Winter's Heart

Robert Jordan


 WINTER’S HEART 

The seals that hold back the night shall weaken,
And in the heart of winter shall winter’s heart be born
Amid the wailing of lamentation and the gnashing of teeth,
For winter’s heart shall ride a black horse,
And the name of it is Death.
--from The Karaethon Cycle:
The Prophecies of the Dragon 

Prologue: Snow 

Three lanterns cast a flickering light, more than enough to
illuminate the small room with its stark white walls and
ceiling, but Seaine kept her eyes fixed on the heavy wooden
door. Illogical, she knew; foolish in a Sitter for the White.
The weave of saidar she had pushed around the jamb brought her
occasional whispers of distant footsteps in the warren of
hallways outside, whispers that faded away almost as soon as
heard. A simple thing learned from a friend in her long-ago
novice days, but she would have warning long before anyone
came near. Few people came down as deep as the second
basement, anyway. 

Her weave picked up the far-off chittering of rats. Light!
How long since there had been rats in Tar Valon, in the Tower
itself? Were any of them spies for the Dark One? She wet her
lips uneasily. Logic counted for nothing in this. True. If
illogical. She wanted to laugh. With an effort she crept back
from the brink of hysteria. Think of something besides rats.
Something besides...A muffled squeal rose in the room behind
her, faltered into muted whimpering. She tried to stop up her
ears. Concentrate! 

In a way, she and her companions had been led to this room
because the heads of the Ajahs seemed to be meeting in secret.
She herself had glimpsed Ferane Neheran whispering in a
secluded nook of the library with Jesse Bilal, who stood very
high among the Browns if not at the very top. She thought she
stood on firmer ground with Suana Dragand, of the Yellows.
She thought so. But why had Ferane gone walking with Suana in
a secluded part of the Tower grounds, both swathed in plain
cloaks? Sitters of different Ajahs still talked to one
another openly, if coldly. The others had seem similar
things; they would not give names from their own Ajahs, of
course, but two had mentioned Ferane. A troubling puzzle.
The Tower was a seething swamp these days, every Ajah at every
other Ajah's throat, yet the heads met in corners. NO one
outside an Ajah knew for certain who within it led, but
apparently the leaders knew each other. What could they be up
to? What? It was unfortunate that she could not simply ask
Ferane, but even had Ferane been tolerant of anyone's
questions, she did not dare. Not now. 

Concentrate as she would, Seaine could not keep her mind on
the question. She knew she was staring at the door and

worrying at puzzles she could not solve just to avoid looking
over her shoulder. Toward the source of those stifled
whimpers and snuffling groans. 

As if thinking of the sounds compelled her, she looked back
slowly to her companions, her breath growing more uneven as
her head moved by inches. Snow was falling heavily on Tar
Valon, far overhead, but the room seemed unaccountably hot.
She made herself see! 

Brown-fringed shawl looped on her elbows, Saerin stood with
her feet planted apart, fingering the hilt of the curved
Altaran dagger thrust behind her belt. Cold anger darkened
her olive complexion enough to make the scar along her jaw
stand out in a pale line. Pevara appeared calmer, at first
glance, yet one hand gripped her red-embroidered skirts
tightly and the other held the smooth white cylinder of the
Oath Rod like a foot-long club she was ready to use. She
might be ready; Pevara was far tougher than her plumb exterior
suggested, and determined enough to make Saerin seem a
shirker. 

On the other side of the chair of remorse, tiny Yukiri had
her arms rapped tightly around herself; the long silvery-grey
fringe on her shawl trembled with her shivers. Licking her
lips, Yukiri cast a worried glance at the woman standing
beside her. Doesine, looking more like a pretty boy than a
Yellow sister of considerable repute, displayed no reaction to
what they were doing. She was the one actually manipulating
the weaves that stretched into the Chair, and she stared at
the ter'angreal, focusing so hard on her work that
perspiration beaded on her pale forehead. They were all
Sitters, including the tall woman writhing on the Chair. 

Sweat drenched Talene, matting her golden hair, soaking her
linen shift till it clung to her. The rest of her clothes
made a jumbled pile in the corner. Her closed eyelids
fluttered, and she let out a constant stream of strangled
moans and mewling, half-uttered pleas. Seaine felt ill, but
could not drag her eyes away. Talene was a friend. Had been
a friend. 

Despite its name, the ter’angreal looked nothing like a
chair, just a large rectangular block of marbled gray. No one
knew what it was made of, but the material was hard as steel
everywhere except the slanted top. The statuesque Green sank
a little into that, and somehow it molded itself to her no
matter how she twisted. Doesine’s weavings flowed into the
only break anywhere in the Chair, a palm-sized rectangular
hole in one side with tiny notches spaced unevenly around it.
Criminals caught in Tar Valon were brought down here to
experience the Chair of Remorse, to experience carefully
selected consequences of their crimes. On release, they
invariably fled the island. There was very little crime in
Tar Valon. Queasily, Seaine wondered whether this was
anything like the use the Chair had been put to in the Age of
Legends. 

"What is she...seeing?" Her question came out a whisper in
spite of herself. Talene would be more than seeing; to her,
it all would seem real. Thank the light she had no Warder,
almost unheard of for a Green. She had claimed a Sitter had
no need for one. Different reasons came to mind, now.

 "She is bloody being flogged by bloody Trollocs," Doesine
said hoarsely. Touches of her native Cairhien had appeared in
her voice, something that seldom happened except under stress.
"When they are done.... She can see the Trolloc’s cook kettle
boiling over the fire, and a Myrddraal watching her. She must 

know it will be one or the other next. Burn me, if she
doesn’t break this time...."
Doesine brushed perspiration from her forehead irritably and 

drew a ragged breath. "Stop joggling my elbow. It has been a
long while since I did this." 

"Three times under," Yukiri muttered. "The toughest
strongarm is broken by his own guilt, if nothing else, after
two! What if she’s innocent? Light, this is like stealing
sheep with the shepherd watching!" Even shaking, she managed
to appear regal, but she always sounded like what she had
been, a village woman. She glared around at the rest of them
in a sickly fashion. "The law forbids using the Chair on
initiates. We’ll all be unchaired! And if being thrown out
of the hall isn’t enough, we’ll probably be exiled. And
birched before we go, just to drop salt in our tea! Burn me,
if we’re wrong, we could all be stilled!" 

Seaine shuddered. They would escape that last, if their
suspicions proved right. No, not suspicions, certainties.
They had to be right! But even if they were, Yukiri was
correct about the rest. Tower law seldom allowed for
necessity, or any supposed higher good. If they were right,
though, the price was worth paying. Please, the Light send
they were right! 

"Are you blind and deaf?" Pevara snapped, shaking the Oath
Rod at Yukiri. "She refused to reswear the Oath against
speaking an untrue word, and it had to be more than stupid
Green Ajah pride after we’d all done as much already. When I
shielded her, she tried to stab me! Does that shout
innocence? Does it? For all she knew, we just meant to talk
at her until our tongues dried up! What reason would she have
to expect more?" 

"Thank you both," Saerin put in dryly, "for stating the
obvious. It’s too late to go back, Yukiri, so we might as
well go forward. And if I were you, Pevara, I wouldn’t be
shouting at one of the four women in the whole Tower I knew I
could trust." 

Yukiri flushed and shifted her shawl, and Pevara looked a
trifle abashed. A trifle. They might all be Sitters, but
Saerin had most definitely taken charge. Seaine was unsure
how she felt about that. A few hours ago, she and Pevara had
been two old friends alone on a dangerous quest, equals
reaching decisions together; now they had allies. She should
be grateful for more companions. They were not in the Hall,
though, and they could not claim Sitter’s rights on this.
Tower hierarchies had taken over, all the subtle and not-so-
subtle distinctions as to who stood where with respect to
whom. In truth, Saerin had been both novice and Accepted
twice as long as most of them, but forty years as a Sitter,
longer than anyone else in the Hall, counted for a great deal.
Seaine would be lucky if Saerin asked her opinion, much less
her advice, before deciding anything at all. Foolish, yet the
knowledge pricked like a thorn in her foot.

 "The Trollocs are dragging her toward the kettle," Doesine
said suddenly, her voice grating. A thin keening escaped
thorough Talene’s clenched teeth; she shook so hard she seemed
to vibrate. "I-I do not know if I can...can flaming make
myself...." 

"Bring her awake," Saerin commanded without so much as
glancing at anyone else to see what they thought. "Stop
sulking, Yukiri, and be ready." 

The Gray gave her a proud, furious stare, but when Doesine
let her weaves fade and Talene’s blue eyes fluttered open, the
glow of saidar surrounded Yukiri and she shielded the woman
lying on the Chair without uttering a word. Saerin was in
charge, and everyone knew it, and that was that. A very sharp
thorn. 

A shield hardly seemed necessary. Her face a mask of
terror, Talene trembled and panted as though she had run ten
miles at top speed. She still sank into the soft surface, but
without Doesine channeling, it no longer formed itself to her.
Talene stared at the ceiling with bulging eyes, then squeezed
them shut, but they popped right open again. Whatever
memories lay behind her eyelids were nothing she wanted to
face. 

Covering the two strides to the Chair, Pevara thrust the
Oath Rod at the distraught woman. "Forswear all oaths that
bind you and retake the Three Oaths, Talene," she said
harshly. Talene recoiled from the Rod as from a poisonous
serpent, then jerked the other way as Saerin bent over her. 

"Next time, Talene, it’s the cookpot for you. Or the
Myrddraal’s tender attentions." Saerin’s face was implacable,
but her tone made it seem soft by comparison. "No waking up
before. And if that doesn’t do, there’ll be another time, and
another, as many as it takes if we must stay down here until
summer." Doesine opened her mouth in protest before giving
over with a grimace. Only she among them knew how to operate
the Chair, but in this group, she stood as low as Seaine. 

Talene continued to stare up at Saerin. Tears filled her
big eyes, and she began to weep, great shuddering, hopeless
sobs. Blindly, she reached out, groping until Pevara stuck
the Oath Rod into her hand. Embracing the Source, Pevara
channeled a thread of Spirit to the Rod. Talene gripped the
wrist-thick rod so hard that her knuckles turned white, yet
she just lay there sobbing. 

Saerin straightened. "I fear it’s time to put her back to
sleep, Doesine." 

Talene’s tears redoubled, but she mumbled through them.
"I-forswear-all oaths-that bind me." With the last word, she
began to howl. 

Seaine jumped, then swallowed hard. She personally knew the
pain of removing a single oath and had speculated on the agony
of removing more than one at once, but now the reality was in
front of her. Talene screamed till there was no breath left
in her, then pulled in air only to scream again, until Seaine
half expected people to come running down from the Tower
itself. The tall Green convulsed, flinging her arms and legs
about, then suddenly arched up till only her heels and head
touched the gray surface, every muscle clenched, her whole
body spasming wildly.

 As abruptly as the seizure had begun Talene collapsed
bonelessly and lay there weeping like a lost child. The Oath
Rod rolled from her limp hand down the sloping gray surface.
Yukiri murmured something with the sound of a fervent prayer.
Doesine kept whispering "Light!" over and over in a shaken
voice. "Light! Light!" 

Pevara scooped up the Rod and closed Talene’s fingers around
it again. There was no mercy in Seaine’s friend, not in this
matter. "Now swear the Three Oaths," she spat. 

For an instant, it seemed Talene might refuse, but slowly
she repeated to oaths that made them all Aes Sedai and held
them together. To speak no word that was not true. Never to
make a weapon for one man to kill another. Never to use to
One Power as a weapon, except in defense of her life, or that
of her Warder or another sister. At the end, she began
weeping in silence, shaking without a sound. Perhaps it was 

the oaths tightening down on her. They were uncomfortable
when fresh. Perhaps.
Then Pevara told the other oath required of her. Talene 

flinched, but muttered the words in tones of hopelessness. "I
vow to obey all five of you absolutely." Otherwise, she only
stared straight ahead dully, tears trailing down her cheeks. 

"Answer me truthfully," Saerin told her. "Are you of the
Black Ajah?" 

"I am." The words creaked, as if Talene’s throat were
rusty. 

The simple words froze Seaine in a way she had never
expected. She had set out to hunt the Black Ajah, after all,
and believed in her quarry as many sisters did not. She had
laid hands on another sister, on a Sitter, had helped bundle
Talene along deserted basement hallways wrapped in flows of
Air, had broken a dozen Tower laws, committed serious crimes,
all to hear an answer she had been nearly certain of before
the question was asked. Now she had heard. The Black Ajah
really did exist. She was staring at a Black sister, a
Darkfriend who wore the shawl. And believing turned out to be
a pale shadow of confronting. Only her jaw clenched near to
cramping kept her teeth from chattering. She struggled to
compose herself, to think rationally. But nightmares were
awake and walking the Tower. 

Someone exhaled heavily, and Seaine realized she was not the
only one who found her world turned upside down. Yukiri gave
herself a shake, then fixed her eyes on Talene as though
determined to hold the shield on her by willpower if need be.
Doesine was licking her lips, and smoothing her dark golden
skirts uncertainly. Only Saerin and Pevara appeared at ease. 

"So," Saerin said softly. Perhaps "faintly" was a better
word. "So. Black Ajah." She drew a deep breath, and her
tone became brisk. "There’s no more need for that, Yukiri.
Talene, you won’t try to escape, or resist in any way. You
won’t so much as touch the Source without permission from one
of us. Though I suppose someone else will take this forward
once we hand you over. Yukiri?" The shield on Talene
dissipated, but the glow remained around Yukiri, as if she did
not trust the effect of the Rod on a Black sister. 

Pevara frowned. "Before we give her to Elaida, Saerin, I
want to dig out as much as we can. Names, places, anything.

Everything she knows!" Darkfriends had killed Pevara’s entire
family, and Seaine was sure she would go into exile ready to
hunt down every last Black sister personally. 

Still huddled on the Chair, Talene made a sound, half bitter
laugh, half weeping. "when you do that, we are all dead. 

Dead! Elaida is Black Ajah!"
"That’s impossible!" Seaine burst out. "Elaida gave me the
order herself."
"She must be," Doesine half whispered. "Talene’s sworn the 

oaths again; she just named her!" Yukiri nodded vehemently. 

"Use your heads," Pevara growled, shaking her own in
disgust. "You know as well as I do if you believe a lie, you
can say it for truth." 

"And that is truth," Saerin said firmly. "What proof do you
have, Talene? Have you seen Elaida at your....meetings?" She
gripped her knife hilt so hard that her knuckles paled.
Saerin had had to fight harder than most for the shawl, for
the right to remain in the Tower at all. To her, the Tower
was more than home, more important than her own life. If
Talene gave the wrong answer, Elaida might not live to face
trial. 

"They don’t have meetings," Talene muttered sullenly. 

"Except the Supreme Council, I suppose. But she must be.
They know every report she receives, even the secret ones,
every word spoken to her. They know every decision she makes
before it’s announced. Days before; sometimes weeks. How
else, unless she tells them?" Sitting up with an effort, she
tried to fix them each in turn with an intent stare. It only
made her eyes seem to dart anxiously. "We have to run’ we
have to find a place to hide. I’ll help you-tell you
everything I know!-but they’ll kill us unless we run." 

Strange, Seaine thought, how quickly Talene had made her
former cronies "they" and tried to identify herself with the
rest of them. No. She was avoiding the real problem, and
avoidance was witless. Had Elaida really set her to dig out
the Black Ajah? She had never once actually mentioned the
name. Could she have meant something else? Elaida had always
jumped down the throat of anyone who even mentioned the Black.
Nearly any sister would do the same yet.... 

"Elaida’s proven herself a fool," Saerin said, "and more
than once I’ve regretted standing for her, but I’ll not
believe she’s Black, not without more than that." Tight-
lipped, Pevara jerked an agreeing nod. As a Red, she would
want much more. 

"That’s as may be, Saerin," Yukiri said, "but we cannot hold
Talene long before the Greens start asking where she is. Not
to mention the ...the Black. We’d better decide what to do
fast, or we’ll still be digging at the bottom of the well when
the rains hit." Talene gave Saerin a feeble smile that was
probably meant to be ingratiating. It faded under the Brown
Sitter’s frown. 

"We don’t dare tell Elaida anything until we can cripple
the Black at one blow," Saerin said finally. "Don’t argue,
Pevara; it’s sense." Pevara threw up her hands and put on a
stubborn expression, but she closed her mouth. "if Talene is
right," Saerin went on, "the Black knows about Seaine or soon
will, so we must ensure her safety, as much s we can. That

won’t be easy, with only five of us. We can’t trust anyone
until we are certain of them! At least w have Talene, and who
knows what we’ll learn before she’s wrung out?" Talene
attempted to look willing to be wrung out, but no one was
paying her any mind. Seaine’s throat had gone dry. 

"We might not be entirely alone," Pevara said reluctantly.
"Seaine, tell them your little scheme with Zerah and her
friends." 

"Scheme?" Saerin said. "Who’s Zerah? Seaine? Seaine!" 

Seaine gave a start. "What? Oh. Pevara and I uncovered a
small nest of rebels here in the Tower," she began breathily.
"Then sisters sent to spread dissent." Saerin was going to
make sure she was safe, was she? Without so much as asking.
She was a Sitter herself; she had been Aes Sedai for almost a
hundred and fifty years. What right had Saerin or anyone to
....? "Pevara and I have begun putting an end to that. We’ve
already made one of them, Zerah Dacan, take the same extra
oath Talene did, and told her to bring Bernaile Gelbarn to my
rooms this afternoon without rousing her suspicions." Light,
any sister outside this room might be Black. Any sister.
"Then we will use those two to bring another, until they have
all been made to sear obedience. Of course, we’ll ask the
same question we put to Zerah, the same we put to Talene."
The Black Ajah might already have her name, already know she
had been set hunting them. How could Saerin keep her safe?
"Those who give the wrong answer can be questioned, and those
who give the right can repay for a little of their treachery
by hunting the Black under our direction." Light, how? 

When she was done, the others discussed the matter at some
length, which could only mean that Saerin was unsure what
decision she would make. Yukiri insisted on giving Zerah and
her confederates over to the law immediately-if it could be
done without exposing their own situation with Talene. Pevara
argued for using the rebels, though halfheartedly; the dissent
they had been spreading centered around vile tales concerning
the Red Ajah and false Dragons. Doesine seemed to be
suggesting that they kidnap every sister in the Tower and
force them all to take the added oath, but the other three
paid little attention to her. 

Seaine took no part in the discussion. Her reaction to
their predicament was the only possible one, she thought.
Tottering to the nearest corner, she vomited noisily. 

Elayne tried not to grind her teeth. Outside, another
blizzard pelted Caemlyn, darkening the midday sky enough that
the lamps along the sitting room’s paneled walls were all lit.
Fierce gusts rattled the casements set into the tall arched
windows. Flashes of lightning lit the clear glass panes, and
thunder boomed hollowly overhead. Thunder snow, the worse
kind of winter storm, the most violent. The room was not
precisely cold, but....Spreading her fingers in front of the
logs crackling in the broad marble fireplace, she could still
feel a chill rising through the carpets layered over the floor
tiles, and through her thickest velvet slippers, too. The
wide black fox collar and cuffs on her red-and-white gown were
pretty, but she was not sure they added any more to its warmth

than the pearls on the sleeves. Refusing to let the cold
touch her did not mean she was unaware.
Where was Nynaeve? And Vandene? Her thoughts snarled like 

the weather. They should be here already! Light! I wish I
could learn to go without sleep, and they take their sweet
time! No, that was unfair. Her formal claim for the Lion
Throne was only a few days old, and for her, everything else
had to take second place for the time being. Nynaeve and
Vandene had other priorities; other responsibilities, as they
saw them. Nynaeve was up to her neck planning with Reanne and
the rest of the Knitting Circle how to spirit Kinswomen out of
Seanchan-controlled lands before they were discovered and
collared. The Kin were very good at staying low, but the
Seanchan would not just pass them by for wilders the way Aes
Sedai always had. Supposedly, Vandene was still shaken by her
sister’s murder, barely eating and hardly able to give advice
of any sort. The barely eating part was true, but finding the
killer consumed her. Supposedly walking the halls in grief at
odd hours, she was secretly hunting the Darkfriend among them.
Three days earlier, just the thought of that could make Elayne
shiver; now, it was one danger among many. More intimate than
most, true, but only most. 

They were doing important tasks, approved and encouraged by
Egwene, but she still wished they would hurry, selfish though
it might be. Vandene had a wealth of good advice, the
advantage of long experience and study, and Nynaeve’s years of
dealing with the Village Council and the Women’s Circle back
in Emond’s Field gave her a keen eye for practical politics,
however much she denied it. Burn me, I have a hundred
problems, some right here in the Palace, and I need them! If
she had her way, Nynaeve al’Meara was going to be the Aes
Sedai advisor to the next Queen of Andor. She needed all the
help she could find-help she could trust. 

Smoothing her face, she turned away from the blazing hearth.
Thirteen tall armchairs, carved simply but with a fine hand,
made a horseshoe arc in front of the fireplace.
Paradoxically, the place of honor, where the Queen would sit
if receiving here, stood farthest from the fire’s heat. Such
was it was. Her back began to warm immediately, and her front
to cool. Outside, snow fell, thunder crashed and lightning
flared. Inside her head, too. Calm. A ruler had as much
need of calm as any Aes Sedai. 

"It must be the mercenaries," she said, not quite managing
to keep regret out of her voice. Armsmen from her estates
surely would begin arriving inside a month-once they learned
she was alive-but the men Birgitte was recruiting would
require half a year or more before they were fit to ride and
handle a sword at the same time. "And Hunters for the Horn,
if any will sign and swear." There were plenty of both
trapped in Caemlyn by the weather. Too many of both, most
people said, carousing, brawling, troubling women who wanted
no part of their attentions. At least she would be putting
them to good use, to stop trouble instead of beginning it.
She wished she did not think she was still trying to convince
herself of that. "Expensive, but the coffers will cover it."
For the time, they would. She had better start receiving
revenues from her estates soon.

 Wonder of wonders, the two women standing before her reacted
in much the same fashion. 

Dyelin gave an irritated grunt. A large, round silver pin
worked with Taravin’s Owl and Oak was fastened at the high
neck of her dark green dress, her only jewelry. A show of
pride in her House, perhaps too much pride; the High Seat of
House Taravin was a proud woman altogether. Gray streaked her
golden hair and fine lines webbed the corners of her eyes, yet
her face was strong, her faze level and sharp. Her mind was a
razor. Or maybe a sword. A plain spoken woman, or so it
seemed, who did not hide her opinions. 

"Mercenaries know the work," she said dismissively, "but
they are hard to control, Elayne. When you need a feather
touch, they’re liable to be a hammer, and when you need a
hammer, they’re liable to be elsewhere, and stealing to boot.
They are loyal to gold, and only as long as the gold lasts. 

If they don’t betray for more gold first. I’m sure this once
Lady Birgitte will agree with me."
Arms folded tightly beneath her breasts and heeled boots 

planted wide, Birgitte grimaced, as always when anyone used
her new title. Elayne had granted her an estate as soon as
they reached Caemlyn, where it could be registered. In
private, Birgitte grumbled incessantly over that, and the
other change in her life. Her sky-blue trousers were cut the
same as those she usually wore, billowing and gathered at the
ankles, but her short red coat had a high white collar, and
wide white cuffs banded with gold. She was the Lady Birgitte
Trahelion and the Captain General of the Queen’s Guard, and
she could mutter and whine all she wanted, so long as she kept
it private. 

"I do," she growled unwillingly, and gave Dyelin a not-quite-
sidelong glare. The Warder bond carried what Elayne had been
sensing all morning. Frustration, irritation, determination.
Some of that might have been a reflection of herself, though.
They mirrored one another in surprising ways since the
bonding, emotionally and otherwise. Why, her courses had
shifted by more than a week to match the other woman’s! 

Birgitte’s reluctance to take the second-best argument was
clearly almost as great as her reluctance to agree. "Hunters
aren’t much bloody better, Elayne," she muttered. "they took
the Hunter’s Oath to find adventure, and a place in the
histories if they can. Not to settle down keeping the law.
Half are supercilious prigs, looking down their flaming noses
at everyone else; the rest don’t just take necessary chances,
they look for chances to take. And one whisper of a rumor of
the Horn of Valere, and you’ll be lucky if only two in three
vanish overnight." 

Dyelin smiled a thin smile, as though she had won a point.
Oil and water were not in it compared to those two; each
managed well enough with nearly anyone else, but for some
reason they could argue over the color of charcoal. Could and
would. "Besides, Hunters and mercenaries alike, nearly all
are foreigners. That will sit poorly with high and low alike.
Very poorly. The last thing you want is to start a
rebellion." Lightning flared, briefly lighting the casements,
and a particularly loud peal of thunder punctuated her words.
In a thousand years, seven Queens of Andor had been toppled by

open rebellion, and the two who survived probably wished they
had not. 

Elayne stifled a sigh. One of the small inlaid tables along
the walls held a heavy silver ropework try with cups and a
tall pitcher of hot spiced wine. Lukewarm spiced wine, now.
She channeled briefly, Fire, and a thin wisp of steam rose
from the pitcher. Reheating gave the spices a slight
bitterness, but the warmth of the worked silver cup in her
hands was worth it. With an effort she resisted the desire
to heat the air in the room with the Power and released the
Source; the warmth would not have lasted unless she maintained
the weaves, anyway. She had conquered her unwillingness to
let go every time she took in saidar-well, to some extent-yet
of late, the desire to draw more grew every time. Every
sister had to face that dangerous desire. A gesture brought
the others to pour their own wine. 

"You know the situation," she told them. "Only a fool could
think it anything but dire, and you’re neither of you fools."
The Guards were a shell, a handful of acceptable men and a
double handful of strongarms and toughs better suited to
throwing drunks out of taverns, or being thrown out
themselves. And with the Saldaeans gone and the Aiel leaving,
crime was blooming like weeds in spring. She would have
thought the snow would damp it down, but every day brought
robbery, arson, and worse. Every day, the situation grew
worse. "At this rate, we’ll see riots in a few weeks. Maybe
sooner. If I can’t keep order in Caemlyn itself, the people
will turn against me." If she could not keep order in the
capital, she might as well announce to the world she was unfit
to rule. " I don’t like it but it has to be done, so it will
be." Both opened their mouths, ready to argue further, but
she gave them no chance. She made her voice firm. "It will
be done." 

Birgitte’s waist-long golden braid swung as she shook her
head, yet grudging acceptance filtered through the bond. She
took a decidedly odd view of their relationship as Aes Sedai
and Warder, but she had learned to recognize when Elayne would
not be pressed. After a fashion she had learned. There was
the estate and title. And commanding the Guards. And a few
other small matters. 

Dyelin bent her neck a fraction, and perhaps her knees; it
might have been a curtsy, yet her face was stone. It was well
to remember that many who did not want Elayne Trakand on the
Lion Throne wanted Dyelin Taravin instead. The woman had been
nothing but helpful, but it was early days yet, and sometimes
a niggling voice whispered in the back of Elayne’s head. Was
Dyelin simply waiting for her to bungle badly before stepping
in to "save" Andor? Someone sufficiently prudent,
sufficiently devious, might try that route, and might even
succeed. 

Elayne raised a hand to rub her temple but made it into
adjusting her hair. So much suspicion, so little trust. The
Game of Houses had infected Andor since she left for Tar
Valon. She was grateful for her months among Aes Sedai for
more than learning the power. Daes Dae’mar was breath and
bread, to most sisters. Grateful for Thom’s teaching, too.
Without both, she might not have survived her return as long

as she had. The Light send Thom was safe, that he and Mat
and the others had escaped the Seanchan and were on their way
to Camelyn. Every day since leaving Ebou Dar she prayed for
their safety, but that brief prayer was all she had time for,
now. 

Taking the chair at the center of the arc, the Queen’s
chair, she tried to look like a queen, back straight, her free
hand resting lightly on the carved chair arm. Looking a queen
is not enough, her mother had told her often, but a fine mind,
a keen grasp of affairs, and a brave heart will go for nothing
if people do not seen you as a queen. Birgitte was watching 

her closely, almost suspiciously. Sometimes the bond was
decidedly inconvenient! Dyelin raised her winecup to her
lips. 

Elayne took a deep breath. She had harried this question
from every direction she knew, and she could see no other way.
"Birgitte, by spring, I want the Guards to be an army equal to
anything ten Houses can put in the field." Impossible to
achieve, likely, but just trying meant keeping the mercenaries
who signed now and finding more, signing every man who showed
the least inclination. Light, what a foul tangle! 

Dyelin choked, her eyes bulging; dark wine sprayed from her
mouth. Still sputtering, she plucked a lace-edged
handkerchief from her sleeve and dabbed at her chin. 

A wave of panic shot down the bond from Birgitte. "Oh, burn
me, Elayne, you can’t mean....! I’m an archer, not a general!
That’s all I’ve ever been, don’t you understand yet? I just
did what I had to do, what circumstances forced on me!
Anyway, I’m not her, anymore; I’m just me and....!" She trailed
off, realizing she might have said too much. Not for the
first time. Her face went crimson as Dyelin eyed her
curiously. 

