountains after our flocks, and wild boar and bear, animals that hunt back, in forests not much different
from this."

 The branch tried to twist violently in his gauntleted fist as twin impacts not a heartbeat apart shivered
down his arm. He lowered the branch to display two pile arrows, their chisel-shaped heads driven clear
of the tough wood on either side. Three hundred paces was a long range for that target, but he had
chosen Jondyn Barran and Jori Congar to makes the shots. They were the best he had. "If it comes
down to it, your men won't even see who's killing them, and that armor won't do much good against a
Two Rivers longbow. I hope it doesn't come to that." With all of his strength, he heaved the branch up
into the air.

 "My eyes!" Mishima growled, a hand going to his sword even as he tried to rein the roan back and
watch Perrin and the branch all at the same time. His helmet toppled from his saddle to the grass. 

 The Banner-General made no move toward her sword, though she also tried watching Perrin and the
branch. At first she did. Then her gaze followed only the branch as it continued to climb until it hung
centered between them a hundred feet in the air. Abruptly a ball of flame enveloped the branch, so fierce
that Perrin felt the heat as from an open furnace. Berelain put up a hand to shield her face. Tylee merely
watched thoughtfully.

 The fire lasted just moments, yet that was enough to leave only ash drifting on the breeze when it
vanished. Ash and two plummeting specks that fell into the dry grass. Small flames shot up immediately
and began growing, spreading. Even the warhorses snorted in fear. Berelain's mare danced in an attempt
to fight her reins and flee.

 Perrin muttered a curse-he should have thought of the arrowheads-and started to dismount to stamp out
the fire, but before he could swing his leg over the saddle, the flames vanished, leaving only thin tendrils of
smoke rising from a patch of blackened grass.

 "Good Norie," the sul'dam murmured, patting the damane. "Norie is a wonderful damane." The
gray-clad woman smiled shyly at the praise. Despite her words, the sul'dam looked worried.

 "So," Tylee said, "you have a marath-" She paused, pursing her lips. "You have an Aes Sedai with you.
More than one? No matter. I can't say the Aes Sedai I've seen have impressed me very much."

 "Not marath'damane, my general." the sul'dam said quietly.

 Tylee sat very still, studying Perrin intently. "Asha'man," she said at last, not a question. "You begin to
interest me, my Lord."

 "Then maybe one last thing will convince you," Perrin said. "Tod. roll that banner around the staff and
bring it here." Hearing nothing behind him, he looked over his shoulder. Tod was staring at him with a
stricken look. "Tod."

 Giving himself a shake, Tod began winding the Red Eagle around its staff. He still looked unhappy when
he rode forward and handed it to Perrin, though. He sat there with his hand still stretched out as though
hoping the staff might be returned to him. 

 Heeling Stepper toward the Seanchan, Perrin held the banner in front of him in his fist, parallel to the
ground. "The Two Rivers was the heart of Manetheren. Banner-General. The last King of Manetheren
died in a battle right where Emond's Field, the village I was born in. grew up. Manetheren is in our blood.
But the Shaido have my wife prisoner. To free her, I'll give up any claim to reviving Manetheren, sign any
sort of oath on it you want. That claim would be a field of brambles for you Seanchan. You could be the
one who cleared that field without a drop of blood shed." Behind him, someone groaned miserably. He
thought it was Tod.

 Suddenly, the breeze was a gale howling in the opposite direction, pelting them with grit, blowing so hard
that he had to cling to his saddle to kept from being knocked out of it. His coat seemed on the point of
being ripped from his body. Where had the grit come from? The forest was carpeted inches deep with
dead leaves. The tempest stank of burned sulphur, too. sharp enough to burn Perrin's nose. The horses
tossed their heads, mouths open, but the roar of the wind buried their frightened whinnies.

 Only moments the ferocious wind lasted, and then as suddenly as it came, it was gone, leaving only the
breeze blowing the other way The horses stood shivering, snorting and tossing their heads and rolling
their eyes. Perrin patted Stepper's neck and murmured soothing sounds, yet it had little effect.

 The Banner-General made a strange gesture and muttered, "Avert the Shadow. Where under the Light
did that come from? I've heard tales of strange things happening. Or was it more 'convincing' on your
part, my Lord?''

 "No," Perrin said truthfully. Neald possessed abilities with weather, it had turned out, but not Grady.
"What does it matter where it came from?"

 Tylee looked at him thoughtfully, then nodded. "What does it matter?" she said, sounding as if she did
not necessarily agree with him. "We have stories about Manetheren. That would be brambles underfoot
and no boots. Half of Amadicia is buzzing with talk of you and that banner, come to bring Manetheren
alive again and 'save' Amadicia from us. Mishima, sound withdrawal." Without hesitation, the
yellow-haired man raised a small, straight horn that was hanging by a red cord around his neck. Blowing
four shrill notes, he repeated the sequence twice before letting the horn fall to swing against his chest.
"My part is done," Tylee said.

 Perrin put back his head and shouted as loudly and distinctly as he could. "Dannii! Tell! When the last
Seanchan moves below the end of the meadow, gather everyone and join Grady!" 

 The Banner-General stuck her little finger into her ear and wiggled it about in spite of her gauntlet. "You
have a strong voice," she said dryly. Only then did she reach out to take the banner-staff, laying it
carefully across the saddle in front of her. She did not look at it again, but one hand stroked the banner
itself, perhaps unconsciously. "Now what do you have that can aid my plan, my Lord?" Mishima hooked
an ankle behind the tall pommel of his saddle and lowered himself to catch up his helmet. The wind had
rolled it across the beaten-down grass halfway back to the line of Seanchan soldiers. Brom the trees
came a brief snatch of larksong, then another, another. The Seanchan were withdrawing. Had they felt
the wind, too? No matter.

 "Not near as many men as you already have," Perrin admitted, "not that are trained soldiers, at least, but
1 have Asha'man and Aes Sedai and Wise Ones who can channel, and you'll need every one of them."
She opened her mouth, and he raised a hand. "I'll want your word that you won't try putting collars on
them." He glanced pointedly at the sid'dam and damane. The sul'dam was keeping her eyes on Tylee.
awaiting orders, but at the same time she was idly stroking the other woman's hair the way you might
stroke a cat to soothe it. And Norie looked to be almost purring! Light! "Your word that they're safe
from you, them and anyone in the camp wearing a white robe. Most of those aren't Shaido anyway, and
the only Aiel among them I know about are friends of mine."

 Tylee shook her head. "You have strange friends, my Lord. In any case, we've found people from
Cairhien and Amadicia with bands of Shaido and let them go, though most of the Cairhienin seem too
disoriented to know what to do with themselves. The only ones in white we keep are the Aiel. These
gai'shain make marvelous da'covale, unlike the rest. Still, I'll agree to letting your friends go free. And
your Aes Sedai and Asha'man. Putting an end to this gathering is very important. Tell me where they are,
and 1 can start incorporating you into my plans."

 Perrin rubbed the side of his nose with a finger. It seemed unlikely many of those gai'sbain were Shaido,
but he was not about to tell her that. Let them have their chance at freedom when their year and a day
was up. "It'll have to be my plan, I'm afraid. Sevanna will be a tough nut to crack, but I've worked out
how. For one thing, she has maybe a hundred thousand Shaido with her. and she's gathering in more.
Not every one is alga/'d'siswai, but any adult will pick up a spear if they need to."

 "Sevanna." Tylee gave a pleased smile. "We've heard that name. I would dearly love to present Sevanna
of the Jumai Shaido to the Captain-General." Her smile faded. "A hundred thousand is many more than I
expected, but not more than I can handle. We've fought these Aiel before, in Amadicia. Eh, Mishima?"

 Riding back to join them, Mishima laughed, but it was a harsh sound, no amusement in it. "That we have.
Banner-General. They're fierce fighters, disciplined and crafty, but they can be handled. You surround
one of their bands, their septs, with three or four damane and pound them till they give up. It's a nasty
business. They have their families with them. But they surrender the sooner for it." 

 "I understand you have a dozen or so damane" Perrin said, "but is that enough to face three or four
hundred Wise Ones channeling?"

 The Banner-General frowned. "You mentioned that before, Wise Ones channeling. Every band we've
caught had its Wise Ones, but not one of them could channel."

 "That's because all the Shaido have are with Sevanna," Perrin replied. "At least three hundred and
maybe four. The Wise Ones with me are sure of it."

 Tylee and Mishima exchanged a look, and the Banner-General sighed. Mishima looked glum. "Well,"
she said, "orders or no orders, that puts an end to finishing this quietly. The Daughter of the Nine Moons
will have to be disturbed if I must apologize for it to the Empress, may she live forever. Likely I will." The
Daughter of the Nine Moons? Some high-ranking Seanchan, apparently. But how was she supposed to
be disturbed by any of this?

 Mishima grimaced, a fearsome sight with all those scars crisscrossing his face. "I read there were four
hundred damane on each side at Semalaren, and that was a slaughterhouse. Half the Imperial army on the
field dead and better than three out of four among the rebels."

 "Nevertheless, Mishima, we have it to do. Or rather, someone else does. You might escape an apology,
but I won't." What under the Light was so upsetting about an apology? The woman smelled ... resigned.
"Unfortunately, it will take weeks if not months to gather enough soldiers and damane to prick this boil. I
thank you for your offer of help, my Lord. It will be remembered." Tylee held out the banner. "You'll
want this back since I can't deliver my side of the bargain, but a piece of advice. The Ever Victorious
Army may have other tasks in front of it for the nonce, but we won't let anyone take momentary
advantage of the situation to set himself up as a king. We mean to reclaim this land, not divide it into

 "And we mean to keep our lands," Berelain said fiercely, making her mare lunge across the few paces of
dead grass between her and the Seanchan. The mare was eager to lunge, eager to run, away from that
wind, and she had trouble reining the animal in. Even her scent was fierce. No patience now. She smelled
like a she-wolf defending her injured mate. "I've heard that your Ever Victorious Army is misnamed. I've
heard the Dragon Reborn defeated you soundly to the south. Don't you ever think that Perrin Aybara
can't do the same.'' Light, and he had been worried over Aram's hotheadedness! 

 "I don't want to defeat anybody except the Shaido," Perrin said firmly, fighting off the image that tried to
form in his mind. He folded his hands on the pommel of his saddle. Stepper seemed to be settling down,
at least. The stallion still gave small shivers now and then, but he had stopped rolling his eyes. "There's a
way to do that and still keep everything quiet so you don't need to apologize." If that was important to
her, he was ready to use it. "The Daughter of the Nine Moons can rest easy. I told you I had this planned
out. Tallanvor told me you have some kind of tea that makes a woman who can channel go wobbly in the

 After a moment, Tylee lowered the banner back to her saddle and sat studying him. "A woman or a
man." she drawled at last. "I've heard of several men being caught that way. But just how do you
propose feeding it to these four hundred women when they're surrounded by a hundred thousand Aiel?"

 "By feeding it to all of them without letting them know they're drinking it. I'll need as much as I can get,
though. Wagonloads. probably. There's no way to heat the water, you see, so it'll be thin tea."

 Tylee laughed softly. "A bold plan, my Lord. I suppose they might have cartloads at the manufactory
where the tea's made, but that's a long way from here, in Amadicia almost to Tarabon, and the only way
I could get more than a few pounds at once would be to tell someone of higher rank why I wanted it.
And there's the end of keeping it quiet all over again."

 "The Asha'man know a thing called Traveling," Perrin told her, "a way to cross hundred of miles in a
step. And as for getting the tea, maybe this will help." From his left gauntlet he pulled a folded,
grease-stained piece of paper.

 Tylee's eyebrows rose as she read it. Perrin had the short text by heart. THE BEARER OF THIS
EMPIRE AND SPEAK OF IT TO NONE BUT ME. He had no idea who Suroth Sabelle Meldarath
was, but if she signed her name to something like that, she had to be important. Maybe she was this
Daughter of the Nine Moons.

 Handing the paper to Mishima, the Banner-General stared at Per-rin. That sharp, hard scent was back,
stronger than ever. "Aes Sedai, Asha'man, Aiel, your eyes, that hammer, now this! Who are you?"

 Mishima whistled through his teeth. "Suroth herself," he murmured. 

 "I'm a man who wants his wife back," Perrin said, "and I'll deal with the Dark One to get her." He
avoided looking at the sul'dam and damane. He was not far short of making a deal with the Dark One.
"Do we have a bargain?"

 Tylee looked at his outstretched hand, then took it. She had a firm grip. A deal with the Dark One. But
he would do whatever it took to get Faile free.


 Something. . . Strange

 The drumbeat of rain on the tent roof that had lasted through most of the night faded to something softer
as Faile approached Sevanna's chair, a heavily carved and gilded throne placed in the center of the
bright, layered carpets that made up the tent's floor, with her eyes carefully lowered, to avoid offense.
Spring had arrived in a rush, but the braziers were unlit, and the morning air held a touch of chill.
Curtsying deeply, she presented the ropework silver tray. The Aiel woman took the golden goblet of
wine and drank without so much as a glance in her direction, but she gave another deep curtsy before
backing away and setting the tray down on the brass-bound blue chest that already held a tall-necked
silver wine pitcher and three more goblets, then returned to her place with the other eleven gai'shain
present, standing between the mirrored stand-lamps along the red silk tent wall. It was a spacious tent,
and tall. No low Aiel tent for Sevanna.

 Often it was hard to see her as Aiel at all. This morning, she lounged in a red brocaded silk robe, tied so
it gaped nearly to her waist and exposed half her considerable bosom, though she wore enough jeweled
necklaces, emeralds and firedrops and opals, ropes of fat pearls, that she came near to being decent. The
Aiel did not wear rings, yet Sevanna had at least one be-gemmed ring on every finger. The thick band of
gold and firedrops worn over the folded blue silk scarf that held back her waist-long yellow hair had
taken on the aspect of a coronet if not a crown. There was nothing Aiel in that.

 Faile and the others, six women and five men, had been wakened in the night to stand beside Sevanna's
bed-a pair of feather mattresses laid one atop the other-in case the woman woke and wanted something.
Was any ruler in the world attended by a dozen servants while she slept? She fought the urge to yawn.
Many things might earn punishment. but yawning surely would. Gai'shain were supposed to be meek and
eager to please, and it seemed that that meant obsequious to the point of groveling. Bain and Chiad,
fierce as they were otherwise, seemed to find it easy. Faile did not. In the near month since she was
stripped and tied up like a blacksmith's puzzle for hiding a knife, she had been switched nine times for
trivial offenses that were serious in Sevanna's eyes. Her last set of welts had not faded completely yet, 

and she had no intention of earning another set through carelessness.

 She hoped that Sevanna thought her tamed by that night trussed up in the cold. Only Rolan and his
braziers had saved her life. She hoped that she was not being tamed. Pretend something too long, and it
could become truth. She had been a prisoner less than two months, yet she could no longer recall exactly
how many days ago she was captured. At times it seemed she had been in white robes for a year or
more. Sometimes the wide belt and collar of flat golden links felt natural. That frightened her. She clung
hard to hope. She would escape soon. She had to. Before Perrin caught up and tried to rescue her. Why
had he not caught up yet? The Shaido had been camped at Maiden for a long time. now. He would not
have abandoned her. Her wolf would be coming to rescue her. She had to escape before he got himself
killed in the attempt. Before she was no longer pretending.

 "How long are you going to keep punishing Galina Sedai, Therava?" Sevanna demanded, frowning at the
Aes Sedai. Therava was seated cross-legged in front of her on a tasseled blue cushion, straight-backed
and stern. "Last night, she made my bath water coo hot, and she is so welted, I had to order the soles of
her feet beaten. That is not very effective when she must be left able to walk."

 Faile had been avoiding looking at Galina ever since Therava brought her into the tent, but her eyes went
to the woman of their own accord at mention of her name. Galina was kneeling erect halfway between
the two Aiel women and slightly to one side, mottled brown bruises on her cheeks, her skin damp and
slick from the heavy rain she had been walked through to get there, her feet and ankles muddy. She wore
only her firedrop-studded golden collar and belt, and seemed more naked than naked. Just a stubble
remained of her hair and eyebrows. Every hair from head to toe had been singed from her with the One
Power. Faile had heard it described, along with how the Aes Sedai had been hung from her ankles for
her first beating. That had been half the talk among the gai'shain for days. Only the handful who
recognized her ageless face for what it was still believed that she was Aes Sedai, and some of those had
the same doubts that had plagued Faile on finding an Aes Sedai among the gai'shain. After all, she
possessed the face, and the ring, but why would an Aes Sedai let Therava treat her so? Faile asked
herself that question often without arriving at any answer. She kept telling herself that Aes Sedai often did
what they did for reasons no one else could understand, but that was not very satisfying.

 Whatever her reasons for tolerating such abuse. Galina's eyes were wide and frightened, now, and fixed
on Therava. She was panting so hard that her breasts heaved. She had reason for fear. Anyone passing
Therava's tent was likely to hear Galina howling for mercy inside. For more than half a week Faile had
gotten glimpses of the Aes Sedai on some errand, hairless and garbed as she was now and running as
hard as she could with panic painting her face, and every day Therava added to the bands of welts that
striped Galina from her shoulders to the backs of her knees. Whenever one band began to heal, Therava
refreshed it. Faile had heard Shaido mutter that Galina was being treated too harshly, but no one was
about to interfere with a Wise One.

 Therava, nearly as tall as most Aiel men, adjusted her dark shawl in a rattle of gold and ivory bracelets 

and regarded Galina like a blue-eyed eagle regarding a mouse. Her necklaces, also gold and ivory,
seemed plain compared to Sevanna's opulence, her dark woolen skirts and white algode blouse drab, yet
of the two women, Faile feared Therava far more than she did Sevanna. Sevanna might have her
punished for a stumble, but Therava could kill her or crush her for a whim. She surely would if Faile
attempted escape and failed. "So long as the faintest bruise remains on her face, the rest of her will be
bruised as well. I have left the front of her unmarked so she can be punished for other misdeeds." Galina
began trembling. Silent tears leaked down her cheeks.

 Faile averted her gaze. It was painful to watch. Even if she managed to get the rod from Therava's tent,
could the Aes Sedai still be of help in escape? She gave every sign of being completely broken. That was
a harsh thought, but a prisoner needed to be practical above all else. Would Galina betray her to try
buying her way out of the beatings? She had threatened to betray her, if Faile failed to obtain the rod. It
was Sevanna who would be interested in Perrin Aybara's wife, yet Galina looked desperate enough to
try anything. Faile prayed for the woman to find strength to hold out. Of course she was planning an
escape on her own, in case Galina could not keep her promise to take them with her when she left, but it
would be so much easier, so much safer for everyone, if she could do it. Oh. Light, why had Perrin not
caught up yet? No! She had to keep her focus.

 "She is not very impressive like that," Sevanna muttered, frowning into her goblet, now. "Even that ring
cannot make her look like an Aes Sedai." She shook her head irritably. For some reason Faile did not
understand, it was very important to Sevanna that everyone know that Galina was a sister. She had even
taken to giving her the honorific. "Why are you here so early, Therava? I have not even eaten, yet. Will
you take some wine?"

 "Water," Therava said firmly. "As for it being early, the sun is almost over the horizon. I broke fast
before it rose. You grow as indolent as a wetlander, Sevanna."

 Lusara. a buxom Domani gai'shain, quickly filled a goblet from the silver water pitcher. Sevanna seemed
amused by the Wise Ones' insistence on drinking only water, yet she provided it for them. Anything else
would have been an insult even she would want to avoid. The copper-skinned Domani had been a
merchant, and well into her middle years, but a few white hairs among the black falling below her
shoulders had not been enough to save her. She was stunningly beautiful, and Sevanna gathered the rich,
the powerful and the beautiful, simply taking them if they were gai'shain to someone else. There were so
many gai'shain that few complained at having one taken. Lusara curtsied gracefully and bowed to present
her tray to Therava on her cushion, all very proper, but on the way back to her place against the wall, she
smiled at Faile. Worse, it was a conspiratorial smile.

 Faile suppressed a sigh. Her last switching had been for a sigh at the wrong moment. Lusara was one of
those who had sworn fealty to her in the past two weeks. After Aravine, Faile had tried to choose
carefully, but rejecting someone who asked to swear was creating a possible betrayer, so she had far too
many adherents, a good number of whom she was unsure of. She was beginning to believe that Lusara 

was trustworthy, or at least that she would not intentionally betray her, but the woman treated their
escape plans like a child's game, without cost if they lost. It seemed she had treated merchanting in the
same way, making and losing several fortunes, but Faile would have no chance to start over if they lost.
Nor would Alliandre or Maighdin. Or Lusara. Among Sevanna's gai'shain, those who actually attempted
escape were kept chained when not serving her or performing tasks.

 Therava took a swallow of water, then set the goblet down on the flowered carpet beside her and fixed
Sevanna with a steely gaze. "The Wise Ones believe it is past time for us to move north and east. We can
find easily defended valleys in the mountains there, and we can reach them in less than two weeks even
slowed as we are by the gai'shain. This place is open on every side, and our raids to find food must go
further and further."

 Sevanna's green eyes met that stare without blinking, which Faile doubted she herself could have done.
It nettled Sevanna when the other Wise Ones met without her, and frequently she took it out on her
gai'shain. but she smiled and took a sip of wine before replying in patient tones, as though explaining to
someone not quite bright enough to understand. "Here, there is good soil for planting, and we have their
seed to add to our own. Who knows what the soil is like in the mountains? Our raids bring in cattle and
sheep and goats, too. Here, there are good pastures. What pasturage do you know of in these
mountains, Therava? Here, we have more water than any clan has ever had. Do you know where the
water is in the mountains? As to defending ourselves, who will come against us? These wetlanders run
from our spears."

 "Not all run," Therava said drily. "Some are even good at dancing the spears. And what if Rand al'Thor
sends one of the other clans against us? We would never know until the horns closed in on us." Suddenly
she smiled, too, a smile that never reached her eyes. "Some say your plan is to be captured and made
gai'shain to Rand al'Thor so you can induce him to marry you. An amusing idea, you agree?"

 Despite herself. Faile flinched. Sevanna's mad intention to marry al'Thor-she had to be mad to think she
could!-was what put Faile in danger from Galina. If the Aiel woman did not know that Perrin was linked
to al'Thor, Galina could tell her. Would tell her if she could not get her hands on that cursed rod. Sevanna
would take no chances on losing her then. She would be chained as certainly as if caught trying to

 Sevanna looked anything except amused. Eyes glittering, she leaned forward, her robe gaping to expose
her bosom completely. "Who says this? Who?" Therava picked up her goblet and took another swallow
of water. Realizing she would get no answer. Sevanna leaned back, and rearranged her robe. Her eyes
still glittered like polished emeralds, though, and there was nothing casual in her words. They came out as
hard as her eyes. "1 will marry Rand al'Thor, Therava. I almost had him, until you and the other Wise
Ones failed me. I will marry him, unite the clans, and conquer all of the wetlands!" 

 Therava sneered over her goblet. "Couladin was the Car'a'carn, Sevanna. I have not found the Wise
Ones who gave him permission to go to Rhuidean, but I will. Rand al'Thor is a creature of the Aes Sedai.
They told him what to say at Alcair Dal. and a black day it was when he revealed secrets few are strong
enough to know. Be grateful that most believe he lied. But I forget. You have never gone to Rhuidean.
You believed his secrets lies yourself."

 Gai'shain began entering past the tentflap, their white robes rain-damp. holding their hems knee-high until
they were inside. Each wore the golden collar and belt. Their soft white laced boots left muddy-marks on
the carpets. Later, when those had dried, they would have to clean them away, but getting visible mud on
your robes was a sure path to the switch. Sevanna wanted her gai'shain spotless when they were around
her. Neither Aiel woman paid the slightest attention to the arrivals.

 Sevanna seemed taken aback by what Therava had said. "Why do you care who gave Couladin
permission? No matter," she said, waving a hand as though brushing away a fly, when she got no reply.
"Couladin is dead. Rand al'Thor has the markings, however he got them. I will marry him, and I will make
use of him. If the Aes Sedai could control him, and I saw them handling him like a babe, then I can. With
a little help from you. And you will help. You agree that uniting the clans is worth doing no matter how it
is done? You did once." Somehow, there was more than a hint of threat in that. "We Shaido will become
the most powerful of the clans in one leap."

 Lowering their cowls, the new gai'shain filed wordlessly along the tent walls, nine men and three women,
one of them Maighdin. The sun-haired woman wore a grim expression that had been on her face since
the day Therava had discovered her in the Wise One's tent. Whatever Therava had done, all Maighdin
would say of it was that she wanted to kill the other woman. Sometimes she whimpered in her sleep,

 Therava kept whatever she thought about uniting the clans to herself. "There is much feeling against
staying here. Many of the sept chiefs press the red disc on their nar'baha every morning. I advise you to
heed the Wise Ones."

 Nar'baha. That would mean 'box of fools.' or something very near. But what could this be? Bain and
Chiad were still teaching her about Aiel ways, when they could find time, and chey had never mentioned
any such thing. Maighdin stopped beside Lusara. A slender Cairhienin nobleman named Doirmanes
stopped beside Faile. He was young and very pretty, but he bit his lip nervously. If he learned about the
oaths of fealty, he would have to be killed. She was certain he would run to Sevanna in a heartbeat.

 "We remain here," Sevanna said angrily, flinging her goblet to the carpets in a spray of wine. "I speak for
the clan chief, and I have spoken!" 

 "You have spoken," Therava agreed calmly. "Bendhuin, sept chief of the Green Salts, has received
permission to go to Rhuidean. He left five days ago with twenty of his algai'd'siswai and four Wise Ones
to stand witness."

 Not until one of the new gaishain stood beside each of those already there did Faile and the others raise
their cowls and begin filing along the walls toward the doorflap. already gathering their robes to the knee.
She had become quite sanguine about exposing her legs so.

 "He seeks to replace me, and I was not even informed?"

 "Not you, Sevanna. Couladin. As his widow, you speak for the clan chief until a new chief returns from
Rhuidean, but you are not the clan chief."

 Faile stepped out into the cold, gray morning drizzle, and the tent-flap cut off whatever Sevanna said to
that. What was going on between the two women? Sometimes, as this morning, they seemed antagonists,
but at others they seemed reluctant conspirators bound together by something that gave neither any
comfort. Or perhaps it was the being bound together itself that made them uncomfortable. Well, she
could not see how knowing would help her escape, so it did not really matter. But the puzzle nagged at

 Six Maidens stood clustered in front of the tent, veils hanging down onto their chests, spears thrust up
through the harness of the bow cases on their backs. Bain and Chiad were contemptuous of Sevanna for
using Maidens of the Spear for her guard of honor though she herself had never been a Maiden, and for
having her tent always guarded, but there were never fewer than six, night or day. Those two were
contemptuous of the Shaido Maidens for allowing it, too. Neither being a clan chief nor speaking for one
gave you as much power as most nobles possessed. These Maidens' hands were flashing in a rapid
conversation. She caught the sign for Car'a'carn several times, but not sufficient else to make out what
they were saying, or whether about al'Thor or Couladin.

 Standing there long enough to find out, if she could find out, was beyond the question. With the others
already hurrying away down the muddy street, the Maidens would become suspicious, for one thing, and
then they might switch her themselves, or worse, use her own bootlaces. She had had a hard dose of that
from some Maidens, for having "insolent eyes," and she did not want another. Especially when it meant
baring herself in public. Being Sevanna's gai'shain gave no protection. Any Shaido could discipline any
gai'shain they thought was behaving improperly. Even a child could, if the child was set to watch you
carry out a chore. For another thing, the cold rain, light as it was, was going to soak through her woolen 

robes soon enough. She had only a short walk back to her tent, no more than a quarter of a mile, but she
would not complete it without being stopped for a time.

 A yawn cracked her jaw as she turned from the large red tent. She very much wanted her blankets and
a few more hours sleep. There would be more chores come afternoon. What they might be, she did not
know. Matters would be much simpler if Sevanna settled on who she wanted to do what when, but she
seemed to choose names at random, and always at the last minute. It made planning anything, much less
the escape, very difficult.

 All sorts of tents surrounded Sevanna's, low, dark Aiel tents, peaked tents, walled tents, tents of every
sort and size in every color imaginable, separated by a tangle of dirt streets that were now rivers of mud.
Lacking enough of their own, the Shaido snatched up every tent they could find. Fourteen septs were
camped in a sprawl around Maiden now, a hundred thousand Shaido and as many gai'shain, and rumor
said two more septs, the Morai and the White Cliff, would arrive within days. Aside from small children
splashing through the mud with romping dogs, most of the people she could see as she walked wore
mud-stained white and were carrying baskets or bulging sacks.

 Most of the women did not hurry; they ran. Except for the blacksmiths, the Shaido seldom did any work
themselves, and generally only out of boredom, she suspected. With so many gai'sbain, finding chores for
them all was itself a chore. Sevanna was no longer the only Shaido to actually sit in a bathtub with a
gai'sbain scrubbing her back. None of the Wise Ones had gone that far yet. but some of the others would
not stir themselves two paces to pick something up when they could tell a gai'sbain to fetch it.

 She was almost to the gai'sbain portion of the camp, hard against the gray stone walls of Maiden, when
she saw a Wise One striding toward her with her dark shawl wrapped around her head against the rain.
Faile did not stop, but she bent her knees a little. Meira was not so frightening as Therava, but the
grim-faced woman was hard enough, and shorter than Faile. Her narrow mouth always grew even tighter
when she was confronted with a woman taller than she. Faile would have thought that learning her own
sept, the White Cliff, would be there soon, would brighten the woman's mood, but the news had had no
dis-cernable effect at all.

 "So you were just lagging," Meira said as she came close. Her eyes were as hard as the sapphires they
resembled. "I left Rhiale listening to the others because I feared some drunken fool had pulled you into a
tent." She glared around her as though looking for a drunken fool about to do just that.

 "No one accosted me, Wise One," Faile said quickly. Several had in the last few weeks, some drunk
and some not, but Rolan always appeared in the nick of time. Twice the big Mera'din had had to fight to
save her. and once he had killed the other man. She had expected nine kinds of uproar and trouble, but
the Wise Ones judged it a fair fight, and Rolan said her name had never been mentioned. For all that Bain 

and Chiad insisted it went against all custom, assault was a constant danger for gai'shain women here.
She was sure that Alliandre had been assaulted once, before she and Maighdin also acquired Mera'din
shadows. Rolan denied having asked them to help her people. He said they were just bored and looking
for something to do. "I'm very sorry I was slow."

 "Do not cringe. I am not Therava. I will not beat you for the pleasure of it." Words said in tones hard
enough for a headsman. Meira might not beat people for pleasure, but Faile knew for a fact that she had
a strong arm swinging a switch. "Now tell me what Sevanna said and did. This water falling from the sky
may be a wondrous thing, but it is miserable to walk around in."

 Obeying the command was easy. Sevanna had not wakened during the night, and once she did rise, all
her talk had been of what clothes and jewels she would wear, especially the jewels. Her jewelry chest
had been made to hold clothing, and it was filled to the top with more gems than most queens possessed.
Before putting on any garment at all, Sevanna had spent time trying on different combinations of
necklaces and rings and studying herself in the gilt-framed stand-mirror. It had been very embarrassing.
For Faile.

 She had just reached Therava's arrival with Galina when everything in front of her eyes rippled. She
rippled! It was not imagination. Meira's blue eyes widened as far as they could go; she had felt it, too.
Again everything rippled, including herself, harder than before. In shock, Faile stood up straight and let
go of her robe. A third time the world rippled, harder still, and as it passed through her. she felt as if she
might blow away in a breeze, or simply dissipate in a mist.

 Breathing hard, she waited for the fourth ripple, the one she knew would destroy her and everything
else. When it did not come, she expelled every bit of air in her lungs from relief. "What just happened,
Wise One? What was that?"

 Meira touched her own arm and looked faintly surprised that her hand did not pass through flesh and
bone. "I . . . do not know," she said slowly. Giving herself a shake, she added, "Go on about your
business, girl." She gathered her skirts and strode past Faile at little short of a trot, splashing mud as she

 The children had vanished from the street, but Faile could hear them wailing inside the tents. Abandoned
dogs shivered and whined, tails tucked between their legs. People in the street were touching themselves,
touching each other, Shaido and gai'shain alike. Faile clasped her hands together. Of course she was
solid. She had only felt as though she were turning to mist. Of course. Hoisting her robes to avoid any
more washing than she absolutely had to do. she began to walk. And then to run, careless of how much
mud she splashed onto herself or anyone else. She knew there could be no running from another of those
ripples. But she ran anyway, as fast as her legs could carry her. 

 The gai'shain tents made a broad ring around Maiden's high granite walls, and they were as varied as the
tents in the outer part of the encampment, though most were small. Her own peaked tent could have slept
two uncomfortably; it housed herself and three others, Alliandre. Maighdin and a former Cairhienin
noblewoman named Dairaine. one of those who curried favor with Sevanna by carrying tales about the
other garshain. That complicated matters, but there was no mending it short of killing the woman, and
Faile would not countenance that. Not unless Dairaine became a real threat. They slept huddled together
like puppies of necessity, glad of the shared body warmth on cold nights.

 The interior of the low tent was dim when she ducked inside. Lamp oil and candles were in short supply,
and not wasted on gai'shain. Only Alliandre was there, lying facedown on her blankets in her collar with a
damp cloth, dipped in an herbal infusion, over her bruised bottom. At least the Wise Ones were as willing
to give their healing herbs to gai'shain as to Shaido. Alliandre had done nothing wrong, but had been
named as one of the five who had pleased Sevanna least yesterday. Unlike some, she had done quite
well while being punished- Doirmanes had begun weeping even before he was bent over the chest-but
she seemed to be among those chosen out every three or four days. Being a queen did not teach you
how to serve a queen. But then, Maighdin was picked nearly as often, and she was a lady's maid, if not a
very skilled one. Faile herself had only been chosen once.

 It was a measure of how Alliandre's spirits had fallen that she made no move to cover herself, only
raised up on her elbows. Still, she had combed her long hair. If she failed to do that, Faile would know
the woman had reached bottom. "Did anything . . . strange . . . happen to you just now. my Lady?" she
asked, fear strong in her unsteady voice.

 "It did." Faile said, standing crouched under the ridgepole. "I don't know what it was. Meira doesn't
know what it was. I doubt any of the Wise Ones do. But it didn't harm us." Of course it had not harmed
them. Of course not. "And it changes nothing in our plans.-' Yawning, she unfastened the wide golden
belt and dropped it on her blankets, then grasped her outer robe to pull it over her head.

 Alliandre put her head down on her hands and began weeping quietly. "We'll never escape. I'm going to
be beaten again tonight. I know it. I'm going to be beaten every day for the rest of my life."

 With a sigh. Faile left her outer robe where it was and knelt to stroke her liege woman's hair. There were
as many responsibilities down as up. "I have those same fears now and then," she admitted softly. "But I
refuse to let them take control. I will escape. We will escape. You have to keep your courage, Alliandre.
I know you're brave. I know you've dealt with Masema and kept your nerve. You can keep it now, if
you try." 

 Aravine put her head in at the tentflap. She was a plain, plump woman, a noble Faile was sure, though
she never claimed it, and despite the dimness Faile could see that she was beaming. She wore Sevanna's
belt and collar, too. "My Lady, Alvon and his son have something for you."

 "It will have to wait a few minutes," Faile said. Alliandre had stopped crying, but she was just lying there,
silent and still.

 "My Lady, you won't want to wait for this."

 Faile's breath caught. Could it be possible? It seemed too much to hope for.

 "I can keep my nerve," Alliandre said, raising her head to gaze at Aravine. "If what Alvon has is what I
hope it is, I'll keep my nerve if Sevanna has me put to the question."

 Snatching up her belt-being seen outside without belt and collar both meant punishment almost as severe
as for trying to run away- Faile hurried out of the tent. The drizzle had slackened to a misting rain, but she
pulled up her cowl anyway. The rain was still cold.

 Alvon was a stocky man, overtopped by his son Theril, a lanky boy. Both wore mud-stained,
almost-white robes made of tentcloth. Theril, Alvon's eldest, was only fourteen, but the Shaido had not
believed it because of his height, as much as most men in Amadicia. Faile had been ready to trust Alvon
from the start. He and his son were something of legends among the gai'shain. Three times they had run
away, and each time it had taken the Shaido longer to bring them back. And despite increasingly fierce
punishment, on the day they swore fealty they had been planning a fourth attempt to return to the rest of
their family. Neither ever smiled that Faile had seen, but today, smiles wreathed Alvon's weathered face
and Theril's skinny one alike.

 "What do you have for me?" Faile asked, hastily fastening her belt around her waist. She thought her
heart was going to pound its way out of her chest.

 "It was my Theril, my Lady," Alvon said. A woodcutter, he spoke with a coarse accent that made him
barely intelligible. "He was just walking by, see, and there was nobody around, nobody at all, so he
ducked in quick like, and . . . Show the Lady, Theril." 

 Shyly. Theril reached into his wide sleeve-the robes usually had pockets sewn in there-and drew out a
smooth white rod that looked like ivory, about a foot long and as slim as her wrist.

 Looking around to see if anyone was watching-the street was empty save for them, for the moment at
least-Faile took it quickly and pushed it up her own sleeve to tuck into the pocket there. The pocket was
just deep enough to keep it from falling out, but now that she had the thing in hand, she did not want to let
go of it. It felt like glass, and was distinctly cool to the touch, cooler than the morning air. Perhaps it was
an angreal or a ter'angreal. That would explain why Galina wanted it. if not why she had not taken it
herself. Hand buried in her sleeve, Faile gripped the rod hard. Galina was no longer a threat. Now she
was salvation.

 "You understand, Alvon, that Galina may be unable to take you and your son with her when she leaves,"
she said. "She has only promised that to me and those captured with me. But I promise you that I will
find a way to free you and everyone who has sworn to me. All the rest, too, if I can, but those above all.
Under the Light and by my hope of salvation and rebirth. I swear it." How. she had no idea short of
calling on her father for an army, but she would do it.

 The woodcutter made as if to spit then glanced at her. and his face colored. He swallowed, instead.
"That Galina ain't going to help nobody, my Lady. Says she's Aes Sedai and all, but she's that Therava's
plaything if you ask me, and that Therava ain't never going to let her go. Anyways, I know if we can get
you free, you'll come back for the rest of us. No need for you to swear and all that. You said you wanted
the rod if anybody could lay hands on it without getting caught, and Theril got it for you. that's all."

 "I want to be free," Theril said suddenly, "but if we get anybody free, then we've beaten them." He
looked surprised that he had spoken, and blushed deep red. His father frowned at him. then nodded

 "Very well said," Faile told the boy gently, "but I made my oath. and I stand by it. You and your father-"
She cut off as Aravine, looking past her shoulder, laid a hand on her arm. The woman's smile had been
replaced by fright.

 Turning her head, Faile saw Rolan standing beside her tent. A good two hands taller than Perrin. he
wore his shoi/fa coiled around his neck with the black veil hanging down his broad chest. Rain slicked his
face and made his short red hair cling to his scalp in curls. How long had he been there? Not long, or
Aravine would have noticed him before. The tiny tent offered little concealment. Alvon and his son had
their shoulders hunched, as if they were thinking about attacking the tall Mera'din. That was a very bad
idea. Mice attacking a cat was not in it, as Perrin would have said. 

 "Go on about your duties. Alvon." she said quickly. "You, too, Aravine. Go on, now."

 Aravine and Alvon had sense enough not to offer courtesies before leaving with final worried glances at
Rolan, but Theril half raised a hand toward knuckling his forehead before catching himself. Blushing, he
scurried away after his father.

 Rolan came out from beside the tent to stand in front of her. Oddly, he had a small bunch of blue and
yellow wildflowers in one hand. She was very conscious of the rod she was holding in her sleeve. Where
was she to hide it? Once Therava discovered it missing, she likely would turn the camp upside down.

 "You must be careful, Faile Bashere," Rolan said, smiling down at her. Alliandre called him not quite
pretty, but Faile had decided she was wrong. Those blue eyes and that smile made him very nearly
beautiful. "What you are about is dangerous, and I may not be here to pro-tect you much longer."

 "Dangerous?" She felt a chill in her middle. "What do you mean? Where are you going?" The thought of
losing his protection made her stomach lurch. Few of the wetlander women had escaped the attentions of
Shaido men. Without him. . . .

 "Some of us are thinking of returning to the Three-fold Land." Mis smile faded. "We cannot follow a
false Car'a'cani, and a wetlander at that, but perhaps we will be allowed to live out our lives in our own
holds. We think on it. We have been a long time from home, and these Shaido sicken us."

 She would find a way to deal with it once he was gone. She would have to. Somehow. "And what am I
doing that is dangerous?" She tried to make her voice light, but it was difficult. Light, what would happen
to her without him?

 "These Shaido are blind even when they are not drunk. Faile Bashere." he replied calmly. Pushing her
cowl back, he tucked one of the wildflowers into her hair above her left ear. "We Mera'din use our
eyes." Another wildflower went into her hair, on the other side. "You have made many new friends lately,
and you are planning to escape with them. A bold plan, but dangerous."

 "And will you tell the Wise Ones, or Sevanna?" She was startled when that came out in an even tone. 

Her stomach was trying to tie itself into knots.

 "Why would I do that?" he asked, adding another flower to her decorations. "Jhoradin thinks he will take
Lacile Aldorwin back to the Three-fold Land with him even if she is a Treekiller. He believes he may
convince her to make a bridal wreath to lay at his feet." Lacile had found her own protector by climbing
into the blankets of the Mera'din who had made her gai'shain. and Arrela had done the same with one of
the Maidens who had captured her, but Faile doubted that Jhoradin would attain his wish. Both women
were focused on escape like arrows aimed at a target. "And now that I think on it, I may take you with
me if we go."

 Faile stared up at him. The rain was beginning to soak through her hair. "To the Waste? Rolan. I love my
husband. I've told you that, and it is true."

 "I know," he said, continuing to add flowers. "But for the moment. you still wear white, and what
happens while you wear white is forgotten when you put it off. Your husband cannot hold it against you.
Besides, if we go, when we come near to a wetlander town, I will let you go. I should never have made
you gai'shain in the first place. That collar and belt hold enough gold to get you safely back to your

 Her mouth fell open in shock. It surprised her when her fist struck his wide chest. Gai'shain were never
allowed to offer violence, but the man just grinned at her. "You-!" She struck him again, harder. She beat
at him. "You-! I can't think of a word bad enough. You let me think you were going to abandon me to
these Shaido while all along you were meaning to help me escape?"

 Finally he caught her fist and held it easily with a hand that enveloped hers completely. "If we go, Faile
Bashere," he laughed. The man laughed! "It is not decided. Anyway, a man cannot let a woman think he
is too eager."

 Again she surprised herself, this time by beginning to laugh and cry at the same time, so hard that she had
to lean against him or fall down. That bloody Aiel sense of humor!

 "You are very beautiful with flowers in your hair, Faile Bashere," he murmured, tucking in another
blossom. "Or without them. And for the moment, you still wear white."

 Light! She had the rod, leaning against her arm so coolly, but there was no way to give it to Galina until 

Therava let her walk around freely again, no way to be sure that the woman would not betray her before
then out of desperation. Rolan offered her escape, if the Mera'din decided to leave, but he would
continue to try to inveigle her into his blankets so long as she wore white. And if the Alera'din decided
not to go, would one of them betray her escape plans? If Rolan could be believed, they all knew! Hope
and danger, all tied together inextricably. What a tangle.

 She turned out to have been exactly right about Therava's reaction. Just before midday all of the
gai'shain were herded into the open and made to strip to their skins. Covering herself as best she could
with her hands, Faile huddled together with other women wearing Sevanna's belt and collar-they had
been made to put those on again straightaway-huddled for a scrap of decency while Shaido rummaged
through the gai'shain tents, tossing everything out into the mud. All Faile could do was think about her
hiding place inside the town and pray. Hope and danger, and no way to untangle them.


 A Stave and a Razor

 Mat had never really expected Luca to leave Jurador after only one day-the stone-walled salt town was
wealthy, and Luca did like to see coin stick to his hands-so he was not exactly disappointed when the
man told him that Valan Luca's Grand Traveling Show and Magnificent Display of Marvels and Wonders
would remain there at least two more days. Not exactly disappointed, yet he had hoped that his luck
might hold good, or his being ta'veren. But then, being ta'veren had never brought anything other than bad
that he could see.

 "The lines at the entrance are already as long as they were at their best, yesterday," Luca said, gesturing
expansively. They were inside Luca's huge gaudy wagon, early in the morning after Renna's death, and
the tall man sat in the gilded chair at the narrow table-a real table, with stools tucked under for guests;
most other wagons had an affair rigged on ropes from the ceiling, and people sat on the beds to eat. Luca
had not yet donned one of his flamboyant coats, but he made up for it with gestures. Latelle, his wife,
was cooking the breakfast porridge on a small, iron-topped brick stove built into a corner of the
win-dowless wagon, and the air was sharp with spices. The harsh-faced woman put so many spices into
everything she prepared that it was all inedible, in Mat's estimation, yet Luca always gobbled down
whatever she set in front of him as if it were a feast. He must have a leather tongue. "I expect twice as
many visitors today, maybe three times as many, and tomorrow as well. People can't see everything in
one visit, and here they can afford to come twice. Word of mouth, Cauthon. Word of mouth. That brings
as many as Aludra's nightflowers. I feel almost like a ta'veren, the way things are falling out. Large
audiences and the prospect of more. A warrant of protection from the High Lady." Luca cut off abruptly,
looking faintly embarrassed, as if he had just remembered that Mat's name was on that warrant as being
excluded from protection. 

 "You might not like it if you really were ta'veren," Mat muttered, which made the other man give him an
odd look. He put a finger behind the black silk scarf that hid his hanging scar and tugged at it. For a
moment, the thing had felt too tight. He had spent a night of bleak dreams about corpses floating
downstream and woken to the dice spinning in his head, always a bad sign, and now they seemed to be
bouncing off the inside of his skull harder than before. "I can pay you as much as you'll make for every
show you give between here and Lugard, no matter how many people attend. That's on top of what I
promised for carrying us to Lugard." If the show was not stopping all the time, they could cut the time to
reach Lugard by three quarters at the least. More, if he could convince Luca to spend whole days on the
road instead of half days, the way they did now.

 Luca seemed taken with the idea, nodding thoughtfully, but then he shook his head with a sadness that
was plainly feigned and spread his hands. "And what will that look like, a traveling show that never stops
to give shows? It will look suspicious, that's what. I have the warrant, and the High Lady will speak up
for me besides, but you certainly don't want to pull the Seanchan down on us. No, it's safer for you this
way." The man was not thinking of Mat Cauthon's bloody safety, he was thinking that his bloody shows
might earn him more than Mat paid. That, plus making himself as much the center of attention as any of
the performers was nearly as important to him as gold. Some of the showfolk talked of what they would
do when they retired. Not Luca. He intended to keep on until he fell over dead in the middle of a show.
And he would arrange it so he had the largest audience possible when he did.

 "It's ready, Valan," Latelle said affectionately as she lifted the iron pot from the stove with a cloth
protecting her hands and set it down on a thick woven mat on the table. Two places had already been
set. with white-glazed plates and silver spoons. Luca would have silver spoons when everyone else
settled for tin or pot metal or even horn or wood. Stern-eyed, with a hard set to her mouth, the bear
trainer looked quite odd wearing a long white apron over her spangled blue dress. Her bears probably
wished they had trees to climb when she frowned at them. Strangely, though, she jumped to ensure her
husband's comforts. "Will you be eating with us, Master Cauthon?" There was no welcome in that; in
tact, just the opposite, and she showed no sign of turning to the cupboard where the plates were stored.

 Mat gave her a bow that soured her face further. He had never been less than civil to the woman, but
she refused to like him. "I thank you for the kind invitation, Mistress Luca, but no." She grunted. So much
for being courteous. He put on his flat-brimmed hat and left, the dice rattling away.

 Luca's big wagon, glittering in red and blue and covered with golden stars and comets, not to mention
the phases of the moon in silver, stood in the middle of the show, as far as possible from the animals'
smelly cages and the horselines. It was surrounded by smaller wagons, little houses on wheels, most
windowless and most painted just a single color with none of Luca's extra decorations, and by wall-tents
the size of small houses in blue or green or red. sometimes striped. The sun stood nearly its own height
above the horizon in a sky where a sprinkling of white clouds drifted slowly, and children ran playing with
hoops and balls while the showfolk were limbering up for their morning performances, men and women
twisting and stretching, many with glittering, colorful spangles on their coats or dresses. Four
contortionists. in filmy trousers tied at the ankle and blouses thin enough to leave little to the imagination, 

made him wince. Two were sitting on their own heads atop blankets spread on the ground beside their
red tent, while the others had twisted themselves into a pair of knots that looked beyond untying. Their
backbones must have been made of spring-wire! Petra, the strongman, stood bare-chested beside the
green wagon he shared with his wife, warming up by lifting weights with either hand that Mat was not
sure he could have lifted with both. The man had arms thicker than Mat's legs, and he was not sweating
at all. Clarine's small dogs stood in a line at the steps of the wagon wagging their tails and eagerly waiting
on their trainer. Unlike Latelle's bears, Mat figured the plump woman's dogs performed so they could
make her smile.

 He was always tempted to just sit quietly somewhere when the dice were clicking in his head, some
place nothing seemed likely to happen, waiting for the dice to stop, and though he would have enjoyed
watching some of the female acrobats, a number of whom wore as little as the contortionists, he set out
to walk the half mile to Jurador, eyeing everyone on the wide, hard-packed clay road closely. There was
a purchase he hoped to make.

 People were coming to join the long line waiting behind a stout rope stretched along the show's tall
canvas wall, only a handful with more than a touch of embroidery on the women's dresses or the men's
short coats, and a few farmers' high-wheeled carts lumbering behind a horse or an ox. Figures moved
among the small forest of windmills that pumped the salt wells on the low hills behind the town, and
around the long evaporation pans. A merchant's train of canvas-covered wagons, twenty of them behind
six-horse teams, rumbled out of the town gates as he approached, the merchant herself in a bright green
cloak seated beside the driver of the first wagon. A flock of crows cawed past overhead, giving him a
chill, but no one vanished before his eyes, and everybody cast a long shadow so far as he could make
out. There were no dead people's shades walking the road today, although he was convinced that was
what he had seen the day before.

 The dead walking surely could mean nothing good. Very likely it had something to with Tarmon Gai'don
and Rand. Colors whirled in his brain, and for an instant, in his head, he saw Rand and Min standing
beside a large bed, kissing. He stumbled and nearly tripped over his own boots. They had not been
wearing any clothes! He would have to be careful thinking about Rand. . . . The colors swirled and
resolved for a moment, and he stumbled again. There were worse things to spy on than kissing. Very
careful what he thought. Light!

 The pair of guards leaning on their halberds at the iron-studded gates, hard-faced men in white
breastplates and conical white helmets with horsetail crests, eyed him suspiciously. They probably
thought he was drunk. A reassuring nod failed to change their expressions by a hair. He could have used
a stiff drink right then. The guards did not try to stop him entering, though, just watched him pass. Drunks
caused trouble, especially a man who was drunk this early in the day, but a drunk in a good coat-plain,
but well-cut and good silk-a man with a little lace at his wrists was an altogether different matter.

 The stone-paved streets of Jurador were noisy even at this hour, with hawkers carrying trays or standing 

behind barrows crying their wares, and shopkeepers beside narrow tables in front of their shops
bellowing the fineness of their goods, and coopers hammering hoops onto barrels for shipping salt. The
clatter of rugmakers' looms nearly drowned out the ringing of the occasional blacksmith's hammer, not to
mention the music of flutes and drums and dulcimers drifting from inns and taverns. It was a jumble of a
town, with shops and houses and inns cheek by jowl with taverns and stables, all of stone and roofed
with reddish tiles. A solid town. Jurador. And one accustomed to thievery. Most windows on the lower
floors were covered with stout screens of wrought iron. The upper windows as well on the homes of the
wealthy, most of whom were no doubt salt merchants. The music of the inns and taverns pulled at him.
Likely there would be dice games going on in most of them. He could almost feel those dice spinning
across a table. It had been too long since he had rattled a set of dice in his hands instead of inside his
head, but he was not there for gambling this morning.

 He had had no breakfast yet, so he approached a wrinkled woman with a tray hung from a strap around
her neck who shouted "meat pies, made from the finest beef to be found in Altara." He took her word for
it and handed over the coppers she demanded. He had seen no cattle at any farms near Jurador, only
sheep and goats, but it was best not to inquire too closely what was in a pie bought in the streets of any
town. There could be cows on nearby farms. There could be. In any case, the meat pie was tasty, and
still hot for a wonder, and he walked on along the crowded street juggling the pie and wiping greasy juice
from his chin.

 He was careful not to bump into anyone in the throng. Altarans were a touchy lot, by and large. In this
town, you could tell somebody's station to within a whisker by the amount of embroidery on coat or
dress or cloak, the more the higher, long before you were close enough to tell wool from silk, though the
richer women covered their olive-skinned faces with transparent veils hung from ornate combs stuck into
their tightly coiled braids, but men and women alike, whether salt merchants or ribbon hawkers, wore
long belt knives with curved blades and sometimes fondled the hilts as though looking for a fight. He
always tried to avoid fighting, though his luck seldom did him much good there. Ta'veren took over with
that, it seemed. The dice had never before signaled a fight-battles, yes, but never a dust-up in the
street-yet he walked very carefully indeed. Not that that would help, of course. When the dice stopped,
they stopped, and that was that. But he saw no reason to take chances. He hated taking chances. Except
with gambling, of course, and that was hardly taking a chance for him.

 He spotted a barrel full of thick quarterstaffs and walking staffs in front of a shop displaying swords and
daggers under the watchful eye of a bulky fellow with sunken knuckles, a nose that had been broken
more than once, and a thick truncheon hanging at his belt beside the inevitable dagger. The man
announced in a rough voice that all the blades on display were Andoran made, but anybody who did not
make his own blades always claimed they were Andoran or else from the Borderlands. Or Tairen,
sometimes. Tear made good steel.

 To Mat's surprise and delight, a slim stave of what appeared to be black yew, more than a foot taller
than he was, stood upright in the barrel. Pulling the stave out, he checked the fine, almost braided grain. It
was black yew. all right. That braided grain was what gave bows made from it such power, twice what
any other wood could give. You could never be sure until you started slicing away the excess, but the 

stave looked perfect. How in the Light had black yew come to be in southern Altara? He was sure it only
grew in the Two Rivers.

 When the proprietor, a sleek woman with bright-feathered birds embroidered to below her bosom,
came out and began extolling the virtues of her blades, he said. "How much for this black stick,

 She blinked, startled that a man in silk and lace wanted a quarterstaff-slim as it was, she bloody well
thought the bloody thing was a quarterstaff!-and named a price that he paid without bargaining. Which
made her blink again, and frown as if she thought she should have asked for more. He would have paid
more for the makings of a Two Rivers bow. With the raw bowstave over his shoulder, he walked on,
wolfing down the last of the meat pie and wiping his hand on his coat. But he had not come for breakfast
or a bowstave any more than for gambling. It was the stables that interested him.

 Livery stables always had a horse or three for sale, and if the price was right, they would usually sell one
that had not been for sale. At least, they did when the Seanchan had not snapped them up already.
Luckily, the Seanchan presence in Jurador had been fleeting so far. He wandered from stable to stable
examining bays and roans, blue roans and piebalds, duns, sorrels, blacks, whites, grays and dapples, all
mares or geldings. A stallion would not serve his purposes. Not every animal he looked at had a shallow
girth or long cannons, yet none matched what he had in mind. Until he entered a narrow stable jammed
between a large stone inn called The Twelve Salt Wells and a rugmaker's shop.

 He would have thought the racketing looms would have bothered the horses, but they were all quiet,
apparently accustomed to the noise. Stalls stretched farther into the block than he had expected, but
lanterns hanging from the stall posts gave a fair light away from the doors. The air. speckled with dust
from the loft above, smelled of hay and oats and horse dung, but not old dung. Three men with shovels
were mucking out stalls. The owner kept his place clean. That meant less chance of disease. Some
stables he had walked out of after getting one whiff.

 The black-and-white mare was out of her stall on a rope halter while a groom put down fresh straw, and
she stood squarely, and with her ears perked forward, showing alertness. About fifteen hands tall, she
was long in front, with a deep girth that promised endurance, and her legs were perfectly proportioned,
with short cannons and a good angle to her fetlocks. Her shoulders were well sloped, and her croup
dead level with her whithers. She had lines as good as Pips', or even better. More than that, she was a
breed he had heard tell of but never thought to see, a razor, from Arad Doman. No other breed would
have that distinctive coloring. In her coat, black met white in straight lines that could have been sliced by
a razor, hence the name. Her presence here was as mystifying as the black yew. He had always heard no
Do-mani would sell a razor to any outlander. He let his eyes sweep past her without lingering, studying
the other animals in their stalls. Had the dice inside his skull slowed? No, it was his imagination. He was
sure they were spinning as hard as they had in Luca's wagon. 

 A wiry man with only a fringe of gray hair remaining came forward. ducking his head over folded hands.
"Toke Fearnim. my Lord," he introduced himself in rough accents, eyeing the bowstave on Mat's
shoulder dubiously. Men who wore silk coats and gold signet rings rarely carried such things. "How can I
be of service? My Lord wishes to rent a horse? Or to buy?" Embroidery, small bright flowers, covered
the shoulders of the vest he wore over a shirt that might have been white once. Mat avoided looking at
the flowers at all. The fellow had one of those curved knives at his belt and two long white scars on his
leathery face. Old scars. Any fighting he had done lately had not marked him where it showed.

 "Buy, Master Fearnim, if you have anything for sale. If I can find one that's halfway decent. I've had
more spavined gluebaits offered to me as six-year-olds when they were eighteen if a day than I can shake
a stick at." He hefted the bowstave slightly with a grin. His Da claimed bargaining went better if you could
make the other fellow start grinning.

 "I have three for sale, my Lord, none of them spavined," the wiry man replied with another bow, and no
hint of a grin. Fearnim gestured. "One is out of her stall there. Five years old and prime horseflesh, my
Lord. And a steal at ten crowns. Gold," he added blandly.

 Mat let his jaw drop. "For a pkbalcfi I know the Seanchan have driven prices up, but that's ridiculous!"

 "Oh, she's not your common piebald, my Lord. A razor is what she is. Domani bloodborn ride razors."

 Blood and bloody ashes! So much for catching a bargain. "So you say, so you say," Mat muttered,
lowering one end of the bowstave to the stone floor so he could lean on it. His hip seldom bothered him
any longer except when he did a lot of walking, but he had done so this morning, and he felt twinges.
Well, bargain or no, he had to play out the game. There were rules to horse trading. Break them, and you
were asking to have your purse emptied out. "I've never heard of any horse called a razor myself. What
else do you have? Only geldings or mares, mind."

 "Geldings are all I have for sale except the razor, my Lord," Fearnim said, emphasizing the word razor a
little. Turning toward the back of the stable, he shouted, "Adela, bring out that big bay what's for sale."

 A lanky young woman with a pimply face, in breeches and a plain dark vest, came darting out of the
back of the stable to obey. Fearnim had Adela walk the bay and then a dappled gray on rope leads in
the good light near the doors. Mat had to hand him that. Their conformation was not bad at all, but the
bay was too big, better than seventeen hands, and the gray kept his ears half laid back and tried to bite 

Adela's hand twice. She was deft with the animals, though, easily evading the bad-tempered gray's
lunges. Rejecting the pair of them would have been easy even if he had not had his mind set on the razor.

 A lean, gray-striped tomcat, like a ridgecat in miniature, appeared and sat at Fearnim's feet to lick a
bloody gash on his shoulder. "Rats are worse this year than I ever recall," the stablekeeper muttered,
frowning down at the cat. "They fight back more, too. I'm going to have to get another cat, or maybe
two." He brought himself back to the business at hand. "Will my Lord take a look at my prize, since the
others don't suit?"

 "I suppose I could look at the piebald, Master Fearnim," Mat said doubtfully. "But not for any ten

 "In gold," Fearnim said. "Hurd, walk the razor for the Lord here." He emphasized the breed again.
Working the man down would be difficult. Unless he got some help for a change from being ta'veren. His
luck never helped with anything as straightforward as dickering.

 Hurd was the fellow refreshing the straw in the razor's stall, a squat man who had about three white hairs
left on his head and no teeth in his mouth at all. That was evident when he grinned, which he did while he
led the mare in a circle. He clearly liked the animal, and well he should.

 She walked well, but Mat still inspected her closely. Her teeth said Fearnim had been honest enough
about her age-only a fool lied very far about a horse's age unless the buyer was a fool himself, though it
was surprising how many sellers thought buyers were all just that- and her ears pricked toward him when
he stroked her nose while checking her eyes. They were clear and bright, free of rheum. He felt along her
legs without finding any heat or swelling. There was never a hint of a lesion or sore, or of ringworm,
anywhere on her. He could get his fist easily between her rib cage and her elbow-she would have a long
stride-and was barely able to fit his flat hand between her last rib and the point of her hip. She would be
hardy, unlikely to strain a tendon if run fast.