They had put it about that Birgitte was from Kandor, where
country women wore something like her clothes, yet Dyelin
clearly suspected the lie. And every time Birgitte let her
tongue slip, she came closer to letting her secret slip, too.
Elayne shot her a look that promised a talking-to, later. 

She would not have thought Birgitte’s cheeks could get any
redder. Mortification drowned everything else in the bond,
flooding through until Elayne felt her own face coloring.
Quickly she put on a stern expression, hoping her crimson
cheeks would pass for something other than an intense desire
to squirm in her seat with Birgitte’s humiliation. That
mirroring effect could be more than merely inconvenient! 

Dyelin wasted only a moment on Birgitte. Tucking her
handkerchief back in its place, she carefully set her cup back
on the tray then planted her hands on her hips. Her face was
a thunderhead, now. "The Guards have always been the core of
Andor’s army, Elayne, but this....Light’s mercy, this is
madness! You could turn every hand against you from the River
Erinin to the Mountains of Mist!" 

Elayne focused on calm. If she was wrong, Andor would
become another Cairhien, another blood-soaked land filled with
chaos. And she would die, of course, a price not high enough
to meet the cost. Not trying was unthinkable, and in any case
would have the same result for Andor as failure. Cool,
Composed, steely calm. A queen could not show herself afraid,

even when she was. Especially when she was. Her mother had
always said to explain decisions as seldom as possible; the
more often you explained, the more explanations were
necessary, until they were all you had time for. Gareth Bryne
said to explain if you could; your people did better if they 

knew the why as well as the what. Today, she would follow
Gareth Bryne. A good many victories had been won following
him. 

"I have three declared challengers." And maybe one not
declared. She made herself meet Dyelin’s gaze. Not angrily;
just eyes meeting eyes. Or maybe Dyelin did take it for
anger, with her jaw tight and her face flushed. If so, so be
it. "By herself, Arymilla is negligible, but Nasin has joined
House Caeren To her, and whether or not he’s sane, his support
means she must be considered. Naean and Elenia are
imprisoned; their armsmen are not. Naean’s people may dither
and argue until they find a leader, but Jarid is High Seat of
Sarand, and he will take chances to feed his wife’s ambition.
House Baryn and House Anshar flirt with both; the best I can
hope for is that one goes with Sarand and one with Arawn.
Nineteen Houses in Andor are strong enough that smaller Houses
will follow where they lead. Six are arrayed against me, and
I have two." Six so far, and the Light send she had two! She
would not mention the three great Houses that had all but
declared for Dyelin; at least Egwene had them tied down in
Murandy for now. 

She motioned to a chair near her, and Dyelin sat, carefully
arranging her skirts. The storm clouds had left the older
woman’s face. She studied Elayne, giving no hint as to her
questions or conclusions. "I know all that as well as you,
Elayne, but Luan and Ellorien will bring their Houses to you,
and Abelle will as well, I’m sure." A careful voice, too, but
it gathered heat as she went on. "Other Houses will see
reason, then. As long as you don’t frighten them out of
reason. Light, Elayne, this is not a Succession. Trakand
succeeds Trakand, not another House. Even a Succession has
seldom come to open fighting! Make the Guards into an army,
and you risk everything." 

Elayne threw her head back, but her laughter held no
amusement. It fit right in with the peals of thunder. "I
risked everything the day I came home, Dyelin. You say
Norwelyn and Traemane will come to me, and Pendar? Fine; then
I have five to face six. I don’t think the other Houses will
‘see reason,’ as you put it. If any of them move before it’s
clear as good glass the Rose Crown is mine, it will be against
me, not for." With lucky, those lords and ladies would shy
away from associating with cronies of Gaebril, but she did not
like depending on luck. She was not mat Cauthon. Light, most
people were sure Rand had killed her mother, and few believed
that "Lord Gaebril" had been one of the Forsaken. Mending the
damage Rahvin had done in Andor might take her entire lifetime
even if she managed to live as long as the Kinswomen! Some
Houses would stand aside from supporting her because of the
outrages Gaebril had perpetrated in Morgase’s name, and others
because Rand had said he intended to "give" her the throne.
She loved the man to her toes, but burn him for giving voice
to that! Even if it was what reined in Dyelin. The meanest

crofter in Andor would shoulder his scythe to pull a puppet
from the Lion Throne! 

"I want to avoid Andoran killing Andoran If I can, Dyelin,
but Succession or no Succession, Jarid is ready to fight, even
with Elenia locked away. Naean is ready to fight." Best to
bring both women to Caemlyn as soon as possible; too much
chance of them slipping messages, and orders, out of Aringill.
"Arymilla is ready, with Nasin’s men behind her. To them, 

this is a Succession, and the only way to stop them from
fighting is to be so strong they don’t dare. If Birgitte can
build the Guards into an army by spring, well and good, 

because if I don’t have an army before then, I will have need
of one. And if that isn’t enough, remember the Seanchan.
They won’t be satisfied with Tanchico and Ebou Dar; they want
everything. I won’t let them have Andor, Dyelin, any more
than I’ll let Arymilla." Thunder roared overhead. 

Twisting a little to look back at Birgitte, Dyelin moistened
her lips. Her fingers plucked unconsciously at her skirts.
Very little frightened her, but the tales of the Seanchan had.
What she murmured, though, as if to herself, was "I had hoped
to avoid outright civil war." And that might mean nothing, or
a great deal! Perhaps a little probing might show which. 

"Gawyn," Birgitte said suddenly. Her expression had
lightened, and so had the emotions flowing through the bond.
Relief stood out strong. "When he comes, he’ll take command.
He’ll be your first prince of the sword." 

"Mother’s milk in a cup!" Elayne snapped, and lightning
flared in the windows for emphasis. Why did the woman have to
change the subject now? Dyelin gave a start, and heat flooded
back into Elayne’s face. By the older woman’s gaping mouth,
she knew exactly how coarse that curse was. Strangely
embarrassing, that; it should not have counted for anything
that Dyelin had been her mother’s friend. Unthinking, she
took a deep swallow of wine-and nearly gagged at the
bitterness. Quickly she suppressed images of Lini threatening
to wash out her mouth and reminded herself that she was a
grown woman with a throne to win. She doubted her mother had
ever found herself feeling foolish so often. 

"Yes, he will, Birgitte," she went on, more calmly. "When
he comes." Three couriers were on their way to Tar Valon.
Even if none managed to get past Elaida, Gawyn would learn
eventually that she had made her claim, and he would come.
She needed him desperately. She had no illusions of herself
as a general, and Birgitte was so fearful she could not live
up to the legends about her that sometimes she seemed afraid
to try. Face an army, yes; lead an army, never under the sun! 

Birgitte was well aware of the tangle in her own mind.
Right that moment her face was frozen, but her emotions were
full of self-anger and embarrassment, with the first growing
stronger by the moment. With a stab of irritation, Elayne
opened her mouth to pursue Dyelin’s mention of civil war
before she began reflecting Birgitte’s anger. 

Before she could utter a word, though, the tall red doors
opened. Her hopes for Nynaeve or Vandene were dashed by the
entrance of two Sea Folk women, barefoot despite the weather.
A cloud of musky perfume wafted ahead of them, and by
themselves they made up a procession in brightly brocaded silk

trousers and blouses, jeweled daggers and necklaces of gold
and ivory. And other jewelry. Straight black hair with white
at the temples nearly hid the ten small, fat golden rings in
Renaile din Calon’s ears, but the arrogance in her dark eyes
was as plain as the medallion-laden golden chain that
connected one earring to her nose ring. Her face was set, and
despite a graceful sway to her walk, she appeared ready to
stride through a wall. Nearly a hand shorter than her
companion and darker than charcoal, Zaida din Parede wore half
again as many golden medallions dangling on her left cheek and
carried an air of command rather than arrogance, a sure
certainty that she would be obeyed. Gray flecked her cap of
tight black curls, yet she was stunning, one of those women
who grew more and more beautiful as they aged. 

Dyelin flinched at sight of them, and half raised a hand to
her nose before she could stop herself. A common enough
reaction in people unused to the Atha’an Miere. Elayne
grimaced, and not for their nose rings. She even considered
another curse, something more...pungent. Excepting the
Forsaken, she could not have named two people she wanted less
to see right then. Reene was supposed to see this did not
happen! 

"Forgive me," she said, rising smoothly, "but I am very
busy, now. Matters of state, you understand, or I would greet
you as your stations deserve." The Sea Folk were sticklers
for ceremony and propriety, at least on their own terms. Very
likely they had gotten past the First Maid by simply not
telling her they wanted to see Elayne, but they easily might
take offense if she greeted them sitting before the crown was
hers. And, the Light burn both of them, she could not afford
to offend. Birgitte appeared at her side, bowing formally to
take her cup; the Warder bond carried wariness. She was
always ginger around the Sea Folk; she had let her tongue slip
around them, too. "I will see you later in the day," Elayne
finished, adding, "The Light willing." They also were great
ones for ceremonial turns of phrase, and that one showed
courtesy and gave a way out. 

Renaile did not stop until she stood right in front of
Elayne, and much too close. One tattooed hand gestured curt
permission for her to sit. Permission. "You have been
avoiding me." Her voice was deep for a woman, and as chill as
the snow falling on the roof. "Remember that I am Windfinder
to Nesta din Reas Two Moons, Mistress of the Ships to the
Atha’an Miere. You still must fulfill the rest of the bargain
you made for your White Tower." The Sea Folk knew of the
division in the Tower-by this time, everyone and her sister
knew-but Elayne had not seen fit to add to her difficulties by
making public which side she was on. Not yet. Renaile
finished on an imperious, commanding note. "You will deal
with me, and now!" So much for ceremony and propriety. 

"She has been avoiding me, I think, not you, Windfinder."
In contrast to Renaile, Zaida sounded as though she were
merely making conversation. Rather than rushing across the
carpets, she moved idly about the room, pausing to touch a
tall vase of thin green porcelain, then rising on her toes to
peer through a four-barreled kaleidoscope atop a tall stand.
When she glanced toward Elayne and Renaile, an amused glint

twinkled in her black eyes. "After all, the bargain was with
Nesta din Reas, speaking for the ships." In addition to
Wavemistress of Clan Catelar, Zaida was an ambassador from the
Mistress of the Ships. To Rand, not Andor, but her warrant
gave the authority to speak and bind for Nesta herself.
Changing one gold-chased barrel for another, she went on 

tiptoe to look through the eyepiece again. "You promised the
Atha’an Miere twenty teachers, Elayne. So far you have
delivered one." 

Their entrance had been so sudden, so dramatic, that Elayne
was surprised to see Merilille turn from closing the doors.
Shorter still than Zaida, the Gray sister was elegant in dark
blue wool trimmed with silvery fur and sewn with small
moonstones across the bodice, yet barely more than two weeks
teaching the Windfinders had brought changes. Most were
powerful women with a thirst for knowledge, more than ready to
squeeze Merilille like a grape in the winepress, demanding the
last drop of juice. Once, Elayne had thought her self-
possessed beyond the ability to surprise, but now Merilille
was constantly wide-eyed, her lips always a little parted, as
though she had just been startled half out of her wits and
expected to be startled again any moment. Folding her hands
at her waist, she waited by the doorway, and appeared relieved
to be out of the center of attention. 

Harrumphing loudly, Dyelin got to her feet and scowled at
Zaida and Renaile both. "Have a care how you speak," she
growled. "You are in Andor, now, not on one of our ships, and
Elayne Trakand will be Queen of Andor! Your bargain will be
met in good time. For now, we have more important matters to
contend with." 

"Under the Light, there are none more important," Renaile
rumbled in turn, rounding on her. "You say the bargain will
be met? So you stand surety. Know there will be room to
dangle you by your ankles in the rigging as well if-" 

Zaida snapped her fingers. That was all, but a tremor
passed through Renaile. Snatching the golden scent-box
dangling from one of her necklaces, she pressed it to her nose
and breathed deeply. Windfinder to the Mistress of the Ships
she might be, a woman of great authority and power among the
Atha’an Miere, but to Zaida, she was...a Windfinder. Which
grated her pride excessively. Elayne was sure there must be a
way to use that to keep them out of her hair, but she had not
found it, yet. Oh, yes; for good or ill, Daes Dae’mar was in
her bones, now. 

She glided around a silently furious Renaile as if around a
column, a part of the room, though not toward Zaida. If
anyone had a right be be casual here, she did. She could not
afford to give Zaida a hair of advantage, or the Wavemistress
would shave her scalp for wigmakers. At the fireplace, she
spread her hands in front of the flames again. 

"Nesta din Reas trusted we would fulfill the bargain, or she
never would have agreed to it," she said calmly. "You have
regained the Bowl of the Winds, but assembling nineteen more
sisters to join you requires time. I know you worry about the
ships that were at Ebou Dar when the Seanchan came. Have
Renaile make a gateway to Tear. There are hundreds of Atha’an
Miere vessels there." Every report said so. "You can learn

what they know, and rejoin your people. They will have need
of you, against the Seanchan." And she would be rid of them.
"The other sisters will be sent to you as soon as can be
arranged." Merilille did not move from the doorway, but her
face took on a green tinge of panic at the possibility of
being alone among the Sea Folk. 

Zaida gave over looking through the kaleidoscope and eyed
Elayne sideways. A smile quirked her very full lips. "I must
remain here, at least until I speak to Rand al’Thor. If he
ever comes." That smile tightened for an instant before
blooming once more; Rand would have a hard time with her.
"And I will keep Renaile and her companions, for the time. A
handful of Windfinders more or less will make no great
difference against these Seanchan, and here, the Light
willing, they may learn what will be useful." Renaile
snorted, just loudly enough to be heard. Zaida frowned
briefly and began fiddling with the eyepiece that stood level
with the top of her head. "There are five Aes Sedai here in
your palace, counting yourself," she murmured thoughtfully.
"Perhaps some of you might teach." As though the idea had
just occurred to her. And if that were so, Elayne could lift
both Sea folk women with one hand! 

"Oh, yes, that would be wonderful," Merilille burst out,
taking a step forward. Then she glanced at Renaile and
subsided, a blush suffusing her Cairhienin paleness. Folding
her hands at her waist once more, she snatched meekness around 

herself like a second skin. Birgitte shook her head in
amazement. Dyelin stared as if she had never seen the Aes
Sedai before. 

"Something may be worked out, if the Light pleases," Elayne
said cautiously. Not rubbing at her temples took effort. She
wished she could blame the ache inside her skull on the
incessant thunder. Nynaeve would erupt at the suggestion, and
Vandene likely would ignore any such order, but Careane and
Sareitha might be possible. "For no more than a few hours a
day, you understand. When they have time." She avoided
looking at Merilille. Even Careane and Sareitha might rebel
at being tossed into that winepress. 

Zaida touched the fingers of her right hand to her lips.
"It is agreed, under the light." 

Elayne blinked. That was ominous; in the Wavemistress’s
eyes, apparently, they had just made another bargain. Her
limited experience of dealing with the Atha’an Miere was that
you were lucky to walk away with your shift. Well, this time
things were going to be different. For instance, what were
the sisters to gain in it? There had to be two sides to a
bargain. Zaida smiled, as if she knew what Elayne was
thinking and was amused. One of the doors opening again was
almost a relief, giving her an excuse to turn away from the
Sea Folk woman. 

Reene Harfor slipped into the room with deference but
without servility, and her curtsy was restrained, suitable for
the High Seat of a powerful House to her Queen. But then, any
High Seat worth a pinch of salt knew enough to offer respect
to the First Maid. Her graying hair was arranged in a bun,
like a crown atop her head, and she wore a scarlet tabard over
her red-and-white dress, with the White Lion of Andor’s head

resting on her formidable bosom. Reene had no say in who
would sit on the throne, but she had adopted full formal dress
on the day of Elayne’s arrival, as if the Queen already were
in residence. Her round face hardened momentarily at sight of
the Atha’an Miere women who had bypassed her, but that was all
the notice she gave them. For now. They would learn to their
cost what incurring the animosity of the First Maid entailed. 

"Mazrim Taim has come at last, my Lady." Reene managed to
make that sound very like "my Queen." "Shall I tell him to
wait?" 

Not beforetime! Elayne muttered in her head. She had
summoned the man two days ago! "Yes, Mistress Harfor. Give
him wine. The third best, I think. Inform him that I will
see him as soon as I-" 

Taim strode into the room as though he owned the Palace.
She did not need him named. Blue-And-gold Dragons wove round
the sleeves of his black coat from elbows to cuffs, in
imitation of the Dragons on Rand’s arms. Though she suspected
he would not appreciate the observation. He was tall, nearly
as tall as Rand, with a hooked nose and dark eyes like augurs,
a physically powerful man who moved with something of a
Warder’s deadly grace, but shadows seemed to follow him, as if
half the lamps in the room had gone out; not real shadows, but
an air of imminent violence that seemed palpable enough to
soak up light. 

Two more black-coated men followed at his heels, a bald
fellow with a long grizzled beard and leering blue eyes, and a
younger man, snake-slim and dark-haired, with the sneering
arrogance young men often adopted before they learned better.
Both wore the silver Sword and red-enameled Dragon on their
tall collars. None of the three wore a sword on his hip,
though; they did not need swords. Suddenly the sitting room
felt smaller, and crowded. 

Instinctively, Elayne embraced saidar and reached out to
link. Merilille slipped into the circle easily; astoundingly,
so did Renaile. A quick glance at the Windfinder lessened her
surprise. Her face gray, Renaile was gripping the dagger
thrust behind her sash so hard that Elayne could feel the pain
in her knuckles through the link. She had been in Caemlyn
long enough to be aware of what an Asha’man was. 

The men knew someone had embraced saidar, of course, even if
they could not see the glow surrounding the three women. The
bald man stiffened; the slim young man clenched his fists.
They stared with angry eyes. Surely they had seized saidin.
Elayne began to regret giving in to reflex, but she was not
going to let go of the Source, not now. Taim radiated danger
the way a fire gave off heat. She drew deeply through the
link, to the point where the overwhelming sense of life became
sharp, warning prickles. Even those felt ....joyous. With that
much of the Power in her, she could lay waste to the Palace,
but she wondered whether it was enough to match Taim and the
other two. She very much wished she had one of the three
angreal they had found in Ebou Dar, now safely locked away
with the rest of the things from the cache until she had time
to study them again. 

Taim shook his head contemptuously, a half-smile flickering
across his lips. "Use your eyes." His voice was quiet, but

hard and sneering. "There are two Aes Sedai here. Are you
afraid of two Aes Sedai? Besides, you don’t want to frighten
the future Queen of Andor." His companions relaxed visibly,
then began trying to emulate the unthinking dominance of his
stance. 

Reene knew nothing of saidar or saidin; she had rounded on
the men, scowling, as soon as they entered. Asha’man or no
Asha’man, she expected people to behave as they should. She
muttered something almost under her breath. Not quite far
enough under, though. The words "sneaking rats" were just
audible. 

The First Maid reddened when she realized everyone in the
room had heard, and Elayne got a chance to see Reene Harfor
flustered. Which was to say that the woman drew herself up
and said, with a grace and dignity any ruler might envy,
"Forgive me, my Lady Elayne, but I’ve been told there are rats
infesting the storerooms. Most unusual this time of year, and
so many of them. If you will excuse me, I must make sure my
orders for ratcatchers and poison baits are being carried
out." 

"Stay," Elayne told her coolly. Calmly. "Vermin can be
dealt with in due time." Two Aes Sedai. He did not realize
Renaile could channel and he had emphasized two. Would just
three women give some advantage? Or did it take more? Plainly
the Asha’man knew of some advantage to women in numbers less
than a circle of thirteen. Walk in on her without so much as
a by-your-leave, would they? "You can show these goodmen out
when I’m done with them." Taim’s companions scowled at being
called "goodmen," but the man himself merely flashed another
of those almost-smiles. He was quick enough to know she had
been thinking of him when she spoke of vermin. Light! Maybe
Rand had needed this man once, but why would he keep him now,
and in a position of such authority? Well, his authority
counted for nothing here. 

Unhurriedly, she took her chair again, and gave a moment to
adjusting her skirts. The men would have to come around in
front of her like supplicants, or else talk to the side of her
head while she refused to look at them. For an instant she
considered passing control of the small circle. The Asha’man
would surely focus their attention on her. Renaile was still
gray, though, anger and fear tumbling over one another inside
her; she might strike out as soon as the link was hers.
Merilille had some fear, just under control, mixed with a very
great deal of a...goosey...feeling that matched her wide eyes and
parted lips; the Light alone knew what she might do with the
link. 

Dyelin glided to the side of Elayne’s chair, as if to shield
her from the Asha’man. Whatever lay inside the High Seat of
Taravin, her face was stern, unfrightened. The other women
had wasted no time in preparing as best they could. Zaida
stood very still beside the kaleidoscope, doing her best to
look diminutive and harmless, but her hands were behind her
back and the dagger was missing from behind her sash.
Birgitte lounged beside the fireplace, left hand propped on
the jamb, seemingly at her ease, but the sheath of her belt
knife was empty, and from the way her other hand rested by her
side, she was ready for an underhand throw. The bond

carried...focus. Arrow nocked, drawn to cheek, ready to loose. 

Elayne made no effort to look around Dyelin at the three
men. "first you re too slow obeying my summons, Master Taim,
and then too sudden." Light was he holding saidin? There
were methods of interfering with a man channeling short of
shielding him, but it was a difficult skill, chancy, and she
knew little more than the theory. 

He did come in front of her, several paces off, but he did
not look a supplicant. Mazrim Taim knew who he was and his
own worth, though he plainly set it higher than the sky.
Lightning flashed in the windows sent strange lights across
his face. Many would feel overawed by him, even without his
fancy coat or his infamous name. She did not. She would not! 

Taim rubbed his chin thoughtfully, "I understand you’ve
taken down the Dragon banners all over Camelyn, Mistress
Elayne." There was amusement in his deep voice if none in his
eyes! Dyelin hissed in fury at the slight to Elayne, but he
ignored her. "The Saldaeans have withdrawn to the Legion of
the Dragon’s camp, I hear, and soon the last of the Aiel will
be in camps outside the city, as well. What will he say when
he learns?" There was no doubt who he meant. "And after
he’s sent you a gift, too. From the south. I’ll have it
delivered later. 

"I will ally Andor with the Dragon Reborn in due course,"
she told him coldly, "but Andor is not a conquered province,
not for him or anyone else." She made her hands stay relaxed
on the arms of the chair. Light, talking the Aiel and
Saldaeans into leaving had been her biggest achievement yet,
and even with the flareup in crime, it had been necessary!
"In any case, Master Taim, it is not your place to call me to
task. If Rand objects, I will deal with him!" Taim raised an
eyebrow, and that odd quirk of his mouth lingered. 

Burn me, she thought indignantly, I shouldn’t have used
Rand’s name! The man clearly thought he knew exactly how she
would deal with the anger of the bloody Dragon Reborn! The
worst of it was, if she could trip Rand into a bed, she would.
Not for this, not to deal with him, but because she wanted to.
What sort of gift had he sent her? 

Anger hardened her voice. Anger at Taim’s tone, at Rand for
staying away so long. At herself, for blushing and thinking
of gifts. Gifts! "You’ve walled in four miles of Andor."
Light, that was more than half as large as the Inner City!
How many of these fellows could it hold? The thought made her
skin crawl. "With whose permission, Master Taim? Don’t tell
me the Dragon Reborn. He has no right to give permission for
anything in Andor." Dyelin shifted beside her. No right, but
enough strength could make right. Elayne kept her attention
on Taim. "You’ve refused the Queen’s Guards entry to
your...compound." Not that they had tried before she came home.
"The law in Andor runs over all of Andor, Master Taim.
Justice will be the same for lord or farmer-or Asha’man.
won’t claim I can force my way in." He began to smile again,
or nearly so. " I wouldn’t demean myself. But unless the
Queen’s Guards are allowed in, I promise you not so much as a
potato will go through your gates, either. I know you can
Travel. Let your Asha’man spend their days Traveling to buy
food." The almost smile vanished in a faint grimace; his

boots shifted slightly. 

Annoyance lasted only an instant, though. "Food is a small
problem," he said smoothly, spreading his hands. "As you say,
my men can Travel. To anywhere I command. I doubt you could
stop me buying whatever I want even ten miles from Caemlyn,
but it wouldn’t bother me if you could. Still, I am willing
to allow visits whenever you ask. Controlled visits, with
escorts at all times. The training is hard in the black
tower. Men die almost every day. I would not want any
accidents." 

He was irritatingly accurate on how far from Caemlyn her
writ ran. But no more than irritating. Were his remarks
about Traveling anywhere he commanded and "accidents" meant to
be veiled threats? Surely not. A wave of fury ran through
her as she realized that she was certain he would not threaten
her because of Rand. She would not hide behind Rand al’Thor.
Controlled visits? When she asked? She ought to burn the man
to a cinder where he stood! 

Abruptly she became aware of what was coming through the
bond from Birgitte, anger, a reflection of hers, joining with
Birgitte’s, reflecting from Birgitte to her, bouncing from her
to Birgitte, feeding on itself, building. Birgitte’s knife
hand quivered with the desire to throw. And herself? Fury
filled her! A whisker more, and she would lose saidar. Or
lash out with it. 

With an effort she forced rage down, into a semblance of
calm. A rough, seething, semblance. She swallowed, and
struggled to keep her voice level. "The Guards will visit
every day, Master Taim." And how she was to manage that in
this weather, she did not know. "Perhaps I will come myself,
with a few other sisters." If the thought of having Aes Sedai
inside his Black Tower upset Taim, he did not show it. Light,
she was trying to establish Andor’s authority, not goad the
man. Hurriedly she did a novice exercise-the river contained
by the bank-seeking calm. It worked, a little. Now she
merely wanted to throw all the winecups at him. "I will
accede to your request for escorts, but nothing is to be
hidden. I won’t have crimes concealed by your secrets. Do we
understand one another?" 

Taim’s bow was mocking---mocking!-but there was a tightness
in his voice. "I understand you perfectly. Understand me,
though. My men are not farmers knuckling their foreheads when
you pass. Press an Asha’man too hard, and you may learn just
how strong your law is." 

Elayne opened her mouth to tell him exactly how strong the
law was in Andor. 

"It is time, Elayne Trakand," a woman’s voice said from the
doorway. 

"Blood and ashes!" Dyelin muttered. Is the whole world
just going to walk in here?" 

Elayne recognized the new voice. She had been expecting
this summons, without knowing when it would come. Knowing
that it must be obeyed, though, on the instant. She stood,
wishing she could have a little longer to make matters clear
to Taim. He frowned at the woman who had just entered, and at
Elayne, clearly uncertain what to make of this. Good. Let
him stew until she had time to set him straight on what

special rights Asha’man had in Andor. 

Nadere stood as tall as either of the two men by the door, a
wide woman, as close to stout as any Aiel Elayne had seen.
Her green eyes examined the pair for a moment before
dismissing them as unimportant. Asha’man did not impress Wise
Ones. Very little did. Adjusting her dark shawl on her
shoulders in a clatter of bracelets, she walked over in front
of Elayne, her back to Taim. Despite the cold, she wore only
that shawl over her thin white blouse, though oddly, she
carried a heavy wool cloak draped across one arm. "You must
come now," she told Elayne, "without delay." Taim’s eyebrows
seemed to be climbing his forehead; no doubt he was
unaccustomed to being so thoroughly ignored. 

"Light of heaven!" Dyelin breathed, massaging her forehead.
"I don’t know what this is about, Nadere, but it will have to
wait until-" 

Elayne laid a hand on her arm. "You don’t know, Dyelin, and
it can’t wait. I will send everyone away and come with you,
Nadere." 

The Wise One shook her head disapprovingly. "A child
waiting to be born cannot take time to send people away." She
shook out the thick cloak. "I brought this to shield your
skin from the cold. Perhaps I should leave it, and tell
Aviendha your modesty is greater than your desire for a
sister." Dyelin gasped in sudden realization. The Warder
bond quivered with Birgitte’s outrage. 

There was only one choice possible. NO choice, really.
Letting the link to the other two women dissolve, she released
saidar herself. The glow remained around Remaile and
Merilille, though. "Will you help me with my buttons,
Dyelin?" Elayne was proud of how steady her voice was. She
had expected this. Just not with so many witnesses! she
thought faintly. Turning her back on Taim-at least she would
not have to see him watching her!-she gegan with the tiny
buttons on her sleeves. "Dyelin, if you please? Dyelin?"
After a moment Dyelin moved as if sleep walking and began
fumbling with the buttons down Elayne’s back, muttering to
herself in shocked tones. One of the Asha’man by the doors
snickered. 

"About turn!" Taim snapped, and boots stamped by the doors. 

Elayne did not know whether he had turned away as well-she
was certain she could feel his eyes on her-but suddenly
Birgitte was there, and Merilille and Reene, and Zaida, and
even Renaile, crowding shoulder-to-shoulder, scowling as they
formed a wall between her and the men. Not a very adequate
wall. None were as tall as she, and neither Zaida nor
Merilille stood higher than her shoulder. 

Focus, she told herself. I am composed, I am tranquil.
am....I’m stripping naked in a room full of people is what I am!
She undressed as hurriedly as she could, letting her dress and
shift fall to the floor, tossing her slippers and stockings on
top of them. Her skin pebbled in the cool air; ignoring the
chill just meant she was not shivering. And she rather
thought the heat in her cheeks might have something to do with
that. 

"Madness!" Dyelin muttered in a low voice, snatching up the
clothes. "Utter madness!" "What is this about?" Birgitte

whispered. "Should I come with you?" 

"I must go alone," Elayne whispered back. "Don’t argue!"
Not that Birgitte gave any outward sign of it, but the bond
carried volumes. Taking the golden hoops from her ears, she
handed them to Birgitte, then hesitated before adding her
Great Serpent ring. The Wise Ones had said she must come as a
child came to birth. They had had a great many instructions,
first among them to tell no one what was coming. For that
matter, she wished she knew. A child came to birth without
foreknowledge of what was to happen. Birgitte’s mutterings
began to sound like Dyelin’s. 

Nadere came forward with the cloak, but simply held it out;
Elayne had to take it and wrap it around herself hastily. She
was still sure she could feel Taim’s gaze. Holding the heavy
wool close, her instinct was to hurry from the room, but
instead she drew herself up and turned around slowly. She
would not scurry out cloaked in shame. 

The men who had come with Taim stood rigidly, facing the
doors, and Taim himself was peering at the fireplace, arms
folded across his chest. The feel of his eyes had been
imagination, then. Excepting Nadere, the other women looked
at her in variations of curiosity, consternation and shock.
Nadere merely seemed impatient. 

Elayne tried for her most queenly voice. "Mistress Harfor,
you will offer Master Taim and his men wine, before they go."
Well, at least it did not tremble. "Dyelin, please entertain
the Wavemistress and the Windfinder, and see if you can allay 

their fears. Birgitte, I expect to hear your plan for
recruiting tonight." The women she named blinked in
startlement, nodded wordlessly. 

Then she walked from the room, followed by Nadere, wishing
she could have done better. The last thing she heard before
the door closed behind her was Zaida’s voice. 

"Strange customs, you shorebound have." 

In the corridor she tried to move a little faster, though it
was not easy while keeping the cloak from gaping. The red-and-
white floor tiles were much colder than the carpets in the
sitting room. A few servants, warmly bundled in good woolen
livery, stared when they saw her, then hurried on about their
tasks. The flames of the stand-lamps flickered; there were
always drafts in the hallways. Occasionally the air stirred
enough to make a wall hanging ripple lazily. 

"That was on purpose, wasn’t it?" she said to Nadere, not
really asking a question. "Whenever you called me, you’d have
made sure there were plenty of people to watch. To make sure
adopting Aviendha was important enough to me." It had to be
more important than anything else, they had been told. "What
did you do to her?" Aviendha seemed to have very little
modesty sometimes, often walking around her apartments
unclothed and unconcerned, not even noticing when servants
entered. Making her undress in a crowd would have proved
nothing. 

"That is for her to tell you if she wishes," Nadere said
complacently. "You are sharp to see it; many do not." Her
large bosom heaved in a grunt that might have been a laugh.

"Those men, turning their backs, and those women, guarding
you. I would have put a stop to it if the man in the
embroidered coat had not kept looking over his shoulder to
admire your hips. And if you blushes had not said you knew." 

Elayne missed a step and stumbled. The cloak flared, losing
the little body warmth it had trapped before she could snatch
it closed again. "That filthy pig-kisser!" she growled.
"I’ll...I’ll...!" Burn her, what could she do? Tell Rand? Let
him deal with Taim? Never in life! 

Nadere eyed her quizzically. "Most men enjoy looking at a 

woman’s bottom. Stop thinking about men, and start thinking
about the woman you want for a sister."
Flushing again, Elayne put her mind on Aviendha. It did 

nothing to settle her nerves. There were specific things she
had been told to think on before the ceremony, and some made
her uneasy. 

Nadere kept her pace to Elayne’s, and Elayne took great care
not to let her legs flash through the cloak’s opening-there
were servants everywhere-so it took them some little time to
reach the room where the Wise Ones were gathered, more than a
dozen of them in their bulky skirts and white blouses and dark
shawls, decked with necklaces and bracelets of gold and
silver, gems and ivory, their long hair held back with folded
scarves. All the furnishings and carpets had been cleared
out, leaving bare white floor tiles, and there was no fire on
the hearth. Here, deep in the palace, with no windows, the
crash of thunder was barely audible. 

Elayne’s eyes went straight to Aviendha, standing on the far
side of the room. Naked. She smiled at Elayne nervously.
Nervously! Aviendha! Hurriedly throwing off the cloak,
Elayne smiled back. Nervously, she realized. Aviendha gave a
soft laugh, and after a moment, Elayne did, too. Light, the
air was cold! And the floor was colder! 

She did not know most of the Wise Ones in the room, but one
face jumped at her. Amy’s prematurely white hair combined
with features that appeared short of their middle years to
give her something of the look of an Aes Sedai. She must have
Traveled from Cairhien. Egwene had been teaching the
dreamwalkers, to repay their teaching about Tel’aran’rhiod.
And to meet a debt, she claimed, though she had never made
clear what debt. 

"I hoped Melaine would be here," Elayne said. She liked
Bael’s wife, a warm and generous woman. Not like two others
in the room she recognized, bony Tamela with her angular face,
and Viendre, a beautiful, blue-eyed eagle. Both were stronger
in the Power than she, stronger than any sister she had met
save Nynaeve. That was not supposed to matter among Aiel, but
she could think of no other reason why they always sneered and
looked down their noses when they saw her. 

She expected Amys to take charge-Amys always did, it
seemed-but it was a short woman named Monaelle, her hair
yellow with hints of red, who stepped forward. Not truly
short, yet still the only woman in the room shorter than
Elayne. And the weakest in the Power, too, barely strong
enough, had she gone to Tar Valon, to have earned the shawl.
Perhaps that really did not count with Aiel. 

"Were Melaine here," Monaelle said, her tone brisk but not

unfriendly, "the babes she carries would be part of the bond
between you and Aviendha, if the weaves brushed them. If they
survived, that is; the unborn are not strong enough for this.
The question is, are the two of you?" She gestured with both
hands, pointing to spots on the floor not far from her. "Come
here to the middle of the chamber, both of you." 

For the first time, Elayne realized that saidar was to be
part of this. She had thought it would be just a ceremony,
pledges exchanged, perhaps oaths given. What was going to
happen? It did not matter, except....Her steps dragged as she
moved toward Monaelle. "My warder....Our bond....Will she
be....affected...by this?" Aviendha, coming to face her, had
frowned when Elayne hesitated, but at the question, she swung
startled eyes to Monaelle. Clearly, it was something she had
not thought of. 

The short Wise One shook her head. "No one outside this
chamber can be touched by the weaves. She may sense some part
of what you share with each other, because of her bond with
you, but only a very little." Aviendha heaved a sigh of
relief that Elayne echoed. 

"Now," Monaelle went on. "There are forms to be followed.
Come. We are not clan chiefs discussing water pledges over
oosquai." Laughing, making what seemed to be jokes about clan
chiefs and the strong Aiel liquor, the other women formed a
circle around Aviendha and Elayne. Monaelle settled
gracefully to the floor, sitting cross-legged two paces to one
side of the bare women. Laughter ceased as her voice became
formal. "We are gathered because two women wish to be first-
sisters. We will see whether they are strong enough, and if
they are, help them. Are their mothers present?" 

Elayne gave a start, but the next moment Viendre was behind
her. "I stand for Elayne Trakand’s mother, who cannot be
here." Hands on Elayne’s shoulders, Viendre pushed her
forward and pressed down until she was kneeling on the cold
tiles in front of Aviendha, then knelt behind her. "I offer
my daughter to her testing." 

Another time, Elayne might have giggled. Neither woman
looked more than a half-dozen years older than Aviendha or
her. Another time. Not now. The standing Wise Ones wore
solemn faces. They were studying her and Aviendha as if
weighing them, unsure they would measure up. 

"Who will suffer the pangs of birth for them?" Monaelle
asked, and Amys stepped forward. 

Two others came with her, a fiery redhead named Shyanda,
whom Elayne had seen with Melaine, and a graying woman she did
not know. They helped Amys strip to her skin. Proud in her
nakedness, Amys faced Monaelle and slapped her taut belly. "I
have borne children. I have given suck," she said, cupping
breasts that looked as if she had done nothing of the kind.
"I offer myself." 

At Monaelle’s dignified nod of acceptance, Amys went to her
knees two paces on the other side of Elayne and Aviendha and
settled back on her heels. Shyanda and the graying Wise One
knelt flanking her, and suddenly the glow of the Power
surrounded every woman in the room except Elayne, Aviendha and
Amys. 

Elayne took a deep breath, and saw Aviendha do the same.

Occasionally a bracelet clicked against another among the Wise
Ones, the only sound in the room beyond breathing, and faint,
distant thunder. It was almost a shock when Monaelle spoke. 

"You will both do as you are instructed. If you waver or
question, your dedication is not strong enough. I will send
you away, and that will be the end of it, forever. I will ask
questions, and you will answer truthfully. If you refuse to
answer, you will be sent away. If any here think you lie, you
will be sent away. You may leave at any time on your own, of
course. Which also will end this for all time. There are no
second chances here. Now. What is the best you know of the
woman you want for a first-sister?" 

Elayne half-expected the question. This was one of the
things she had been told to think about. Choosing one virtue
among many had not been easy, yet she had her answer ready.
When she spoke, flows of saidar suddenly wove together between
her and Aviendha, and no sound came from her tongue, or
Aviendha’s. Without thought, a part of her mind tucked away
the weaves; even now, trying to learn was as much a part of
her as the color of her eyes. The weaves vanished as her lips
closed. 

"Aviendha is so confident, so proud. She doesn’t care what
anyone thinks she should do, or be; she is who she wants to
be," Elayne heard her own voice say, while Aviendha’s words
suddenly were audible at the same time. "Even when Elayne is
so afraid that her mouth dries, her spirit will not bend. She
is braver than anyone I have ever known." 

Elayne stared at her friend. Aviendha thought she was
brave? Light, she was no coward, but brave? Strangely,
Aviendha was staring at her in disbelief. 

"Courage is a well," Viendre said at Elayne’s ear, "deep in
some, shallow in others. Deep or shallow, wells go dry
eventually, even if they fill again later. You will face what
you cannot face. Your spine will turn to jelly, and your
vaunted courage will leave you weeping in the dust. The day
will come." She sounded as though she wanted to be there to
see it come. Elayne gave a curt nod. She knew all about her
spine turning to jelly; she fought it every day, it seemed. 

Tamela was speaking to Aviendha, in a voice almost as
satisfied as Viendre’s. "Ji’e’toh binds you like bands of
steel. For ji, you make yourself exactly what is expected of
you, to the last hair. For toh, if necessary you will abase
yourself and crawl on your belly. Because you care to your
bones what everyone thinks of you." 

Elayne nearly gasped. That was harsh, and unfair. She knew
something of ji’e’toh, but Aviendha was not like that. Yet
Aviendha was nodding, much as she herself had. An impatient
acceptance of what she already knew. 

"Fine traits to love in a first-sister," Monaelle said,
lifting her shawl down to her elbows, "but what do you find
worst in her?" 

Elayne shifted on her chilling knees, licked her lips before
speaking. She had dreaded this. It was not just Monaelle’s
warning. Aviendha had said they must speak the truth. Must,
or what was sisterhood worth? Again the weaves held their
words captive until they were done. 

"Aviendha...." Elayne’s voice said suddenly, hesitantly.

"She...she thinks violence is always the answer. At times, she
won’t think beyond her belt knife. At times, she’s like a boy
who won’t grow up!" 

"Elayne knows that..." Aviendha’s voice began, then gulped and
went on in a rush. "She knows she is beautiful, knows the
power it gives her over men. She exposes half her bosom
sometimes, in the open air, and she smiles to make men do what
she wants." 

Elayne gaped. Aviendha thought that of her? It made her
sound a lightskirt! Aviendha frowned back and half-opened her
mouth, but Tamela pressed her shoulders again and began to
speak. 

"You think men do not stare at your face in approval?"
There was an edge in the Wise One’s voice; strong was the best
anyone would ever say of her face. "Do they not look at your
breasts in the sweat tent? Admire your hips? You are
beautiful, and you now it. Deny it, and deny yourself! You
have taken pleasure in men’s looks, and smiled at them. Will
you never smile at a man to give your arguments more weight,
or touch his arm to distract him from the weakness of your
arguments? You will, and you will be no less for it." 

Red flooded Aviendha’s cheeks, but Elayne was having to
listen to Viendre. And fight blushes of her own. "There is
violence in you. Deny it, and deny yourself. Have you never
raged and struck out? Have you never drawn blood? Have you
never wished to? Without any thought at all? While you
breathe, that will be part of you." Elayne though of Taim,
and other times, and her face felt like a furnace. 

This time, there was more than one response. 

"Your arms will grow weak," Tamela was telling Aviendha.
"Your legs will lose their swiftness. A youth will be able to
take the knife from your hand. How will skill or ferocity
avail you then? Heart and mind are the true weapons. But did
you learn to use the spear in a day, when you were a Maiden?
If you do not hone mind and heart now, you will grow old and
children will befuddle your wits. Clan chiefs will sit you in
a corner to play cat’s cradle, and when you speak, all will
hear only the wind. Take heed while you can." 

"Beauty flees," Viendre went on, to Elayne. "Years will
make your breasts sag, your flesh grow slack, your skin grow
leathery. Men who smiled to see your face will speak to you
as if you were just another man. Your husband may see you
always as the first time his eyes caught you, but no other man
will dream of you. Will you no longer be you? Your body is
only clothing. Your flesh will wither, but you are your heart
and mind, and they do not change except to grow stronger." 

Elayne shook her head. Not in denial. Not really. She had
never thought on aging, though. Especially not since going to
the Tower. The years lay lightly even on very old Aes Sedai.
But what if she lived as long as the Kinswomen? That would
mean giving up being Aes Sedai, of course, but what if she
did? The Kin took a very long time to grow wrinkles, but grow
them they did. What was Aviendha thinking? She knelt there
looking...sullen. 

"What is the most childish thing you know of the woman you
want for a first-sister?" Monaelle said. 

This was easier, not so fraught. Elayne even smiled as she

spoke. Aviendha grinned back, sullenness gone. Again the
weaves took their words and released them together, voices
with laughter in them. 

"Aviendha won’t let me teacher her to swim. I’ve tried.
She isn’t afraid of anything, except getting into more water
than a bathtub." 

"Elayne gobbles sweets with both hands like a child who’s
escaped her mother’s eye. If she keeps on, she will be fat as
a pig before she grows old." 

Elayne jerked. Gobbles? Gobbles? A taste, now and then,
was all she took. Just now and then. Fat? Why was Aviendha
glaring at her? Refusing to step into water more than knee-
deep was childish. 

Monaelle covered a slight cough with one hand, but Elayne
thought she was hiding a smile. Some of the standing Wise
Ones laughed outright. At Aviendha’s silliness? Or
her...gobbling? 

Monaelle resumed dignity, adjusting her skirts spread out of
the floor, but there was still a touch of mirth in her voice.
"What is your greatest jealousy of the woman you want for a
first-sister?" 

Perhaps Elayne would have hedged her answer despite the
requirement for truth. Truth had jumped up as soon as she was
told to think on this, but she had found something smaller,
less embarrassing for them both, that would have passed
muster. Perhaps. But there was that about her smiling at me
and exposing her bosom. Maybe she did smile, but Aviendha
walked in front of red-faced serving men without a stitch on
and seemed not even to see them! So she gobbled candy, did
she? She was going to get fat? She spoke the bitter truth
while the weaves took her words and Aviendha’s mouth moved in
grim silence, until at last, what they had said was loosed. 

"Aviendha has lain in the arms of the man I love. I never
have; I may never, and I could weep over it!" 

"Elayne has the love of Rand al’Th...of Rand. My heart is
dust for wanting him to love me, but I do not know if he ever
will." 

Elayne peered into Aviendha’s unreadable face. She was
jealous of her over Rand? When the man avoided Elayne Trakand
as if she had scabies? She had no time for more though. 

"Strike her as hard as you can with your open hand," Tamela
told Aviendha, removing her own hands from Aviendha’s
shoulders. 

Viendre squeezed Elayne’s lightly. "Do not defend
yourself." They had not been told anything of this! Surely,
Aviendha would not- 

Blinking, Elayne pushed herself up from the icy floor tiles.
Gingerly she felt her cheek, and winced. She was going to
wear a palm print the rest of the day. The woman did not have 

to hit her that hard.
Everyone waited until she was kneeling again, and then
Viendre leaned closer. "Strike her as hard as you can with
your open hand."
Well she was not going to knock Aviendha on her ear. She 

was not going to-Her full-armed slap sent Aviendha sprawling,
sliding on her chest across the tiles almost to Monaelle.
Elayne’s palm stung almost as much as her cheek.

 Aviendha half pushed herself up, gave her head a shake, then
scrambled back to her position. And Tamela said, "Strike her
with the other hand." 

This time, Elayne slid all the way to Amys’s knees on the
frozen tiles, her head ringing, both cheeks burning. And when
she regained her own knees in front of Aviendha, when Viendre
told her to strike, she put her whole body into the slap, so
much that she nearly fell over atop Aviendha as the other
woman went down. 

"You may go now," Monaelle said. 

Elayne’s eyes jerked toward the Wise One. Aviendha, halfway
back to her knees, went stiff as a stone. 

"If you wish to," Monaelle continued. "Men usually do, at
this point if not sooner. Many women do, too. But if you
still love one another enough to go on, then embrace." 

Elayne flung herself at Aviendha, and was met wit ha rush
that nearly knocked her over backwards. They clung together.
Elayne felt tears trickling from her eyes, and realized
Aviendha was crying as well. "I’m sorry," Elayne whispered
fervently. "I’m sorry, Aviendha." 

"Forgive me," Aviendha whispered back. "Forgive me." 

Monaelle was standing over them, now. "You will know anger
at one another again, you will speak harsh words, but you will
always remember that you have already struck her. And for no
better reason than you were told to. Let those blows pass for
all you might wish to give. You have toh toward one another,
toh you cannot repay and will not try to, for every woman is
always in her first-sister’s debt. You will be born again." 

The feel of saidar in the room was changing, but Elayne had
no chance to see how even had she thought of it. The light
dwindled as if the lamps were being put out. The feel of
Aviendha’s hug dwindled. Sound dwindled. The last thing she
heard was Monaelle’s voice. "You will be born again."
Everything faded. She faded. She ceased to exist. 

Awareness, of a sort. She did not think of herself as she,
she did not think at all, but she was aware. Of sound. A
liquid swishing around. Muted gurgles and rumbles. And a
rhythmic thudding. That above all. Thu-thud. Thu-thud. She
did not know contentment, but she was content. Thu-thud. 

Time. She did not know time, yet Ages passed. There was a
sound within her, a sound that was her. Thu-thud. The same
sound, the same rhythm as the other. Thu-thud. And from
another place, nearer. Thu-thud. Another. Thu-thud. The
same sound, the same beat, as her own. Not another. They
were the same; they were one. Thu-thud. 

Forever went by to that pulse, all the time that had ever
been. She touched the other that was herself. She could
feel. Thu-thud. She moved, she and the other that was
herself, writhing against one another, limbs entangling,
rolling away but always coming back to each other. Thu-thud.
There was light sometimes, in the darkness; dim beyond seeing,
but bright to one who had never known anything but darkness.
Thu-thud. She opened her eyes, stared into the eyes of the
other that was herself, and closed hers again, content. Thu-
thud. 

Change, sudden, shocking to one who had never known any
change. Pressure. Thu-thud-thu-thud. That comforting beat

was faster. Convulsive pressure. Again. Again. Getting
stronger. Thu-thud-thu-thud! Thu-thud-thu-thud! 

Suddenly, the other that was herself-was gone. She was
alone. She did not know fear, but she was afraid, and alone.
Thu-thud-thu-thud! Pressure! Greater than anything before!
Squeezing her, crushing her. If she had known how to scream,
if she had known what a scream was, she would have shrieked. 

And then light, blinding, full of swirling patterns. She
had weight; she had never felt weight before. A cutting pain
at her middle. Something tickled her foot. Something tickled
her back. At first she did not realize that wailing sound was
coming from her. She kicked feebly, waved limbs that did not
know how to move. She was lifted, laid on something soft but
firmer than anything she had felt before, except for
recollections of the other that was herself, the other that
was gone. Thu-thud. Thu-thud. The sound. The same sound,
the same beat. Loneliness reigned, unrecognized, but there was
contentment, too. 

Memory began to return, slowly. She lifted her head from a
breast and looked up into Amys’ face. Yes, Amys. Sweat-slick
and weary-eyed, but smiling. And she was Elayne; yes, Elayne
Trakand. But there was something more to her, now. Now like
the Warder bond, but like it in a way. Fainter, but more
magnificent. Slowly, on a neck that wobbled uncertainly, she
turned her head to look at the other that was herself, lying
on Amys’ other breast. To look at Aviendha, her hair matted,
her face and body shining with sweat. Smiling with joy.
Laughing, weeping, they clutched each other and hung on as if
they never intended to let go. 

"This is my daughter Aviendha," Amys said," and this is my
daughter Elayne, born on the same day, within the same hour.
May they always guard one another, support one another, love
one another." She laughed softly, tiredly, fondly. "And now
will someone bring us garments before my new daughters and I
all freeze to death?" 

Elayne did not care at that moment if she did freeze to
death. She clung to Aviendha in laughter and tears. She had
found her sister. Light, she had found her sister! 

Toveine Gazal woke up to the sounds of quiet bustle, other
women moving about, some talking softly. Lying on her hard
narrow cot, she sighed with regret. Her hands around Elaida’s
throat had been just a pleasant dream. This tiny canvas-
walled room was reality. She had slept poorly, and she felt
thinned, drained. She had overslept, too; there would be no
time for breakfast. Reluctantly she tossed off her blankets.
The building had been a small warehouse of some sort, with
thick walls and heavy rafters low overhead, but there was no
heat. Her breath misted, and the crisp morning air pricked
through her shift before her feet reached the rough
floorboards. Even if she could have considered lying abed in
this place, she had her orders. Logain’s filthy bond made
disobedience impossible, no matter how often she wished it. 

She always tried to think of him as simply Ablar, or at
worst master Ablar, but it was always just Logain that came
into her mind. The name he had made infamous. Logain, the

false Dragon who had shattered the armies of his native
Ghealdan. Logain who had carved a path through the few
Altarans and Murandians with nerve enough to try stopping him
until he threatened Lugard itself. Logain, who had been
gentled and somehow could channel again, who had dared to fix
his cursed weave of saidin on Toveine Gazal. A pity for him
he had not commanded her to stop thinking! She could feel the
man, in the back of her head. He was always there. 

For a moment, she squeezed her eyes shut. Light! Mistress
Doweel’s farm had seemed the Pit of Doom, years of exile and
penance with no way out except the unthinkable, to become a
hunted renegade. Barely half a week since her capture, she
knew better. This was the Pit of Doom. And there was no
escape. Angrily, she shook her head, and scrubbed glistening
dampness from her cheeks with her fingers. No! She would
escape, somehow, if only for long enough to put her real hands
on Elaida’s throat. Somehow. 

Aside from the cot, there were only three pieces of
furniture, yet they left little space for her to move. She
cracked the ice in the yellow-striped pitcher on the washstand
with her belt knife, filled the chipped basin, and channeled
to heat water till tendrils of steam rose. It was allowed to
channel for that. That and no more. By rote she washed and
scrubbed her teeth with salt and soda, then took a fresh shift
and stockings from the small wooden chest at the foot of the
cot. Her ring she left in the chest, tucked under everything
else in a small velvet pouch. Another order. All of her
things were here, except for her lapdesk. Luckily, that had
been lost when she was taken. Her dresses hung on a
cloakstand, the last of the room’s furnishings. Choosing one
without really looking, she put it on mechanically and used
comb and brush on her hair. 

The ivory-backed brush slowed as she really saw herself in
the washstand’s cheap, bubbled mirror. Breathing raggedly,
she set the brush down beside the matching comb. The dress
she had chosen was thick, finely woven wool of an unadorned
red so dark it seemed nearly black. Black, like an Asha’man’s
coat. Her distorted image stared back at her, lips writhing.
Changing would be a sort of surrender. Determinedly she
snatched her marten-lined gray cloak from the stand. 

When she pushed aside the canvas doorflap, twenty or so
sisters already occupied the long central hallway lined with
canvas rooms. Here and there a few were speaking in murmurs,
but the rest avoided each other’s eyes, even when they
belonged to the same Ajah. Fear had its presence, but it was
shame that coated most faced. Akoure, a stout Gray, was
staring at the hand where she normally wore her ring.
Desandre, a willowy Yellow, was hiding her right hand in her
armpit. 

The soft conversations trailed off when Toveine appeared.
Several women glared at her openly. Including Jenare and
Lemai, from her own Ajah! Desandre came to herself enough to
turn her back stiffly. In the space of two days, fifty-one
Aes Sedai had fallen captive to the black-coated monsters, and
fifty of them blamed Toveine Gazal as though Elaida a’Roihan
had no hand in the disaster at all. Except for Logain’s
intervention, they would have had their revenge their first

night here. She did not love him for putting a stop to it and
making Carniele Heal the welts left by belts, the bruises left
by fists and feet. She would rather they had beaten her to
death than own him. 

Putting her cloak on her shoulders, she walked proudly down
the corridor, out into pale morning sunshine that suited her
wash-out mood. Behind her, someone shouted acid words before
the closing door cut them off. Her hands trembled as she
pulled up her hood, nestling the dark fur around her face. NO
one got away with pushing down Toveine Gazal. Even Mistress
Doweel, who had crushed her into a semblance of submission
over the years, learned that when her exile ended. She would
show them. She would show them all! 

The dormitory she shared with the others lay on the very
edge of a large village, if a very strange one. A village of
Asha’man. Elsewhere, so she had been told, ground was marked
off for structures they claimed would dwarf the White Tower,
but this was where most of them lived now. Five large, blocky
stone barracks, spaced along streets as wide as anything in
Tar Valon, could each hold a hundred Asha’man Soldiers. They
were not full yet, the Light be thanked, but snow-covered
scaffolding awaited the arrival of workmen around the thick
walls of two more than were almost ready for roofing in
thatch. Nearly a dozen smaller stone structures were made to
hold ten Dedicated each, and another of those was under
construction, too. Scattered around them stood nearly two
hundred houses that might have been seen in any village, where
some of the married men lived, and the families of others not
far enough along in training. 

Men who could channel did not frighten her. Once she had
given in to panic for a moment, true, but that was beside the
point. Five hundred men who could channel, however, were a
scrap of bone wedged between two of her teeth where she could
not free it. Five hundred! And they could Travel, some of
them. A sharp scrap of bone. More, she had tramped the mile
or more through the woods to the wall. That frightened her,
what it signified. 

Nowhere was the wall finished, nowhere more than twelve or
fifteen feet high, none of the towers or bastions more than
begun. In places, she could have clambered over the piles of
black stone, except for her orders not to attempt escape. The
thing ran for eight miles, though, and she believed Logain
when he said it was begun less than three months ago. The
man held her too tightly to bother with lying. He called the
wall a waste of time and effort, and perhaps it was, but it
made her teeth chatter. Just three months. Made using the
Power. The male half of the Power. When she thought of that
black wall, she saw an implacable force that could not be
stopped, an avalanche of black stone sliding down to bury the
White Tower. Impossible, of course. Impossible, but when she
did not dream of strangling Elaida, she dreamed of that. 

There had been snowfall in the night, and a heavy blanket of
white covered every roof, but she did not have to pick her way
along the broad streets. The hard-packed dirt had been
cleared, a chore of men in training before the sun came up.
They used the Power for everything from filling woodboxes to
cleaning their clothes! Black-clad men hurried here and there

in the streets, and more were gathering in rows in front of
their barracks with others calling roll in loud voices. Women
bundled up against the cold walked past them, placidly
carrying baskets to the quartermaster’s storehouse or watch
buckets to the nearest fountain, though how any woman could
remain, knowing what her husband was, was beyond Toveine’s
comprehension. Even more bizarre, children ran up and down
the street, around the squares of men who could channel,
shouting and laughing, rolling hoops, tossing painted balls,
playing with dolls or dogs. A drop of normality that
heightened the evil stench of the rest. 

Ahead of her, a mounted party was approaching up the street
at a walk. In the short time she had been here-the endless
time-she had not seen anyone ride in the village except
workmen on carts or wagons. Nor any visitors, which some of
these plainly must be. Five men in black were escorting a
dozen in the red coats and cloaks of the Queen’s Guard, with
two yellow-haired women at the front, one in a red-and-white
cloak lined with black fur and the other....Toveine’s eyebrows
climbed. The other wore green Kandori trousers and a coat
make up as if it belonged to the Captain-General of the Guard.
Her red cloak even had golden knots of rank on the shoulder!
Maybe she was mistaken about the man. That one would find
short shift when she encountered real Guardsmen. In any case,
it was strangely early for visitors. 