 "My Lord knows his horseflesh, I see."

 "That I do, Master Faernim. And ten crowns gold is too much, especially for a piebald. Some say
they're bad luck, you know. Not that I believe it. not as such, or I wouldn't offer at all."

 "Bad luck? I never heard that, my Lord. What do you offer?" 

 "1 could get Tairen bloodstock for ten crowns gold. Not the best, true, but still Tairen. I'll give you ten
crowns. In silver."

 Fearnim threw back his head, laughing uproariously, and when he stopped, they settled down to the
dickering. In the end. Mat handed over five crowns in gold along with four marks gold and three crowns
silver, all stamped in Ebou Dar. There were coins from many countries in the chest under his bed. but
foreign coin usually meant finding a banker or money changer to weigh them and work out what they
were worth locally. Aside from attracting more notice than he wanted, he would have ended paying more
for the animal, maybe even the full ten crowns gold. Money changers' scales always seemed to work that
way. He had not expected to get the man down that far, but from Fearnims expression, grinning at last,
he had never expected to receive so much. It was the best way for horse trading to end, with both sides
thinking they had come out ahead. All in all, the day had begun very well, dice or no bloody dice. He
should have known it would not last.

 When he got back to the show at midday, riding the razor bareback because of his aching hip and with
the dice rattling in his head, the line of people was longer than when he had left, waiting to pass beneath
the big blue banner, stretched between two tall poles, that carried the show's name in big red letters. As
people dropped their coins into the clear glass pitcher held by a heavy-set horse handler in a rough
woolen coat, to be poured from there into an iron-bound chest under the watchful eyes of another horse
handler who was even larger, more people joined the line, so it never seemed to grow shorter. The thing
stretched beyond the end of the rope and around the corner. For a small wonder, no one was pushing or
shoving. There were obvious farmers in the line, wearing rough woolens and with dirt ingrained in their
hands, though the children's faces and those of the farmwives at least had been scrubbed clean. Luca was
getting his hoped-for crowd, unfortunately. No chance of convincing him to leave tomorrow now. The
dice said something was going to happen, something fateful to Mat bloody Cauthon. but what? There had
been times when the dice stopped and he still had no idea what happened.

 Just inside the canvas wall, with people streaming past to enjoy the performers lining both sides of the
main street. Aludra was taking delivery of two wagonloads of barrels in various sizes. Of more than the
barrels, it seemed. "I will show you where to park the wagons," the slender woman told the driver of the
lead wagon, a lean man with a jutting jaw. Aludra's waist-long beaded braids swung as her eyes followed
Mat for a moment, but she quickly turned back to the wagon driver. "The horses, you will take to the
horselines afterward, yes?"

 Now. what had she bought in such quantity? Something for her fireworks, certainly. Every night, soon
after dark so she would catch everyone before they went to bed. she launched her nightflowers, two or
three for a town the size of Jurador or if there were several villages close together. He had had some
thoughts on why she wanted a bellfounder. but the only one that seemed to make any sense actually
made no sense at all that he could see. 

 He hid the mare on the horselines. Well, you could not really hide a razor, but a horse was noticed less
among other horses, and the time was not right, yet. The bowstave he left in the wagon he shared with
Egeanin and Domon. neither of whom was there, then headed for Tuon's faded purple wagon. That was
parked not far from Luca's wagon, now, though Mat wished it had been left near the storage wagons.
Only Luca and his wife knew that Tuon was a High Lady rather than a servant who had been about to
expose Mat and Egeanin to her supposed husband as lovers, but many among the showfolk were already
wondering why Mat spent more time with Tuon than with Egeanin. Wondering and disapproving. They
were an oddly prim lot for the most part, even the contortionists. Running off with the wife of a cruel lord
was romantic. Canoodling with the lady's maid was sordid. Giving Tuon's wagon this favored spot,
among the people who had been with Luca for years and were his most prized performers, was going to
cause more talk.

 In truth, he hesitated about going to Tuon at all with the dice drumming in his head. They had stopped
too often in her presence. and he still did not know the why for a single one of those times. Not for
certain. Maybe the first time, it had just been meeting her. Thinking of it made the hair on the back of his
neck want to stand up. Still, with women, you always had to take chances. With a woman like Tuon, ten
chances a day, and nevet knowing the odds until it was too late. Sometimes he wondered why his luck
failed to help him more with women. Women were certainly as unpredictable as any honest dice ever

 None of the Redarms was on guard outside the wagon-they were beyond that, now-so he trotted up the
short flight of steps at the back of the wagon and rapped once before pulling the door open and entering.
After all, he paid the rent for the thing, and they were hardly likely to be lying around unclothed at this
time of day. Anyway, the door had a latch if they needed to keep people out.

 Mistress Anan was off somewhere, but the interior was still crowded. The narrow table had been let
down on ropes from the ceiling, with mismatched plates of bread and olives and cheese laid out on it
along with one of Luca's tall silver wine pitchers, a squat red-striped pitcher and flower-painted cups.
Tuon. a month's growth of tightly curled black hair on her head, sat on the wagon's sole stool at the far
end of the table, with Selucia sitting on one of the beds at her side, and Noal and Olver on the other bed,
elbows on the table. Today, Selucia was in the dark blue Ebou Dari dress that displayed her memorable
bosom so well, with a flowered scarf tied around her head, but Tuon wore a red dress that seemed to be
made entirely of tiny pleats. Light, he had only bought her the silk yesterday! How had she convinced the
show's seamstresses to complete a dress already? He was pretty certain that usually took longer than a
day. With liberal promises of his gold, he suspected. Well, if you bought a woman silk, you had to expect
to pay to have it sewn. He had heard that saying as a boy, when he never expected to be able to afford
silk, but it was the Light's own truth.

 ". . . . only the women are ever seen outside their villages," Noal was saying, but the gnarled,
white-haired old man cut off when Mat entered the wagon, pulling the door shut behind him. The scraps
of lace at Noal's wrists had seen better days, as had his well-cut coat of fine gray wool, but both were 

clean and neat, though in truth they looked odd with his crooked fingers and battered face. Those
belonged on an aging tavern tough, one who had gone on fighting long past his prime. Olver, in the good
blue coat Mat had had made for him, grinned as widely as an Ogier. Light, he was a good boy, but he
would never be handsome with those big ears and that wide mouth. His manner with women needed vast
improvement if he was ever to have any luck there at all. Mat had been trying to spend more time with
Olver, to get him away from the influence of his "uncles." Vanin and Harnan and the other Redarms, and
the boy seemed to enjoy that. Just not as much as he enjoyed playing Snakes and Foxes or stones with
Tuon and staring at Selucia's bosom. It was all very well for those fellows to teach Olver how to shoot a
bow and use a sword and the like, but if Mat ever learned who was teaching him to leer . . .

 "Manners. Toy," Tuon drawled like honey sliding out of a dish. Hard honey. Around him, unless they
were playing stones, her expression was usually severe enough for a judge handing down a death
sentence, and her tone matched it. "You knock, then wait for permission to enter. Unless you are
property or a servant. Then you do not knock. You also have grease on your coat. I expect you to keep
yourself clean." Olver's grin faded at hearing Mat admonished. Noal raked bent fingers through his long
hair and sighed, then began studying the green plate in front of him as if he might find an emerald among
the olives.

 Grim tone or no grim tone, Mat enjoyed looking at the dark little woman who was to be his wife. Who
was halfway his wife already. Light, all she had to do was say three sentences and the thing was done!
Burn him but she was beautiful. Once, he had mistaken her for a child, but that had been because of her
size, and her face had been obscured by a transparent veil. Without that veil, it was plain that that
heart-shaped face belonged to a woman. Her big eyes were dark pools a man could spend a lifetime
swimming in. Her rare smiles could be mysterious or mischievous, and he prized them. He enjoyed
making her laugh, too. At least, when she was not laughing at him. True, she was a little slimmer than he
had always preferred, but if he could ever get an arm around her without Selucia there, he believed she
would feel just right. And he might convince her to give him a few kisses with those full lips. Light, he
dreamed about that sometimes! Never mind that she called him down as if they were already married.
Well, almost never mind. Burn him if he could see what a little grease mattered. Lopin and Nerim, the
two serving men he was saddled with, would fight over which one got to clean the coat. They had little
enough to do that they really would if he did not name who received the task. He did not say that to her.
Women liked nothing better than making you defend yourself, and once you started, she had won.

 "I'll try to remember that. Precious," he said with his best smile, sliding in beside Selucia and putting his
hat down on the other side from her. The blanket scrunched up between them, and they were a foot
apart to boot, yet you would have thought he had pressed himself against her hip. Her eyes were blue,
but the furious look she gave him was hot enough his coat should have been singed. "I hope there's more
water than wine in that cup in front of Olver."

 "It's goat's milk," the boy said indignantly. Ah. Well, maybe Olver was still a little too young even for
well-watered wine. 

 Tuon sat up very straight, though she was still shorter than Selucia, who was a short woman herself.
"What did you call me?" she said, as close to crisply as her accent allowed.

 "Precious. You have a pet name for me. so I thought I should have one for you. Precious." Pie thought
Selucia's eyes were going to pop right out of her head.

 "I see," Tuon murmured, pursing her lips in thought. The fingers of her right hand waggled, as though idly,
and Selucia immediately slid off the bed and went to one of the cupboards. She still took time to glare at
him over Tuon's head. "Very well," Tuon said after a moment. "It will be interesting to see who wins this
game. Toy."

 Mat's smile slipped. Game? He was just trying to regain a little balance. But she saw a game, and that
meant he could lose. Was likely to, since he had no idea what the game was. Why did women always
make things so . . . complicated?

 Selucia resumed her place and slid a chipped cup in front of him, and a blue-glazed plate that held half a
loaf of crusty bread, six varieties of pickled olives mounded up. and three sorts of cheese. That perked
his spirits again. He had hoped for this, if not expected it. Once you got a woman feeding you, she had a
hard time finding it in herself to stop you from putting your feet under her table again.

 "The thing of it is," Noal said, resuming his tale, "in those Ayyad villages, you can see woman of any age.
but no men much above twenty if that. Not a one." Olver's eyes grew even wider. The boy practically
inhaled Noal's tales, about the countries he had seen, even the lands beyond the Aiel Waste, swallowed
them whole without butter.

 "Are you any relation to Jain Charin. Noal?" Mat chewed an olive and discreetly spat the pit into his
palm. The thing tasted not far from spoiling. So did the next one. But he was hungry, so he gobbled them
down and followed with some crumbly white goat cheese while ignoring the frowns Tuon directed at him.

 The old man's face went still as stone, and Mat had torn off a piece of bread and eaten that as well
before Noal answered. "A cousin," he said at last, grudgingly. "He was my cousin."

 "You're related to Jain Farstrider?" Olver said excitedly. His favorite book was The Travels of Jain
Farstrider, which he would have sat up reading by lamplight long past his bedtime had Juilin and Thera 

allowed. He said he intended to see everything Farstrider had. when he grew up, all that and more.

 "Who is this man with two names?" Tuon asked. 'Only great men are spoken of so, and you speak as if
everyone should know him."

 "He was a fool," Noal said grimly before Mat could open his mouth, though Olver did get his open, and
left it gaping while the old man continued. "He went gallivanting about the world and left a good and
loving wife to die of a fever without him there to hold her hand while she died. He let himself be made
into a tool by-" Abruptly Noal's face went blank. Staring through Mat, he rubbed at his forehead as
though attempting to recall something.

 "Jain Farstrider was a great man," Olver said fiercely. His hands curled into small fists, as though he was
ready to fight for his hero. "He fought Trollocs and Myrddraal, and he had more adventures than anyone
else in the whole world! Even Mat! He captured Cowin Gemallan after Gemallan betrayed Malkier to the

 Noal came to himself with a start and patted Olver's shoulder. "He did that, boy. That much is to his
credit. But what adventure is worth leaving your wife to die alone?" He sounded sad enough to die on the
spot himself.

 Olver had no answer to that, and his face fell. If Noal had put the boy off his favorite book, Mat was
going to have words with the old man. Reading was important-he read himself; sometimes, he did- and
he had made sure Olver had books he enjoyed.

 Standing, Tuon leaned across the table to rest a hand on Noal's arm. The stern look had vanished from
her face, replaced by tenderness. A wide belt of dark yellow tooled leather cinched her waist,
emphasizing her slim curves. More of his coin spent. Well, coin was always easy to come by for him, and
if she did not spend it, likely he would throw it away on some other woman. "You have a good heart,
Master Charin." She gave everybody their bloody names except for Mat Cauthon!

 "Do I, my Lady?" Noal said, sounding as though he really wanted to hear an answer. "Sometimes I
think-" Whatever he thought sometimes, they were not to learn it now.

 The door swung open and Juilin put his head into the wagon. The 


 Tairen thief-catcher's conical red cap was at its usual jaunty angle, but his dark face was worried.
"Seanchan soldiers are setting up across the road. I'm going to Thera. She'll take a fright if she hears it
from anybody else." And as quickly as that he was gone again, leaving the door swinging.


 A Cold Medallion

 Seanchan soldiers. Blood and bloody ashes! That was all Mat needed, with the dice spinning his head.
"Noal, find Egeanin and warn her. Olver. you warn the Aes Sedai. and Bethamin and Seta." Those five
would all be together or at least close by one another. The two former sul'dam shadowed the sisters
whenever they left the wagon they all shared. Light, he hoped none of them had gone into the town again.
That could put a weasel in the chicken yard for sure! "I'll go down to the entrance and try to see whether
we're in any trouble."

 "She won't answer to that name." Noal muttered, sliding out from the table. He moved spryly for a
fellow who looked to have had half the bones in his body broken one time or another. "You know she

 "You know who I mean." Mat told him sharply, frowning at Tuon and Selucia. This name foolishness
was their fault. Selucia had told Egeanin that her name was now Leilwin Shipless, and that was the name
Egeanin was using. Well, he was not about to put up with that sort of thing, not for himself and not for
her. She had to come to her senses, soon or late.

 "I'm just saying," Noal said. "Come on, Olver."

 Mat slid out after them, but before he reached the door, Tuon spoke.

 "No warnings for us to remain inside, Toy? No one left to guard us?" 

 The dice said he should find Hainan or one of the other Redarms and plant him outside just to guard
against accidents, but he did not hesitate. "You gave your word." he said, settling his hat on his head. The
smile he got in reply was worth the risk. Burn him, but it lit up her face. Women were always a gamble,
but sometimes a smile could be win enough.

 He saw from the entrance that Jurador's days without a Seanchan presence had come to an end.
Directly across the road from the show, several hundred men were taking off armor, unloading wagons,
setting up tents in ordered rows, establishing horselines. All very efficiently done. He saw Taraboners
with mail veils hanging from their helmets and bars of blue, yellow and green painted across their
breastplates, and men who were clearly infantry, stacking long pikes and racking bows much shorter than
a Two Rivers bow. in armor painted the same. He thought those must be Amadicians. Neither Tarabon
nor Altara ran much to foot, and Altarans in service to the Seanchan had their armor marked differently
for some reason. There were actual Seanchan, of course, perhaps twenty or thirty that he could see.
There was no mistaking that painted armor of over-lapping plates or those strange, in-sectile helmets.

 Three of the soldiers came ambling across the road. lean, hardbitten men. Their blue coats, with the
collars striped green-and-yellow. were plain enough despite the colors and showed the wear of armor
use, but no signs of rank. Not officers, then, but still maybe as dangerous as red adders. Two of the
fellows could have been from An-dor or Murandy or even the Two Rivers, but the third had eyes tilted
like a Saldaean's, and his skin was the color of honey. Without slowing, they started into the show.

 One of the horse handlers at the entrance gave a shrill three-note whistle that began to echo through the
show while the other, a squint-eyed fellow named Bollin, pushed the glass pitcher in front of the three.
"Price is a silver penny each, Captain," he said with deceptive mildness. Mat had heard the big man
speak in the same tone a heartbeat before he thumped another horse handler over the head with a stool.
"Children is five coppers if they's more than waist-high on me, and three if they's shorter, but only
children as has to be carried gets in free."

 The honey-skinned Seanchan raised a hand as if to push Bollin out of his way, then hesitated, his face
growing harder, if that was possible.

 The other two squared up beside him. fists clenched, as pounding boots announced the arrival of every
man in the show, it seemed, performers in their flashy garb and horse handlers in coarse wool. Every man
had a club of some sort in his hand, including Luca. in a brilliant red coat embroidered with golden stars
to his turned-down boot-tops, and even the bare-chested Petra, who possessed the mildest nature of any
man Mat had ever met. Petra's face was a thunderhead now, though. 

 Light, this had the makings of a massacre, with these fellows' companions not a hundred paces away and
all their weapons to hand. It was a good place for Mat Cauthon to take himself out of. Surreptitiously he
touched the throwing knives hidden up his sleeves and shrugged just to feel the one hanging down behind
the back of his neck. No way to check those under his coat or in his boots without being noticed, though.
The dice seemed like continuous thunder. He began to plan how to get Tuon and the others away. He
had to hang onto her a while longer, yet.

 Before disaster could open the door, another Seanchan appeared, in blue-green-and-yellow striped
armor but carrying her helmet on her right hip. She had the tilted eyes and honey-colored skin, and there
was a scattering of white in her close-cropped black hair. She was near a foot shorter than any of the
other three, and there were no plumes on her helmet, just a small crest like a bronze arrowhead at the
front, but the three soldiers stood up very straight when they saw her. "Now why am I not surprised to
find you here at what looks to be the fine beginnings of a riot. Murel?" Her slurred accent had a twang in
it. "What's this all about then?"

 "We paid our money, Standardbearer," the honey-skinned man replied in the same twangy accents,
"then they said we had to pay more on account of us being soldiers of the Empire."

 Bollin opened his mouth, but she silenced him with a raised hand. She had that kind of presence.
Running her eyes over the men gathered in a thick semicircle with their clubs, and pausing a moment to
shake her head over Luca, she settled on Mat. "Did you see what happened?"

 "I did," Mat replied, "and they tried to walk in without paying."

 "That's good for you, Murel," she said, getting a surprised blink from the man. "Good for all three of you.
Means you won't be out your coin. Because you're all confined to camp for ten days, and I doubt this
show will be here that long. You're all docked ten days' pay, as well.

 You're supposed to be unloading wagons so the homefolks don't get the idea we think we're better than
they are. Or do you want a charge of causing dissension in the ranks?" The three men paled visibly.
Apparently that was a serious charge. "I didn't think so. Now get out of my sight and get to work before
I make it a full month instead of a week."

 "Yes. Standardbearer," they snapped out as one, then ran back across the road as hard as they could go
while tugging off their coats. Hard men. yet the Standardbearer was harder. 

 She was not finished, however. Luca stepped forward, bowing with a grand flourish, but she cut off
whatever thanks he was about to offer. "I don't much like fellows threatening my men with cudgels," she
drawled, resting her free hand on her sword hilt, "not even Murel, not at these odds. Still, shows you
have backbone. Any of you fine fellows want a life of glory and adventure? Step across the road with
me, and I'll sign you up. You there in that fancy red coat. You have the look of a born lancer, to me. I'll
wager I can whip you into a proper hero in no time." A ripple of head-shaking ran through the assembled
men, and some, seeing that no trouble was likely now, began slipping away. Pe-tra was one of those.
Luca looked as though he had been poleaxed. A number of others appeared almost as stunned by the
offer. Performing paid better than soldiering, and you avoided the risk of people sticking swords into you.
"Well, as long as you're standing here, maybe I can convince you. Not likely you'll get rich, but the pay is
usually on time, and there always the chance of loot if the order is given. Happens now and then. The
food varies, but it's usually hot, and there's usually enough to fill your belly. The days are long, but that
just means you're tired enough to get a good night's sleep. When you don't have to work the night, too.
Anyone interested yet?"

 Luca gave himself a shake. "Thank you, Captain, but no," he said, sounding half-strangled. Some fools
thought soldiers were flattered by someone thinking they had a higher rank than they did. Some fool
soldiers were. "Excuse me, if you please. We have a show to put on. And people who aren't going to be
pleased if they have to wait much longer to see it.'' With a last, wary look at the woman, as if he feared
she might try to drag him off by his collar, he rounded on the men behind him. "All of you get back to
your stands. What are you doing lounging around here? I have everything well in hand. Get back to your
stands before people start demanding their money back." That would have been a disaster in his book.
Given the choice between handing back coin and having a riot, Luca would have been unable to decide
which was worse.

 With the showfolk dispersing and Luca hurrying away while shooting glances at her over his shoulder,
the woman turned to Mat, the only man remaining aside from the two horse handlers. "And what about
you? From the look of you, you might be made an officer and get to give me orders." She sounded
amused by the notion.

 He knew what she was doing. The people in the line had seen three Seanchan soldiers sent running, and
who could say for sure why they had run. but now they had seen her disperse a much larger crowd by
herself. He would have given her a place in the Band as a Bannerman in a breath. "I'd make a terrible
soldier, Standardbearer." he said, tipping his hat, and she laughed.

 As he turned away, he heard Bollin saying, mildly. "You didn't hear what I told that man? It's a silver
penny for you and another for your goodwife." Coins clinked into the pitcher. "Thank you." Things were
back to normal. And the dice were still racketing in his head. 

 Making his way through the show, where acrobats were again tumbling for the crowds on their wooden
platforms and jugglers juggling and Clarine's dogs running atop large wooden balls and Miyora's leopards
standing on their hind legs inside a cage that looked barely strong enough to hold them, he decided to
check on the Aes Sedai. The leopards brought them to mind. The common soldiers might spend the day
working, yet he would have laid coin on at least some of the officers coming for a look before long. He
trusted Tuon, strangely enough, and Egeanin had enough sense to stay out of sight when there might be
other Seanchan around, but common sense seemed in short supply among Aes Sedai. Even Teslyn and
Edesina, who had spent time as damane, took foolish chances. Joline, who had not, seemed to think
herself invulnerable.

 Everybody in the show knew the three women were Aes Sedai now, but their large wagon, covered
with rain-streaked whitewash, still stood near the canvas-topped storage wagons, not far from the
horse-lines. Luca had been willing to rearrange his show for a High Lady who gave him a warrant of
protection, but not for Aes Sedai who put him at risk with their presence and were practically penniless
besides. The women among the showfolk were sympathetic to the sisters for the most part, the men wary
to one degree or another-it was almost always so with Aes Sedai-but Luca likely would have turned
them out to make their own way without Mat's gold. Aes Sedai were more threat than anything else so
long as they were in lands controlled by the Sean-chan. Mat Cauthon got no thanks for it. not that he was
looking for any. He would have settled for a touch of respect, unlikely as that was. Aes Sedai were Aes
Sedai, after all.

 Joline's Warders. Blaeric and Fen. were nowhere to be seen, so there was no need to talk his way past
them to get inside, but as he approached the dirt-streaked steps at the back of the wagon, the foxhead
medallion hanging beneath his shirt went icy cold against his chest, then colder still. For a moment, he
froze like a statue. Those fool women were channeling in there! Coming to himself, he pounded up the
steps and banged the door open.

 The women he expected to see were all present, Joline, a Green sister, slender and pretty and big-eyed,
and Teslyn. a narrow-shouldered Red who looked as though she chewed rocks, and Edesina, a Yellow.
handsome rather than pretty, with waves of black hair spilling to her waist. He had saved all three from
the Seanchan. had gotten Teslyn and Edesina out of the damam kennels themselves, yet their gratitude
was variable to say the best. Bethamin, as dark as Tuon but tall and nicely rounded, and yellow-haired
Seta had been suldam before they were forced into helping rescue the three Aes Sedai. The five of them
shared this wagon, the Aes Sedai to keep an eye on the former suldam, the former suldam to keep an
eye on the Aes Sedai. None realized their task, but mutual distrust made them carry it out assiduously.
The one woman he had not expected to see was Setalle Anan, who had kept the Wandering Woman in
Ebou Dar before she decided to make herself part of that rescue for some reason. But then, Setalle had a
way of pushing herself in. Of meddling, in fact. She meddled between him and Tuon incessantly. What
they were doing was completely unexpected, though.

 In the middle of the wagon, Bethamin and Seta were standing rigid as fence posts, jammed
shoulder-to-shoulder between the two beds that could not be raised against the walls, and Joline was
slapping Bethamin's face again and again, first with one hand then the other. Silent tears trickled down the 

tall woman's cheeks, and Seta looked afraid that she would be next. Edesina and Teslyn, arms folded
beneath their breasts, were watching with no expression whatsoever while Mistress Anan frowned her
disapproval over Teslyn's shoulder. Whether disapproval of the slapping or of what Bethamin had done
to earn it, he could not have said and did not care.

 Crossing the floor in one stride, he seized Joline's upraised arm and spun her around. "What in the Light
are you-?" That was as far as he got before she used her other hand to catch him a buffet so hard that his
ears rang.

 "Now. that killed the goat," he said, and, spots still floating in his vision, he dropped down onto the
nearest bed and pulled a surprised Joline across his lap. His right hand landed on her bottom with a loud
smack that pulled a startled squawk from her. The medallion went colder still, and Edesina gasped when
nothing happened, but he tried to keep one eye on the other two sisters and one on the open door for
Joline's Warders while he held her in place and whacked as fast and as hard as he could. With no idea
how many shifts or petticoats she was wearing under that worn blue wool, he wanted to make sure he
left an impression. It seemed his hand was beating time for the dice spinning in his head. Struggling and
kicking, Joline began cursing like a wagon driver as the medallion seemed to turn to ice, and then to grow
so cold he wondered if it would give him frostbite, but he soon added wordless yelps to her pungent
vocabulary. His arm might not match Petra's, but he was far from weak. Practice with bow and
quarterstaff gave you strong arms.

 Edesina and Teslyn seemed as frozen in place as the two wide-eyed former ml'dam-well, Bethamin was
grinning, yet she appeared as amazed as Seta-but just as he began to think Joline's yelps were
outnumbering her curses, Mistress Anan tried to push past the two Aes Sedai. Astonishingly. Teslyn
made a peremptory gesture for her to remain where she was! Very few women, or men. argued with an
Aes Sedai's commands, but Mistress Anan gave the Red sister a frosty look and squeezed between the
two Aes Sedai muttering something that made both of them eye her curiously. She still had to force her
way between Bethamin and Seta, and he took advantage of that to land a final flurry of hard smacks,
then rolled the Green sister off his lap. His hand had begun to sting anyway. Joline landed with a thump
and let out a gasped "Oh!"

 Planting herself in front of him, close enough that she interfered with Joline's hasty scramble to her feet.
Mistress Anan studied him with her arms folded beneath her breasts in a way that increased the generous
cleavage displayed by her plunging neckline. Despite the dress, she was not Ebou Dari, not with those
hazel eyes, but she had large golden hoops in her ears, a marriage knife, the hilt marked with red and
white stones for her sons and daughters, dangling from a wide silver collar around her neck, and a curved
dagger thrust behind her belt. Her dark green skirts were sewn up on the left side to show red petticoats.
With touches of gray in her hair, she was every inch the stately Ebou Dari innkeeper, sure of herself and
accustomed to giving orders. He expected her to upbraid him-she was as good as an Aes Sedai when it
came to upbraiding!-so he was surprised when she spoke, sounding very thoughtful. 

 "Joline must have tried to stop you. and Teslyn and Edesina as well, but whatever they did failed. I think
that means you possess a ter'angreal that can disrupt flows of the Power. I've heard of such
things-Cadsuane Melaidhrin supposedly had one, or so rumor said- but I've never seen the like. I would
very much like to. I won't try to take it away from you, but I would appreciate seeing it."

 "How do you know Cadsuane?" Joline demanded, attempting to brush off the seat of her skirt. The first
brush of her hand brought a wince, and she gave over with a glare for Mat just to show him she still had
him in mind. Tears glistened in her big brown eyes and on her cheeks, but if he had to pay for them, it
was worth the price.

 "She said something about the test for the shawl," Edesina said.

 "She did say, 'How could you have passed the test for the shawl if you freeze at moments like this?' "
Teslyn added.

 Mistress Anan's mouth tightened for a moment, but if she was discomposed, she regained her poise in a
breath. "You may recall that I owned an inn," she said dryly. "Many people visited The Wandering
Woman, and many of them talked, perhaps more than they should have."

 "No Aes Sedai would," Joline began, then turned hurriedly. Blaeric and Fen were starting up the steps.
Borderlanders both, they were big men. and Mat quickly got to his feet, ready to use his knives if
necessary. They might drub him, but not without bleeding for it.

 Surprisingly, Joline darted to the door and shut it right in Fen's face, then fastened the latch. The
Saldaean made no effort to open the door, but Mat had no doubt the pair of them would be waiting
when he left. When she turned around, her eyes were blazing hot, tears and all. and she seemed to have
forgotten Mistress Anan for the moment. "If you ever even think of. . ." she began, shaking a finger at

 He stepped forward and stuck a finger of his own to her nose, so fast that she jumped back and
bumped into the door. From which she rebounded with a squeak, spots of red blooming in her cheeks.
He cared not a whisker whether that was anger or embarrassment. She opened her mouth, but he
refused to let her get a word in edgewise.

 "Except for me, you'd be wearing a damane collar around your neck, and so would Edesina and 

Teslyn," he said, as much heat in his voice as there was in her eyes. "In return, you all try to bully me.
You go your own way and endanger all of us. You bloody well channeled when you know there are
Seanchan right across the road! They could have a damane with them, or a dozen, for all you know." He
doubted there was even one, but doubt was not certainty, and in any case, he was not about to share his
doubts with her, not now. "Well, I might have to put up with some of that, though you'd better know I'm
getting close to my edge, but I won't put up with you hitting me. You do that again, and I vow I'll pepper
your hide twice as hard and twice as hot. My word on it!"

 "And I won't try to stop him next time if you do." Mistress Anan said.

 "Nor I." Teslyn added, echoed after a long moment by Edesina.

 Joline looked as though she had been hit between the eyes with a hammer. Very satisfactory. As long as
he could figure out how to avoid having his bones broken by Blaeric and Fen.

 "Now would someone like to tell me why you bloody decided to start channeling like it was the Last
Battle? Do you have to keep holding them like that, Edesina?" He nodded at Seta and Bethamin. It was
only an educated guess, but Edesina's eyes widened for a moment as if she thought his ter'angreal let him
see flows of the Power as well as stop them. In any case, an instant later both women were standing
normally. Bethamin calmly began drying her tears with a white linen handkerchief. Seta sat down on the
nearest bed, hugging herself and shivering; she looked more shaken than Bethamin.

 None of the Aes Sedai seemed to want to answer, so Mistress Anan did it for them. "There was an
argument. Joline wanted to go see these Seanchan for herself, and she wouldn't be argued out of it.
Bethamin decided to discipline her, just as if she had no clue what would happen." The innkeeper shook
her head in disgust. "She tried to pull Joline across her lap, with Seta helping her, and Edesina wrapped
them up in flows of air. I'm assuming," she said when the Aes Sedai all looked at her sharply. "I may not
be able to channel, but I do use my eyes."

 "That doesn't account for what I felt," Mat said. "There was a lot of channeling going on in here."

 Mistress Anan and the three Aes Sedai studied him speculatively, long stares that seemed to probe for
the medallion. They were not going to forget about his ter'angreal. that was for sure.

 Joline took up the story. "Bethamin channeled. I've never before seen the weave she used, but for a few 

moments, until she lost the Source, she had sparks dancing all over the three of us. I think she may have
used as much of the Power as she could draw."

 Sobs suddenly racked Bethamin. She sagged, halfway to falling to the floor. "I didn't mean to," she wept,
shoulders shaking, face contorted. "I thought you were going to kill me. but I didn't mean to. I didn't."
Seta began rocking back and forth, staring at her friend in horror. Or perhaps her former friend. They
both knew a'dam could hold them, and maybe any sul'dam, but they might well have denied the full
import. Any woman who could use an a'dam could learn to channel. Likely they had tried as hard as they
could to deny that hard fact, to forget it. Actually channeling altered everything, however.

 Burn him, this was all he needed on top of everything else. "What are you going to do about it?" Only an
Aes Sedai could handle this. "Now she's started, she can't just stop. I know that much."

 "Let her die," Teslyn said harshly. "We can keep her shielded until we can be rid of her, then she can

 "We can't do that," Edesina said, sounding shocked. Though not, apparently, at the thought of Bethamin
dying. "Once we let her go, she'll be a danger to everyone around her."

 "I won't do it again," Bethamin wept, almost pleading. "I won't!"

 Pushing past Mat as if he were a coatrack, Joline confronted Bethamin, staring up at the taller woman
with her fists on her hips. "You won't stop. You can't, once you begin. Oh, you may be able to go
months between attempts to channel, but you will try again, and again. and every time, your danger will
increase." With a sigh, she lowered her hands. "You are much too old for the novice book, but there's
nothing for it. We will have to teach you. Enough to make you safe, at least."

 "Teach her?" Teslyn screeched, planting her fists on her hips. "I do say let her die! Do you have any idea
how these sul'dam did treat me when they did have me prisoner?"

 "No, since you've never gone into detail beyond moaning over how horrible it was." Joline replied dryly,
then added in very firm tones. "But I will not leave any woman to die when I can stop it." 

 That did not end things, of course. When a woman wanted to argue, she could keep it going if she was
by herself, and they all wanted to argue. Edesina joined in on joline's side, and so did Mistress Anan, just
as if she had as much right to speak as the Aes Sedai. Of all things. Bethamin and Seta took Teslyn's
part, denying any wish to learn to channel, waving their hands and arguing as loudly as anyone. Wisely,
Mat took the opportunity to slip out of the wagon and pull the door shut behind him softly. No need to
remind them of him. The Aes Sedai, at least, would remember soon enough. At least he could stop
worrying about where the bloody a'dam were and whether the sul'dam would try using them again. That
was well and truly finished, now.

 He had been right about Blaeric and Fen. They were waiting at the loot of the steps, and stormclouds
were not in it for their faces. Without any doubt, they knew exactly what had happened to Joline. But not
who was to blame, it turned out.

 "What went on in there, Cauthon?" Blaeric demanded, his blue eyes sharp enough to poke holes. Slightly
the taller of the two. he had shaved his Shienaran topknot and was not best pleased by the growth of
short hair covering his scalp.

 "Were you involved?" Fen asked coldly.

 "How could I have been?" Mat replied, trotting down the steps as if he had not a care in the world.
"She's Aes Sedai, in case you hadn't noticed. If you want to know what happened, I suggest you ask her.
I'm not woolheaded enough to talk about it. I'll tell you that. Only. I wouldn't ask her right now. They're
all still arguing in there. I took the chance to slip out while my hide was still intact."

 Not the best choice of words, perhaps. The two Warders' faces grew darker still, impossible as that
seemed. But they let him go on his way without having to resort to his knives. There was that. Neither
seemed very eager to enter the wagon, either. Instead, they settled on the wagon's steps to wait, more
fools they. He doubted Joline would be very forthcoming with them, but she might well take out some of
her temper on them because they knew. Had he been them, he would have found tasks to keep him clear
of that wagon for . . . oh. say, a month or two. That might help. Some. Women had long memories for
some things. He was going to need to watch over his shoulder for Joline himself from now on. But it had
still been worth it.

 With Seanchan camped across the road and Aes Sedai arguing and women channeling as if they had
never heard of the Seanchan and the dice spinning in his head, not even winning two games of stones
from Tuon that night could make him feel anything but wary. He went to sleep-on the floor, since it was
Domon's turn to use the second bed; Egeanin always got the other-with the dice bouncing off the insides
of his skull, but he was sure that tomorrow had to be better than today. Well, he had never claimed to
always be right. He just wished he was not quite so wrong so often. 


 Dragons' Eggs

 Luca had the showfolk breaking camp, taking down the big canvas wall and packing everything into the
wagons, while the sky was still dark the next morning. It was the clatter and banging of it. the shouting,
that woke Mat, groggy and stiff from sleeping on the floor. As much as he could sleep, for the bloody
dice. Those things gave a man dreams that slaughtered sleep. Luca was rushing about in his shirtsleeves
with a lantern, giving orders and likely impeding matters as much as speeding them, but Petra, wide
enough to seem squat though he was not all that much shorter than Mat, paused in hitching the four-horse
team to his and Clarine's wagon to explain. With the waning moon low on the horizon and half-hidden by
trees, a lantern on the driver's seat gave all the light they had, a flickering pool of yellow that was
repeated a hundred times and more through the camp. Clar-ine was off walking the dogs, since they
would be spending most of the day inside the wagon.

 "Yesterday. . . ." The strongman shook his head and patted the nearest animal, patiently waiting for the
last straps to be buckled, as if the horse had showed signs of nerves. Maybe he felt edgy himself. The
night was only cool, not really cold, yet he was bundled up in a dark coat and had on a knitted cap. His
wife worried about him falling sick from drafts or the cold, and took care that he would not. "Well, we're
strangers everywhere, you see, and a lot of people think they can take advantage of strangers. But if we
let one man get away with it, ten more will try, if not a hundred. Sometimes the local magistrate, or what
passes for one, will uphold the law for us, too, but only sometimes. Because we're strangers, and
tomorrow or the next day. we'll be gone, and anyway, everybody knows strangers are usually up to no
good. So we have to stand up for ourselves, fight for what's ours if need be. Once you do that, though,
it's time to move along. Same now as when there were only a few dozen of us with Luca, counting the
horse handlers, though in those days, we'd have been gone as soon as those soldiers left. In those days,
there weren't so many coins to be lost by leaving in a hurry," he said dryly, and shook his head, perhaps
for Luca's greed or perhaps for how large the show had grown, before going on.

 "Those three Seanchan have friends, or at least companions who won't like their own being faced down.
That Standard bearer did it, but you can be sure they'll lay it to us, because they think they can hit at us,
and they can't at her. Maybe their officers will uphold the law, or their rules or whatever, like she did, but
we can't be sure of that. What is certain sure, though, is that those fellows will cause trouble if we stay
another day. No point to staying when it means fights with soldiers, and maybe people hurt so they can't
perform, and sure trouble with the law one way or another." It was the longest speech Mat had ever
heard from Petra, and the man cleared his throat as though embarrassed by saying so much. "Well," he
muttered, bending back to the harness, "Luca will want to be on the road soon. You'll want to be seeing
to your own horses." 

 Mat wanted no such thing. The most wonderful thing about having coin was not what you could buy, but
that you could pay others to do the work. As soon as he realized the show was preparing to move, he
had rousted the four Redarms from the tent they shared with Chel Vanin to hitch the teams for his wagon
and Tuon's. do as he instructed with the razor and saddle Pips. The stout horsethief-he had not stolen a
horse since Mat had known him, but that was what he was- had roused himself long enough to say that
he would get up when the others returned, then rolled over in his blankets and was snoring again before
Harnan and the others had their boots half on. Vanin's skills were such that no one voiced any complaint
beyond the usual grumbling about the hour, and all but Harnan would have grumbled if allowed to sleep
till noon. When those skills were needed, he would repay them tenfold, and they knew it. even Fergin.
The skinny Redarm was none too bright except when it came to soldiering, but he was plenty smart
enough there. Well, smart enough.

 The show left Jurador before the sun broke the horizon, a long snake of wagons rolling along the wide
road through the darkness with Luca's lurid monstrosity pulled by six horses at its head. Tuon's wagon
came just behind with Gorderan driving, almost wide-shouldered enough to seem a strongman himself,
and Tuon and Selucia, well-cloaked and hooded, squeezed in on either side of him. The storage wagons
and animal cages and spare horses brought up the tail. Sentries at the Seanchan camp watched them
depart, silent armored figures in the night marching the camp's perimeter. Not that the camp itself was
quiet. Shadowy forms stood in rigid lines among the tents while loud voices bellowed the rollcall at a
steady pace and others answered. Mat all but held his breath until those regular shouts faded away
behind him. Discipline was a wonderful thing. For other men, anyway.

 He rode Pips alongside the Aes Sedai wagon, near the middle of the long line, flinching a little every time
the foxhead went cool against his chest, which it began to do before they had gone much more than a
mile. It seemed that Joline was wasting no time. Fergin, handling the reins, chattered away about horses
and women with Metwyn. Both were as happy as pigs in clover, but then, neither had any idea what was
going on inside the wagon. At least the medallion only turned cool, and barely that. They were using small
amounts of the Power. Still, he disliked being so near any channeling at all. In his experience, Aes Sedai
carried trouble in their belt pouches and seldom were shy about scattering it, never mind who might be in
the way. No, with the dice bouncing inside his head, he could have done without Aes Sedai within ten

 He would have ridden up beside Tuon, for the chance to talk with her, no matter that Selucia and
Gorderan would hear every word, but you never wanted a woman thinking you were too eager. Do that,
and she either took advantage or else skittered away like a water drop on a hot greased griddle. Tuon
found enough ways to take advantage already, and he had too little time for very much in the way of
chasing. Sooner or later she would speak the words that completed the marriage ceremony, sure as
water was wet, but that only made it more urgent for him to find out what she was like, which had hardly
been easy so far.

 That little woman made a blacksmith's puzzle seem simple. But how could a man be married to a woman
if he did not know her? Worse, he had to make her see him as something more than Toy. Marriage to a 

woman with no respect for him would be like wearing a shirt of black-wasp nettles day and night. Worse
still, he had to make her care for him, or he would find himself forced to hide from his own wife to keep
her from making him da'covale. And to cap it off, he had to do all of that in whatever time remained
before he had to send her back to Ebou Dar. A fine stew, and doubtless a tasty meal for some hero out
of legend, a little something to occupy his idle time before he rushed off to perform some great deed, only
Mat bloody Cauthon was no bloody hero. He still had it to do, though, and no time or room for missteps.

 It was the earliest start they had made yet, but his hopes that the Seanchan had frightened Luca into
moving faster were soon dashed. As the sun climbed, they passed stone farm buildings clinging to
hillsides and occasionally a tiny tile- or thatch-roofed village nestled beside the road in a surround of
stone-walled fields carved out of the forest, where men and women stood gaping as the show streamed
past and children ran alongside until their parents called them back, but in the mid-afternoon, the show
reached something larger. Runnien Crossing, near a so-called river that could have been waded in fewer
than twenty paces without going more than waist-deep despite the stone bridge across it, was never a
patch on Jurador, but it possessed four inns, each three stories of stone roofed in green or blue tiles, and
near half a mile of hard-packed dirt between the village and the river where merchants could park their
wagons for the night. Farms with their walled fields and orchards and pastures made a quilt of the
countryside for a good league along the road and maybe more beyond the hills to either side of it. They
certainly covered the hillsides Mat could see. That was enough for Luca.

 Ordering the canvas wall erected in the clearing, near to the river to make watering the animals easier,
the man strutted into the village wearing coat and cloak red enough to make Mat's eyes hurt and so
embroidered with golden stars and comets that a Tinker would have wept for the shame of donning the
garments. The huge blue-and-red banner was stretched across the entrance, each wagon in its place, the
performing platforms unloaded and the wall nearly all up by the time he returned escorting three men and
three women. The village was not all that far from Ebou Dar, yet their clothing might have come from
another country altogether. The men wore short wool coats in bright colors embroidered with angular
scrollwork along the shoulders and sleeves, and dark, baggy trousers stuffed into knee boots. The
women, their hair in a sort of coiled bun atop their heads, wore dresses nearly as colorful as Luca's
garments, their narrow skirts resplendent with flowers from hem to hips. They did all carry long belt
knives, though with straight blades for the most part, and caressed the hilts whenever anybody looked at
them: that much was the same. Altara was Altara when it came to touchiness. These were the village
Mayor, the four innkeepers. and a lean, leathery, white-haired woman in red: the others addressed her
respectfully as Mother. Since the round-bellied Mayor was as white-haired as she, not to mention mostly
bald, and none of the innkeepers lacked at least a little gray hair. Mat decided she must be the village
Wisdom. He smiled and tipped his hat to her as she passed, and she gave him a sharp look and sniffed in
near perfect imitation of Nynaeve. Oh, yes, a Wisdom all right.

 Luca showed them around with wide smiles and expansive gestures, elaborate bows and flourishes of his
cloak, stopping here and there to make a juggler or a team of acrobats perform a little for his guests, but
his smile turned to a sour grimace once they were safely back on their way and out of sight. "Free
admission for them and their husbands and wives and all the children," he growled to Mat. "and I'm
supposed to pack up if a merchant comes down the road. They weren't that blunt, but they were clear
enough, especially that Mother Dar-vale. As if this flyspeck ever attracted enough merchants to fill this
field. Thieves and scoundrels, Cauthon. Country folk are all thieves and scoundrels, and an honest man 

like me is at their mercy."

 Soon enough he was toting up what he might earn there despite the complimentary admissions, but he
never did give over complaining entirely, even when the line at the entrance stretched nearly as far as it
had in Jurador. He just added complaining about how much he would have taken in with another three or
four days at the salt town. It was three or four more days. now. and likely he would have lingered until
the crowds had dwindled to nothing. Maybe those three Sean-chan had been ta'veren work. Not likely,
but it was a pleasant way to think of it. Now that it was all in the past, it was.

 That was how they progressed. At best a mere two leagues or perhaps three at an unhurried pace, and
usually Luca would find a small town or a cluster of villages that he felt called for a halt. Or better to say
that he felt their silver calling to him. Even if they passed nothing but flyspecks not worth the labor of
erecting the wall, they never made as much as four leagues before Luca called a halt. He was not about
to risk having to camp strung out along the road. If there was not to be a show, Luca liked to find a
clearing where the wagons could be parked without too much crowding, though if driven to it, he would
dicker with a farmer for the right to stop in an unused pasture. And mutter over the expense the whole
next day if it cost no more than a silver penny. He was tight with his purse strings, Luca was.

 Trains of merchants' wagons passed them in both directions, making good speed and managing to raise
small clouds of dust from the hard-packed road. Merchants wanted to get their goods to market as
quickly as possible. Now and then they saw a caravan of Tinkers, too, their boxy wagons as bright as
anything in the show except for Luca's wagon. All of them were headed toward Ebou Dar, oddly
enough, but then, they moved as slowly as Luca. Not likely any coming the other way would overtake
the show. Two or three leagues a day, and the dice rattled away so that Mat was always wondering what
lay beyond the next bend in the road or what was catching him up from behind. It was enough to give a
man hives.

 The very first night, outside Runnien Crossing, he approached Aludra. Near her bright blue wagon she
had set up a small canvas enclosure, eight feet tall, for launching her nightflowers, and she straightened
with a glare when he pulled back a flap and ducked in. A closed lantern sitting on the ground near the
wall gave enough light for him to see that she was holding a dark ball the size of a large melon. Runnien
Crossing was only big enough to merit a single nightflower. She opened her mouth, all set to chivvy him
out. Not even Luca was allowed in here.

 "Lofting tubes." he said quickly, gesturing to the metal-bound wooden tube, as tall as he was and near
enough a foot across, sitting upright in front of her on a broad wooden base. "That's why you want a
bellfounder. To make lofting tubes from bronze. It's the why I can't puzzle out." It seemed a ridiculous
idea-with a little effort, two men could lift one of her wooden lofting tubes into the wagon that carried
them and her other supplies; a bronze lofting tube would require a derrick-but it was the only thing that
had occurred to him. 

 With the lantern behind her, shadows hid her expression, but she was silent for a long moment. "Such a
clever young man," she said finally. Her beaded braids clicked softly as she shook her head. Her laugh
was low and throaty. "Me, I should watch my tongue. I always get into the trouble when I make
promises to clever young men. Never think I will tell you the secrets that would make you blush, though,
not now. You are already juggling two women, it seems, and me, I will not be juggled."

 "Then I'm right?" He was barely able to keep the incredulity from his voice.

 "You are," she said. And casually tossed the nightflower at him!

 He caught it with a startled oath, and only dared to breathe when he was sure he had a good grip. The
covering seemed to be stiff leather, with a tiny stub of fuse sticking out of one side. He had a little
familiarity with smaller fireworks, and supposedly those only exploded from fire or if you let air touch
what was inside-though he had cut one open once without it going off-yet who could say what might
make a nightflower erupt? The firework he had opened had been small enough to hold in one hand.
Something the size of this nightflower would likely blow him and Aludra to scraps.

 Abruptly he felt foolish. She was not very likely to go throwing the thing if dropping it was dangerous.
He began tossing the ball from hand to hand. Not to make up for gasping and all that. Just for something
to do.

 "How will casting lofting tubes from bronze make them a better weapon?" That was what she wanted,
weapons to use against the Sean-chan, to repay them for destroying the Guild of Illuminators. "They
seem fearsome enough to me already."

 Aludra snatched the nightflower back muttering about clumsy oafs and turning the ball over in her hands
to examine the leather surface. Maybe it was not so safe as he had assumed. "A proper lofting tube." she
said once she was sure he had not damaged the thing, "it will send this close to three hundred paces
straight up into the sky with the right charge, and a longer distance across the ground if the tube is tilted at
an angle. But not far enough for what I have in mind. A lofting charge big enough to send it further would
burst the tube. With a bronze tube, I could use a charge that would send something a little smaller close
to two miles. Making the slow-match slower, to let it travel that far, is easy enough. Smaller but heavier,
made of iron, and there would be nothing for pretty colors, only the bursting charge."

 Mat whistled through his teeth, seeing it in his head, explosions erupting among the enemy before they 

were near enough to see you clearly. A nasty thing to be receiving. Now that would be as good as having
Aes Sedai on your side, or some of those Asha'man. Better. Aes Sedai had to be in danger to use the
Power as a weapon, and while he had heard rumors about hundreds of Asha'man, rumors grew with
every telling. Besides, if Asha'man were anything like Aes Sedai, they would start deciding where they
were needed and then take over the whole fight. He began envisioning how to use Aludra's bronze tubes,
and right away he spotted a glaring problem. All your advantage was gone if the enemy came from the
wrong direction, or got behind you, and if you needed derricks to move these things. . . . "These bronze
lofting tubes-'

 "Dragons," she broke in. "Lofting tubes are for making the night-flowers bloom. For delighting the eye. I
will call them dragons, and the Seanchan will howl when my dragons bite." Her tone was grim as sharp

 "These dragons, then. Whatever you call them, they'll be heavy and hard to move. Can you mount them
on wheels? Like a wagon or cart? Would they be too heavy for horses to pull?"

 She laughed again. "It's good to see you are more than the pretty face." Climbing a three-step folding
ladder that put her waist nearly level with the top of the lofting tube, she set the nightflower into the tube
with the fuse down. It slid in a little way and stopped, a dome above the top of the tube. "Hand me that,"
she told him, gesturing to a pole as long and thick as a quarterstaff. When he handed it up to her, she held
it upright and used a leather cap on one end to push the nightflower deeper. That appeared to take little
effort. "I have already drawn plans for the dragoncarts. Four horses could draw one easily, along with a
second cart to hold the eggs. Not nightflowers. Dragons' eggs. You see, I have thought long and hard
about how to use my dragons, not just how to make them.' Pulling the capped rod from the tube, she
climbed down and picked up the lantern. "Come. I must make the sky bloom a little, then I want my
supper and my bed."

 Just outside the canvas enclosure stood a wooden rack filled with more peculiar implements, a forked
stick, tongs as long as Mat was tall, other things just as odd and all made of wood. Setting the lantern on
the ground, she placed the capped pole in the rack and took a square wooden box from a shelf. "I
suppose now you want to learn how to make the secret powders, yes? Well. 1 did promise. I am the
Guild, now," she added bitterly, removing the box's lid. It was an odd box. a solid piece of wood drilled
with holes, each of which held a thin stick. She plucked out one and replaced the lid. "I can decide what
is secret."

 "Better than that, I want you to come with me. I know somebody who'll be happy to pay for making as
many of your dragons as you want. He can make every bellfounder from Andor to Tear stop casting
bells and start casting dragons." Avoiding Rand's name did not stop the colors from whirling inside his
head and resolving for an instant into Rand-fully clothed, thank the Light-talking with Loial by lamplight in
a wood-paneled room. There were other people, but the image focused on Rand, and it vanished too
quickly for Mat to make out who they were. He was pretty sure that what he saw was what was actually 

happening right that moment, impossible as that seemed. It would be good to see Loial again, but burn
him. there had to be some way to keep those things out of his head! "And if he isn't interested." again the
colors came, but he resisted, and they melted away. "I can pay to have hundreds cast myself. A lot of
them, anyway."

 The Band was going to end up fighting Seanchan, and most likely Trollocs as well. And he would be
there when it happened. There was no getting around the fact. Try to avoid it how he would, that bloody
ta'veren twisting would put him right in the bloody middle. So he was ready to pour out gold like water if
it gave him a way to kill his enemies before they got close enough to poke holes in his hide.

 Aludra tilted her head to one side, pursing her rosebud lips. "Who is this man with such power?"

 "It'll have to be a secret between us. Thorn and Juilin know, and Egeanin and Domon, and the Aes
Sedai, Teslyn and Joline at least, and Van in and the Redarms, but nobody else, and I want to keep it
that way." Blood and bloody ashes, far too many people knew already. He waited for her curt nod
before saying, "The Dragon Reborn." The colors swirled and despite his fighting them again became
Rand and Loial for a moment. This was not going to be as easy as it had seemed.

 "You know the Dragon Reborn." she said doubtfully.

 "We grew up in the same village," he growled, already fighting the colors. This time, they nearly
coalesced before vanishing. "If you don't believe me. ask Teslyn and Joline. Ask Thorn. But don't do it
around anyone else. A secret, remember."

 "The Guild has been my life since I was a girl." She scraped one of the sticks quickly down the side of
the box, and the thing sputtered into flame! It smelled of sulphur. "The dragons, they are my life now. The
dragons, and revenge on the Seanchan." Bending, she touched the flame to a dark length of fuse that ran
under the canvas. As soon as the fuse caught, she shook the stick until the fire went out, then dropped it.
With a crackling hiss the flame sped along the fuse. "I think me I believe you." She held out her free hand.
"When you leave, 1 will go with you. And you will help me make many dragons."

 For a moment, as he shook her hand, he was sure the dice had stopped, but a heartbeat later they were
rattling again. It must have been imagination. After all, this agreement with Aludra might help the Band,
and incidentally Mat Cauthon. stay alive, yet it could hardly be called fateful. He would still have to fight
those battles, and however you planned, however well-trained your men were, luck played its part, too.
bad as well as good, even for him. These dragons would not change that. But were the dice bouncing as
loudly? He thought not, yet how could he be sure? Never before had they slowed without stopping. It 

had to be his imagination.

 A hollow thump came from inside the enclosure, and acrid smoke billowed over the canvas wall.
Moments later the nightflower bloomed in the darkness above Runnien Crossing, a great ball of red and
green streaks. It bloomed again and again in his dreams that night and for many nights after, but there it
bloomed among charging horsemen and massed pikes, rending flesh as he had once seen stone rent by
fireworks. In his dreams, he tried to catch the things with his hands, tried to stop them, yet they rained
down in unending streams on a hundred battlefields. In his dreams, he wept for the death and destruction.
And somehow it seemed that the rattling of the dice in his head sounded like laughter. Not his laughter.
The Dark One's laughter.

 The next morning, with the sun just rising toward a cloudless sky, he was sitting on the steps of his green
wagon, carefully scraping at the bowstave with a sharp knife-you had to be careful, almost delicate: a
careless slice could ruin all your work-when Egeanin and Domon came out. Strangely, they seemed to
have dressed with special care, in their best, such as it was. He was not the only one to have bought cloth
in Jurador, but without promises of Mat's gold to speed them, the seamstresses were still sewing for
Domon and Egeanin. The blue-eyed Seanchan woman wore a bright green dress heavily embroidered
with tiny white and yellow flowers on the high neck and all down the sleeves. A flowered scarf held her
long black wig in place. Domon, looking decidedly odd with a head of very short hair and that Illianer
beard that left his upper lip bare, had brushed his worn brown coat till it actually had some semblance of
neatness. They squeezed past Mat and hurried off without a word, and he thought no more of it until they
returned an hour or so later to announce that they had been into the village and gotten Mother Darvale to
marry them.

 He could not stop himself from gaping. Egeanin's stern face and sharp eyes gave good indications of her
character. What could have brought Domon to marry the woman? As soon marry a bear. Realizing the
Illianer was beginning to glare at him, he hastily got to his feet and made a presentable bow over the
bowstave. "Congratulations, Master Domon. Congratulations. Mistress Domon. The Light shine on you
both." What else was he to say?

 Domon kept glaring as if he had heard Mat's thoughts, though, and Egeanin snorted. "My name is
Leilwin Shipless, Cauthon," she drawled. "That's the name I was given and the name I'll die with. And a
good name it is, since it helped me reach a decision I should have made weeks ago." Frowning, she
looked sideways at Domon. "You do understand why I could not take your name, don't you, Bayle?"

 "No, lass," Domon replied gently, resting a thick hand on her shoulder, "but I will take you with any
name you do care to use so long as you be my wife. I told you that." She smiled and laid her hand atop
his, and he began smiling, too. Light, but the pair of them were sickening. If marriage made a man start
smiling like dreamy syrup. . . . Well, not Mat Cauthon. He might be as good as wed, but Mat Cauthon
was never going to start carrying on like a loon. 

 And that was how he ended up in a green-striped wall-tent, not very large, that belonged to a pair of
lean Domani brothers who ate fire and swallowed swords. Even Thom admitted that Balat and Abar
were good, and they were popular with the other performers, so finding them places to stay was easy,
but that tent cost as much as the wagon had! Everybody knew he had gold to fling about, and that pair
just sighed over giving up their snug home when he tried to bargain them down. Well, a new bride and
groom needed privacy, and he was more than glad to give it to them if it meant he did not have to watch
them go moon-eyed at each other. Besides, he was tired of taking his turn sleeping on the floor. In the
tent, at least he had his own cot every night-narrow and hard it might be, yet it was softer than
floorboards-and with only him, he had more room than in the wagon even after the rest of his clothes
were moved in and stowed in a pair of brass-bound chests. He had a washstand of his very own, a
ladder-back chair that was not too unsteady, a sturdy stool, and a table big enough to hold a plate and
cup and a pair of decent brass lamps. The chest of gold he left in the green wagon. Only a blind fool
would try robbing Domon. Only a madman would try robbing Egeanin. Leilwin. if she insisted, though he
was still certain she would regain her senses eventually. After the first night, spent close by the Aes Sedai
wagon, with the foxhead cool for half the night, he had the tent set up facing Tuon's wagon by dint of
making sure that the Redarms started raising it before anyone else could claim the space.

 "Are you placing yourself as my guard now?" Tuon said coolly when she saw the tent for the first time.

 "No," he replied. "I'm just hoping for more glimpses of you." That was the Light's own truth-well, getting
away from the Aes Sedai was part of it, but the other was true, too-yet the woman waggled her fingers at
Selucia, and the pair of them launched into gales of giggles before recovering themselves and reentering
the faded purple wagon with all the dignity of a royal procession. Women!

 He was not often alone in the tent. He had taken on Lopin as his bodyservant after Nalesean's death,
and the stout Tairen, with his blocky face and a beard that nearly reached his chest, was always popping
in to bow his balding head and ask what "my Lord" would enjoy for his next meal or inquire whether "my
Lord" had any need of wine or tea or would care for a plate of candied dried figs he had vaguely
acquired somewhere. Lopin was vain over his ability to find delicacies where it seemed there could be
none. That, or he was rifling through the clothes chests to see whether anything needed repair or cleaning
or ironing. Something always did, in his estimation, though it all looked fine to Mat. Nerim. Talmanes'
melancholy bodyservant, frequently accompanied him, largely because the skinny, gray-haired Cairhienin
was bored. Mat could not understand how anyone could get bored with not having any work to do, but
Nerim was full of dolorous comments on how poorly Talmanes must be faring without him, mournfully
sighing about five times a day that Talmanes must have given his place to another by now, and he was
ready to wrestle Lopin if need be for a share of the cleaning and mending. He even wanted his turn
blacking Mat's boots!

 Noal dropped by to spin his tall tales, and Olver to play stones or Snakes and Foxes, when he was not
playing with Tuon instead. Thorn came to play stones, too, and to share rumors he picked up in the
towns and villages, knuckling his long white mustache over the choicer bits. Juilin brought his own 

reports, but he always brought Amathera. as well. The former Panarch of Tarabon was pretty enough for
Mat to understand why the thief-catcher was interested, with a rosebud mouth just made for kissing, and
she clung to Juilin's arm as if she might return some of his feelings, but her big eyes always gazed fearfully
toward Tuon's wagon, even when they were all inside Mat's tent, and it was still all Juilin could do to
keep her from dropping to her knees and putting her face to the ground whenever she glimpsed Tuon or
Selucia. She did the same with Egeanin. and with Bethamin and Seta, besides. Considering that
Amathera had been da'covale for just a matter of months, it fair made Mat's skin crawl. Tuon could not
really mean to make him da'covale when she was going to marry him. Could she?