Each time the odd party reached one of the formations, the
man in front shouted "Asha’man, attend front!" and boot heels
stamped on the hardened earth as the others stiffened like
pillars of stone. 

Pulling her hood forward better to hide her face, Toveine
moved to the side of the wide street, close beside the corner
of one of the smaller stone barracks. A fork-bearded old man
coming out, a silver sword pin on his high collar, glanced at
her curiously without slowing his stride. 

What she had done struck her like a bucket of cold water,
and she nearly wept. None of those strangers would spot an
Aes Sedai face, now, if they could recognize one. If either
of those women could channel, unlikely though that was, she
would not pass close enough to tell that Toveine could, too.
She fretted and fumed over how to disobey Logain, and then did
everything necessary to carry out his instructions without
even thinking about it! 

As in act of defiance, she stopped where she was, turning to
watch the visitors. Automatically, her hands checked her hood
before she could snatch them to her sides. It was pitiful,
and ridiculous. She knew the Asha’man guiding the party, by
sight at least, a bulky man in his middle years with oily
black hair, an oily smile, and eyes like augurs. None of the
others, though. What could she hope to gain by this? How
could she entrust a message to any of them? Even if the
escort vanished, how could she get close enough to pass a
message when she was forbidden to let any outsider discover
the presence of Aes Sedai? 

The auger-eyed fellow looked bored with his duty this
morning, hardly bothering to hide his yawns behind a gloved
hand.."...when we do finish here," he was saying as he rode past
Toveine, "I will show you the Craft Town. Quite a bit bigger

than this. We do have every kind of craftsfolk, from masons
and carpenters to metalsmiths and tailors. We can make
everything we need, Lady Elayne." 

"Except turnips," one of the women said in a high voice, and
the other laughed. 

Toveine’s head jerked. She watched the riders move on down
the street accompanied by shouted orders and stamping boots.
Lady Elayne? Elayne Trakand? The younger of the pair might
match the description she had been given. Elaida did not
reveal why she was so desperate to lay her hands on one
runaway Accepted, even one who might become a queen, but she
never let a sister leave the Tower without orders on what to
do if she encountered the girl. Be very careful, Elayne
Trakand, Toveine thought. I would not like Elaida to have the
satisfaction of laying hands on you. 

She wanted to think on this, on whether there was some way
to use the girl’s presence here, but abruptly she became aware
of the sensations at the back of her head. A mild contentment
and a growing purpose. Logain had finished his breakfast. He
would be coming out, soon. He had told her to be there when
he did. 

Her feet were running before she thought. With the result
that her skirts tangled in her legs, and she fell hard,
knocking her breath out. Anger welled up, fury, but she
scrambled to her feet and, without pausing to brush off the
dust, gathered her skirts about her knees and began to run
again, cloak billowing behind. Men’s raucous shouts followed
her down the street, and laughing children pointed as she ran
past. 

Suddenly a pack of dogs was around her, snarling, nibbling
at her heels. She leapt and spun and kicked, but they harried
her. She wanted to shriek with frustration and fury. Dogs
were always a bother, and she could not channel a feather to
drive them off. A gray hound seized a mouthful of dangling
skirt, pulling her sideways. Panic overwhelmed everything
else. If she fell again, they would tear her to shreds. 

A shouting woman in a brown wool swung her heavy basket at
the dog tugging Toveine’s skirt, making it dodge away. A
round woman’s bucket caught a brindled cur in the ribs, and it
ran yelping. Toveine gaped in astonishment, and for her
inattention had to pull her left leg away from another dog at
the cost of a piece of her stocking and a little skin. There
were women all around her, flailing away at the animals with
whatever they had to hand. 

"Go on with you, Aes Sedai," a skinny, graying woman told
her, slicing at a spotted dog with a switch. "They won’t
bother you more. I’d like a nice cat, myself, but cats won’t
abide the husband now. Go on." 

Toveine did not wait to thank her rescuers. She ran,
considering furiously. The women knew. If one did, they all
did. But they would carry no messages, give no help to an
escape, not when they were willing to remain themselves. Not
if they understood what they were helping. There was that. 

Just short of Logain’s house, one of several down a narrower
side street, she slowed and hastily let down her skirts.
Eight or nine men in black coats were waiting outside, boys
and oldsters and in between, but there was no sign of Logain

yet. She could still sense him, full of purpose but
concentrating. Reading, perhaps. She walked the rest of the
way at a dignified pace. Composed and every inch an Aes
Sedai, no matter the circumstances. She almost managed to
forget her frantic flight from the dogs. 

The house surprised her every time she saw it. Others on
the street were as large and two larger. An ordinary wooden
house of two stores, though the red door, shutters and window
frames looked odd. Plain curtains hid the interior, but the
glass in the windows was so poor she doubted she could have
seen anything clearly with the curtains drawn. A house
suitable for a not overly successful shopkeeper; hardly the
dwelling for one of the most notorious men alive. 

Briefly she wondered what was keeping Gabrelle. The other
sister bonded to Logain had the same instruction she did, and
until now, she had always been here first. Gabrelle was
eager, studying the Asha’man as if she intended writing a book
on the subject. Perhaps she did; Browns would write about
anything. She put the other sister out of her mind.
Although, if Gabrelle did turn up late, she would have to find
out how the woman had managed it. For now, she had her own
studying. 

The men outside the red door eyed her, but said nothing,
even to each other. Still there was no animosity. They were
simply waiting. None had a cloak, though their breath made
pale feathers in front of their faces. All were Dedicated,
with the silver sword pin on their collars. 

It had been the same every morning she had reported this
way, though not always the same men. She knew some, knew
their names at least, and sometimes a few other gleaned
tidbits. Evin Vinchova, the pretty lad who had been there
when Logain captured her, leaning against the corner of the
house and toying with a bit of string. Donalo Sandomere, if
that was his real name, with his creased farmer’s face and
sharply trimmed oiled beard, attempting the languid stance he
thought a nobleman would assume. The Taraboner Androl
Genhald, a square fellow with is heavy eyebrows drawn in
thought and his hands clasped behind his back; he wore a gold
signet ring, but she thought his an apprentice who had shaved
his mustaches and abandoned his veil. Mezar Kurin, a Domani
with gray at his temples, fingering the garnet in his left
ear; he very well might be a minor noble. She was collecting
a neat file of names and faces in her head. Sooner or later
they would be hunted down, and every piece of information that
could help identify them would be useful. 

The red door opened, and the men straightened, but it was
not Logain who came out. 

Toveine blinked in surprise, then met Gabrelle’s sooty green
eyes with a flat stare, making no effort to hid her disgust.
That accursed link with Logain had made clear what he was up
to the night before-she had been afraid she would never fall
asleep!-but not in her darkest imaginings had she suspected
Gabrelle! Some of the men seemed as startled as she. Some
attempted to hid smiles. Kurin grinned openly and strokes his
thin mustache with a thumb. 

The dusky woman did not even have the grace to blush. She
lifted her upturned nose a trifle, then boldly adjusted her

dark blue dress over her hips as if to advertise that she had
just donned the garment. Sweeping her cloak around her
shoulders, she tied the ribbons as she glided toward Toveine,
as serene as if she were back in the Tower. 

Toveine grabbed the taller woman’s arm, pulling her a little
way from the men. "We may be captives, Gabrelle," she
whispered harshly, "but that is no reason to surrender.
Especially to Ablar’s vile lusts!" The other woman did not so
much as look abashed! A thought came. Of course. "Did he...?
Did he order you? 

With something close to a sneer, Gabrelle pulled free.
"Toveine, it took me two days to decide I should ‘surrender’
to his lusts, as you put it. I feel lucky it only required
four to convincehim to let me. You Reds might not be aware,
but men love to talk and gossip. All you need do is listen,
or even pretend to, and a man will tell you his whole life."
A thoughtful frown creased her forehead, and the twist to her
lips vanished. "I wonder whether it’s like that for ordinary
women." 

"Whether what is like what?" Toveine demanded. Gabrelle
was spying on him? Or just trying to get more material for
her book? But this was unbelievable, even for a Brown! "What
are you talking about?" 

That musing expression never left the other’s face. "I
felt...helpless. Oh, he was gentle, but I never really thought
before on how strong a man’s arms are, and me unable to
channel a whisker. He was ...in charge, I suppose, though that
isn’t quite right. Just...stronger, and I knew it. It
felt...strangely exhilarating." 

Toveine shuddered. Gabrelle must be insane! She was about
to tell her so when Logain himself appeared, closing the door
behind him. He was tall, tall than any other man there, with
dark hair that brushed wide shoulders and framed an arrogant
face. His high collar carried both the silver sword and that
ridiculous snake with legs. He flashed a smile at Gabrelle as
the others gathered around him. The hussy smiled back, too.
Toveine shuddered again. Exhilarating. The woman was insane! 

As on previous mornings, the men began making reports. Most
of the time, Toveine had not been able to make up from down
with them, but she listened. 

"I found two more who seem interested in that new kind of
Healing this Nynaeve used on you, Logain," Genhald said,
frowning, "but one can barely do the Healing we already know,
and the other, he wants to know more than I could tell him." 

"What you can tell him is all I know," Logain replied.
"Mistress al’Meara didn’t tell me much of what she was doing,
and I could only learn bits and pieces listening to the other
sisters talk. Just keep planting the seed and hope something
grows. It’s all you can do." Several other men nodded along
with Genhald. 

Toveine filed it away. Nynaeve al’Meara. She had heard
that name often after returning to the Tower. Another runaway
Accepted, another one Elaida wanted more than the normal
desire to catch runaways seemed to account for. From the same
village as al’Thor, too. And associated somehow with Logain.
That might lead to something, eventually. But a new kind of
Healing? Used by an Accepted? That was unlikely bordering

close on impossible, but she had seen the impossible happen
before, so she tucked it away. Gabrelle was listening
closely, too, she noticed. But watching her as well, out of
the corner of her eye. 

"There’s a problem with some of those Two Rivers men,
Logain," Vinchova said. An angry flush rose on his smooth
face. "Men, I say, but these two are boys, fourteen at most!
They won’t say." He might have been a year or two older, with
his beardless cheeks. "It was a crime, bringing them here." 

Logain shook his head; whether it was in anger or regret was
hard to say. "I’ve heard the White Tower takes girls as young
as twelve. Look after the Two Rivers men where you can. No
coddling, or the others will turn on them, but try to see they
don’t do anything stupid. The Lord Dragon might not like it
if we kill too many from his district." 

"He doesn’t seem to be caring much at all as I can see," a
sleek fellow muttered. The sound of Murandy was strong in his
mouth, though his fiercely curled mustaches told where he was
from plainly enough. He was rolling a silver coin across the
backs of his fingers and seemed as intent on that as on
Logain. "I was hearing it was the Lord Dragon himself told
the M’Hael to pluck up anything male in this Two Rivers that
could channel, down to the roosters. With the number he
brought back, I’m just surprised he didn’t bring the chicks
and lambs, as well." Chuckles met his sally, but Logain’s
level tones cut them like a blade. 

"Whatever the Lord Dragon ordered, I trust I’ve made my
orders clear." Every head nodded this time, and some men
murmured "Yes, Logain" and "As you say, Logain." 

Toveine hastily smoothed the sneer from her lips. Ignorant
louts. The Tower accepted girls under fifteen only if they
had already begun channeling. The other was interesting,
though. The Two Rivers again. Everyone said al’Thor had
turned his back on his home, but she was not so certain. Why
was Gabrelle watching her? 

"Last night," Sandomere said after a moment, "I learned that
Mishraile is having private lessons from the M’Hael." He
stroked his pointed beard with satisfaction, as if he had
produced a gem of great price. 

Perhaps he had, but Toveine could not say what kind. Logain
nodded slowly. The others exchanged silent looks with faces
that might have been carved. She chewed frustration,
watching. Too often it was like this, matters they saw no
reason to comment on-or feared to?-and she did not understand.
She always felt there were gems hidden there, beyond her
reach. 

A wide Cairhienin fellow, barely as tall as Logain’s chest,
opened his mouth, but whether he meant to speak of Mishraile,
whoever he was, she never found out. 

"Logain!" Welyn Kajima pounded down the street at a dead
run, the bells at the ends of his black braids jangling.
Another Dedicated, a man in his middle years who smiled too
much, he had been there when Logain captured her, too. Kajima
had bonded Jenare. He was almost out of breath when he pushed
through the other me, and he was not smiling now. 

"Logain," he panted, "the M’Hael’s back from Cairhien, and
he’s posted new deserters on the board at the palace. You

won’t believe the names!" He spilled out his list in a
breathless rush amid exclamations from the other that kept
Toveine from hearing more than fragments. 

"Dedicated have deserted before," the Cairhienin muttered
when Kajima was done, "but never a full Asha’man. And now
seven at once/" 

"If you don’t believe me," Kajima began, drawing himself up
in a fussy manner. He had been a clerk, in Arafel. 

"We believe you," Genhald said soothingly. "But Gedwyn and
Torval, they are the M’Hael’s men. Rochaid and Kisman, too.
Why would they desert? He gave them anything a king could
want." 

Kajima shook his head irritably, making his bells chime.
"You know the list never gives reasons. Just names." 

"Good riddance," Kurin growled. "At least, it would be if
we didn’t have to hunt them down, now." 

"It’s the others I cannot understand," Sandomere put in. "I
was at Dumai’s Wells. I saw the Lord Dragon choose, after.
Dashiva had his head in the clouds, like always. But Flinn,
Hopwil, Narishma? You never saw men more pleased. They were
like lambs let loose in the barley shed." 

A sturdy fellow with gray in his hair spat. "Well, I wasn’t
at the Wells, but I went south against the Seanchan." His
accents were Andoran. "Maybe the lambs didn’t like the
butcher’s yard as much as they did the barley shed." 

Logain had been listening without taking part, arms folded
across his chest. His face was unreadable, a mask. "Do you
worry about the butcher’s yard, Canler?" he said now. 

The Andoran grimaced, then shrugged. "I reckon we’re all
headed there, sooner or late, Logain. Don’t see we have much
choice, but I don’t have to grin about it." 

"As long as you’re there on the day," Logain said quietly.
He addressed the man called Canler, but several of the others
nodded. 

Looking past the men, Logain considered Toveine and
Gabrelle. Toveine tried to look as if she had not been
eavesdropping, and remembering names fiercely. "Go inside out
of the cold," he told them. "Have some tea to warm you. I’ll
be back as soon as I can. Don’t touch my papers." Gathering
up the other men with a gesture, he led them off in the
direction Kajima had come from. 

Toveine gritted her teeth in frustration. At least she
would not have to follow him to the training grounds, past the
so-called Traitor’s Tree, where heads hung like diseased fruit
from the bare branches, and watch men studying how to destroy
with the Power, but she had hoped for another day to herself,
free to wander about and see what she could learn. She had
heard men speak of Taim’s "palace" before, and today she had
hoped to find it and perhaps catch a glimpse of the man whose
name was as black as Logain’s. Instead, she meekly followed
the other woman through the red door. There was no use in
fighting it. 

Inside, she looked around the front room while Gabrelle hung
her cloak on a peg. Despite the exterior, she had expected
something grander for Logain. A low fire burned in a rough
stone fireplace. A long narrow table and ladder-backed chairs
stood on bare floorboards. A desk, only slightly more

elaborate than the other furnishings, caught her eye. Stacks
of lidded letters littered the desktop, and leather folders
full of long sheets of paper. Her fingers itches, but she
knew that even if she sat at the desk, she would not be able
to lay a finger on anything more than a pen or glass ink
bottle. 

With a sigh, she followed Gabrelle into the kitchen, where
an iron stove gave too much heat and dirty breakfast dishes
sat on a low cabinet beneath the window. Gabrelle filled a
teakettle and put it on the stove, then took a green-glazed
teapot and a wooden canister from another cabinet. Toveine
draped her cloak over a chair and sat down at the square
table. She did not want tea unless it cam with the breakfast
she mad missed, but she knew she was going to drink it. 

The silly Brown nattered on as she carried out her domestic
tasks like a contented farmwife. "I’ve learned a good deal
already. Logain is the only full Asha’man to live here in
this village. The others all live in Taim’s ‘palace.’ They
have servants, but Logain hired the wife of a man in training
to cook and clean for him. She’ll be here soon, and she
thinks he put the sun in the sky, so we best be done talking
anything important by then. He found your lapdesk." 

Toveine felt as though an icy hand had seized her throat.
She tried to hide it, but Gabrelle was looking straight at
her. 

"He burned it, Toveine. After reading the contents. He
seemed to think he had done us a favor." 

The hand eased, and Toveine could breathe again. "Elaida’s
order was among my papers." She cleared her throat to rid
herself of hoarseness. Elaida’s order to gentle every man
found her and then hang them on the spot, without the trial in
Tar Valon required by Tower law. "She imposed harsh
conditions, and these men would have reacted harshly, if they
knew." In spite of the heat from the stove, she shivered.
That single paper could have gotten them all stilled and
hanged. "Why would he do us favors?" 

"I don’t know why, Toveine. He isn’t a villain, no more
than most men. It could be as simple as that." Gabrelle set
a plate of crusted rolls and another with white cheese on the
table. "Or it could be that this bond is like the Warder bond
in more ways than we know. Maybe he just did not want to
experience the two of us executed." Toveine’s stomach
rumbled, but she picked up a roll as if she did not care for
more than a nibble. 

"I suspect ‘harsh’ was a mild choice," Gabrelle went on,
spooning tea into the teapot. "I saw you flinch. Of course,
they went to a great deal of trouble to bring us here. Fifty-
one sisters in their midst, and even with the bond, they must
fear we’ll find some way around their orders, some loophole
they missed. The obvious answer is, if we were dead, the
Tower would be roused to fury. With us alive and captive,
even Elaida will move cautiously." She laughed, quietly
amused. "Your face, Toveine. Did you think I’ve spent all my
time thinking about tangling my fingers in Logain’s hair?" 

Toveine closed her mouth and put down the untouched roll.
It was cold, anyway, and felt hard. Always a mistake to
assume Browns were unworldly, absorbed in their books and

studies to the exclusion of everything else. "What else have
you seen?" 

Still gripping the spoon, Gabrelle sat across the table from
her and leaned forward intently. "Their wall maybe strong
when it’s done, but this place is full of fractures. There is
Mazrim Taim’s faction, and Logain’s faction, though I am 

uncertain either thinks of them so. Perhaps other factions,
too, and certainly men who don’t know there are factions.
Fifty-one sisters should be able to make something of that, 

even with the bond. The second question is, what do we make
of it?" 

"The second question?" Toveine demanded, but the other
woman merely waited. "If we manage to break those fissures
open," she said finally, "we scatter ten or fifty or a hundred
bands across the world, each more dangerous than any army ever
seen. Catching them all might take a lifetime and rip the
world apart like a new Breaking, and that with Tarmon Gai’don
on its way. That is, if this fellow al’Thor really is the
Dragon Reborn." Gabrelle opened her mouth, but Toveine waved
away whatever she was going to say. That he was, very likely.
It hardly mattered, here and now. "But if we don’t....Put down
the rebellion and gather those sisters back to the Tower, call
back every retired sister, and I don’t know whether all of us
together could destroy this place. I suspect half the tower
would die in the attempt, either way. What was the first
question?" 

Gabrelle leaned back in her chair, her face suddenly weary.
"Yes, not an easy decision. And they bring in more men every
day. Fifteen or twenty since we’ve been here, I believe." 

"I won’t be trifled with, Gabrelle! What is the first
question?" The Brown’s gaze sharpened, stared at her for a
long moment. 

"Soon, the shock will wear off," she said finally. "What
comes then? The authority Elaida gave you is finished, the
expedition is finished. The first question is, are we fifty-
one sisters united, or do we revert to being Browns and Reds,
Yellows and Greens and Grays? And poor Ayako, who must be
regretting that the Whites insisted on having a sister
included. Lemai and Desandre stand highest among us."
Gabrelle waved the spoon in admonishment. "The only chance we
have of holding together is if you and I publicly submit to
Desandre’s authority. We must! That will start it, at any
rate. I hope. If we can only bring a few others, to begin
with, it will be a start." 

Toveine drew a deep breath and pretended to stare at
nothing, as if considering. Submitting to a sister who stood
higher than she was no hardship, in itself. The Ajahs had
always kept secrets, and sometimes schemed a little against
one another, but the open dissension in the Tower now appalled
her. Besides, she had learned how to be humble before
Mistress Doweel. She wondered how the woman enjoyed poverty,
and working on a farm for a taskmistress even harsher than
herself. 

"I can bring myself to do it," she said finally. "We should
have a plan of action to present to Desandre and Lemai, if we
mean to convince them." She already had one partly formed, if
not for presentation to anyone. "Oh, the water is boiling,

Gabrelle." 

Suddenly smiling, the foolish woman rose and hurried to the
stove. Browns always were better reading books than people,
come to think of it. Before Logain and Taim and the rest were
destroyed, they would help Toveine Gazal bring down Elaida. 

The great city of Cairhein was a hulking mass inside massive
walls, crowding the River Alguenya. The sky was clear and
cloudless, but a cold wind blew and the sun shone on roofs
covered with snow, glinted on icicles that showed no sign of
melting. The Alguenya was not frozen, but small, jagged ice
floes from farther upriver spun in the currents, now and then
banging against the hulls of ships waiting their turns at the
docks. Trade slowed for winter and wars, and the Dragon
Reborn, but it never really stopped, not until nations died.
Despite the cold, wagons and carts and people flowed along
streets that razored the terraced hills of the city. The
City, it was called here. 

In front of the square-towered Sun Palace, a crowd jammed
together around the long entry ram and stared up, merchants
wrapped in fine woolens and nobles in velvets rubbing
shoulders with grimy-faced laborers and dirtier refugees. No
one cared who stood next to him, and even the cutpurses forgot
to follow their trade. Men and women departed, often shaking
their heads, but others took their places, sometimes hoisting
a child to get a better view of the Palace’s ruined wing,
where workmen were clearing away the rubble of the third
story. Throughout the rest of Cairhein, craftsmen’s hammers
and creaking axles filled the air, together with the cries of
shopkeepers, the complaints of buyers, the murmurs of
merchants. The crowd before the Sun Palace was silent. 

A mile from the Palace, Rand stood at a window in the
grandly named Academy of Cairhein, peering through the frosted
panes at the stone-paved stableyard below. There had been
schools called Academies in Artur Hawkwing’s time and before,
centers of learning filled with scholars from every corner of
the known world. The conceit made no difference, they could
have called it the Barn, so long as it did what he wanted.
More important concerns filled his thoughts. Had he made a
mistake, returning to Cairhein so soon? But he had been
forced to flee too quickly, so it would be known in the right
quarters that he actually had fled. Too quickly to prepare
everything. There were questions he needed to ask, and tasks
that could not be put off. And Min wanted more of Master
Fel’s books. He could hear her muttering to herself as she
rummaged through the shelves where they had been stored after
Fel’s death. With the bounty for books and manuscripts it did
not yet possess, the Academy’s library was fast outgrowing the
rooms that could be spared in Lord Barthanes’ former palace.
Alanna sat in the back of his head, sulking it seemed; she
would know he was in the City. This near, she would be able
to walk straight to him, but he would know if she tried.
Blessedly, Lews Therin was silent for the moment. Of late,
the man seemed madder than ever. 

He rubbed a spot clear on a windowpane with his coat sleeve.
Stout dark gray wool, good enough for a man with a little

money and a few airs, it was not a garment anyone would expect
to see on the Dragon Reborn. The golden-maned Dragon’s head
on the back of his hand glittered metallically; it presented
no danger here. His boot touched the leather scrip sitting
below the window as he leaned forward to look out. 

In the stableyard, the paving stones had been swept clear of
snow, and a large wagon stood surrounded by buckets like
mushroom sin a clearing. Half a dozen men in heavy coats and
scarves and caps seemed to be working on the wagon’s odd
cargo, mechanical devices crowded around a fat metal cylinder
that took up more than half the wagon bed. Even stranger, the
wagon shafts were missing. One of the men was moving split
firewood from a large wheelbarrow into the side of a metal box
fastened below one end of the big cylinder. The open door in
the box glowed with the red of fire inside, and smoke rose
from a tall narrow chimney. Another fellow danced around the
wagon, bearded, capless and bald-headed, gesturing and
apparently shouting orders that did not seem to make the
others move any faster. Their breath made faint white plumes.
It was almost warm inside; the Academy had large furnaces in
the cellars and an extensive system of vents. The half-
healed, never healing wounds in his side were hot. 

He could not make out Min’s curses-he was sure they were
curses-but her tone was enough to say they would not be
leaving yet unless he dragged her away. There were one or two
items he might ask about still. "What are people saying?
About the palace?" 

"What you might expect," Lord Dobraine answered behind him
with level patience, as he had answered all the other
questions. Even when he admitted a lack of knowledge, his
tone had not changed. "Some say the Forsaken attacked you, or
that Aes Sedai did. Those who think you swore fealty to the
Amyrlin Seat favor the Forsaken. Either way, there is
considerable debate on whether you are dead or kidnapped, or
fled. Most believe you live, wherever you are, or say they
do. Some, a good many I fear, think..." 

His voice faded to silence. 

"That I’ve gone mad," Rand finished for him in the same
level tone. Not a matter for concern, or anger. "That I
destroyed part of the Palace myself?" He would not speak of
the dead. Fewer than other times, other places, but enough,
and some of their names appeared whenever he closed his eyes.
One of the men below climbed down from the wagon, but the bald
fellow caught his arm and dragged him back up, making him show
what he had done. A man on the other side jumped on the
pavement carelessly, skidding, and the capless man abandoned
the first to chase around the wagon and make that one climb
back up with him. What in the Light could they be doing?
Rand glanced over his shoulder. "They’re not far wrong." 

Dobraine Taborwin, a short man with the front of his head
shaved and formally powdered and the rest of his hair nearly
all gray, looked back with dark impassive eyes. Not a
handsome man, but steady. Blue-and-white stripes marched down
the front of his dark velvet coat from his neck almost to his
knees. His signet ring was a carved ruby, and he wore another
at his collar, not much larger yet flamboyant for a
Cairheinin. He was High Seat of his House, with more battles

behind him than most, and not much frightened him. He had
proved that at Dumai’s Wells.
But then, the stocky, graying woman patiently waiting her 

turn at his shoulder appeared just as unafraid. In sharp
contrast to Dobraine’s noble elegance, Idrien Tarsin’s
sensible brown woolens were plain enough for a shopkeeper, yet
she had her own well of authority and dignity. Idrien was
Headmistress of the Academy, the title she had been given
herself since most of the scholars and mechanics called
themselves master of this or mistress of that. She ran the
school with a strong hand and believed in practical things,
new methods of surfacing roads or making dyes, improvements to
foundries and mills. She also believed in the Dragon Reborn.
Whether or not that was practical, it was pragmatic, and he
would settle for that. 

He turned to the window and cleared his patch on the glass
again. Maybe it was for heating water-some of those buckets
seemed to have water in them still; in Shienar, they used big
boilers to heat water for the baths-but why on a wagon? "Has
anyone left suddenly since I went? Or come unexpectedly?" 

He did not expect that anyone had, anyone of importance to
him. Between merchant’s pigeons and White Tower eyes-and-
ears-and Mazrim Taim; he must not forget Taim-Lews Therin
snarled wordlessly at the name-with all those pigeons and
spies and babbling tongues, in a few more days the whole world
would be aware that he had vanished from Cairhein. All the
world that mattered, here and now. Cairhein was no longer the
ground where the battle would be fought. Dobraine’s answer
surprised him. 

"No one except...Ailil Riatin and some high Sea Folk official
are both missing since the...attack." A bare pause, but a
pause. Perhaps he was not so sure what had happened, either.
Yet he would keep his word. He had proved that at Dumai’s
Wells, too. "No bodies were found, but they may have been
killed. The Sea Folk Wavemistress refuses to counterance the
possibility, though. She is raising a storm with demands that
her woman be produced. In truth, Ailil may have fled to the
countryside. Or gone to join her brother, despite her pledges
to you. Your three Asha’man are still in the Sun Palace.
Flinn, Narishma and Hopwil. They make people nervous. More
so now than before." The Headmistress made a sound in her
throat, and her shoes shifted audibly on the floorboards.
They certainly made her nervous. 

Rand dismissed the Asha’man. Unless much closer than the
Palace, none was strong enough to have felt him open a gateway
here. Those three had not been part of the attack on him, but
a wise planner might have considered the chance of failure.
Planned how to keep someone close to him if he survived. You
won’t survive, Lews Therin whispered. None of us will
survive. 

Go back to sleep, Rand thought irritably. He knew he was
not going to survive. But he wanted to. A derisive laugh
answered in his head, but the sound thinned and was gone. The
bald man was letting the others climb down, now, and rubbing
his hands together in a pleased fashion. Of all things, the
fellow seemed to be giving a speech! 