 He soon told them to stop bringing him rumors about Rand. Fighting the colors in his head was too much
effort, and he lost that fight as often as he won. Sometimes it was all right, but sometimes he caught
glimpses of Rand and Min, and it seemed those two were carrying on something awful. Anyway, the
rumors were all the same, really. The Dragon Reborn was dead, killed by Aes Sedai, by Asha'man, by
the Seanchan, by a dozen other assassins. No, he was in hiding, he was massing a secret army, he was
doing some fool thing or other that varied village by village and usually inn by inn. The one thing that was
clear was that Rand was no longer in Cairhien, and nobody had any idea where he was. The Dragon
Reborn had vanished.

 It was odd how many of these Altaran farmers and villagers and townsfolk seemed worried by that, as
worried as the merchants passing through and the men and women who worked for them. Not one of
those people knew any more of the Dragon Reborn than the tales they carried, yet his disappearance
frightened them. Thorn and Juilin were clear on that, until he made them stop. If the Dragon Reborn was
dead, what was the world to do? That was the question that people asked over breakfast in the morning
and ale in the evening and likely on going to bed. Mat could have told them Rand was alive-those bloody
visions made him sure of that-but explaining how he knew was another matter. Even Thom and Juilin
seemed uncertain about the colors. The merchants and the others would have thought him a mad man.
And if they believed, that would only scatter rumors about him, not to mention likely setting the Seanchan
to hunting for him. All he wanted was the bloody colors out of his head.

 Moving into the tent made the showfolk eye him very oddly, and small wonder. First he had been
running off with Egearrin-Leilwin, if she insisted on it-and Domon supposedly was her servant, but now
she was married to Domon, and Mat was out of the wagon entirely. Some of the showfolk seemed to
think it no more than he deserved for trailing after Tuon. yet a surprising number offered him sympathy.
Several men commiserated over the fickleness of women-at least they did when they there were no
women around-and some of the unmarried women, contortionists and acrobats and seamstresses, began
eyeing him much too warmly. He might have enjoyed that if they had not been so willing to give him
smoky looks right in front of Tuon. The first time that happened, he was so startled that his eyes nearly
popped. Tuon seemed to find it amusing, of all things! She seemed to. But only a fool thought he knew
what was in a woman's head just because she had a smile on her face.

 He continued to dine with her every midday, if they were halted, and began arriving for his nightly games
of stones early, so she had to feed him then, too. Light's truth, if you got a woman to feed you on a
regular basis, she was halfway won. At least, he dined with her when she would let him into the wagon. 

One night he found the latch down, and no amount of talking would make her or Selucia open the door.
It seemed a bird had managed to get inside during the day, an extremely bad omen apparently, and the
pair of them had to spend the night in prayer and contemplation to avert some evil or other. They seemed
to run half their lives according to strange superstitions. Tuon or Selucia either one would make odd signs
with their hands if they saw a torn spiderweb with the spider in it. and Tuon explained to him, just as
serious as if she were making sense, that the sure result of clearing away a spiderweb before shooing the
spider out of it was the death of someone close to you within the month. They would see a flight of birds
circle more than once and predict a storm, or draw a finger through a line of marching ants, count how
long it took for the ants to rejoin their line, and predict how many days of fair weather lay ahead, and
never mind that it did not work out that way. Oh, there was rain three days after the birds-crows,
disturbingly enough-but it was nowhere near a storm, just a gray, drizzling day.

 "Obviously, Selucia miscounted with the ants," Tuon said, placing a white stone on the board with that
oddly graceful arching of her fingers. Selucia, watching over her shoulder in a white blouse and divided
brown skirts, nodded. As usual, she wore a head scarf over her short golden hair even indoors, a length
of red-and-gold silk that day. Tuon was all in brocaded blue silk, a coat of odd cut that covered her hips
and divided skirts so narrow they seemed to be wide trousers. She spent considerable time giving the
seamstresses detailed instructions on what she wanted sewn, and little of it was much like anything he had
ever seen before. It was all in Seanchan styles, he suspected, though she had had a few riding dresses
sewn that would not draw comment, for when she went outside. Rain pattered softly on the roof of the
wagon. "Obviously, what the birds told us was modified by the ants. It is never simple, Toy. You must
learn these things. I will not have you ignorant."

 Mat nodded as if that made sense and placed his black stone. And she called his uneasiness about
crows and ravens superstition! Knowing when to keep your mouth shut was a useful skill around women.
Around men, too, but more so around women. You could be pretty certain what would set a man's eyes
on fire.

 Talking with her could be dangerous in other ways, too. "What do you know of the Dragon Reborn?"
she asked him another evening.

 He choked on a mouthful of wine, and the whirling colors in his brain dissipated in a fit of coughing. The
wine was near enough vinegar; but even Nerim had a hard time finding good wine these days. "Well, he's
the Dragon Reborn," he said when he could speak, wiping wine from his chin with one hand. For a
moment, he saw Rand eating at a large dark table. "What else is there to know?" Selucia refilled his cup

 "A great deal, Toy. For one thing, he must kneel to the Crystal Throne before Tarmon Gai'don. The
Prophecies are clear on that, but I haven't even been able to learn where he is. It becomes still more
urgent if he is the one who sounded the Horn of Valere, as I suspect." 

 "The Horn of Valere?" he said weakly. The Prophecies said what} "It's been found, then?"

 "It must have been, mustn't it, if it was sounded?" she drawled dryly. "The reports I've seen from the
place where it was blown, a place called Falme, are very disturbing. Very disturbing. Securing whoever
blew the Horn, man or woman, may be as important as securing the Dragon Reborn himself. Are you
going to play a stone or not, Toy?"

 He played his stone, but he was so shaken that the colors whirled and faded without forming any image.
In fact, he was barely able to eke out a draw from what had seemed a clear winning position.

 "You played very poorly toward the end." Tuon murmured, frowning thoughtfully at the board, now
divided evenly between the control of black stones and white. He could all but see her start trying to
work out what they had been talking about when his poor play began. Talking with her was like walking
a crumbling ledge across the face of a cliff. One misstep, and Mat Cauthon would be as dead as last
year's mutton. Only, he had to walk that ledge. He had no bloody choice. Oh, he enjoyed it. In a way.
The longer he spent with her, the more opportunity to memorize that heart-shaped face, to get it down so
he could see her just by closing his eyes. But there was always that misstep waiting ahead. He could
almost see that, too.

 For several days after giving her the little bunch of silk flowers, he brought her no presents, and he
thought he was beginning to detect hints of disappointment when he appeared empty-handed. Then, four
days out of Jurador, just as the sun was peeking over the horizon into a nearly cloudless sky, he got her
and Selucia out of the purple wagon. Well, he just wanted Tuon, but Selucia might as well have been her
shadow when it came to trying to separate them. He had commented on that once, making a joke, and
both women went on talking as if he had not spoken. It was a good thing he knew Tuon could laugh at a
joke, because sometimes she seemed to have no sense of humor at all. Selucia, wrapped in a green wool
cloak with the cowl all but hiding her red headscarf, eyed him suspiciously, but then, she nearly always
did. Tuon never bothered with a scarf, yet the shortness of her black hair was not so apparent with the
hood of her blue cloak up.

 "Cover your eyes, Precious," he said. "I have a surprise for you."

 "I like surprises," she replied, placing her hands over her big eyes. For an instant, she smiled in
anticipation, but only for an instant. "Some surprises, Toy." That had the sound of a warning. Selucia
stood hard by her shoulder, and though the bosomy woman appeared completely at her ease, something
told him she was as tense as a cat ready to leap. He suspected she did not like surprises. 

 "Wait right there," he said, and ducked around the side of the purple wagon. When he returned, he was
leading Pips and the razor, both saddled and bridled. The mare stepped lively, frisking at the prospect of
an outing. 'You can look now. I thought you might like a ride." They had hours; the show might as well
have been deserted for all the evidence of life among the wagons. Only a handful had smoke rising from
their metal chimneys. "She's yours!' he added, and stiffened as the words nearly froze in his throat.

 There was no doubt this time. He had said the horse was hers, and suddenly the dice were not beating
so loudly in his head. It was not that they had slowed: he was sure of that. There had been more than one
set rattling away. One had stopped when he made his agreement with Aludra, and another when he told
Tuon the horse was hers. That was odd in itself-how could giving her a horse be fateful for him?- but
Light, it had been bad enough when he had to worry about one set of dice giving warning at a time. How
many sets were still bouncing off the inside of his skull? How many more fateful moments were waiting to
crash down on him?

 Tuon went immediately to the razor, all smiles as she examined the animal as thoroughly as he had
himself. She did train horses for fun, after all. Horses and damane, the Light help him. Selucia was
studying him, he realized, her face an expressionless mask. Because of the horse, or because he had gone
stiff as a post?

 "She's a razor," he said, patting Pips' blunt nose. The gelding had been getting plenty of exercise, but the
razor's eagerness seemed to have infected him. "Domani bloodborn favor razors, and it's not likely you'll
ever see another one outside of Arad Doman. What will you name her?"

 "It is bad luck to name a horse before riding it," Tuon replied, taking the reins. She was still beaming.
Her big eyes shone. "She's a very-fine animal. Toy. A wonderful gift. Either you have a good eye. or you
were very lucky."

 "I have a good eye, Precious," he said warily. She seemed more delighted than even the razor called for.

 "If you say so. Where is Selucia's mount?"

 Oh, well. It had been worth a try. A smart man hedged his bets, though, so a sharp whistle brought
Metwyn at a trot leading a saddled dapple. Mat ignored the wide grin that split the man's pale face. The
Cairhienin Redarm had been sure he would not get away with leaving Selucia behind, but there was no
need to smirk over it. Mat judged the dapple gelding, ten years old, to be gentle enough for Seiucia-in his 

memory, ladies's maids seldom were more than tolerable riders-but the woman gave the animal a going
over as complete as Tuon's. And when she was done, she directed a look at Mat that said she would
ride the horse so as not to make a bother, but she found it decidedly lacking. Women could compress a
great deal into one look.

 Once clear of the field where the show was camped, Tuon walked the razor along the road for a time,
then took her to a trot, and then a canter. The surface was hard-packed yellow clay here, studded with
edges of old paving stones. No trouble for a well-shod horse, though, and he had made sure of the
razor's shoes. Mat kept Pips even with Tuon as much for the pleasure of watching her smile as anything
else. When Tuon was enjoying herself, che stern judge was forgotten and pure delight shone on her face.
Not that watching her was easy, since Seiucia held the dapple between them. The yellow-haired woman
was a formidable chaperone, and by the sidelong glances she gave him, her small smiles, she very much
enjoyed the job of frustrating him.

 At the start they had the road to themselves except for a few farm carts, but after a while a Tinker
caravan appeared ahead of them, a line of garishly painted and lacquered wagons rolling slowly
southward down the other side of the road with massive dogs trotting alongside. Those dogs were the
only real protection Tinkers had. The driver of the lead wagon, a thing as red as Lucas coats, trimmed in
yellow and with violent green-and-yellow wheels to boot, half-stood to peer toward Mat. then sat back
down and said something to the woman beside him, doubtless reassured by the presence of the two
women with Mat. Tinkers were a cautious lot, of necessity. That whole caravan would whip up their
horses and flee a single man they thought meant harm.

 Mat nodded to the fellow as the wagons began to pass. The lean, gray-haired man's high-collared coat
was as green as his wagon's wheels, and his wife's dress was striped in shades of blue, most bright
enough to suit any of the show's performers. The gray-haired man raised his hand in a wave . . .

 And Tuon suddenly turned the razor and galloped into the trees, cloak streaming out behind her. In a
flash, Seiucia had the dapple darting after her. Snatching his hat off so as not to lose it. Mat wheeled Pips
and followed. Shouts rose from the wagons, but he paid them no mind. His attention was all on Tuon. He
wished he knew what she was up to. Not escape, he was sure. Likely she was just trying to make him
tear out his hair. If so, she was in a fair way for succeeding.

 Pips quickly reeled in the dapple and left a scowling Selucia behind flailing her mount with the reins, bur
Tuon and the razor kept their lead as the rolling land climbed toward hills. Startled flights of birds sprang
up from beneath both animals' hooves, coveys of gray dove and of brown-speckled quail, sometimes
ruffed brown grouse. All disaster needed was for the mare to be frightened by one of those. The
best-trained mount could rear and fall when a bird burst up under hoof. Worse, Tuon rode like a
madwoman, never slowing, only swerving from her line where the underbrush lay dense, leaping trees
toppled by old storms as if she had a clue what lay on the other side. Well, he had to ride like a madman
himself to keep up, though he winced every time he set Pips to jump a tree trunk. Some were near as 

thick as he was tall. He dug his bootheels into the gelding's flanks, urging more speed though he knew
Pips was running as hard as he ever had. He had chosen too well in that bloody razor. Up and up they
raced through the forest.

 As abruptly as she had begun her mad dash, Tuon reined in, well over a mile from the road. The trees
were old here and widely spaced, black pines forty paces tall and wide-spreading oaks with branches
that arched down to touch the ground before rising again and could have been sliced crosswise into
tables to seat a dozen in comfort. Thick creepers shrouded half-buried boulders and stone outcrops, but
aside from that only a few weeds pushed through the mulch. Oaks that size killed off any lesser
undergrowth beneath them.

 "Your animal is better than he looks," the fool woman said, patting her mount's neck, when he reached
her. Oh, she was all innocence, just out for a pleasant ride. "Maybe you do have a good eye." With the
cowl of her cloak fallen down her back, her cap of short hair was visible, glistening like black silk. He
suppressed a desire to stroke it.

 "Burn how good my eye is," he growled, clapping his hat on. He knew he should speak smoothly, but he
could not have taken the roughness from his voice with a file. "Do you always ride like a moon-blinded
idiot? You could have broken that mare's neck before she even got a name. Worse, you could have
broken your own. I promised to get you home safely, and I mean to do just that. If you're going to risk
killing yourself every time you go riding, then I won't let you ride." He wished he had those last words
back as soon as they left his tongue.

 A man might laugh off a threat like that as a joke, maybe, if you were lucky, but a woman. . . . Now all
he could do was wait for the explosion. He expected Aludra's nightflowers to pale by comparison.

 She raised the hood of her cloak, settling it just so. She studied him, tilting her head first one way then
the other. Finally, she nodded to herself. "I name her Akein. That means 'swallow.' "

 Mat blinked. That was it? No eruption? "I know. A good name. It suits her." What was she about now?
The woman almost never did or said what he expected.

 "What is this place, Toy?" she said, frowning at the trees. "Or should 1 say, what was it? Do you

 What did she mean, what was this place? It was a bloody forest was what it was. But suddenly what
had seemed a large boulder right in front of him, nearly obscured by thick vines, resolved into a huge
stone head, slightly tilted to one side. A woman's head, he thought; those smooth roundels were probably
meant for jewels in her hair. The statue it sat on must have been immense. A full span of the thing
showed, yet only her eyes and the top of her head were out of the ground. And that long white stone
outcrop with an oak tree's roots growing over it was piece of a spiral column. All around them now he
could make out bits of columns and large worked stones that plainly had been part of some grand
structure and what had to be a stone sword two spans long, all half buried. Still, ruins of cities and
monuments could be found in many places, and few even among Aes Sedai had any idea what they had
been. Opening his mouth to say that he did not know, he caught sight through the trees of three tall hills in
a row, perhaps another mile on. The middle hill had a cleft top, like a wedge cut cleanly out, while the hill
on the'left had two. And he knew. There could hardly be three hills exactly like that anywhere else.

 Those hills had been called The Dancers when this place had been Londaren Cor, the capital city of
Eharon. The road behind them had been paved then and ran through the heart of the city, which had
sprawled for miles. People had said that the artistry in stone that the Ogier had practiced in Tar Valon.
they had perfected in Londaren Cor. Of course, the people of every Ogier-built city had claimed their
own outdid Tar Valon, confirming Tar Valon as the touchstone. He had a number of memories of the
city-dancing at a ball in the Palace of the Moon, carousing in soldiers' taverns where veiled dancers
writhed, watching the Procession of Flutes during the Blessing of the Swords-but oddly, he had another
memory of those hills, from near enough five hundred years after the Trollocs left no stone standing in
Londaren Cor and Eharon died in blood and fire. Why it had been necessary for Nerevan and Esandara
to invade Shiota, as the land was then, he did not know. Those old memories were fragments however
long a time any one covered, and full of gaps. He had no idea why those hills had been called The
Dancers, either, or what the Blessing of the Swords was. But he remembered being an Esandaran lord in
a battle fought among these ruins, and he remembered having those hills in view when he took an arrow
through his throat. He must have fallen no more than half a mile from the very spot where he sat Pips,
drowning in his own blood.

 Light. I hate to remember dying, he thought, and the thought turned to a coal burning in his brain. A coal
that burned hotter and hotter. He remembered those men's deaths, not just one but dozens of them.

 "Toy, are you ill?" Tuon brought the mare close and peered up into his face. Concern filled her big eyes.
"You've gone pale as the moon."

 "I'm right as spring water," he muttered. She was close enough for him to kiss if he bent his head, but he
did not move. He could not. He was thinking so furiously he had nothing left for motion. Somehow only
the Light knew, the Eelfinn had gathered the memories they had planted in his head, but how could they
harvest memory from a corpse? A corpse in the world of men, at that. He was certain they never came
to this side of that twisted doorframe ter'angreal for longer than minutes at a time. A way occurred to
him, one he did not like, not a scrap. Maybe they created some sort of link to any human who visited
them, a link that allowed them to copy all of a man's memories after that right up to the moment he died. 

In some of those memories from other men he was white-haired, in some only a few years older than he
really was, and everything in between, but there were none of childhood or growing up. What were the
odds of that, if they had just stuffed him with random bits and pieces, likely things they considered
rubbish or had done with? What did they do with memories, anyway? They had to have some reason for
gathering them beyond giving them away again. No, he was just trying to avoid where this led. Burn him,
the bloody foxes were inside his head right then! They had to be. It was the only explanation that made

 "Well, you look as if you're about to vomit," Tuon said, backing the razor away with a grimace. "Who in
the show would have herbs? I have some knowledge there."

 "I'm all right, I tell you." In truth, he did want to sick up. Having those foxes in his head was a thousand
times worse than the dice however hard the dice rattled. Could the Eelfinn see through his eyes? Light,
what was he going to do? He doubted any Aes Sedai could Heal him of this, not that he would trust them
to, not when it meant leaving off the foxhead. There was nothing to be done. He would just have to live
with it. He groaned at the thought.

 Cantering up to them, Selucia gave him and Tuon each a quick look, as if considering what they might
have been up to in their time alone. But then, she had taken her time in catching up. giving them that time.
That was hopeful. "Next time, you can ride this gentle creature and I will ride your gelding," she told Mat.
"High Lady, people from those wagons are following us with dogs. They're afoot, but they will be here
soon. The dogs don't bark."

 "Trained guard dogs, then," Tuon said, gathering her reins. "Mounted, we can avoid them easily enough."

 "No need to try, and no use," Mat told her. He should have expected this. "Those people are Tinkers,
Tuatha'an, and they're no danger to anybody. They couldn't be violent if their lives depended on it. That's
no exaggeration, just simple truth. But they saw you two go haring off, trying to get away from me as it
must have seemed, and me chasing after. Now that those dogs have a scent trail, the Tinkers will follow
us all the way back to the show if need be to make sure you two haven't been kidnapped or harmed.
We'll go meet them to save the time and trouble." It was not the Tinkers' time he cared about. Luca
probably would not care one way or the other if a bunch of Tinkers getting in the way delayed the show
setting out. but Mat certainly would.

 Selucia scowled at him indignantly, and her fingers flew, but Tuon laughed. "Toy wishes to be
commanding today, Selucia. I will let him command and see how he does." Bloody kind of her. 

 They trotted back the way they had come-riding around the fallen trees this time, though now and then
Tuon would gather her reins as if she meant to jump one, then give Mat a mischievous grin- and it was
not long before the Tinkers came into sight running through the trees behind their huge mastiffs like a flight
of butterflies, fifty or so men and women in bright colors, often in jarring combinations. A man might be
wearing a red-and-blue striped coat and baggy yellow trousers tucked into knee boots, or a
violet-colored coat above red trousers, or worse. Some women wore dresses striped in as many colors
as there were colors and even colors Mat had no name for, while others wore skirts and blouses as
varied in hue and as clashing as the men's coats and trousers. A fair number had shawls, as well, to add
more colors to the eye-scrambling blend. Except for the gray-haired man who had been driving the lead
wagon, they all appeared to be short of their middle years. He must be the Seeker, the leader of the
caravan. Mat dismounted, and after a moment, Tuon and Selucia did, too.

 The Tinkers stopped at that, calling their clogs to heel. The big animals slumped to the ground, tongues
lolling out, and the people came on more slowly. None carried so much as a stick, and though Mat wore
no weapons that showed, they eyed him warily. The men clustered in front of him, while the women
gathered around Tuon and Selucia. There was no threat in it, but as easily as that, Tuon and Selucia were
separated from him, off where the Tinker women could make inquiries. Suddenly it occurred to him that
Tuon might think it a fine game to claim he was trying to bother her. She and Selucia could ride off while
he was trying to contend with Tinkers crowding around him and Pips so he could not climb into the
saddle. That was all they would do, but unless he was willing to fight his way clear, they might keep him
here for hours, maybe, to give that pair time to "escape."

 The gray-haired man bowed with his hands pressed to his chest. "Peace be on you and yours, my Lord.
Forgiveness if we intrude, but we feared our dogs had frightened the ladies' horses."

 Mat responded with a bow in the same fashion. "Peace be on you always. Seeker, and on all the
People. The ladies' horses weren't frightened. The ladies are . . . impetuous at times." What were the
women saying? He tried to eavesdrop, but their voices were low murmurs.

 "You know something of the People, my Lord?" The Seeker sounded surprised and had a right to. The
Tuatha'an kept away from anywhere larger than a moderate-sized village. They would seldom encounter
anyone in a silk coat.

 "Only a little," Mat replied. A very little. He had memories of meeting Tinkers, but he himself had never
spoken to one before. What were those bloody women saying? "Will you answer me a question? I've
seen a number of your caravans the past few days, more than I'd have expected to, and all heading
toward Ebou Dar. Is there a reason?"

 The man hesitated, darting a glance toward the women. They were still murmuring away, and he had to 

be wondering why their conversation was lasting so long. After all, it only needed a moment to say yes, I
need help, or the opposite. "It is the people called Seanchan, my Lord," he said finally. "Word is
spreading among the People that there is safety where the Seanchan rule, and equal justice for all.
Elsewhere. . . . You understand, my Lord?"

 Mat did. Like the showfolk, Tinkers were strangers wherever they went, and worse, strangers with an
undeserved reputation for thievery-well, they stole no more often than anyone else-and a deserved one
for trying to entice young people into joining them. And on top of it, for Tinkers there was no question of
fighting back if anybody tried to rob them or chase them away. "Take a care. Seeker. Their safety comes
at a price, and some of their laws are harsh. You know what they do with women who can channel?"

 "Thank you for your concern, my Lord," the man said calmly, "but few of our women ever begin
channeling, and if one does, we will do as we always do and take her to Tar Valon."

 Abruptly, the women began laughing, great gales and peals. The Seeker relaxed visibly. If the women
were laughing, Mat was not the kind of man who would strike them down or kill them for getting in his
way. For Mat's part, he scowled. There was nothing in that laughter that he liked.

 The Tinkers made their departure with more apologies from the Seeker for having bothered them, but
the women kept looking back and laughing behind cupped hands. Some of the men leaned close as they
walked, plainly asking questions, but the women just shook their heads. And looked back again,

 "What did you tell them?" Mat asked sourly.

 "Oh. that's none of your business, now is it, Toy?" Tuon replied, and Selucia laughed. Oh, she bloody
cackled, she did. He decided he was better off not knowing. Women just purely enjoyed planting
needles in a man.


 A Short Path 

 Tuon and Selucia were not the only women who caused Mat trouble, of course. Sometimes it seemed
that most of the trouble in his life came from women, which he could not understand at all since he always
tried to treat them well. Even Egeanin gave her share of grief, though it was the smallest share.

 "I was right. You do think you can marry her," she drawled when he asked her for help with Tuon. She
and Domon were seated on the steps of their wagon, with their arms around each other. A trickle of
smoke rose from Domon's pipe. It was midmorning on a fine day. though gathering clouds threatened
rain for later, and the performers were putting on their acts for the inhabitants of four small villages that,
combined, perhaps equaled Runnien Crossing in size. Mat had no desire to go watch. Oh, he still
enjoyed watching the contortionists. and better still the female acrobats and tumblers, but when you saw
jugglers and fire-eaters and the like every day just about, even Miyora and her leopards became, well,
less interesting if not exactly ordinary. "Never you mind what I think. Egeanin. Will you tell me what you
know of her? Trying to find out from her is like fishing blindfolded and bare-handed in a briar patch trying
to catch a rabbit."

 "My name is Leilwin. Cauthon. Don't forget it again." she said in tones suitable for giving orders on a
ship's deck. Her eyes tried to drive the command home like blue hammers. "Why should I help you? You
aim too high above yourself, a mole yearning for the sun. You could face execution for simply saying you
want to marry her. It's disgusting. Besides. I've left all that behind me. Or it's left me," she added bitterly.
Domon gave her a one-armed hug.

 "If you've left all that behind you. what do you care how disgusting my wanting to marry her is?" There.
It was out in the open. Partly, at least.

 Domon removed the pipe from his mouth long enough to blow a smoke-ring aimed at Mat's face. "If she
does no want to help you. then give over." He gave it that same ship's deck voice of command.

 Egeanin muttered under her breath. She appeared to be arguing with herself. Finally, she shook her
head. "No, Bayle. He's right. If I'm cast adrift, then I have to find a new ship and a new course. I can
never return to Seanchan, so I might as well cut the cable and be done with it."

 What she knew of Tuon was mainly rumor-it seemed the Imperial family lived their lives behind walls
even when in plain sight, and only whispers of what went on behind those walls escaped-yet those were
sufficient to make the hair on the back of Mat's neck stand up. His wife-to-be had had a brother and a
sister assassinated? After they tried to have her killed, true, but still! What kind of family went around
killing one another? The Seanchan Blood and the Imperial family, for starters. Half of her siblings were
dead, assassinated, most of them, and maybe the others, too. Some of what Egeanin-Leilwin- had to tell
was generally known among Seanchan, and hardly more comforting. Tuon would have been schooled in
intrigue from infancy, schooled in weapons and fighting with her bare hands, heavily guarded yet 

expected to be her own last line of defense. All of those born to the Blood were taught to dissemble, to
disguise their intentions and ambitions. Power shifted constantly among the Blood, some climbing higher,
others slipping down, and the dance was only faster and more dangerous in the Imperial family. The
Empress-she started to add, 'May she live forever," and half-choked in swallowing the words, then
closed her eyes tor a long moment before continuing-the Empress had borne many children, as every
Empress did, so that among those who survived there would be one fit to rule after her. It would not do
to have someone who was stupid or a fool ascend the Crystal Throne. Tuon was accounted very far
from either. Light! The woman he was to marry was as bad as Warder and Aes Sedai wrapped into one.
And maybe as dangerous.

 He had several conversations with Egeanin-he was careful to name her Leilwin to her face lest she go for
him with her dagger, yet he thought of her as Egeanin-trying to learn more, but her knowledge of the
Blood was largely from the outside looking in, and her knowledge of the Imperial Court, by her own
admission, little better than that of a street urchin in Seandar. The day he gave Tuon the mare, he had
ridden alongside Egeanin's wagon having one of those fruitless conversations. He had accompanied Tuon
and Selucia for a time, but they kept looking at him sideways, then exchanging glances and giggling. Over
what they had told the Tinker women, without a sliver of doubt. A man could only take so much of that
sort of thing.

 "A clever gift, that mare," Egeanin said, leaning out from the driver's seat to look up the line of wagons.
Domon was handling the reins. She took her turn sometimes, but handling a team was not among the
skills she had learned on ships. "How did you know?"

 "Know what?" he asked.

 She straightened and adjusted her wig. He did not know why she continued to wear the thing. Her own
black hair was short, but no shorter than Selucia's. "About courting gifts. Among the Blood, when you
are courting someone higher than you. a traditional gift is something exotic or rare. Best of all is if you can
connect the gift somehow to one of the recipient's pleasures, and it's well known the High Lady loves
horses. It's good you've acknowledged that you don't expect to be her equal, too. Not that this is going
to work, you understand. I don't have a clue why she's still here, now you've stopped guarding her, but
you can't believe she'll actually say the words. When she marries, it will be for the good of the Empire,
not because some layabout like you gave her a horse or made her smile."

 Mat ground his teeth to keep from shouting a curse. He had acknowledged what} No wonder a set of
bloody dice had stopped. Tuon would let him forget this when it snowed on Sunday. He was certain sure
of that.

 If Leilwin bloody Shipless gave him small griefs, the Aes Sedai managed larger. Aes Sedai liked nothing 

better. He was resigned to them traipsing about every village and town they stopped at, asking questions
and doing the Light knew what else. He had no choice but resignation, with no way to stop them. They
claimed to be taking care-at least, Teslyn and Edesina did: Joline snapped that he was a fool for
worrying-yet an Aes Sedai taking care was still clearly a woman of consequence whether or not anybody
recognized what she was. Lacking the coin for silks, they had purchased bolts of fine wool in Jurador,
and the seamstresses worked as hard for Aes Sedai as they did for Mat's gold, so they strolled about
dressed like wealthy merchants and as sure of themselves as any noble ever born. Nobody saw one of
them walk five strides without knowing that she expected the world to conform itself to her. Three
women like that, with a traveling show at that, were sure to cause talk. At least Joline left her Great
Serpent ring in her belt pouch. The other two had lost theirs to the Seanchan. If Mat had seen Joline with
the thing actually on her finger, he thought he would have wept.

 He got no more reports on their activities from the former suldam. Joline had Bethamin firmly in hand;
the tall dark woman ran when Joline said run and jumped when she said toad. Edesina was giving her
lessons, too, but Joline considered Bethamin a personal project for some reason. She was never harsh
that Mat saw. not after the face slapping, but you might have thought she was getting Bethamin ready to
go to the Tower, and Bethamin returned a sort of gratitude that made it clear her loyalties had shifted. As
for Seta, the yellow-haired woman was so frightened of the sisters that she did not dare follow them any
longer. She actually shivered when he suggested it. Strange as it seemed, Seta and Bethamin had been so
accustomed to how Seanchan women who could channel saw themselves that they had really believed
Aes Sedai could not be much different. They were dangerous when off the leash, yet dangerous dogs
could be handled by someone who knew how, and they were experts with that particular sort of
dangerous dog. Now they knew that Aes Sedai were not dogs of any kind. They were wolves. Seta
would have found another place to sleep had that been possible, and he learned from Mistress Anan that
the Seanchan woman put her hands over her eyes whenever Joline or Edesina was teaching Bethamin in
the wagon.

 "I'm certain she can see the weaves." Setalle said. He would have said she sounded envious except that
he doubted she envied anyone. "She's halfway to admitting it, or she wouldn't hide her eyes. Soon or late,
she'll come around and want to learn, too." Maybe she did sound envious at that.

 He could have wished for Seta to come around soon rather than late. Another student would have left
the Aes Sedai less time to trouble him. If the show was halted, he could hardly turn around without seeing
Joline or Edesina peering around the corner of a tent or wagon at him. Usually, the foxhead cooled on his
chest. He could not prove they were actually channeling at him, yet he was certain of it. He was unsure
which of them found the loophole in his protection that Ade-leas and Vandene had, that something
thrown with the Power would hit him, but after that, he could barely leave his tent without getting hit by a
rock, and later, by other things, burning sparks like a shower from a forge fire, stinging sparks that made
him leap and his hair try to stand on end. He was positive that Joline was behind it. If for no other reason,
he never saw her without Blaeric or Fen or both nearby for protection. And she smiled at him like a cat
smiling at a mouse.

 He was planning how to get her alone-it was that or spend his time hiding from her-when she and Teslyn 

got into a shouting match that cleared Edesina out of the whitewashed wagon almost as quickly as
Bethamin and Seta, and those two ran out and stood gaping at the wagon. The Yellow sister calmly went
back to brushing her long black hair, lifting it up with one hand and sweeping the wooden hairbrush down
it with the other. Seeing Mat, she smiled at him without ceasing the motions of her brush. The medallion
went cold, and the shouting vanished as though cut off by a knife.

 He never learned what was said behind that Power-woven shield. Teslyn favored him somewhat, yet
when he asked her. she gave him one of those looks and silence. It was Aes Sedai business and none of
his. Whatever had gone on in there, though, the rocks stopped, and the sparks. He tried thanking Teslyn,
but she was having none of it.

 "When something be no to be spoken of, it be no to be spoken of," she told him firmly. "It would be well
for you to learn that lesson if you are to be around sisters, and I think your life be tied to Aes Sedai. now
if it was no before." Bloody thing for her to say.

 She never cracked her teeth about his ter'angreal, but the same could not be said of Joline and Edesina,
even after the argument. They tried to bully him into handing it over every single day, Edesina cornering
him by herself, Joline with her Warders glowering over her shoulders at him. Ter'angreal were rightfully
the property of the White Tower. Ter'angreal needed proper study, particularly one with the odd
properties this one possessed. Ter'angreal were potentially dangerous. too much so to be left in the hands
of the uninitiated. Neither said especially a man's hands, but Joline came close. He began to worry that
the Green would have Blaeric and Fen simply take it from him. That pair still suspected he had been
involved in what had happened to her, and the dark looks they gave him said they wanted any excuse to
beat him like a drum.

 "That would be stealing," Mistress Anan told him in a lecturing tone, gathering her cloak around her. The
sunlight was beginning to fade, and coolness already setting in. They were standing outside Tuon's
wagon, and he was hoping to get inside in time to be fed. Noal and Olver were already inside. Setalle
was apparently off to visit the Aes Sedai, something she did frequently. "Tower law is quite clear on that.
There might be considerable. . . discussion . . . over whether it had to be given back to you-1 rather think
it would not be, in the end-but Joline would face a fairly harsh penance for theft all the same."

 "Maybe she'd think it worth a penance." he muttered. His stomach rumbled. The potted finches and
creamed onions that Lopin had presented proudly for his midday meal had both turned out to be spoiling,
to the Tairen's extreme mortification, which meant Mat had had a heel of bread since breakfast and no
more. "You know an awful lot about the White Tower."

 "What I know. Lord Mat, is that you've made just about every misstep a man can make with Aes Sedai,
short of trying to kill one. The reason I came with you in the first place instead of going with my husband. 

half the reason I'm still here, is to try to keep you from making too many missteps. Truth to tell. I don't
know why I should care, but I do, and that's that. If you had let yourself be guided by me, you'd not be in
trouble with them now. I can't say how much I can recover for you, not now, but I am still willing to try."

 Mat shook his head. There were only two ways to deal with Aes Sedai without getting burned, let them
walk all over you or stay away from them. He would not do the first and could not do the second, so he
had to find a third way, and he doubted it could come from following Setalle's advice. Women's advice
about Aes Sedai generally was to follow the first path, though they never worded it that way. They talked
of accommodation, but it was never the Aes Sedai who was expected to do any accommodating. "Half
the reason? What's the other . . . ?" He grunted as though he had been punched in the stomach. "Tuon?
You think I can't be trusted with Tuon?"

 Mistress Anan laughed at him. a fine rich laugh. "You are a rogue. my Lord. Now. some rogues make
fine husbands, once they've been tamed a little around the edges-my Jasfer was a rogue when I met
him-but you still think you can nibble a pastry here, nibble a pastry there, then dance off to the next."

 "There's no dancing away from this one." Mat said frowning up at the wagon door. The dice clicked
away in his head. "Not for me." He was not sure he really wanted to dance away anymore, but want and
wish as he might, he was well and truly caught.

 "Like that, is it?" she murmured. "Oh. you've chosen a fine one to break your heart."

 "That's as may be, Mistress Anan, but I have my reasons. I'd better get inside before they eat
everything." He turned toward the steps at the back of the wagon, and she laid a hand on his arm.

 "Could I see it? Just to see?"

 There was no doubt what she meant. He hesitated, then fished in the neck of his shirt for the leather cord
that held the medallion. He could not have said why. He had refused Joline and Edesina even a glimpse.
It was a fine piece of work, a silver foxhead nearly as big as his palm. Only one eye showed, and enough
daylight remained to see, if you looked close, that the pupil was half shaded to form the ancient symbol of
Aes Sedai. Her hand trembled slightly as she traced a finger around that eye. She had said she only
wanted to see it. but he allowed the touching. She breathed out a long sigh.

 "You were Aes Sedai, once,'' he said quietly, and her hand froze. 

 She recovered herself so quickly that he might have imagined it. She was stately Setalle Anan, the
innkeeper from Ebou Dar with the big golden hoops in her ears and the marriage knife dangling hilt-down
into her round cleavage, about as far from an Aes Sedai as could be. "The sisters think I'm lying about
never having been to the Tower. They think I was a servant there as a young woman and listened where I
shouldn't have."

 "They haven't seen you looking at this." He bounced the foxhead once on his hand before tucking it
safely back under his shirt. She pretended not to care, and he pretended not to know she was

 Her lips twitched into a brief, rueful smile, as if she knew what he was thinking. "The sisters would see it
if they could let themselves," she said, as simply as if she were discussing the chances of rain, "but Aes
Sedai expect that when . . . certain things . . . happen, the woman


 239 will go away decently and die soon after. I went away, but Jasfer found me half starved and sick on
the streets of Ebou Dar and took me to his mother." She chuckled, just a woman telling how she met her
husband. "He used to take in stray kittens, too. Now, you know some of my secrets, and I know some
of yours. Shall we keep them to ourselves?"

 "What secrets of mine do you know?" he demanded, instantly wary. Some of his secrets were
dangerous to have known, and if too many knew of them, they were not really secrets anymore.

 Mistress Anan glanced at the wagon, frowning. "That girl is playing a game with you as surely as you are
playing one with her. Not the same game that you are. She's more like a general plotting a battle than a
woman being courted. If she learns you're moonstruck with her, though, she'll still gain the advantage. I
am willing to let you have an even chance. Or as near to one as any man has with a woman of any brains.
Do we have an agreement?"

 "We do," he replied fervently. "That we do." He would not have been surprised if the dice stopped then,
but they went on bouncing. 

 Had the sisters' fixation on his medallion been the only problem they gave him, had they contented
themselves with creating rumors everywhere the show stopped, he could have said those days were no
more than tolerably bad for traveling with Aes Sedai. Unfortunately, by the time the show departed
Jurador they had learned who Tuon was. Not that she was the Daughter of the Nine Moons, but that she
was a Seanchan High Lady, someone of rank and influence.

 "Do you take me for a fool?" Luca protested when Mat accused him of telling them. He squared up
beside his wagon, fists on his hips, a tall man full of indignation and ready to fight over it by his glare.
"That's a secret I want buried deep until . . . well . . . until she says I can use that warrant of protection.
That won't be much use if she revokes it because I told something she wants hidden." But his voice was a
shade too earnest, and his eyes shifted a hair from meeting Mat's directly. The truth of it was, Luca liked
to boast nearly as much as he liked gold. He must have thought it was safe-safe!-to tell the sisters and
only realized the snarl he had created after the words were out of his mouth.

 A snarl it was, as tangled as a pit full of snakes. The High Lady Tuon, readily at hand, presented an
opportunity no Aes Sedai could have resisted. Teslyn was every bit as bad as Joline and Edesina. The
three of them visited Tuon in her wagon daily, and descended on her when she went out for a walk. They
talked of truces and treaties and negotiations, tried to learn what connection she had to the leaders of the
invasion, attempted to convince her to help arrange talks to end the fighting. They even offered to help
her leave the show and return home!

 Unfortunately for them. Tuon did not see three Aes Sedai. representatives of the White Tower, perhaps
the greatest power on earth, not even after the seamstresses began delivering their riding dresses and they
could change out of the ragbag leavings Mat had been able to find for them. She saw two escaped
damane and a mantttidamam. and she had no use for either until they were decently collared. Her phrase,
that. When they came to her wagon, she latched the door, and if they managed to get inside before she
could, she left. When they cornered her. or tried to, she walked around them the same as walking around
a stump. They all but talked themselves hoarse. And she refused to listen.

 Any Aes Sedai could teach a stone patience if she had reason, yet they were unaccustomed to flat being
ignored. Mat could see the frustration growing, the tight eyes and tighter mouths that took longer and
longer to relax, the hands gripping skirts in fists to keep them from grabbing Tuon and shaking her. It all
came to a head sooner than he expected, and not at all in the way he had imagined.

 The night after he gave Tuon the mare, he ate his supper with her and Selucia. And with Noal and Olver.
of course. That pair managed as much time with Tuon as he did. Lopin and Nerim, as formal as if they
were in a palace instead of squeezed for room to move, served a typical early-spring meal, stringy mutton
with peas that had been dried and turnips that had sat too long in somebody's cellar. It was too early yet
for anything to be near harvesting. Still. Lopin had made a pepper sauce for the mutton, Nerim had found
pine nuts for the peas, there was plenty to go around, and nothing tasted off, so it was as fine a meal as 

could be managed. Olver left once supper was done, having already had his games with Tuon, and Mat
changed places with Selucia to play stones. Noal remained too, despite any number of telling looks,
rambling on about the Seven Towers in dead Malkier, which apparently had overtopped anything in
Cairhien. and Shol Arbela. the City of Ten Thousand Bells, in Arafel, and all manner of Borderland
wonders, strange spires made of crystal harder than steel and a metal bowl a hundred paces across set
into a hillside and the like. Sometimes he interjected comments on Mat's play, that he was exposing
himself on the left, that he was setting a fine trap on the right, and just when Tuon looked ready to fall into
it. That sort of thing. Mat kept his mouth shut except for chatting with Tuon, though it took gritting his
teeth more than once to accomplish. Tuon found Noal's natter entertaining.

 He was studying the board, wondering whether he might have a small chance of gaining a draw, when
Joline led Teslyn and Edesina into the wagon like haughty on a pedestal, smooth-faced Aes Sedai to their
toenails. Joline was wearing her Great Serpent ring. Squeezing by Selucia, giving her very cold looks
when she was slow to move aside, they arrayed themselves at the foot of the narrow table. Noal went
very still, eyeing the sisters sideways, one hand beneath his coat as if the fool thought his knives would do
any good here.

 "There must be an end to this. High Lady," Joline said, very pointedly ignoring Mat. She was telling, not
pleading, announcing what would be because it had to be. "Your people have brought a war to these
lands such as we have not seen since the War of the Hundred Years, perhaps not since the Trolloc
Wars. Tarmon Gai'don is approaching, and this war must end before it comes lest it bring disaster to the
whole world. It threatens no less than that. So there will be an end to your petulance. You will carry our
offer to whoever commands among you. There can be peace until you return to your own lands across
the sea. or you can face the full might of the White Tower followed by every throne from the Borderlands
to the Sea of Storms. The Amyrlin Seat has likely summoned them against you already. I have heard of
vast Borderland armies already in the south, and other armies moving. Better to end this without more
bloodshed, though. So avert your people's destruction and help bring peace."

 Mat could not see Edesina's reaction, but Teslyn simply blinked. For an Aes Sedai, that was as good as
a gasp. Maybe this was not exactly what she had expected Joline to say. For his part, he groaned under
his breath. Joline was no Gray, as deft as a skilled juggler in negotiations, that was for sure, but neither
was he. and he still figured she had found a short path to putting Tuon's back up.

 But Tuon folded her hands in her lap beneath the table and sat very straight, looking right through the
Aes Sedai. Her face was as stern as it had ever been for him. "Selucia," she said quietly.

 Moving up behind Teslyn, the yellow-haired woman bent long enough to take something from beneath
the blanket Mat was sitting on. As she straightened, everything seem to happen all at once. There was a
click, and Teslyn screamed, clapping her hands to her throat. The foxhead turned to ice against Mat's
chest, and Joline's head whipped around with an incredulous stare for the Red. Edesina turned and ran
for the door, which swung half open, then slammed shut. Slammed against Blaeric or Fen, by the sound 

of men falling down the wagon's steps. Edesina jerked to a halt and stood very stiffly, arms at her sides
and divided skirts pressed against her legs by invisible cords. All that in moments, and Selucia had not
stayed still. She bent briefly to the bed Noal was sitting on, then snapped the silver collar of another
adam around Joline's neck. Mat could see that was what Teslyn was gripping with both hands. She was
not trying to take it off, just holding on to it, but her knuckles were white. The Red's narrow face was an
image of despair, her eyes staring and haunted. Joline had regained the utter calm of an Aes Sedai, but
she did touch the segmented collar encircling her neck.

 "If you think that you can," she began, then cut off abruptly, her mouth going tight. An angry light shone
in her eyes.

 "You see, the a'dam can be used to punish, though that is seldom done." Tuon stood, and she had the
bracelet of an a'dam on each wrist. the gleaming leashes snaking away under the blankets on the beds.
How in the Light had she managed to get her hands on those?

 "No," Mat said. "Your promised not to harm my followers. Precious." Maybe not the wisest thing to use
that name now. but it was too late to call it back. "You've kept your promises so far. Don't go back on
one now."

 "I promised not to cause dissension among your followers. Toy," she said snippily, "and in any case, it is
very clear that these three are not your followers." The small sliding door used to talk to whoever was
driving or pass out food slid open with a loud bang. She glanced over her shoulder, and it slid shut with a
louder. A man cursed outside and began beating at the door.

 "The a'dam can also be used to give pleasure, as a great reward," Tuon told Joline, ignoring the
hammering fist behind her.

 Joline's lips parted, and her eyes grew very wide. She swayed, and the rope-suspended table swung as
she caught herself with both hands to keep from falling. If she was impressed, though, she hid it well. She
did smooth her dark gray skirts once after she was upright again, but that might have meant nothing. Her
face was all Aes Sedai composure. Edesina. looking over her shoulder, matched that calm gaze, although
she now wore the third a'dam around her neck-and come to it, her face was paler than usual-but Teslyn
had begun weeping silently, shoulders shaking, tears leaking down her cheeks.

 Noal was tensed, a man ready to do something stupid. Mat kicked him under the table and, when the
man glared at him. shook his head. Noal's scowl deepened, but he took his hand out of his coat and
leaned back against the wall. Still glaring. Well, let him. Knives were no use here, but maybe words could 

be. Much better if this could be ended with words.

 "Listen," Mat said to Tuon. "If you think, you'll see a hundred reasons this won't work. Light, you can
learn to channel yourself. Doesn't knowing that change anything? You're not far different from them." He
might as well have turned to smoke and blown away for all the attention she paid.

 "Try to embrace saiclar," she drawled, stern eyes steady on Joline. Her voice was quite mild in
comparison to her gaze, yet plainly she expected obedience. Obedience? She looked a bloody leopard
staring at three tethered goats. And strangely, more beautiful than ever. A beautiful leopard who might
rake him with her claws as soon as the goats. Well, he had faced a leopard a few times before this, and
those were his own memories. There was an odd sort of exhilaration that came with confronting a
leopard. "Go ahead," she went on. "You know the shield is gone." Joline gave a small grunt of surprise,
and Tuon nodded. "Good. You've obeyed for the first time. And learned that you cannot touch the
Power while you wear the adam unless I wish it. But now, I wish you to hold the Power, and you do.
though you didn't try to embrace it." Joline's eyes widened slightly, a small crack in her calm. "And now,"
Tuon went on, "I wish you not to be holding the Power, and it is gone from you. Your first lessons."
Joline drew a deep breath. She was beginning to look . . . not afraid, but uneasy.

 "Blood and bloody ashes, woman," Mat growled, "do you think you can parade them around on those
leashes without anyone noticing?" A heavy thump came from the door. A second produced the sound of
cracking wood. Whoever was beating at the wooden window was still at it, too. Somehow, that caused
no sense of urgency. If the Warders got in, what could they do?

 "I will house them in the wagon they are using and exercise them at night." she snapped irritably. "I am
nothing like these women, Toy. Nothing like them. Perhaps I could learn, but I choose not to, just as I
choose not to steal or commit murder. That makes all the difference."

 Recovering herself with visible effort, she sat down with her hands on the table, focused on the Aes
Sedai once again. "I've had considerable success with one woman like you.'' Edesina gasped, murmured
a name too low to be caught. "Yes." Tuon said. "You must have met my Mylen in the kennels or at
exercise. I will train you all as well as she is. You have been cursed with a dark taint, but I will reach you
to have pride in the service you give the Empire."

 "I didn't bring these three out of Ebou Dar so you could take them back." Mat said firmly, sliding himself
along the bed. The foxhead grew colder still, and Tuon made a startled sound.

 "How did you ... do that, Toy? The weave . . . melted . . . when it touched you." 

 "It's a gift, Precious."

 As he stood up, Selucia started toward him, crouching, her hands outstretched in pleading. Fear painted
her face. "You must not." she began.

 "No!" Tuon said sharply.

 Selucia straightened and backed away, though she kept her eyes on him. Strangely, the fear vanished
from her expression. He shook his head in wonder. He knew the bosomy woman obeyed Tuon instantly-
she was so'jhiv, after all, as much owned as Tuon's horse, and she actually thought that right and
good-but how obedient did you need to be to lose your fear at an order?

 "They have annoyed me, Toy," Tuon said as he put his hands on Teslyn's collar. Still trembling, tears still
streaming down her cheeks. the Red looked as though she could not believe he would actually remove
the thing.

 "They annoy me. too." Placing his fingers just so. he pressed, and the collar clicked open.

 Teslyn seized his hands and began kissing them. "Thank you," she wept over and over. "Thank you.
Thank you."

 Mat cleared his throat. "You're welcome, but there's' no need for. . . . Would you stop that? Teslyn?"
Reclaiming his hands took some effort.

 "I want them to stop annoying me. Toy," Tuon said as he turned to Joline. From anyone else, that might
have been petulant. The dark little woman made it a demand.

 "I think they'll agree to that after this," he said dryly. But Joline was looking up at him with a stubborn set
to her jaw. "You will agree, won't you?" The Green said nothing. 

 "I do agree," Teslyn said quickly. "We do all agree."

 "Yes. we all agree," Edesina added.

 Joline stared at him silently, stubbornly, and Mat sighed.

 "1 could let Precious keep you for a few days, until you change your mind." Joline's collar clicked open
in his hands. "But I won't."

 Still staring into his eyes, she touched her throat as though to confirm the collar was gone. "Would you
like to be one of my Warders?" she asked, then laughed softly. "No need to look like that. Even if I
would bond you against your will, I couldn't so long as you have that ter'angreal. I agree. Master
Cauthon. It may cost our best chance to stop the Seanchan, but I will no longer bother . . . Precious."

 Tuon hissed like a doused cat, and he sighed again. What you gained on the swings, you lost on the

 He spent part of that night doing what he liked least in the world. Working. Digging a deep hole to bury
the three adam. He did the job himself because, surprisingly, Joline wanted them. They were ter'angreal,
after all, and the White Tower needed to study them. That might well have been so, but the Tower would
just have to find their a'dam elsewhere. He was fairly certain that none of the Redarms would have
handed them over if he told them to bury the things, yet he was taking no chances that they would
reappear to cause more trouble. It started raining before the hole was knee-deep, a cold driving rain, and
by the time he was done, he was soaked to the skin and mud to his waist. A fine end to a fine night, with
the dice bouncing around his skull.


 A Village in Shiota

 The following day brought a respite, or so it seemed. Tuon, in a blue silk riding dress and her wide 

tooled-leather belt, not only rode beside him as the show rolled slowly north, she waggled her fingers at
Selucia when the woman tried to put her dun between them. Selucia had acquired her own mount,
somehow, a compact gelding that could not match Pips or Akein but still surpassed the dapple by a fair
margin. The blue-eyed woman, with a green head scarf beneath her cowl today, fell in on Tuon's other
side, and her face would have done an Aes Sedai proud when it came to giving notiiing away. Mat could
not help grinning. Let her hide frustration for a change. Lacking horses, the real Aes Sedai were confined
to their wagon; Metwyn was too far away, on the driver's seat of the purple wagon, to overhear what he
said to Tuon: only a few thin clouds remained in the sky from the night's rain: and all seemed right in the
world. Even the dice bouncing in his head could steal nothing from that. Well, there were bad moments,
but only moments.

 Early on, a flight of ravens winged overhead, a dozen or more big black birds. They flew swiftly, never
deviating from their line, but he eyed them anyway until they dwindled to specks and vanished. Nothing
to spoil the day there. Not for him, at least. Maybe for someone farther north.

 "Did you see some omen in them, Toy?" Tuon asked. She was as graceful in the saddle as she was in
everything else she did. He could not recall seeing her be awkward about anything. "Most omens I know
concerning ravens specifically have to do with them perching on someone's rooftop or cawing at dawn or

 "They can be spies for the Dark One," he told her. "Sometimes. Crows, too. And rats. But they didn't
stop to look at us. so we don't need to worry."

 Running a green-gloved hand across the top of her head, she sighed. "Toy, Toy," she murmured,
resettling the cowl of her cloak. "How many children's tales do you believe? Do you believe that if you
sleep on Old Hob's Hill under a full moon, the snakes will give you true answers to three questions, or
that foxes steal people's skins and take the nourishment from food so you can starve to death while eating
your fill?"

 Putting on a smile took effort. "I don't think I ever heard either one of those." Making his voice amused
required effort, too. What were the odds of her mentioning snakes giving true answers, which the Aelfinn
did after a fashion, in the same breath with foxes stealing skins? He was pretty sure that the Eelfinn did.
and made leather from it. But it was Old Hob that nearly made him flinch. The other was likely just
ta'veren twisting at the world. She certainly knew nothing about him and the snakes or the foxes. In
Shandalle, the land where Artur Hawkwing had been born, though, Old Hob. Caisen Hob, had been
another name for the Dark One. The Aelfinn and the Eelfinn both surely deserved to be connected to the
Dark One, yet that was hardly anything he wanted to think on when he had his own connection to the
bloody foxes. And to the snakes, too? That possibility was enough to sour his stomach. 

 Still, it was a pleasant ride, with the day warming as the sun rose, though it never could be called warm.
He juggled six colored wooden balls, and Tuon laughed and clapped her hands, as well she should. That
feat had impressed the juggler he bought the balls from, and it was harder while riding. He told several
jokes that made her laugh, and one that made her roll her eyes and exchange finger-twitchings with
Selucia. Maybe she did not like jokes about common room serving maids. It had not been the least
off-color. He was no fool. He did wish she had laughed, though. She had a marvelous laugh, rich and
warm and free. They talked of horses and argued over training methods with stubborn animals. That
pretty head held a few odd notions, such as that you could calm a fractious horse by biting its ear! That
sounded more likely to send it up like a haystack fire. And she had never heard of humming under your
breath to soothe a horse, and would not believe his father had taught him such a skill shy of

 "Well, I can hardly do that without a horse that needs soothing, can I?" he said. She rolled her eyes
again. Selucia rolled hers, too.

 There was no heat in the argument, though, no anger, just spirit. Tuon had so much spirit it seemed
impossible it could fit into such a tiny woman. It was her silences that put a small damper on the day,
more so than snakes or foxes. They were far away, and there was nothing to be done. She was right
there beside him. and he had a great deal to do concerning her. She never alluded to what had happened
with the three Aes Sedai. or to the sisters themselves either. She never mentioned his ter'angreaL or the
fact that whatever she had made Teslyn or Joline weave against him had failed. The night before might as
well have been a dream.

 She was like a general planning a battle, Setalle had said. Trained at intrigue and dissembling from
infancy, according to Egeanin. And it was all aimed straight at him. But to what end? Surely it could not
be some Seanchan Blood form of courting. Egeanin knew little of that, but surely not. He had known
Tuon a matter of weeks and kidnapped her, she called him Toy. had tried to buy him, and only a vain
fool could twist that into a woman falling in love. Which left anything from some elaborate scheme for
revenge to ... to the Light alone knew what. She had threatened to make him a cupbearer. That meant
da'co-vale, according to Egeanin. though she had scoffed at the notion. Cupbearers were chosen for their
beauty, and in Egeanin's estimation, he fell far short. Well, in his own as well, truth to tell, not that he was
likely to admit it to anybody. Any number of women had admired his face. Nothing said Tuon could not
complete the marriage ceremony just to make him think himself home free and safe, then have him
executed. Women were never simple, but Tuon made the rest look like children's games.

 For a long while they saw not so much as a farm, but perhaps two hours after the sun passed its zenith,
they came on a sizable village. The ring of a blacksmith's hammer on an anvil sounded dimly. The
buildings, some of three stories, were all heavy timber framing with whitish plaster between and had
high-peaked roofs of thatch and tall stone chimneys. Something about them tugged at Mat's memory, but
he could not say what. There was not a farm to be seen anywhere in the unbroken forest. But villages
were always tied to farms, supporting them and living off them. They must all be further in from the road,
back in the trees. 

 Oddly, the people he could see ignored the approaching train of show wagons. A fellow in his
shirtsleeves, right beside the road, glanced up from the hatchet he was sharpening on a grindstone
worked by a footpedal, then bent to his work again as though he had seen nothing. A cluster of children
came hurtling around a corner and darted into another street without more than a glance in the show's
direction. Very odd. Most village children would stop to stare at a passing merchant's train, speculating
on the strange places the merchant had been, and the show had more wagons than any number of
merchants' trains. A peddler was coming from the north behind six horses, his wagon's high canvas cover
almost hidden by clusters of pots and pans and kettles. That should have caused interest, too. Even a
large village on a well-traveled road depended on peddlers for most things the people bought. But no one
pointed or shouted that a peddler had come. They just went on about their business.

 Perhaps three hundred paces short of the village, Luca stood up on his driver's seat and looked back
over the roof of his wagon. "We'll turn in here," he bellowed, gesturing toward a large meadow where
wild-flowers. cat daisies and jumpups and something that might have been loversknots, dotted spring
grasses already a foot high. Sitting back down, he suited his own words, and the other wagons began
following, their wheels rutting the rain-sodden ground.

 As Mat turned Pips toward the meadow, he heard the shoes of the peddler's horses ringing on paving
stones. The sound jerked him upright. That road had not been paved since ... He pulled the gelding back
around. The canvas-topped wagon was rolling over level gray paving stones that stretched just the width
of the village. The peddler himself, a rotund fellow in a wide hat. was peering at the pavement and
shaking his head, peering at the village and shaking his head. Peddlers followed fixed routes. He must
have been this way a hundred times. He had to know. The peddler halted his team and tied the reins to
the brake handle.

 Mat cupped both hands around his mouth. "Keep going, man!" he shouted at the top of his lungs. "As
fast as you can! Keep going!"

 The peddler glanced in his direction, then hopped up on his seat quite spryly for such a stout man.
Gesturing as grandly as Luca, he began to declaim. Mat could not make out the words, but he knew
what they would be. News of the world that he had picked up along the way interspersed with lists of his
goods and claims for their vast superiority. Nobody in the village stopped to listen or even paused.

 "Keep going!" Mat bellowed. "They're dead! Keep going!" Behind him, somebody gasped, Tuon or
Selucia. Maybe both.

 Suddenly the peddler's horses screamed, tossing their heads madly. They screamed like animals beyond 

the ragged edge of terror and kept screaming.

 Pips jerked in fear, and Mat had his hands full; the gelding danced in circles, wanting to run, in any
direction so long as it was away from here. Every horse belonging to the show heard those screams and
began whinnying fearfully. The lions and bears began roaring, and the leopards joined in. That set some
of the show's horses to screaming, too, and rearing in their harnesses. The tumult built on itself in
moments. As Mat swung round, struggling to control Pips, every one he could see handling reins was
fighting to keep a wild-eyed team from racing off or injuring themselves. Tuon's mare was dancing, too,
and Selucia's dun. He had a moment of fear for Tuon. but she seemed to be handling Akein as well as
she had in her race into the forest. Even Selucia seemed sure of her seat, if not of her mount. He caught
glimpses of the peddler, as well, pulling off his hat, peering toward the show. At last, Mat got Pips under
control. Blowing hard, as if he had been run too hard for too long, but no longer trying to race away. It
was too late. Likely, it had always been too late. Hat in hand, the round peddler leaped down to see
what was the matter with his horses.

 Landing, he lurched awkwardly and looked down toward his feet. His hat fell from his hand, landing on
the hardpacked road. That was when he began screaming. The paving stones were gone, and he was
ankle-deep in the road, just like his shrieking horses. Ankle-deep and sinking into rock-hard clay as if
into a bog, just like his horses and his wagon. And the village, houses and people melting slowly into the
ground. The people never stopped what they were doing. Women walked along carrying baskets, a line
of men carried a large timber on their shoulders, children darted about, the fellow at the grindstone
continued sharpening his hatchet, all of them nearly knee-deep in the ground by this time.

 Tuon caught Mat's coat from one side, Selucia from the other. That was the first he realized he had
moved Pips. Toward the peddler. Light!

 "What do you think you can do?" Tuon demanded fiercely.