"Ailil and Shalon are alive, and they didn’t flee," Rand

said outloud. He had left them bound and gagged, stuffed
under a bed, where they would have been found by servants in a
few hours, though the shield he had woven on that Sea Folk
Windfindder should have dissipated before that. The two women
should have been able to free themselves then. "Look to
Cadsuane. She’ll have them in Lady Arilyn’s palace." 

"Cadsuane Sedai is in and out of the Sun Palace as if it
were her own," Dobraine said judiciously, "but how could she
have taken them out unseen? And why? Ailil is Toram’s sister,
ye this claim to the Sun Throne is dust now, if it was ever
more. She is unimportant even as a counter, now. As for
holding an Atha’an Miere of high rank...To what purpose?" 

Rand made his voice light, uncaring. "Why is she keeping
Lady Caraline and High Lord Darlin as ‘guests,’ Dobraine? Why
do Aes Sedai do anything? You’ll find them where I said. If
she lets you in to look." Why was not a foolish question. He
just did not have the answer. Of course, Caraline Damodred
and Ailil Riatin did represent the last two Houses to hold the
Sun Throne. And Darlin Sisnera led the nobles in Tear who
wanted him thrown out of their precious Stone, out of Tear. 

Rand frowned. He had been sure Cadsuane was focused on him
despite her pretense otherwise, but what if it was not
pretense? A relief, if so. Of course it was. The last thing
he needed was an Aes Sedai who though she could meddle in his
affairs. The very last. Perhaps Cadsuane was directing her
meddling elsewhere. Min had seen Sisnera wearing a strange
crown; Rand had thought a great deal on that viewing of hers.
He did not want to think of other things she had seen,
concerning himself and the Green sister. Could it be as
simple as Cadsuane thinking she could decide who would rule
both Tear and Cairhein? 

Simple? He almost laughed. But that was how Aes Sedai
behaved. And Shalon, the Windfinder? Possessing her might
give Cadsuane leverage with Harine, the Wavemistress, but he
suspected she had just been scooped up with Ailil, to try
hiding who took the noblewoman. Cadsuane would have to be
disabused. Who would rule in Tear and Cairhein had already
been decided. He would point that out to her. Later. It
stood far down his list of priorities. 

"Before I go, Dobraine, I need to give you-" Words froze on
his tongue. 

In the stableyard, the capless man had pulled a lever on the
wagon, and one end of a long horizontal beam suddenly rose,
then sank, driving a shorter beam down through a hole cut in
the wagon bed. And, vibrating till it seemed ready to shake
apart, trailing smoke from the chimney, the wagon lurched
ahead, the beam rising and falling, slowly at first, then
faster. It moved, without horses! 

He did not realize he had spoken aloud until the
Headmistress answered him. 

"Oh, that! That’s Mervin Poel’s steamwagon, as eh calls it,
my Lord Dragon." Disapproval freighted her high, startling
youthful voice." Claims he can pull a hundred wagons with the
contraption. Not unless he can make it go further than fifty
paces without bits breaking or freezing up. It has only done
that far once, that I know." 

Indeed, the –steamwagon?-shuddered to a halt not twenty

paces from where it first stood. Shuddered indeed; it seemed
to be shaking harder by the heartbeat. Most of the men
swarmed over it again, one of them frantically twisting at
something with a cloth wrapped around his hand. Abruptly
steam shot into the air from a pipe, and the shuddering
slowed, stopped. 

Rand shook his head. He remembered seeing this fellow
Mervin, with a device that quivered on a tabletop and did
nothing. And this marvel had come from that? He had thought
it was meant to make music. That must be Mervin leaping about
and shaking his fists and the others. What other odd things,
what marvels, were people building here at the Academy? 

When he asked, still watching the men in the courtyard work
on the wagon, Idrien sniffed loudly. Respect for the Dragon
Reborn held only a thin edge in her voice as she began, and
quickly lost ground to disgust. "Bad enough I must give space
to philosophers and historians and arithmatists and the like,
but you said take in anyone who wanted to make anything new
and let them stay if they showed progress. I suppose you
hoped for weapons, but now I have dozens of dreamers and
wastrels on my hands, every one with an old book or manuscript
or six, all of which date back to the Compact of the Ten
Nations, mind, if not the Age of Legends itself, or so they
say, and they are all trying to make sense of drawings and
sketches and descriptions of things they’ve never seen and
maybe nobody ever did see. I have seen old manuscripts that
talk about people with their eyes in their bellies, and
animals ten feet tall with tusks longer than a man, and cities
where-" 

"But what are they making, Headmistress Tarsin?" Rand
demanded. The men working on the thing below moved with an
air of purpose, not as if they saw failure. And it had moved. 

She sniffed louder this time. "Foolishness, my Lord Dragon,
that is what they make. Kin Tovere constructed his big
looking glass. You can see the moon through it plain as your
hand, and what he claims are other worlds, but what is the
good of that? He wants to build a bigger, now. Maryl Harke
makes huge kites she calls gliders, and come spring, she will
be throwing herself off hills again. Puts your heart in your
mouth to see her sailing downhill on the things; she will
break more than her arm next time one folds up on her, I
warrant. Jander Parentakis believes he can move riverboats
with waterwheels off a mill, or near enough, but when he put
enough men into the boat to turn the cranks, there was no room
for cargo, and any craft with sails could outrun it. Ryn
Anhara traps lightning in big jars-I doubt even he knows
why-Niko Tokama is just as silly with her-" 

Rand spun around so fast that she stepped back, and even
Dobraine shifted on his feet, a swordman’s move. No, they
were not sure of him at all. "He traps lightning?" he asked
quietly. 

Comprehension flooded her blunt face, and she waved her
hands in front of her. "No, no! Not like...like that!" Not
like you, she had almost said. "It is a thing of wires and
wheels and big clay jars and the Light knows what. He calls
it lightning, and I saw a rat jump down on one of the jars
once, on the metal rods sticking out of the top. It certainly

looked struck by lightning." A hopeful tone entered her
voice. "I can make him stop, if you wish." 

He tried to picture someone riding on a kit, but the image
was ludicrous. Catching lightning in jars was beyond his
ability to imagine. And yet..."Let them go on as before,
Headmistress. Who knows? Maybe one of these inventions will
turn out to be important. If any work as claimed, give the
inventor a reward." 

Dobraine’s leathery, sun-darkened face looked dubious,
though he almost managed to conceal it. Idrien bowed her head
in sullen assent, and even curtsied, but plainly she thought
he was asking to let pigs fly if they could. 

Rand was not certain he disagreed. Then again, maybe one of
the pigs would grow wings. The wagon had moved. He wanted
very badly to leave something behind, something to help the
world survive the new Breaking the Prophecies said he would
bring. The trouble was, he had no idea what that might be,
save for the schools themselves. Who knew what a marvel could
do? Light, he wanted to build something that could last. 

I thought I could build, Lews Therin murmured in his head.
I was wrong. We are not builders, not you, or I, or the other
one. We are destroyers. Destroyers. 

Rand shivered, and scrubbed his hands through his hair. The
other one? At times, the voice sounded sanest when it was the
most mad. They were watching him, Dobraine very nearly hiding
uncertainty, Idrien making no effort to. Straightening as if
nothing was wrong, he drew two slim packets from inside his
coat. Both carried the Dragon in a long lump of red wax on
the outside. The belt buckle he was not wearing at the moment
served for an impressive signet. 

"The top one names you my steward in Cairhein," he said,
handing the packets to Dobraine. A third still nestled next
to his chest, for Gregorin den Lushenos, making him steward in
Illian. "So there’ll be no trouble with anyone questioning
your authority while I’m gone." Dobraine could handle that
sort of trouble with his armsmen, but best to make sure no one
could claim ignorance or doubt. Maybe there would be no
trouble to handle if everyone believed the Dragon Reborn would
descend on transgressors. "There are orders about things, I
want done, but aside from those, use your own judgment. When
the Lady Elayne lays claim to the Sun Throne, throw your full
support behind her." Elayne. Oh, Light, Elayne, and
Aviendha. At least they were safe. Min’s voice sounded
happier, now; she must have found Master Fel’s books. He was
going to let her follow him to her death because he was not
strong enough to stop her. Ilyena, Lews Therin moaned.
Forgive me, Ilyena! Rand’s voice came out as cold as winter’s
heart. "You’ll know when to deliver the other. Whether to
deliver it. Pry him out if need be, and decide by what he
says. If you decide not, or he refuses, I’ll pick someone
else. Not you." 

Perhaps that was brusque, but Dobraine’s expression hardly
changed. His eyebrows rose slightly at the name written on
the second packet; that was all. He made a smooth bow.
Cairheinin usually were smooth. "It shall be as you say.
Forgive me, but you sound as though you mean to be gone for a
long while."

 Rand shrugged. He trusted the High Lord as far as he
trusted anyone. Almost as far. "Who can say? The times are
uncertain. Make sure Headmistress Tarsin has whatever coin
she needs, and the men starting the school in Camelyn. The
school in Tear, as well, until matters change there." 

"As you say," Dobraine repeated, tucking the packets into
his coat. His face betrayed no emotion, now. An experienced
player in the Game of House, was Dobraine. 

For her part, the Headmistress managed to look pleased and
disgruntled at the same time, and busied herself smoothing her
dress unnecessarily the way women did when hard-pressed not to
speak their minds. Complain how she would about dreamers and
philosophers, she was jealous of the Academy’s well-being.
She would shed no tears if those others schools vanished and
their scholars were forced to come to the Academy. Even the
philosophers. What would she think of one particular order in
Dobraine’s packet? 

"I’ve found everything I nee," Min said, coming out from the
shelves staggering slightly under the weight of the three
bulging cloth scrips that hung from her. Her plain brown coat
and breeches were very like what she had worn when he first
saw her in Baerlon. For some reason, she had grumbled over
them until anyone who knew her would have thought he was
asking her to put on a dress. She smiled now, though, with
delight and a hint of mischief. "I hope those packhorses are
where we left them, or my Lord Dragon will have to be fitted
for a packsaddle." 

Idrien, gasped, scandalized to hear him addressed so, but
Dobraine merely smiled a little. He had seen Min around Rand
before. 

Rand got rid of them as quickly as possible then, since they
had heard and seen as much as he wanted them to-sent them off
with a final admonition that he had never been there at all.
Dobraine nodded as if he had expected no less. Idrien looked
thoughtful as she left. If she let anything slip where a
servant could hear, or a scholar, it would be all over the
City in two days. There was not much time in any case.
Perhaps no one who could tell had been close enough to feel
him open a gateway here, but anyone looking for signs would be
sure by now there was a ta’veren in the city. It was not his
plan to be found yet. 

When the door closed behind them, he studied Min for a
moment, then took one of the scrips and slung it from his
shoulder. 

"Only one?" she said. Setting the others on the floor, she
planted her fists on her hips and scowled. "Sometimes you
really are a sheepherder. These bags must be a hundred weight
each." But she sounded more amused than upset. 

"You should have picked smaller books, " he told her,
pulling on riding gloves to hide the Dragons. "Or lighter."
He turned toward the window, to fetch the leather scrip, and a
wave of dizziness hit him. Knees turning to water, he
stumbled. A shimmering face he could not make out flashed
through his head. With an effort, he caught himself, forced
his legs straight. And the whirling sensation vanished. Lews
Therin panted hoarsely in the shadows. Could the face be his?
"If you think you’ll make me carry them all that way, think

again," Min grumbled. "I’ve seen better pretending from
stablehands. You could try falling down." 

"Not this time." He was ready for what happened when he
channeled; he could control it to some extent. Usually. Most
of the time. This dizziness without saidin was new. Maybe he
had just turned too fast. And maybe pigs did fly. He settled
the leather scrip’s strap over his free shoulder. The men in
the stableyard were still busy. Building. "Min--." 

Her brows lowered immediately. She paused for an instant in
drawing on her red gloves and began tapping her foot. A
dangerous sign with any woman, especially one who carried
knives. "We had this out, Rand bloody Dragon al’Thor! You are
not leaving me behind!" 

"The thought never crossed my mind," he lied. He was too
weak; he could not make himself say the words, to make her
stay. Too weak, he thought bitterly, and she might well die
for it, the Light burn me forever!
It will, Lews Therin promised softly.
"I just thought you should know what we’ve been doing, and 

what we are going to do," Rand went on. "I haven’t been very
forthcoming, I suppose." Gathering himself, he seized saidin.
The room seemed to whirl, and he rode the avalanche of fire
and ice and filth with nausea seething in his belly. He was
able to stand erect without swaying, though. Barely. And
just able to weave the flows of a gateway that opened into a
snowy clearing where two saddled horses were tethered to a low
branch of an oak. He was glad to see the animals still there.
The clearing was well away from the nearest road, but there
were still wanderers who had turned their backs on families
and farms, trades and crafts, because the Dragon Reborn had
broken all bonds. The Prophesies said so. On the other hand,
a good many of those men and women, footsore and half-frozen
now on top of it, were tired of searching without any notion
what they were searching for. Even these nondescript mounts
surely would have vanished with the first man to find them
unattended. He had gold enough to buy others, but he did not
think Min would have enjoyed the hour’s walk to the village
where they had left the packhorses. 

Hurrying through into the clearing, pretending the change
from floor to knee-deep snow caused his stumble, he only
waited until she had snatched up her bags of books and
staggered through after him before releasing the Power. They
were five hundred miles from Cairhein, and nearer Tar Valon
than anywhere else of note. Alanna had faded in his head when
the gateway closed. 

"Forthcoming?" Min said, sounding suspicious. Of all his
motives, he hoped, or anything but the truth. The dizziness
and nausea faded slowly. "You have been as open as a mussel,
Rand, but I am not blind. First we Traveled to Rhuidean,
where you asked so many questions about this Shara place that
anyone would think you meant to go there." Frowning faintly,
she shook her head as she fastened one of her burdens to the
saddle of her brown gelding. She grunted with the effort, but
she was not about to set the other bag of books down in the
snow. "I never thought the Aiel Waste was like that. That
city is bigger than Tar Valon, even if it is half ruined. And
all those fountains, and the lake. I couldn’t even see the

far side. I thought there wasn’t any water in the Waste. And
it was as cold as here; I thought the waste was hot!" 

"In summer, you fry during the day, but you still freeze at
night." He felt recovered enough to begin shifting his own
burdens to the gray’s saddle. Almost enough. He did it
anyway. "If you already know everything, what was I doing
besides asking questions?" 

"The same as in Tear last night. Making sure every cat and
blackbird knew you were there. In Tear, it was Chachin you
asked about. It’s obvious. You are trying to confuse anyone
who tries to find out where you are and where you’re going
next." The second bag of books balancing the first behind her
saddle, she untied her reins and climbed into the saddle.
"So, am I blind?" 

"Your eyes belong on an eagle." He hoped his pursuers saw
as clearly. Or that whoever directed them did. It would not
do to have them haring off the Light knew where. "I need to
lay some more false trails, I think." 

"Why take the time? I know you have a plan, I know it
concerns something in that leather scrip-a sa’angreal-and I
know it’s important. Don’t look so surprised. You barely let
that bag out of your sight. Why not go ahead and do whatever
it is your plan, then lay your false trails? And the real
one, of course. You’re going to turn on them when they least
expect, you said. You can hardly do that unless they follow
where you want." 

"I wish you’d never started reading Herid Fel’s books," he
muttered sourly, pulling himself into the gray’s saddle. His
head spun only a little. "You puzzle out too much. Can I
keep any secrets at all from you, now?" 

"You never could, woolhead," she laughed, and then,
contradicting herself, "What are you planning? Aside from
killing Dashiva and the rest, I mean. I have a right to know
if I’m traveling with you." As if she had not insisted on
traveling with him. 

"I’m going to cleanse the male half of the source," he said
in a flat voice. A momentous announcement. A grand scheme,
more than grand. Grandiose, most would say. He might have
said he intended to take an afternoon stroll, for all of Min’s
reaction. She simply looked at him, hands folded on the
pommel of her saddle, until he went on. 

"I don’t know how long it will take, and once I start, I
think everyone within a thousand miles of me who can channel
will know something is happening. I doubt I’ll be able to
just stop if Dashiva and the rest, or the Forsaken, suddenly
appear to see what it is. The Forsaken, I can’t do anything
about, but with luck, I can finish the others." Maybe being
ta’veren would give him the edge he needed so desperately. 

"Depend on luck, and Corlan Dashiva or the Forsaken, either
one will have you for breakfast," she said, turning her horse
out of the clearing. "Maybe I can think of a better way.
Come on. There’s a warm fire at the inn. I hope you’re going
to let us have a hot meal before we leave." 

Rand stared after her incredulously. You would have thought
five reengage Asha’man, not to mention the Forsaken, were less
bother than a sore tooth. Booting the gray ahead in a spray
of snow, he caught up to her and rode in silence. He still

had a few secrets from her, this sickness that had begun
affecting him when he channeled, for one. That was the real
reason he had to deal with Dashiva and the others first. It
gave him time to get over the sickness. If that was possible.
If not, he was not sure the two ter’angreal riding behind his
saddle were going to be any use at all. 

Chapter 1: Leaving the Prophet 

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 Aryth Ocean. 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. 

East the wind blew above the cold gray-green ocean swells,
toward Tarabon, where ships already unloaded or waiting their
turns to enter the harbor of Tanchico tossed at anchor for
miles along the low coastline. More ships, great and small,
filled the huge harbor, and barges ferrying people and cargo
ashore, for there was no mooring empty at any of the city's
docks. The inhabitants of Tanchico had been fearful when the
city fell to its new masters, with their peculiar customs and
strange creatures and women held on leashes who could channel,
and fearful again when this fleet arrived, mind-numbing in its
size, and began disgorging not only soldiers but sharp-eyed
merchants, and craftsfolk with the tools of their trades, and
even families with wagons full of farm implements and unknown
plants. There was a new King and a new Panarch to order the
laws, though, and if King and Panarch owed fealty to some far
distant Empress, if Seanchan nobles occupied many of the
palaces and demanded deeper obeisance than any Taraboner lord
or lady, life was little changed for most people, except for
the better. The Seanchan Blood had small contact with ordinary
folk, and odd customs could be lived with. The anarchy that
had ripped the country apart was just a memory, now, and
hunger with it. The rebels and bandits and Dragon-sworn who
had plagued the land were dead or captured or driven north
onto Almoth Plain, those who had not yielded, and trade moved
once more. The hordes of starving refugees that had clogged
the city streets were back in their villages, back on their
farms. And no more of the newest arrivals remained in Tanchico
than the city could support easily. Despite the snows,
soldiers and merchants, craftsfolk and farmers fanned out
inland in their thousands and tens of thousands, but the icy
wind lashed a Tanchico at peace and, after its harsh troubles,
for the most part content with its lot. 

East the wind blew for leagues, gusting and fading, dividing
but never dying, east and veering to the south, across forests
and plains wrapped in winter, bare branched and brown-grassed,
at last crossing what had once been the border between Tarabon
and Amadicia. A border still, but only in name, the customs

posts dismantled, the guards gone. East and south, around the
southern reaches of the Mountains of Mist, swirling across
high-walled Amador. Conquered Amador. The banner atop the
massive Fortress of the Light snapped in the wind, the golden
hawk it bore truly seeming to fly with lightning bolts
clutched in its talons. Few natives left their homes except at
need, and those few hurried along the frozen streets, cloaks
clutched around them and eyes down. Eyes down not just to mind
footing on slick paving stones but to avoid looking at the
occasional Seanchan riding by on a beast like a bronze-scaled
cat the size of a horse, or steel-veiled Taraboners guarding
groups of onetime Children of the Light, now chained and
laboring like animals to haul refuse wagons out of the city. A
bare month and a half in the Seanchan fold, the people of
Amadicia's capital city felt the bitter wind like a scourge,
and those who did not curse their fate meditated on what sins
had brought them to this. 

East the wind howled over a desolated land where as many
villages lay burned and farms ruined as held people. Snow blan
keted charred timbers and abandoned barns alike, softening the
view even as it added freezing to starvation as a way of
dying. Sword and axe and spear had been there already, and
remained to kill again. East, until the wind moaned a dirge
over unwalled Abila. No banners flew above the town's
watchtowers, for the Prophet of the Lord Dragon was there, and
the Prophet needed no banner save his name. In Abila, people
shivered harder at the name of the Prophet than they did for
the wind. People elsewhere shivered at that name, too. 

Striding out of the tall merchant's house where Masema
lived, Perrin let the wind whip his fur-lined cloak as he
pulled on his gloves. The midday sun gave no warmth, and the
air bit deep. He kept his face smooth, but he was too angry to
feel the cold. Keeping his hands from the axe at his belt was
an effort. Masema-he would not call the man Prophet, not in
his own head he would not! - Masema was very likely a fool,
and very certainly insane. A powerful fool, more powerful than
most kings, and mad with it. 

Masema's guards filled the street from side to side and
stretched around the corners of the next streets, bony fellows
in stolen silks, beardless apprentices in torn coats, once-
plump merchants in the remains of fine woolens. Their breath
was white mist, and some shivered without a cloak, but every
man clutched a spear, or a crossbow with the bolt in place.
Still, none looked outwardly hostile. They knew he claimed
acquaintance with the Prophet, and they gaped as if expecting
him to leap into the air and fly. Or at least turn
somersaults. He filtered out the smell of woodsmoke from the
town's chimneys. The lot of them stank of old sweat and
unwashed bodies, of eagerness and fear. And of a strange fever
he had not recognized before, a reflection of the madness in
Masema. Hostile or not, they would kill him, or anyone, at
Masema's word. They would butcher nations at Masema's word.
Smelling them, he felt a coldness deeper than any winter wind.
He was gladder than ever that he had refused to let Faile come
with him. 

The men he had left with the mounts were playing at dice
alongside the animals, or going though the motions of it, on a

space of paving stones scraped mostly clear of snowy slush. He
did not trust Masema as far as he could throw his bay, and nor
did they. They were paying more mind to the house, and the
guards, than to their game. The three Warders sprang to their
feet as soon as he appeared, their eyes going to his
companions coming out behind him. They knew what their Aes
Sedai had felt inside there. Neald was slower, pausing to
scoop up the dice and coins. The Asha'man was a popinjay,
always stroking his curled mustaches, strutting and smirking
at women, but he stood on the balls of his feet now, wary as a
cat. 

"I thought we'd have to fight our way out of there for a
time," Elyas murmured at Perrin's shoulder. His golden eyes
were calm, though. A lanky old man in a broad-brimmed hat,
with graying hair that hung down his back to his waist and a
long beard fanning across his chest. A long knife at his belt,
not a sword. But he had been a Warder. He still was, in a way.
"That's the only thing that went right," Perrin told him,
taking Stayer's reins from Neald. The Asha'man quirked an 

eyebrow questioningly, but Perrin shook his head, not caring
what the question was, and Neald, with a twist to his mouth,
handed Elyas the reins of his mouse-colored gelding before
climbing onto his own dapple. 

Perrin had no time for the Murandian's sulks. Rand had sent
him to bring back Masema, and Masema was coming. As always of
late when he thought of Rand, colors swirled in his head, and
as always, he ignored them. Masema was too great a problem for
Perrin to waste thought fretting over colors. The bloody man
thought it blasphemy for anyone but Rand to touch the One
Power. Rand, it seemed, was not really mortal; he was the
Light made flesh! So there would be no Traveling, no quick
leap to Cairhien through a gateway made by one of the
Asha'man, no matter how Perrin had tried to bring Masema
around. They would have to ride the whole four hundred leagues
or more, through the Light alone knew what. And keep it secret
who they were, and Masema as well. Those had been Rand's
orders. 

"There's only one way I can see to do it, boy," Elyas said
as if he had spoken aloud. "A slim chance. We might have had
better odds knocking the fellow on the head and fighting clear
anyway." 

"I know," Perrin growled. He had thought of it more than
once during the hours of argument. With Asha'man and Aes Sedai
and Wise Ones all channeling, it might have been possible. But
he had seen a battle fought with the One Power, men ripped to
blood-soaked shreds in the blink of an eye, the earth itself
blooming in fire. Abila would have been a butcher's yard
before they were done. He would never look on the like again,
if he had his way. 

"What do you think this Prophet will make of it?" Elyas
asked. 

Perrin had to clear his mind of Dumai's Wells, and Abila
looking like the field at Dumai's Wells, before he could think
of what Elyas was talking about. Oh. How he was going to do
the impossible. "I don't care what he makes of it." The man
would make trouble, that was for certain sure. 

Irritably, he rubbed at his beard. He needed to trim it. To

have it trimmed, rather. If he picked up the scissors, Faile
would take them away and give them to Lamgwin. It still seemed
impossible that that hulking shoulderthumper with his scarred
face and sunken knuckles should know the skills of a
bodyservant. Light! A bodyservant. He was finding his footing
with Faile and her strange Saldaean ways, but the better his
footing, the more she managed to run things to suit herself.
Women always did that anyway, of course, but sometimes he
thought he had exchanged one sort of whirlwind for another.
Maybe he could try some of this masterful shouting she seemed
to like so much. A man ought to be able to put scissors to his
own beard if he wanted. He doubted he would, though. Shouting
at her was hard enough when she began shouting first. Fool 

thing to be thinking about now, anyway.
He studied the others making their way to the horses as he
would have studied tools he needed for a hard job of work. He
was afraid Masema would make this journey as bad a job as he
had ever taken on, and his tools were full of cracks. 

Seonid and Masuri paused beside him, the hoods of their
cloaks pulled well forward, putting their faces in shadow. A
razor-sharp quivering laced the faint scent of their perfumes,
fear under control. Masema would have killed them on the spot
if he had had his way. The guards still might, if any
recognized an Aes Sedai face. Among this many, there had to be
some who could. Masuri was the taller by almost a hand, but
Perrin still looked down on the tops of their heads. Ignoring
Elyas, the sisters exchanged glances sheltered within their
cowls; then Masuri spoke quietly. 

"Do you see now why he must be killed? The man is ...
rabid." Well, the Brown was seldom one to mince words.
Luckily, none of the guards was close enough to overhear. 

"You could choose a better place to say that," he said. He
did not want to hear the arguments again, now or later, but
especially not now. And it seemed he did not have to. 

Edarra and Carelle loomed behind the Aes Sedai, dark shawls
already wrapped around their heads. The bits that hung down
across chest and back hardly seemed any protection from the
cold, but then, snow bothered the Wise Ones more, just the
existence of such a thing. Their sun-dark faces might have
been carved for all they revealed, yet the scent of them was a
steel spike. Edarra's blue eyes, usually so composed that they
seemed odd set in her youthful features, were as hard as that
spike. Of course, her composure masked steel. Sharp steel. 

"This is no place for talking," Carelle told the Aes Sedai
mildly, tucking a strand of fiery red hair beneath her shawl.
As tall as many men, she was always mild. For a Wise One.
Which only meant she did not bite your nose off without giving
warning first. "Get to your horses." 

And the shorter women curtsied to her briefly and hurried to
their saddles as if they were not Aes Sedai at all. They were
not, to the Wise Ones. Perrin thought he would never grow
accustomed to that. Even if Masuri and Seonid seemed to have
done so. 

With a sigh, he swung up onto Stayer as the Wise Ones fol
lowed their Aes Sedai apprentices. The stallion frisked a few
steps after his rest, but Perrin brought him under control
with the pressure of his knees and steady hands on the reins.

The Aiel women mounted awkwardly even after all the practice
they had had these past weeks, their heavy skirts pushed up to
bare wool-stockinged legs above the knee. They agreed with the
two sisters about Masema, and so did the other Wise Ones back
at his camp. A fine boiling stew for anyone to carry to
Cairhien without being scalded. 

Grady and Aram were already mounted, and he could not make
out their scents among all the others. There was little need.
He had always thought Grady looked a farmer despite his black
coat and the silver sword on his collar, but not now. Statue-
still in his saddle, the stocky Asha'man surveyed the guards
with the grim eyes of a man deciding where to make the first
cut. And the second, and third, and however many were needed.
Aram, bilious green Tinker's cloak flailing the wind as he
handled his reins, the hilt of his sword rising above his
shoulder-Aram's face was a map of excitement that made
Perrin's heart sink. In Masema, Aram had met a man who had
given his life and heart and soul to the Dragon Reborn. In
Aram's view, the Dragon Reborn ranked close behind Perrin and
Faile. 

You did the boy no favor, Elyas had told Perrin. You helped
him let go of what he believed, and now all he has to believe
in is you and that sword. It's not enough, not for any man.
Elyas had known Aram when Aram was still a Tinker, before he
picked up the sword. 

A stew that might have poison in it, for some. 

The guards might gaze at Perrin in wonder, but they did not
move to clear a passage until someone shouted from a window of
the house. Then they edged aside enough for the riders to
leave single file. Reaching the Prophet was not easy, without
his permission. Without his permission, leaving him was
impossible. 