 "Nothing," he replied. His bow was done, the horn nocks fitted, the linen bowstrings braided and waxed,
but he had not fitted one arrowhead to its ash shaft yet, and with all the rain they had been having, the
glue holding the goose-feather fletchings was still tacky. That was all he could think of, the mercy of an
arrow in the peddler's heart before he was pulled under completely. Would the man die, or was he being
carried to wherever those dead Shiotans were going? That was what had caught him about those
buildings. That was how country people had built in Shiota for near enough three hundred years.

 He could not tear his eyes away. The sinking peddler shrieked loudly enough to be heard over the
screaming of his team. 

 "Help meeee!" he cried, waving his arms. He seemed to be looking straight at Mat. "Help meeee!" Over
and over.

 Mat kept waiting for him to die, hoping for him to die-surely that was better than the other-but the man
kept on screaming as he sank to his waist, to his chest. Desperately, he tipped back his head like a man
being pulled under water, sucking for one last breath. Then his head vanished, and just his arms
remained, frantically waving until they, too, were gone. Only his hat lying on the road said there had ever
been a man there.

 When the last of the thatched rooftops and tall chimneys melted away. Mat let out a long breath. Where
the village had been was another meadow decked out in cat daisies and jumpups where red and yellow
butterflies fluttered from blossom to blossom. So peaceful. He wished he could believe the peddler was

 Except for the few that had followed Luca into the meadow, the show's wagons stood strung out along
the road, and everybody was down on the ground, women comforting crying children, men trying to quiet
trembling horses, everyone talking fearfully, and loudly, to be heard over the bears and the lions and the
leopards. Well, everyone except the three Aes Sedai. They glided hurriedly up the road, Joline heeled by
Blaeric and Fen. By their expressions, Aes Sedai and Warders alike, you might have thought villages
sinking into the ground were as common as house cats. Pausing beside the peddler's wide hat, the three
of them stared down it. Teslyn picked it up and turned over in her hands, then let it drop. Moving into the
meadow where the village had stood, the sisters walked about talking, peering at this and that as if they
could learn something from wildflowers and grasses. None had taken the time to don a cloak, but for
once Mat could not find it in him to upbraid them. They might have channeled, but if so they did not use
enough of the Power to make the foxhead turn chilly. He would not have taken them to task if they had.
Not today, not after what he had just seen.

 The arguing started right away. No one wanted to cross that patch of hard-packed clay that seemingly
had been paved with stone. They shouted over one another, including the horse handlers and the
seamstresses, all telling Luca what had to be done, and right now. Some wanted to turn back far enough
to find a country road and use those narrower ways to find their way to Lugard. Others were for
forgetting Lugard altogether, for striking out for Illian by those country roads, or even going all the way
back to Ebou Dar and beyond. There was always Amadicia, and Tarabon. Ghealdan, too, for that
matter. Plenty of towns and cities there, and far from this Shadow-cursed spot.

 Mat sat Pips' saddle, idly playing with his reins, and held his peace through all the shouting and
arm-waving. The gelding gave a shiver now and then, but he was no longer attempting to bolt. Thorn
came striding through the crowd and laid a hand on Pips' neck. Juilin and Amathera were close behind,
she clinging to him and eyeing the show-folk fearfully, and then Noal and Olver. The boy looked as
though he would have liked to cling to someone for comfort, to anyone, but he was old enough not to 

want it seen if he did. Noal appeared troubled, too, shaking his head and muttering under his breath. He
kept peering up the road toward the Aes Sedai. Doubtless by that night he would be claiming to have
seen something very like this before, only on a much grander scale.

 "I think we'll be going on alone from here," Thorn said quietly. Juilin nodded grimly.

 "If we must," Mat replied. Small parties would stand out for those who were hunting for Tuon. for the
kidnapped heir to the Seanchan Empire, else he would have left the show long since. Making their way to
safety without the show to hide in would be much more dangerous, but it could be done. What he could
not do was turn these people's minds. One glance into any of those frightened faces told him he did not
have enough gold for that. There might not have been enough gold in the world.

 Luca listened in silence, a bright red cloak wrapped around him, until most of the showfolk's energy was
spent. When their shouts began to trickle away, he flung back the cloak and walked among them. There
were no grand gestures, now. Here he clapped a man on the shoulder, there peered earnestly into a
woman's eyes. The country roads? They would be half mud, more streams than roads, from the spring
rains. It would take twice as long to reach Lugard that way, three times, maybe longer. Mat almost
choked to hear Luca invoke speed, but the man was hardly warming up. He talked of the labor of freeing
wagons that bogged down, made his listeners all but see themselves straining to help the teams pull them
through mud nearly hub-deep on the wagon wheels. Not even a country road would get that bad, but he
made them see it. At least, he made Mat see it. Towns of any size would be few and far between along
those back roads, the villages tiny for the most part. Few places to perform, and food for so many hard
to come by. He said that while smiling sadly at a little girl of six or so who was peering up at him from the
shelter of her mother's skirts, and you just knew he was envisioning her hungry and crying for food. More
than one woman pulled her children close around her.

 As for Amadicia and Tarabon, and yes. Ghealdan, they would be fine places to perform. Valan Lucas
Grand Traveling Show and Magnificent Display of Marvels and Wonders would visit those lands and
draw immense crowds. One day. To reach any of them now. they must first return to Ebou Dar, covering
the same ground they had crossed these past weeks, passing the same towns, where people were
unlikely to lay out coin to see again what they had seen so short a time before. A long way, with
everyone's purses growing lighter and their bellies tighter by the day. Or, they could press on to Lugard.

 Here his voice began to take on energy. He gestured, but simply. He still moved among them, but
stepping more quickly. Lugard was a grand city. Ebou Dar was a shadow beside Lugard. Lugard truly
was one of the great cities, so populous they might perform there all spring and always have new crowds.
Mat had never been to Lugard. but he had heard it was half a ruin, with a king who could not afford to
keep the streets clean, yet Luca made it sound akin to Caemlyn. Surely some of these people had seen
the place, but they listened with rapt faces as he described palaces that made the Tarasin Palace in Ebou
Dar seem a hovel, talked of the silk-clad nobles by the score who would come to see them perform or
even commission private performances. Surely King Roedran would want such. Had any of them ever 

performed before a king before? They would. They would. From Lugard, to Caemlyn, a city that made
Lugard look an imitation of a city. Caemlyn, one of the largest and wealthiest cities in the world, where
they might perform the whole summer to never-ending throngs.

 "I should like to see these cities," Tuon said, moving Akein nearer to Pips. "Will you show them to me,
Toy?" Selucia kept the dun at Tuon's hip. The woman looked composed enough, but doubtless she was
shaken by what she had seen.

 "Lugard, maybe. From there 1 can find a way to send you back to Ebou Dar." With a well-guarded
merchant's train and as many reliable bodyguards as he could hire. Tuon might be as capable and
dangerous as Egeanin made out, but two women alone would be seen as easy prey by too many, and not
just brigands. "Maybe Caemlyn." He might need more time than from here to Lugard, after all.

 "We shall see what we shall see," Tuon replied cryptically, then began exchanging finger-wriggles with

 Talking about me behind my back, only doing it right under my nose. He hated it when they did that.
"Luca's as good as a gleeman, Thom. but I don't think he's going to sway them."

 Thom snorted derisively and knuckled his long white mustaches. "He's not bad, I'll grant him that, but
he's no gleeman. Still, he's caught them. I'd say. A wager on it. my boy? Say one gold crown?"

 Mat surprised himself by laughing. He had been sure he would not be able to laugh again until he could
rid his head of the image of that peddler sinking into the road. And the horses. He could almost hear them
screaming still, loudly enough that it came near to drowning out the dice. "You want to wager with we?
Very well. Done."

 "I wouldn't play at dice with you," Thom said dryly, "but I know a man turning a crowd's head with
words when I see it. I've done as much myself."

 Finishing with Caemlyn, Luca gathered himself with a spark of his usual grandiosity. The man strutted.
"And from there," he announced. "to Tar Valon itself. I will hire ships to carry us all." Mat did choke at
that. Luca would hire ships} Luca. who was tight enough to render mice for tallow? "Such crowds will
come in Tar Valon that we could spend the rest of our lives in that vast city's splendor, where Ogier-built
shops seem like palaces and palaces are beyond description. Rulers seeing Tar Valon for the first time 

weep that their cities are villages and their own palaces no more than peasant's huts. The White Tower
itself is in Tar Valon, remember, the greatest structure in the world. The Amyrlin Seat herself will ask us
to perform before her. We have given shelter to three Aes Sedai in need. Who can believe they will do
other than speak for us with the Amyrlin Seat?"

 Mat looked over his shoulder, and found the three sisters no longer wandering about the meadow where
the village had vanished. Instead, they stood side by side in the road watching him. perfect images of Aes
Sedai serenity. No, they were not watching him. he realized. They were studying Tuon. The three had
agreed not to bother her anymore, and being Aes Sedai, were bound by that, but how far did an Aes
Sedai's word ever go? They found ways around the Oath against lying all the time. So Tuon would not
get to see Caemlyn, and perhaps not Lugard. Chances were, there would be Aes Sedai in both cities.
What easier for Joline and the others than to inform those Aes Sedai that Tuon was a Seanchan High
Lady? In all likelihood, Tuon would be on her way to Tar Valon before he could blink. As a "guest." of
course, to help stop the fighting. No doubt many would say that would be for the good, that he should
hand her over himself and tell them who she really was, but he had given his word. He began to calculate
how near to Lugard he dared wait before finding her passage back to Ebou Dar.

 Luca had had a difficult time making Tar Valon sound greater than Caemlyn after his spiel on that city,
and if they ever reached Tar Valon, some might actually be disappointed comparing his mad
descriptions- the White Tower a thousand paces high? Ogier-built palaces the size of small mountains?
he claimed there was an Ogier stedding actually inside the city!-but finally he called for a show of hands
in favor of pressing on. Every hand shot up, even the children's hands, and they had no vote.

 Mat pulled a purse from his coat pocket and handed over an Ebou Dari crown. "I never enjoyed losing
more. Thorn." Well, he never enjoyed losing, but in this instance it was better than winning.

 Thom accepted with a small bow. "I think I'll keep this as a memento," he said, rolling the fat gold coin
across the back of his fingers. "To remind me that even the luckiest man in the world can lose."

 For all of the show of hands, there was a shadow of reluctance to cross that patch of road ahead. After
Luca got his wagon back onto the road, he sat staring, with Latelle clinging to his arm as hard as
Am-athera ever clung to Juilin. Finally, he muttered something that might have been an oath and whipped
his team up with the reins. By the time they reached the fatal stretch, they were at a gallop, and Luca kept
them there until well beyond where the paving stones had been. It was the same with every wagon. A
pause, waiting until the wagon ahead was clear, then a flailing of reins and a hard gallop. Mat himself
drew a deep breath before heeling Pips forward. At a walk, not a gallop, but it was hard not to dig his
heels in, especially when passing the peddler's hat. Tuon's dark face and Selucia's pale displayed no
more emotion than Aes Sedai's faces did. 

 "I will see Tar Valon one day," Tuon said calmly in the middle of that. "I shall probably make it my
capital. I shall have you show me the city, Toy. You have been there?"

 Light! She was a tough little woman. Gorgeous, but definitely tough as nails.

 After slowing from his gallop. Luca set the pace at a fast walk rather than the show's usual amble. The
sun slid lower, and they passed several roadside meadows sufficiently large to hold the show, but Luca
pressed on until their shadows stretched long ahead of them and the sun was a fat red ball on the horizon.
Even then he sat holding the reins and peering at a grassy expanse beside the road.

 "It's just a field," he said at last, too loudly, and turned his team toward it.

 Mat accompanied Tuon and Selucia to the purple wagon once the horses had been handed over to
Metwyn, but there was to be no meal or games of stones with her that night.

 "This is a night for prayer," she told him before going in with her maid. "Do you know nothing, Toy? The
dead walking is a sign that Tarmon Gai'don is near." He did not take this for one of her superstitions;
after all, he had thought something very like that himself. He was not much for praying, yet he offered a
small one then and there. Sometimes there was nothing else to do.

 No one wanted to sleep, so lamps burned late throughout the camp. No one wanted to be alone, either.
Mat ate by himself in his tent, with little appetite and the dice in his head sounding louder than ever, but
Thorn came to play stones just as he finished, and Noal soon after. Lopin and Nerim popped in every
few minutes, bowing and inquiring whether Mat or the others wanted anything, but once they fetched
wine and cups-Lopin carried the tall pottery jar and broke the wax seal; Nerim carried the cups on a
wooden tray-Mat told them to find Harnan and the other soldiers.

 "I don't doubt they're getting drunk, which seems a good notion to me," he said. "That's an order. You
tell them I said to share."

 Lopin bowed gravely over his round belly. "I have assisted the file leader now and again by procuring a
few items for him. my Lord. I expect he will be generous with the brandy. Come along, Nerim. Lord Mat
wants us to get drunk, and you are getting drunk with me if I have to sit on you and pour brandy down
your throat." The abstemious Cairhienin's narrow face grew pinched with disapproval, but he bowed and
followed the Tairen out with alacrity. Mat did not think Lopin would need to sit on the man, not tonight. 

 Juilin came with Amathera and Olver. so games of Snakes and Foxes, played sprawled on the
ground-cloth, were added to stones played at the small table. Amathera proved an adequate player at
stones, unsurprising given that she had been a ruler once, but her mouth became even more pouty when
she and Olver lost at Snakes and Foxes, although nobody ever won that game. Then again. Mat
suspected she had not been a very good ruler. Whoever was not playing sat on the cot. Mat watched the
games when it was his turn there, as did Juilin if Amathera was playing. He seldom took his eyes from her
except when it was his turn at a game. Noal nattered on with his stories-but then, he spun those tales
even while playing, and talking seemed to have no effect on his skill at stones-and Thorn sat reading the
letter Mat had brought him what seemed a very long time ago. The page was heavily creased from being
carried in Thorn's coat pocket and much smudged from being read and re-read. He had said it was from
a dead woman.

 It was a surprise when Domon and Egeanin ducked through the entry flaps. They had not precisely been
avoiding Mat since he moved out of the green wagon, but neither had they gone out of their way to seek
him out. Like everyone else, they were in bettet clothes than they had worn for disguises in the beginning.
Egeanin's divided skirts and high-collared coat, both of blue wool and embroidered in a yellow near to
gold on the hem and cuffs, had something of a uniform about them, while Domon, in a well-cut brown
coat and baggy trousers stuffed into turned-down boots just below his knees, looked every inch the
prosperous, if not exactly wealthy, Illianer merchant.

 As soon as Egeanin entered, Amathera, who was on the ground-cloth with Olver, curled herself into a
ball on her knees. Juilin sighed and got up from the stool across the table from Mat, but Egeanin reached
the other woman first.

 "There's no need for that, with me or anyone else," she drawled, bending to take Amathera by the
shoulders and draw her to her feet. Amathera rose slowly, hesitantly, and kept her eyes down until
Egeanin put a hand beneath her chin and raised her head gently. "You look me in the eyes. You look
everyone in the eyes." The Taraboner woman touched her tongue to her lips nervously, but she did keep
looking straight at Egeanin's face when the hand was removed from her chin. On the other hand, her eyes
were very wide.

 "This is a change," Juilin said suspiciously. And with a touch of anger. He stood stiff as a statue carved
from dark wood. He disliked any Seanchan, for what they had done to Amathera. "You've called me a
thief for freeing her." There was more than a touch of anger in that. He hated thieves. And smugglers,
which Domon was.

 "All things change given time," Domon said jovially, smiling to head off more heated words. "Why, you
do be looking at an honest man, Master Thief-catcher. Leilwin did make me promise to give up 

smuggling before she would agree to marry me. Fortune prick me, who did ever hear of a woman
refusing to marry a man unless he did give up a lucrative trade?" He laughed as though that were the
funniest joke in the world.

 Egeanin fisted him in the ribs hard enough to change his laughter to a grunt. Married to her, his ribs must
be a mass of bruises. "I expect you to keep that promise, Bayle. I am changing, and so must you." Eyeing
Amathera briefly-perhaps to make sure she was still obeying; Egeanin was big on others doing as she
told them-she stuck out a hand toward Juilin. "I am changing. Master Sandar. Will you?"

 Juilin hesitated, then clasped her hand. "I'll make a try at it." He sounded doubtful.

 "An honest try is all I ask." Frowning around the tent, she shook her head. "I've seen orlop decks less
crowded than this. We have some decent wine in our wagon, Master Sandar. Will you and your lady join
us in a cup or two?"

 Again Juilin hesitated. "He has this game all but won," he said finally. "No point in playing it out."
Clapping his conical red hat on his head, he adjusted his dark, flaring Tairen coat unnecessarily, and
offered his arm to Amathera formally. She clasped it tightly, and though her eyes were still on Egeanin's
face, she trembled visibly. "I expect Olver will want to stay here and play his game, but my lady and I will
be pleased to share wine with you and your husband, Mistress Shipless." There was a hint of challenge in
his gaze. It was clear that to him, Egeanin had further to go to prove she no longer saw Amathera as
stolen property.

 Egeanin nodded as if she understood perfectly. "The Light shine on you tonight, and for as many days
and nights as we have remaining," she said by way of farewell to those staying. Cheerful of her.

 No sooner had the four departed than thunder boomed overhead. Another loud peal, and rain began
pattering on the tent roof, quickly growing to a downpour that drummed the green-striped canvas. Unless
Juilin and the others had run, they would do their drinking wet.

 Noal settled on the other side of the red cloth from Olver and took up Amathera's part of the game,
rolling the dice for the snakes and the foxes. The black discs that now represented Olver and him were
nearly to the edge of the web-marked cloth, but it was evident to any eye that they would not make it. To
any eye but Olver's, at least. He groaned loudly when a pale disc inked with a wavy line, a snake,
touched his piece, and again when a disc marked with a triangle touched Noal's. 

 Noal took up the tale he had left off when Egeanin and Domon appeared, as well, a story of some
supposed voyage on a Sea Folk raker. "Atha'an Miere women are the most graceful in the world," he
said, moving the black discs back to the circle in the center of the board. "even more so than Domani,
and you know that's saying something. And when they're out of sight of land-" He cut off abruptly and
cleared his throat, eyeing Olver, who was stacking the snakes and foxes on the board's corners.

 "What do they do then?" Olver asked.

 "Why. . . ." Noal rubbed his nose with a gnarled finger. "Why, they scramble about the rigging so nimbly
you'd think they had hands where their feet should be. That's what they do." Olver oohed, and Noal gave
a soft sigh of relief.

 Mat began removing the black and white stones from the board on the table, placing them in two carved
wooden boxes. The dice in his head bounced and rattled even when the thunder was loudest. "Another
game. Thom?"

 The white-haired man looked up from his letter. "I think not, Mat. My mind's in a maze, tonight."

 "If you don't mind my asking, Thorn, why do you read that letter the way you do? I mean, sometimes
your face looks like you're trying to puzzle out what it means." Olver yelped with glee at a good toss of
the dice.

 "That's because I am. In a way. Here." He held out the letter, but Mat shook his head.

 "It's no business of mine, Thorn. It's your letter, and I'm no good with puzzles."

 "Oh, it's your business, too. Moiraine wrote it just before. . . . Well, anyway, she wrote it."

 Mat stared at him for a long moment before taking the creased page, and when his eyes fell on the
smudged ink, he blinked. Small, precise writing covered the sheet, but it began. "My dearest Thorn."
Who would have thought Moiraine, of all people, would address old Thorn Merrilin so? "Thorn, this is
personal. I don't think I should-" 

 "Read." Thorn cut in. "You'll see."

 Mat drew a deep breath. A letter from a dead Aes Sedai that was a puzzle and concerned him in some
way? Suddenly, he wanted nothing less than to read the thing. But he began anyway. It was near enough
to make his hair stand on end.

 My dearest Thom, There are many words I would like to write to you, words from my heart, but I have
put this off because I knew that I must, and now there is little time. There are many things I cannot tell
you lest I bring disaster, but what I can, I will. Heed carefully what I say. In a short while I will go down
to the docks, and there I will confront Lanfear. How can I know that? That secret belongs to others.
Suffice it that I know, and let that foreknowledge stand as proof for the rest of what I say.

 When you receive this, you will be told that I am dead. All will believe that. I am not dead, and it may be
that I shall live to my appointed years. It also may be that you and Mat Cau-thon and another, a man I
do not know, will try to rescue me. May, I say because it may be that you will not or cannot, or because
Mat may refuse. He does not hold me in the affection you seem to. and he has his reasons which he no
doubt thinks are good. If you try, it must be only you and Mat and one other. More will mean death for
all. Fewer will mean death for all. Even if you come only with Mat and one other, death also may come. I
have seen you try and die, one or two or all three. I have seen myself die in the attempt. I have seen all of
us live and die as captives. Should you decide to make the attempt anyway, young Mat knows the way
to find me, yet you must not show him this letter until he asks about it. That is of the utmost importance.
He must know nothing that is in this letter until he asks. Events must play out in certain ways, whatever
the costs.

 If you see Lan again, tell him that all of this is for the best. His destiny follows a different path from mine.
I wish him all happiness with Nynaeve.

 A final point. Remember what you know about the game of Snakes and Foxes. Remember, and heed.

 It is time, and I must do what must be done.

 May the Light illumine you and give you joy, my dearest Thom. whether or not we ever see one another

 Moiraine Thunder boomed as he finished. Fitting, that. Shaking his head, he handed the letter back.
"Thom," he said gently, "Lan's bond to her was broken. It takes death to do that. He said she was dead." 

 "And her letter says everyone would believe that. She knew. Mat. She knew it all in advance."

 "That's as may be, but Moiraine and Lanfear went into that doorframe terangreal, and it melted. The
thing was redstone, or looked to be, stone, Thom, yet it melted like wax. I saw it. She went to wherever
the Eelfinn are, and even if she is alive, there's no way for us to get there anymore."

 "The Tower of Ghenjei," Olver piped up, and all three adults turned their heads to stare at him. "Birgitte
told me," he said defensively. "The Tower of Ghenjei is the way to the lands of the Aelfinn and the
Eelfinn." He made the gesture that began a game of Snakes and Foxes, a triangle drawn in the air and
then a wavy line through it. "She knows even more stories than you, Master Charin."

 "That wouldn't be Birgitte Silverbow, would it?" Noal said wryly.

 The boy gave him a level look. "I'm not an infant, Master Charin. But she is very good with a bow, so
maybe she is. Birgitte born again, I mean."

 "I don't think there's any chance of that," Mat said. "I've talked with her. too, you know, and the last
thing she wants is to be any kind of hero." He kept his promises, and Birgitte's secrets were safe with
him. "In any case, knowing about this tower doesn't help much unless she told you where it is." Olver
shook his head sadly, and Mat bent to ruffle his hair. "Not your fault, boy. Without you, we wouldn't
even know it exists." That did not seem to help much. Olver stared at the red cloth game board

 "The Tower of Ghenjei." Noal said, sitting up cross-legged and tugging his coat straight. "Not many
know that tale anymore. Jain always said he'd go looking for it one day. Somewhere along the Shadow
Coast, he said."

 "That's still a lot of ground to search." Mat fitted the lid on one of the boxes. "It could take years." Years
they did not have if Tuon was right, and he was sure that she was.

 Thorn shook his head. "She says you know, Mat. 'Mat knows the way to find me.' I doubt very much
she'd have written that on a whim." 

 "Well, I can't help what she says, now can I? I never heard of any Tower of Ghenjei until tonight."

 "A pity," Noal sighed. "I'd like to have seen it, something Jain bloody Farstrider never did. You might as
well give over," he added when Thom opened his mouth. "He wouldn't forget seeing it, and even if he
never heard the name, he'd have to think of it when he heard of a strange tower that lets people into other
lands. The thing gleams like burnished steel. I'm told, two hundred feet high and forty thick, and there's
not an opening to be found in it. Who could forget seeing that?"

 Mat went very still. His black scarf felt too tight against his hanging scar. The scar itself suddenly felt
fresh and hot. It was hard for him to draw breath.

 "If there's no opening, how do we get in?" Thom wanted to know.

 Noal shrugged, but Olver spoke up once more. "Birgitte says you make the sign on the side of it
anywhere with a bronze knife." He made the sign that started the game. "She says it has to be a bronze
knife. Make the sign, and a door opens."

 "What else did she tell you about-" Thom began, then cut off with a frown. "What ails you. Mat? You
look about to sick up."

 What ailed him was his memory, and not the other men's memories for once. Those had been stuffed
into him to fill holes in his own memories, which they did and more, or so it seemed. He certainly
remembered many more days than he had lived. But whole stretches of his own life were lost to him, and
others were like moth-riddled blankets or shadowy and dim. He had only spotty memories of fleeing
Shadar Logoth, and very vague recollections of escaping on Domon's rivership, but one thing seen on
that voyage stood out. A tower shining like burnished steel. Sick up? His stomach wanted to empty itself.

 "I think I know where that tower is, Thorn. Rather, Domon knows. But I can't go with you. The Eelfinn
will know I'm coming, maybe the Aelfinn, too. Burn me, they might already know about this letter,
because I read it. They might know every word we've said. You can't trust them. They'll take advantage
if they can, and if they know you're coming, they'll be planning to do just that. They'll skin you and make
harnesses for themselves from your hide.' His memories of them were all his own, but they were more
than enough to support the judgment. 

 They stared at him as if he were mad, even Olver. There was nothing for it but to tell them about his
encounters with the Aelfinn and the Eelfinn. As much as was needful, at least. Not about his answers
from the Eelfinn, certainly, or his two gifts from the Aelfinn. But the other men's memories were necessary
to explain what he had reasoned out about the Eelfinn and Aelfinn having links to him, now. And the pale
leather harnesses the Eelfinn wore; those seemed important. And how they had tried to kill him. That was
very important. He had said he wanted to leave and failed to say alive, so they took him outside and
hanged him. He even removed the scarf to show his scar for extra weight, and he seldom let anybody see
that. The three of them listened in silence, Thom and Noal intently, Olver's mouth slowly dropping open
in wonder. The rain beating on the tent roof was the only sound aside from his voice.

 "That all has to stay inside this tent," he finished. "Aes Sedai have enough reasons already to want to put
their hands on me. If they find out about those memories, I'll never be free of them." Would he ever be
entirely free of them? He was beginning to think not, yet there was no reason to give them fresh reasons
to meddle in his life.

 "Are you any relation to Jain?" Noal raised his hands in a placating gesture. "Peace, man. I believe you.
It's just, that tops anything I ever did. Anything Jain ever did, too. Would you mind if I made the third? I
can be handy in tight spots, you know."

 "Burn me, did everything I said pass in one ear and out the other? They'll know I'm coming. They may
already know everything!''

 "And it doesn't matter," Thom put in, "not to me. I'll go by myself, if necessary. But if I read this
correctly," he began folding the letter up, almost tenderly, "the only hope of success is if you are one of
the three." He sat there on the cot, silent now. looking Mat in the eye.

 Mat wanted to look away, and could not. Bloody Aes Sedai! The woman almost certainly was dead,
and yet she still tried coercing him into being a hero. Well, heroes got patted on the head and pushed out
of the way until the next time a hero was needed, if they survived being a hero in the first place. Very
often heroes did not. He had never really trusted Moiraine, or liked her either. Only fools trusted Aes
Sedai. But then, if not for her, he would be back in the Two Rivers mucking out the barn and tending his
da's cows. Or he would be dead. And there old Thom sat, saying nothing, just staring at him. That was
the rub. He liked Thom. Oh, blood and bloody ashes.

 "Burn me for a fool," he muttered. "I'll go."

 Thunder crashed deafeningly right atop a flash of lightning so bright it shone through the tent canvas. 

When the rumbling booms faded, there was dead silence in his head. The last set of dice had stopped.
He could have wept.


 A Hell in Maderin

 Despite the late hours kept by everyone that night, the show made a very early start the next morning.
Grainy-eyed and groggy, Mat trudged out of his tent while the sky was still dark to find men and women
with lanterns trotting to get ready when they were not running, and nearly everyone shouting for
somebody or other to move faster. Many had the unsteady step of people who had not slept. Everyone
seemed to feel that the farther they could get from where that village had vanished in front ot their eyes,
the better. Luca's great gaudy wagon took to the road before the sun had cleared the horizon, and once
again he set a goodly pace. Two merchants' trains of twenty or so wagons each passed them heading
south, and a slow caravan of Tinkers, but nothing going the other way. The farther, the better.

 Mat rode with Tuon, and Selucia made no attempt to put the dun between them, yet there was no
conversation however much he tried to start one. Save for an occasional unreadable glance when he
made a sally or told a joke, Tuon rode looking straight ahead, the cowl of her blue cloak hiding her face.
Even juggling failed to catch her attention. There was something broody about her silence, and it worried
him. When a woman went silent on you. there usually was trouble in the offing. When she brooded, you
could forget about usually. He doubted it was the village of the dead that had her fretting. She was too
tough for that. No, there was trouble ahead.

 Little more than an hour after they set out, a farm on rolling ground hove into sight, with dozens of
black-faced goats cropping grass in a wide pasture and a large olive grove. Boys weeding among the
rows of dark-leaved olive trees dropped their hoes and rushed down to the stone fences to watch the
show pass, shouting with excitement to know who they were and where they were going and where
coming from. Men and women came out of the sprawling tile-roofed farmhouse and two big
thatch-roofed barns, shading their eyes to watch. Mat was relieved to see it. The dead paid no mind to
the living.

 As the show rolled onward, farms and olive groves grew thicker on the ground until they ran side by
side, pushing the forest back a mile or more on either side of the road, and well short of midmorning they
reached a prosperous town somewhat larger than Jurador. A merchant's long train of canvas-topped
wagons was turning in at the main gates, where half a dozen men in polished conical helmets and leather
coats sewn with steel discs stood guard with halberds. More men, cradling crossbows, kept watch atop
the two gate towers. But if the Lord of Maderin, one Nathin Sarmain Vendare, expected trouble, the
guards were the only sign of it. Farms and olive groves reached right to the stone walls of Maderin, an 

unsound practice, and right costly should the town ever need to be defended. Luca had to bargain with a
farmer for the right to set up the show in an unused pasture and came back muttering that he had just
bought the scoundrel a new flock of goats or maybe two. But the canvas wall was soon rising, with Luca
chivvying everyone for speed. They were to perform today and leave early in the morning. Very early.
Nobody complained, or much said an unneeded word. The farther, the better.

 "And tell no one what you saw," Luca cautioned more than once. "We saw nothing out of the ordinary.
We wouldn't want to frighten the patrons away." People looked at him as if he were insane. No one
wanted to think of that melting village or the peddler, much less speak of them.

 Mat was sitting in his tent in his shirtsleeves, waiting for Thorn and Juilin to return from their trip into the
town to learn whether there was a Seanchan presence. He was idly tossing a set of dice on his small
table. After an early run of mostly high numbers, five single pips stared up at him ten times in a row; most
men thought the Dark One's eyes an unlucky toss.

 Selucia pulled back the entry flap and strode in. Despite her plain brown divided skirts and white blouse,
she managed to seem a queen entering a stable. A filthy stable, by the expression on her face, though
Lopin and Nerim could have satisfied his mother when it came to cleaning.

 "She wants you," she drawled peremptorily, touching her flowered scarf to make sure her short yellow
hair was covered. "Come."

 "What's she want with me, then?" he said, and leaned his elbows on the table. He even stretched out his
legs and crossed his ankles. Once you let a woman think you would jump whenever she called, you
never got out from under again.

 "She'll tell you. You are wasting time, Toy. She won't be pleased."

 "If Precious expects me to come running when she crooks a finger, she better learn to like being

 Grimacing-if her mistress tolerated the name, Selucia took it for a personal affront-she folded her arms
beneath that impressive bosom. 

 It was clear as good glass that she intended to wait there until he went with her, and he was of a mind to
make it a long wait. He tossed the dice. The Dark One's Eyes. Expecting him to jump when Tuon said
toad. Hah! Another toss, spinning across the table, one die nearly going over the edge. The Dark One's
Eyes. Still, he had nothing else to do at the moment.

 Even so, he took his time donning his coat, a good bronze-colored silk. By the time he picked up his hat,
he could hear her foot tapping impatiently. "Well, what are you waiting for?" he asked. She hissed at him.
She held the entry flap open, but she purely hissed like a cat.

 Setalle and Tuon were sitting on one of the beds talking when he entered the purple wagon, but they cut
off the instant he stepped through the door and gave him brief but appraising looks. Which told him the
subject of their talk had been Mat Cauthon. It made his hackles rise. Plainly, whatever Tuon wanted was
something they thought he would disapprove of. And just as plainly, she meant to have it anyway. The
table was snug against the ceiling, and Selucia brushed past him to take a place behind Tuon as the tiny
woman sat down on the stool, her face stern and those beautiful big eyes steady. Hang all the prisoners

 "I wish to visit the common room of an inn," she announced. "Or a tavern. I have never seen the inside of
either. You will take me to one in this town, Toy."

 He let himself breathe again. "That's easy enough. Just as soon as Thorn or Juilin lets me know it's safe."

 "It must be a low place. What is called a hell."

 His mouth fell open. Low? Hells were the lowest of the low. dirty and dimly lit, where the ale and wine
were cheap and still not worth half what you paid, the food was worse, and any woman who sat on your
lap was trying to pick your pocket or cut your purse or else had two men waiting upstairs to crack you
over the head as soon as you walked into her room. At any hour of the day or night you would find dice
rolling in a dozen games, sometimes for surprising stakes given the surroundings. Not gold-only a stone
fool displayed gold in a hell-but silver often crossed the tables. Few of the gamblers would have come by
their coin by any means even halfway honest, and those few would be as hard-eyed as the headcrackers
and knife-men who preyed on drunks in the night. Hells always had two or three strong-arms with
cudgels about to break up fights, and most days they worked hard for their pay. They usually stopped
the patrons from killing one another, but when they failed, the corpse was dragged out the back and left
in an alley somewhere or on a rubbish heap. And while they were dragging, the drinking never slowed, or
the gambling either. That was a hell. How had she even heard of such places? 

 "Did you plant this fool notion in her head?" he demanded of Setalle.

 "Why. what in the Light makes you think that?'' she replied, going all wide-eyed the way women did
when pretending to be innocent. Or when they wanted you to think they were pretending, just to confuse
you. He could not see why they bothered. Women confused him all the time without trying.

 "It's out of the question. Precious. I walk into a hell with a woman like you, and I'll be in six knife fights
inside the hour, if I survive that long."

 Tuon gave a pleased smile. Just a flicker, but definitely pleased. "Do you really think so?"

 "I know so for a fact." Which produced another brief smile of delight. Delight! The bloody woman
wanted to see him in a knife fight!

 "Even so. Toy, you promised."

 They were arguing over whether he had made a promise-well, he was calmly presenting the logic that
saying something was easy was no promise; Tuon just stubbornly insisted he had promised, while Setalle
took up her embroidery hoop and Selucia watched him with the amused air of someone watching a man
try to defend the indefensible: and he did not shout, no matter what Tuon said-when a knock came at the

 Tuon paused. "You see, Toy," she said after a moment, "that is how it is done. You knock and then
wait." She made a simple gesture over one shoulder at her maid.

 "You may enter the presence," Selucia called, drawing herself up regally. She probably expected
whoever came in to prostrate themselves!

 It was Thom, in a dark blue coat and dark gray cloak that would make him unremarked in any common
room or tavern, neither well-to-do nor poor. A man who could afford to pay for his own drink while
listening to the gossip, or buy another man a cup of wine to pay for hearing his news and the latest
rumors. He did not prostrate himself. but he did make an elegant bow despite his bad right leg. "My 

Lady," he murmured to Tuon before turning his attention to Mat. "Harnan said he saw you strolling this
way. I trust I'm not interrupting? I heard . . . voices."

 Mat scowled. He had not been shouting. "You're not interrupting. What did you find out?"

 "That there may be Seanchan in the town from time to time. No soldiers, but it seems they're building
two farm villages a few miles to the north of the road and three more a few miles south. The villagers
come to town to buy things now and then."

 Mat managed to keep from smiling as he spoke over his shoulder. He even got a smattering of regret
into his voice. "I'm afraid there's no jaunt into Maderin for you, Precious. Too dangerous."

 Tuon folded her arms, emphasizing her bosom. There were more curves to her than he once had
thought. Not like Selucia, certainly, but nice curves. "Farmers, Toy," she drawled dismissively. "No
farmer has ever seen my face. You promised me a tavern or a common room, and you won't escape on
this puny excuse."

 "A common room should present no difficulties," Thom said. "It's a pair of scissors or a new pot these
farmers are after, not drink. They make their own ale, it seems, and don't much like the local brew."

 "Thank you, Thorn," Mat said through gritted teeth. 'She wants to see a hell."

 The white-haired man gave a wheezing cough and knuckled his mustache vigorously. "A hell." he

 "A hell. Do you know a hell in this town where I might take her without starting a riot?" He intended the
question for sarcasm, but Thorn surprised him by nodding.

 "I might just know a place at that," the man said slowly. "The White Ring. I intend to go there anyway, to
see what news I can pick up." 

 Mat blinked. However unremarked Thom might be elsewhere, he would be looked at askance in a hell
wearing that coat. More than askance. The usual garb there was coarse dirty wool and stained linen.
Besides, asking questions in a hell was a good way to have a knife planted in your back. But maybe
Thom meant that this White Ring was not a hell at all. Tuon might not know the difference if the place
were only a little rougher than the usual. "Should I get Harnan and the others?" he asked, testing.

 "Oh, I think you and I should be protection enough for the Lady," Thom said with what might have been
the ghost of a smile, and knots loosened in Mat's shoulders.

 He still cautioned the two women-there was no question of Selu-cia staying behind, of course; Mistress
Anan refused Tuon's invitation to accompany them, saying she had already seen as many hells as she had
any wish to-about keeping their hoods well up. Tuon might believe no farmer had ever seen her face, but
if a cat could gaze on a king. as the old saying said, then a farmer might have gazed on Tuon some time
or other, and it would be just their luck to have one or two of them turn up in Maderin. Being ta'veren
usually seemed to twist the Pattern for the worst in his experience.

 "Toy," Tuon said gently as Selucia settled the blue cloak on her slim shoulders, "I have met many farmers
while visiting the country. but they very properly kept their eyes on the ground even if I allowed them to
stand. Believe me. they never saw my face."

 Oh. He went to fetch his own cloak. White clouds nearly obscured the sun, still short of its midday peak,
and it was a brisk day for spring. with a strong breeze to boot.

 People from the town crowded the main street of the show, men in rough woolens or sober coats of
finer stuff with just a touch of embroidery on the cuffs: women, many wearing lace caps, in somber,
collared dresses beneath long white aprons or dark, high-necked dresses with embroidery curling across
the bosom; children darting everywhere, escaping their parents and being chased down, all of them
oohing and aahing at Miyora's leopards or Latelle's bears, at the jugglers or Balat and Abar eating fire,
the lean brothers moving in unison. Not pausing for so much as a glimpse of the female acrobats, Mat
threaded through the throng with Tuon on his arm, which he assured by placing her hand on his left wrist.
She hesitated a moment, then nodded slightly, a queen giving assent to a peasant. Thorn had offered his
arm to Selucia, but she stayed at her mistress's left shoulder. At least she did not try to crowd between.

 Luca, in scarlet coat and cloak, was beneath the big banner at the entrance watching coins clink into the
glass pitcher, clink again as they were dropped into the strongbox. He wore a smile on his face. The line
waiting to get in stretched near a hundred paces along the canvas wall, and more people were trickling
out of the town and heading toward che show. "I could take in a fine bit here over two or three days," he
told Mat. "After all, this place is solid, and we're far enough from." His smile flickered out like a snuffed
candle. "You think we're far enough, don't you?" 

 Mat sighed. Gold would defeat fear every time in Valan Luca.

 He could not hold his cloak closed with Tuon on his arm, so it flared behind him in the stiff breeze, yet
that was to the good. The gate guards, slouching in a ragged line, eyed them curiously, and one made a
sketchy bow. Silk and lace had that effect, with country armsmen, at least, and that was what these men
were no matter how brightly they had burnished their helmets and coin-armor coats. Most leaned on their
halberds like farmers leaning on shovels. But Thorn stopped, and Mat was forced to halt too, a few
paces into the town. After all, he had no idea where The White Ring lay.

 "A heavy guard, Captain," Thom said, worry touching his voice. "Are there brigands in the area?"

 "No outlaws around here," a grizzled guard said gruffly. A puckered white scar slanting across his square
face combined with a squint to give him a villainous appearance. He was not one of the leaners, and he
held his halberd as if he might know how to use it. "The Seanchan cleaned out the few we hadn't caught.
Move along, now, old fellow. You re blocking the way.'' There was not a wagon or cart in sight, and the
few people leaving the town afoot had plenty of room. The gate arch was wide enough for two wagons
abreast, though it might be a squeeze.

 "The Seanchan said we didn't set enough guards," a stocky fellow about Mat's age put in cheerfully, "and
Lord Nathin listens close when the Seanchan talk."

 The grizzled man clouted him with a gauntleted hand on the back of his helmet hard enough to stagger
him. "You watch your mouth with people from off, Keilar," the older man growled, "else you'll be back
behind a plow before you can blink. My Lord." he added to Mat. raising his voice, "you want to call your
servant before he gets himself in trouble."

 "My apologies. Captain," Thom said humbly, ducking his white head, the very image of a chastened
serving man. "No offense meant. My apologies."

 "He would have thumped you, too, if I hadn't been here," Mat told him when he caught up. Thorn was
limping noticeably. He must have been tired for it to show that much. "He almost did anyway. And what
did you learn that was worth risking that?" 

 "I wouldn't have asked without you, in that coat." Thorn chuckled as they walked deeper into the town.
"The first lesson is what questions to ask. The second, and just as important, is when and how to ask. I
learned there aren't any brigands, which is always good to know. though I've heard of very few bands big
enough to attack something as large as the show. I learned Nathin is under the Seanchan thumb. Either
he's obeying a command with those extra guards, or he takes their suggestions as commands. And most
important, I learned that Nathin's armsmen don't resent the Seanchan."

 Mat quirked an eyebrow at him.

 "They didn't spit when they said the name, Mat. They didn't grimace or growl. They won't fight the
Seanchan, not unless Nathin tells them to, and he won't." Thorn exhaled heavily. "It's very strange. I've
found the same everywhere from Ebou Dar to here. These outlanders come, take charge, impose their
laws, snatch up women who can channel. and if the nobles resent them, very few among the common
people seem to. Unless they've had wife or relation collared, anyway. Very strange, and it bodes ill for
getting them out again. But then. Altara is Altara. I'll wager they're finding a colder reception in Amadicia
and Tarabon." He shook his head. "We had best hope they are, else. . . ." He did not say what else, but
it was easy to imagine.

 Mat glanced at Tuon. How did she feel hearing Thom talk about her people so? She said nothing, only
walked at his side peering curiously at everything from the shelter of her cowl.

 Tile-roofed buildings three and four stories tall, most of brick. lined the wide, stone-paved main street of
Maderin. shops and inns with signs that swung in the stiff breeze crowded in beside stables and rich
people's homes with large lamps above the arched doorways and humbler structures that housed poorer
folk, by the laundry hanging from nearly every window. Horse carts and hand-barrows laden with bales
or crates or barrels slowly made their way through a moderately thick throng, men and women with brisk
strides, full of that storied southern industry, children dashing about in games of catch. Tuon studied it all
with equal interest. A fellow pushing a wheeled grindstone and crying that he sharpened scissors or
knives till they could cut wishes caught her attention as much as a lean, hard-faced woman in leather
trousers with two swords strapped to her back. Doubtless a merchant's guard or perhaps a Hunter for
the Horn, but a rarity either way. A buxom Domani in a clinging red dress that fell just short of
transparent with a pair of bulky bodyguards in scale-armor jerkins at her back got neither more nor less
study than a lanky one-eyed fellow in frayed wool hawking pins, needles and ribbons from a tray. He had
not noticed this sort of curiosity from her in Jurador, but she had been intent on finding silk in Jurador.
Here, she seemed to be trying to memorize all she saw.

 Thorn soon led them off into a maze of twisting streets, most of which deserved the name only because
they were paved with rough stone blocks the size of a man's two fists. Buildings as big as those on the
main street, some housing shops on the ground floor, loomed over them, almost shutting out the sky.
Many of those ways were too narrow for horse carts-in some Mat would not have had to extend his 

arms fully to touch the walls on either side-and more than once he had to press Tuon against the front of
a building to let a heavy-loaded hand-barrow rumble past over the uneven paving stones, the
barrow-man calling apologies for the inconvenience without slowing. Porters trudged through that
cramped warren, too, men walking bent nearly parallel to the ground, each with a bale or crate on his
back held level by a padded leather roll strapped to his hips. Just the sight of them made Mat's own back
ache. They reminded him how much he hated work.

 He was on the point of asking Thorn how far they had to go- Maderin was not that big a town-when
they reached The White Ring, on one of those winding streets where his arms could more than compass
the width of the pavement, a brick building of three floors across from a cutler's shop. The painted sign
hanging over the inn's red door, a frilly white circle of lace, made the knots return to his shoulders. Ring, it 

might be called, but that was a woman's garter if ever he had seen one. It might not be a hell, but inns
with signs like that usually were rowdy enough in their own right. He eased the knives up his coatsleeves,
and those in his boot tops, as well, felt the blades under his coat, shrugged just to get the feel of the one
hanging behind his neck. Though if it went that far. . . . Tuon nodded approvingly. The bloody woman
was dying to see him get into a knife fight! Selucia had the sense to frown.

 "Ah, yes," Thom said. "A wise precaution." And he checked his own knives, tightening those knots in
Mat's shoulders a little more. Thom carried almost as many blades as he did, up his sleeves, beneath his

 Selucia writhed her fingers at Tuon, and suddenly they were in a silent argument, fingers flashing. Of
course, it could not be that- Tuon bloody well owned Selucia the same as owning a dog and you did not
argue with your dog-but an argument it seemed, both women with their jaws set stubbornly. Finally,
Selucia folded her hands and bowed her head in acquiescence. A reluctant submission.

 "It will be well." Tuon told her in a jollying tone. "You will see. It will be well."

 Mat wished he was sure of that. Taking a deep breath, he extended his wrist for her hand again and
followed Thom.

 The spacious, wood-paneled common room of The White Ring held better than two dozen men and
women, nearly half obvious out-landers, at square tables beneath a thick-beamed ceiling. All neatly
dressed in finely woven wool with little by way of ornamentation, most were talking quietly over their
wine in pairs, cloaks draped over their low-backed chairs, though three men and a woman with long
beaded braids were tossing bright red dice from a winecup at one table. Pleasant smells drifted from the
kitchen, including meat roasting. Goat, most likely. Beside the wide stone fireplace, where a parsimonious
fire burned and a polished brass barrel-clock sat on the mantel, a saucy-eyed young woman who rivaled
Selucia-and with her blouse unlaced nearly to her waist to prove it-swayed her hips and sang, 

accompanied by a hammered dulcimer and a flute, a song about a woman juggling all of her lovers. She
sang in a suitably bawdy voice. None of the patrons appeared to be listening.

 "As I walked out one fine spring day, I met young Jac who was pitching hay, his hair so fair, and his eyes
were. too.

 Well. I gave him a kiss; oh, what could I do?

 We snuggled and we tickled while the sun rose high. and I won't say how often he made me sigh."

 Lowering her hood, Tuon stopped just inside the door and frowned around the room. "Are you certain
this is a hell. Master Merrilin?" she asked. In a low voice, thank the Light. Some places, a question of
that sort could get you thrown out and roughly, silk coat or no. In others, the prices just doubled.

 "I assure you, you won't find a bigger collection of thieves and rascals anywhere in Maderin at this hour,"
Thorn murmured, stroking his mustaches.

 "Nowjac gels an hour when the sky is clear, and Willi gets an hour when my father s not near. It's the
hayloft with Mori I. for he shows no fear, and Keilin comes at midday: he's oh so bold! Lord Brelan gets
an evening when the night is cold. Master Andril gets a morning, but he's very old. Oh. what, oh. what is
a poor girl to do? My loves are so many and the hours so few."

 Tuon looked doubtful, but with Selucia at her shoulder, she walked over to stand in front of the singer,
who faltered a moment at Tuon's intense scrutiny before catching the song up again. She sang over the
top of Tuon's head, plainly attempting to ignore her. It seemed that with every other verse, the woman in
the song added a new lover to her list. The male musician, playing the dulcimer, smiled at Selucia and got
a frosty stare back. The two women got other looks as well, the one so small and with very short black
hair, the other rivaling the singer and with her head wrapped in a scarf, but no more than glances. The
patrons were intent on their own business.

 "It isn't a hell." Mat said softly, "but what is it? Why would so many people be here in the middle of the
day?" It was mornings and evenings when common rooms filled up like this. 

 "The locals are selling olive oil, lacquerware or lace," Thom replied just as quietly, "and the outlanders
are buying. It seems local custom is to begin with a few hours of drink and conversation. And if you have
no head for it," he added dryly, "you sober up to find you've made much less of a bargain than you
thought in your wine."

 "Light, Thorn, she'll never believe this place is a hell. I thought you were taking us somewhere merchants'
guards drink, or apprentices. At least she might believe that."

 "Trust me. Mat. I think you'll find she has lived a very sheltered life in some ways."

 Sheltered? When her own brothers and sisters tried to kill her? "You wouldn't care to wager a crown on
it. would you?"

 Thorn chuckled. "Always glad to take your coin."

 Tuon and Selucia came gliding back, faces expressionless. "I expected rougher garb on the patrons,"
Tuon said quietly, "and perhaps a fight or two, but the song is too salacious for a respectable inn. Though
she is much too covered to sing it properly, in my opinion. What is that for?" she added in tones of
suspicion as Mat handed Thorn a coin.

 "Oh," Thorn said, slipping the crown into his coat pocket. "I thought you might be disappointed that only
the more successful blackguards were present-they aren't always so colorful as the poorer sort-but Mat
said you'd never notice."

 She leveled a look at Mat, who opened his mouth indignantly. And closed it again. What was there to
say? He was already in the pickling kettle. No need to stoke the fire.

 As the innkeeper approached, a round woman with suspiciously black hair beneath a white lace cap and
stuffed into a gray dress embroidered in red and green across her more than ample bosom, Thorn slipped
away with a bow and a murmured. "By your leave, my Lord, my Lady." Murmured, but loud enough for
Mistress Heilin to hear.

 The innkeeper had a flinty smile, yet she exercised it for a lord and lady, curtsying so deeply that she 

grunted straightening back up, and she seemed only a little disappointed that Mat wanted wine and
perhaps food, not rooms. Her best wine. Even so. when he paid, he let her see that he had gold in his
purse as well as silver. A silk coat was all very well, but gold wearing rags got better service than copper
wearing silk.

 "Ale." Tuon drawled. "I've never tasted ale. Tell me, good mistress, is it likely any of these people will
start a fight any time soon?" Mat nearly swallowed his tongue.

 Mistress Heilin blinked and gave her head a small shake, as if uncertain she really had heard what she
thought she had. "No need to worry, my Lady," she said. "It happens time to time, if they get too far in
their cups, but I'll settle them down hard if it does."

 "Not on my account." Tuon told her. "They should have their sport."

 The innkeeper's smile went crooked and barely held, but she managed another curtsy then scurried
away clutching Mat's coin and calling, "Jera, wine for the lord and lady, a pitcher of the Kiranaille. And a
mug of ale."

 "You mustn't ask questions like that. Precious," Mat said quietly as he escorted Tuon and Selucia to an
empty table. Selucia refused a chair, taking Tuon's cloak and draping it over the chair she held for Tuon,
then standing behind it. "It isn't polite. Besides, it lowers your eyes." Thank the Light for those talks with
Egeanin, whatever name she wanted to go by. Seanchan would do any fool thing or refuse to do what
was sensible to avoid having their eyes lowered.

 Tuon nodded thoughtfully. "Your customs are often very peculiar, Toy. You will have to teach me about
them. I have learned some, but I must know the customs of the people I will rule in the name of the
Empress, may she live forever."

 "I'll be glad to teach you what I can," Mat said, unpinning his cloak and letting it fall carelessly over the
low back of his chair. "It will be good for you to know our ways even if you end up ruling a sight less
than you expect to." He set his hat on the table.

 Tuon and Selucia gasped as one, hands darting for the hat. Tuon's reached it first, and she quickly put it
on the chair next to her. "That is very bad luck. Toy. Never put a hat on a table." She made one of those
odd gestures for warding off evil, folding under the middle two fingers and extending the other two stiffly. 

Selucia did the same.

 "I'll remember that,' he said dryly. Perhaps too dryly. Tuon gave him a level look. Very level.

 "I have decided you will not do for a cupbearer, Toy. Not until you learn meekness, which I almost
despair of teaching you. Perhaps I will make you a running groom, instead. You are good with horses.
Would you like trotting at my stirrup when I ride? The robes are much the same as for a cupbearer, but I
will have yours decorated with ribbons. Pink ribbons."

 He managed to maintain a smooth face, but he felt his cheeks growing hot. There was only one way she
could know pink ribbons had any special significance to him. Tylin had told her. It had to be. Burn him,
women would talk about anything'.

 The arrival of the serving maid with their drink saved him from having to make any response. Jera was a
smiling young woman with nearly as many curves as the singer, not so well displayed yet not really
concealed by the white apron she wore tied snugly. Her dark woolen dress fit quite snugly, too. Not that
he gave her more than a glance, of course. He was with his wife-to-be. Anyway, only a complete
woolhead looked at a woman while with another.

 Jera placed a tall pewter wine pitcher and two polished pewter cups on the table and handed a thick
mug of ale to Selucia, then blinked in confusion when Selucia transferred the mug to Tuon and took a cup
of wine in return. He handed her a silver penny to settle her discomposure, and she gave him a beaming
smile with her curtsy before darting off to another call from the innkeeper. It was unlikely she received
much in the way of silver.

 "You could have smiled back at her. Toy," Tuon said, holding the mug up for a sniff and wrinkling her
nose. "She is very pretty. You were so stone-faced, you probably frightened her." She took a sip, and
her eyes widened in surprise. "This actually is quite good."

 Mat sighed and took a long swallow of dark wine that smelled faintly of flowers. In none of his
memories, his own or those other men's, could he recall having understood women. Oh, one or two
things here and there, but never anywhere near completely.

 Sipping her ale steadily-he was not about to tell her ale was taken in swallows, not sips: she might get
herself drunk deliberately, just to experience a hell fully; he was not ready to put anything past her today. 

Or any day-taking sips between every sentence, the maddening little woman questioned him on customs.
Telling her how to behave in a hell was easy enough. Keep to yourself, ask no questions, and sit with
your back to a wall if you could and near to a door in case of a need to leave suddenly. Better not to go
at all, but if you had to. . . . Yet she quickly passed on to courts and palaces, and got few answers there.
He could have told her more of customs in the courts of Eharon or Shiota or a dozen other dead nations
than in those of any nation that still lived. Scraps of how things were done in Caemlyn and Tear were all
he really knew, and bits from Fal Dara, in Shienar. Well, that and Ebou Dar. but she already knew those

 "So you have traveled widely and been in other palaces than the Tarasin," she said finally, and took the
last bit of ale in her mug. He had not finished half his wine yet; he thought Selucia had not taken above
two small swallows of hers. "But you are not nobly born, it seems. I thought you must not be."

 "That I am not," he told her firmly. "Nobles. . . ." He trailed off, clearing his throat. He could hardly tell
her nobles were fools with their noses so high in the air they could not see where they were stepping. She
was who and what she was, after all.

 Expressionless, Tuon studied him while pushing her empty mug to one side. Still studying, she flickered
the fingers of her left hand over her shoulder, and Selucia clapped her own hands together loudly. Several
of the other patrons looked at them in surprise. "You called yourself a gambler," Tuon said, "and Master
Merrilin named you the luckiest man in the world."

 Jera came running, and Selucia handed her the mug. "Another, quickly," she commanded, though not in
an unkindly way. Still, she had a regal manner to her. Jera dropped a hasty curtsy and scurried off again
as though she had been shouted at.

 "I have luck sometimes," Mat said cautiously.

 "Let's see whether you have any today, Toy." Tuon looked toward the table where the dice were rattling
on the tabletop.

 He could see no harm in it. It was a certainty he would win more than he lost, yet he thought it unlikely
one of the merchants would pull a knife however much his luck was in. He had not noticed anyone
carrying one of those long belt knives that everybody wore farther south. Standing, he offered Tuon his
arm, and she rested her hand lightly on his wrist. Selucia left her wine on the table and stayed close to her

 Two of the Altaran men, one lean and bald except for a dark fringe, the other round-faced above three
chins, scowled when he asked whether a stranger might join the game, and the third, a graying, stocky
fellow with a pendulous lower lip, went stiff as a fence post. The Taraboner woman was not so

 "Of course, of course. Why not?" she said, her speech slightly slurred. Her face was flushed, and the
smile she directed at him had a slackness about it. Apparently she was one of those with no head for
wine. It seemed the locals wanted to keep her happy because the scowls vanished, though the graying
man remained wooden-faced. Mat fetched chairs from a nearby table for himself and Tuon. Selucia
chose to remain standing behind Tuon. which was just as well. Six people crowded the table.

 Jera arrived to curtsy and proffer a refilled mug to Tuon with both hands and a murmured "My Lady."
and another serving woman, graying and nearly as stout as Mistress Heilin, replaced the wine pitcher on
the gambler's table. Smiling, the bald man filled the Taraboner's cup to the brim. They wanted her happy
and drunk. She drained half the cup and with a laugh wiped her lips delicately with a lace-edged
handkerchief. Getting it back up her sleeve required two tries. She would come away with no good
bargains this day.

 Mat watched a little play and soon recognized the game. It used four dice rather than two, but without a
doubt it was a version of Phi, Match, a game that had been popular for a thousand years before Artur
Hawkwing began his rise. Small piles of silver admixed with a few gold coins lay in front of each of the
players, and it was a silver mark that he laid in the middle of the table to buy the dice while the stout man
was gathering his winnings from the last toss. He expected no trouble from merchants, but trouble was
less likely if they lost silver rather than gold.

 The lean man matched the wager, and Mat rattled the crimson dice in the pewter cup, then spun them
out onto the table. They came to rest showing four fives.

 "Is that a winning toss?" Tuon asked.

 "Not unless I match it," Mat replied, scooping the dice back into the cup, "without tossing a fourteen or
the Dark One's eyes first." The dice clattered in the cup, clattered across the table. Four fives. His luck
was in, for sure. He slid one coin over in front of himself and left the other.

 Abruptly, the graying fellow scraped back his chair and stood up. "I've had enough." he muttered, and 

began fumbling the coins in front of him into his coat pockets. The other two Altarans stared at him

 "You're leaving, Vane?" the lean man said. "Now?"

 "I said I've had enough. Camrin." the graying man growled and went stumping out into the street pursued
by Camrin's scowl at his back.

 The Taraboner woman leaned over unsteadily, her beaded braids clicking on the tabletop, to pat the fat
man's wrist. "Just means I'll buy my lacquerware from you, Master Kostelle," she said fuzzily. "You and
Master Camrin."

 Kostelle's triple chins wobbled as he chuckled. "So it does. Mistress Alstaing. So it does. Doesn't it,

 "I suppose," the bald man replied grumpily. "I suppose." He shoved a mark out to match Mat's.

 Once again the dice spun across the table. This time, they came up totaling fourteen.

 "Oh," Tuon said, sounding disappointed. "You lost."

 "I won, Precious. That's a winning toss if it's your first." He left his original bet in the middle of the table.
"Another?" he said with a grin.

 His luck was in. all right, as strong as it had ever been. The bright red dice rolled across the table,
bounced across the table, ricocheted off the wagered coins sometimes, and toss after toss they came to
rest showing fourteen white pips. He made fourteen every way it could be made. Even at one coin to a
wager, the silver in front of him grew to a tidy sum. Half the people in the common room came to stand
around the table and watch. He grinned at Tuon, who gave him a slight nod. He had missed this, dice in a
common room or tavern, coin on the table, wondering how long his luck would hold. And a pretty
woman at his side while he gambled. He wanted to laugh with pleasure. 

 As he was shaking the dice in the cup again, the Taraboner merchant glanced at him, and for an instant,
she did not look drunk at all. Suddenly, he no longer felt like laughing. Her face slackened immediately,
and her eyes became a tad unfocused once more, but for that instant they had been awls. She had a
much better head for wine than he had supposed. It seemed Camrin and Kostelle would not get away
with fobbing off shoddy work at top prices or whatever their scheme had been. What concerned him,
though, was that the woman was suspicious of him. Come to think, she herself had not risked a coin
against him. The two Altarans were frowning at him. but just the way men who were losing frowned over
their bad luck. She thought he had found some way to cheat. Never mind that he was using their dice, or
more likely the inn's dice; an accusation of cheating could get a man a drubbing even in a merchants' inn.
Men seldom waited on proof of that charge.

 "One last toss." he said, "and I think I'll call it done. Mistress Heilin?" The innkeeper was among the
onlookers. He handed her a small handful of his new-won silver coins. "To celebrate my good fortune,
serve everybody what they want to drink until those run out." That brought appreciative murmurs, and
someone behind him clapped him on the back. A man drinking your wine was less likely to believe you
had bought it with cheated coin. Or at least they might hesitate long enough to give him a chance to get
Tuon out.

 "He can't keep this run going forever," Camrin muttered, scrubbing a hand through the hair he no longer
possessed. "What say you, Kostelle? Halves?" Fingering a gold crown free of the coins piled in front of
him, he slid it over beside Mat's silver mark. "If there's only to be one more toss, let's make a real wager
on it. Bad luck has to follow this much good." Kostelle hesitated, rubbing his chins in thought, then
nodded and added a gold crown of his own.

 Mat sighed. He could refuse the bet, but walking away now might well trigger Mistress Alstaing's
charge. So could winning this toss. Reluctantly he pushed out silver marks to match their gold. That left
only two in front of him. He gave the cup an extra heavy shake before spilling the dice onto the table. He
did not expect that to alter anything. He was just venting his feelings.

 The red dice tumbled across the tabletop, hit the piled coins and bounced back, spinning before they fell
to a stop. Each showing a single pip. The Dark One's Eyes.

 Laughing just as if it were not just their own coin won back, Camrin and Kostelle began dividing their
winnings. The watchers started drifting away, calling congratulations to the two merchants, murmuring
words of commiseration to Mat. some lifting the cup he was paying for in his direction. Mistress Alstaing
took a long pull at her winecup, studying him over the rim, to all outward appearance as drunk as a
goose. He doubted she thought he had been cheating any longer, not when he was walking away with
only one mark more than he sat down with. Sometimes bad luck could turn out to be good. 

 "So your luck is not endless, Toy," Tuon said as he escorted her back to their table. "Or is it that you are
lucky only in small things?'

 "Nobody has endless luck, Precious. Myself, I think that last toss was one of the luckiest I've ever
made." He explained about the Taraboner woman's suspicions, and why he had bought wine for the
whole common room.

 At the table, he held her chair for her, but she remained standing, looking at him. "You may do very well
in Seandar," she said finally, thrusting her nearly empty mug at him. "Guard this until I return."

 He straightened in alarm. "Where are you going?" He trusted her not to run away, but not to stay out of
trouble without him there to pull her out of it.

 She put on a long-suffering face. Even that was beautiful. "If you must know, I am going to the
necessary, Toy."

 "Oh. The innkeeper can tell you where it is. Or one of the serving women."

 "Thank you, Toy," she said sweetly. "I'd never have thought to ask." She waggled her fingers at Selucia,
and the two of them walked toward the back of the common room having one of their silent talks and

 Sitting down, he scowled into his winecup. Women seemed to enjoy finding ways to make you feel a
fool. And he was half-married to this one.

 "Where are the women?" Thom asked, dropping down into the chair beside Mat and setting a nearly full
winecup on the table. He grunted when Mat explained, and went on in a low voice, leaning his elbows on
the table to put his head close. "We have trouble behind and ahead. Far enough ahead that it may not
bother us here, but best we leave as soon as they return."

 Mat sat up straight. "What kind of trouble?" 

 "Some of those merchant trains that passed us the last few days brought news of a murder in Jurador
about the time we left. Maybe a day or two later; it's hard to be sure. A man was found in his own bed
with his throat ripped, only there wasn't enough blood." He had no need to say more.

 Mat took a long pull at his wine. The bloody gholam was still following him. How had it found out he
was with Luca's show? But if it was still a day or two behind at the pace the show was making, likely it
would not catch up to him soon. He fingered the silver foxhead through his coat. At least he had a way to
fight it if it did appear. The thing carried a scar he had given it. "And the trouble ahead?"

 "There's a Seanchan army on the border of Murandy. How they assembled it without my learning about
it before this. . . ." He puffed out his mustaches, offended by his failure. "Well, no matter. Everybody who
passes through they make drink a cup of some herbal tea."

 "Tea?" Mat said in disbelief. "Where's the trouble in tea?"

 "Every so often, this tea makes a woman go unsteady in her legs, and then the sul'dam come and collar
her. But that's not the worst. They're looking very hard for a slight, dark young Seanchan woman."

 "Well, of course they are. Did you expect they wouldn't be? This solves my biggest problem. Thorn.
When we get closer, we can leave the show, take to the forest. Tuon and Selucia can travel on with
Luca. Luca will like being the hero who returned their Daughter of the Nine Moons to them."

 Thom shook his head gravely. "They're looking for an impostor, Mat. Somebody claiming to be the
Daughter of the Nine Moons. Except the description fits her too closely. They don't talk about it openly,
but there are always men who drink too much, and some always talk too much as well when they do.
They mean to kill her when they find her. Something about blotting out the shame she caused."

 "Light!" Mat breathed. "How could that be, Thom? Whatever general commands that army must know
her face, wouldn't he? And other officers, too, I'd think. There must be nobles who know her."

 "Won't do her much good if they do. Even the lowest soldier will slit her throat or bash in her head as
soon as she's found. I had that from three different merchants, Mat. Even if they're all wrong, are you
willing to take the chance?" 

 Mat was not, and over their wine they began planning. Not that they did much drinking. Thom seldom
did anymore for all his visits to common rooms and taverns, and Mat wanted a clear head.

 "Luca will scream over letting us have enough horses to mount everyone whatever you pay him," Thom
said at one point. "And there are packhorses for supplies if we're taking to the forest."

 "Then I'll start buying, Thom. By the time we have to go, we'll have as many as we need. I'll wager I can
find a few good animals right here. Vanin has a good eye, too. Don't worry. I'll make sure he pays for
them." Thom nodded doubtfully. He was not so certain how reformed Vanin was.

 "Aludra's coming with us?" the white-haired man said in surprise a little later. "She'll want to take all of
her paraphernalia. That'll mean more packhorses."

 "We have time, Thom. The border of Murandy is a long way, yet. I mean to head north into Andor, or
east if Vanin knows a way through the mountains. Better east." Any way Vanin knew would be a
smuggler's path, a horsethief's escape route. There would be much less chance of unfortunate encounters
along something like that. The Sean-chan could be almost anywhere in Altara. and the way north took
him nearer that army than he liked.

 Tuon and Selucia appeared from the back of the common room, and he stood, taking up Tuon's cloak
from her chair. Thorn rose, too, lifting Selucia's cloak. "We're leaving." Mat said, trying to place the cloak
around Tuon. Selucia snatched it out of his hands.

 "I haven't seen even one fight yet." Tuon protested, too loudly. Any number of people turned to stare,
merchants and serving women.

 "I'll explain outside," he told her quietly. "Away from prying ears."

 Tuon stared up at him, expressionless. He knew she was tough, but she was so tiny, like a pretty doll,
that it was easy to believe she would break if handled roughly. He was going to do whatever was
necessary to make sure she was not put in danger of being broken. Whatever it took. Finally she nodded
and let Selucia place the blue cloak on her shoulders. Thorn attempted to do the same for the 

yellow-haired woman, but she took it away from him and donned it herself. Mat could not recall ever
seeing her let anyone help her with her cloak.

 The crooked street outside was empty of human life. A slat-ribbed brown dog eyed them warily, then
trotted away around the nearest bend. Mat moved nearly as quickly in the other direction, explaining as
they went. If he had expected shock or dismay, he would have been disappointed.

 "It could be Ravashi or Chimal." the little woman said thoughtfully, as if having an entire Seanchan army
out to kill her were no more than an idle distraction. "My two nearest sisters in age. Aurana is too young,
I think, only eight. Fourteen, you would say. Chimal is quiet in her ambition, but Ravashi has always
believed she should have been named just because she is older. She might well have sent someone to
plant rumors should I disappear for a time. It is really quite clever of her. If she is the one." Just as coolly
as talking about whether it might rain.

 "This plot could be dealt with easily if the High Lady were in the Tarasin Palace where she belongs,"
Selucia said, and coolness vanished from Tuon.

 Oh, her face became as chill as that of an executioner, but she rounded on her maid, fingers flashing so
furiously they should have been striking sparks. Selucia's face went pale, and she sank to her knees, head
down and huddling. Her fingers gestured briefly, and Tuon let her own hands fall, stood looking down at
the scarf-covered top of Selucia's head, breathing heavily. After a moment, she bent and lifted the other
woman to her feet. Standing very close, she said something very short in that finger-talk. Selucia replied
silently, Tuon made the same gestures again, and they exchanged tremulous smiles. Tears glistened in
their eyes. Tears!

 "Will you tell me what that was all about?'' Mat demanded. They turned their heads to study him.

 "What are your plans, Toy?" Tuon asked at last.

 "Not Ebou Dar, if that's what you're thinking. Precious. If one army is out to kill you, then they probably
all are, and there are too many soldiers between here and Ebou Dar. But don't worry: I'll find some way
to get you back safely."

 "So you always. ..." Her eyes went past him, widening, and he looked over his shoulder to see seven or
eight men round the last bend in the street. Every man had an unsheathed sword in his hand. Their steps 

quickened at sight of him.

 "Run, Tuon!" he shouted, spinning to face their attackers. "Thom get her away from here!" A knife came
into either hand from his sleeves, and he threw them almost as one. The left-hand blade took a graying
man in the eye, the right-hand a skinny fellow in the throat. They dropped as if their bones had melted,
but before their swords clattered on the paving stones, he had already snatched another pair of knives
from his boot tops and was sprinting toward them.

 It took them by surprise, losing two of their number so quickly, and him closing the distance instead of
trying to flee. But with him so close so quickly, and them jamming against one another on that narrow
street, they lost most of the advantage that swords gave them over his knives. Not all, unfortunately. His
blades could deflect a sword, but he only bothered when someone drew back for a thrust. In short order
he had a fine collection of gashes, across his ribs, on his left thigh, along the right side of his jaw, a cut
that would have laid open his throat had he not jerked aside in time. But had he tried to flee, they would
have run him through from behind. Alive and bleeding was better than dead.

 His hands moved as fast as ever they had, short moves, almost delicate. Flamboyance would have killed
him. One knife slipped into a fat man's heart and out again before the fellow's knees began to crumple.
He sliced inside the elbow of a man built like a blacksmith, who dropped his sword and awkwardly drew
his belt knife with his left hand. Mat ignored him; the fellow was already staggering from blood loss
before his blade cleared the scabbard. A square-faced man gasped as Mat sliced open the side of his
neck. He clapped a hand to the wound, but he only managed to totter back two steps before he fell. As
men died, the others gained room, but Mat moved faster still, dancing so that a falling man shielded him
from another's sword while he closed inside the sword-arc of a third. To him, the world consisted of his
two knives and the men crowding each other to get at him, and his knives sought the places where men
bleed most heavily. Some of those ancient memories came from men who had not been very nice at all.

 And then, miracle of miracles, bleeding profusely, but his blood too hot to let him feel the full pain yet, he
was facing the last, one he had not noticed before. She was young and slim in a ragged dress, and she
might have been pretty had her face been clean, had her teeth not been showing in a rictus snarl. The
dagger she was tossing from hand to hand had a double-edged blade twice the length of his hand.

 "You can't hope to finish alone what the others failed in together," he told her. "Run. I'll let you go

 With a cry like a feral cat, she rushed at him slashing and stabbing wildly. All he could do was dance
backwards awkwardly, trying to fend her off. His boot slid in a patch of blood, and as he staggered, he
knew he was about to die. 

 Abruptly Tuon was there, left hand seizing the young woman's wrist-not the wrist of her knife hand,
worse luck-twisting so the arm went stiff and the girl was forced to double over. And then it mattered not
at all which hand held her knife, because Tuon's right hand swept across, bladed like an axe, and struck
her throat so hard that he heard the cartilage cracking. Choking, she clutched her ruined throat and
sagged to her knees, then fell over still sucking hoarsely for breath.

 "I told you to run," Mat said, not sure which of the two he was addressing.

 "You very nearly let her kill you, Toy," Tuon said severely. "Why?"

 "I promised myself I'd never kill another woman," he said wearily. His blood was beginning to cool, and
Light, he hurt! "Looks like I've ruined this coat," he muttered, fingering one of the blood-soaked slashes.
The motion brought a wince. When had he been gashed on the left arm?

 Her gaze seemed to bore into his skull, and she nodded as if she-had come to some conclusion.

 Thorn and Selucia were standing a little down the street, in front of the reason Tuon was still there, better
than half a dozen bodies sprawled on the paving stones. Thorn had a knife in either hand and was
allowing Selucia to examine a wound on his ribs through the rent in his coat. Oddly, by evidence of the
dark glistening patches on his coat, he seemed to have fewer injuries than Mat. Mat wondered whether
Tuon had taken part there, too, but he could not see a spot of blood on her anywhere. Selucia had a
bloody gash down her left arm, though it appeared not to hinder her.

 "I'm an old man," Thorn said suddenly, "and sometimes I imagine I see things that can't be, but luckily, I
always forget them."

 Selucia paused to look up at him coolly. Lady's maid she might be, but blood seemed not to faze her at
all. "And what might you be trying to forget?"

 "I can't recall," Thorn replied. Selucia nodded and went back to examining his wounds. 

 Mat shook his head. Sometimes he was not entirely sure Thorn still had all his wits. For that matter,
Selucia seemed a shovel shy of a full load now and then, too.

 "This one can't live to be put to the question." Tuon drawled, frowning at the woman choking and
twitching at her feet, "and she can't talk if she somehow managed to.' Bending fluidly, she scooped up the
woman's knife and drove it hard beneath the woman's breastbone. That rasping fight for air went silent;
glazing eyes stared up at the narrow strip of sky overhead. "A mercy she did not deserve, but I see no
point to needless suffering. I won. Toy."

 "You won? What are you talking about?"

 "You used my name before I used yours, so I won."

 Mat whistled faintly through his teeth. Whenever he thought he knew how tough she was, she found a
way to show him he did not know the half. If anybody happened to be looking out a window, that
stabbing might raise questions with the local magistrate, probably Lord Nathin himself. But there were no
faces at any window he could see. People avoided getting embroiled in this sort of thing if they could. For
all he knew, any number of porters or barrow-men might have come along during the fight. For a
certainty, they would have turned right around again as quickly as they could. Whether any might have
gone for Lord Nathin's guards was another question. Still. he had no fear of Nathin or his magistrate. A
pair of men escorting two women did not decide to attack more than a dozen carrying swords. Likely
these fellows, and the unfortunate young woman, were well known to the guards.

 Limping to retrieve his thrown knives, he paused in the act of pulling the blade from the graying man's
eye. He had not really taken in that face, before. Everything had happened too quickly for more than
general impressions. Carefully wiping the knife on the man's coat, he tucked it away up his sleeve as he
straightened. "Our plans have changed. Thorn. We're leaving Maderin as fast as we can, and we're
leaving the show as fast as we can. Luca will want to be rid of us so much that he'll let us have all the
horses we need."

 "This must be reported, Toy," Tuon said severely. "Failure to do so is as lawless as what they did."

 "You know that fellow?" Thorn said.

 Mat nodded. "His name is Vane, and I don't think anybody in this town will believe a respectable 

merchant attacked us in the street. Luca will give us horses to be rid of this." It was very strange. The
man had not lost a coin to him. had not wagered a coin. So, why? Very strange indeed. And reason
enough to be gone quickly.


 A Manufactory

 The midday Amadician sun was warm on Perrin's head as he rode Stayer toward the roofs of Almizar
beneath high, scudding white clouds, a hundred miles southwest of Amador. Impatient, he kept the bay at
a trot. Farms stretched as far as he could see in any direction on both sides of the road, thatch-roofed
stone houses with gray smoke rising from the chimneys and chickens scratching in front of the barns.
Fat-tailed sheep and spotted black cattle grazed in stonewalled pastures, and men and boys were
plowing the fields or sowing those already plowed. It seemed to be laundry day; he could see large
kettles sitting over fires behind houses, and women and girls hanging shirts and blouses and bed linens on
long lines to dry. There was little of wildness, only scattered thickets, and most of those neatly coppiced
to provide firewood.

 He reached out with his mind to find wolves, and found nothing. Unsurprising. Wolves stayed clear of
this many people, this much tameness. The breeze stiffened, and he gathered his cloak around him.
Despite the need to make a show, it was plain brown wool. The only silk cloak he had was lined with fur,
and too hot for the day. His green silk coat worked in silver would have to do. That and his cloak pin.
two wolves' heads in silver-and-gold. A gift from Faile. it had always seemed too ornate to wear, but he
had dug it out of the bottom of a chest that morning. A little something to make up for the plain cloak.

 What was surprising were the Tinker caravans camped in fields scattered around the town, five of them
within his sight. According to Elyas, there was always feasting when two caravans encountered one
another, and a meeting of three caused days of celebration, but larger gatherings seldom occurred except
in the summer, at Sunday, when they had their meeting places. He almost wished he had brought Aram,
despite the risk of Masema learning too much. Maybe if the man could spend a little time among his own
people, he might decide to put down his sword. That was the best solution Perrin could think of to a
thorny problem, although not likely to work. Aram liked the sword, perhaps too well. But he could not
send the man away. He had as good as put that sword in Aram's hand, and now Aram and the sword
were his responsibility. The Light only knew what would become of the man if he truly went over to

 "You study the Tuatha'an and frown, my Lord," General Khirgan drawled. He could understand her
speech a little better, now that they had spent time together. "You've had problems with them in your
lands? We have nothing like them at home, but the only trouble connected to them I know of has been 

locals trying to drive them away. Apparently, they're supposed to be great thieves.''

 She and Mishima were ornate today in blue cloaks trimmed with red and yellow, and red coats with blue
cuffs and lapels edged in yellow. Three small vertical blue bars, shaped like the thin plumes of a Seanchan
helmet, on the left breast of her coat indicated her rank, as two did for Mishima. The dozen soldiers
riding behind wore their striped armor and painted helmets, however, and carried steel-tipped lances held
at precisely the same angle. The cluster of Faile's hangers-on following the Seanchan, also twelve in
number, made a brave display in Tairen coats with puffy satin-striped sleeves and dark Cairhienin coats
with stripes of House colors across the chests, yet in spite of their swords they looked much less
dangerous than the soldiers and seemed to know it. Whenever the breeze gusted from behind, it carried
traces of irritation that Perrin doubted came from the Seanchan. The soldiers' scent was of stillness,
waiting, like wolves who knew teeth might be needed soon, but not now. Not yet.

 "Ah, they steal a chicken now and then. General," Neald said with a laugh, giving one of his thin waxed
mustaches a twist, "but I'd not be calling them great thieves." He had enjoyed the Seanchan astonishment
at the gateway that had brought them all here, and he was still posing over it, somehow managing to strut
while sitting his saddle. It was difficult to remember that had he not earned that black coat, he would still
be working his father's farm and perhaps wondering about marriage to a neighbor girl in a year or two.
"Great theft requires courage, and Tinkers have not a bit of it."

 Huddled in his dark cloak, Balwer grimaced, or perhaps smiled. Sometimes it was hard to tell the
difference with the desiccated little man unless Perrin could catch his scent. The pair of them
accompanied Perrin in much the same way as a gray-haired sul'dam linked to a cool-eyed damane with
touches of gray in her own dark hair accompanied Khirgan and Mishima, supposedly to balance the
numbers. To the Seanchan, sul'dam and damane counted as one when connected by the segmented
metal leash. He would have been satisfied to come with Neald alone, or Neald and Balwer at least, but
Tallanvor had been right about Seanchan and protocol. The talks had dragged on for three days, and
while some time had been spent on whether to follow Per-rin's plan or make it a part of something Tylee
would come up with- with her yielding at the end only because she could find nothing better-a good part
had been wasted on how many each side was to bring here. It had to be the same number for each, and
the Banner-General had wanted to bring a hundred of her soldiers and a pair of damane. For honor's
sake. She had been astounded that he was willing to come with less, and was only willing to accept it
after he pointed out that everyone among Faile's people was noble in his or her own lands. He had the
feeling she thought she had been cheated because she could not match his escorts' rank with her own.
Strange folk, these Seanchan. Oh, there were sides, to be sure. This alliance was purely temporary, not
to mention delicate, and the Banner-General was just as aware of that as he.

 "Twice they offered me shelter when I needed it, me and my friends, and asked nothing in return," Perrin
said quietly. "Yet what I remember best about them was when Trollocs surrounded Emond's Field. The
Tuatha'an stood on the green with children strapped to their backs, the few of their own that survived and
ours. They would not fight-it isn't their way-but if the Trollocs overran us, they were ready to try to carry
the children to safety. Carrying our children would have hampered them, made escape even less likely
than it already was. but they asked for the task." Neald gave an embarrassed cough and looked away. A 

flush tinged his cheek. For all he had seen and done, he was young yet. just seventeen. This time, there
was no doubt about Balwer's thin smile.

 "I think your life might make a story," the general said, her expression inviting him to tell as much of it as
he would.

 "I'd rather my life were ordinary," he told her. Stories were no place for a man who wanted peace.

 "One day. I'd very much like to see some of these Trollocs I keep hearing about." Mishima said when
the silence began to stretch. Amusement tinged his smell, yet he stroked his sword hilt, perhaps without
knowing it.

 "No you wouldn't," Perrin told him. "You'll get your chance soon or late, but you won't like it." After a
moment, the scarred man nodded solemnly in understanding, amusement melting. At last he must be
beginning to believe that Trollocs and Myrddraal were more than travelers' fanciful tales. If any doubts
remained to him, the time was coming that would erase doubt forever.

 Heading into Almizar, as they turned their horses toward the north end of the town along a narrow cart
lane, Balwer slipped away. Medore went with him, a tall woman nearly as dark as Tylee but with deep
blue eyes, in dark breeches and a man's coat with puffy red-striped sleeves, a sword at her hip. Balwer
rode with his shoulders hunched, a bird perched precariously on his saddle, Medore straight-backed and
proud, every inch a High Lord's daughter and leader of Faile's people, though she followed Balwer rather
than riding beside. Surprisingly, Failes hangers-on seemed to have accepted taking direction from the
fussy little man. It made them much less bother than they once had been; it actually made them useful in
some ways, which Perrin would have thought impossible. The Banner-General offered no objection to
them leaving, though she gazed after them thoughtfully.

 "Kind of the Lady to visit a servant's friend," she mused. That was the tale Balwer had given, that he
used to know a woman who lived in Almizar and Medore wanted to meet her if she was still alive.

 "Medore's a kind woman," Perrin replied. "It's our way, being kind to servants." Tylee gave him one
glance, only that, yet he reminded himself not to take her for a fool. It was too bad he knew nothing of
Seanchan ways to speak of, or they might have come up with a better story. But then, Baiwer had been
in a frenzy-a dry, dusty frenzy, yet still a frenzy-to seize this chance to gather information on what was
happening in Amadicia under the Seanchan. For himself, Perrin could barely make himself care. Only
Faile mattered, now. Later he could worry about other matters. 

 Just north of Almizar, the stone walls dividing seven or eight fields had been removed to make a long
stretch of bare earth that appeared thoroughly turned by the harrow, the dirt all scored and scuffed. A
large odd creature with a pair of hooded people crouched on its back was running awkwardly along that
stretch on two legs that seemed spindly for its size. In fact, "odd" barely began to encompass it. Leathery
and gray, the thing was larger than a horse without counting a long, snake-like neck and a thin, even
longer tail that it held stretched out stiffly behind. As it ran. it beat wings ribbed like those of a bat,
stretching as long as most riverships. He had seen animals like this before, but in the air, and at a
distance. Tylee had told him they were called raken. Slowly the creature lumbered into the air, barely
clearing the treetops of a coppiced thicket at the end of the field. His head swiveled to follow as the
raken climbed slowly toward the sky, awkwardness vanishing in flight. Now, that would be a thing, to fly
on one of those. He crushed the thought, ashamed and angered that he could let himself be diverted.

 The Banner-General slowed her bay and frowned at the field. At the far end, men were feeding four
more of the peculiar animals, holding up large baskets for them to eat from, horned snouts darting and
horny mouths gulping. Perrin hated to think what a creature that looked like that might eat. "They should
have more raken than this here." she muttered. "If this is all there are. . . ."

 "We take what we can get and go on," he said. "None, if it comes to that. We already know where the
Shaido are."

 "I like to know if anything is coming up behind me." she told him dryly, picking up the pace again.

 At a nearby farm that appeared to have been taken over by the Seanchan, a dozen or so soldiers were
dicing at tables set up haphazardly in front of the thatch-roofed house. More were passing in and out of
the stone barn, though he saw no sign of horses except for a team hitched to a wagon that was being
unloaded of its crates and barrels and jute sacks by a pair of men in rough woolens. At least, Perrin
assumed the others were soldiers. Nearly half were women, the men as short as the women for the most
part and thin if taller, and none carried a sword, but they all wore close-fitting coats of sky-blue and each
had a pair of knives in scabbards sewn to their snug boots. Uniforms implied soldiers.

 Mat would be right at home with this lot, he thought, watching them laugh over good tosses and groan
over bad. Those colors spun in his head, and for an instant he glimpsed Mat riding off a road into forest
followed by a line of mounted folk and packhorses. An instant only, because he dashed the image aside
without so much as a thought to why Mat was going into the woods or who was with him. Only Faile
mattered. That morning he had tied a fifty-first knot in the leather cord he carried in his pocket. Fifty-one
days she had been a prisoner. He hoped she had been a prisoner that long. It would mean she was still
alive to be rescued. If she was dead. . . . His hand tightened on the head of the hammer hanging at his
belt, tightened until his knuckles hurt. 

 The Banner-General and Mishima were watching him, he realized. Mishima warily, with a hand hovering
near his sword hilt, Tylee thoughtfully. A delicate alliance, and little trust on either side. "For a moment, I
thought you might be ready to kill the fliers," she said quietly. "You have my word. We will free your
wife. Or avenge her."

 Perrin drew a shuddering breath and released his hold on the hammer. Faile had to be alive. Alyse had
said she was under her protection. But how much protection could the Aes Sedai give when she wore
gai'shain white herself? "Let's be done here. Time is wasting." How many more knots would he need to
tie in that cord? The Light send not many.

 Dismounting, he handed Stayer's reins to Carlon Belcelona, a clean-shaven Tairen with a long nose and
an unfortunately narrow chin. Carlon had a habit of fingering that chin as if wondering where his beard
had gone, or running a hand over his hair as though wondering why it was tied with a ribbon at the nape
of his neck, making a tail that just reached his shoulders. But he gave no more sign of giving up his fool
pretense that he was following Aiel ways than the others did. Balwer had given them their instructions,
and at least they obeyed those. Most of them were already drifting over to the tables, leaving their
mounts in the care of the rest, some producing coin, others offering leather flasks of wine. Which the
soldiers were rejecting, strangely, though it seemed anyone with silver was welcome in their games.

 Without more than glancing in their direction, Perrin tucked his gauntlets behind his thick belt and
followed the two Seanchan inside, tossing back his cloak so his silk coat showed. By the time he came
out, Faile's people-his people, he supposed-would have learned a great deal of what those men and
women knew. One thing he had learned from Balwer. Knowledge could be very useful, and you never
knew which scrap would turn out worth more than gold. For the moment, though, the only knowledge he
was interested in would not come from this place.

 The front room of the farmhouse was filled with tables facing the door, where clerks sat poring over
papers or writing. The only sound was the scritching of pen on paper and a man's dry persistent cough.
The men wore coats and breeches of dark brown, the women dresses in the exact same shade. Some
wore pins, in silver or brass, in the shape of a quill pen. The Seanchan had uniforms for everything, it
seemed. A round-cheeked fellow at the back of the room who wore two silver pens on his chest stood
and bowed deeply, belly straining his coat, as soon as Tylee entered. Their boots were loud on the
wooden floor as they walked back to him between the tables. He did not straighten until they reached his

 "Tylee Khirgan." she said curtly. "I would speak with whoever is in command here." 

 "As the Banner-General commands," the fellow replied obsequiously, made another deep bow. and
hurried through a door behind him.

 The clerk who was coughing, a smooth-faced fellow younger than Perrin who, by his face, might have
come from the Two Rivers, began hacking more roughly, and covered his mouth with a hand. He cleared
his throat loudly, but the harsh cough returned.

 Mishima frowned at him. "Fellow shouldn't be here if he's ill," he muttered. "What if it's catching? You
hear about all sorts of strange sicknesses these days. Man's hale at sunrise, and by sunfall, he's a corpse
and swollen to half again his size, with no one knowing what he died of. I heard of a woman who went
mad in the space of an hour, and everybody who touched her went mad, too. In three days, she and her
whole village were dead, those who hadn't fled." He made a peculiar gesture, forming an arc with thumb
and forefinger, the others curled tightly.

 "You know better than to believe rumors, or repeat them.'' the Banner-General said sharply, making the
same gesture. She seemed unaware she had done so.

 The stout clerk reappeared, holding the door for a graying, lean-faced man with a black leather patch
hiding the spot where his right eye had been. A puckered white scar ran down his forehead, behind the
patch and onto his cheek. As short as the men outside, he wore a coat of darker blue, with two small
white bars on his chest, though he had the same sheaths sewn to his boots. "Blasic Faloun,
Banner-General," he said with a bow as the clerk hurried back to his table. "How may I serve you?"

 "Captain Faloun, we need to speak in-" Tylee cut off when the man who was coughing surged to his
reet. his stool toppling with a clatter.

 Clutching his middle, the young man doubled over and vomited a dark stream that hit the floor and
broke up into tiny black beetles that went scurrying in every direction. Someone cursed, shockingly loud
in what was otherwise dead silence. The young man stared at the beetles in horror, shaking his head to
deny them. Wild-eyed, he looked around the room still shaking his head and opened his mouth as if to
speak. Instead, he bent over and spewed another black stream, longer, that broke into beetles darting
across the floor. The skin of his face began writhing, as though more beetles were crawling on the outside
of his skull. A woman screamed, a long shriek of dread, and suddenly clerks were shouting and leaping
up. knocking over stools and even tables in their haste, frantically dodging the flitting black shapes. Again
and again the man vomited, sinking to his knees, then falling over, twitching disjointedly as he spewed out
more and more beetles in a steady stream. He seemed somehow to be getting . . . flatter. Deflating. His
jerking ceased, but black beetles continued to pour from his gaping mouth and spread across the floor.
At last-it seemed to have gone on for an hour, but could not have been more than a minute or two-at last,
the torrent of insects dwindled and died. What remained of the fellow was a pale flat thing inside his 

clothes, like a wineskin that had been emptied. The shouting went on. of course. Half the clerks were up
on the tables that remained upright, men as well as women, cursing or praying or sometimes alternating
both at the tops of their lungs. The other half had fled outside. Small black beetles scuttled all across the
floor. The room stank of terror.

 "I heard a rumor," Faloun said hoarsely. Sweat beaded on his forehead. He smelled of fear. Not terror,
but definitely fear. "From east of here. Only that was centipedes. Little black centipedes." Some of the
beetles scurried toward him, and he backed away with a curse, making the same odd gesture that Tylee
and Mishima had.

 Perrin crushed the beetles under his boot. They made the hair on the back of his neck want to stand, but
nothing mattered except Faile. Nothing! "They're just borer beetles. You can find them almost anywhere
there's old fallen timber."

 The man jerked, lifted his gaze and jerked again when he saw Per-rin's eyes. Catching sight of the
hammer at Perrin's belt, he darted a quick, startled glance at the Banner-General. "These beetles came
from no log. They're Soulblinder's work!"

 "That's as may be," Perrin replied calmly. He supposed Soulblinder was a name for the Dark One. "It
makes no difference." He moved his foot, revealing the crushed carcasses of seven or eight of the insects.
"They can be killed. And I have no time to waste on beetles I can crush underfoot."

 "We do need to talk in private, Captain," Tylee added. Her scent was full of fear, too, yet tightly
controlled. Mishima's hand was locked in that same strange gesture. His fear was almost as well
controlled as hers.

 Faloun gathered himself visibly, the fear smell fading. It did not go away, yet he had mastery of himself,
now. He avoided looking at the beetles, however. "As you say, Banner-General. Atal. get down off that
table and have these . . . these things swept out of here. And see that Mehtan is laid out properly for the
rites. However he died, he died in service." The stout clerk bowed before climbing down, gingerly, and
again when he was on the floor, but the captain was already turning away. "Will you follow me,

 His study might have been a bedroom originally, but now it held a writing table with flat boxes full of
papers and another table, larger, that was covered with maps weighted down by inkwells, stones and
small brass figures. A wooden rack against one wall held rolls that appeared to be more maps. The gray
stone fireplace was cold. Faloun gestured them to half a dozen mismatched chairs that stood on the bare 

floor in front of the writing table and offered to send for wine. He seemed disappointed when Tylee
refused both. Perhaps he wanted a drink to steady his nerves. A small scent of fright still clung to him.

 Tylee began. "I need to replace six raken, Captain, and eighteen morat'raken. And a full company of
groundlings. The one I had is somewhere in Amadicia heading west, and beyond finding."

 Faloun winced. "Banner-General, if you lost raken, you know everything has been stripped to the bone
because of. . . ." His one eye flickered to Perrin. and he cleared his throat before going on. "You ask for
three-quarters of the animals I have left. If you can possibly do with fewer, perhaps only one or two?"

 "Four," Tylee said firmly, "and twelve fliers. I'll settle for that." She could make that slurred Seanchan
accent sound crisp when she wanted to. "This region is as stable as Seandar by all I hear, but I'll leave
you four."

 "As you say, Banner-General," Faloun sighed. "May 1 see the order, please? Everything has to be
recorded. Since I lost the ability to fly myself, I spend all my time pushing a pen like a clerk."

 "Lord Perrin?" Tylee said, and he produced the document signed by Suroth from his coat pocket.

 That made Faloun's eyebrows climb higher and higher as he read, and he fingered the wax seal lightly,
but he did not question it any more than the Banner-General had. It appeared the Seanchan were
accustomed to such things. He appeared relieved to hand it back, though, and wiped his hands on his
coat unconsciously. Accustomed to them, but not comfortably so. He studied Perrin, trying to be
surreptitious, and Perrin could all but see on his face the question the Banner-General had asked. Who
was he, to have such a thing?

 "I need a map of Altara, Captain, if you have such a thing," Tylee said. "I can manage if you don't, but
better if you do. The northwestern quarter of the country is what I'm interested in."

 "You're favored by the Light. Banner-General," the man said. bending to pull a roll from the lowest level
of the rack. "I have the very thing you want. By accident, it was in with the Amadician maps I was issued.
I'd forgotten I had the thing until you mentioned it. Uncommon luck for you, I'd say." Perrin shook his
head slightly. Accident, not ta'veren work. Even Rand was not ta'veren enough to make this happen. The
colors whirled, and he splintered them unformed. 

 Once Faloun had the map spread out on the map table, the corners held down by brass weights in the
form of raken. the Banner-General studied it until she had her landmarks fixed. It was large enough to
cover the table and showed exactly what she had asked for, along with narrow strips of Amadicia and
Ghealdan, the terrain rendered in great detail, with the names of towns and villages, rivers and streams, in
very small letters. Perrin knew he was looking at a fine example of the map-maker's art, far better than
most maps. Could it be ta'veren work? No. No, that was impossible.

 "They'll find my soldiers here." she drawled, marking a point with her finger. "They're to leave
immediately. One flier to a raken, and no personal items. They fly light, and as fast as possible. I want
them there before tomorrow night. The other morat'raken will travel with the groundlings. I hope to be
leaving in a few hours. Have them assembled and ready.''

 "Carts," Perrin said. Neald could not make a gateway large enough to accommodate a wagon.
"Whatever they bring has to be in carts, not wagons." Faloun mouthed the word incredulously.

 "Carts," Tylee agreed. "See to it. Captain."

 Perrin could smell an eagerness in the man that he interpreted as a desire to ask questions, but all Faloun
said, bowing, was. "As you command, Banner-General, so shall it be done."

 The outer room was in a different sort of turmoil when they left the captain. Clerks darted everywhere,
sweeping frantically or beating at the remaining beetles with their brooms. Some of the women wept as
they wielded their brooms, some of the men looked as though they wanted to. and the room was still
rank with terror. There was no sign of the dead man, but Perrin noticed that the clerks moved around the
place where he had lain, refusing to let a foot touch it. They tried not to step on any beetles, either, which
made for considerable dancing about on their toes. When Perrin crunched his way toward the outer
door, they stopped to stare at him.

 Outside, the mood was calmer, but not by much. Tylee's soldiers still stood by their horses in a row. and
Neald was affecting an air of casual indifference, even to yawning and patting his mouth, but the suldam
was petting the trembling damane and murmuring soothingly, and the blue-coated soldiers, many more
than had been there before, stood in a large cluster talking worriedly. The Cairhienin and Tairens rushed
to surround Perrin, leading their horses and all talking at once.

 "Is it true, my Lord?" Camaille asked, her pale face twisted with worry, and her brother Barmanes said 

uneasily. "Four men carried out something in a blanket, but they averted their eyes from whatever it was."

 All of them atop one another, all smelling of near panic. "They said he spewed beetles," and "They said
the beetles chewed their way out of him," and "The Light help us, they're sweeping beetles out of the
door; we'll be killed," and "Burn my soul, it's the Dark One breaking free," and more that made less

 "Be quiet," Perrin said, and for a wonder, they fell silent. Usually, they were very prickly with him.
insisting that they served Faile, not him. Now they stood staring at him. waiting for him to put their fears
to rest. "A man did spew up beetles and die, but they're ordinary beetles you can find in dead timber
anywhere. Give you a nasty pinch if you sit on one, but nothing worse. Likely it was the Dark One's
work somehow, true enough, but it has nothing to do with freeing the Lady Faile, and that means it has
nothing to do with us. So calm yourselves, and let's get on about our business."

 Strangely, it worked. More than one cheek reddened, and the smell of fear was replaced-or at least
suppressed-by the scent of shame at letting themselves come so near to panic. They looked abashed. As
they began mounting, their own natures reasserted themselves, though. First one then another offered
boasts of the deeds they would do in rescuing Faile. each wilder than the next. They knew them for wild,
because each boast brought laughter from the others, yet the next always tried to make his more
outrageous still.

 The Banner-General was watching him again, he realized as he took Stayer's reins from Carlon. What
did she see? What did she think she might learn? "What sent all the raken away?" he asked.

 "We should have come here second or third," she replied, swinging up into her saddle. "I still have to
acquire a'dam. I wanted to keep believing I had a chance as long as I could, but we might as well get to
the heart. That piece of paper faces a real test now. and if it fails, there s no point to going after a'dam."
A frail alliance, and small trust.

 "Why should it fail? It worked here."

 "Faloun's a soldier, my Lord. Now we must talk with an Imperial functionary." She imbued that last
word with a wealth of scorn. She turned her bay. and he had no choice but to mount and follow.

 Almizar was a considerable town, and prosperous, with six tall watchtowers around its edge but no wall. 

Elyas said Amadician law forbade walls anywhere save Amador, a law made at the behest of the
Whitecloaks and enforced by them as much as by whoever held the throne. Balwer would no doubt learn
who that might be now, with Ailron dead. The streets were paved with granice blocks, and lined with
solid buildings of brick or stone, some gray, some black, many three or four stories high and most roofed
in dark slate, the rest in thatch. People filled the streets, dodging between wagons and horse carts and
handcarts, hawkers crying their wares, women in deep bonnets that hid their faces carrying shopping
baskets, men in knee-length coats striding along self-importantly, apprentices in aprons or vests running
errands. As many soldiers walked the streets as locals, men and women, with skin as dark as any Tairen,
skin the color of honey, men as pale as Cairhienin but fair-haired and tall, all in brightly colored Seanchan
uniforms. Most wore no more than a belt knife or dagger, but he saw some with swords. They walked in
pairs, watchful of everyone around them, and had truncheons at their belts, too. A town Watch, he
supposed, but a lot of them for a place the size of Almizar. He never had fewer than two of those pairs in
his sight.

 Two men and a woman came out of a tall, slate-roofed inn and mounted horses held by grooms. He
knew her for a woman only by the way her long, split-tailed coat fit over her bosom because her hair was
cut shorter than the men's and she wore men's clothing and a sword, just like the other two. Her face was
certainly as hard as theirs. As the three cantered off west down the street, Mishima grunted sourly.

 "Hunters for the Horn," he muttered. "My eyes if they're not. Those fine fellows cause trouble
everywhere they go, getting in fights, sticking their noses where they don't belong. I've heard the Horn of
Valere has already been found. What do you think, my Lord?''

 "I've heard it's been found, too," Perrin replied cautiously. "There are all sorts of rumors floating about."

 Neither one so much as glanced at him, and in the middle of a crowded street, catching their scents was
well-nigh impossible, yet for some reason he thought they were mulling over his answer as if it had hidden
depths. Light, could they think be was tied up with the Horn? He knew where it was. Moiraine had
carried it off to the White Tower. He was not about to tell them, though. Small trust worked both ways.

 The local people gave the soldiers no more heed than they did each other, nor the Banner-General and
her armored followers, but Perrin was another matter. At least, when they noticed his golden eyes. He
could tell instantly when someone did. The quick jerk of a woman's head, her mouth falling open as she
stared. The man who froze, gaping at him. One fellow actually tripped over his own boots and stumbled
to his knees. That one stared, then scrambled to his feet and ran, pushing people from his path, as though
fearful Perrin might pursue him.

 "I suppose he never saw yellow eyes on a man before,'' Perrin said wryly. 

 "Are they common where you come from?" the Banner-General asked.

 "Not common, I wouldn't say that, but I'll introduce you to another man who has them."

 She and Mishima exchanged glances. Light, he hoped there was nothing in the Prophecies about two
men with yellow eyes. Those colors whirled, and he dashed them.

 The Banner-General knew exactly where she was going, a stone stable on the southern edge of the
town, but when she dismounted in the empty stableyard. no groom came rushing out. A stone-fenced
paddock stood next to the stable, but it held no horses. She handed her reins to one of her soldiers and
stood staring at the stable doors, only one of which was open. By her scent. Perrin thought she was
steeling herself.

 "Follow my lead, my Lord," she said finally, "and don't say anything you don't have to. It might be the
wrong thing. If you must speak, speak to me. Make it clear you're speaking to me."

 That sounded ominous, but he nodded. And began planning how to steal the forkroot if things went
wrong. He would need to learn whether the place was guarded at night. Balwer might already know. The
little man seemed to pick up information like that without trying. When he followed her inside, Mishima
remained with the horses, and looking relieved not to accompany them. What did that mean? Or did it
mean anything? Seanchan. In just a few days they had him seeing hidden meanings in everything.

 The place had been a stable once, obviously, but now it was something else. The stone floor had been
swept clean enough to satisfy any farmwife, there were no horses, and a thick smell like mint would have
overwhelmed the remaining scent of horse and hay to any nose but his or Elyas'. The stalls at the front
were filled with stacked wooden crates, and in the back, the stalls had been removed except for the
uprights that supported the loft. Now men and women were working back there, some using mortats and
pestles or sieves at tables, others carefully tending flat pans sitting on metal legs above charcoal braziers,
using tongs to turn what appeared to be roots.

 A lean young man in his shirtsleeves put a plump jute bag into one of the crates, then bowed to Tylee as
deeply as the clerk had, body parallel to the floor. He did not straighten until she spoke. 

 "Banner-General Khirgan. I wish to speak with whoever is in charge, if I may." Her tone was much
different than it had been with the clerk, not peremptory at all.

 "As you command," the lean fellow replied in what sounded an Amadician accent. At least, if he was
Seanchan, he spoke at a proper speed and without chewing his words.

 Bowing again, just as deeply, he hurried to where six stalls had been walled in, halfway down the
left-hand row, and tapped diffidently at a door, then awaited permission before going in. When he came
out, he went to the back of the building without so much as a glance toward Perrin and Tylee. After a
few minutes, Perrin opened his mouth, but Tylee grimaced and shook her head, so he closed it again and
waited. A good quarter of an hour he waited, growing more impatient by the heartbeat. The
Banner-General smelled solidly of patience.

 At last a sleekly plump woman in a deep yellow dress of odd cut came out of the small room, but she
paused to study the work going on in the back of the building, ignoring Tylee and him. Half of her scalp
had been shaved bald! Her remaining hair was in a thick, graying braid that hung to her shoulder. Finally
she nodded in satisfaction and made her unhurried way to them. An oval blue panel on her bosom was
embroidered with three golden hands. Tylee bowed as deeply as Faloun had for her, and remembering
her admonition. Perrin did the same. The sleek woman inclined her head. Slightly. She smelled of pride.

 "You wish to speak with me. Banner-General?" She had a smooth voice, as sleek as she herself. And
not welcoming. She was a busy woman being bothered. A busy woman well aware of her own

 "Yes. Honorable," Tylee said respectfully. A spike of irritation appeared among her smell of patience,
then was swallowed again. Her face remained expressionless. "Will you tell me how much prepared
forkroot you have on hand?"

 "An odd request," the other woman said as though considering whether to grant it. She tilted her head in
thought. "Very well," she said after a moment. "As of the midmorning accounting, I have four thousand
eight hundred seventy-three pounds nine ounces. A remarkable achievement, if I do say it myself,
considering how much I have shipped off and how hard it is getting to find the plant in the wild without
sending diggers unreasonable distances." Impossible as it seemed, the pride in her scent deepened. "I've
solved that problem. however, by inducing the local farmers to plant some of their fields in forkroot. By
this summer I will need to build something bigger to house this manufactory. I'll confide in you, I will not
be surprised if I am offered a new name for this. Though of course, I may not accept." Smiling a small,
sleek smile, she touched the oval panel lightly, but it was near a caress. 

 "The Light will surely favor you. Honorable," Tylee murmured. "My Lord, will you do me the favor of
showing your document to the Honorable?" That with a bow to Perrin markedly lower than the one she
had offered the Honorable. The sleek woman's eyebrows twitched.

 Reaching out to take the paper from his hand, she froze, staring at his face. She had finally noticed his
eyes. Giving hersell a small shake, she read without any outward expression of surprise, then folded the
paper up again and stood tapping it against her free hand. "It seems you walk the heights.
Banner-General. And with a very strange companion. What aid do you-or he-ask of me?"

 "Forkroot, Honorable," Tylee said mildly. "All that you have. Loaded into carts as soon as possible. And
you must provide the carts and drivers as well, I fear."

 "Impossible!" the sleek woman snapped, drawing herself up haughtily. "I have established strict
schedules as to how many pounds of prepared forkroot are shipped every week, which I have adhered
to rigidly, and I'll not see that record sullied. The harm to the Empire would be immense. The sul'dam are
snapping up marattidamane on every hand."

 "Forgiveness. Honorable," Tylee said, bowing again. "If you could see your way clear to let us have-"

 "Banner-General," Perrin cut in. Plainly this was a touchy encounter, and he tried to keep his face
smooth, but he could not avoid a frown. He could not be certain that even near five tons of the stuff
would be sufficient, and she was trying to negotiate some lesser weight! His mind raced, trying to find a
way. Fast thought was shoddy thought, in his estimation-it led to mistakes and accidents-but he had no
choice. "This may not interest the Honorable, of course, but Suroth promised death and worse if there
was any hindrance to her plans. I don't suppose her anger will go beyond you and me, but she did say to
take it all."

 "Of course, the Honorable will not be touched by the High Lady's anger." Tylee sounded as though she
was not so sure of that.

 The sleek woman was breathing hard, the blue oval with the golden hands heaving. She bowed to Perrin
as deeply as Tylee had. "I'll need most of the day to gather enough carts and load them. Will that suffice,
my Lord?" 

 "It will have to, won't it," Perrin said, plucking the note from her hand. She let go reluctantly and watched
hungrily as he tucked it into his coat pocket.

 Outside, the Banner-General shook her head as she swung into the saddle. "Dealing with the Lesser
Hands is always difficult. None of them see anything lesser in themselves. I thought this would be in the
charge of someone of the Fourth or Fifth Rank, and that would have been hard enough. When I saw that
she was of the Third Rank-only two steps below a Hand to the Empress herself, may she live forever- I
was sure we wouldn't get away with more than a few hundred pounds if that. But you handled it
beautifully. A risk taken, but still, beautifully masked."

 "Well, nobody wants to chance death," Perrin said as they started out of the stableyard into the town
with everyone strung out behind them. Now they had to wait for the carts, perhaps find an inn.
Impatience burned in him. The Light send they did not need to spend the night.

 "You didn't know," the dark woman breathed. 'That woman knew she stood in the shadow of death as
soon as she read Suroth's words, but she was ready to risk it to do her duty to the Empire. A Lesser
Hand of the Third Rank has standing enough that she might well escape death on the plea of duty done.
But you used Suroth's name. That's all right most of the time, except when addressing the High Lady
herself, of course, but with a Lesser Hand, using her name without her title meant you were either an
ignorant local or an intimate of Suroth herself. The Light favored you, and she decided you were an

 Perrin barked a mirthless laugh. Seanchan. And maybe ta'veren, too.

 "Tell me, if the question does not offend, did your Lady bring powerful connections, or perhaps great

 That surprised him so much that he twisted in his saddle to stare at her. Something hit his chest hard,
sliced a line of fire across his chest, punched his arm. Behind him, a horse squealed in pain. Stunned, he
stared down at the arrow sticking through his left arm.

 "Mishima," the Banner-Genetal snapped, pointing, "that four-story building with the thatched roof,
between two slate roofs. I saw movement on the rooftop."

 Shouting a command to follow, Mishima galloped off down the crowded street with six of the Seanchan 

lancers, horseshoes ringing on the paving stones. People leapt out of their way. Others stared. No one in
the street seemed to realize what had happened. Two of the other lancers were out of their saddles,
tending the trembling mount of one that had an arrow jutting from its shoulder. Perrin fingered a broken
button hanging by a thread. The silk of his coat was slashed from the button across his chest. Blood
oozed, dampening his shirt, trickled down his arm. Had he not twisted just at that moment, that arrow
would have been through his heart instead of his arm. Maybe the other would have hit him as well, but
the one would have done the job. A Two Rivers shaft would not have been deflected so easily.

 Cairhienin and Tairens crowded around him as he dismounted, all of them trying to help him, which he
did not need. He drew his belt knife, but Camaille took it from him and deftly scored the shaft so she
could break it cleanly just above his arm. That sent a jolt of pain down his arm. She did not seem to mind
getting blood on her fingers, just plucking a lace-edge handkerchief Irom her sleeve, a paler green than
usual for Cairhienin, and wiping them, then examined the end of the shaft sticking out of his arm to make
sure there were no splinters.

 The Banner-General was down off her bay, too, and frowning. "My eyes are lowered that you have
been injured, my Lord. I'd heard that there has been an increase in crime of late, arsons, robbers killing
when there was no need, murders done for no reason anyone knows. I should have protected you

 "Grit your teeth, my Lord," Barmanes said, tying a length of leather cord just above the arrowhead. "Are
you ready, my Lord?" Perrin tightened his jaw and nodded, and Barmanes jerked the bloodstained shaft
free. Perrin stifled a groan.

 "Your eyes aren't lowered." he said hoarsely. Whatever that meant. It did not sound good, the way she
said it. "Nobody asked you to wrap me in swaddling. I certainly never did." Neald pushed through the
crowd surrounding Perrin, his hands already raised, but Perrin waved him away. "Not here, man. People
can see." Folk in the street had finally noticed and were gathering to watch, murmuring excitedly to one
another. "He can Heal this so you'd never know I was hurt," he explained, flexing his arm experimentally.
He winced. That had been a bad idea.

 "You'd let him use the One Power on you?" Tylee said disbeliev-ingly.

 "To be rid of a hole in my arm and a slice across my chest? As soon as we're somewhere half the town
isn't staring at us. Wouldn't you?"

 She shivered and made that peculiar gesture again. He was going to have to ask her what that meant. 

 Mishima joined them, leading his horse and looking grave. "Two men fell from that roof with bows and
quivers," he said quietly, "but it wasn't that fall that killed them. They hit the pavement hard, yet there was
hardly any blood. I think they took poison when they saw they'd failed to kill you."

 "That doesn't make any sense." Perrin muttered.

 "If men will kill themselves rather than report failure," Tylee said gravely, "it means you have a powerful

 A powerful enemy? Very likely Masema would like to see him dead, but there was no way Masema's
reach could extend this far. "Any enemies I have are far away and don't know where I am." Tylee and
Mishima agreed that he must know about that, but they looked doubtful. Then again, there were always
the Forsaken. Some of them had tried to kill him before. Others had tried to use him. He did not think he
was going to bring the Forsaken into the discussion. His arm was throbbing. The cut on his chest, too.
"Let's find an inn where I can hire a room." Fifty-one knots. How many more? Light, how many more?



 "Push them!" Elayne shouted. Fireheart tried to dance, impatient at being crowded in a narrow
cobblestone street with other horses and women afoot, but she steadied the black gelding with a firm
hand. Birgitte had insisted she remain well back. Insisted! As if she were a brainless fool! "Push them,
burn you!"

 None of the hundreds of men on the wide guardwalk atop the city wall, white-streaked gray stone
rearing fifty feet, paid her any heed, of course. It was doubtful they heard her. Amid shouts of their own,
curses and screams, the clash of steel rang over the broad street that ran alongside the wall beneath the
noonday sun suspended in a rare cloudless sky as those men sweated and killed one another with sword
or spear or halberd. The melee spanned two hundred paces of the wall, enveloping three of the high
round towers where the White Lion of Andor flew and threatening two more, though all still seemed
secure, thank the Light. Men stabbed and hacked and thrust, no one giving ground or quarter that she
could see. Red-coated crossbowmen atop the towers did their share of killing, but once fired, a
crossbow required time to ready for another shot, and they were too few to turn the tide in any case. 

They were the only Guardsmen up there. The rest were mercenaries. Save Birgitte. This near, the bond
let Elayne's eye find her Warder easily, intricate golden braid swaying as she shouted encouragement to
her soldiers, pointing her bow to where reinforcement was needed. In her short white-collared red coat
and wide sky-blue trousers tucked into her boots, she alone atop the wall wore no armor of any sort.
She had insisted Elayne don plain gray in the hope of avoiding notice, and any effort to capture or kill
her-some of the men up there had crossbows or shortbows slung on their backs, and for those not in the
forefront and engaged, fifty paces made an easy shot-but the four golden knots of rank on her own
shoulder would make Birgitte the target of any of Arymilla's men with eyes. At least she was not actually
mingling in the press. At least she. . . .

 Elayne's breath caught as a wiry fellow in breastplate and conical steel cap lunged at Birgitte with a
sword, but the golden-haired woman dodged the thrust calmly-the bond said she might have been out for
a hard ride, no more!-and a backhand blow with her bow caught the fellow on the side of his head,
knocking him from the rampart. He had time to scream before he hit the paving stones with a sickening
splat. His was not the only corpse decorating the street. Birgitte said men would not follow you unless
they knew you were ready to face the same dangers and hardships they did. but if she got herself killed
with this man-foolishness. . . .

 Elayne did not realize she had heeled Fireheart forward until Ca-seille seized her bridle. 'I am not an
idiot, Guardswoman Lieutenant," she said frigidly. "I have no intention of going closer until it is . . . safe."

 The Arafellin woman jerked her hand back, her face becoming very still behind the face-bars of her
burnished conical helmet. Instantly. Elayne felt sorry for the outburst-Caseille was just doing her job- but
she still felt coldly angry, too. She would not apologize. Shame surged as she recognized the sulkiness of
her own thoughts. Blood and bloody ashes, but there were times she wanted to slap Rand for planting
these babes in her. These days, she could not be certain from one moment to the next which way her
emotions would leap. Leap they did, however.

 "If this is what happens to you when you get with child," Aviendha said, adjusting the dark shawl looped
over her arms. "I think I will never have any." The high-cantled saddle of her dun pushed her bulky Aiel
skirts high enough to bare her stockinged legs to the knee, but she showed no discomfort at the display.
With the mare standing still, she looked quite at home on a horse. But then, Mageen, Daisy in the Old
Tongue, was a gentle, placid animal tending to stoutness. Luckily, Aviendha was too ignorant of horses to
realize that.

 Muffled laughter pulled Elayne's head around. The women of her bodyguard, all twenty-one of them
assigned this morning counting Caseille. in polished helmets and breastplates, wore smooth faces- much
too smooth, in fact; without doubt they were laughing inside- but the four Kinswomen standing behind
them had hands over their mouths and their heads together. AJise, a pleasant-faced woman normally,
with touches of gray in her hair, saw her looking-well, glaring-and rolled her eyes ostentatiously, which
set the others off in another round of laughter. Caiden, aplumply pretty Domani, laughed so hard she had 

to hold on to Kumiko, though the stout graying woman seemed to be having her own difficulties. Irritation
stabbed at Elayne. Not at the laughter-all right, a little at the laughter-and certainly not at the Kinswomen.
Not very much, at least. They were invaluable.

 This fight on the wall was not Arymilla's first assault in recent weeks by far. In truth, the frequency was
increasing, with three or four attacks coming some days, now. She knew very well that Elayne had
insufficient soldiers to hold six leagues of wall. Burn her, Elayne was all too aware that she could not even
spare trained hands to fit hoardings to all those miles of wall and towers. Untrained hands would only
bungle the work. All Arymilla needed was to get enough men across to seize a gate. Then she could bring
the battle into the city, where Elayne would be badly outnumbered. The population might rise in her
favor, no certain thing, yet that only meant adding to the slaughter, apprentices and grooms and
shopkeepers fighting trained armsmen and mercenaries. Whoever sat on the Lion Throne then-and very
likely that would not be Elayne Trakand-it would be stained red with the blood of Caemlyn. So apart
from holding the gates and leaving watchmen on the towers, she had pulled all of her soldiers back into
the Inner City, close to the Royal Palace, and stationed men with looking glasses in the tallest spires of
the palace. Whenever a watchman signaled an attack forming, linked Kinswomen made gateways to
carry soldiers to the spot. They took no part in the fighting, of course. She would not have allowed them
to use the Power as a weapon even had they been willing.

 So far it had worked, though often by a hair. Low Caemlyn, outside the walls, was a warren of houses,
shops, inns and warehouses that allowed men to close before they were seen. Three times her soldiers
had been forced to fight on the ground inside the wall and to retake at least one wall tower. Bloody
work, that. She would have burned Low Caemlyn to the ground to deny Arymilla's people cover, except
that the fire might easily spread inside the walls and spawn a conflagration, spring rains or no spring rains.
As it was. every night saw arsons inside the city, and containing chose was difficult enough. Besides,
people lived in those houses despite the siege, and she did not want to be remembered as the one who
had destroyed their homes and livelihoods. No, what nettled her was that she had not thought of using the
Kin that way earlier. If she had, she would not be saddled with Sea Folk still, not to mention a bargain
that gave up a square mile of Andor. Light, a square mile! Her mother had never given up one inch of
Andor. Burn her, this siege hardly gave her time to mourn her mother. Or Lini, her old nursemaid. Rahvin
had murdered her mother, and likely Lini had died trying to protect her. White-haired and thin with age,
Lini would not have backed down even for one of the Forsaken. But thinking of Lini made her hear the
woman's reedy voice. You can't put honey back in the comb, child. What was done, was done, and she
had to live with it.

 "That's it. then." Caseille said. "They're making for the ladders." It was true. All along the wall Elayne's
soldiers were pushing forward, Arymilla's falling back, climbing through the crenels where their ladders
were propped. Men still died on the rampart, but the fight was ending.

 Elayne surprised herself by digging her heels into Fireheart's flanks. No one was quick enough to catch
her this time. Pursued by shouts, she galloped across the street and flung herself out of the saddle at the
base of the nearest tower before the gelding was fully halted. Pushing open the heavy door, she gathered
her divided skirts and raced up the widdershins spiraling stairs, past large niches where clusters of 

armored men stared in amazement as she darted by. These towers were made to be defended against
attackers trying to make their way down and into the city. At last the stairs opened into a large room
where stairs on the other side spiraled upward in the opposite direction. Twenty men in mismatched
helmets and breastplates were taking their ease, tossing dice, sitting against the wall, calking and laughing
as if there were no dead men beyond the room's two iron-strapped doors.

 Whatever they were doing, they stopped to gape when she appeared.

 "Uh, my Lady, I wouldn't do that," a rough voice said as she laid hands on the iron bar across one of the
doors. Ignoring the man. she turned the bar on its pivot pin and pushed the door open. A hand caught at
her skirt, but she pulled free.

 None of Arymilla's men remained on the wall. None standing, at least. Dozens of men lay on the
blood-streaked guardwalk, some still, others groaning. Any number of those might belong to Arymilla,
but the ringing of steel had vanished. Most of the mercenaries were tending the wounded, or just
squatting on their heels to catch their breath.

 "Shake them off and pull up the bloody ladders!" Birgitte shouted. Loosing an arrow into the mass of
men trying to flee down the dirt-paved Low Caemlyn street below the wall, she nocked another and fired
again. "Make them build more if they want to come again!" Some of the mercenaries leaned through
crenels to obey, but only a handful. "I knew I shouldn't have let you come along today," she went on, still
loosing shafts as fast as she could nock and draw. Crossbow bolts from the towertops struck down men
below as well, but tile-roofed warehouses offered shelter here for any who could get inside.