Once away from Masema and his guards, Perrin set as fair a
pace as he could through the crowded streets. Abila had been a
large, prosperous town not so long ago, with its stone market
places, and slate-roofed buildings as tall as four stories. It
was still large, but mounds of rubble marked where houses and
inns had been torn down. Not an inn remained standing in
Abila, or a house where someone had been slow to proclaim the
glory of the Lord Dragon Reborn. Masema's disapproval was
never subtle. 

The throng held few who looked as if they lived in the town,
drab folk in drab clothes for the most part scuttling
fearfully along the sides of the street, and no children. No
dogs, either; hunger was a likely problem in this place, now.
Everywhere groups of armed men straggled through the ankle-
deep muck that had been snow last night, twenty here, fifty
there, knocking down people too slow to get out of their path,
even making the ox-carts wend around them. There were always
hundreds in sight. There had to be thousands in the town.
Masema's army was a rabble, but their numbers had made up for
other lacks so far. Thank the Light the man had agreed to
bring along only a hundred. It had taken an hour's argument,
but he had agreed. In the end, Masema's desire to reach Rand
quickly, even if he would not Travel, had won the point. Few
of his followers had horses, and the more that came afoot, the
slower they would go. At least he would arrive at Perrin's

camp by nightfall. 

Perrin saw no one mounted except his own party, and they
drew stares from the armed men, stony stares, fevered stares.
Finely dressed folk came to the Prophet often enough, nobles
and merchants hoping a submission in person would gain more
blessings and fewer penalties, but they usually departed
afoot. Their way was unimpeded, however, aside from the
necessity of riding around the clumps of Masema's followers.
If they left mounted, it must be by Masema's will. Even so,
Perrin had no need to tell anyone to stay close. There was a
feel of waiting in Abila, and no one with half a brain would
want to be near when the waiting ended. 

It was a relief when Balwer kneed his hammer-nosed gelding
out of a side street just short of the low wooden bridge that
led out of town, almost as great as the relief he felt when
they had crossed the bridge and passed the last guards. The
pinch-faced little man, all knobby joints and with his plain
brown coat more hanging on him than worn, could look after
himself in spite of appearances, but Faile was setting up a
proper household for a noblewoman, and she would be more than
displeased if Perrin let any harm come to her secretary. Hers,
and Perrin's. Perrin was not sure how he felt about having a
secretary, yet the fellow possessed skills beyond writing a
fine hand. Which he demonstrated as soon as they were clear of
the town, with low, forested hills all around. Most of the
branches were stark and bare, and those that retained leaf or
needle splashed a vivid green against the white. They had the
road to themselves, but snow frozen in ruts kept their riding
slow. 

"Forgive me, my Lord Perrin," Balwer murmured, leaning in
his saddle to peer past Elyas, "but I happened to overhear
something back there you might find of interest." He coughed
discreetly into his glove, then hurriedly recaptured his cloak
and pulled it close. 

Elyas and Aram hardly needed Perrin's gesture to fall back
with the others. Everyone was accustomed to the dry little
man's desire for privacy. Why he wanted to pretend that no one
else knew he ferreted out information at every town or village
they passed, Perrin could not begin to guess. He had to know
that Perrin discussed what he learned with Faile, and Elyas.
In any case, he was very good at ferreting. 

Balwer tilted his head to one side to watch Perrin as they
rode side by side. "I have two pieces of news, my Lord, one I
believe important, and one urgent." Urgent or not, even the
fellow's voice sounded dry, like dead leaves rustling. 

"How urgent?" Perrin made a wager with himself over who the
first piece of news would be about. 

"Very, perhaps, my Lord. King Ailron has brought the
Seanchan to battle near the town of Jeramel, approximately one
hundred miles west of here. This was about ten days ago."
Balwer's mouth pursed momentarily in irritation. He disliked
imprecision; he disliked not knowing. "Reliable information is
scarce, but without doubt, the Amadician army is dead, captive
or scattered. I would be very surprised if more than a hundred
remain together anywhere, and those will take to banditry soon
enough. Ailron himself was taken, along with his entire court.
Amadicia no longer has any nobility, not to amount to

anything." 

Mentally, Perrin marked the wager lost. Usually, Balwer
began with news of the Whitecloaks. "A pity for Amadicia, I
suppose. For the people captured, anyway." According to
Balwer, the Seanchan had a harsh way with those captured under
arms opposing them. So Amadicia had no army left, and no
nobles to raise or lead another. Nothing to stop the Seanchan
spreading as fast as they wished, though they seemed to spread
very quickly even when there was opposition. Best if he rode
east as soon as Masema reached the camp, and then moved as
fast as he could for as long as the men and horses could
sustain it. 

He said as much, and Balwer nodded, with a thin smile of
approval. The man appreciated it when Perrin saw the value of
what he reported. 

"One other point, my Lord," he went on. "The Whitecloaks
took part in the battle, but apparently Valda managed to get
most of them off the field at the end. He has the Dark One's
own luck. No one seems to know where they have gone. Or
rather, every tongue gives a different direction. If I may say
so, I favor east. Away from the Seanchan." And toward Abila,
of course. 

The wager was not a loss, then. Though the man had not begun
with it. A draw, maybe. Far ahead, a hawk soared high in the
cloudless sky, heading north. It would reach the camp long
before he would. Perrin could recall a time when he had had as
few concerns as that hawk. Compared to now, at least. It had
been a very long time ago. 

"I suspect the Whitecloaks are more interested in avoiding
the Seanchan than in bothering us, Balwer. Anyway, I can't
move any faster for them than for the Seanchan. Were they the
second piece of news?" 

"No, my Lord. Simply a point of interest." Balwer seemed to
hate the Children of the Light, most especially Valda-a matter
of rough treatment somewhere in his past, Perrin suspected-but
like everything else about the man, it was a dry, cold hate.
Passionless. "The second news is that the Seanchan have fought
another battle, this in southern Altara. Against Aes Sedai,
possibly, though some mentioned men channeling." Half turning
in his saddle, Balwer looked back at Grady and Neald in their
black coats. Grady was in conversation with Elyas, and Neald
with Aram, but both Asha'man appeared to be keeping as close
an eye on the forests as did the Warders bringing up the rear.
The Aes Sedai and the Wise Ones were talking in low voices,
too. "Whoever they fought, my Lord, it is clear that the
Seanchan lost and were sent reeling back into Ebou Dar." 

"Good news," Perrin said flatly. Dumai's Wells flashed into
his head again, stronger than before. For a moment, he was
back-to-back with Loial again, fighting desperately, sure that
every breath would be his last. For the first time that day,
he shivered. At least Rand knew about the Seanchan. At least
he did not have to worry about that. 

He became aware of Balwer eyeing him. Considering him, like
a bird considering a strange insect. He had seen him shiver.
The little man liked to know everything, but there were some
secrets no one would ever know. 

Perrin's eyes returned to the hawk, barely visible now even

to him. It made him think of Faile, his fierce falcon of a 

wife. His beautiful falcon of a wife. He put Seanchan and
Whitecloaks and battle and even Masema out of his mind. For
the time, at least.
"Let's pick up the pace a little," he called back to the 

others. The hawk might see Faile before he did, but unlike the
bird, he would be seeing the love of his heart. And today, he
would not shout at her no matter what she did. 

Chapter 2: Taken 

The hawk soon passed out of sight, and the road remained
empty of other travelers, but press as Perrin would, frozen
ruts ready to break a horse's leg and a rider's neck allowed
no great speed. The wind carried ice, and a promise of snow
again tomorrow. It was midafternoon by the time he turned off
through the trees into white drifts that were knee-deep on the
horses in places, and covered the last mile to the forest camp
where he had left the Two Rivers men and the Aiel, the
Mayeners and Ghealdanin. And Faile. Nothing there was as he
expected. 

As always, there were four camps spaced out among the trees,
in truth, but the Winged Guards' smoking campfires stood aban
doned around Berelain's striped tents, amid overturned kettles
and bits of gear dropped on the snow, and the same signs of
haste dotted the trampled ground where Alliandre's soldiers
had been set up when he left that morning. The only evidence
of life in either place was the horse handlers and farriers
and cart drivers, bundled in woolens and huddled in clumps
around the horselines and high-wheeled supply carts. They were
all staring toward what caught his eye and held it. 

Five hundred paces from the rocky, flat-topped hill where
the Wise Ones had placed their low tents, the gray-coated
Mayeners were drawn up, all nine hundred or so of them, horses
stamping impatiently, red cloaks and the long red streamers on
their lances rippling in the cold breeze. Nearer the hill and
off to one side, just at the near bank of a frozen stream, the
Ghealdanin made a block of lances just as large, these with
green streamers. The mounted soldiers' green coats and armor
appeared drab compared with the Mayeners' red helmets and
breastplates, but their officers sparkled in silvered armor
and scarlet coats and cloaks, with reins and saddlecloths
fringed in crimson. A brave show, for men on parade, but they
were not parading. The Winged Guards faced toward the
Ghealdanin, the Ghealdanin toward the hill. And the crest of
the hill was ringed by Two Rivers men, longbows in hand. No
one had drawn, yet, but every man had a shaft nocked and
ready. It was madness. 

Booting Stayer to as near a gallop as the bay could manage,
Perrin plowed through the snow, followed by the others, until
he reached the head of the Ghealdanin formation. Berelain was
there, in a fur-trimmed red cloak, and Gallenne, the one-eyed
Captain other Winged Guards, and Annoura, her Aes Sedai advi
sor, all apparently arguing with Alliandre's First Captain, a
short, hard-bitten fellow named Gerard Arganda, who was
shaking his head so hard the fat white plumes quivered on his
gleaming helmet. The First of Mayene looked ready to bite

iron, vexation showed through Annoura's Aes Sedai calm, and
Gallenne was fingering the red-plumed helmet hanging at his
saddle as though deciding whether to don it. At the sight of
Perrin, they broke off and turned their mounts toward him.
Berelain sat her saddle erect, but her black hair was
windblown, and her fine-ankled white mare was shivering, the
lather of a hard run freezing on her flanks. 

With so many people about, it was all but impossible to make
out individual scents, but Perrin did not need his nose to
recognize trouble hanging by a hair. Before he could demand to
know what in the Light they thought they were doing, Berelain
spoke with a porcelain-faced formality that made him blink at
first. 

"Lord Perrin, your Lady wife and I were hunting with Queen
Alliandre when we were attacked by Aiel. I managed to escape. 

No one else in the party has returned, yet, though it may be
the Aiel took prisoners. I have sent a squad of lancers to
scout. We were about ten miles to the southeast, so they
should return with news by nightfall." 

"Faile was captured?" Perrin said thickly. Even before
crossing into Amadicia from Ghealdan they had heard of Aiel
burning and looting, but it had always been somewhere else,
the next village over or the one beyond that, if not farther.
Never close enough to worry about, or to be sure they were
more than rumor. Not when he had Rand bloody al'Thor's orders
to carry out! And look what it had cost. 

"Why are you all still here?" he demanded aloud. "Why aren't
you all searching for her?" He realized he was shouting. He
wanted to howl, to savage them. "Burn you all, what are you
waiting for?" The levelness other reply, as if reporting how
much fodder was left for the horses, pushed needles of rage
into his head. The more so because she was right. 

"We were ambushed by two or three hundred, Lord Perrin, but
you know as well as I, from what we have heard there easily
could be a dozen or more such bands roaming the countryside.
If we pursue in force, we may find a battle that will cost us
heavily, against Aiel, without even knowing whether they are
the ones who hold your Lady wife. Or even if she still lives.
We must know that first, Lord Perrin, or the rest is worse
than useless." 

If she still lived. He shivered; the cold was inside him,
suddenly. In his bones. His heart. She had to be alive. She
had to be. Oh, Light, he should have let her come to Abila
with him. Annoura's wide-mouthed face was a mask of sympathy
framed by thin Taraboner braids. Suddenly he became aware of
pain in his hands, cramping on the reins. He forced them to
loosen their grip, flexed his fingers inside his gauntlets. 

"She's right," Elyas said quietly, moving his gelding
closer. "Hold on to yourself. Blunder around with Aiel, and
you're asking to die. Maybe take a lot of men with you to a
bad end. Dying does no good if it leaves your wife a
prisoner." He tried to make his voice lighter, but Perrin
could smell the strain. "Anyway, we'll find her, boy. She
could well have escaped them, a woman like that. Be trying to
make her way back here afoot. Take time, that would, in a
dress. The First's scouts will locate traces." Raking fingers
through his long beard, Elyas gave a self-deprecating chuckle.

"If I can't find more than the Mayeners, I'll eat bark. We'll
get her back for you." 

Perrin was not fooled. "Yes," he said harshly. Nobody could
escape Aiel afoot. "Go now. Hurry." Not fooled at all. The man 

expected to find Faile's body. She had to be alive, and that
meant captive, but better a prisoner than . . .
They could not talk between themselves as they did with 

wolves, but Elyas hesitated as if he understood Perrin's
thoughts. He did not try to deny them, though. His gelding set
off southeast at a walk, as quick as the snow would allow, and
after a quick glance at Perrin, Aram followed, his face dark.
The one-time Tinker did not like Elyas, but he near enough
worshipped Faile, if only because she was Perrin's wife. 

It would do no good to founder the animals, Perrin told him
self, frowning at their retreating backs. He wanted them to
run. He wanted to run with them. Fine cracks seemed to be
spidering through him. If they returned with the wrong news,
he would shatter. To his surprise, the three Warders trotted
their mounts through the trees after Elyas and Aram in
splashes of snow, plain woolen cloaks streaming behind, then
matched speed when they caught up. 

He managed to give Masuri and Seonid a grateful nod, and
included Edarra and Carelle. Whoever had made the suggestion,
there was no doubt who had granted permission. It was a
measure of the control the Wise Ones had established that
neither sister was trying to take charge. They very likely
wanted to, but their gloved hands remained folded on the
pommels of their saddles, and neither betrayed impatience by
so much as the flicker of an eyelid. 

Not everyone was watching the departing men. Annoura al
ternated between beaming sympathy at him and studying the Wise
Ones out of the corner of her eye. Unlike the other two
sisters, she had made no promises, but she was almost as
circumspect with the Aielwomen as they. Gallenne's one eye was
on Berelain, awaiting a sign he should draw the sword he was
gripping, while she was intent on Perrin, her face still
smooth and unreadable. Grady and Neald had their heads
together, casting quick, grim glances in his direction. Balwer
sat very still, like a sparrow perched on the saddle, trying
to be invisible, listening intently. 

Arganda pushed his tall roan gelding past Gallenne's heavy-
chested black, ignoring the Mayener's one-eyed glare of
outrage. The First Captain's mouth worked angrily behind the
shining face-bars of his helmet, but Perrin heard nothing.
Faile filled his head. Oh, Light, Faile! His chest felt bound
with iron straps. He was near to panic, holding to the
precipice with his fingernails. 

Desperately he reached out with his mind, frantically search
ing for wolves. Elyas must have tried this already-Elyas would
not have given way to panic at the news-but he had to try
himself. 

Searching, he found them, Three Toes' pack and Cold Water's,
Twilight's and Springhorn's and others. Pain flowed out with
his plea for help, but grew greater inside him rather than
less. They had heard of Young Bull, and they commiserated over
the loss of his she, but they kept clear of the two-legs, who
frightened away all the game and were death for any wolf

caught alone. There were so many packs of two-legs about,
afoot and riding the hard-footed four-legs, that they could
not say whether any they knew of were the one he sought. Two-
legs were two-legs, to them, indistinguishable except for
those who could channel, and the few who could speak with
them. Mourn, they told him, and move on, and meet her again in
the Wolf Dream. 

One by one, the images that his mind turned to words faded
away, until only one lingered. Mourn, and meet her again in
the Wolf Dream. Then that also was gone. 

"Are you listening?" Arganda demanded roughly. He was not a
smooth-faced noble, and despite his silks and the gold-work
atop the silver of his breastplate he looked like what he was,
a graying soldier who had first hefted a lance as a boy and
probably carried two dozen scars. His dark eyes were almost as
fevered as those of Masema's men. He smelled of rage, and
fear. "Those savages took Queen Alliandre, as well!" 

"We will find your Queen when we find my wife," Perrin said,
his voice as cold and hard as the edge of his axe. She had to
be alive. "Suppose you tell me what all this is about, you
drawn up ready to charge, it looks like. And facing my people,
at that." He had other responsibilities, too. Acknowledging
that was bitter as gall. Nothing else counted alongside Faile.
Nothing! But the Two Rivers men were his people. 

Arganda dashed his mount close and seized Perrin's sleeve in
a gauntleted fist. "You listen to me! The First Lady Berelain
says it was Aiel took Queen Alliandre, and there are Aiel
sheltering behind those archers of yours. I have men who will
be happy enough to put them to the question." His heated gaze
swung back to Edarra and Carelle for a moment. Perhaps he was
thinking that they were Aiel with no archers barring his path.
"The First Captain is ... overwrought," Berelain murmured, 

laying a hand on Perrin's other arm. "I have explained to him
that none of the Aiel here were involved. I'm sure that I can
convince him-" 

He shook her off, ripped his arm away from the Ghealdanin.,
"Alliandre swore fealty to me, Arganda. You swore fealty to
her, and that makes me your lord. I said I'll find Alliandre
when I find Faile." The edge of an axe. She was alive. "You
question no one, touch no one, unless I say. What you will do
is take your men back to your camp, now, and be ready to ride
when I give the order. If you're not ready when I call, you
will be left behind." 

Arganda stared at him, breathing hard. His eyes strayed
again, this time toward Grady and Neald, then jerked back to
Perrin's face. "As you command, my Lord," he said stiffly.
Wheeling his roan, he shouted orders to his officers and was
already galloping away before they began issuing their own.
The Ghealdanin began to peel away by columns, riding after
their First Captain. Toward their camp, though whether Arganda
intended to remain there was anyone's guess. And whether it
might not be for the worse if he did. 

"You handled that very well, Perrin," Berelain said. "A
difficult situation, and a painful time for you." Not formal
at all, now. Just a woman full of pity, her smile
compassionate. Oh, she had a thousand guises, Berelain did. 

She stretched out a red-gloved hand, and he backed Stayer

away before she could touch him. "Give it over, burn you!" he
snarled. "My wife has been taken! I've no patience for your
childish games!" 

She jerked as if he had struck her. Color bloomed in her
cheeks, and she changed again, becoming supple and willowy in
her saddle. "Not childish, Perrin," she murmured, her voice
rich and amused. "Two women contesting over you, and you the
prize? I would think you'd be flattered. Attend me, Lord
Captain Gallenne. I suppose we, too, should be ready to ride
at command." 

The one-eyed man rode back toward the Winged Guards at her
side, as close to a canter as the snow made possible. He was
leaning toward her as if hearing instructions. Annoura paused
where she was, gathering the reins other brown mare. Her mouth
was a razored line beneath her beak of a nose. "Sometimes you
are a very large fool, Perrin Aybara. Quite often, in fact." 

He did not know what she was talking about, and did not
care. At times she seemed resigned to Berelain chasing after a
married man, and other times amused by it, even helping out by
arranging for Berelain to be alone with him. Right then, First
and Aes Sedai both disgusted him. Heeling Stayer in the
flanks, he trotted away from her without a word. 

The men on the hilltop opened enough to let him through,
muttering to one another and watching the lancers below ride
toward their respective camps, parted again to let the Wise
Ones and Aes Sedai and Asha'man pass. They did not break up
and crowd around him, as he had expected, for which he was
grateful. The whole hilltop smelled of wariness. Most of it
did. 

The snow atop the hill had been trampled until some patches
were clear except for frozen clumps and others were sheets of
ice. The four Wise Ones who had remained behind when he rode
to Abila were standing in front of one of the low Aiel tents,
tall unruffled women with dark woolen shawls around their
shoulders, watching the two sisters dismount with Carelle and
Edarra, and seemingly paying no mind to what was going on
around them. The gai'shain who served them in place of
servants were going about their normal tasks quietly, meekly,
faces hidden in the deep cowls of their white robes. One
fellow was even beating a carpet hung over a rope tied between
two trees! The only sign among the Aiel that they might have
been on the brink of a fight was Gaul and the Maidens. They
had been squatting on their heels, shoufa around their heads
and black veils hiding all but their eyes, short spears and
bull-hide bucklers in hand. As Perrin jumped down from his
saddle, they rose. 

Dannil Lewin trotted up, chewing worriedly at the thick mus
tache that made his nose look even bigger than it was. He had
his bow in one hand and was sliding an arrow back into the
quiver at his belt. "I didn't know what else to do, Perrin,"
he said in a jerky voice. Dannil had been at Dumai's Wells,
and faced Trollocs back home, but this was outside his view of
the world. "By the time we found out what happened, those
Ghealdanin fellows were already starting this way, so I sent
off Jondyn Barran and a couple of others, Hu Marwin and Get
Ayliah, told the Cairhienin and your servants to make a circle
with the carts and stay inside it- had to just about tie up

those folks who're always following the Lady Faile around;
they wanted to go off after her, and not a one of them knows a
footprint from an oak tree-then I brought everybody else here.
I thought those Ghealdanin might charge us, until the First
got there with her men. They must be crazy, thinking any of
our Aiel would hurt the Lady Faile." Even when they Perrined
him, Faile nearly always received the honorific from the Two
Rivers men. 

"You did right, Dannil," Perrin said, tossing him Stayer's
reins. Hu and Get were good woodsmen, and Jondyn Barran could
follow yesterday's wind. Gaul and the Maidens were starting to
leave, in single file. They were still veiled. "Tell off one
man in three to stay here," Perrin told Dannil hurriedly; just
because he had faced Arganda down was no reason to believe the
man had changed his mind, "and send the rest back to pack up.
I want to ride as soon as there's word." 

Without waiting on a reply, he hurried to put himself in
front of Gaul and stopped the taller man with a hand to his
chest. For some reason, Gaul's green eyes tightened above his
veil. Sulin and the rest of the Maidens strung out behind him
went up on the balls of their feet. 

"Find her for me, Gaul," Perrin said. "All of you, please
find who took her. If anyone can track Aiel, it's you." 

The tightness in Gaul's eyes vanished as suddenly as it had
come, and the Maidens relaxed, too. As much as Aiel ever could
be said to relax. It was very strange. They could not think he
blamed them in any way. 

"We all wake from the dream one day," Gaul said gently, "but
if she still dreams, we will find her. But if Aiel took her,
we must go. They will move quickly. Even in ... this." He put
considerable disgust in the word, kicking at a clod of snow. 

Perrin nodded and hastily stepped aside, letting the Aiel
set out at a trot. He doubted they could maintain that for
very long, but he was sure they would keep the pace longer
than anyone else could have. As the Maidens passed him, each
quickly pressed fingers to the veil over her lips, then
touched his shoulder. Sulin, right behind Gaul, gave him a
nod, but none said a word. Faile would have known what they
meant with their finger kissing. 

There was something else odd about their departure, he real
ized as the last Maiden went by. They were letting Gaul lead.
Normally, any of them would have stuck a spear in him before
allowing that. Why . . . ? Maybe . . . Chiad and Bain would
have been with Faile. Gaul did not care one way of the other
about Bain, but Chiad was a different matter. The Maidens
certainly had not been encouraging Gaul's hope that Chiad
would give up the spear to marry him-anything but!-yet maybe
that was it. 

Perrin grunted in disgust at himself. Chiad and Bain, and
who else? Even blind with fear for Faile, he should have asked
that much. If he was going to get her back, he needed to
strangle fear and see. But it was like trying to strangle a
tree. 

The flat hilltop swarmed now. Someone had already led Stayer
away, and Two Rivers men were leaving the ring around the
crest, hurrying toward their camp in a scattered stream,
shouting to one another about what they would have done had

the lancers charged. Occasionally a man raised his voice
asking about Faile, did anyone know if the Lady was safe, were
they going to look for her, but others always shushed him
hurriedly with worried glances at Perrin. The gai'shain went
about their tasks placidly in the middle of all the rush.
Unless commanded to stop, they would have done the same if a
battle had swirled around them, not raising a hand to help or
hinder. The Wise Ones had all gone into one of the tents with
Seonid and Masuri, and the flaps were not only down, but tied.
They did not want to be disturbed. They would be discussing
Masema, no doubt. Possibly discussing how to kill the man
without him or Rand learning they had done it. 

He smacked a fist into his palm in irritation. He had
actually forgotten Masema until now. The man was supposed to
be following before nightfall, with that honor guard of a
hundred men. With luck, the Mayener scouts would be back by
then, and Elyas and the others soon after. 

"My Lord Perrin?" Grady said behind him, and he turned. The
two Asha'man stood in front of their horses, fiddling uncer
tainly with their reins. Grady drew breath and went on with
Neald nodding agreement. "The pair of us could cover a lot of
ground, Traveling. And if we find the lot who kidnapped her,
well, I doubt even a few hundred Aiel could stop two Asha'man
from taking her back." 

Perrin opened his mouth to tell them to start immediately,
then closed it again. Grady had been a farmer, true, but never
a hunter or woodsman. Neald thought any place without a stone
wall was a village. They might know a footprint from an oak
tree, yet if they did find tracks, very likely neither would
be able to say which direction they were headed. Of course, he
could go with them. He was not as good as Jondyn, but ... He
could go, and leave Dannil to deal with Arganda. And with
Masema. Not to mention the Wise Ones' schemes. 

"Go get yourselves packed," he said quietly. Where was
Balwer? Nowhere in sight. Not very likely that he had gone
haring off to find Faile. "You may be needed here." 

Grady blinked in surprise, and Neald's mouth dropped open. 

Perrin gave them no chance to argue. He strode over to the
low tent with the tied flaps. There was no way to undo the
ties from the outside. When Wise Ones wanted to remain undis
turbed, they wanted to remain undisturbed, by clan chiefs or
anyone else. Including a wetlander lumbered with the title of
Lord of the Two Rivers. He drew his belt knife, and bent to
slice the ties, but before he could slide the blade through
the tight crack between the entry flaps, they jerked as if
someone was unfastening them from inside. He straightened and
waited. 

The tentflaps opened, and Nevarin slipped out. Her shawl was
tied around her waist, but except for the mist of her breath,
she gave no evidence of the icy air. Her green eyes took in
the knife in his hand, and she planted her fists on her hips
in a rattle of bracelets. She was near enough bone-thin, with
long sandy yellow hair held back by a dark folded kerchief,
and more than a hand taller than Nynaeve, but that was who she
always made him think of. She stood blocking the entrance to
the tent. 

"You are impetuous, Perrin Aybara." Her light voice was

level, but he had the impression that she was considering
boxing his ears. Very much like Nynaeve. "Though that might be
understandable, in the circumstances. What do you want?" 

"How . . . ?" He had to stop to swallow. "How will they
treat her?" 

"I cannot say, Perrin Aybara." There was no sympathy on her
face, no expression at all. Aiel could give Aes Sedai lessons
in that. "Taking wetlanders captive is against custom, except
for Treekillers, though that has changed. So is killing
without need. But many have refused to accept the truths the
Car'a'carn revealed. Some were taken by the Bleakness and
threw down their spears, yet they may have taken them up
again. Others simply left, to live as they believe we are
meant to. I cannot say what customs might be kept or abandoned
by those who have abandoned clan and sept." The only emotion
she displayed was a hint of disgust at the end, for those who
abandoned clan and sept. 

"Light, woman, you must have some idea! Surely you can make
a guess-" 

"Do not become irrational," she broke in sharply. "Men often
do in such situations, but we have need of you. 1 think it
will do your standing with the other wetlanders no good if we
must bind you until you calm down. Go to your tent. If you
cannot control your thoughts, drink until you cannot think.
And do not bother us when we are in council." She ducked back
into the tent, and the flaps jerked closed and began to twitch
as they were tied again. 

Perrin considered the closed flaps, running his thumb over
the blade of his knife, then shoved it into the sheath. They
just might do as Nevarin had threatened if he barged in. And
they could not tell him anything he wanted to know. He did not
think she would keep secrets at a time like this. Not about
Faile, anyway. 

The hilltop had grown quieter, with most of the Two Rivers
men gone. The remainder, still watchful of the Ghealdanin camp
below, stamped their feet against the cold, but no one talked.
The scurrying gai'shain hardly made a sound. Trees obscured
parts of the Ghealdanin and Mayener camps, but Perrin could
see carts being loaded in both. He decided to leave men on
guard anyway. Arganda could be trying to lull him. A man who
smelled like that could be ... Irrational, he finished the
thought dryly. 

There was nothing left for him to do on the hill, so he set
out to walk the half mile to his tent. The tent he shared with
Faile. He stumbled as much as walked, laboring when the snow
rose around his legs. As much to stop it snapping in the wind
as for warmth, he held his cloak tight around him. There was
no warmth. 