 It took a moment for Elayne to realize that last comment had been directed at her, and her face heated.
"And how would you have stopped me?" she demanded, drawing herself up.

 Quiver empty, Birgitte lowered her bow and turned with a scowl. "By tying you up and having her sit on
you," she said, nodding toward Aviendha, who was striding out of the tower. The glow of saidar
surrounded her. yet her horn-hilted belt knife was in her fist. Caseille and the rest of the Guardswomen
spilled out behind her. swords in hand and faces grim. Seeing Elayne unharmed changed their expressions
not a whit. Those bloody women were insufferable when it came to treating her like a blown glass vase
that might break at the rap of a knuckle. They would be worse than ever after this. And she would have
to suffer it.

 "I would have caught you," Aviendha muttered, rubbing her hip, "except that fool horse tossed me off."
That was highly unlikely with such a placid mare. Aviendha had simply managed to fall off. Seeing the 

situation, she slipped her knife back into its sheath quickly, trying to pretend she had never had it out. The
light of saidar vanished, too.

 "I was quite safe." Elayne tried to remove the acerbic touch from her voice, without much success. "Min
said I will bear my babes, sister. Until they're born, no harm can come to me."

 Aviendha nodded slowly, thoughtfully, but Birgitte growled, "I'd just as soon you didn't put her visions to
the test. Take too many chances, and you might prove her wrong." That was foolish. Min was never
wrong. Surely not.

 "That was Aldin Miheres' company," a tall mercenary said in a lilting if rough Murandian accent as he
removed his helmet to reveal a lean, sweaty face with gray-streaked mustaches waxed to spikes. Rhys
a'Balaman, as he called himself, had eyes like stones and a thin-lipped smile that always seemed a leer.
He had been listening to their conversation, and he kept darting sideways glances at Elayne while he
talked to Birgitte. "I recognized him, I did. Good man. Miheres. I fought alongside him more times than I
can number, I have. He'd almost made it to that warehouse door when your arrow took him in the neck,
Captain-General. A shame, that."

 Elayne frowned. "He made his choice as you did. Captain. You may regret the death of a friend, but I
hope you aren't regretting your choice." Most of the mercenaries she had put out of the city, maybe all,
had signed on with Arymilla. Her greatest fear at present was that the woman would succeed in bribing
companies still inside the walls. None of the mercenary captains had reported anything, but Mistress
Harfor said approaches had been made. Including an approach to a'Balaman.

 The Murandian favored her with his leer and a formal bow, flourishing a cloak he was not wearing. "Oh,
1 fought against him as often as with, my Lady. I'd have killed him, or he'd have killed me. had we come
face to face this fine day. More acquaintance than friend, you see. And I'd much rather take gold to
defend a wall like this than to attack it."

 "I notice some of your men have crossbows on their backs. Captain, but I didn't see any using them."

 "Not the mercenary way," Birgitte said dryly. Irritation floated in the bond, though whether with
a'Balaman or Elayne there was no way to know. The sensation vanished quickly. Birgitte had learned to
master her emotions once they discovered how she and Elayne mirrored one another through the bond.
Very likely she wished Elayne could do the same, but then, so did Elayne. 

 A'Balaman rested his helmet on his hip. "You see, my Lady, the way of it is. if you press a man too hard
when he's trying to get off the field, attempting to ride him down and the like, well, the next time it's you
trying to get off the field, he might return the favor. After all, if a man's leaving the field, then he's out of
the fight, now isn't he?"

 "Until he comes back tomorrow." Elayne snapped. "The next time, I want to see those crossbows put to

 "As you say, my Lady," a'Balaman said stiffly, making an equally stiff bow. "If you'll pardon me, I must
be seeing to my men." He stalked off without waiting on her pardon, shouting to his men to stir their lazy

 "How far can he be trusted?" Elayne asked softly.

 "As far as any mercenary," Birgitte replied, just as quietly. "If someone offers him enough gold, it
becomes a toss of the dice, and not even Mat Cauthon could say how they'll land."

 That was a very odd remark. She wished she knew how Mat was. And dear Thom. And poor little
Olver. Every night she offered prayers that they had escaped the Seanchan safely. There was nothing she
could do to help them, though. She had enough on her plate trying to help herself at the moment. "Will he
obey me? About the crossbows?"

 Birgitte shook her head, and Elayne sighed. It was bad to give orders that would not be obeyed. It put
people in the habit of disobeying.

 Moving close, she spoke in a near whisper. "You look tired, Birgitte." This was nothing for anyone else's
ears. Birgitte's face was tight, her eyes haggard. Anyone could see that, but the bond said she was
bone-weary, as it had for clays now. But then, Elayne felt that same dragging tiredness, as though her
limbs were made of lead. Their bond mirrored more than emotions. "You don't have to lead every
counterattack yourself."

 "And who else is there?" For a moment weariness larded Birgitte's voice, too, and her shoulders actually
slumped, but she straightened quickly and strengthened her tone. It was pure willpower. Elayne could
feel it, stone hard in the bond, so hard she wanted to weep. "My officers are inexperienced boys," 

Birgitte went on, "or else men who came out of retirement and should still be warming their bones in front
of their grandchildren's fireplace. Except for the mercenary captains, anyway, and there isn't one I'd trust
without someone looking over his shoulder. Which brings us back to: Who else but me?"

 Elayne opened her mouth to argue. Not about the mercenaries. Birgitte had explained about them,
bitterly and at great length. At times, mercenaries would fight as hard as any Guardsman, but other times,
they pulled back rather than take too many casualties. Fewer men meant less gold for their next hire
unless they could be replaced with men as good. Battles that could have been won had been lost instead
because mercenaries left the field to preserve their numbers. They disliked doing it if anybody except
their own kind was watching, though. That spoiled their reputation and lowered their hire price. But there
had to be someone else. She could not afford Birgitte falling over from exhaustion. Light, she wished
Gareth Bryne were there. Egwene needed him, but so did she. She opened her mouth, and suddenly
rumbling booms crashed from the city behind her. She turned, and her mouth stayed open, gaping in
astonishment, now.

 Where moments before there had been clear sky over the Inner City, a huge mass of black clouds
loomed like sheer-sided mountains, forked lightning slashing down through a gray wall of rain that
seemed as solid as the city walls. The gilded domes of the Royal Palace that should have been glittering in
the sun were invisible behind that wall. That torrent fell only over the Inner City. Everywhere else the sky
remained bright and cloudless. There was nothing natural in that. Amazement lasted only moments,
though. That silver-blue lightning. three-tined, five-tined, was striking inside Caemlyn, causing damage
and maybe deaths. How had those clouds come to be? She reached to embrace saiciar, to disperse
them. The True Source slipped away from her, and then again. It was like trying to grasp a bead buried
in a pot of grease. Just when she thought she had it, it squirted away. It was like this far too often, now.

 "Aviendha. will you deal with that, please?"

 "Of course," Aviendha replied, embracing saidar easily. Elayne stifled a surge of jealousy. Her difficulty
was Rand's bloody fault, not her sister's. "And thank you. I need the practice."

 That was untrue, an attempt to spare her feelings. Aviendha began weaving Air, Fire, Water and Earth in
complex patterns, and doing so nearly as smoothly as she herself could have, if much more slowly. Her
sister lacked her skill with weather, but then, she had not had the advantage of Sea Folk teaching. The
clouds did not simply vanish, of course. First the lightnings became single bolts, dwindled in number, then
ceased. That was the hardest part. Calling lightning was twirling a feather between your fingers compared
to stopping it. That was more like picking up a blacksmith's anvil in your hands. Then the clouds began to
spread out. to thin and grow paler. Thar was slow. too. Doing too much too fast with weather could
cause effecrs that rippled across the countryside for leagues, and you never knew what the effects might
be. Raging storms and flash floods were as likely as balmy days and gentle breezes. By the time the
clouds had spread far enough to reach the outer walls of Caemlyn. they were gray and dropping a
steady, soaking downpour that quickly slicked Elayne's curls to her scalp. 

 "Is that enough?" Smiling, Aviendha turned her face up to let the rain run down her cheeks. "I love to
watch water falling from rhe sky." Light, you would think she had had enough of rain. It had rained nearly
every bloody day since spring came!

 "It's time to be getting back to the palace, Elayne," Birgitte said, tucking her bowstring into her coat
pocket. She had begun unstringing her bow as soon as the clouds began moving toward them. "Some of
these men need a sister's attention. And my breakfast seems two days past."

 Elayne scowled. The bond carried a wariness that told her all she needed to know. They must return to
the palace to get Elayne, in her delicate condition, out of the rain. As if she might melt! Abruptly she
became aware of the groans from the wounded, and her face grew hot. Those men did need a sister's
attention. Even if she could hold on to saidar, the least of their injuries were beyond her modest abilities,
and Aviendha was no better at Healing.

 "Yes. it is time," she said. If only she could get her emotions back under control! Birgitte would be
pleased at that, too. Spots of color decorated her cheeks, too, echoes of Elayne's shame. They looked
very odd with the frown she wore as she hurried Elayne into the tower.

 Fireheart and Mageen and the other horses were all standing patiently where their reins had been
dropped, as Elayne expected. Even Mageen was well trained. They had the wall street utterly to
themselves until Alise and the other Kin walked out of the narrower way. There was not a cart or wagon
to be seen. Every door in sight was tightly shut, every window curtained, though there might well be no
one behind any of them. Most people had had sense enough to leave as soon they caught a glimmering
that hundreds of men were about to start swinging swords in their vicinity. One curtain twitched; a
woman's face showed for a moment, then vanished. Some others took ghoulish delight in watching.

 Talking quietly among themselves, the four Kinswomen took their places where they had opened their
gateway some hours earlier. They eyed the corpses in the street and shook their heads, but these were
not the first dead men they had seen. Not one would have been allowed to test for Accepted, yet they
were calm, sure of themselves, as dignified as sisters despite the rain soaking their hair and dresses.
Learning Eg-wene's plans for the Kin. to be associated with the Tower and a place for Aes Sedai to
retire, had lessened their fears over their future, especially once they found out that their Rule would
remain in place and the former Aes Sedai would have to follow it, too. Not all believed- over the last
month, seven of their number had run away without leaving so much as a note-yet most did, and took
strength from belief. Having work to do had restored their pride. Elayne had not realized that had been
dented until they stopped seeing themselves as refugees wholly dependent on her. They held themselves
straighter, now. Worry had vanished from their faces. And they were not so quick to bend their necks for
a sister, unfortunately. Though that part of it really had begun earlier. They once had considered Aes 

Sedai superior to mortal flesh, but had learned to their dismay that the shawl did not make a woman
more than she was without it.

 Alise eyed Elayne, compressing her lips for a moment and adjusting her brown skirts unnecessarily. She
had argued against Elayne being allowed-allowed!-to come here. And Birgitte had almost given way!
Alise was a forceful woman. "Are you ready for us. Captain-General?" she said.

 "We are," Elayne said, but Alise waited until Birgitte nodded before linking with the other three
Kinswomen. She ignored Elayne after that one glance. Really, Nynaeve should never have begun trying
to "put some backbone into them," as she had put it. When she could lay hands on Nynaeve again, she
was going to have words with the woman.

 The familiar vertical slash appeared and seemed to rotate into a view of the main stableyard in the
palace, a hole in the air nearly four paces by four, but the view through the opening, of the tall arched
doors of one of the white marble stables, was a little off-center from what she expected. When she rode
onto the rain-drenched flagstones of the stableyard. she saw why. There was another gateway, slightly
smaller, open. If you tried to open a gateway where one already existed, yours was displaced just
enough that the two did not touch, though the gap between was thinner than a razor's edge. From that
other gateway a twinned column of men seemed to be riding out of the stable-yard's outer wall, curving
away to exit the stableyard through the open iron-strapped gates. Some wore burnished helmets and
breastplates or plate-and-mail, but every man had on the white-collared red coat of the Queen's Guard.
A tall, broad-shouldered man with two golden knots on the left shoulder of his red coat stood in the rain
watching them, helmet balanced on his hip.

 "That's a sight to soothe sore eyes," Birgitte murmured. Small groups of Kinswomen were scouring the
countryside for anyone trying to come to Elayne's support, but it was a chancy business. Thus far, the
Kinswomen had brought word of dozens and dozens of groups trying to find a way into the city, yet they
had only managed to locate five bands totaling fewer than a thousand. Word had spread of how many
men Arymilla had around the city, and men supporting Trakand were skittish about being found. About
who might do the finding.

 As soon as Elayne and the others appeared, red-clad grooms with the White Lion on their left shoulders
came running. A scrawny, gap-toothed fellow with a fringe of white hair took Fireheart's bridle while a
lean, graying woman held Elayne's stirrup for her to dismount. Ignoring the downpour, she strode toward
the tall man, splashing water with every step. His hair hung every which way over his face, clinging wetly,
but she could see he was young, well short of his middle years.

 "The Light shine on you, Lieutenant," she said. "Your name? How many did you bring? And from
where?" Through that smaller opening she could see a line of horsemen extending out of sight among tall 

trees. Whenever a pair rode through, another appeared at the far end of the column. She would not have
believed that many of the Guards remained anywhere.

 "Charlz Guybon, my Queen," he replied, sinking to one knee and pressing a gauntleted fist to the
flagstones. "Captain Kindlin in Aringill gave me permission to try reaching Caemlyn. That was after we
learned Lady Naean and the others had escaped."

 Elayne laughed. "Stand, man. Stand. I'm not Queen yet." Aringill? There had never been so many of the
Guards there.

 "As you say, my Lady," he said as he regained his feet and made a bow that was more proper for the

 "Can we continue this inside?" Birgitte put in irritably. Guybon took in her coat with its gold stripes on
the cuffs and knots of rank, and offered a salute that she returned with a quick arm across her chest. If he
was surprised to see a woman as Captain-General, he was wise enough not to show it. "I'm soaked to
the skin, and so are you. Elayne." Aviendha was right behind her. shawl wrapped around her head and
not looking so pleased with rain now that her white blouse clung wetly and her dark skirts hung with
water. The Guardswomen were leading their horses toward one of the stables, except for the eight who
would remain with Elayne until their replacements arrived. Guybon made no comment on them, either. A
very wise man.

 Elayne allowed herself to be hustled as far as the simple colonnade that offered entrance to the palace
itself. Even here the Guardswomen surrounded her, four ahead and four behind, so she felt a prisoner.
Once out of the rain, though, she balked. She wanted to know. She tried again to embrace
saidar-removing the moisture from her clothes would be a simple matter with the Power-but the Source
skittered away once more. Aviendha did not know the weave, so they had to stand there dripping. The
plain iron stand-lamps along the wall were still unlit, and with the rain, the space was dim. Guybon raked
his hair into a semblance of order with his fingers. Light, he was little short of beautiful! His greenish hazel
eyes were tired, but his face seemed suited to smiling. He looked as if he had not smiled in too long.

 "Captain Kindlin said I could try to find men who d been discharged by Gaebril, my Lady, and they
started flocking in as soon as I put out the call. You'd be surprised how many tucked their uniforms into a
chest against the day they might be wanted again. A good many carried off their armor, too. which they
shouldn't have done, strictly speaking, but I'm glad they did. I feared I'd waited too long when I heard of
the siege. I was considering trying to fight my way to one of the city gates when Mistress Zigane and the
others found me." A puzzled look came over his face. "She became very upset when I called her Aes
Sedai. but that has to be the One Power that brought us here.'' 

 "It was, and she isn't," Elayne said impatiently. "How many, man?"

 "Four thousand seven hundred and sixty-two of the Guards, my Lady. And I encountered a number of
lords and ladies who were trying to reach Caemlyn with their armsmen. Be content. I made sure they
were loyal to you before I let them join me. There are none from the great Houses, but they bring the
total near to ten thousand, my Lady." He said that as if it were of no moment at all. There are forty horses
fit for riding in the stable. I have brought you ten thousand soldiers.

 Elayne laughed and clapped her hands in delight. "Wonderful, Captain Guybon! Wonderful!" Arymilla
still had her outnumbered. but not so badly as before.

 "Guardsman Lieutenant, my Lady. I am a Lieutenant."

 "From this moment, you are Captain Guybon."

 "And my second." Birgitte added, "at least for the present. You've shown resourcefulness, you're old
enough to have experience, and I need both."

 Guybon seemed overwhelmed, bowing and murmuring stammered thanks. Well, a man of his age would
normally expect to serve at least ten or fifteen more years before being considered for captain, much less
second to the Captain-General, however temporary.

 "And now it's past time for us to be getting into dry clothes," Birgitte continued. "Especially you, Elayne."
The Warder bond carried an implacable firmness that suggested she might try dragging Elayne if she

 Temper flared, hot and sharp, but Elayne fought it down. She had nearly doubled the number of her
soldiers, and she would not let anything spoil this day. Besides, she wanted dry clothes, too.


 Wet Things

 Inside, the gilded stand-lamps were lit, since daylight never penetrated far into the palace, flames
flickering on the lamps that lacked glass mantles. The lamps' mirrors provided a good light in the bustling
corridor, though, and bustling it was, with liveried servants scurrying in every direction, or sweeping or
mopping. Serving men with the White Lion on the left breast of their red coats were up on tall ladders
taking down the winter tapestries, mainly flowers and scenes of summer, and putting up the spring
tapestries, many displaying the colorful foliage of fall. Always two seasons ahead for the majority of the
hangings was the custom, to provide a touch of relief from winter's cold or summer's heat, to remind
while spring's new growth was on all the trees that the branches would grow bare and the snows come
again, to remind when dead leaves were falling and the first snows, too, and days grew ever colder, that
there would be a spring. There were a few battles among them, showing days of particular glory for
Andor, but Elayne did not enjoy looking at those as much as she had as a girl. Still, they had their place
now. as well, tokens of what battle actually was. The difference between how a child looked at things
and a woman did. Glory was always bought with blood. Glory aside, necessary things were often paid
for with battle and blood.

 There were too few servants to carry out such tasks in a timely manner, and a fair number were
white-haired pensioners with bent backs who seldom moved quickly in any case. However slow they
were, she was glad they had willingly come out of retirement, to train those newly hired and take up the
slack left by those who had fled while Gaebril reigned or after Rand took Caemlyn, else the palace would
have taken on the aspect of a barn by this time. A dirty barn. At least all of the winter runners were up off
the floors. She left a damp trail behind her on the red-and-white floor tiles, and with all the spring rains,
wet runners would have been sprouting mildew before nightfall.

 Servants in red-and-white hurrying about their duties looked aghast as they bowed or curtsied, which
did nothing for her temper. They did not appear upset to see Aviendha or Birgitte drenched and dripping,
or the Guardswomen either. Burn her, if everyone did not stop expecting her to be mollycoddled all the
day long. . . ! Her scowl was such that the servants began making their courtesies quickly and scurrying
on. Her temper was becoming the stuff of evening stories in front of the fireplace, though she tried not to
unleash it on servants. On anyone, really, but more so with servants. They lacked the luxury of shouting

 She intended to go straight to her apartments and change, but intentions or no, she turned aside when
she saw Reanne Corly walking in a crossing corridor where the floor tiles were all red. The servants'
reactions had nothing to do with it. She was not being stubborn. She was wet, and she wanted dry
clothing and a warm towel in the worst way, but seeing the Kinswoman was a surprise, and the two
women with Reanne also caught her eye. Birgitte muttered a curse before following her. swishing her
bowstave sideways through the air as though thinking of striking someone. The bond carried a blend of
long-suffering and irritability, soon stifled. Aviendha never left Elayne's side, though busily trying to wring
water out of her shawl. Despite all the rain she had seen, all the rivers since crossing the Spine of the 

World and the great cisterns beneath the city, Aviendha winced at the waste, the water splashing
uselessly on the floor. The eight Guardswomen. left behind by her sudden swerve, hurried to catch up,
stolid and silent except for the stamp of their boots on the floor tiles. Give anyone a sword and boots,
and they began stamping.

 One of the women with Reanne was Kara Defane, who had been the wise woman, or Healer, of a
fishing village on Toman Head before the Seanchan collared her. Plump and merry-eyed in brown wool
with embroidered blue and white flowers at her cuffs, Kara appeared little older than Elayne. though she
was nearly fifty. The other was named Jillari. a former damane from Seanchan. Despite everything, the
sight of her made Elayne's flesh feel cold. Whatever else could be said of her, the woman was Seanchan.
after all.

 Not even Jillari herself knew how old she was, though she appeared just into her middle years. Slight of
build, with long, fiery red hair and eyes as green as Aviendha's. she and Marille, the other Seanchan-born
damane who remained in the palace, persisted in maintaining that they still were damane. that they needed
to be collared because of what they could do. Daily walks were one way the Kin were trying to
accustom them to freedom. Carefully supervised walks, of course. They were always closely watched,
day and night. Either might try to free the suldam, otherwise. For that matter, Kara herself was not
trusted alone with any of the sul'dam. nor was Lemore, a young Taraboner noble collared when Tanchico
fell. The notion would not come to them on its own, yet there was no saying what either would do if a
suldam ordered her to help the woman escape. The habit of obedience remained strong in Kara and
Lemore both.

 Jillari's eyes widened at the sight of Elayne. and she immediately fell to her knees with a thud. She tried
to fold herself into a bundle on the floor, but Kara caught her shoulders and gently urged her back to her
feet. Elayne tried not to let her distaste show. And hoped that if it did. everyone would take it for the
kneeling and crouching. Some of it was. How could anyone want to be collared? She heard Lini's voice
again, and shivered. You can't know another woman's reasons until you've worn her dress for a year.
Burn her if she had any desire to do that!

 "No need for all that," Kara said. "This is what we do." She curtsied, not very gracefully. She had never
seen a town larger than a few hundred people before the Seanchan took her. After a moment, the
red-haired woman spread her own dark blue skirts more awkwardly still. She almost fell over, in fact,
and blushed a bright crimson.

 "Jillari is sorry," she almost whispered, folding her hands at her waist. Her eyes, she kept meekly
directed at the floor. "Jillari will try to remember."

 " 'I.' " Kara said. "Remember what I told you? I call you Jillari, but you call yourself'l' or 'me.' Try it. And 

look at me. You can do it." She sounded as though she were encouraging a child.

 The Seanchan woman wet her lips, giving Kara a sidelong look.

 "I." she said softly. And promptly began weeping, tears rolling down her cheeks faster than she could
wipe them away with her fingers. Kara enveloped her in a hug and made soothing noises. She seemed
about to cry, too. Aviendha shifted uncomfortably. It was not the tears-men or women, Aiel wept
unashamed when they felt the need-but for them, touching hands was a great display in public.

 "Why don't you two walk on alone for a while," Reanne told the pair with a comforting smile that
deepened the fine lines at the corners of her blue eyes. Her voice was high and lovely, suitable for singing.
"I'll catch you up, and we can eat together." They offered her curtsies, too. Jillari still weeping, and turned
away with Kara's arm around the smaller woman's shoulders. "If you care to, my Lady," Reanne said
before they had gone two steps, "we could talk on the way to your apartments."

 The woman's face was calm, and her tone put no special freight on the words, yet Elayne's jaw
tightened. She forced it to relax. There was no point in being stubborn stupid. She was wet. And
beginning to shiver, though the day could hardly be called cold. "An excellent suggestion." she said,
gathering her sodden gray skirts. "Come."

 "We could walk a little faster." Birgitte muttered, not quite far enough under her breath.

 "We could run," Aviendha said, without trying to keep her voice low at all. "We might get dry from the

 Elayne ignored them and glided at a suitable pace. In her mother, it would have been called regal. She
was not sure she managed that, but she was not about to run through the palace. Or even hurry. The sight
of her rushing would start a dozen rumors if not a hundred, each one of some dire event worse than the
one before. Too many rumors floated on every breath of air as it was. The worst was that the city was
about to fall, that she planned to flee before it did. No, she would be seen to be utterly unruffled.
Everyone had to believe her completely confident. Even if that was a false facade. Anything else, and she
might as well yield to Arymilla. Fear of defeat had lost as many battles as weakness had, and she could
not afford to lose a single one. "I thought the Captain-General had you out scouting, Reanne."

 Birgitte had been using two of the Kin for scouts, women who could not make a gateway large enough 

to admit a horse cart, but with circles of Kinswomen available to make gateways, for trade as well as
moving soldiers, she had coopted the remaining six who could Travel on their own. An encircling army
was no impediment to them. Yet Re-anne's well-cut, fine blue wool, though unadorned save for a
red-enameled circle pin on the high neck, was decidedly unsuited for skulking about the countryside.

 "The Captain-General believes her scouts need rest. Unlike herself," Reanne added blandly, raising an
eyebrow at Birgitte. The bond carried a brief flash of annoyance. Aviendha laughed for some reason:
Elayne still did not understand Aiel humor. "Tomorrow, I go out again. It takes me back to the days long
ago when I was a pack-peddler with one mule." The Kin all followed many crafts during their long lives,
always changing location and craft before anyone took note of how slowly they aged. The oldest among
them had mastered half a dozen crafts or more, shifting from one to another easily. "I decided to use my
freeday helping Jillari settle on a surname." Reanne grimaced. "It's custom in Seanchan to strike a girl's
name from her family's rolls when she's collared, and the poor woman feels she has no right to the name
she was born with. Jillari was given with the collar, but she wants to keep that."

 "There are more reasons to hate the Seanchan than I can count," Elayne said heatedly. Then, belatedly,
she caught up to the import of it all. Learning to curtsy. Choosing a new surname. Burn her. if pregnancy
was making her slow-witted on top of everything else. . . ! "When did Jillari change her mind about the
collar?" There was no reason to let everyone know she was being dense today.

 The other woman's expression did not alter a whit, but she hesitated just long enough to let Elayne know
her deception had failed. "Just this morning, after you and the Captain-General left, or you'd have been
informed." Reanne hurried on so the point had no time to fester. "And there's other news as good. At
least, it's somewhat good. One of the suldam, Marli Noichin-you recall her?-has admitted seeing the

 "Oh. that is good news," Elayne murmured. "Very good. Twenty-eight more to go, but they might be
easier now that one of them has broken." She had watched an attempt to convince Marli that she could
learn to channel, that she could already see weaves of the Power. The plump Seanchan woman had been
stubbornly defiant even after she began crying.

 "Somewhat good, I said." Reanne sighed. "In Marli's opinion, she might as well have admitted she kills
children. Now she insists that she must be collared. She begs for the a'dam. It makes my skin creep. I
don't know what to do with her."

 "Send her back to the Seanchan as soon as we can," Elayne replied. 

 Reanne stopped dead in shock, her eyebrows climbing. Birgitte cleared her throat loudly-impatience
filled the bond before being stifled-and the Kinswoman gave a start, then began walking again, at a faster
pace than before. "But they'll make her a damane. I can't condemn any woman to that."

 Elayne gave her Warder a look that slid off like a dagger sliding off good armor. Birgitte's expression
was . . . bland. To the golden-haired woman, being a Warder contained strong elements of older sister.
And worse, sometimes mother.

 "/ can," she said emphatically, lengthening her own stride. Well, it would not hurt to get dry a little sooner
rather than later. "She helped hold enough others prisoner that she deserves a taste of it herself, Reanne.
But that's not why I mean to send her back. If any of the others wants to stay and learn, and make up for
what she's done, I certainly won't hand her to the Seanchan, but Light's truth, I hope they all feel like
Marli. They'll put an a'dam on her, Reanne, but they won't be able to keep secret who she was. Every
one-time sul'dam I can send the Seanchan to collar will be a mattock digging at their roots."

 "A harsh decision," Reanne said sadly. She plucked at her skirts in an agitated manner, smoothed them,
then plucked at them again. "Perhaps you might consider thinking on it for a few days? Surely it isn't
anything that has to be done immediately."

 Elayne gritted her teeth. The woman had as much as implied that she had reached this decision in one of
her swinging moods! But had she? It seemed reasonable and logical. They could not keep the sul'dam
imprisoned forever. Sending those who did not want to be free back to the Seanchan was a way to be
rid of them and strike a blow at the Seanchan at the same time. It was more than hatred of any Seanchan.
Of course, it was. Burn her. but she bloody well hated being unsure whether her own decisions were
sound! She could not afford to make unsound decisions. Still, there was no hurry. Better to send back a
group, if possible, in any event. There was less chance of someone arranging an "accident," that way. She
did not put that sort of thing past the Seanchan. "I will think on it, Reanne, but I doubt I'll change my

 Reanne sighed again, deeply. Eager for her promised return to the White Tower and novice white-she
had been heard to say she envied Kirstian and Zarya-she wanted very much to enter the Green Ajah, but
Elayne had her doubts. Reanne was kindhearted. softhearted in fact, and Elayne had never met any
Green who could be called soft. Even those who seemed frilly or frail on the surface were cold steel

 Ahead of them, Vandene glided from a crossing corridor, slender, white-haired and graceful in dark gray
wool with deep brown trim, and turned in the same direction they were going, apparently without noticing
them. She was Green, and as hard as a hammerhead. Jaem, her Warder, walked beside her, head bent
in close conversation, now and then raking a hand through his thinning gray hair. Gnarled and lean, his 

dark green coat hanging loose on him. he was old, but every scrap as hard as she. an old root that could
dull axes. Kirstian and Zarya, both in plain novice white, followed meekly with their hands folded at their
waists, the one pale as a Cairhienin, the other short and slim-hipped. For runaways who had succeeded
in what so few did. remaining free of the White Tower for years, over three hundred years in Kirstian's
case, they had resettled into their places as novices with remarkable ease. But then, the Kin's Rule was a
blending of the rules that governed novices and those that Accepted lived by. Perhaps, to them, the white
woolen dresses and the loss of freedom to come and go as they chose were the only real change, though
the Kin regulated that last to some extent.

 "I'm very glad she has those two to occupy her," Reanne murmured in tones of sympathy. Pained caring
shone in her eyes. "It's good that she mourns her sister, but I fear she'd be obsessed with Adeleas' death
without Kirstian and Zarya. She may be anyway. I believe that dress she's wearing belonged to Adeleas.
I've tried offering solace-I have experience helping people overcome grief; I've been a village Wise
Woman as well as wearing the red belt in Ebou Dar many years ago- but she won't give me two words."

 In fact, Vandene wore only her dead sister's clothing, now, and Adeleas' flowery perfume, as well. At
times. Elayne thought Vandene was trying to become Adeleas, to offer up herself in order to bring her
sister back to life. But could you fault someone for being obsessed with finding who had murdered her
sister? Not that more than a handful of people knew that was what she was doing. Everyone else
believed as Reanne did, that she was absorbed with teaching Kirstian and Zarya. that and beginning their
punishment for running away. Vandene was doing both, of course, and with a will, yet it was really just a
cover for her true purpose.

 Elayne reached out without looking, and found Aviendha's hand waiting to take hers, a comforting grip.
She squeezed back, unable to imagine the grief of losing Aviendha. They shared a quick glance, and
Aviendha's eyes mirrored her own feelings. Had she really once thought Aiel faces impassive and

 "As you say. Reanne. she has Kirstian and Zarya to occupy her." Reanne was not among the handful
who knew the truth. "We all mourn in our own way. Vandene will find solace along her own path."

 When she found Adeleas' murderer, it was to be hoped. If that failed to at least begin assuaging the pain.
. . . Well, that was to be faced when it must be. For now, she must allow Vandene her head. Especially
since she had no doubt the Green would ignore any attempt to rein her in. That was more than irritating; it
was infuriating. She had to watch Vandene perhaps destroying herself, and worse, make use of it. Having
no alternative made that no less unpalatable.

 As Vandene and her companions turned aside down another hallway, Reene Harfor appeared out of a
side corridor right in front of Elayne, a stout, quiet woman with a graying bun atop her head and an air of 

regal dignity, her formal scarlet tabard with the White Lion of Andor as always looking freshly ironed.
Elayne had never seen her with a hair out of place or looking even slightly the worse for a long day spent
overseeing the workings of the palace. And more besides. Her round face appeared puzzled for some
reason, but it took on a look of concern at the sight of Elayne. "Why, my Lady, you're drenched." she
said, sounding shocked, as she made her curtsy. "You need to get out of those wet things right away."

 "Thank you, Mistress Harfor," Elayne said through her teeth. "1 hadn't noticed."

 She regretted the outburst instantly-the First Maid had been as faithful to her as to her mother-but what
made matters worse was that Mistress Harfor took her flare-up in stride, never so much as blinking.
Elayne Trakand's moods were no longer anything to be surprised at.

 "I will walk with you if I may, my Lady," she said calmly, falling in at Elayne's side. A freckled young
serving woman carrying a basket of folded bed linens began to offer her courtesies, only a hair more
directed at Elayne than the First Maid, but Reene made a quick gesture that sent the girl scurrying before
she completed bending her knees. Perhaps it was just to keep her from overhearing. Reene did not stop
talking. "Three of the mercenary captains are demanding to meet with you. I put them in the Blue
Reception Room, and told the servants to keep watch so no small valuables accidentally fall into their
pockets. Not that I had to, as it turned out. Careane Sedai and Sareitha Sedai appeared soon after and
settled in to keep the captains company. Captain Mellar is with them, too."

 Elayne frowned. Mellar. She was trying to keep him too busy for mischief, yet he had a way of turning
up where and when she least wanted him. For that matter, so did Careane and Sareitha. One of them
had to be the Black Ajah killer. Unless it was Merilille, and she was beyond reach, it seemed. Reene
knew about that. Keeping her in the dark would have been criminal. She had eyes everywhere, and they
might notice a vital clue. "What do the mercenaries want. Mistress Harfor?"

 "More money, is my guess," Birgitte growled, and swung her unstrung bow like a club.

 "Most likely," Reene agreed, "but they refused to tell me." Her mouth tightened slightly. No more than
that, yet it seemed these mercenaries had managed to offend her. If they were stupid enough not to see
that she was more than a superior serving woman, then they were very dense indeed.

 "Has Dyelin returned?" Elayne asked, and when the First Maid said not, added, "Then I will see these
mercenaries as soon as I've changed clothes." She might as well get them out of the way. 

 Rounding a corner, she found herself face-to-face with two of the Windfinders and barely suppressed a
sigh. The Sea Folk were the last people on earth she wanted to confront right then. Lean and dark and
barefoot in red brocaded silk trousers and a blue brocaded silk blouse with a green sash tied in an
elaborate knot. Chanelle din Seran White Shark was aptly named. Elayne had no idea what a white
shark looked like-it might well have been a little thing-but Chanelle's big eyes were hard enough to
belong on a fierce predator, especially when she took in Aviendha. There was bad blood, there. A
tattooed hand raised the gold piercework scent box hanging on a chain about Chanelle's neck, and she
inhaled the sharp, spicy scent deeply, as though covering some foul odor. Aviendha laughed out loud,
which made Chanelle's full lips grow thin. Thinner, at least. Thin was beyond them.

 The other was Renaile din Calon. once Windfinder to the Mistress of the Ships, in blue linen trousers
and a red blouse sashed with blue, tied in a much less intricate knot. Both women wore the long white
mourning stoles for Nesta din Reas, yet Renaile must have felt Nesta's death most keenly. She was
carrying a carved wooden writing box with a capped ink jar set in one corner and a sheet of paper with a
few scrawled lines clipped to its top. Wings of white in her black hair hid the six gold earrings in her ears,
much thinner rings than the eight she had worn before learning of Nesta's fate, and the gold honor chain
crossing her dark left cheek looked stark supporting only the medallion that named her clan. After Sea
Folk custom, Nesta's death had meant starting over for Renaile, with no more rank than a woman raised
from apprentice on the day she herself had put off her honors. Her face still held dignity, though much
subdued now that she was acting as Chanelle's secretary.

 "I am on my way-" Elayne began, but Chanelle cut her off imperiously.

 "What news do you have of Talaan? And of Merilille. Are you even trying to find them?"

 Elayne took a deep breath. Shouting at Chanelle never did any good. The woman was more than willing
to shout back and seldom willing to listen to reason. She would not engage in another screaming match.
Servants slipping by to either side did not pause to offer bows or curtsies-they could sense the mood
here-but they shot grim looks at the Sea Folk women. That was pleasing, though it should not have been.
However upsetting they were, the Windfinders were guests. In a way. they were, bargain or no bargain.
Chanelle had complained more than once of slow-footed servants and tepid bathwater. And that was
pleasing, too. Still, she would maintain her dignity, and civility.

 "The news is the same as yesterday," she replied in tones of moderation. Well, she attempted tones of
moderation. If traces of sharpness remained, the Windfinder would have to live with them. "The same as
last week, and the week before that. Inquiries have been made at every inn in Caemlyn. Your apprentice
is not to be found. Merilille is not to be found. It seems they must have managed to leave the city." The
gate guards had been warned to watch for a Sea Folk woman with tattooed hands, but they would not
have tried to stop an Aes Sedai leaving, or taking anyone with her that she wanted. For that matter, the
mercenaries would let anyone at all pass who offered a few coins. "And now, if you will excuse me, I am 

on my way-"

 "That is not good enough." Chanelle's voice was hot enough to singe leather. "You Aes Sedai stick
together as tightly as oysters. Merilille kidnapped Talaan, and I think you are hiding her. We will search
for them, and I assure you, when we find them, Merilille will be punished sharply before she is sent to the
ships to fulfill her part of the bargain."

 "You seem to be forgetting yourself." Birgitte said. Her voice was mild, her face calm, but the bond
quivered with anger. She held her bowstave propped in front of her with both hands as if to keep them
from making fists. "You'll withdraw your accusations, or you'll suffer for it." Perhaps she was not as
self-controlled as she seemed. This was no way to go on with Windfinders. They were women of power
among their own people, and accustomed to wielding it. But Birgitte did not hesitate. "By the bargain
Zaida made, you're under the Lady Elayne's authority. You're under my authority. Any searching you do
will be when you aren't needed. And unless I misremember badly, you're supposed to be in Tear right
now to bring back wagonloads of grain and salt beef. I strongly suggest you Travel there immediately, or
you might learn a little about punishment yourself." Oh, that was entirely the wrong way with Windfinders.

 "No," Elayne said as hotly as Chanelle, surprising herself. "Search if you wish, Chanelle, you and all of
the Windfinders. Search Caemlyn from end to end. And when you can't find Talaan or Merilille, you will
apologize for calling me a liar.'' Well, the woman had. As good as, anyway. She felt a strong desire to
slap Chanelle. She wanted to. . . . Light, her anger and Birgitte s were feeding each other! Frantically she
tried to soothe her fury before it burst into open rage, but the only result was a sudden longing to weep
that she had to fight just as wildly.

 Chanelle drew herself up, scowling. "You would claim we had reneged on the bargain. We have labored
like bilge girls this past month and more. You will not cast us off without meeting your side of the bargain.
Renaile, the Aes Sedai at The Silver Swan are to be told- told, mind!-that they must produce Merilille
and Talaan or else pay what the White Tower owes themselves. They cannot pay all, but they can make
a start."

 Renaile began unscrewing the silver cap of the ink jar.

 "Not a note," Chanelle snapped. "Go yourself and tell them. Now."

 Tightening the cap, Renaile bowed almost parallel to the floor, quickly touching fingertips to her heart.
"As you command,'' she murmured, her face a dark mask. She did not delay in obeying, setting out at a
trot the way she had come with the writing box tucked under her arm. 

 Still fighting the desire to strike Chanelle and weep at the same time, Elayne winced. This was not the
first time the Sea Folk had gone to The Silver Swan, nor even the second or third, but always before they
had gone asking, not demanding. There were nine sisters resident at the inn at present-the number kept
changing as sisters entered the city or left, and rumor said there were other Aes Sedai in the city, too-and
it worried her that none had appeared at the palace. She had stayed clear of the Swan-she knew how
much Elaida wanted to lay hands on her, but not who the sisters at the Swan supported, or whether they
supported anyone; they had been closemouthed as mussels with Sareitha and Careane-yet she had
expected some of them to come to the palace if only to learn what was behind the Sea Folk's claim. Why
were so many Aes Sedai in Caemlyn when Tar Valon itself was under siege? She herself was the first
answer that came to mind, and that made her more determined to avoid any sister she did not personally
know to be a supporter of Egwene. But that would not stop word of the bargain made for aid in using the
Bowl of the Winds from spreading, and of the price the Tower had been committed to pay for that help.
Burn her, but that news would be a bloody wagonload of fireworks going off at once when it became
general knowledge among Aes Sedai. Worse. Ten wagonloads.

 Watching Renaile trot away, she fought to steady her emotions. And tried to bring the tone back to
something approaching civility. "She handles her change in circumstances very well, I think."

 Chanelle gave a dismissive puff. "And well she should. Every Windfinder knows she will rise and fall
many times before her body is given back to the salt.'' She twisted to gaze after the other Sea Folk
woman, and a touch of malice entered her voice. She seemed to be speaking to herself. "She fell from a
greater height than most, and she should not have been surprised to find her landing hard after so many
fingers she trod on while she was-" Her mouth snapped shut, and she jerked her head around to glare at
Elayne, at Birgitte, at Aviendha and Reene, even at the Guardswomen, daring them to comment.

 Elayne prudently kept her mouth closed, and, the Light be thanked, so did everyone else. For her pan,
she thought she almost had her temper smoothed, the desire to cry suppressed, and she did not want to
say anything that might start Chanelle shouting and undo all her work. For that matter, she could not think
of anything to say after hearing that. She doubted it was part of Atha'an Miere custom to take revenge on
someone you believed had misused their position above you. It was very human, though.

 The Windfinder stared her up and down, frowning. "You're wet," she said as though just noticing. "It is
very bad to be wet for long in your condition. You should change your clothes right away."

 Elayne threw back her head and screamed as loudly as she could, a howl of pure outrage and fury. She
screamed until her lungs were empty, leaving her panting. 

 In the silence that followed, everyone stared at her in amazement. Almost everyone. Aviendha began
laughing so hard she had to lean against a tapestry of mounted hunters confronting a leopard that had
turned. She had one arm pressed across the middle as if her ribs hurt. The bond carried amusement,
too-amusement!-though Birgitte's face remained as smooth as a sister's.

 "I must Travel to Tear." Chanelle said breathily after a moment, and she turned away without another
word or any gesture toward a courtesy. Reene and Reanne offered curtsies, neither quite meeting
Elayne's eye, and pled duties before hurrying off.

 Elayne stared at Birgitte and Aviendha in turn. "If one of you says a single word," she said warningly.

 Birgitte put on such an expression of innocence that it was palpably false, and the bond carried such
mirth that Elayne found herself fighting the urge to laugh. Aviendha only laughed the harder.

 Gathering her skirts and such dignity as she could summon. Elayne set out for her apartments. If she
walked faster than before, well, she want to get out of these damp clothes. That was the only reason. The
only reason.


 A Different Skill

 To Elayne's fury, a quiet, simmering fury that clenched her jaw, she got lost on the way to her
apartments. Those rooms had been hers since she left the nursery, yet twice she took a turn only to find
that it did not lead where she expected. And a sweeping flight of marble-railed stairs took her in entirely
the wrong direction. Burn her, now being with child was fuzzing her wits completely! She could feel
puzzlement, and increasing concern, through the bond as she retraced her way, climbed a different set of
stairs. Some of the Guardswomen murmured uneasily, not quite loudly enough for her to make out the
words, until the Bannerwoman in charge, a slim, cool-eyed Saldaean named Devore Zarbayan, silenced
them with a sharp word. Even Aviendha began looking at her doubtfully. Well, she was not about to have
getting lost-in the palace!-flung in her face.

 "Not a word from anybody," she said grimly. "Not one!" she added when Birgitte opened her mouth

 The golden-haired woman snapped her jaws shut and gave a tug at her thick braid, almost the way
Nynaeve did. She did not bother to keep disapproval from her face, and the bond still carried
puzzlement, and worry. Enough that Elayne began to feel worried herself. She struggled to fight that off
before she found herself wringing her hands and apologizing. It was that strong.

 "I think I'll try to find my rooms, if I can have just a few words." Birgitte said in a tight voice. "I want to
get dry before I wear out my boots. We need to talk of this later. I fear there's nothing to be done, but. .
. ." With a stiff nod. barely bending her neck, she stalked off slashing her unstrung bow from side to side.

 Elayne almost called her back. She wanted to. But Birgitte had as much need of dry clothing as she.
Besides, her mood had swung to grumpy and stubborn. She was not going to talk about losing her way in
the very halls where she had grown up, not now or later. Nothing to be done? What did that mean? If
Birgitte was suggesting that her wits were too befuddled to be set straight. . . ! Her jaw tightened all over

 At last, after yet another unexpected turn, she found the tall, lion-carved doors of her apartments and
heaved a small sigh of relief. She had begun to think her memories of the palace really were completely
jumbled. A pair of Guardswomen. resplendent in broad-brimmed hats with white plumes and lace-edged
sashes embroidered with the White Lion slanting across their burnished breastplates and more pale lace
at their cuffs and necks, stiffened on either side of the doors at her approach. She intended them to have
red-lacquered breastplates to match their silk coats and breeches when she had time to spend on that
sort of thing. If they were to be so pretty that any assailant would discount them until it was too late, she
would make them positively gaudy. None of the Guardswomen seemed to mind. In fact, they were
eagerly looking forward to the lacquered breastplates.

 She had overheard some who were unaware she was near disparage the Guardswomen-mostly women,
but including Doilin Mellar. their own commander-yet she had full confidence in their ability to protect
her. They were brave and determined, or they would not have been there. Yurith Azeri and others who
had been merchants' guards, a rare trade for women, gave daily lessons in the sword, and one or another
of the Warders gave a second lesson every day, too. Sareitha's Ned Yarman and Vandene's Jaem were
quite laudatory about how quickly they learned. Jaem said it was because they did not think they already
knew something of how to use a blade, which seemed silly. How could you believe you already knew
something if you needed lessons in it?

 Despite the guards already there, Devore told off two of those who accompanied her. and they drew
their swords and went inside while Elayne waited in the corridor with Aviendha and the rest, tapping her
foot impatiently. Everyone avoided looking at her. The search was not a slur on the women guarding the
doors-she supposed it was possible for someone to scale the side of the palace; there certainly was 

carving enough to provide handholds-yet she felt irritation at being made to wait on it. Only when they
came out and reported to Devore that there were no assassins waiting within, no Aes Sedai waiting to
whisk Elayne back to Elaida and the Tower, were she and Aviendha allowed to enter, with the
Guardswomen forming upon either side of the doors with the others. She was not sure they would have
physically prevented her from entering sooner, but so far she had been unwilling to put it to the test. Being
restrained by her own bodyguards would have been beyond insufferable, no matter that they were just
doing their jobs. Better to avoid the possibility altogether.

 A small fire burned on the white marble hearth of the anteroom, but it seemed to give little warmth. The
carpets had been taken up for spring, and the floor tiles felt cold beneath the soles of her shoes, stout as
they were. Essande. her maid, spread red-trimmed gray skirts with still surprising grace, though the slim,
white-haired woman suffered from painful joints, which she denied and refused Healing for. She would
have refused any suggestion that she return to her retirement as vehemently. Elayne's Golden Lily was
embroidered large on her breast, and proudly worn. Two younger women flanked her a pace back in
similar livery but with smaller lilies, stocky square-faced sisters named Sephanie and Naris. Shy-eyed yet
quite well trained by Essande. they made deep curtsies, settling nearly to the floor.

 Slow-moving and frail Essande might be, but she never wasted time in idle chitchat or stating the
obvious. There were no exclamations over how wet Elayne and Aviendha were, though doubtless the
Guardswomen had alerted her. "We'll get you both warm and dry, my Lady, and right into something
suitable for meeting mercenaries. The red silk with firedrops on the neck should impress them suitably.
It's past time you ate, too. Don't bother telling me you have, my Lady. Naris. go fetch meals from the
kitchens for the Lady Elayne and the Lady Aviendha." Aviendha gave a snort of laughter, yet she had
long since ceased objecting to being called Lady. And a good thing, since she would never stop Essande.
With servants, there were things you commanded and things you simply had to tolerate.

 Naris grimaced and took a deep breath for some reason, but dropped another deep curtsy, this to
Essande, and one only slightly deeper to Elayne-she and her sister were every bit as much in awe of the
elderly woman as they were of the Daughter-Heir of Andor- before gathering her skirts and darting into
the corridor.

 Elayne grimaced, too. The Guardswomen also had told Essande about the mercenaries, apparently. And
that she had not eaten. She hated people talking about her behind her back. But how much of that was
her shifting moods? She could not recall being upset before because a maid knew what dress to lay out in
advance, or because someone knew she was hungry and sent for a meal without being asked. Servants
talked among themselves - gossiped constantly, in truth; that was a given-and passed along anything that
might help their mistress be served better, if they were good at their jobs. Essande was very good at
hers. Still, it rankled, and rankled the worse for her knowing that it was irrational.

 She let Essande lead her and Aviendha into the dressing room, with Sephanie bringing up the rear. She
was feeling very miserable by this time, damp and shivering, not to mention angry with Birgitte for stalking 

off, frightened by losing her way in the place where she had grown up, and sullen over her bodyguards
gossiping about her. In truth, she felt absolutely wretched.

 Soon enough, though, Essande had her out of her wet things and wrapped in a large white towel that had
been hanging on a warming rack in front of the wide marble fireplace at the end of the room. That had a
soothing effect. This fire was not at all small, and the room seemed not far short of hot, a welcome heat
that soaked into the flesh and banished shivers. Essande toweled Elayne's hair dry while Sephanie
performed the same office for Aviendha, which chagrined Aviendha still, though this was hardly the first
time. She and Elayne frequently brushed each other's hair at night, yet accepting this simple service from
a lady's maid put spots of color in Aviendha's sun-dark cheeks.

 When Sephanie opened one of the wardrobes lining one wall, Aviendha sighed deeply. She held one
towel loosely draped around her-another woman drying her hair might be embarrassing, but near nudity
presented no difficulties-and a second, smaller, was wrapped around her hair. "Do you think I should
wear wetlander clothes. Elayne, since we are going to meet these mercenaries?" she asked in tones of
great reluctance. Essande smiled. She enjoyed dressing Aviendha in silks.

 Elayne hid a smile of her own, no easy task since she wanted to laugh. Her sister pretended to disdain
silks, but she seldom missed an opportunity to wear them. "If you can bear it, Aviendha." she said
gravely, adjusting her own robing towel carefully. Essande saw her in her skin every day, and Sephanie.
too, but it was nothing to let happen without reason. "For best effect, we should both over-awe them.
You won't mind too much, will you?"

 But Aviendha was already at the wardrobe, her towel gaping carelessly as she fingered dresses. Several
sets of Aiel garb hung in another of the wardrobes, but Tylin had given her chests of finely cut silks and
woolens before they left Ebou Dar, enough to fill nearly a quarter of the carved cabinets.

 That brief burst of amusement left Elayne no longer feeling as if she had to argue over everything, so
without demurral she let Essande get her into the red silk with firedrops the size of a finger joint sewn in a
band around the high neck. The garment would impress, for sure, with no need for other jewels, though
in truth the Great Serpent ring on her right hand was jewel enough for anyone. The white-haired woman
had a delicate touch, but Elayne still winced as she began doing up the rows of tiny buttons down her
back, tightening the bodice across her tender bosom. Opinions varied on how long that would last, yet all
agreed that she could expect more swelling.

 Oh, how she wished Rand were near enough to share the full effect of her bond with him. That would
teach him to get her with child so carelessly. Of course, she could have drunk the heartleaf tea before
lying with him-she pushed that thought away firmly. This was all Rand's fault, and that was that. 

 Aviendha chose blue, which she often did, with rows of tiny pearls edging the bodice. The silk was not
so deeply cut as Ebou Dari fashions. yet still would display a little cleavage; few dresses sewn in Ebou
Dar failed to do that. As Sephanie began fastening her buttons, Aviendha fondled something she had
retrieved from her belt pouch, a small dagger with a rough hilt of deerhorn wrapped in gold wire. It was
also a ter'angreal, though Elayne had not been able to puzzle out what it did before pregnancy forced a
halt to such studies. She had not known her sister was carrying the thing. Aviendha's eyes were almost
dreamy as she stared at it.

 "Why does that fascinate you so?" Elayne asked. This was not the first time she had seen the other
woman absorbed in that knife.

 Aviendha gave a start and blinked at the dagger in her hands. The iron blade-it looked like iron, at least,
and felt almost like iron-had never been sharpened so far as Elayne could tell and was little longer than
her palm, though wide in proportion. Even the point was too blunt for stabbing. "I thought to give it to
you, but you never said anything about it, so I thought I might be wrong, and then we would believe you
were safe, from some dangers at least, when you were not. So I decided to keep it. That way. if I am
right, at least 1 could protect you, and if I am wrong, it does no harm."

 Elayne shook her towel-wrapped head in confusion. "Right about what? What are you talking about?"

 "This," Aviendha said, holding up the dagger. "I think that if you have this in your possession, the
Shadow cannot see you. Not the Eyeless or the Shadowtwisted, maybe not even Leafblighter. Except
that I must be wrong if you did not see it."

 Sephanie gasped, her hands going still until Essande murmured a soft admonition. Essande had lived too
long to be shaken by mere mention of the Shadow. Or much else, for that matter.

 Elayne stared. She had tried teaching Aviendha to make ter'angreal, but her sister possessed not a scrap
of facility there. Yet perhaps she had a different skill, maybe even one that could be called a Talent.
"Come with me," she said, and taking Aviendha's arm, she almost pulled her out of the dressing room.
Essande followed with a torrent of protest, and Sephanie, attempting to continue buttoning up Aviendha's
dress on the fly.

 In the larger of the apartment's two sitting rooms, goodly fires blazed in both of the fireplaces, and if the
air was not so warm as in the dressing room, it was still comfortable. The scroll-edged table bordered 

with low-backed chairs in the middle of the white-tiled floor was where she and Aviendha took most of
their meals. Several leather-bound books from the palace library sat in a stack on one end of the table,
histories of Andor and books of tales. The mirrored stand-lamps gave a good light, and they often read
here of an evening.

 More important, a long side table against one dark-paneled wall was covered with ter'angreal from the
cache the Kin had kept hidden in Ebou Dar, cups and bowls, statuettes and figurines, jewelry, all manner
of things. Most looked commonplace, aside from perhaps a strangeness of design, yet even the most
fragile-seeming could not be broken, and some were much lighter or heavier than they appeared. She
could no longer safely study them in any meaningful way-she had Min's assurance her babes could not be
harmed, but with her control of the Power so slippery, damaging herself was more a possibility than
ever-yet she changed what was on the table every day, picking out pieces at random from the panniers
kept in the apartment's boxroom, just so she could look at them and speculate on what she had learned
before getting with child. Not that she had learned very much-well, nothing, really- but she could think on
them. There was no worry of anything being stolen. Reene had rooted out most, if not all. of the
dishonest among the servants, and the constant guard at the entrance saw to the rest.

 Mouth tight with disapproval-dressing was done in the dressing room, decently, not out where anyone at
all might walk in-Essande resumed her task with Elayne's buttons. Sephanie, likely as agitated by the
older woman's displeasure as anything else, breathed hard as she worked on Aviendha's.

 "Pick out something and tell me what you think it does." Elayne said. Looking and speculating had done
no good, and she had not expected it to. Yet if Aviendha could somehow tell what a tev'angreal did just
by holding it. . . . Jealousy surged up in her, hot and bitter, but she knocked it down, then for good
measure jumped up and down on it until it vanished. She would not be jealous of Aviendha!

 "I am not sure that I can, Elayne. I only think this knife makes a kind of warding. And I must be wrong
or you would know it. You know more of these things than anyone."

 Elayne's cheeks heated with embarrassment. "I don't know nearly as much as you seem to think. Try,
Aviendha. I've never heard of anyone being able to ... to read' tev'angreal, but if you can, even a little,
don't you see how wonderful that would be?"

 Aviendha nodded, but her face held doubt. Hesitantly, she touched a slim black rod, a pace long and so
flexible it could be bent into a circle and spring back, lying in the middle of the table. Touched it and
jerked her hand back swiftly, wiping her fingers unconsciously on her skirt. "This causes pain." 

 "Nynaeve told us that," Elayne said impatiently, and Aviendha gave her a level look.

 "Nynaeve al'Meara did not say you can change how much pain each blow gives." Uncertainty overcame
her again at once, though, and her voice became tentative. "At least, I think that can be done. I think one
blow can feel like one, or a hundred. But I am only guessing, Elayne. It is only what I think."

 "Keep going," Elayne told her encouragingly. "Maybe we'll find something that makes it certain. What
about this?" She picked up an oddly shaped metal cap. Covered with strange, angular patterns of what
seemed to be the most minute engraving, it was much too thin to be of use as a helmet, though it was
twice as heavy as it appeared. The metal felt slick, too, not simply smooth, as if it were oiled.

 Aviendha put down the dagger reluctantly and turned the cap over once in her hands before setting it
back on the table and taking up the dagger again. "I think that allows you to direct a ... a device of some
sort. A machine." She shook her towel-wrapped head. "But I do not know how, or what kind of
machine. You see? I am only guessing again."

 Elayne would not let her stop, though. Ter'angreal after ter'angreal Aviendha touched or sometimes held
for a moment, and every time she had an answer. Delivered hesitantly and with cautions that it was only a
surmise, but always an answer. She thought a small hinged box, apparently ivory and covered with
rippling red and green stripes, held music, hundreds of tunes, perhaps thousands. With a ter'angreal, that
might be possible. After all, a fine music box might have cylinders for as many as a hundred tunes and
some could play quite long pieces on one cylinder after another without changing them. A flatfish white
bowl almost a pace across was for looking at things that were far away. she thought, and a tall vase
worked with vines in green and blue- blue vines!-would gather water out of the air. That sounded
useless. but Aviendha almost caressed it, and after consideration, Elayne realized it would be very useful
indeed in the Waste. If it worked as Aviendha believed. And someone figured out how to make it work.
A black-and-white figurine of a bird with long wings spread in flight was for talking to people a long way
off, she said. So was a blue figure of a woman, small enough to fit in the palm of her hand, in an oddly cut
skirt and coat. And five earrings, six finger-rings and three bracelets.

 Elayne began to think that Aviendha was giving up, offering the same answer every time in hopes that
she would stop asking, but then she realized that her sister's voice was becoming more confident rather
than less, that the protests that she was only guessing had dwindled. And her "guesses" were growing in
detail. A bent, featureless rod of dull black, as wide as her wrist-it seemed metal, yet one end
accommodated itself to any hand that gripped it-made her think of cutting, either metal or stone if they
were not too thick. Nothing that could catch fire, though. The apparently glass figure of a man, a foot tall,
with his hand raised as if to signal stop, would chase away vermin, which would certainly have been
useful, given Caemlyn's plague of rats and flies. A stone carving the size of her hand, all deep blue
curves-it felt like stone, at least, though somehow it did not really look carved- was for growing
something. Not plants. It made her think of holes, only they were not exactly holes. And she did not
believe anyone had to channel to make it work. Only sing the right song! Some ter'angreal did not require 

channeling, but really! Singing?

 Done with Aviendha's dress, Sephanie had grown enthralled with the recitation, her eyes getting wider
and wider. Essande listened with interest too, her head tilted to one side, murmuring small exclamations at
each new revelation, but she was not bouncing on her toes the way Sephanie was. "What about that one,
my Lady?" the younger woman blurted when Aviendha paused. She pointed to the statuette of a stout,
bearded man with a merry smile, holding a book. Two feet tall, it appeared to be age-darkened bronze
and was certainly heavy enough to be. "Looking at him always makes me want to smile, too, my Lady."

 "Me as well, Sephanie Pelden," Aviendha said, stroking the bronze man's head. "He holds more than the
book you see. He holds thousands and thousands of books." Abruptly the light of saidar enveloped her,
and she touched thin flows of Fire and Earth to the bronze figure.

 Sephanie squeaked as two words in the Old Tongue appeared in the air above the statuette, as black as
if printed with good ink. Some of the letters were shaped a little oddly, but the words were quite clear.
Ansoen and Imsoen, floating on nothing. Aviendha looked nearly as startled as the maid.

 "I think we have proof at last," Elayne said more calmly than she felt. Her heart was in her throat, and
pounding. Lies and Truth, the two words might be translated. Or in context, perhaps Fiction and Not
Fiction would be better. It was proof enough for her. She marked where the flows touched the figure, for
when she could return to her studies. "But you shouldn't have done that. It isn't safe."

 The glow around Aviendha vanished. "Oh, Light," she exclaimed, flinging her arms around Elayne, "I
never thought! I have great t'oh to you! I never meant to endanger you or your babes! Never!"

 "My babes and I are safe." Elayne laughed, hugging back. "Min's viewing?" Her babes were safe, at
least. Until they were born. So many babies died in their first year. Min had said nothing beyond them
being born healthy. Min had said nothing about her not being burned out. either. but she had no intention
of bringing that up with her sister already feeling guilty. "You have no toh to me. It was you I was thinking
of. You could have died, or burned yourself out."

 Aviendha pulled back enough to look into Elayne's eyes. What she saw there reassured her, for a small
smile curved her lips. "I did make it work, though. Perhaps 1 can take over the study of them. With you
to guide me, it should be perfectly safe. We have months before you can do it yourself." 

 "You have no time at all, Aviendha," a woman's voice said from the doorway. "We are leaving. I hope
you have not grown too used to wearing silk. I see you, Elayne."

 Aviendha leaped away from the embrace, flushing furiously, as two Aiel women entered the room, and
not just any two Aiel. Pale-haired Nadere, as tall as most men and wide with it, was a Wise One of
considerable authority among the Goshien. and Dorindha, her long red hair touched with white, was the
wife of Bael, clan chief of the Goshien, though her true prominence came from being Roofmistress of
Smoke Springs Hold, the clan's largest hold. It was she who had spoken.

 "I see you. Dorindha." Elayne said. "I see you, Nadere. Why are you taking Aviendha away?"

 "You said I could stay with Elayne. to help guard her back," Aviendha protested.

 "You did. Dorindha." Elayne took her sister's hand in a firm grip. and Aviendha squeezed back. "You
and the Wise Ones, too."

 Gold and ivory bracelets clattered as Dorindha shifted her dark shawl. "How many do you need to
guard your back, Elayne?" she asked dryly. "You have perhaps a hundred or more dedicated to nothing
else. and as hard as Far Dareis Alai." A smile deepened the creases at the corners of her eyes. "I think
those women outside wanted us to give up our belt knives before letting us in."

 Nadere touched the horn hilt of her knife, her green eyes holding a fierce light, though it was unlikely the
guards had shown any such desire. Even Birgitte, suspicious of everyone when it came to Elayne's safety,
could see no danger from the Aiel, and Elayne had accepted certain obligations when she and Aviendha
adopted each other. Wise Ones who had taken part in that ceremony, as Nadere had. could go
wherever they wished in the palace whenever they wished: that was one of the obligations. As for
Dorindha, her presence was so commanding, if in a quiet way, that it seemed inconceivable anyone
would attempt to bar her way.

 "Your training has been in abeyance too long, Aviendha," Nadere said firmly. "Go and change into
proper clothing."

 "But I am learning so much from Elayne. Nadere. Weaves even you do not know. I think I can make it
rain in the Three-fold Land! And just now we learned that I can-" 

 "Whatever you may have learned," Nadere cut in sharply, "it seems you have forgotten as much. Such as
the fact that you are an apprentice still. The Power is the least of what a Wise One must know, else only
those who can channel would be Wise Ones. Now go and change, and count your luck that I do not
make you return in your skin to face a strapping. The tents are being struck as we speak, and if the clan's
departure is delayed, you will face the strap."

 Without another word, Aviendha dropped Elayne's hand and ran from the room, bumping into Naris.
who staggered and almost dropped the large, cloth-covered tray she was carrying. At a quick gesture
from Essande, Sephanie hurried after Aviendha. Naris' eyes went wide at the sight of the Aiel women,
but Essande admonished her for taking so long and directed her to lay out the meal on the table, setting
the young maid into hurried motion while muttering apologies under her breath.

 Elayne wanted to run after Aviendha, too, to grasp every moment with her, but Nadere's words held
her. "You're leaving Caemlyn, Dorindha? Where are you going?" As much as Elayne liked the Aiel, she
did not want them wandering about the countryside. With the situation as unstable as it was. they were
problem enough simply venturing out of their camp to hunt or trade.

 "We are leaving Andor, Elayne. In a few hours, we will be far beyond your borders. As to where, you
must ask the Car a'cam."

 Nadere had walked over to study what Naris was laying out. and Naris began to tremble so that she
nearly dropped more than one dish. "This looks good, but 1 do not recognize some of these herbs," the
Wise One said. "Your midwife has approved all of this, Elayne?"

 "I'll summon a midwife when my time is near. Nadere. Dorindha, you can't think Rand would want your
destination kept from me. What did he say?"

 Dorindha gave a small shrug. "He sent a messenger, one of the black coats, with a letter for Bael. Bael
let me read it. of course"-her tone said there had never been any question of her not reading it- "but the
Cava'cam asked Bael not to tell anyone, so I cannot tell you."

 "No midwife?" Nadere said incredulously. "Who tells you what to eat and drink? Who gives you the
proper herbs? Stop looking daggers at me, woman. Melaine's temper is worse than yours could ever be,
but she has sense enough to let Monaelle govern her in these things." 

 "Every woman in the palace governs what I eat," Elayne replied bitterly. "Sometimes I think every
woman in Caemlyn does. Dorindha, can't you at least-"

 "My Lady, your food is getting cold." Essande said mildly, but with just the touch of firmness that an
elderly retainer was allowed.

 Gritting her teeth. Elayne glided to the chair Essande stood behind. She did not flounce, much as she
wanted to. She glided. Essande produced an ivory-backed hairbrush and, removing the towel from
Elayne's head, began brushing her hair while she ate. She ate largely because not eating only meant
someone would be told to fetch more hot food, because Essande and her own bodyguards between
them might well keep her there until she did, but except for some dried apple that had not gone bad, the
meal was decidedly unappetizing. The bread was crusty but flecked with weevils, and the soaked dried
beans. since all of the preserved beans had spoiled, were tough and tasteless. The apple was mixed in a
bowl of herbs-sliced burdock root, black haw, cramp bark, dandelion, nettle leaf-with a touch of oil, and
for meat she had a piece of kid simmered in bland broth. With next to no salt, as far as she could tell. She
would have killed for salty beef dripping with fat! Avkndba's plate had sliced beef, though it looked
tough. She could as well ask for wine. To drink, she had her choice of water or goat's milk. She wanted
tea almost as much as she did fatty meat, but even the weakest tea sent her running to make water, and
she had quite enough difficulties with that as it was. So she ate methodically, mechanically. trying to think
of anything but the tastes in her mouth. Except for the apple, at least.

 She tried to pry some news of Rand out of the two Aiel women, but it seemed they knew less than she.
As far as they would admit, anyway. They could be closemouthed when they wanted to be. She at least
knew that he was somewhere far to the southeast. Somewhere in Tear, she suspected, though he could
as easily have been on the Plains of Maredo or in the Spine of the World. Beyond that, she knew he was 

alive and not a whit more. She tried keeping the conversation on Rand in the hope they might let
something slip, yet she might as well have tried dressing bricks with her fingers. Dorindha and Nadere
had their own goal, convincing her to acquire a midwife right away. They went on and on about how she
might be endangering herself and her babes, and not even Min's viewing would dissuade them.

 "Very well," she said at last, slapping down her knife and fork. "I will start looking for one today." And if
she failed to find one, well, they would never know.

 "I have a niece who's a midwife, my Lady," Essande said. "Melfane dispenses herbs and ointments from
a shop on Candle Street in the New City, and I believe she is quite knowledgeable." She patted a few
last curls into place and stepped back with a pleased smile. "You do so remind me of your mother, my

 Elayne sighed. It seemed she was to have a midwife whether she wanted one or not. Someone else to
see that her meals were wretched. Well, perhaps the midwife could suggest a remedy for those
backaches at night, and the tender bosom. Thank the Light she had been spared the desire to sick up.
Women who could channel never suffered that part of pregnancy.

 When Aviendha returned, she was in Aiel garb again, with her still-damp shawl draped over her arms, a
dark scarf tied around her temples to hold back her hair, and a bundle on her back. Unlike the multitudes
of bracelets and necklaces Dorindha and Nadere wore, she had a single silver necklace, intricately
worked discs in a complex pattern, and one ivory bracelet densely carved with roses and thorns. She
handed Elayne the blunt dagger. "You must keep this, so you will be safe. I will try to visit you as often as
I can."

 "There may be time for an occasional visit," Nadere said severely, "but you have fallen behind and must
work hard to catch up. Strange," she mused, shaking her head, "to speak casually of visiting from so far.
To cover leagues, hundreds of leagues, in a step. Strange things we have learned in the wetlands."

 "Come, Aviendha, we must go," Dorindha said.

 "Wait," Elayne told them. "Please wait, just a moment." Clutching the dagger, she raced to her dressing
room. Sephanie paused in hanging up Aviendha's blue dress to curtsy, but Elayne ignored her and
opened the carved lid of her ivory jewelry chest. Sitting atop the necklaces and bracelets and pins in their
compartments were a brooch in the shape of a turtle that appeared to be amber and a seated woman,
wrapped in her own hair, apparently carved from age-darkened ivory. Both were angreal. Placing the
antler-hilted dagger in the chest, she picked up the turtle, and then, impulsively, snatched up the twisted
stone dream ring, all red and blue and brown. It seemed to be useless to her since she became pregnant,
and if she could manage to weave Spirit, she still had the silver ring, worked in braided spirals, that had
been recovered from Ispan.

 Hurrying back to the sitting room, she found Dorindha and Nadere arguing, or at least having an
animated discussion, while Essande pretended to be checking for dust, running her fingers under the edge
of the table. From the angle of her head, she was listening avidly, though. Naris, putting Elayne's dishes
back on the tray, was gaping at the Aiel women openly.

 "I told her she would feel the strap if we delayed the departure," Nadere was saying with some heat as
Elayne entered the room. "It is hardly fair if she is not the cause, but I said what I said." 

 "You will do as you must," Dorindha replied calmly, but with a tightness to her eyes that suggested these
were not the first words they had exchanged. "Perhaps we will not delay anything. And perhaps
Aviendha will pay the price gladly to say farewell to her sister."

 Elayne did not bother with trying to argue for Aviendha. It would have done no good. Aviendha herself
displayed an equanimity that would have credited an Aes Sedai. as if whether she was to be beaten for
another's fault were of no matter at all.

 "These are for you," Elayne said, pressing the ring and the brooch into her sister's hand. "Not as gifts. I'm
afraid. The White Tower will want them back. But to use as you need."

 Aviendha looked at the things and gasped. "Even the loan of these is a great gift. You shame me, sister. I
have no farewell gift to give in return."

 "You give me your friendship. You gave me a sister." Elayne felt a tear slide down her cheek. She
essayed a laugh, but it was a weak, tremulous thing. "How can you say you have nothing to give? You've
given me everything."

 Tears glistened in Aviendha's eyes, too. Despite the others watching, she put her arms around Elayne
and hugged her hard. "I will miss you, sister," she whispered. "My heart is as cold as night."

 "And mine, sister," Elayne whispered, hugging back equally hard.

 "I will miss you, too. But you will be allowed to visit me sometimes. This isn't forever."

 "No. not forever. But I will still miss you."

 They might have begun weeping next, only Dorindha laid her hands on their shoulders. "It is time.
Aviendha. We must go if you are to have any hope of avoiding the strap."

 Aviendha straightened with a sigh, scrubbing at her eyes. "May you always find water and shade, sister." 

 "May you always find water and shade, sister," Elayne replied. The Aiel way had a finality about it, so
she added. "Until I see your face again."

 And as quickly as that, they were gone. As quickly as that, she felt very alone. Aviendha's presence had
become a certainty, a sister to talk to. laugh with, share her hopes and fears with, but that comfort was

 Essande had slipped from the room while she and Aviendha were hugging, and now she returned to set
the coronet of the Daughter-Heir on Elayne's head, a simple circlet of gold supporting a single golden
rose on her forehead. "So these mercenaries won't forget who they're talking to, my Lady."

 Elayne did not realize her shoulders had slumped until she straightened them. Her sister was gone, yet
she had a city to defend and a throne to gain. Duty would have to sustain her, now.


 The New Follower

 The Blue Reception Room, named for its arched ceiling, painted to display the sky and white clouds,
and its blue floor tiles, was the smallest reception room in the palace, less than ten paces square. The
arched windows that made up the far wall, overlooking a courtyard and still filled with glassed casements
against the spring weather, gave a fair light even with the rain falling outside, but despite two large
fireplaces with carved marble mantels, a cornice of plaster lions and a pair of tapestries bearing the White
Lion that flanked the doors, a delegation of Caemlyn's merchants would have been insulted to be
received in the Blue Room, a delegation of bankers livid. Likely that was why Mistress Harfor had put
the mercenaries there, although they would not know they were being insulted. She herself was present
"overseeing" the pair of liveried young maids who were keeping the winecups full from tall silver pitchers
standing on a tray atop a plainly carved sideboard, but she had the embossed leather folder used to carry
her reports pressed to her bosom, as if in anticipation of the mercenaries being dealt with quickly. Halwin
Norry. the wisps of white hair behind his ears as always looking like feathers, was standing in a corner,
also with his leather folder clutched to his narrow chest. Their reports were a daily fixture, and seldom
much in them to cheer the heart of late. Quite the opposite.

 Warned by the pair of Guards women who had checked the room ahead of her, everyone was on their 

feet when Elayne entered with another pair at her back. Deni Colford, in charge of the Guardswomen
who had replaced Devore and the others, had simply ignored her order for them all to remain outside.
Ignored her! She supposed they made a good show, swaggering proudly as they did, yet she could not
stop grinding her teeth.

 Careane and Sareitha, formal in their fringed shawls, bowed their heads slightly in respect, but Mellar
swept off his plumed hat in a flourishing bow. one hand laid over the lace-edged sash slanting across his
burnished breastplate. The six golden knots brazed to that breastplate, three on each shoulder, rankled
her, yet she had let them pass so far. His hatchet face offered her a smile that was much too warm, too.
but then, however cold she was to him, he thought he had some chance with her because she had not
denied the rumor her babes were his. Her reasons for not countering that filthy tale had changed-she no
longer had need to protect her babes, Rand's babes-yet she let it stand. Give the man time, and he would
braid a rope for his own neck. And if he failed to, she would braid one for him.

 The mercenaries, all well into their middle years, were only a heartbeat behind Mellar, though not so
elaborate in their courtesies. Evard Cordwyn, a tall, square-jawed Andoran, wore a large ruby in his left
ear, and Aldred Gomaisen, short and slender, the front of his head shaved, had horizontal stripes of red
and green and blue covering half his chest, far more than it seemed at all likely he was entitled to in his
native Cairhien. Hafeen Bakuvun, graying, was ornamented with a thick gold hoop in his left ear and a
jeweled ring on every finger. The Domani was very stout, but the way he moved spoke of solid muscle
beneath the fat.

 "Don't you have duties. Captain Mellar?" Elayne said coolly, taking one of the room's few chairs. There
were only five, arms and high backs simply carved with vines and leaves and lacking even a hint of gilt.
Standing in a widely spaced row in front of the windows, the chairs put the light behind whoever sat in
them. On a bright day, those given audience here squinted in the glare. Unfortunately, that advantage was
lost today. The two Guardswomen took up positions behind her and to either side, each with a hand
resting on her sword hilt, watching the mercenaries with fierce expressions that made Bakuvun smile and
Gomaisen rub his chin to half-hide a sly grin. The women gave no sign of being offended; they knew the
point of their uniforms. Elayne knew they would wipe away any smiles very quickly if they needed to
draw their blades.

 "My first duty above all is to protect you. my Lady." Easing his sword, Mellar eyed the mercenaries as
though he expected them to attack her. or perhaps him. Gomaisen looked bitterly amused, and Baku-vun
laughed aloud. All three men had empty scabbards, Cordwyn a pair on his back; no mercenary was
allowed to enter the palace carrying so much as a dagger.

 "I know you have other duties." she said levelly, "because I assigned them to you. Captain. Training the
men I brought in from the countryside. You are not spending as much time with them as I expect. You
have a company of men to train, Captain." A company of old men and boys, and surely enough to
occupy his hours. He spent few enough with her bodyguards in spite of commanding them. That was just 

as well, really. He liked to pinch bottoms. "I suggest you see to them. Now."

 Rage flashed across Mellar's narrow face-he actually quivered!- but he mastered himself instantly. It was
all gone so fast that she might have imagined it. But she knew she had not. "As you command, my Lady,"
he said smoothly. His smile had an oily smoothness, too. "My honor is to serve you well." With another
flamboyant bow, he started for the door, as near to strutting as made no difference. Little could dent
Doilin Mellar's demeanor for long.

 Bakuvun laughed again, throwing his head back. "Man wears so much lace now, I vow. I keep
expecting him to offer to teach us to dance, and now he does dance." The Cairhienin laughed, too, a
nasty, guttural sound.

 Mellar's back stiffened and his step hesitated, then quickened, so much so that he bumped into Birgitte
at the doorway. He hurried on without stopping to ask pardon, and she frowned after him-the bond
carried anger, quickly suppressed, and impatience, which was not- before shutting the door behind her
and moving to stand beside Elayne's chair with one hand resting on the chairback. Her thick braid was
not so neatly done as usual after having been undone for drying, but the uniform of the Captain-General
suited her. Taller than Gomaisen in her heeled boots. Birgitte had a commanding presence when she
wanted to. The mercenaries offered her small bows, respectful though not deferential. Whatever
misgivings of her they might have entertained in the beginning, few who had seen her use her bow.or
expose herself to the enemy, had any remaining.

 "You speak as if you know Captain Mellar, Captain Bakuvun." Elayne put just a hint of question in that,
but kept her tone casual. Birgitte was attempting to project confidence along the bond to equal her
expression, yet wariness and worry kept intruding. And the ever-present weariness. Elayne tightened her
jaw to fight a yawn. Birgitte had to get some rest.

 "I've seen him once or twice before, my Lady," the Domani replied cautiously. "Not above thrice at
most, I'd say. Yes. no more than that." He tilted his head, eyeing her almost sideways. "You know he's
followed my trade in the past?"

 "He did not try to hide the fact. Captain," she said, as if tired of the subject. Had he let anything
interesting slip, she might have arranged to question him alone, but pressing was not worth the risk of
Mellar discovering that questions were being asked. He might run then, before she could learn what she
wanted to know.

 "Do we really have need of the Aes Sedai, my Lady?" Bakuvun asked. "The other Aes Sedai," he 

added, glancing at her Great Serpent ring. He held out his silver cup, and one of the maids darted to fill it.
They were both pretty women, perhaps not the best choices, but Reene had not much to choose from;
most of the maids were either young or else aged and not so spry as they once had been. "All they've
done the whole time we've been here is try to put us in awe of the White Tower's might and reach. I
respect Aes Sedai as much as any man, yes, I do indeed, but if you'll forgive me, it gets tiresome when
they turn to trying to browbeat a man. I vow it does, my Lady."

 "A wise man always stands in awe of the Tower," Sareitha said calmly, shifting her brown-fringed shawl,
perhaps to draw attention to it. Her dark, square face lacked the ageless look as yet, and she admitted
yearning for it.

 "Only fools fail to stand in awe of the Tower." Careane said on Sarei-tha's heels. A bulky woman, as
wide in the shoulders as most men, the Green had no need for gestures. Her coppery face proclaimed
what she was to anyone who knew what to look for as loudly as did the ring on her right forefinger.

 "The word I hear," Gomaisen said darkly, "is that Tar Valon is besieged. I hear the White Tower is split,
with two Amyrlins. I even hear the Tower itself is held by the Black Ajah." A brave man, to mention that
rumor to Aes Sedai, but he still flinched saying it. Flinched and went right on. "Who is it you want us to
be in awe of?"

 "Do not believe everything you hear. Captain Gomaisen." Sarei-tha's voice was serene, a woman stating
indisputable fact. "Truth has more shadings than you might think, and distance often distorts truth into
something very different from the facts. Lies about Darkfriend sisters are dangerous to repeat, however."

 "What you had best believe," Careane added, just as calmly, "is that the White Tower is the White
Tower, now and always. And you stand before three Aes Sedai. You should have a care with your
words, Captain."

 Gomaisen scrubbed the back of a hand across his mouth, but his dark eyes held defiance. A hunted
defiance. "I am just saying what can be heard on any street," he muttered.

 "Are we here to talk about the White Tower?" Cordwyn said, scowling. He emptied his winecup before
going on. as if this talk made him uneasy. How much had he already consumed? He seemed a trifle
unsteady on his feet, and there was a touch of slur in his words. "The Tower is hundreds of leagues from
here, and what happens there is no business of ours." 

 "True, friend," Bakuvun said. "True. Our business is swords, swords and blood. Which, my Lady, brings
us to the sordid matter of. . ."-he waggled thick, be-gemmed fingers-"gold. Every day, we lose men, day
after day with no end in sight, and there are very few suitable replacements to be found in the city."

 "None at all that I've found." Cordwyn muttered, eyeing the young maid filling his cup. She blushed at his
scrutiny and finished her task quickly, spilling wine on the floor tiles and making Mistress Har-for frown.
"Those that might have been are all signing up for the Queen's Guards." That was true enough; enlistments
seemed to increase by the day. The Queen's Guards would be a formidable force. Eventually.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of those men were months from being able to handle a sword without
stabbing themselves in the foot, and further from being of any use in battle.

 "As you say, friend," Bakuvun murmured. "As you say." He directed a wide smile at Elayne. Perhaps he
meant to seem friendly, or maybe reasonable, but it minded her of a man trying to sell her a pig in a sack.
"Even after we're done here, finding new men won't be easy, my Lady. Suitable men aren't found under
cabbage leaves, no they're not. Fewer men means fewer coins for our next hires. An inescapable fact of
the world. We think it's only just that we receive compensation."

 Anger surged in Elayne. They thought she was desperate to hold on to them was what they thought!
Worse, they were right. These three men represented better than a thousand more between them. Even
with what Guybon had brought her, that would be a grievous loss. Especially if it started other
mercenaries thinking her cause was lost. Mercenaries disliked being on the losing side. They would run
like rats fleeing fire to avoid that. Her anger surged, but she held it in rein. By a hair's breadth. She could
not keep the scorn from her voice, though. "Did you think you would take no casualties? Did you expect
to mount guard and take gold for it without baring your swords?"

 'You signed for so much gold each day," Birgitte put in. She did not say how much because every
company had bargained for its own agreement. The last thing they needed was for the mercenary
companies to grow jealous of one another. As it was, it seemed that half the common room fights the
Guards broke up were between men of different companies. "A fixed amount. To put it cruelly, the more
men you lose, the greater your profit."

 "Ah. Captain-General," the stout man said blandly, "but you forget the death-money that has to be paid
to the widows and orphans." Go-maisen made a choking noise, and Cordwyn stared at Bakuvun
incredulously then tried to cover it by draining his winecup again.

 Elayne trembled, her hands tightening to fists on the arms of her chair. She would not give way to anger.
She would not\ "I intend to hold you to your agreements," she said coldly. Well, at least she was not
raging. "You'll be paid what you signed for, including the usual victory gold after I gain the throne, but not 

a penny more. If you try to back out. I'll assume you are turning coat and going over to Arymilla, in which
case, I'll have you and your companies arrested and put outside the gates without swords or horses." The
maid refilling Cordwyn's winecup yet again suddenly squealed and danced away from him rubbing her
hip. The anger Elayne had been holding down fountained white hot. "And if one of you ever again dares
fondle one of my women, he and his company will be put out without swords, horses, or bootsl Do I
make myself clear?"

 "Very clear, my Lady." Bakuvun's voice held a distinct chill, and his wide mouth was tight. "Very clear
indeed. And now. since our . . . discussion . . . seems concluded, may we withdraw?"

 "Think carefully." Sareitha said suddenly. "Will the White Tower choose to see an Aes Sedai on the Lion
Throne, or a fool like Arymilla Marne?"

 "Count the Aes Sedai in this palace." Careane added. "Count the Aes Sedai inside Caemlyn. There are
none in Arymilla's camps. Count and decide where the White Tower's favor lies."

 "Count," Sareitha said, "and remember that the White Tower's displeasure can be fatal."

 It was very hard to believe that one of them must be Black Ajah. yet it must be so. Unless it was
Merilille, of course. Elayne hoped that was not so. She liked Merilille. But then, she liked Careane and
Sareitha, too. Not as much as she did Merilille. yet still a liking. Any way she looked at it, a woman she
liked was a Darkfriend, and already under penalty of death.

 When the mercenaries had departed, making their courtesies hurriedly, and Mistress Harfor had sent the
maids away with the remnants of the wine, Elayne leaned back in her chair and sighed. "I handled that
very badly, didn't I?"

 "Mercenaries require a strong hand on the reins," Birgitte replied, but there was doubt in the bond.
Doubt and worry.

 "If I may say, my Lady." Norry said in his dry voice, "I cannot see anything else you could have done.
Mildness would only have emboldened them to make further demands.' He had been so still that Elayne
had almost forgotten he was there. Blinking at the world, he seemed a wading bird wondering where the
water had gone. In contrast to Mistress Harfor's neatness, ink stains marked his tabard, and his fingers.
She eyed the leather folder in his hands with distinct distaste. 

 "Will you leave us, please, Sareitha, Careane?' she said. They hesitated slightly, but there was nothing
they could do save bow their heads and glide from the room like swans. "And you two as well," she
added over her shoulder to the Guardswomen. They did not so much as twitch!

 "Outside!" Birgitte snapped with a jerk of her head that set her braid swaying. "Now!" Oh, the pair
jumped for her, they did! They headed for the doors so fast they might as well have trotted!

 Elayne scowled as the door closed behind them. "Burn me, I don't want to hear any bloody bad news,
not today. I don't want to hear how much of the food brought in from Illian and Tear is already spoiled
when it arrives. I don't want to hear about arson, or flour black with weevils, or sewers breeding rats
faster than they can be killed, or flies so thick you'd think Caemlyn was a filthy stable. I want to hear
some bloody good news for a change." Burn her, she sounded petulanti Truth be told, she felt petulant.
Oh, how that grated! She was trying to gain a throne, and behaving like a child in the nursery!

 Master Norry and Mistress Harfor exchanged glances, which only made matters worse. He fondled his
folder with a sigh of regret. The man enjoyed droning his numbers, even when they were dire. At least
they no longer balked at giving their reports in company. Well, not very far. Jealous of their own
responsibilities, each was wary of the other straying and quick to point out where some imagined
boundary had been crossed. Still, they managed to run the palace and the city efficiently. with few barked

 "Are we private, my Lady?" Reene asked.

 Elayne drew a deep breath and performed novice exercises that seemed to have no calming effect
whatsoever, then attempted to embrace the Source. To her surprise, saidar came to her easily, filling her
with the sweetness of life and joy. And soothing her moods, too. It was always that way. Anger or
sorrow or just being with child might interfere with embracing the Power in the first place, yet once it
filled her, her emotions stopped jumping about. Deftly she wove Fire and Air, just so, with traces of
Water, but when she was done, she did not release the Source. The feel of being filled with the Power
was wondrous, yet not that much more so than knowing she would not be wanting to weep for no reason
or shout for as little in the next moment. After all, she was not foolish enough to draw too deeply.

 "We are private." she said. Saidar touched her ward and was gone. Someone had tried to listen in. not
the first time that had happened. With so many women who could channel gathered in the palace, it
would have been surprising if no one attempted to snoop, but she wished she knew how to trace
whoever was making those attempts. As it was, she hardly dared say anything of substance without a 

ward in place.

 "Then I have a little good news," Mistress Harfor said, shifting her folder but not opening it, "from Jon
Skellit." The barber had been most assiduous about carrying his reports, approved beforehand by Reene,
out to Arymilla and bringing back what he could learn in the camps outside the city. He was in the
employ of Naean Arawn, but Naean, supporting Arymilla's claim, would surely share Skellit's reports
with Arymilla. Unfortunately, what he had been able to learn so far had not been much of use. "He says
that Arymilla and the High Seats supporting her intend to be in the first party to ride into Caem-lyn. She
boasts of it constantly, it seems."

 Elayne sighed. Arymilla and the others stayed together, moving from camp to camp according to no
pattern she could see, and for some time great effort had gone into trying to learn where they would be
ahead of time. A simple matter then to send soldiers through a gateway to seize all of them at once and
decapitate her opposition. As simple as such things could be, anyway. Men would die under the best of
circumstances, some of the High Seats might well escape, yet if only Arymilla herself could be taken,
there would be an end to it. Elenia and Naean had made public renunciation of their own claims, which
was irreversible. That pair might go on supporting Arymilla if they remained free-they had tied themselves
to her tightly-but with Arymilla in hand, all Elayne really would have to contend with was gaining the
support of at least four more of the great Houses. As if it were easy. So far, efforts in that direction had
proven futile. Perhaps today would bring good news on that front, though. But this news was useless. If
Arymilla and the others were riding into Caemlyn it would mean the city was beyond the brink of falling.
Worse, if Arymilla was boasting. she must believe it would happen soon. The woman was a fool in many
ways, but it would be a mistake to underestimate her completely. She had not carried her claim this far
by being an absolute fool.

 "This is your good news?" Birgitte said. She saw the implications, too. "A hint of when might help."

 Reene spread her hands. "Arymilla gave Skellit a gold crown with her own hands once, my Lady. He
turned it over to me as proof that he's reformed." Her lips compressed for a moment; Skellit had saved
himself from hanging, yet he would never regain trust. "That's the only time the man's been within ten
paces of her. He has to go by what he can pick up gossiping with the other men." She hesitated. "He's
very afraid, my Lady. The men in those camps are certain they'll take the city in a matter of days."

 "Afraid enough to turn his coat a third time?" Elayne asked quietly. There was nothing to say to the other

 "No, my Lady. If Naean, or Arymilla, learns what he's done, he's a dead man, and he knows it. But he's
afraid if the city falls, they will learn. I think he may bolt soon." 

 Elayne nodded grimly. Mercenaries were not the only rats to flee fire. "Do you have any good news,
Master Norry?"

 The First Clerk had been standing quietly, fingering his embossed leather folder and trying to appear as if
he were not listening to Reene. "I think I can better Mistress Harfor, my Lady." There might have been a
touch of triumph in his smile. Of late, it was rare for him to have better news than she. "I have a man 1
believe can follow Mellar successfully. May I have him brought in?"

 Now, that was excellent news. Five men had died trying to follow Doilin Mellar when he went out into
the city at night, and the "coincidence" seemed strained. The first time, it had appeared the fellow fell
afoul of a footpad, and she thought nothing of it beyond settling a pension on the man's widow. The
Guards managed to keep crime under some control-except for arson, at least-yet robbers used darkness
as a cloak to hide in. The other four had seemed the same, killed with a single knife thrust, their purses
emptied, but however dangerous the streets at night, coincidence hardly seemed credible.

 When she nodded, the spindly old man hurried to the doors and opened one to put his head out. She
could not hear what he said-the ward worked both ways-but in a few minutes a burly Guardsman
entered pushing ahead of him a shuffling man with fetters on his wrists and ankles. Everything about the
prisoner seemed . . . average. He was neither fat nor thin, tall nor short. His hair was brown, of no
particular shade she could name, and his eyes as well. His face was so ordinary she doubted she could
describe him. No feature stood out at all. His clothing was just as unremarkable, a plain brown coat and
breeches of neither the best wool nor the worst, somewhat rumpled and beginning to show dirt, a lightly
embossed belt with a simple metal buckle that might have ten thousand twins in Caemlyn. In short, he
was eminently forgettable. Birgitte motioned the Guardsman to stop the fellow well short of the chairs and
told him to wait outside.

 "A reliable man," Norry said, watching the Guardsman leave. "Afrim Hansard. He served your mother
faithfully, and knows how to keep his mouth shut."

 "Chains?' Elayne said.

 "This is Samwil Hark, my Lady," Norry said, eyeing the man with the sort of curiosity he might have
shown toward an unfamiliar and oddly shaped animal, "a remarkably successful cutpurse. The Guards
only caught him because another ruffian . . . um . . . 'turned the cat on him.' as they say in the streets,
hoping to lessen his own sentence for a third offense of strongarm robbery." A thief would be eager for
that. Not only was the flogging longer, the thief-mark branded on his forehead would be much harder to
disguise or hide than the mark on his thumb for his second offense. "Anyone who has managed to keep 

from being caught for as long as Master Hark should be able to carry out the task I have in mind for

 "I'm innocent, I am, my Lady." Hark knuckled his forehead, the iron chains of his fetters clinking, and put
on an ingratiating smile. He talked very quickly. "It's all lies and happenstances, it is. I'm a good Queen's
man, I am. I wore your mother's colors in the riots, my Lady. Not that I took part in the rioting, you
understand. I'm a clerk when I have work, which I'm out of at the moment. But I wore her colors on my
cap for all to see, 1 did." The bond was full of Birgitte's skepticism.

 "Master Hark's rooms contained chests full of neatly cut purses," the First Clerk went on. "There are
thousands of them, my Lady. Quite literally thousands. I suppose he may regret keeping . . . urn . . .
trophies. Most cutpurses have sense enough to get rid of the purse as soon as possible."

 "1 picks them up when I sees one, I does, my Lady." Hark spread his hands as far as his chains allowed
and shrugged, the very image of injured innocence. "Maybe it were foolish, but I never saw no harm. Just
a harmless sort of amusement, my Lady."

 Mistress Harfor sniffed loudly, disapproval clear on her face. Hark managed to look even more hurt.

 "His rooms also contained coins to the value of over one hundred twenty gold crowns, secreted under
the floorboards, in cubbyholes in the walls, in the rafters, everywhere. His excuse for that," Norry raised
his voice as Hark opened his mouth again, "is that he distrusts bankers. He claims the money is an
inheritance from an aged aunt in Four Kings. I myself very much doubt the magistrates in Four Kings will
have registered such an inheritance, though. The magistrate judging his case says he seemed surprised to
learn that inheritances are registered.' Indeed, Hark s smile laded somewhat at being reminded. "He says
that he worked for Wilbin Saems, a merchant, until Saems' death four months ago, but Master Saems'
daughter maintains the business, and neither she nor any of the other clerks recall any Samwil Hark."

 "They hates me, they does, my Lady," Hark said in a sullen voice. His hands gripped the chain between
them in fists. "I was gathering evidence of how they was stealing from the good master-his own daughter,
mind!-only he died afore I could give it to him. and I was turned out in the streets without a reference or
a penny, I was. They burned what I'd gathered, gave me a drubbing and threw me out."

 Elayne tapped her chin thoughtfully. "A clerk, you say. Most clerks are better spoken than you. Master
Hark, but I'll offer you a chance to give evidence for your claim. Would you send for a lapdesk. Master

 Norry gave a thin smile. How could the man make a smile seem dry? "No need, my Lady. The
magistrate in the case had the same idea." For the first time that she had ever seen, he took a sheet of
paper from the folder clutched to his chest. She thought trumpets should sound! Hark's smile faded away
completely as his eyes followed that page from Norry's hand to hers.

 One glance was all that was needed. A few uneven lines covered less than half the sheet, the letters
cramped and awkward. No more than half a dozen words were actually legible, and those barely.

 "Hardly the hand of a clerk." she murmured. Returning the page to Norry, she tried to make her face
stern. She had seen her mother passing judgment. Morgase had been able to make herself appear
implacable. "I fear. Master Hark, that you will sit in a cell until the magistrates in Four Kings can be
queried, and soon after that you will hang." Hark's lips writhed, and he put a hand to his throat as if he
could already feel the noose. "Unless, of course, you agree to follow a man for me. A dangerous man
who doesn't like to be followed. If you can tell me where he goes at night, instead of hanging, you will be
exiled to Baerlon. Where you would be well advised to find a new line of work. The governor will be
informed of you."

 Suddenly Hark's smile was back. "Of course, my Lady. I'm innocent. but I can see how things look dark
against me, I can. I'll follow any man you want me to. I was your mother's man, I was. and I'm your man.
too. Loyal is what I am, my Lady, loyal if I suffers for it."

 Birgitte snorted derisively.

 "Arrange for Master Hark to see Mellar's face without being seen, Birgitte." The man was unmemorable,
but there was no point in taking chances. "Then turn him loose." Hark looked ready to dance, iron chains
or no iron chains. "But first. . . . You see this. Master Hark?" She held up her right hand so he could not
miss the Great Serpent ring. "You may have heard that 1 am Aes Sedai." With the Power already in her,
it was a simple matter to weave Spirit. "It is true." The weave she laid on Hark's belt buckle, his boots,
his coat and breeches, was somewhat akin to that for the Warder bond, though much less complex. It
would fade from the clothing and boots in a few weeks, or months at best, but metal would hold a Finder
forever. "I've laid a weave on you. Master Hark. Now you can be found wherever you are." In truth,
only she would be able to find him-a Finder was attuned to the one who wove it-but there was no reason
to tell him that. "Just to be sure that you are indeed loyal."

 Hark's smile seemed frozen in place. Sweat beaded on his forehead. When Birgitte went to the door and
called in Hansard, giving him instructions to take Hark away and keep him safe from prying eyes, Hark
staggered and would have fallen if the husky Guardsman had not held him up on the way out of the room. 

 "I fear I may just have given Mellar a sixth victim," Elayne muttered. "He hardly seems capable of
following his own shadow without tripping over his boots." It was not so much Hark's death she
regretted. The man would have hanged for sure. "I want whoever put that bloody man in my palace. I
want them so badly my teeth ache!" The palace was riddled with spies-Reene had uncovered above a
dozen beyond Skellit, though she believed that was all of them-but whether Mellar had been set to spy or
to facilitate kidnapping her, he was worse than the others. He had arranged for men to die, or he had
killed them, in order to gain his place. That those men had thought they were to kill her made no
difference. Murder was murder.

 "Trust me, my Lady," Norry said, laying a finger alongside his long nose. "Cutpurses are . . . um . . .
stealthy by nature, yet they seldom last long. Sooner or later they cut the purse of someone faster afoot
than they, someone who doesn't wait for the Guards." He made a quick gesture as if stabbing someone.
"Hark has lasted at least twenty years. A number of the purses in his . . . um . . . collection were
embroidered with prayers of thanks for the end of the Aiel War. Those went out of fashion very quickly,
as I recall."

 Birgitte sat down on the arm of the next chair and folded her arms beneath her breasts. "I could arrest
Mellar," she said quietly, "and have him put to the question. You'd have no need of Hark then."

 "A poor joke, my Lady, if I may say so," Mistress Harfor said stiffly. at the same time that Master Norry
said, "That would be . . . um . . . against the law, my Lady."

 Birgitte bounded to her feet, outrage flooding the bond. "Blood and bloody ashes! We know the man's
as rotten as last month's fish.''

 "No." Elayne sighed, fighting not to feel outraged as well. "We have suspicions, not proof. Those five
men might have fallen afoul of footpads. The law is quite clear on when someone may be put to the
question, and suspicions are not reason enough. Solid evidence is needed. My mother often said, 'The
Queen must obey the law she makes, or there is no law." I will not begin by breaking the law." The bond
carried something . . . stubborn. She fixed Birgitte with a steady look. "Neither will you. Do you
understand me. Birgitte Trahelion? Neither will you."

 To her surprise, the stubbornness lasted only moments longer before dwindling away to be replaced by
chagrin. "It was only a suggestion," Birgitte muttered weakly. 

 Elayne was wondering how she had done that and how to do it again-sometimes there seemed doubt in
Birgitte's mind over which of them was in charge-when Deni Coiford slipped into the room and cleared
her throat to draw attention to herself. A long, brass-studded cudgel balanced the sword hanging at the
heavyset woman's waist, looking out of place. Deni was getting better with the sword but still preferred
the cudgel she had used keeping order in a wagon drivers' tavern. "A servant came to say that the Lady
Dyelin has arrived, my Lady, and will be at your service as soon as she's freshened herself."

 "Send the Lady Dyelin word that she's to meet me in the Map Room." Elayne felt a surge of hope. At
last, perhaps, she might hear some good news.


 A Bronze Bear

 Leaving Mistress Harfor and Master Norry, Elayne started eagerly toward the Map Room still holding
saidar. Eagerly, but not hurriedly. Deni and three Guardswomen strode ahead of her, heads swiveling in
constant search of threats, and the other four stamped along behind. She doubted that Dyelin would take
long over her ablutions. good news or bad. The Light send that it was good. Birgitte. hands clasped
behind her back and wearing a frown, seemed sunk in silence as they walked, though she studied every
crossing corridor as if expecting an attack from it. The bond still carried worry. And tiredness. A yawn
cracked Elayne's jaws before she could stop herself.

 An unwillingness to start rumors was not the only reason she maintained a stately pace. There were more
than servants in the hallways, now. Courtesy had required her to offer rooms in the palace to the nobles
who managed to reach the city with armsmen-counting armsmen loosely; some were well-trained and
carried a sword every day. others had been guiding a plow before being called to follow their lord or
lady-and a fair number had accepted. Mainly those who had no dwelling in Caemlyn or. she suspected,
felt pinched for coin. Farmers or laborers might think all nobles wealthy, and certainly most were. if only
in comparison, but the expenses required by their positions and duties left many counting coins as
carefully as any farmwife. What she was to do for the newest arrivals she did not know. Nobles already
were sleeping three and four to a bed wherever the beds were large enough; all but the narrowest could
take at least two, and did. Many Kinswomen had been reduced to pallets on the floor in the servants'
quarters, and thank the Light spring had made that possible.

 It seemed the whole lot of her noble guests were out strolling, and when they offered her courtesies, she
had to stop and pass at least a few words. Sergase Gilbearn, small and slim in a green riding dress, her
dark hair lightly touched with white, who had brought all twenty of the armsmen in her service, and
vinegary old Kelwin Janevor, wiry in his discreetly darned blue wool coat, who had brought ten, received 

as gracious an exchange as did lanky Barel Layden and stout Anthelle Sharplyn. though they were High
Seats, if of minor Houses. All had ridden to her support with whatever they could gather, and none had
turned back on learning the odds. Many looked uneasy today, though. No one said anything of it-they
were all full of good wishes and hopes for a speedy coronation and how honored they were to follow
her-but worry was written on their faces. Arilinde Branstrom, normally so ebullient you might think she
believed her fifty armsmen could turn the tide for Elayne by themselves, was not the only woman chewing
her lip, and Laerid Traehand, stocky and taciturn and usually as stolid as stone, was not the only man
with a furrowed brow. Even news of Guybon and the aid he had brought caused only brief smiles,
quickly swallowed in ill ease.

 "Do you think they've heard of Arymilla's confidence?" she asked in one of the brief intervals when she
was not responding to bows and curtsies. "No, that wouldn't be enough to upset Arilinde or Laerid."
Arymilla inside the walls with thirty thousand men likely would fail to upset that pair.

 "It wouldn't," Birgitte agreed. She glanced around as if to see who besides the Guardswomen might hear
before going on. "Maybe they're worried over what's been worrying me. You didn't get lost when we got
back. Or rather, you had help."

 Elayne paused to offer a few hurried words to a gray-haired couple in woolens that would have suited
prosperous farmers. Brannin and El-vaine Martan's manor house was much like a large farmhouse,
sprawling and housing generations. A third of their armsmen were their sons and grandsons, nephews and
great-nephews. Only those too young or too old to ride had been left behind to see to planting. She
hoped the smiling pair did not reel they were getting short shrift, but she was walking on almost as soon
as she stopped. "What do you mean. I had help?" she demanded.

 "The palace is . . . changed." For a moment, there was confusion in the bond. Birgitte grimaced. "It
sounds mad, I know, but it's as if the whole thing had been built to a slightly different plan." One of the
Guardswomen ahead missed a step, caught herself. "I have a good memory. . . ." Birgitte hesitated, the
bond filled with a jumble of emotions hastily pushed down. Most of her memories of past lives had
vanished as surely as the winter's snow. Nothing remained before the founding of the White Tower, and
the four lives she had lived between then and the end of the Trolloc Wars were beginning to fragment.
Little seemed to frighten her, yet she feared losing the rest, especially her memories of Gaidal Cain. "I
don't forget a path once I've followed it," she went on. "and some of these hallways aren't the same as
they were. Some of the corridors have been . . . shifted. Others aren't there anymore, and there are some
new. Nobody is talking about it that I could find out, but I think the old people are keeping quiet because
they're afraid their wits are going, and the younger are afraid they'll lose their positions."

 "That's-" Elayne shut her mouth. Clearly it was not impossible. Birgitte did not suffer from sudden
fancies. Naris' reluctance to leave her apartments suddenly made sense, and perhaps Reene's earlier
puzzlement, too. She almost wished being with child really had befuddled her. But how? "Not the
Forsaken," she said firmly. "If they could do something like this, they'd have done it long since, and worse 

than. ... A good day to you, too, Lord Aubrem."

 Lean and craggy and bald save for a thin white fringe, Aubrem Pensenor should have been dandling his
grandchildren's children on his knee, but his back was straight, his eyes clear. He had been among the
first to reach Caemlyn. with near to a hundred men and the first news that it was Arymilla Marne
marching against the city, with Naean and Elenia supporting her. He began reminiscing about riding for
her mother in the Succession, until Birgitte murmured that Lady Dyelin would be waiting for her.

 "Oh. in that case, don't let me delay you, my Lady," the old man said heartily. "Please give my regards to
Lady Dyelin. She's been so busy, I've not exchanged two words with her since reaching Caemlyn. My
very best regards, if you will." House Pensenor had been allied to Dyelin's Taravin since time out of mind.

 "Not the Forsaken," Birgitte said once Aubrem was out of earshot. "But what caused it is only the first
question. Will it happen again? If it does, will the changes always be benign? Or might you wake up and
find yourself in a room without doors or windows? What happens if you're sleeping in a room that
disappears? If a corridor can go. so can a room. And what if it's more than the palace? We need to find
out if all the streets still lead where they did. What if the next time, part of the city wall isn't there

 "You do think dark thoughts," Elayne said bleakly. Even with the Power in her, the possibilities were
enough to give her a sour stomach.

 Birgitte fingered the four golden knots on the shoulder of her white-collared red coat. "They came with
these." Strangely, the worry carried by the bond was less now that she had shared her concerns. Elayne
hoped the woman did not think she had answers. No, that really was impossible. Birgitte knew her too
well for that.

 "Does this frighten you, Deni?" she asked. "I'll admit it does me."

 "No more than needful, my Lady," the blocky woman answered without stopping her careful scan of
what lay ahead. Where the others walked with a hand on their sword hilts, her hand rested on her long
cudgel. Her voice was as placid, and as matter-of-fact, as her face. "One time a big wagon man named
Eldrin Hackly came near breaking my neck. Not usually a rough man, but he was drunk beyond drunk
that night. I couldn't get the angle right, and my cudgel seemed to bounce off his skull without making a
dent. That frightened me more, because I knew certain sure I was about to die. This is just maybe, and
any day you wake up, maybe you die." 

 Any day you wake up, maybe you die. There were worse ways to look at life, Elayne supposed. Still,
she shivered. She was safe, at least till her babes were born, but no one else was.

 The two guards at the wide, lion-carved doors to the Map Room were experienced Guardsmen, one
short and the next thing to scrawny, the other wide enough to appear squat though he was of average
height. Nothing visible picked them out from any other men in the Guards, but only good swordsmen,
trusted men, got this duty. The short man nodded to Deni, then straightened his back stiffly at a
disapproving frown from Birgitte. Deni smiled at him shyly-Deni! shyly!-while a pair of Guardswomen
went through the inevitable routine. Birgitte opened her mouth, but Elayne laid a hand on her arm, and the
other woman looked at her. then shook her head, thick golden braid swaying slowly.

 "It's not good when they're on duty, Elayne. They should be seeing to their duties, not mooning over
each other." She did not raise her voice, yet color appeared in Deni's round cheeks, and she stopped
smiling and started watching the corridor again. It was better that way. perhaps, yet still a pity.
Somebody ought to have a little pleasure in their lives.

 The Map Room was the second-largest ballroom in the palace, and spacious, with four red-streaked
marble fireplaces where small fires burned beneath the carved mantels, a domed ceiling worked with gilt
and supported by widely spaced columns two spans from white marble walls that had been stripped of
tapestries, and sufficient mirrored stand-lamps to light the room as well as if it had windows. The greatest
part of its tile floor was a detailed mosaic map of Caemlyn, originally laid down more than a thousand
years ago, after the New City had been completed though before Low Caemlyn began growing. Long
before there was an Andor. before even Artur Hawk wing. It had been redone several times since, as
tiles faded or became worn, so every street was exact-at least, they had been until today; the Light send
they still were-and despite many buildings replaced over the years, even some of the alleys were
unchanged from what the huge map showed.

 There would be no dancing in the Map Room for the foreseeable future, however. Long tables between
the columns held more maps. some large enough to spill over the edges, and shelves along the walls held
stacks of reports, those not so sensitive they needed to be locked away or else committed to memory
and burned. Birgitte's wide writing table, nearly covered with baskets, most full of papers, stood at the
far end of the room. As Captain-General, she had her own study, but as soon as she discovered the Map
Room, she had decided the map in the floor made it too good not to use.

 A small wooden disc, painted red, marked the spot on the outer wall where the assault had just been
beaten back. Birgitte scooped it up in passing and tossed it into a round basket full of the things on her
writing table. Elayne shook her head. It was a small basket, but if there were enough attacks at once to
need that many markers. . . . 

 "My Lady Birgitte, I have that report on available fodder you asked for," a graying woman said, holding
out a page covered with neat lines. The White Lion was worked small on the breast of her neat brown
dress. Five other clerks went on with their work, pens skritching. They were among Master Norry's most
trusted, and Mistress Harfor had personally screened the half dozen messengers in red-and-white livery.
swift young men-boys really-who stood against the wall behind the clerks' small writing tables. One, a
pretty youth, began a bow before cutting it short with a blush. Birgitte had settled the question of
courtesies, to her or other nobles, with very few words. Work came first, and any noble who disliked
that could just avoid the Map Room.

 "Thank you, Mistress Anford. I'll look at it later. If you and the others will wait outside, please?"

 Mistress Anford quickly gathered up the messengers and the other clerks, giving them only time to
stopper their ink jars and blot their work. No one showed a glimmer of surprise. They were accustomed
to the need for privacy at times. Elayne had heard people call the Map Room the Secrets Room, though
nothing very secret was kept there. All of that was locked away in her apartments.

 While the clerks and messengers were filing out, Elayne strode to one of the long tables where a map
showed Caemlyn and its surroundings for at least fifty miles in each direction. Even the Black Tower had
been inked in. a square sitting less than two leagues south of the city. A growth on Andor. and no way to
be rid of it. She still sent parties of Guardsman to inspect some days, via gateways, but the place was
large enough that the Asha'man could have been up to anything without her learning of it. Pins with
enameled heads marked Arymilla's eight camps around the city, and small metal figures various other
camps. A falcon, finely wrought in gold and no taller than her little finger, showed where the Goshien
were. Or had been. Were they gone yet? She slipped the falcon into her belt pouch. Aviendha was very
much a falcon. On the other side of the table. Birgitte raised a questioning eyebrow.

 "They're gone, or going." Elayne told her. There would be visits. Aviendha was not gone forever. "Sent
somewhere by Rand. Where, I don't know, burn him."

 "I wondered why Aviendha wasn't with you."

 Elayne laid one finger atop a bronze horseman less than a hand tall, standing a few leagues west of the
city. "Someone needs to take a look at Davram Bashere's camp. Find out whether the Saldaeans are
leaving, too. And the Legion of the Dragon." It did not matter if they were, really. They had not interfered
in matters, thank the Light, and the time when fear that they might restrained Arymilla was long past. But
she disliked things happening in Andor without her knowledge. "Send Guardsmen to the Black Tower
tomorrow, as well. Tell them to count how many Asha'man they see." 

 "So he's planning a big battle. Another big battle. Against the Seanchan, I suppose." Folding her arms
beneath her breasts, Birgitte frowned at the map. "I'd wonder where and when, except we have enough
in front of us to be going on with."

 The map displayed the reasons Arymilla was pressing so hard. For one, to the northeast of Caemlyn.
almost off the map. lay the bronze image of a sleeping bear, curled up with its paws over its nose. Two
hundred thousand men, near enough, almost as many trained men as all of Andor could field. Four
Borderland rulers, accompanied by perhaps a dozen Aes Sedai they tried to keep hidden, searching for
Rand, their reasons unstated. Borderlanders had no cause to turn against Rand that she could see-though
the simple fact was, he had not bound them to him as he had other lands-but Aes Sedai were another
matter, especially with their allegiance uncertain, and twelve approached a dangerous number even for
him. Well, the four rulers had in part deciphered her motives for asking them into Andor, yet she had
managed to mislead them concerning Rand's whereabouts. Unfortunately, the Borderlanders had belied
every tale of how swiftly they could move as they crept south, and now they sat in place, trying to find a
way to avoid coming near a city under siege. That was understandable, even laudable. Outland armies in
close proximity to Andoran armsmen, on Andoran soil, would make for a touchy situation. There were
always at least a few hotheads. Bloodshed, and maybe war, could start all too easily under those
circumstances. Even so, bypassing Caemlyn was going to be difficult: the narrow country roads had been
turned to bogs by the rains, giving hard passage to an army that large. Elayne could have wished they had
marched another twenty or thirty miles toward Caemlyn, though. She had hoped their presence would
have had a different effect by now. It might still.

 More important, certainly to Arymilla and possibly to herself, a few leagues below the Black Tower
stood a tiny silver swordsman with his blade upright in front of him and a silver halberdier, plainly by the
same silversmith's hand, one to the west of the black square, the other to the east. Luan. Ellorien and
Abelle, Aemlyn, Arathelle and Pelivar had close to sixty thousand men between them in those two
camps. Their estates and those of the nobles tied to them must have been stripped near the bone. Those
two camps were where Dyelin had been these past three days, trying to learn their intentions.

 The spindly Guardsman opened one of the doors and held it for an elderly serving woman carrying a
rope-work silver tray with two tall golden wine picchers and a circle of goblets made of blue Sea Folk
porcelain. Reene must have been uncertain how many would be present. The frail woman moved slowly,
careful not to tilt the heavy tray and drop anything. Elayne channeled flows of Air to take the tray, then let
them dissipate unused. Implying that the woman could not do her job would only be hurtful. She was
effusive in her thanks, though. The old woman smiled broadly, clearly delighted, and offered her a deep
curtsy once unburdened of the tray.

 Dyelin arrived almost right behind the maid, an image of vigor, and shooed her out before grimacing over
the contents of one pitcher-Elayne sighed; doubtless it held goat's milk-and filling a goblet from the other.
Plainly Dyelin had confined her freshening to washing her face and brushing her hair, golden flecked with 

gray, because her dark gray riding dress, with a large round silver pin worked with Taravin's Owl and
Oak on the high neck, had spots of half-dried mud on the skirts.

 "There's something seriously amiss," she said, swirling the wine in her goblet without drinking. A frown
deepened the fine lines at the corners of her eyes. "I've been in this palace more times than I can
remember. and today I got lost twice."

 "We know about that," Elayne told her, and quickly explained what little they had puzzled out, what she
intended to do. Belatedly, she wove a ward against eavesdropping and was unsurprised to feel it slice
through saidar. At least whoever had been listening in would get a jolt from that. A small jolt, since so
little of the power was involved that she had not sensed it. Maybe there was a way to make it a bard jolt
next time, though. Maybe that would begin to discourage eavesdroppers.

 "So it might happen again," Dyelin said when Elayne was done. Her tone was calm, but she licked her
lips and took a swallow of wine, as if her mouth was suddenly dry. "Well. Well, then. If you don't know
what caused it, and you don't know whether it will happen again, what are we to do?"

 Elayne stared. Again someone seemed to think she had answers she did not. But then, that was what it
meant to be queen. You were always expected to have an answer, to find one. That was what it meant to
be Aes Sedai. "We can't stop it, so we'll live with it, Dyelin, and try to keep people from growing too
afraid. I'll announce what happened. as much as we know, and have the other sisters do the same. That
way, people will know that Aes Sedai are aware, and that should provide some comfort. A little. They'll
still be frightened, of course, but not as much as they'll be if we say nothing and it does happen again."

 That seemed a feeble effort to her, but surprisingly Dyelin agreed without hesitation. "1 myself can
suggest nothing else to be done. Most people think you Aes Sedai can handle anything. It should suffice,
in the circumstances."

 And when they realized that Aes Sedai could not handle anything, that she could not? Well, that was a
river that she would cross when she reached it. "Is the news good, or bad?"

 Before Dyelin could answer, the door opened again.

 "I heard that Lady Dyelin had returned. You should have sent for us, Elayne. You aren't queen yet, and I
dislike you keeping secrets from me. Where is Aviendha?" Catalyn Haevin. a cool-eyed, ungovernable 

young woman-a girl in truth, still long months short of her majority, though her guardian had abandoned
her to go her own way-was pride to her toenails, her plump chin held high. Of course, that might have
been because of the large enameled pin of Haevin's Blue Bear that decorated the high neck of her blue
riding dress. She had begun showing Dyelin respect, and a certain wariness, shortly after she started
sharing a bed with her and Sergase. but with Elayne she insisted on every perquisite of a High Seat.

 "We all heard," Conail Northan said. Lean and tall in a red silk coat, with laughing eyes and an eagle's
beak of a nose, he was of age, just, a few months past his sixteenth name day. He swaggered and
caressed the hilt of his sword much too fondly, but there seemed no harm in him. Only boyishness, an
unfortunate trait in a High Seat. "And none of us could wait to hear when Luan and the others will join us.
This pair would have run the whole way." He ruffled the hair of the two younger boys with him, Perival
Mantear and Branlet Gilyard, who gave him a dark look and raked fingers through his hair to straighten
it. Perival blushed. Quite short but already pretty, he was the youngest at twelve, yet Branlet had only a
year on him.

 Elayne sighed, but she could not ask them to leave. Children most of them might be-perhaps all,
considering Conail's behavior-yet they were the High Seats of their Houses, and along with Dyelin, her
most important allies. She did wish she knew how they had learned the purpose of Dyelin s journey. That
had been intended to be a secret until she knew what news Dyelin brought. Another task for Reene.
Gossip unchecked, the wrong gossip, could be as dangerous as spies.

 "Where is Aviendha? ' Catalyn demanded. Strangely, she had become quite taken with Aviendha.
Fascinated might have been a better word. Of all things, she had persisted in trying to make Aviendha
teach her to use a spear!

 "So, my Lady," Conail said, strolling over to fill a blue goblet with wine, "when are they joining us?"

 "The bad news is that they aren't," Dyelin said calmly. "The good news is that they've each rejected an
invitation to join Arymilla." She cleared her throat loudly as Branlet reached for the wine pitcher. His
cheeks reddened, and he picked up the other pitcher as if he had really meant to all along. The High Seat
of House Gilyard, yet still a boy for all of the sword on his hip. Perival also wore a sword, one that
dragged on the floor tiles and looked too big for him. but he had already taken goat's milk. Pouring her
own wine, Catalyn smirked at the younger boys, a superior smile that vanished when she noticed Dyelin
looking at her.

 "That's small turnips to call good news," Birgitte said. "Burn me, if it isn't. You bring back a bloody
half-starved squirrel and call it a side of beef." 

 "Pungent as always," Dyelin said dryly. The two women glared at each other, Birgitte's hands balling into
fists, Dyelin fingering the dagger at her belt.

 "No arguing." Elayne said, making her voice sharp. The anger in the bond helped. At times she feared
the pair might come to blows. "I won't put up with your bickering today."

 "Where is Aviendha?"

 "Gone, Catalyn. What else did you learn, Dyelin?"

 "Gone where?"

 "Gone away," Elayne said calmly. Saidar or no saidai she wanted to slap the girl's face. "Dyelin?"

 The older woman took a sip of wine to cover breaking off her staring match with Birgitte. Coming to
stand beside Elayne, she picked up the silver swordsman, turned him over, set him down again.
"Aem-lyn, Arathelle and Pelivar tried to convince me to announce a claim to the throne, but they were
less adamant than when I spoke with them last. I believe I've almost convinced them I won't do it."

 "Almost?" Birgitte put a hundredweight of derision in the word. Dyelin ignored her pointedly. Elayne
frowned at Birgitte, who shifted uncomfortably and stalked off long enough to get herself a goblet of
wine. Very satisfying. Whatever she was doing right, she hoped it continued to work.

 "My Lady," Perival said with a bow, extending one of two goblets he held to Elayne. She managed a
smile and a curtsy before taking the offering. Goat's milk. Light, but she was beginning to revile the stuff!

 "Luan and Abelle were . . . noncommittal," Dyelin continued, frowning at the halberdier. "They may be
swaying toward you." She hardly sounded as though she believed it, however. "I reminded Luan that he
helped me arrest Naean and Elenia. back in the beginning, but that may have done no more good than it
did with Pelivar." 

 "So they may all be waiting for Arymilla to win," Birgitte said grimly. "If you survive, they'll declare for
you against her. If you don't, one of them will make her own claim. Ellorien has the next best right after
you, doesn't she?" Dyelin scowled, but she offered no denials.

 "And Ellorien?" Elayne asked quietly. She was sure she knew the answer there already. Her mother had
had Ellorien flogged. That had been under Rahvin's influence, but few seemed to believe that. Few
seemed to believe Gaebril had even been Rahvin.

 Dyelin grimaced. "The woman's head is stone! She'd announce a claim in my name if she thought it
would do any good. At least she has enough sense to see it won't." Elayne noted that she made no
mention of any claims in Ellorien's own name. "In any case. I left Keraille Sur-tovni and Julanya Fote to
watch them. I doubt they'll move, but if they do. we'll know straightaway." Three Kinswomen who
needed to form a circle to Travel were watching the Borderlanders for the same reason.