The Two Rivers camp was a swarm with activity when he ar
rived. The carts still made a big circle, with men and women
from Dobraine's estates back in Cairhien loading them, and
others readying horses for saddling. In this depth of snow,
cartwheels might as well have tried to roll through mud, so
they were all lashed to the sides of the carts, now, replaced
by pairs of broad wooden sleds. Bundled against the weather
till most seemed twice as wide as they really were, the
Cairhienin hardly paused to glance at him, but every Two

Rivers man who saw him stopped to stare until someone else
prodded the fellow to get on with whatever he was about.
Perrin was glad none gave words to the sympathy in those
stares. He thought he might break down and cry if anyone did.
There seemed to be nothing for him to do here, either. His
big tent-his and Faile's-was already down and on a cart, along
with its contents. Basel Gill was walking along the carts with
a long list in his hands. The stout man had taken to the job
of shambayan, running Faile's household, Perrin's, like a
squirrel to a corn crib. More used to cities than traveling
outside their walls, though, he suffered from the cold, and
wore not only a cloak but a thick scarf around his neck, a
floppy-brimmed felt hat and heavy woolen gloves. For some 

reason, Gill flinched at the sight of him, and mumbled
something about seeing to the carts before hurrying off as
fast as he could. Odd. 

Perrin did think of one thing then, and rinding Dannil, he
gave orders to relieve the men on the hill every hour and make
sure everyone had a hot meal. 

"Take care of the men and horses first," a thin but strong
voice said. "But then you must take care of yourself. There's
hot soup in the kettle, and bread of a sort, and I've put by
some smoked ham. A full belly will make you look less like
murder walking." 

"Thank you, Lini," he said. Murder walking? Light, he felt
like one of the dead, not a murderer. "I'll eat in a little
while." 

Faile's chief maid was a frail-appearing woman, with skin
like parchment and white hair in a bun on top of her head, but
her back was straight and her dark eyes were clear and sharp.
Worry creased her forehead now, though, and her hands gripped
her cloak too tightly, straining. She would be worried about
Faile, certainly, but . . . 

"Maighdin was with her," he said, and did not need her nod.
Maighdin was always with Faile, it seemed. A treasure, Faile
called her. And Lini seemed to consider the woman her
daughter, though sometimes Maighdin did not appear to enjoy
that as much as Lini did. "I'll get them back," he promised.
"All of them." His voice almost broke on that. "Get on with
your work," he went on roughly, hurriedly. "I'll eat in a bit.
I have to see to ... to..." He strode away without finishing. 

There was nothing he had to see to. Nothing he could think
of, except Faile. He hardly knew where he was heading until
his steps took him outside the circle of carts. 

A hundred paces beyond the horselines, a low, stony ridge
thrust a black peak through the snow. From there, he would be
able to see the tracks left by Ely as and the others. From
there, he would see them returning. 

His nose told him he was not alone well before he reached
the narrow crest of the ridge, told him who was up there. The
other man was not listening, because Perrin crunched his way
to the top before he sprang up from where he had been
crouching on his heels. Tallanvor's gauntleted hands kneaded
his long sword hilt, and he peered at Perrin uncertainly. A
tall man who had taken hard knocks in his life, he usually was
very sure of himself. Perhaps he expected a tirade for not
having been there when Faile was taken, though she had

rejected the armsman as a bodyguard, rejected any bodyguard.
Beyond Bain and Chiad, at least, who apparently did not count.
Or maybe he just thought he would be sent away, back to the
carts, so Perrin could be alone. Perrin tried to make his face
look less like-what had Lini called it? -murder walking?
Tallanvor was in love with Maighdin, and would be wed to her
soon if Faile's suspicions were correct. The man had a right
to keep watch. 

They stood there on the ridge while twilight fell, and
nothing moved in the snowy forest they watched. Darkness came
without movement, and without Masema, but Perrin did not even
think of Masema. The gibbous moon shone white on the snow,
giving nearly as much light as a full moon, it seemed. Until
scudding clouds began to hide it, and moonshadows raced across
the snow, thicker and thicker. Snow began to fall with a dry
rustling. Snow that would bury traces and tracks. Silent in
the cold, the two men stood there, watching into the snowfall,
waiting, hoping. 

Chapter 3: Customs 

From the first hour after being captured, laboring through
the snowy woods, Faile worried about freezing. Breezes stirred
and died, stirred and died. Few of the scattered trees still
carried leaves, and most of those hung dead and brown. The
breezes swirled through the forest unhindered, and small as
the gusts were, they carried ice. Perrin hardly entered her
thoughts, except for a hope that he somehow learned of
Masema's secret dealings. And of the Shaido, of course. Even
if that trull Berelain was the only one who could tell him,
now. She hoped Berelain had escaped the ambush and told Perrin
everything. And then fallen into a hole and broken her neck.
But she had far more pressing concerns than her husband. 

She had called this weather autumnal, yet people froze to
death in a Saldaean autumn, and of her clothes she retained
only her dark woolen stockings. One lashed her elbows tight 

behind her back, while the second had been tied around her
neck for a leash. Brave words made scant covering for bare
skin. She was too cold for sweat, yet her legs soon ached with
the struggle to keep up with her captors. The Shaido column,
veiled men and Maidens, slowed when the snow rose toward
their knees but immediately resumed a steady trot when it sank
toward their ankles, and they did not seem to tire. Horses
could not have moved faster over the distance. Shivering, she
labored on at the end of her leash, doing her best to gulp air
through teeth gritted to stop their chattering. 

The Shaido were fewer than she had estimated during the
attack, no more than a hundred and fifty she thought, and
nearly all carried spears or bows at the ready. Small chance
anyone could surprise them. Always alert, they ghosted along
in silence except for the faint crunch of the snow under their
soft, knee-high boots. The greens and grays and browns of
their clothing stood out against the white landscape, though.
Green had been added to the cadin'sor since crossing the
Dragonwall, so Bain and Chiad had told her, to aid concealment
in a green land. Why had these people not added white, for the
winter? As it was, they could be seen at some distance. She

tried to notice everything, remember anything that might prove
useful later, when it came time to escape. She hoped her
fellow prisoners were doing as much. Perrin would be hunting
for her, certainly, but the thought of rescue never entered
her calculations. Wait for rescue, and you might wait forever.
Besides, they needed to escape as quickly as possible, before
their captors joined with the rest of the Shaido. She could
not see how, yet, but there must be a way. The one bit of luck
was that the main body of Shaido must be days distant. This
part of Amadicia was chaos, but thousands of Shaido could not
be too near without her having heard of them. 

Once, early on, she tried to look back at the women who had
been captured with her, but the only result was a stumbling
fall into a snowbank. Half-buried in the white powder, she
gasped from the icy shock, and gasped again when the great
hulking Shaido who held her leash set her back on her feet. As
wide as Perrin and a full head taller, Rolan simply hauled her
upright by a fistful of her hair, set her moving again with a
brisk slap on her bare bottom, and once more took up the long
strides that forced her to step quickly. The slap might have
been given to make a pony move. Despite her nakedness, there
was nothing of a man looking at a woman in Rolan's blue eyes.
Part of her was very grateful. Part her was vaguely . . .
taken aback. She certainly did not want him gazing at her with
lust or even interest, but those bland glances were almost
insulting! After that she made sure not to fall, though as the
hours passed without a pause in the march, simply staying
upright became more and more of an effort. 

In the beginning she worried over which bits of her would
freeze first, but by the time morning had rolled into
afternoon without a pause in the march, she was focused on her
feet. Rolan and those ahead of him trampled a sort of path for
her, yet enough snowcrust remained for sharp edges, and she
began to leave red stains freezing in her footprints. Worse
was the cold itself. She had seen frostbite. How long before
her toes began to turn black? Staggering, she flexed each foot
as she swung it forward, and worked her hands constantly.
Fingers and toes were in the worst danger, but any exposed
skin was at risk. About her face and the rest of her she could
only hope. The flexing hurt, making the cuts on her feet burn,
but any feeling was better than none. When sensation went, she
would have very little time left. Flex and stride, flex and
stride. That filled her thoughts. She kept moving on quivering 

legs, and kept her hands and feet from freezing. She kept
moving.
Abruptly, she stumbled into Rolan and rebounded from his 

wide chest, panting. Half dazed, or maybe more than half, she
had not realized that he had stopped. So had the others ahead,
a few looking back, the rest facing outward and warily on
guard, weapons up as though expecting attack. That was all she
had time to see before Rolan seized a handful of her hair
again and bent to lift one other feet. Light, the man really
was treating her like a pony! 

Releasing her hair and her foot, he snaked an arm around her
legs, and the next moment her vision whirled as she was heaved
up onto his shoulder, head-down beside the horn bow cased on
his back. Indignation welled up as he casually shifted her

about to find the easiest position for carrying, but she
tamped it down as fast as it rose. This was no place or time.
Her feet were out of the snow; that was what mattered. And she
could catch her breath, like this. He could have warned her,
though. 

With an effort, she arched her neck so she could see her com
panions, and felt relief to find them all still there. Naked
prisoners, true, but she was sure only a corpse would have
been left behind. The others who walked were leashed with
stockings or strips of cloth cut from their lost garments, and
most also had their arms tied behind. Alliandre was no longer
trying to bend double in an attempt to shield herself. Other
concerns had replaced modesty for the Queen of Ghealdan.
Panting and trembling, she might have fallen if the squat
Shaido examining her feet had not supported her by her bound
elbows. Squat for an Aiel meant he could have passed
unremarked most places, except for shoulders nearly as wide as
Rolan's. The dark hair spilling down Alliandre's back was
windblown, her face haggard. Behind her, Maighdin appeared in
almost as bad a state, gulping air, red-gold hair in disarray
and blue eyes staring, yet she managed to stay erect on her
own with a bone-lean Maiden lifting her foot. Somehow, Faile's
maid looked more a queen than Alliandre did, if a very
disheveled queen. 

In comparison, Bain and Chiad seemed in no worse state than
did the Shaido, though Chiad's cheek was yellowing and swollen
from a blow when they were first taken, and the black blood
matting Bain's short fiery hair and spread across her face
seemed to have frozen. That was bad; that could scar. The two
Maidens were not breathing hard, though, and even raised their
own feet for examination. Alone of the prisoners they were
unbound- except by custom stronger than chains. They had
calmly accepted their fate, to serve a year and a day as
gai'shain. Bain and Chiad might be of some help in
escaping-Faile was not sure how far custom constrained
them-but they themselves would not try to get away. 

The last prisoners, Lacile and Arrela, attempted to pattern
themselves after the Maidens, of course, with indifferent
success. A tall Aielman had simply tucked tiny Lacile under
his arm to look at her feet, and crimson mortification stained
her pale cheeks. Arrela was tall, but the pair of Maidens who
had charge of her were taller than Faile herself, and they
handled the Tairen woman with impersonal ease. A scowl
contorted her dark face at their prodding, and maybe at the
rapid handtalk they were exchanging. Faile hoped she would not
make trouble, not now. Everyone in Cha Faile tried to be like
the Aiel, to live as they thought the Aiel did, but Arrela
wanted to be a Maiden, and she resented the fact that Sulin
and the others would not teach her handtalk. She would have
been worse if she knew Bain and Chiad had taught Faile a
little. Not enough to make out more than every other word the
Maidens were saying now, but some. As well Arrela could not
understand. They thought the wetlander had soft feet, that she
was altogether too pampered and soft, and that surely would
have set the woman off. 

As it turned out, Faile need not have worried about Arrela.
The Tairen stiffened when one of the Maidens hefted her onto a

shoulder-pretending to stagger, the burdened woman used her
free hand to flicker a message that made the other Maiden bark
a laugh behind her veil-but after a glance at Bain and Chiad,
already meekly belly down on Aielmen's shoulders, Arrela
sullenly let herself hang limp. Lacile squealed when the big
man holding her abruptly spun her about to land in the same
position, but she quieted after that, though her face was
still bright scarlet. There were definite advantages to their
emulation of Aiel. 

Alliandre and Maighdin, however, the last women Faile would
have expected to cause problems, were another matter entirely.
When they realized what was happening, the pair of them fought
wildly. It was not much of a fight, two naked and exhausted
women with their elbows bound tight behind their backs, but
they twisted and shouted and kicked at anyone who came within
reach, and Maighdin even sank her teeth into the hand of a
careless Aielman, hanging on like a boarhound. 

"Stop it, you fools!" Faile called to them. "Alliandre!
Maighdin! Let them carry you! Obey me!" Neither her maid nor
her vassal paid the slightest heed. Maighdin growled like a
lion around her mouthful of Aiel. Alliandre was wrestled down,
still shouting and flailing with her feet. Faile opened her
mouth for another command. 

"The gai'shain will be quiet," Rolan grunted, spanking her
hard. 

She ground her teeth and muttered under her breath. Which
earned another slap! The man had her knives tucked behind his
belt. If she could lay hands on just one . . . ! No. What must
be endured, could be endured. She intended to escape, not make
useless gestures. 

Maighdin's fight lasted a little longer than Alliandre's,
until a pair of burly men could pry her jaws from the Shaido's
hand. It required a pair. To Faile's surprise, instead of
cuffing Maighdin, the bitten fellow shook blood off his hand
and laughed! That did not save her, though. In a trice,
Faile's maid was facedown in the snow alongside the Queen.
They were given only a few moments to gasp and writhe in the
added cold. Two Shaido, one a Maiden, appeared out of the
surrounding trees, shaving the stubs from long switches with
their heavy belt knives. A foot planted between each woman's
shoulder blades, a fist on bound elbows to raise fluttering
hands out of the way, and red welts began to bloom on white
hips. 

At first both women continued to fight, twisting about de
spite the way they were held. Their struggle was even more use
less than when they were upright. Little moved above their
waists beyond tossing heads and wildly waving hands. Alliandre
kept shrilling that they could not do this to her,
understandable coming from a queen, if foolish in the
circumstances. Plainly they could, and they were.
Surprisingly, Maighdin raised her voice in the same piercing
denials. Anyone would have thought her royalty instead of a
lady's maid. Faile knew for a fact that Lini had taken a
switch to Maighdin without all these histrionics. In any case,
denials did no good for either woman. The methodical thrash
ings continued until they both were kicking and howling word
lessly, and a little longer for good measure. When they were

finally hoisted like the other prisoners, they hung weeping,
all fight gone out of them. 

Faile felt no sympathy. The fools had earned every stripe,
in her opinion. Frostbite and cut feet aside, the longer they
remained outside without clothes, the more chance that some of
them might not survive to escape. The Shaido had to be taking
them to some sort of shelter, and Alliandre and Maighdin had
delayed reaching it. Maybe it was little more than a quarter
hour's delay, but minutes could be the difference between the
living and the dead. On top of which, even Aiel would surely
let down their guard a little once they found shelter and made
fires. And they could rest, being carried. They could be ready
to take their chance when it came. 

Carrying their prisoners, the Shaido set out again at that
ground-covering pace. If anything, they seemed to move through
the forest more quickly than before. The hard leather bow case
bumped Faile's side as she swayed, and she began to feel
dizzy. Rolan's every long stride sent a jolt through her
middle. Surreptitiously, she tried to find some position where
she would not be poked and thudded quite so vigorously. 

"Be still, or you will fall," Rolan muttered, patting her
hip as he might have patted a horse to soothe it. 

Raising her head, Faile peered back at Alliandre, scowling.
There was not much to be seen of the Queen of Ghealdan, and
that crisscrossed by scarlet welts from the tops of her hips
almost to the backs of her knees. Come to think of it, a short
delay and a few stripes might be a small price to pay for
biting a chunk out of this oaf toting her like a sack of
grain. Not his hand, though. His throat would be about right. 

Bold thoughts, and worse than useless. Foolish. Even being
carried, she knew she must fight the cold. In some ways, she
began to realize, being carried was worse. Walking, at least
she had had the struggle to stay erect and on her feet to keep
her awake, but as evening came on and deepened to darkness,
the swaying motion on Rolan's shoulder seemed to have a
lulling effect. No. It was the cold that was numbing her mind.
Making her blood sluggish. She had to fight it, or she would
die. 

Rhythmically she worked her hands and bound arms, tensed her
legs and relaxed them, tensed and relaxed, forcing her muscles
to work her blood. She thought of Perrin, solid planning
thoughts of what he should do about Masema, and how she could
convince him if he balked. She went over the argument they
would have when he learned she been using Cha Faile as spies,
planned how she would meet his anger and turn it. There was an
art to guiding a husband's anger in the direction you wanted,
and she had learned from an expert, her mother. It would be a
splendid argument. And a splendid making-up, after. 

Thinking about making up with him made her forget to work
her muscles, so she tried to concentrate on the argument, on
the planning. Cold dulled her thoughts, though. She began
losing the thread, having to shake her head and start over.
Rolan's growls at her to be still helped, a voice to focus on,
to keep her awake. Even the accompanying slaps on her upturned
bottom helped, as much as she hated to admit the fact, each
one a shock that jolted her to wakefulness. After a while, she
began shifting more, then struggling almost to the point of

falling, courting the rude smacks. Anything to stay awake. She
could not have said how much time passed, but her twists and
wriggles began to weaken, until Rolan no longer growled, much
less gave her a slap. Light, she wanted the man to play her
like a drum! 

Why in the Light would I want a thing like that? she thought
dully, and a dim corner of her mind realized the battle was
lost. The night seemed darker than it should be. She could not
even make out the glow of moonlight on the snow. She could
feel herself sliding, though, sliding faster and faster toward
a deeper dark. Wailing silently, she sank into a stupor. 

Dreams came. She was sitting on Perrin's lap with his arms
so tight around her she could barely move, before a great fire
roaring in a broad stone fireplace. His curly beard scratched
her cheeks as he nipped her ears almost painfully. Suddenly a
huge wind howled through the room, snuffing the fire like a
candle. And Perrin turned to smoke that vanished in the gale.
Alone in bitter darkness, she fought the wind, but it tumbled
her end over end until she was so dizzy she could not tell up
from down. Alone and endlessly tumbling into icy dark, knowing
she would never find him again. 

She ran across a frozen land, floundering from snowdrift to
snowdrift, falling, scrambling up to run on in panic, gulping
air so cold it sliced her throat like shards of glass. Icicles
sparkled on stark branches around her, and a frigid wind
keened through the leafless forest. Perrin was very angry, and
she had to get away. 

Somehow, she could not recall the specifics of the argument,
just that somehow she had pushed her beautiful wolf to real
anger, to the point of throwing things. Only, Perrin did not
throw things. He was going to turn her over his knee, as he
had done once, long ago. Why was she running from that,
though? There would still be the making-up. And she would make
him pay for the humiliation, of course. Anyway, she had drawn
a little blood from him a time or two with a well-aimed bowl
or pitcher, not really meaning to, and she knew he would never 

really hurt her. But she also knew that she had to run, to
keep moving, or she would die.
If he catches me, she thought dryly, at least part of me 

will be warm. And she began to laugh at that, until the dead
white land spun around her, and she knew that soon she would
be dead, too. 

The monstrous bonfire loomed over her, a towering pile of
thick logs roaring with flame. She was naked. And cold, so
cold. No matter how near the fire she edged, her bones felt
frozen, her flesh ready to shatter at a blow. She moved
closer, closer. The heat of the blaze grew till she flinched
at it, but the bitter cold remained trapped inside her skin.
Closer. Oh, Light, it was hot, too hot! And still cold within.
Closer. She began to scream at the burning, the searing pain,
but she was still ice inside. Closer. Closer. She was going to
die. She shrieked, but there was only silence, and the cold. 

It was daylight, but leaden clouds filled the sky. Snow fell
in a steady shower, feathery flakes swirling in the wind
through the trees. Not a fierce wind, but it licked with
tongues of ice. Ridges of white built on branches until they
were tall enough to collapse from their own weight and the

wind, sending heavier showers to the ground below. Hunger
gnawed her belly with dull teeth. A very tall, bony man with a
white woolen cowl sheltering his face forced something into
her mouth, the rim of a large clay mug. His eyes were a
startling green, like emeralds, and surrounded by puckered
scars. He was kneeling on a large brown woolen blanket with
her, and another blanket, striped in gray, was draped around
her nakedness. The taste of hot tea thick with honey exploded
on her tongue, and she seized the man's sinewy wrist weakly
with both hands in case he tried to take the mug away. Her
teeth chattered against the mug, but she gulped the steaming
syrupy liquid greedily. 

"Not too fast; you must not spill any," the green-eyed man
said meekly. Meekness sounded odd from that fierce face, and
in a gravelly voice. "They offended your honor. But you are a
wetlander, so maybe it does not count with you." 

Slowly it dawned on her that this was no dream. Thought came
in a trickle of shadows that melted if she tried to hold them
too hard. The white-robed brute was gai'shain. Her leash and
bonds were gone. He pulled his wrist away from her feeble
grip, but only to pour a dark stream from a leather water bag
hanging from his shoulder. Steam rose from the mug, and the
aroma of tea. 

Shivering so hard she almost fell over, she clutched the
thick striped blanket around her. Fiery pain was blossoming in
her feet. She could not have stood had she tried. Not that she
wanted to. The blanket managed to cover everything but her
feet so long as she remained in a crouch; standing would have
bared her legs and maybe more. It was warmth she thought of,
not decency, though there was little of either to be had.
Hunger's teeth grew sharp, and she could not stop shaking. She
was frozen inside, the tea's heat already just a memory. Her
muscles were week-old congealed pudding. She wanted to stare
at the filling mug, coveting the contents, but she made
herself look for her companions. 

They were all there in a line with her, Maighdin and
Alliandre and everyone, slumped on their knees atop blankets,
shivering inside blankets speckled with snow. In front of each
a gai'shain knelt with a bulging water bag and a mug or cup,
and even Bain and Chiad drank like women half-dead of thirst.
Someone had cleaned the blood from Bain's face, but unlike the
last time Faile had seen them, the two Maidens were as drawn
and unsteady as anyone else. From Alliandre to Lacile, her
companions looked- what was Perrin's phrase? -as if they had
been dragged through a knothole backward. But everyone was
still alive; that was the important thing. Only the living
could escape. 

Rolan and the other algai’'d’'siswai who had had charge of
them made a cluster at the far end of the kneeling line. Five
men and three women, the snow on the ground nearly knee-deep
on the Maidens. Black veils hanging down their chests, they
watched their prisoners and the gai'shain impassively. For a
moment, she frowned at them, trying to grasp a slippery
thought. Yes; of course. Where were the others? Escape would
be easier if the rest had gone for some reason. There was
something more, another misty question she could not quite
catch.

 Suddenly what lay beyond the eight Aiel leaped out at her,
and question and answer came at the same time. Where had the
gai'shain come from? A hundred paces or so distant, veiled by
the scattered trees and falling snow, a steady stream of
people and pack animals, wagons and carts, was flowing by. Not
a stream. A flood of Aiel on the move. Instead of a hundred
and fifty Shaido, she had the whole clan to contend with. It
seemed impossible that so many people could pass within a day
or two of Abila without raising some alarm, even with the
countryside in anarchy, but the proof was right in front other 

eyes. Inside, she felt leaden. Maybe escape would be no
harder, but she did not believe it.
"How did they offend me?" she asked jerkily, then clamped 

her mouth shut to stop chattering. And opened it again as the
gai'shain raised the mug to her once more. She gulped the pre
cious heat, choking, and forced herself to swallow more
slowly. The honey, so thick it would have been cloying any
other time, dulled her hunger a little. 

"You wetlanders know nothing," the scarred man said
dismissively. "Gai'shain are not clothed in any way until they
can be given proper robes. But they feared you would freeze to
death, and all they had to wrap you was their coats. You were
shamed, named as weak, if wetlanders have shame. Rolan and
many of the others are Mera'din, yet Efalin and the rest
should know better. Efalin should not have allowed it." 

Shamed? Infuriated was more like it. Unwilling to turn her
head from the blessed mug, she rolled her eyes toward the hulk
ing giant who had carried her like a sack of grain and smacked
her unmercifully. Vaguely she seemed to recall welcoming those
spanks, but that was impossible. Of course it was impossible!
Rolan did not look like a man who had half-trotted through
most of a day and a night besides, carrying someone. His white-
misted breath came easily. Mera'din? She thought that would
mean Brotherless in the Old Tongue, which told her nothing,
but there had been a note of scorn in the gai'shain s voice.
She would have to ask Bain and Chiad, and hope it was not one
of those things Aiel would not talk about to wetlanders, not
even wetlanders who were close friends. Any piece of knowledge
might aid escape. 

So they had wrapped their prisoners up against the cold, had
they? Well, no one would have been in any danger of freezing
except for Rolan and the others. Still, she might owe him a
small favor. Very small, considering everything. Perhaps she
would only slice off his ears. If she ever got the chance,
surrounded by thousands of Shaido. Thousands? The Shaido
numbered in the hundreds of thousands, and tens of thousands
of those were algai'd'siswai. Furious with herself, she fought
despair. She would escape; they would all escape, and she
would take the man's ears with her! 

"I will see Rolan's repaid as he deserves," she muttered
when the gai'shain took the mug away for refilling again. He
gave her a narrow-eyed suspicious stare, and she hurried. "As
you say, I am a wetlander. Most of us are. We don't follow
ji'e'toh. By your customs, we shouldn't be made gai'shain at
all, is that not right?" The man's scarred face did not
change, not by so much as the twitch of an eyelid. A dim
thought said it was too soon, she did not know the ground yet,

but thoughts gelid with cold could not catch her tongue. "What
if the Shaido decide to break other customs? They might decide
not to let you go when your time is done." 

"The Shaido break many customs," he told her placidly, "but
I do not. I have over half a year yet to wear white. Until
then, I will serve as custom demands. If you can talk so much,
maybe you have had enough tea?" 

Faile clumsily snatched the mug from him. His eyebrows
lifted, and she rearranged her draperies one-handed as quickly
as she could manage, her cheeks heating. He certainly knew he
was looking at a woman. Light, she was blundering about like a
blind ox! She had to think, to concentrate. Her brain was the
only weapon she had. And at the moment, it might as well have
been frozen cheese. Drinking deep of the hot sweet tea, she
set herself to thinking of some way that being surrounded by
thousands of Shaido could be turned to advantage. Nothing came
to her, though. Nothing at all. 

Chapter 4: Offers 

What have we here?" a woman's hard voice said. Faile looked
up, and stared, hot tea gone from her thoughts for the moment. 

Two Aiel women with a much shorter gai'shain woman between
them came out of the swirling snow, sinking halfway up their
calves in the white carpet that covered the ground but still
managing powerful strides. The taller women did, anyway; the
gai'shain stumbled and floundered trying to keep up, and one
of the others had a hand on her shoulder to make sure she did.
All three were worth a stare. The woman in white kept her head
meekly down as much as she could and her hands folded in her
wide sleeves as a gai'shain was supposed to, but her robes had
the sheen of heavy silk, of all things. Gai'shain were
forbidden jewelry, yet a wide, elaborate belt of gold and
firedrops cinched her waist and a matching collar was just
visible inside her cowl, nearly covering her neck. Very few
besides royalty could afford the like. Strange as the
gai'shain was, however, it was the others Faile studied.
Something told her they were Wise Ones. There was too much
authority about them for anything else; these were women used
to giving orders and being obeyed. Beyond that, though, their
simple presence caught the eye. The woman pushing the
gai'shain along, a stern blue-eyed eagle with a dark gray
shawl wrapped around her head, stood a good span in height, as
much as most Aielmen, while the other was at least half a hand
taller than Perrin! She was not bulky, though, except in one
particular. Sandy yellow hair flowed to her waist, held back
from her face by a wide dark kerchief, and her brown shawl lay
across her shoulders, open enough to show an incredible amount
of bosom thrusting half out of her pale blouse. How did she
avoid freezing, exposing so much skin in this weather? All
those heavy necklaces of ivory and gold must feel like bands
of ice! 

As they stopped in front of the kneeling prisoners, the
eagle-faced woman frowned disapprovingly at the Shaido who had
captured them, and made a curt gesture of dismissal with her
free hand. For some reason, she continued to hold on to the
gai'shain's shoulder tightly. The three Maidens turned

immediately, hurrying toward the passing throng of Shaido. One
of the men did, as well, but Rolan and the rest exchanged flat-
eyed looks before they followed. Perhaps it meant something,
perhaps nothing. Faile suddenly knew how someone in a
whirlpool felt, grabbing desperately at straws. 

"What we have is more gai'shain for Sevanna," the incredibly
tall woman said in amused tones. She had a strong face that
some might call pretty, but alongside the other Wise One, she
seemed soft. "Sevanna will not be satisfied until the entire
world is gai'shain, Therava. Not that I would object to that
myself," she finished with a laugh. 

The eagle-eyed Wise One did not laugh. Her face was stone.
Her voice was stone. "Sevanna has too many gai'shain already, 

Someryn. We have too many gai'shain. They slow us to a crawl
when we should race." Her iron stare ran along the kneeling
line. 

Faile flinched when that gaze touched her, and hurriedly bur
ied her face in the mug. She had never seen Therava before,
but in that glance she knew the woman's sort, eager to crush
any challenge utterly and capable of seeing challenge in a
casual glance. Bad enough when it was only a fool noble at
court, îr someone encountered on the road, but escape could
become more than difficult if this eagle took a personal
interest. Just the same, she watched the woman from the corner
of her eye. It felt like watching a banded adder, scales
glittering in the sun, coiled a foot from her face. 

Meek, she thought. I am kneeling here meekly, with no
thought in my head but drinking my tea. No need to look at me
twice, you cold-eyed witch. She hoped the others saw what she
did. 