 No good news at all, then, no matter what face Dyelin tried to put on it. Elayne had hoped the threat of
the Borderlanders would drive some of the Houses to support her. At least one reason I let them cross
An-clor still holds, she thought grimly. Even if she failed to gain the throne, she had done that service for
Andor. Unless whoever did take the throne bungled matters completely. She could see Arymilla doing
just that. Well, Arymilla was not going to wear the Rose Crown, and that was that. One way or another,
she had to be stopped.

 "So it's six, six and six," Catalyn said, frowning and thumbing the long signet ring on her left hand. She
looked thoughtful, unusual for her. Her usual style was to speak her mind with no consideration
whatsoever. "Even if Candraed joins us, we are short often." Was she wondering whether she had tied
Haevin to a hopeless cause? Unfortunately, she had not tied her House so tightly the knots could not be

 "I was certain Luan would join us," Conail muttered. "And Abelle and Pelivar." He took a deep swallow
of wine. "Once we beat Arymilla, they'll come. You mark me on it."

 "But what are they thinking?" Branlet demanded. "Are they trying to start a war with three sides?" His
voice went from treble to bass halfway through that, and his face flooded with red. He buried his face in
his goblet, but grimaced. Apparently he liked goat's milk as little as she did.

 "It's the Borderlanders." Perival's voice was a boy's piping, but he sounded sure of himself. "They're
holding back because whoever wins here, the Borderlanders still have to be dealt with." He picked up 

the bear, hefting it as if its weight would give him answers. "What I don't understand is why they're
invading us in the first place. We're so far from the Borderlands. And why haven't they marched on and
attacked Caemlyn? They could sweep Arymilla aside, and I doubt we could keep them out as easily as
we do her. So why are they here?"

 Smiling, Conail clapped him on the shoulder. "Now that will be a battle to see, when we face the
Borderlanders. Northan's Eagles and Mantear's Anvil will do Andor proud that day, eh?" Perival
nodded, but he did not look happy at the prospect. Conail certainly did.

 Elayne exchanged glances with Dyelin and Birgitte, both of whom looked amazed. Elayne felt astonished
herself. The other two women knew, of course, but little Perival had come near touching a secret that had
to be kept. Others might puzzle out eventually that the Borderlanders had been meant to push Houses
into joining her, but it must not be confirmed.

 "Luan and the others sent to Arymilla asking for a truce until the Borderlanders were turned back,"
Dyelin said after a moment. "She asked time to consider. As near as I can calculate, it was then that she
began increasing her efforts at the walls. She tells them she's still considering."

 "Aside from anything else," Catalyn said heatedly, "that shows why Arymilla doesn't deserve the throne.
She puts her own ambition above Andor's safety. Luan and the others must be fools not to see it."

 "Not fools." Dyelin replied. "Just men and women who think they see the future better than they do."

 What if she and Dyelin were the ones who were not seeing the future clearly. Elayne wondered. To save
Andor, she would have thrown her support to Dyelin. Not gladly, but to save Andor's blood, she would
have. Dyelin would have the support of ten Houses, more than ten. Even Danine Candraed might finally
decide to stir herself in support of Dyelin. Except that Dyelin did not want to be queen. She believed that
Elayne was the one to wear the Rose Crown. So did Elayne. But what if they were wrong? Not the first
time that question had come to her, but now, staring at the map with all of its ill tidings, she could not
shake free of it.

 That evening, after a dinner memorable only for the surprise of tiny strawberries, she sat in the large
sitting room of her apartments. reading. Trying to read. The leather-bound book was a history of Andor,
as was most of her reading of late. It was necessary to read as many as possible to gain any real version
of truth, cross-checking one against another. For one thing, a book first published during any monarch's
reign never mentioned any of her missteps, or those of her immediate predecessors if they were of her
own House. You had to read books written while Trakand held the throne to learn of Mantear's 

mistakes, and books written under Mantear to learn of Norwelyn's errors. Others' mistakes could teach
her how not to make the same herself. Her mother had made that almost her first lesson.

 She could not concentrate, however. She often found herself staring at a page without seeing a word,
thinking of her sister, or starting to say something to Aviendha before remembering that she was not
there. She felt very lonely, which was ridiculous. Sephanie stood in a corner against the possibility she
wanted anything. Eight Guardswomen were standing outside the door to the apartments, and one of
them. Yurith Azeri, was an excellent conversationalist, an educated woman though silent on her past. But
none of them was Aviendha.

 When Vandene glided into the room followed by Kirstian and Zarya. it seemed a relief. The two
white-clad women stopped by the doorway, expressions meek. Untouched by the Oath Rod, pale
Kirstian, hands folded at her waist, appeared just into her middle years; Zarya, with her tilted eyes and
hooked nose, well short of them. She held something wrapped in white toweling.

 "Forgive me if I'm interrupting." Vandene began, then frowned. The white-haired Green's face somehow
gave an impression of age despite her Aes Sedai features. Those could have been twenty, or forty, or
anything in between: that seemed to change at every blink. Perhaps it was her dark eyes, luminous and
deep and pained, which had seen so much. There was an air of tiredness about her, too. Her back was
straight, but she still looked weary. "It is none of my business, of course," she said delicately, "but is there
a reason you are holding so much of the Power? I thought you must be weaving something very complex
when I felt you in the corridor."

 With a start, Elayne realized that she held nearly as much ofsaidar as she could contain safely. How had
that happened? She did not recall drawing any deeper. Hastily, she released the Source, regret filling her
as the Power drained away and the world became . . . ordinary again. On the instant, her mood bounced

 "You aren't interrupting anything," she said peevishly, setting her book down on the table in front of her.
She had not finished three pages of the thing anyway.

 "May I make us private, then?"

 Elayne gave a curt nod-it was none of the woman's bloody business how much of the Power she held;
she knew the protocols as well as Elayne. or better-and told Sephanie to wait in the anteroom while
Vandene wove a ward against eavesdropping. 

 Ward or no ward, Vandene waited until the door closed behind the maid before speaking. "Reanne
Corly is dead, Elayne."

 "Oh, Light, no." Temper vanished into sobs, and she hastily snatched a lace-edged handkerchief from
her sleeve to blot the tears suddenly streaming down her cheeks. Her cursed shifting moods at work, yet
Reanne surely deserved tears. She had so wanted to become a Green. "How?" Burn her. she wished she
could stop blubbering!

 There were no tears from Vandene. Perhaps there were no more tears in her. "She was smothered with
the Power. Whoever did it used much more than was needed. The residues of saidar were thick on her
and in the room where she was found. The murderer wanted to be sure no one would miss seeing how
she died."

 "That makes no sense, Vandene."

 "Perhaps it does. Zarya?"

 The Saldaean woman laid her small bundle on rhe table and unwrapped it to reveal an articulated
wooden doll. It was very old. the simple dress threadbare, the painted face flaking and missing an eye,
half of its long dark hair gone.

 "This belonged to Mirane Larinen," Zarya said. "Derys Nermala found it behind a cupboard."

 "I don't see what Mirane leaving a doll behind has to do with Re-anne's death," Elayne said, wiping her
eyes. Mirane was one of the Kinswomen who had run away.

 "Only this," Vandene answered. "When Mirane went to the Tower, she hid this doll outside because she
had heard that everything she owned would be burned. After she was put out, she retrieved it and always
carried it with her. Always. She had a quirk, though. Wherever she stopped for a time, she hid the doll
again. Do not ask me why. But she would not have run away and abandoned it." 

 Still dabbing at her eyes, Elayne leaned back in her chair. Her weeping had dwindled to sniffles, but her
eyes still leaked tears. "So Mirane didn't run away. She was murdered and . . . disposed of." A grisly
way to put it. "The others, too, you think? All of them?"

 Vandene nodded, and for a moment her slender shoulders slumped. "I very much fear so," she said,
straightening. "I expect clues were left among the things they left behind, treasured keepsakes like this
doll, a favorite piece of jewelry. The murderer wanted us to think she was being clever at hiding her
crimes but not clever enough, only we weren't clever enough to find those clues, so she decided to
become more blatant."

 "To frighten the Kinswomen into fleeing," Elayne muttered. That would not cripple her, but it would
throw her back on the mercies of the Windfinders, and those seemed to be growing mingy. "How many
of them know of this?"

 "All, by now. I should think." Vandene said dryly. "Zarya told Derys to keep quiet, but that woman likes
the sound of her own voice."

 "This seems aimed at me, at helping Arymilla gain the throne, but why would a Black sister have any
interest in that? I can't think we have two murderers among us. At least this settles the question of
Merilille. Speak with Sumeko and Alise. Vandene. They can make sure the rest don't panic." Sumeko
ranked next after Reanne, as the Kin ordered their hierarchy, and while Alise stood much lower, she was
a woman of great influence. "From now on, none of them is to be alone, not ever. Always at least two
together, and three or four would be better. And warn them to be careful of Careane and Sareitha."

 "I'd advise against that," Vandene said quickly. "They should be safe in groups, and word would reach
Careane and Sareitha. Warned against Aes Sedai? The Kin would give themselves away in a minute."
Kirstian and Zarya nodded solemnly.

 After a moment, Elayne reluctantly agreed to the continued secrecy. The Kin should be safe in groups.
"Let Chanelle know about Reanne and the others. I can't imagine the Windfinders are in any
danger-losing them wouldn't hurt me the way losing the Kin would-but wouldn't it be wonderful if they
did decide to leave?"

 She did not expect that they would-Chanelle feared returning to the Sea Folk with the bargain
unfulfilled-yet it would be a bright spot in an otherwise miserable day if they did. At least it seemed
unlikely anything could darken the day further. The thought sent a chill through her. The Light send
nothing would darken it more. 

 Arymilla pushed her plate of stew away with a grimace. She had been offered her choice of beds for the
night-Arlene, her maid, was making the choice now; the woman knew what she liked-and the least she
had expected was a decent meal, but the mutton was fatty, and definitely beginning to go rancid besides.
There had been too much of that lately. This time the cook was going to be flogged! She was unsure
which of the nobles in this camp employed him, just that he was supposed to be the best at hand-the
best!-but that did not matter. He would be flogged to make an example. And then sent away, of course.
You could never trust a cook after he had been punished.

 The mood in the tent was far from lively. Several of the nobles in the camp had hoped for invitations to
dine with her, but none stood high enough. She was beginning to regret not asking one or two, even some
of Naean's or Elenia's people. They might have been entertaining. Her closest allies at table together, and
you might have thought they sat over funeral meats. Oh, scrawny old Nasin, his thinning white hair
uncombed, was eating away heartily, apparently not noticing that the meat was nearly rotten, and giving
her fatherly pats on the hand. She met his smiles like a dutiful daughter. The fool was wearing one of his
flower-embroidered coats tonight. The thing could have passed for a woman's dressing robe! Happily,
his leers were all directed down the table at Elenia; the honey-haired woman flinched, her foxlike face
paling whenever she glanced at him. She controlled House Sarand as if she were the High Seat instead of
her husband, yet she feared that Arymilla would still let Nasin have his way with her. That threat was
unneeded, now, but it was well to have it to hand just in case. Yes, Nasin was happy enough in his futile
pursuit of Elenia. but the others were sunk in gloom. Their plates were abandoned barely touched, and
they kept her two serving men trotting to refill wine cups. She never liked trusting others' servants. At
least the wine had not turned.

 "I still say we should make a heavier push." Lir grumbled drunk-enly into his cup. A whip of a man. his
red coat showing the wear of armor straps, the High Seat of Baryn was ever eager to strike. Subtlety
was simply beyond him. "My eyes-and-ears report more armsmen entering the city every day through
these 'gateways.' " He shook his head and muttered something under his breath. The man actually
believed those rumors of dozens of Aes Sedai in the Royal Palace. "All these pinprick attacks do is lose

 "I agree," Karind said, fiddling with a large golden pin, enameled with the running Red Fox of Anshar,
that was fastened to her bosom. She was not much less intoxicated than Lir. Her square face had a
slackness about it. "We need to press home instead of throwing men away. Once we're over the walls,
our advantage in numbers will pay off."

 Arymilla's mouth tightened. They might at least show her the respect due a woman who was soon to be
Queen of Andor, rather than disagreeing with her all the time. Unfortunately, Baryn and Anshar were not
bound to her so tightly as Sarand and Arawn. Unlike Jarid and Naean. Lir and Karind had announced
their support of her without publishing it in writing. Neither had Nasin, but she had no fear of losing him.
Him, she had wound around her wrist for a bracelet. 

 Forcing a smile, she made her voice jovial. "We lose mercenaries. What else are mercenaries good for if
not dying in place of our arms-men?" She held up her winecup and a lean man in her silver-trimmed blue
hastened to fill it. In fact, he was so hasty that he spilled a drop on her hand. Her scowl made him snatch
a handkerchief from his pocket to blot up the drop before she could pull her hand away. His
handkerchief! The Light only knew where that filthy thing had been, and he had touched her with it! His
mouth writhed with fear as he retreated, bowing and mumbling apologies. Let him serve out the meal. He
could be dismissed after. "We will need all of our armsmen when I ride against the Borderlanders. Don't
you agree, Naean?"

 Naean twitched as though stuck with a pin. Slim and pale in yellow silk worked with silver patterns of
Arawn's Triple Keys on the breast, she had begun looking haggard in recent weeks, her blue eyes drawn
and tired. All of her supercilious airs were quite gone. "Of course. Arymilla," she said meekly and drained
her cup. Good. She and Elenia were definitely tamed, but Arymilla liked to check now and then to make
sure neither was growing a new backbone.

 "If Luan and the others will not support you, what good will taking Caemlyn do?" Sylvase, Nasin's
granddaughter and heir, spoke so seldom that the question came as a shock. Sturdy and not quite pretty,
she usually had a vapid gaze, but her blue eyes appeared quite sharp at the moment. Everyone stared at
her. That seemed not to faze her a bit. She toyed with a winecup, but Arymilla thought it no more than
her second. "If we must fight the Borderlanders, why not accept Luan's truce so Andor can field its full
strength unhindered by divisions?"

 Arymilla smiled. She wanted to slap the silly woman. Nasin would be angered by that, however. He
wanted her kept as Arymilla's "guest" to prevent his removal as High Seat-part of him seemed aware that
his wits were gone; all of him intended holding on as High Seat until he died-but he did love her. "Ellorien
and some of the others will come to me yet. child," she said smoothly. Smoothness required some effort.
Who did the chit think she was? "Aemlyn, Arathelle, Pelivar. They have grievances against Trakand."
Surely they would come once Elayne and Dyelin were out of the way. Those two would not survive
Caem-lyn's fall. "Once I have the city, they will be mine in any event. Three of Elayne's supporters are
children, and Conail Northan is little more than a child. I trust I can convince them to publish their support
of me easily enough." And if she could not. Master Lounalt surely could. A pity if children had to be
handed over to him and his cords. "I will be queen by sunset of the day Caemlyn falls to me. Isn't that
right, father?"

 Nasin laughed, spraying gobbets of half-chewed stew across the table. "Yes, yes," he said, patting
Arymilla's hand. "You listen to your aunt, Sylvase. Do as she tells you. She'll be Queen of Andor soon."
His smile faded, and an odd note entered his voice. It might almost have been . . . pleading. "Remember,
you will be High Seat of Caeren after I'm gone. After I'm gone. You will be High Seat." 

 "As you say, Grandfather," Sylvase murmured, inclining her head briefly. When she straightened, her
gaze was as insipid as ever. The sharpness must have been a trick of the light. Of course.

 Nasin grunted and went happily back to wolfing down the stew. "Best I've had in days. I think I'll have
another plate. More wine here. man. Can't you see my cup's dry?"

 The silence around the table stretched in discomfort. Nasin's more open displays of senility had a way of
causing that.

 "I still say," Lir began finally, only to cut off as a stocky armsman with Marne's four Silver Moons on his
chest entered the tent.

 Bowing respectfully, the fellow made his way around the table and bent to whisper in Arymilla's ear.
"Master Hernvil asks a word in private. my Lady."

 Everyone but Nasin and his granddaughter pretended to concentrate on their wine, certainly not
attempting to eavesdrop. He went on eating. She watched Arymilla, bland-faced. That sharpness must
have been a trick of the light.

 "I'll be but a few moments," Arymilla said, rising. She waved a hand, indicating the food and wine.
"Enjoy yourselves until I return. Enjoy." Lir called for more wine.

 Outside, she did not bother raising her skirts to keep them clear of the mud. Arlene would already have
to clean them, so what did a little more mud matter? Light showed in some tents, but by and large the
camp was dark beneath a half moon. Jakob Hernvil, her secretary, waited a little away from the tent in a
plain coat, holding a lantern that made a yellow pool around him. He was a little man, and lean, as if all
the fat had been boiled from him. Discretion was bred in his bones, and she ensured his loyalty by paying
him enough that only the largest bribes could be of interest, far more than anyone would offer a scrivener.

 "Forgive me for interrupting your meal, my Lady." he said with a bow, "but I was sure you would want
to hear right away." It was always a surprise, hearing such a deep voice from such a tiny man. "They have
agreed. But they want the whole amount of gold first." 

 Her lips compressed of their own accord. The whole amount. She had hoped to get off with paying only
the first half. After all, who would dare dun her once she was queen? "Draw up a letter to Mistress
Andscale. I'll sign and seal it first thing in the morning." Transferring that much gold would require days.
And how long to have the arms-men ready? She had never really paid attention to that sort of thing. Lir
could tell her, but she hated showing weakness. "Tell them a week from tomorrow, to the day." That
should be enough. In a week. Caem-lyn would be hers. The throne would be hers. Arymilla, by the
Grace of the Light, Queen of Andor, Defender of the Realm, Protector of the People, High Seat of
House Marne. Smiling, she went back inside to tell the others the wonderful news.


 News for the Dragon

 "Enough, Loial," Rand said firmly, thumbing tabac into his short-stemmed pipe from a goatskin pouch. It
was Tairen leaf, with a slightly oily taste from the curing, but that was all that was to be had. Thunder
rolled overhead, slow and ponderous. "You'll talk me hoarse with all these questions."

 They were seated at a long table in one of the larger rooms in Lord Algarin s manor house, the remains
of the midday meal pushed down to one end. The servants were old. for the most part, and slower
moving than ever since Algarin left for the Black Tower. The rain pouring down outside seemed to be
slackening, though strong gusts of wind still pelted the windows with raindrops hard enough to rattle the
glass in the six yellow-painted casements. Many of those panes held bubbles; some distorted what lay
outside almost beyond recognition. The table and chairs were simply carved, no more elaborate than
might be found in many farmhouses, and the yellow cornices beneath the high, beamed ceiling little more
so. The two fireplaces, at either end of the room, were broad and tall but of plain stone, the andirons and
firetools sturdy wrought iron and simple. Lord or no, Algarin was far from wealthy.

 Tucking the tabac pouch into his pocket. Rand strolled to one of the fireplaces and used small brass
tongs from the mantel to lift a burning sliver of oak for lighting his pipe. He hoped no one thought that
strange. He avoided channeling any more than absolutely necessary, especially if anyone else was
present-the dizziness that hit him when he did was difficult to conceal-but no one had mentioned it so far.
A gust of wind brought a squeaking as though tree branches had scraped across the windowpanes.
Imagination. The nearest trees were beyond the fields, more than half a mile away.

 Loial had brought down a vine-carved chair from the Ogier rooms that put his knees level with the
tabletop, so he had to lean forward sharply to write in his leather-bound notebook. The volume was
small for him, little enough to fit neatly into one of his capacious coat pockets, but still as large as most
human books Rand had seen. Fine hair decorated Loial's upper lip and a patch beneath his chin; he was 

attempting a beard and mustaches, though with only a few weeks' growth, it did not seem a very
successful attempt so far.

 "But you've told me almost nothing really useful," the Ogier rumbled, a drum booming its disappointment.
His tufted ears drooped. Even so, he began wiping the steel nib of his polished wooden pen. Fatter than
Rand's thumb and long enough to seem slender, it fitted Loial's thick fingers perfectly. "You never
mention heroics, except by somebody else. You make it all sound so everyday. To hear you tell it, the fall
of IIlian was as exciting as watching a weaver repair her loom. And cleansing the True Source? You and
Nynaeve linked, then you sat and channeled while everybody else was off fighting Forsaken. Even
Nynaeve told me more than that, and she claims to remember almost nothing."

 Nynaeve, wearing all of her jeweled ter'angreal and her strange bracelet-and-rings angreal, shifted in her
chair in front of the other fireplace, then went back to watching Alivia. Every so often she glanced toward
the windows and tugged at her thick braid, but for the most part she focused on the yellow-haired
Seanchan woman. Standing beside the doorway like a guard, Alivia gave a small, brief smile of
amusement. The former damane knew Nynaeve's display was meant for her. The intensity never left her
hawkish blue eyes, though. It seldom had, ever since her collar had been removed in Caemlyn. The two
Maidens squatting on their heels near her playing cat's cradle, Harilin of the Iron Mountain Taardad and
Enaila of the Jarra Chareen, were making their own display. Shoufa wrapped around their heads and
black veils hanging down their chests, each had three or four spears stuck through the harness holding her
bow case on her back and a bull-hide buckler lying on the floor. There were fifty Maidens in the manor
house, several of them Shaido, and they all went about ready to dance the spears in a heartbeat. Perhaps
with him. They seemed torn between delight at providing a guard for him again and displeasure over how
long he had avoided them.

 As for himself, he could not look at any of them without the litany of women who had died for him,
women he had killed, starting up in his head. Moiraine Damodred. Her above all. Her name was written
inside his skull in fire. Liah of the Cosaida Chareen, Sendara of the Iron Mountain Taardad. Lamelle of
the Smoke Water Miagoma, Andhilin of the Red Salt Goshien, Desora of the Musara Reyn. ... So many
names. Sometimes he woke in the middle of the night muttering that list, with Min holding him and
murmuring to him as if soothing a child. He always told her he was all right and wanted to go back to
sleep, yet after he closed his eyes, he did not sleep until the list had been completed. Sometimes Lews
Therin chanted it with him.

 Min looked up from the volume she had open on the table, one of Herid Fel's books. She devoured
those, and used the note he had sent Rand before his murder, the one where he said she was a
distraction because she was so pretty, as a bookmark. Her short blue coat, embroidered with white
flowers on the sleeves and lapels, was cut to fit snugly over her bosom, where her creamy silk blouse
showed a touch of cleavage, and her big dark eyes, framed by dark ringlets to her shoulders, held a
pleased light. He could feel her pleasure through the bond. She liked him looking at her. Without a doubt
the bond told her how much he liked looking. Oddly enough, it said she liked looking at him, too. Pretty?
He hummed, thumbing his earlobe. She was beautiful. And tied to him tighter than ever. She and Elayne
and Aviendha. How was he to keep them safe now? He forced himself to smile back at her around his 

pipestem. unsure how well the deception was working. A touch of irritation had entered the bond from
her end, though why she should become irritable whenever she thought he was worrying about her was
beyond him. Light, she wanted to protect him\

 "Rand isn't very talkative, Loial," she said, no longer smiling. Her low, almost musical voice held no
anger, but the bond told another story. "In fact, sometimes he's about as talkative as a mussel." The look
she directed at Rand made him sigh. It seemed there would be a great deal of talking once they were
alone together. "I can't tell you much, myself, but I'm sure Cadsuane and Venn will tell you anything you
want to know. Others will, too. Ask them if you want more than yes and no and two words besides.''

 Stout little Verin. knitting in a chair beside Nynaeve, appeared startled to hear her name mentioned. She
blinked vaguely, as though wondering why it had been. Cadsuane, at the far end of the table with her
sewing basket open beside her, only took her attention away from her embroidery hoop long enough to
glance at Loial. Golden ornaments swayed, dangling from the iron-gray bun atop her head. It was only
that, a glance, not a frown, yet Loial's ears twitched. Aes Sedai always impressed him, and Cadsuane
more than any other.

 "Oh, I will, Min. I will," he said. "But Rand is central to my book." With no sand jar at hand, he began
blowing gently on the page of his notebook to dry the ink, but Loial being Loial, he still talked between
puffs. "You never give enough detail. Rand. You make me drag everything out of you. Why, you never
even mentioned being imprisoned in Far Madding until Min did. Never mentioned it! What did the
Council of Nine say when they offered you the Laurel Crown? And when you renamed it? I can't think
they liked that. What was the coronation like? Was there feasting, a festival, parades? How many
Forsaken came against you at Shadar Logoth? Which ones? What did it look like at the end? What did
he feel like? My book won't be very good without the details. I hope Mat and Perrin give me better
answers.'' He frowned, long eyebrows grazing his cheeks. "I hope they're all right."

 Colors spun in Rand's head, twin rainbows swirled in water. He knew how to suppress them, now, but
this time he did not try. One resolved into a brief image of Mat riding through forest at the head of a line
of mounted folk. He seemed to be arguing with a small, dark woman who rode beside him, taking his hat
off and peering into it, then cramming it back onto his head. That lasted only moments, then was replaced
by Perrin sitting over winecups in a common room or tavern with a man and a woman who wore identical
red coats ornately trimmed with blue and yellow. Odd garments. Perrin looked grim as death, his
companions wary. Of him?

 "They're well." he said, calmly ignoring a piercing look from Cadsuane. She did not know everything,
and he intended to keep it that way. Calm on the surface, content, blowing smoke rings. Inside was
another matter. Where are they? he thought angrily, pushing down 

 another appearance of the colors. That was as easy as breathing, now. I need them, and they're off for a
day at the Ansaline Gardens'.

 Abruptly another image was floating his head, a man's face, and his breath caught. For the first time, it
came without any dizziness. For the first time, he could see it clearly in the moments before it vanished. A
blue-eyed man with a square chin, perhaps a few years older than himself. Or rather, he saw it clearly for
the first time in a long while. It was the face of the stranger who had saved his life in Shadar Logoth when
he fought Sammael. Worse. . . .

 He was aware of me, Lews Therin said. He sounded sane for a change. Sometimes he did, but the
madness always returned eventually. How can a face appearing in my mind be aware of me?

 If you don't know, how do yon expect me to? Rand thought. But I was aware of him, as well. It had
been a strange sensation, as if he were . . . touching . . . the other man somehow. Only not physically. A
residue hung on. It seemed he only had to move a hair's breadth, in any direction. to touch him again. I
think he saw my face, too.

 Talking to a voice in his head no longer seemed peculiar. In truth, it had not for quite a long time. And
now . . . ? Now, he could see Mat and Perrin by thinking of them or hearing their names, and he had this
other face coming to him unbidden. More than a face, apparently. What was holding conversations inside
his own skull alongside that? But the man had been aware, and Rand of him.

 When our streams of balefire touched in Shadar Logoth, it must have created some sort of link between
us. I can't think of any other explanation. That was the only time we ever met. He was using their
so-called True Power. It had to be that. I felt nothing, saw nothing except his stream of balefire. Having
bits of knowledge seem his when he knew they came from Lews Therin no longer seemed odd, either.
He could remember the Ansaline Gardens, destroyed in the War of the Shadow, as well as he did his
father's farm. Knowledge drifted the other way, too. Lews Therin sometimes spoke of Emond's Field as
if he had grown up there. Does that make any sense to you?

 Oh. Light, why do I have this voice in my head? Lews Therin moaned. Why can I not die? Oh, Ilyena,
my precious Ilyena, I want to join you. He trailed off into weeping. He often did when he spoke of the
wife he had murdered in his madness.

 It did not matter. Rand suppressed the sound of the man crying. pushed it down to a faint noise on the
edge of hearing. He was certain that he was right. But who was the fellow? A Darkfriend, for sure, but
not one of the Forsaken. Lews Therin knew their faces as well as he knew his own, and now Rand did, 

too. A sudden thought made him grimace. How aware of him was the other man? Ta'veren could be
found by their effect on the Pattern, though only the Forsaken knew how. Lews Therin certainly had
never mentioned knowing-their "conversations" were always brief, and the man seldom gave information
willingly-and nothing had drifted across from him on the subject. At least, Lanfear and Ishamael had
known how. but no one had found him that way since they had died. Could this link be used in the same
fashion? They could all be in danger. More danger than usual, as if the usual were not enough.

 "Are you well, Rand?" Loial asked worriedly, screwing the leaf-engraved silver cap onto his ink jar. The
glass of that was so thick it could have survived anything short of being hurled against stone, but Loial
handled it as though it were fragile. In his huge hands, it looked fragile. "I thought the cheese tasted off,
but you ate a good bit of it."

 "I'm fine," Rand said, but of course. Nynaeve paid him no heed. She was out of her chair and gliding
down the room in a flash, blue skirts swirling. Goose bumps popped out on his skin as she embraced
saidar and stretched to lay her hands on his head. An instant later, a chill rippled through him. The woman
never askedl Sometimes she behaved as if she were still the Wisdom in Emond's Field and he would be
heading back to the farm come morning.

 "You're not ill," she said in tones of relief. Spoiled food was causing all sorts of sickness among the
servants, some of it serious. People would have died except for the presence of Asha'man and Aes Sedai
to give Healing. Reluctant to cost their lord scarce money by throwing food out. despite all the
admonitions Cadsuane and Nynaeve and the other Aes Sedai gave them, they fed themselves things that
should have been tossed on the midden heap. A different tingling centered briefly around the double
wound in his left side.

 "That wound is no better," she said with a frown. She had tried Healing it, succeeding no better than
Flinn had. That did not sit well with her. Nynaeve took failure as a personal insult. "How can you even
stand up? You must be in agony."

 "He ignores it," Min said flatly. Oh. yes, there would be words.

 "It hurts no worse standing than sitting," he told Nynaeve, gently taking her hands from his head. Simple
truth. So was what Min had said. He could not afford to let pain make him a prisoner.

 One of the twinned doors creaked open to admit a white-haired man in a worn yellow coat trimmed
with red and blue that hung loosely on his bony frame. His bow was halting, a fault of his joints rather
than disrespect. "My Lord Dragon," he said in a voice nearly as creaky as the hinges, "Lord Logain has 


 Logain did not wait on invitations, entering practically on the serving man's heels. A tall man with dark
hair curling to his shoulders, and dark for a Ghealdanin, women likely thought him handsome, yet there
was a streak of darkness inside him as well. He wore his black coat with the Sword and the Dragon on
the high collar, and a long-hiked sword on his hip, but he had made an addition, a round enameled pin on
his shoulder showing three golden crowns in u field of blue. Had the man adopted a sigil? The old man's
hairy eye-brows shot up in surprise, and he looked to Rand as if inquiring whether he wanted Logain

 "The news from Andor is fair enough, I suppose," Logain said. tucking black gauntlets behind his sword
belt. He offered Rand a minimal bow, the slightest bending of his back. "Elayne still holds Caem-lyn, and
Arymilla still holds her siege, but Elayne has the advantage since Arymilla can't even stop food getting in.
much less reinforcements. No need to scowl. I kept out of the city. Black coats aren't exactly welcome
there, in any case. The Borderlanders are still in the same place. You were wise to stay clear of them, it
seems. Rumor says there are thirteen Aes Sedai with them. Rumor says they're looking for you. Has
Bashere gotten back yet?" Nynaeve gave him a scowl and moved away from Rand gripping her braid
tightly. Aes Sedai bonding Asha'man was all very well in her book, but not the reverse.

 Thirteen and looking for him? He had stayed clear of the Border-landers because Elayne did not
welcome his help-interference, she called it, and he had begun to see that she had the right of it; the Lion
Throne was hers to gain, not his to give-but perhaps it was as well that he had. The Borderland rulers all
had ties to the White Tower, and no doubt Elaida was still eager to get her hands on him. Her and that
mad proclamation about no one approaching him except through her. If she believed that would force
him to come to her, she was a fool.

 "Thank you, that will be all, Ethin. Lord Logain?" he asked as the serving man bowed himself out with a
last disgruntled glance at Logain. Rand thought the man would have tried had he told him to haul Logain

 "The title is his by birth," Cadsuane said without looking up from her embroidery. She would know; she
had helped capture him back when he was calling himself the Dragon Reborn, him and Taim both. Her
hair ornaments bobbed as she nodded to herself. "Phaw! A minor lordling with a scrap of land in the
mountains, most of it all but straight up and down. But King Johanin and the Crown High Council
stripped him of his lands and title after he became a false Dragon."

 Small spots of color appeared in Logain's cheeks, yet his voice was cool and composed. "They could
take my estate, but they could not take away who I am." 

 Still seemingly intent on her embroidery needle. Cadsuane laughed softly. Verin's knitting needles had
stopped. She was studying Logain, a plump sparrow studying an insect. Alivia had shifted her intense
gaze to the man, too, and Harilin and Enaila seemed to be just going through the motions of their game.
Min appeared to be reading still, but each hand rested near the opposite cuff of her coatsleeves. She
kept some of her knives hidden there. None of them trusted him.

 Rand frowned. The man could call himself whatever he wanted so long as he did what he was supposed
to. but Cadsuane prodded him and anyone else in a black coat nearly as much as she did Rand himself.
He was unsure how far to trust Logain either, yet he had to work with the tools he had to hand. "Is it
done?" With Logain here, Loial was uncapping his ink jar again.

 "More than half the Black Tower is in Arad Doman and Illian. I sent all the men with bonded Aes Sedai
except those here, as you ordered." Logain walked to the table while he talked, found a blue-glazed
pitcher that still held wine among the plates and scraps, and filled a green-glazed cup. There was very
little silver in the house. "You should have let me bring more men here. The numbers tilt too much to Aes
Sedai for my liking."

 Rand grunted. "Since part of that is your doing, you can live with it. Others will have to, as well. Go on."

 "Dobraine and Rhuarc will send a Soldier with a message as soon as they find anyone in charge of more
than a village. The Council of Merchants claim King Alsalam still reigns, but they wouldn't or couldn't
produce him or say where he is, they seem to be at one another's throats themselves, and Bandar Eban is
more than half deserted and given over to the mob." Logain grimaced into his winecup. "Gangs of
strongarms provide what little order there is, and they extort food and coin from the people they claim to
protect and take whatever else they want, including women." The bond suddenly held white-hot rage,
and Nynaeve growled in her throat. "Rhuarc has set about putting an end to that, but it was already
turning into a battle when I left," Logain finished.

 "Strongarms won't hold out long against Aiel. If Dobraine can't find anyone in charge, then he will have
to be, for the time being." If Alsalam was dead, as seemed likely, he would have to appoint a Steward
for the Lord Dragon in Arad Doman. But who? It would have to be someone the Domani would accept.

 The other man took a long swallow of wine. "Taim wasn't pleased at me taking so many men out of the
Tower and not telling him where they were going. I thought he was going to rip up your order. He tried
every trick to learn where you are. Oh, he burns to know that. His eyes were practically on fire. I
wouldn't put it past him to have had me put to the question if I'd been fool enough to meet him without
company. One thing pleased him, though: that I didn't take any of his cronies. That was plain on his face." 

He smiled, a dark smile, not amused. "There are forty-one of those now, by the way. He's given over a
dozen men the Dragon pin in the past few days, and he has above fifty more in his 'special' classes, most
of them men recruited just lately. He's planning something, and I doubt you'll like it."

 I told you to kill him when you had the chance. Lews Therin cackled in mad mirth. I told you. And now
it's too late. Too late.

 Rand angrily expelled a stream of blue-gray smoke. "Give over," he said, meaning it for both Logain and
Lews Therin. "Taim built the Black Tower till it nearly matches the White Tower for numbers, and it
grows every day. If he's a Darkfriend the way you claim, why would he do that?"

 Logain met his stare levelly. "Because he couldn't stop it. From what I've heard, even in the beginning
there were men who could Travel who weren't his toad-eaters, and he had no excuse to do all the
recruiting himself. But he's made a Tower of his own hidden inside the Black Tower, and the men in it are
loyal to him, not you. He amended the deserters' list and sends his apologies for an 'honest mistake.' but
you can wager all you own it was no mistake."

 And how loyal was Logain? If one false Dragon chafed at following the Dragon Reborn, why not
another? He might think he had cause. He had been far more famous as a false Dragon than Taim, more
successful, gathering an army that swept out of Ghealdan and nearly reached Lugard on its way to Tear.
Half the known world had trembled at the name Logain. Yet Mazrim Taim commanded the Black Tower
while Logain Ablar was only another Asha'man. Min still saw an aura of glory around him. Just how that
glory was to be achieved was beyond her viewing, however.

 He took the pipe from his mouth, and the bowl was hot against the heron branded into his palm. He
must have been puffing away furiously without being aware of it. The trouble was, Taim and Logain were
lesser problems. They had to wait. The tools at hand. He made an effort to keep his voice even. "Taim
took their names off the list. That's the important thing. If he's showing favoritism, I'll put an end to it
when I have time. But the Seanchan have to come first. And maybe Tarmon Gai'don, too."

 "If?" Logain growled, slamming his cup down on the table so hard that it broke. Wine spread across the
tabletop and dripped over the edge. Scowling, he wiped his damp hand on his coat. "Do you think I'm
imagining things?" His tone grew more heated by the word. "Or making them up? Do you think this is
jealousy, al'Thor? Is that what you think?"

 "You listen to me," Rand began, raising his voice against a peal of thunder. 

 "I told you I expected you and your friends in black coats to be civil to me, my friends and my guests,"
Cadsuane said sternly, "but I've decided that must be expanded to include each other." Her head was still
bent over her embroidery hoop, but she spoke as if she were shaking a finger under their noses. "At least
when I am present. That means if you continue squabbling, I may have to spank both of you." Harilin and
Enaila began laughing so hard they got the string of their game in a snarl. Nynaeve laughed, too, though
she tried to hide it behind her hand. Light, even Min smiled!

 Logain bristled, jaw tightening until Rand thought he should hear the man's teeth grating. He was trying
hard not to bristle himself. Cadsuane and her bloody rules. Her conditions for becoming his advisor. She
pretended that he had askedTor them, and every so often she added another to her list. The rules were
not precisely onerous, though their existence was, but her way of presenting them was always like a poke
with a sharp stick. He opened his mouth to tell her he was finished with her rules, and with her, too, if
need be.

 "Taim very likely will have to wait on the Last Battle, whatever he's about," Verin said suddenly. Her
knitting, a shapeless lump that might have been anything, sat in her lap. "It will come soon. According to
everything I've read on the subject, the signs are quite clear. Half the servants have recognized dead
people in the halls, people they knew alive. It's happened often enough that they aren't frightened by it
any longer. And a dozen men moving the cattle to spring pasture watched a considerable town melt into
mist just a few miles to the north."

 Cadsuane had raised her head and was staring at the stout Brown sister. "Thank you for repeating what
you told us yesterday, Verin," she said dryly. Verin blinked, then took up her knitting again, frowning at it
as though she, too, were unsure what it was going to be.

 Min caught Rand's eyes, shaking her head slowly, and he sighed. The bond held irritation and wariness,
the last a deliberate warning to him, he suspected. At times, she seemed able to read his mind. Well, if he
needed Cadsuane. and Min said he did, then he needed her. He just wished he knew what she was
supposed to teach him aside from how to grind his teeth.

 "Advise me, Cadsuane. What do you think of my plan?"

 "At last the boy asks." she murmured, setting her embroidery down beside her sewing basket. "All his
schemes in motion, some I've not been made privy to, and now he asks. Very well. Your peace with the
Seanchan will be unpopular." 

 "A truce," he broke in. "And a truce with the Dragon Reborn will last only as long as the Dragon
Reborn. When I die, everyone will be free to go to war with the Seanchan again if they wish."

 Min slammed her book shut and folded her arms beneath her breasts. "Don't you talk that way!'' she
said, red-faced with anger. The bond also carried fear.

 "The Prophecies, Min,'' he said sadly. Not sad for himself, but for her. He wanted to protect her, her
and Elayne and Aviendha, but he would hurt them in the end.

 "I said don't you talk that way! The Prophecies don't say you have to die! I'm not going to let you die,
Rand al'Thor! Elayne and Aviendha and I won't let you!" She glared at Alivia, who her viewing had said
would help Rand die. and her hands slid down her arms toward her cuffs.

 "Behave, Min," he said. Her hands shot away from her cuffs, but she set her jaw. and the bond suddenly
was flooded with stubbornness. Light, was he going to have to worry about Min trying to kill Alivia? Not
that she was likely to succeed-as well try throwing a knife at an Aes Sedai as at the Seanchan
woman-but she might get herself injured. He was not sure Alivia knew any weaves but those for

 "Unpopular, as I say," Cadsuane said firmly, raising her voice. She favored Min with a brief frown
before turning her attention back to Rand. Her face was smooth, composed, an Aes Sedai's face. Her
dark eyes were hard, like polished black stones. "Especially in Tarabon, Amadicia and Altara, but also
elsewhere, if you agree to allow the Seanchan to keep what they've already taken, what lands will you
give away next? That is how most rulers will see matters."

 Rand dropped back into his chair, stretching his legs in front of him and crossing his ankles. "It doesn't
matter how unpopular it is. I went through that doorframe ter'angreal in Tear, Cadsuane. You know
about that?" Golden ornaments bobbled as she nodded impatiently. "One of my questions for the Aelfinn
was 'How can I win the Last Battle?'"

 "A dangerous question to pose." she said quietly, "touching on the Shadow as it does. Supposedly, the
results can be quite unpleasant. What was the answer?"

 " 'The north and the east must be as one. The west and the south must be as one. The two must be as 

one.'" He blew a smoke ring, put another in the middle of it as it expanded. That was not the whole of it.
He had asked how to win and survive. The last part of his answet had been 'To live, you must die.' Not
something he was going to bring up in front of Min anytime soon. In front of anyone except Alivia, for
that matter. Now he just had to figure out how to live by dying. "At first, I thought it meant I had to
conquer everywhere, but that wasn't what they said. What if it means the Seanchan hold the west and
south, as you could say they already do, and there's an alliance to fight the Last Battle, the Seanchan with
everybody else?"

 "It's possible," she allowed. "But if you're going to make this . . . truce . . . why are you moving what
seems to be a considerable army to Arad Doman and reinforcing what is already in Illian?"

 "Because Tarmon Gai'don is coming, Cadsuane, and I can't fight the Shadow and the Seanchan at the
same time. I'll have a truce, or I'll crush them whatever the cost. The Prophecies say I have to bind the
nine moons to me. I only understood what that meant a few days ago. As soon as Bashere returns, I'll
know when and where I'm to meet the Daughter of the Nine Moons. The only question now is how do I
bind her, and she'll have to answer that.''

 He spoke matter-of-factly, now and then blowing a smoke ring for punctuation. Reactions varied. Loial
just wrote very fast, trying to capture every word, while Harilin and Enaila went on with their game. If the
spears had to be danced, they were ready. Alivia nodded fiercely, doubtless hoping it would come to
crushing those who had kept her wearing an a dam for five hundred years. Logain had found another
winecup and filled it with the last of what was in the pitcher, but he merely held the cup rather than
drinking, his expression unreadable. Now it was Rand whom Verin studied intently. But then, she had
always been curious about him. But why in the Light would Min feel bone-deep sadness? And
Cadsuane. . . .

 "Stone cracks from a hard enough blow," she said, her face an Aes Sedai mask of calm. "Steel shatters.
The oak fights the wind and breaks. The willow bends where it must and survives."

 "A willow won't win Tarmon Gai'don," he told her.

 The door creaked open again, and Ethin tottered in. "My Lord Dragon, three Ogier have arrived. They
were most pleased to learn that Master Loial is here. One of them is his mother."

 "My mother?" Loial squeaked, and even that sounded like a hollow wind gusting in caverns. He leaped
up so fast that his chair fell over backward, wringing his hands, ears wilting. His head swung from side to
side as if he were hunting for a way out besides the door. "What am I going to do, Rand? The other two 

must be Elder Haman and Erith. What am I going to do?"

 "Mistress Covril said she was most anxious to speak with you, Master Loial," Ethin said in that creaky
voice. "Most anxious. They are all damp from the rain, but she said they will wait for you in the Ogier
sitting room upstairs."

 "What am I going to do, Rand?"

 "You said you want to marry Erith," Rand said as gently as he could. Gentleness was difficult except with

 "But my book! My notes aren't complete, and I'll never find out what happens next. Erith will take me
back to Stedding Tsofu with her."

 "Phaw!" Cadsuane picked up her embroidery again and began working the needle delicately. She was
making the ancient symbol of Aes Sedai. the Dragon's Fang and the Flame of Tar Valon melded into a
disc, black and white separated by a sinuous line. "Go to your mother, Loial. If she's CovriL daughter of
Ella daughter ofSoong, you don't want to keep her waiting. As I expect you know."

 Loial seemed to take Cadsuane's words as a command. He began wiping his pen nib again, capping his
ink jar. But he did everything very slowly, with his ears drooping. Every so often he moaned sadly, half
under his breath, "My book!'

 "Well," Verin said, holding up her knitting for inspection, "I believe I have done all that I can here. I think
I'll go find Tomas. The rain makes his knee ache, though he denies it even to me." She glanced at the
window. "It does seem to be slowing."

 "And I think I'll go find Lan," Nynaeve said, gathering her skirts. "The company is better where he is."
That with a sharp tug on her braid and a glare divided between Alivia and Logain. "The wind tells me a
storm is coming. Rand. And you know I don't mean rain."

 "The Last Battle?" Rand asked. "How soon?" When it came to weather, listening to the wind could
sometimes tell her when the rains would come to the hour. 

 "It may be, and I don't know. Just remember. A storm is coming. A terrible storm." Overhead, thunder



 Uneasy. Loial watched Nynaeve glide off down the lamp-lit corridor in one direction and Verin in the
other. Neither was much taller than his waist, but they were Aes Sedai. The fact knotted his tongue
sufficiently that by the time he had worked up his nerve to ask one of them to accompany him. both were
out of sight around sharp corners. The manor house was a rambling place, added to over many years
with no real overall plan that he could discern, and hallways frequently met at odd angles. He really
wished he had an Aes Sedai for company when he faced his mother. Even Cadsuane, although she made
him very nervous with how she was always pinching at Rand. Sooner or later. Rand was going to
explode. He was not the same man Loial first met in Caemlyn or even the man he had left in Cairhien.
The mood around Rand was dark and stony now, a dense patch of lion's claw and treacherous ground
underfoot. The whole house felt that way with Rand in it.

 A lean, gray-haired serving woman carrying a basket of folded towels gave a start, then shook her head
and muttered something under her breath before offering him a brief curtsy and walking on. She made a
small side-step as though she was moving around something. Or someone. He stared at the spot and
scratched behind his ear. Maybe he could only see Ogier dead. Not that he actually wanted to. It was
sad enough just knowing that human dead could no longer rest. Having the same confirmed for Ogier
would be enough to break his heart. Most likely they would appear only inside stedding, in any case. He
would very much like to see a town vanish, though. Not a real town, but a town that was as dead as
those spirits the humans claimed to see. You might be able to walk its streets before it melted and see
what people were like before the War of the Hundred Years, or even the Trolloc Wars. So Verin said,
and she seemed to know a very great deal about it. That would certainly be worth a mention in his book.
It was going to be a fine book. Scratching his beard with two fingers-the thing itched!-he sighed. It would
have been a fine book.

 Standing there in the corridor was only putting off the inevitable. Put off clearing the brush and you
always find chokevine in it, so the old saying went. Only he felt as though the chokevine was tight around
him instead of a tree. Breathing hard, he followed the serving woman all the way to the wide stairs that
led up to the Ogier rooms. The staircase had two sturdy bannisters, shoulder-high on the gray-haired
woman and stout enough to give a decent handhold. He was often afraid just to brush against stair rails
made for humans for fear he might break them. One ran down the middle, with the steps along the
wood-paneled wall pitched for human feet: those on the outside for Ogier. 

 The woman was old as humans counted years, yet she climbed more quickly than he and was scurrying
down the corridor by the time he reached the top. Doubtless she was taking the towels to his mother's
room, and to Elder Hainan's and Erith's. Surely they would prefer to get dry before talking. He would
suggest that. It would gain him time to think. His thoughts seemed as sluggish as his feet, and his feet felt
like millstones.

 There were six bedrooms built for Ogier along the corridor, which itself was properly scaled for
them-his up-stretched hands would have come a pace short of touching the ceiling beams-along with a
storeroom, a bathing room with a large copper tub, and the sitting room. This was the oldest part of the
house, dating back nearly five hundred years. A lifetime for a very old Ogier, but many lifetimes for
humans. They lived such brief lives, except for Aes Sedai; that had to be why they flitted about like
hummingbirds. But even Aes Sedai could be nearly as precipitous as the rest. That was a puzzlement.

 The sitting room door was carved with a Great Tree, not Ogier work, yet finely detailed and instantly
recognizable. He stopped, tugging his coat straight, combing his hair with his fingers, wishing he had time
to black his boots. There was an ink stain on his cuff. No time to do anything about that, either.
Cadsuane was right. His mother was not a woman to be kept waiting. Strange that Cadsuane knew of
her. Perhaps knew her. by the way she had spoken. Covril, daughter of Ella daughter of Soong, was a
famous Speaker, but he had not realized she was known Outside. Light, he was all but panting with

 Trying to control his breathing, he went in. Even here the hinges creaked. The servants had been aghast
when he asked after some oil to put on them-that was their task; he was a guest-but they still had not
gotten around to it themselves.

 The high-ceilinged room was quite spacious, with dark polished wallpapers and vine-carved chairs and
small vine-carved tables and wrought-iron stand-lamps of a proper size, their mirrored flames dancing
above his head. Except for a shelf of books, all old enough that the leather bindings were flaking and all
of which he had read before, only a small bowl of sung wood was Ogier made. A nice piece; he wished
he knew who had sung it, but it was aged enough that singing to it had failed to raise so much as an echo.
Yet everything had been made by someone who at least had been to a stedding. The pieces would have
looked at home in any dwelling. Of course, the room looked nothing like a room in a stedding, but Lord
Algarin's ancestor had made an effort to have his visitors feel comfortable.

 His mother was standing in front of one of the brick fireplaces, a strong-faced woman with her
vine-embroidered skirts spread to let the flames dry them. He heaved a sigh of relief at seeing she was
not as wet as he had expected, although it put paid to suggesting they take the time to get dry. Their
raincloaks must have developed leaks. They did that after a time, as the anseed oil wore off. Maybe her 

temper would not be as bad as he feared, either. White-haired Elder Haman, his flaring coat dark with
damp in several large patches, was examining one of the axes from the wall, shaking his head over it. Its
haft was as long as he was tall. Made during the Trolloc Wars or even before, there were a pair of those,
the long axe heads inlaid with gold and silver, and a pair of ornate pointed pruning knives with long shafts,
as well. Of course. pruning knives, sharp on one side and sawtoothed on the other, always had long
handles, but the inlays and long red tassels indicated that these had been made for weapons, too. Not the
most felicitous choices for hanging in a room meant for reading or conversation or the quiet contemplation
of stillness.

 But Loial's eyes swept past his mother and Elder Haman to the other fireplace, where Erith, small and
almost fragile appearing, was drying her own skirts. Her mouth was straight, her nose short and
well-rounded, her eyes the exact color of a silverbell's ripe seedpod. In short, she was beautiful! And her
ears, sticking up through the glossy black hair that hung down her back. . . . Curving and plump, tipped
with fine tufts that looked as soft as dandelion down, they were the most gorgeous ears he had ever seen.
Not that he would be crude enough to say so. She smiled at him, a very mysterious smile, and his own
ears quivered with embarrassment. Surely she could not know what he had been thinking. Could she?
Rand said women could sometimes, but that was human women.

 "So, here you are." his mother said, planting her fists on her hips. There were no smiles from her. Her
brows were drawn down, her jaw set. If this was her better temper, she might as well have been
drenched. "I must say, you've led me a merry chase, but I have you in hand now. and 1 do not mean to
let you run- What is that on your lip? And your chin! Well, you can shave those right off again. Don't you
grimace at me, Son Loial."

 Fingering the growth on his upper lip uneasily, he tried to smooth his face-when your mother named you
Son, she was in no mood to trifle with-but it was hard. He wanted Wis beard and mustaches. Some
might think it pretentious, as young as he was. but just the same. . . .

 "A merry chase indeed," Elder Haman said dryly, hanging the axe back on its hooks. He had long white
mustaches that fell past his chin and a long narrow beard that hung to his chest. True, he was well above
three hundred years old, but it still seemed unfair. "A very merry chase. First we walked to Cairhien,
having heard you were there, only you had gone. After a stop at Stedding Tsofu. we walked to
Caem-lyn, where young al'Thor informed us you were in the Two Rivers and took us there. But you
were gone again. To Caemlyn, it seemed!" His eyebrows rose almost to his hairline. "I began to think we
were playing ring-in-the-dell."

 "The people in Emond's Field told us how heroic you were." Erith said, her high voice like music.
Clutching her skirts with both hands, ears fluttering with excitement, she seemed about to bounce up and
down. "They told us all about you fighting Trollocs and Myrddraal, and going out among them by yourself
to seal the Manetheren Way-gate so no more could come." 

 "I wasn't by myself," Loial protested, waving his hands. He thought his ears might fly from his head, they
were twitching so with embarrassment. "Gaul was with me. We did it together. I'd never have reached
the Waygate without Gaul." She wrinkled her delicate nose at him, dismissing Gaul's participation.

 His mother sniffed. Her ears were rigid with distaste. "Foolishness. Fighting in battles. Putting yourself in
danger. Gambling. All of it. Pure foolishness, and there will be no more of it."

 Elder Haman harrumphed, ears twitching irritably, and folded his hands behind his back. He disliked
being interrupted. "So we returned to Caemlyn. to find you gone, and then to Cairhien once more, to find
you gone yet again."

 "And you put yourself in danger again in Cairhien," Loial's mother broke in, shaking a finger at him.
"Have you no sense at all?"

 "The Aiel said you were very brave at Dumai's Wells,'' Erith murmured, looking at him through her long
eyelashes. He swallowed hard. Her gaze made his throat feel tight. He knew he should look away, but
how could he be demure when she was looking at him?

 "In Cairhien your mother decided she couldn't stay away from the Great Stump any longer, though why I
cannot say, since they aren't likely to reach any sort of decision for another year or two, so we set out to
return to Stedding Shangtai in the hope we could find you later." Elder Haman said all of that very fast,
glaring at the two women as if he thought they might break in on him again. His beard and mustaches
seemed to bristle.

 Loial's mother gave another sniff, sharper. "I expect to bring a decision very quickly, in a month or two,
or I'd never have given over the search for Loial even temporarily. Now that I've found him, we can finish
matters and be on our way without any more delay." She took in Elder Haman, who was frowning, his
ears slanted back, and amended her tone. He was an Elder, after all. "Forgive me, Elder Haman. I meant
to say, if it pleases you, will you perform the ceremony?''

 "I believe that it does please me, Covril," he said mildly. Much too mildly. When Loial heard that tone
from his teacher, with ears back, he had always known that he had put a foot very badly wrong. Elder
Haman had been known to throw a piece of chalk at a pupil when he used that tone. "Since I abandoned
my students, not to mention speaking to the Great Stump, to follow you on this wild chase for that very
reason, I believe it does please me indeed. Erith, you are very young." 

 "She's past eighty, old enough to marry," Loial's mother said sharply, folding her arms across her chest.
Her ears twitched with impatience. "Her mother and I reached agreement. You yourself witnessed us
signing the betrothal and Loial's dowry."

 Elder Haman's ears tilted back a little further, and his shoulders hunched as if he was gripping his hands
together very hard behind his back. His eyes never left Erith. "I know you want to marry Loial. but are
you sure you are ready? Taking a husband is a grave responsibility."

 Loial wished someone would ask him that question, but that was not the way. His mother and Erith's had
reached their agreement, and only Erith could stop it now. If she wanted to. Did he want her to? He
could not stop thinking of his book. He could not stop thinking of Erith.

 She certainly looked grave. "My weaving sells well, and I am ready to buy another loom and take an
apprentice. But that may not be what you mean. I am ready to tend a husband." Suddenly, she grinned, a
lovely grin that divided her face in two. "Especially one with such beautiful long eyebrows."

 Loial's ears quivered, and so did Elder Haman's, if not so much. Women were very free in their talk
among themselves, so he had heard, but usually they tried not to embarrass men with it. Usually. His
mother's ears actually trembled with amusement!

 The older man cleared his throat. "This is serious, Erith. Come now. If you are sure, take his hands."

 Without hesitation, she came to stand in front of Loial, smiling up at him as she took his hands in hers.
Her small hands felt very warm. His felt numb and cold. He swallowed. It really was going to happen.

 "Erith, daughter of Iva daughter of Alar," Elder Haman said, holding one hand palm down over each of
their heads, "will you take Loial, son of Arent son of Halan, as husband and vow under the Light and by
the Tree to treasure, esteem and love him so long as he lives, to care for him and tend him. and to guide
his feet on the path they should follow?"

 "Under the Light and by the Tree, I so vow." Erith's voice was firm and clear, and her smile seemed to
have grown wider than her face 

 "Loial, son of Arent son of Halan, will you accept Erith, daughter of Iva daughter of Alar, as wife and
vow under the Light and by the Tree to treasure, esteem and love her so long as she lives, to care for her
and to heed her guidance?"

 Loial took a deep breath. His ears trembled. He wanted to marry her. He did. Just not yet. "Under the
Light and by the Tree, I so vow," he said hoarsely.

 "Then under the Light and by the Tree, I declare you wed. May the blessings of the Light and the Tree
be upon you always."

 Loial looked down at his wife. His wife. She raised a hand and stroked slender fingers along his
mustaches. The beginnings of mustaches. anyway.

 "You are very handsome, and I think mustaches will be beautiful on you. A beard, too."

 "Nonsense." his mother said. Surprisingly, she was dabbing at her eyes with a small lace handkerchief.
She was never emotional. "He's much too young for that sort of thing."

 For a moment, he thought Erith's ears began to slant back. That had to be his imagination. He had had a
number of long talks with her-she was a wonderful conversationalist; though come to think of it, for the
most part she listened, but what little she did say was always very cogent-and he was sure she possessed
no sort of temper at all. He had no time to think on it, in any event. Resting her hands on his arms, she
rose on tiptoes, and he bent to rub his nose against hers. In truth, they nosed for longer than they should
have with Elder Haman and his mother present, but others faded from his thoughts as he inhaled his wife's
scent and she his. And the feel of her nose on his! Pure bliss! Lie cupped the back of her head and barely
had the presence of mind not to finger her ear. She tugged the tuft on one of his! After a while, a very
long while it seemed, voices intruded.

 "It is still raining, Covril. You cannot seriously be suggesting we set out again when we have a sound roof
over our heads and proper beds to sleep in for a change. No, I say. No! I will not sleep on the ground
tonight, or in a barn, or worst of all, in a house where my feet and knees hang over the end of the largest
bed available. There have been times I've seriously thought of refusing hospitality, and to the Pit with

 "If you insist," his mother said grudgingly, "but I want an early start come morning. I refuse to waste an
hour more than I must. The Book of Translation must be opened as soon as possible."

 Loial jerked erect, aghast. "That's what the Great Stump is discussing? They can't do that, not now!"

 "We must leave this world eventually, so we can come to it when the Wheel turns." his mother said,
striding to the nearest fireplace to spread her skirts again. "That is written. Now is exactly the right time,
and the sooner the better."

 "Is that what you think, Elder Haman?" Loial asked worriedly.

 "No, my boy, not at all. Before we left, I gave a speech of three hours that I think swayed a few minds in
the right direction." Elder Haman picked up a tall yellow pitcher and filled a blue cup. but rather than
drink, he frowned into the tea. "Your mother has swayed more, I fear. She may even get her decision in
months, as she says."

 Erith filled a cup for his mother, then two more, bringing one to him. His ears quivered with
embarrassment yet again. He should have done that. He had a great deal to learn about being a husband,
but he knew that much.

 "I wish I could address the Stump," he said bitterly.

 "You sound eager, Husband." Husband. That meant Erith was very serious. It was almost as bad as
being called Son Loial. "What would you say to the Stump?"

 "I won't have him embarrassed, Erith," his mother said before he could open his mouth. "Loial writes
well, and Elder Haman says he may have the makings of a scholar about him. but he gets tongue-tied
before even a hundred. Besides, he is only a boy."

 Elder Hainan had said that? Loial wondered when his ears would stop quivering. 

 "Any married man may address the Stump," Erith said firmly. There was no doubt this time. Her ears
definitely slanted back. "Will you allow me to tend my own husband. Mother Covril?" His mother's
mouth moved, but no sound came out, and her eyebrows were halfway up her forehead. He did not think
he had ever seen her so taken aback, though she must have expected this. A wife always took
precedence with her husband over his mother. "Well, Husband, what would you say?''

 He was not eager, he was desperate. He took a long swallow of the spice-scented tea, but his mouth felt
just as dry afterward. His mother was right; the more people were listening, the more he tended to forget
what he intended to say and go off on tangents. In truth, he had to admit that sometimes he rambled a bit
with only a few listeners. Just a bit. Now and then. He knew the forms-a child of fifty knew the forms-yet
he could not make the words come. The few listening to him now were not just any few. His mother was
a famous Speaker, Elder Haman a noted one, not to mention being an Elder. And t