Alliandre did not. She tried to rise to her swollen feet,
tottered, then sank back to her knees with a wince. Even so,
she knelt upright in the falling snow, head high, a red-
striped blanket held around her as if it were a fine silk
shawl over a splendid gown. Bared legs and windblown hair
spoiled the effect somewhat, yet she was still arrogance on a
pedestal. 

"I am Alliandre Maritha Kigarin, Queen of Ghealdan," she
announced loudly, very much queen addressing ruffian
vagabonds. "You would be wise to treat me and my companions
well, and punish those who have handled us so crudely. You can
gain a large ransom for us, larger than you can imagine, and
pardon for your crimes. My liege lady and I will require
suitable accommodation for ourselves until arrangements can be
made, and for her maid. Lesser will do for the others, so long
as they are not harmed. I will pay no ransom if you ill-treat
the least of my liege lady's servants." 

Faile could have groaned-did the idiot woman think these
people were simple bandits?-only she had no time to. 

"Is that true, Galina? Is she a wetlander queen?" Another
woman rode out from behind the prisoners, her tall black
gelding walking softly in the snow. Faile thought she must be
Aiel, but she was unsure. It was difficult to say for certain
with the other woman on horseback, but she seemed at least as
tall as Faile herself, and few women were except among the
Aiel, certainly not with those green eyes in a sun-dark face.
And yet . . . That wide, dark skirt looked like the Aiel

women's at a glance, but it was divided for riding and
appeared to be silk, as was her creamy blouse, and the hem
revealed red boots in her stirrups. The wide folded kerchief
that held back her long golden hair was brocaded red silk, and
a thumb-thick circlet of gold and firedrops nestled over it.
In contrast to the Wise Ones' worked gold and carved ivory,
her ropes of fat pearls and necklaces of emeralds and sap
phires and rubies half hid nearly as much bosom as Someryn had
on display. The bracelets climbing almost to her elbows
differed from those worn by the two Wise Ones in the same way,
and Aiel did not wear rings, but gems sparkled on every
finger. Instead of a dark shawl, a bright crimson cloak,
bordered with golden embroidery and lined with white fur,
flared around her in the stiff breeze. She did sit her saddle
with the awkwardness of Aiel on horseback, though. "And a
queen's," her tongue tripped unfamiliarly, "liege lady? That
means the Queen swore oath to her? A truly powerful woman,
then. Answer me, Galina!" 

The silk-clad gai'shain hunched her shoulders and favored
the mounted woman with a groveling smile. "A truly powerful
woman, to have a queen swear fealty, Sevanna," she said
eagerly. "I've never heard of the like. Yet I think she is who
she claims. I saw Alliandre once, years ago, and the girl I
recall could well have grown into this woman. And she was
crowned Queen of Gheal-dan. What she is doing in Amadicia, I
don't know. The White-cloaks or Roedran either one would snap
her up in an instant if they-" 

"Enough, Una," Therava said firmly. The hand on Galina's
shoulder tightened visibly. "You know I hate it when you
natter." 

The gai'shain flinched as if struck, and her mouth snapped
shut. Practically writhing, she smiled up at Therava, fawning
even more wretchedly than she had for Sevanna. Gold flashed on
one of her fingers as she wrung her hands. Fear flashed in her
eyes, too. Dark eyes. Definitely not Aiel. Therava seemed
oblivious to the woman's truckling; a dog had been called to
heel and had obeyed. Her attention was all on Sevanna. Someryn
eyed the gai'shain sideways, her lips twisting with contempt,
but she folded her shawl across her bosom and looked to
Sevanna as well. Aiel did not give away much on their faces,
yet plainly she disliked Sevanna, and was wary of her at the
same time. 

Faile's eyes followed the mounted woman, too, over the edge
other mug. In a way, it was like seeing Logain, or Mazrim
Taim. Sevanna also had painted her name across the sky in
blood and fire. Cairhien would need years to recover from what
she had wrought there, and the ripples had spread to Andor and
Tear and beyond. Perrin laid the blame to a man called
Couladin, but Faile had heard enough of this woman to have a
shrewd idea whose hand had been behind it all. And no one
disputed that the slaughter at Dumai's Wells was Sevanna's
fault. Perrin had almost died there. She had a personal claim
on Sevanna for that. She might be willing to let Rolan keep
his ears if she could settle that claim. 

The flamboyantly garbed woman walked her mount slowly along
the line of kneeling women, her steady green eyes almost as
cold as Therava's. The sound of snow crunching beneath the

black's hooves suddenly seemed loud. "Which of you is the
maid?" An odd question. Maighdin hesitated, tight-jawed,
before raising a hand from beneath her blanket. Sevanna nodded
thoughtfully. "And the . . . liege lady?" 

Faile considered holding back, but one way or another, Sev
anna would learn what she wanted to know. Reluctantly, she
lifted her hand. And shivered from more than the cold. Therava
was watching with those cruel eyes, paying close attention. To
Sevanna, and to those she marked out. 

How anyone could be unaware of that angering gaze, Faile did
not understand, yet Sevanna seemed so as she turned her
gelding down the back of the line. "They cannot walk on those
feet," she said after a moment. "I do not see why they should
ride with the children. Heal them, Galina." 

Faile gave a start and almost dropped the clay mug. She
pushed it toward the gai'shain, trying to make out that that
was what she had been doing all along. It was empty anyway.
The scarred fellow calmly began filling it up again from his
water bag of tea. Heal? Surely she could not mean . . . 

"Very well," Therava said, giving the gai'shain woman a
shove that staggered her. "Do it quickly, little Lina. I know
you do not want to disappoint me." 

Galina caught herself from falling, but only to struggle on
toward the prisoners. She sank above her knees in places, her
robes dragging in the snow, but she was intent on reaching her
goal. Wide-eyed fear and revulsion mingled on her round face
with . . . could it be, eagerness? All in all, it was a
sickening combination. 

Sevanna completed her circuit, coming back to where Faile
could see her clearly, and reined in facing the Wise Ones. The
woman's full mouth was tight. The icy breeze rippled her
cloak, but she seemed unaware of it, or of the snow falling on
her head. "I have just received word, Therava." Her voice was
calm, though lightning bolts should have been Hashing from her
eyes. "Tonight we camp with the Jonine." 

"A fifth sept," Therava replied flatly. For her, also, wind
and snow might as well not have existed. "Five, while seventy-
eight remain scattered on the wind. Well that you remember
your pledge to reunite the Shaido, Sevanna. We will not wait
forever." 

Not lightning bolts, now. Sevanna's eyes were green
volcanoes erupting. "I always do what I say, Therava. Well
that you remember that. And remember that you advise me. /
speak for the clan chief-Wheeling her gelding, she drummed her
heels on the animal's ribs, trying to make him gallop back
toward the river of people and wagons, though no horse could
do so in that depth of snow. The black managed something
faster than a walk, but not much. Their faces expressionless
as masks, Therava and Someryn watched horse and rider fade
into the falling white veil. 

An important exchange, at least to Faile. She knew tension
tight as a harpstring when she saw it, and mutual hatred. A
weakness that might be exploited, if she could puzzle out how.
And it seemed the Shaido were not all here after all. Though
more than enough seemed to be, judging by the unending river
of them passing by. Galina reached her then, and anything else
fled from her mind.

 Smoothing her face to a ragged semblance of composure, Gal
ina clutched Faile's head in both hands without speaking a
word. Faile might have gasped; she could not be sure. The
world seemed to fly by as she jerked halfway to her feet.
Hours streaked by, or heartbeats crawled. The white-clad woman
stepped back, and Faile collapsed on her face atop the brown
blanket to lie panting against the rough wool. Her feet no
longer hurt, but Healing always brought its own hunger, and
she had eaten nothing since yesterday's breakfast. She could
have wolfed down plates of anything that even looked like
food. She no longer felt tired, but her muscles were water
instead of pudding. Pushing herself up with arms that wanted
to fold under her weight, she unsteadily gathered the gray-
striped blanket again. She felt stunned as much by what she
had seen on Galina's hand just before Galina seized her as she
did by the Healing. Gratefully she let the scarred man hold
the steaming mug to her mouth. She was not sure her fingers
could have held on to it. 

Galina was wasting no time. A dazed Alliandre was just at
tempting to rise from flat on her face, her striped covering
blanket sliding to the ground unnoticed. Her welts were gone,
of course. Maighdin still lay sprawled between her two
blankets, loose limbs poking out in every direction and
twitching as she feebly tried to collect herself. Chiad, with
Galina's hands on her head, lurched all the way to her feet,
arms flung wide, breath leaving her in a loud rush. The
yellowed swelling on her face faded away even as Faile
watched. The Maiden dropped as if poleaxed when Galina moved
on to Bain, though she began stirring almost at once. 

Faile attended to her tea, and furious thought. The gold on
Galina's finger was a Great Serpent ring. She might have
thought it a strange present from whoever gave the woman her
other jewels if not for the Healing. Galina was Aes Sedai. She
must be. But what was an Aes Sedai doing here, in gai'shain
robes? Not to mention apparently ready to lick Sevanna's wrist
and kiss Thera-va's feet! An Aes Sedai! 

Standing over a limp Arrela, the last in the line, Galina
panted slightly from the effort of Healing so many so quickly,
and gazed at Therava as though hopeful for a word of praise.
Without so much as a look at her, the two Wise Ones started
toward the river of Shaido, their heads together, talking.
After a moment, the Aes Sedai scowled and lifted her robes,
hurrying after them as quickly as she could. She glanced back
more than once, though. Faile had the feeling that she did so
even after the falling snow put a curtain between them. 

More gai'shain came the other way, a dozen men and women,
and only one was Aiel, a lanky redhead with a thin white scar
from hairline to jaw. Faile recognized short, pallid
Cairhienin, and others she thought might be Amadician or
Altaran, taller and darker, and even a bronze-skinned Domani.
The Domani and one of the other women wore wide belts of shiny
golden chain tight around their waists, and collars of the Hat
links around their necks. So did one of the men! In any case,
jewelry on gai'shain seemed unimportant except as an oddity,
especially alongside the food and clothing they brought. 

Some of the newcomers carried baskets with loaves of bread
and yellow cheese and dried beef, and the gai'shain already

there with their water bags of tea provided drink to wash it
down. Faile was not alone in stuffing her mouth with unseemly
haste even while she dressed, clumsily and with more mind to 

speed than modesty. The hooded white robe and two thick under-
robes seemed wondrously warm, just to keep the air off, and so
were heavy woolen stockings and soft Aiel boots that laced to
her knees-even the boots had been bleached white!-but they did
not fill up the hole in her middle. The meat was tough as boot
leather, the cheese nearly rock hard and the bread not much
softer, yet they tasted like a feast! Her mouth watered for
every bite. 

Chewing a mouthful of cheese, she knotted the last bootlace
and stood, smoothing down her robes. As she reached for some
more bread, one of the women wearing gold, plump and plain and
weary-eyed, took another belt of golden chain out of a cloth
sack hanging from her shoulder. Hastily swallowing, Faile
stepped back. "I would rather not have that, thank you." She
had a sinking feeling she had been wrong to dismiss the
adornments as unimportant. 

"What you want does not matter," the plump woman replied
tiredly. Her accent was Amadician, and cultured. "You serve
the Lady Sevanna, now. You will wear what you are given and do
as you are told, or you will be punished until you see the
error of your ways." 

A few paces away, Maighdin was fending off the Domani,
resisting being fitted with a collar. Alliandre was backing
away from the man who wore golden chains, her hands raised and
a sickly expression on her face. He held out one of the belts
toward her. Thankfully, they were both looking to Faile,
though. Perhaps that switching in the forest had done some
good. 

Exhaling heavily, Faile nodded to them, then allowed the
plump gai'shain to fasten the wide belt around her. With her
example, the other two let their hands fall. It seemed one
blow too many for Alliandre, who stood staring at nothing as
she was belted and collared. Maighdin did her best to glare a
hole through the slim Domani. Faile tried smiling
encouragement, but smiling was difficult. To her, the collar's
catch snapping shut sounded like a prison door being locked.
Belt and collar could be removed as easily as they had been
put on, but gai'shain serving "the Lady Sevanna" surely would
be watched very closely. Disaster was piling on disaster.
Things had to get better from here on. They had to. 

Soon, Faile found herself tramping though the snow on wobbly
legs with a stumbling, dull-eyed Alliandre and a scowling
Maighdin, surrounded by gai'shain leading pack animals,
carrying large covered baskets on their backs, dragging loaded
barrows with the wheels lashed to wooden sleds. The carts and
wagons had sleds or broad runners, too, with the wheels tied
on top of the snow-shrouded cargo. Snow might be unfamiliar to
the Shaido, but they had learned something of traveling in it.
Neither Faile nor the other two bore any burdens, though the
plump Amadician woman made clear that they would be expected
to carry or haul tomorrow and from then on. However many
Shaido were in the column, it seemed a great city on the move,
if not a nation. Children up to twelve or thirteen rode on the
carts and wagons, but everyone else walked. All of the men

wore the cadin'sor, but most women wore skirts and blouses and
shawls like the Wise Ones, and most of the men carried only a
single spear or no weapon at all and looked softer than the
others. Soft meaning that there were stones softer than
granite. 

By the time the Amadician left, without giving her name or
saying much more than obey or be punished, Faile realized that
she had lost sight of Bain and the rest somewhere in the
falling snow. No one tried to make her keep a particular
place, so she tramped wearily back and forth across the
column, accompanied by Alliandre and Maighdin. Keeping her
hands folded together in her sleeves made walking difficult,
especially wading through snow, but it did keep them warm.
Warmer than the alternative, at least. The wind made sure they
kept their hoods well up. Despite the identifying golden
belts, neither gai'shain nor Shaido looked at them twice.
Despite crossing the column a dozen times or more, however,
the search proved fruitless. There were people in white robes
everywhere, more than without, and any of those deep cowls
could have hidden her other companions. 

"We will have to find them tonight," Maighdin said finally.
She actually managed to stalk through the deep snow, if in an
ungainly fashion. Her blue eyes were fierce inside the cavern
of her hood, and she gripped the broad golden chain around her
neck with one hand as if wanting to rip it off. "As it is,
we're taking ten steps to one for everyone else. Twenty for
one. It will do us little good to arrive at tonight's camp too
exhausted to move." 

On Faile's other side, Alliandre roused from her numbness
enough to raise an eyebrow at the decisiveness in Maighdin's
voice. Faile merely looked at her maid, but that was enough to
set Maighdin blushing and stammering. What had gotten into the
woman? Still, it might not be what she expected from a serving
woman, but she could not fault Maighdin's spirit in a com
panion for escape. A pity the woman could not channel more.
Faile had had great hopes of that once, until she learned that
Maighdin possessed so little ability it was useless. 

"Tonight it must be, Maighdin," she agreed. Or however many
nights it took. She did not mention that. Hurriedly she
surveyed the people nearest them to make sure no one was close
enough to overhear. The Shaido, whether in cadin'sor or not,
moved through the falling snow purposefully, pressing forward
toward an unseen goal. The gai'shain-the other gai'shain-
moved with a different purpose. Obey or be punished. "The way
they ignore us," she went on, "it should be possible to just
fall by the wayside, so long as you don't try under a Shaido's
nose. If either of you finds a chance, take it. These robes
will help you hide in the snow, and once you find a village,
the gold they've so graciously given us will see you back to
my husband. He will be following." Not too quickly, she hoped.
Not too closely, at least. The Shaido had an army here. A
small army, perhaps, compared to some, but larger than
Perrin's. 

Alliandre's face hardened in determination. "I will not
leave without you," she said softly. Softly, yet in firm
tones. "I will not take my oath of fealty lightly, my Lady. I
will escape with you, or not at all!"

 "She speaks for both of us," Maighdin said. "I may be only a
simple maid," she wrung the word with scorn, "but I won't
leave anyone behind to these . . . these bandits!" Her voice
was not simply firm; it brooked no opposition. Really, after
this, Lini would have to have a very long talk with her before
she was fit to hold her position! 

Faile opened her mouth to argue-no, to command; Alliandre
was her sworn woman, and Maighdin her maid, however fire-
brained captivity had made her! They would follow her orders!-
but she let the words die on her tongue. 

Dark shapes approaching through the tide of Shaido and the
falling snow resolved into a cluster of Aielwomen with their
shawls framing their faces. Therava led them. A murmured word
from her, and the others slowed to keep pace behind while Ther
ava joined Faile and her companions. That was to say, she
walked alongside them. Her fierce eyes seemed to chill even
Maighdin's enthusiasm, not that she gave them more than a
glance. To her, they were not worth looking at. 

"You are thinking of escape," she began. No one else opened
her mouth, but the Wise One added, "Do not try denying it!" in
a scornful voice. 

"We will try to serve as we should, Wise One," Faile said
carefully. She kept her head down in her cowl and made sure
not to meet the taller woman's eyes. 

"You know something of our ways." Therava sounded surprised,
but it vanished quickly. "Good. But you take me for a fool if
you think I believe you will serve meekly. I see spirit in the
three of you, for wetlanders. Some never try to escape, but
only the dead succeed. The living are always brought back.
Always." 

"I will heed your words, Wise One," Faile said humbly. Al
ways? Well, there had to be a first time. "We all will." 

"Oh, very good," Therava murmured. "You might even convince
someone as blind as Sevanna. Know this, however, gai'shain.
Wetlanders are not as others who wear white. Rather than being
released at the end of a year and a day, you will serve until
you are too bent and withered to work. I am your only hope of
avoiding that fate." 

Faile stumbled in the snow, and if Alliandre and Maighdin
had not caught her windmilling arms, she would have fallen.
Therava gestured impatiently for them to keep moving. Faile
felt sick. Therava would help them escape? Chiad and Bain
claimed the Aiel knew nothing of the Game of Houses and
scorned wetlanders for playing it, but Faile recognized the
currents swirling around her now. Currents that would pull all
of them under if she misstepped. 

"I do not understand, Wise One." She wished her voice did
not sound so hoarse, suddenly. 

Perhaps that very hoarseness convinced Therava, though.
People like her believed in fear as a motivation before any
other. At any rate, she smiled. It was not a warm smile, just
a curving of thin lips, and the only emotion it conveyed was
satisfaction. "All three of you will watch and listen while
you serve Sevanna. Each day a Wise One will question you, and
you will repeat every word Sevanna said, and who she spoke to.
If she talks in her sleep, you will repeat what she mumbles.
Please me, and I will see that you are left behind."

 Faile wanted no part of this, but refusal was out of the
question. If she refused, none of them would survive the
night. She was certain of that. Therava would take no chances.
They might not even survive until nightfall; this snow would
hide three white-clad corpses quickly, and she very much
doubted that anyone within sight would so much as protest if
Therava decided to slit a few throats then and there. Everyone
was focused on moving forward through the snow in any case.
They might not even see. 

"If she learns of it. . . ." Faile swallowed. The woman was
asking them to walk out on a crumbling cliff. No, she was
ordering them to. Did the Aiel kill spies? She had never
thought to ask Chiad or Bain that. "Will you protect us, Wise
One?" 

The hard-faced woman caught Faile's chin with steely
fingers, pulling her to a halt, pulling her up on her toes.
Therava's eyes caught hers just as tightly. Faile's mouth went
dry. That stare promised pain. "If she learns of it,
gai'shain, I will trice you up for cooking myself. So make
sure she does not. Tonight you will serve in her tents. You
and a hundred others, so you will not have many labors to
distract you from what is important." 

A moment's careful study of the three of them, and Therava
gave a satisfied nod. She saw three soft wetlanders, too weak
to do anything but obey. Without another word she released
Faile and turned away, and in moments she and the other Wise
Ones were swallowed by the snow. 

For a time, the three women struggled on in silence. Faile
did not bring up anyone escaping alone, much less give orders.
She was certain that if she did, the others would balk again.
Aside from anything else, complying now would make it seem
Therava had changed their minds, that fear other had. Faile
knew enough of the other two women to be sure they would die
before admitting that the woman frightened them. Therava
certainly frightened her. And I'd swallow my tongue before
admitting it aloud, she thought wryly. 

"I wonder what she meant by ... cooking," Alliandre said
finally. "Whitecloak Questioners sometimes turn prisoners over
a fire on a spit, I've heard." Maighdin wrapped her arms
around herself, shuddering, and Alliandre freed a hand from
her sleeves long enough to pat the other woman's shoulder. "Do
not worry. IfSevanna has a hundred servants, we may never get
close enough to hear anything. And we can choose what we
report, so it cannot be traced back to us." 

Maighdin laughed bitterly inside her white hood. "You think
we still have small choices. We have none. You need to learn
about having no choices. That woman didn't pick us out because
we have spirit." She almost spat the word. "I'll wager every
one of Sevanna's other servants has had that lecture from
Therava, too. If we miss a word we should have heard, you can
be sure she'll know of it." 

"You may be right," Alliandre allowed after a moment. "But
you will not speak to me again in that fashion, Maighdin. Our
circumstances are trying, to say the least, but you will
remember who I am." 

"Until we escape," Maighdin replied, "you are Sevanna's ser
vant. If you don't think of yourself as a servant every

minute, then you might as well climb onto that spit. And leave
room for the rest of us, because you will put us on it, as
well." 

Alliandre's cowl hid her face, but her back grew stiffer
with every word. She was intelligent, and knew how to do what
she must, but she had a queen's temper when she did not
control it. 

Faile spoke before she could erupt. "Until we manage to get
away, we are all servants," she said firmly. Light, the last
thing she needed was the pair of them squabbling. "But you
will apologize, Maighdin. Now!" Head averted, her serving
woman mumbled something that might have been an apology. She
let it pass for one, in any case. "As for you, Alliandre, I
expect you to be a good servant." Alliandre made a noise, a
half-protest, that Faile ignored. "If we are to have any
chance of escape, we must do as we are told, work hard, and
attract as little attention as possible." As if they had not
already attracted what seemed all the attention in the world.
"And we will tell Therava every time Sevanna sneezes. I don't
know what Sevanna will do if she finds out, but I think we all
have a good idea of what Therava will do if we displease her." 

That was enough to settle them all back into muteness. They
did all have a good idea of what Therava would do, and killing
might not be the worst of it. 

The snow faded away to a few scattered flakes by midday.
Dark roiling clouds still hid the sun, but Faile decided it
must be near enough midday, because they were fed. No one
stopped moving, but hundreds of gai'shain made their way
through the column with baskets and scrips full of bread and
dried beef, and water bags that contained water this time,
cold enough to make her teeth ache. Strangely, she felt no
more hungry than hours of walking through snow would account
for. Perrin had been Healed once, she knew, and he had been
ravenous for two days. Perhaps it was because her injuries had
been so much less than his. She noticed that Alliandre and
Maighdin ate no more than she. 

Healing made her think of Galina, all the same questions
that boiled down to an incredulous why? Why would an Aes
Sedai- she must be Aes Sedai-why would she toady for Sevanna
and Therava? For anyone? An Aes Sedai might help them escape.
Or she might not. She might betray them, if it suited her
purposes. Aes Sedai did what they did, and you had no
alternative but to accept that unless you were Rand al'Thor.
But he was ta'veren, and the Dragon Reborn on top of it; she
was a woman with very few resources at the moment, and a
considerable danger hanging over her head. Not to mention the
heads of those she was responsible for. Any help would be
welcome, from anyone. The brisk breeze failed while she
prodded at Galina from every angle she could think of, and the
snow came again, growing heavier, until she could not see ten
paces. She could not decide whether to trust the woman. 

Abruptly she became aware of another white-robed woman
watching her, almost hidden by the snow. Not enough snow to
mask that wide, jeweled belt, though. Faile touched her compan
ions on the arm and nodded toward Galina. 

When Galina saw she had been seen, she came to trudge along
between Faile and Alliandre. She still did not move with any

grace in the snow, but she seemed more used to walking in it
than they. There was nothing of fawning about her, now. Her
round face was hard within her hood, her eyes sharp. But she
did keep turning her head, darting wary glances to see who
else was nearby. She looked like a housecat pretending to be a
leopard. "You know who I am?" she demanded, but in a voice
that would have been inaudible ten feet off. "What I am?" 

"You seem to be Aes Sedai," Faile said carefully. "On the
other hand, you have a very peculiar place here for an Aes
Sedai." Neither Alliandre nor Maighdin gave the slightest
start of surprise. Plainly they had already seen the Great
Serpent ring that Galina was thumbing nervously. 

Color bloomed in Galina's cheeks, and she tried to make it
out as anger. "What I do here is of great importance to the
Tower, child," she said coldly. Her expression said she had
reasons they could not begin to comprehend. Her eyes darted,
trying to pierce the falling snow. "I must not fail. That is
all you need to know." 

"We need to know whether we can trust you," Alliandre said
calmly. "You must have trained in the Tower or you would not
know Healing, but women earn the ring without earning the
shawl, and I cannot believe you are Aes Sedai." It seemed
Faile had not been the only one puzzling over the woman. 

Galina's plump mouth hardened, and she clenched a fist at
Alliandre, to threaten or show her ring, or both. "You think
they will treat you differently because you wear a crown?
Because you used to wear one?" There was no doubt of her
anger, now. She forgot to keep lockout for listeners, and her
voice was acid. Spittle flew with the force of her tirade.
"You will bring Sevanna wine and wash her back just like the
rest. Her servants are all nobles, or rich merchants, or men
and women who know how to serve nobles. Every day she has five
of them scrapped, to encourage the rest, so they all carry
tales to her hoping to curry favor. The first time you try to
escape, they will switch the soles of your feet until you
cannot walk, and tie you twisted up like a blacksmith's puzzle
to carry on a cart until you can. The second time will be
worse, and the third worse again. There is a fellow here who
used to be a Whitecloak. He tried to escape nine times. A hard
man, but the last time they brought him back, he was begging 

and crying before they even began stripping him for
punishment."
Alliandre did not take the harangue well. She puffed up 

indignantly, and Maighdin growled, "Was that what happened to
you? Whether Aes Sedai or Accepted, you are a disgrace to the
Tower!" 

"Be silent when your betters speak, wilder!" Galina snapped. 

Light, if this went any further, they would be screaming at
one another next. "If you mean to help us escape, then say
so," Faile told the silk-clad Aes Sedai. She did not really
doubt that about the woman. Just everything else. "If not,
what do you want with us?" 

Ahead of them a wagon loomed out of the snow, leaning where
one of the sleds had come loose. Directed by a Shaido with the
arms and shoulders of a blacksmith, gai'shain were rigging a
lever to hoist the wagon enough for the sled to be lashed back
in place. Faile and the others kept silent as they passed.

 "Is this really your liege lady, Alliandre?" Galina demanded
once they were out of earshot of the men around the wagon. Her
face was still flushed with anger, her tone slicing. "Who is
she that you would swear to her?" 

"You can ask me," Faile said coldly. Burn Aes Sedai and
their bloody secrecy! Sometimes she thought an Aes Sedai would
not tell you the sky was blue unless she saw advantage in it.
"I am the Lady Faile t'Aybara, and that's as much as you need
to know. Do you mean to help us?" 

Galina stumbled to one knee, peering at Faile so hard that
she began to wonder whether she had made a mistake. A moment
later, she knew she had. 

Regaining her feet, the Aes Sedai smiled unpleasantly. She
no longer seemed angry. In fact, she looked as pleased as
Therava had, and worse, in much the same way. "t'Aybara," she
mused. "You are Saldaean. There is a young man, Perrin Aybara.
Your husband? Yes, I see I've hit the target. That would
explain Allian-dre's oath, certainly. Sevanna has grandiose
plans for a man whose name is linked to your husband. Rand
al'Thor. If she knew she had you in her hands . . . Oh, never
fear she will learn from me." Her gaze hardened, and suddenly
she seemed a leopard in truth. A starving leopard. "Not if you
all do as I tell you. I will even help you get away." 

"What do you want of us?" Faile said, more insistently than
she felt. Light, she had been angry at Alliandre for drawing
attention to them by naming herself, and now she had done the
same. Or worse. And I thought I was concealing myself by
hiding my father's name, she thought bitterly. 

"Nothing too trying," Galina replied. "You marked Therava,
uf course? Of course, you did. Everyone notices Therava. She
keeps something in her tent, a smooth white rod about a foot
long. It is in a red chest with brass banding that is never
locked. Bring it to me, and I will take you with me when I
go." 

"A small thing to do, it seems," Alliandre said doubtfully.
"But if so, why do you not take it yourself?" 

"Because I have you to fetch it for me!" Realizing she had
shouted, Galina huddled in on herself, and her cowl swung as
she searched for eavesdroppers among the snow-veiled throng.
No one seemed to be so much as glancing their way, but her
voice dropped to a feral hiss. "If you do not, I will leave
you here until you are gray and wrinkled. And Sevanna will
hear of Perrin Aybara." 

"It may take time," Faile said desperately. "We won't be
free to just sneak into Therava's tent whenever we want."
Light, the last thing in the world she wanted was to go
anywhere near Therava's tent. But Galina had said she would
help them. Vile she might be, but Aes Sedai could not lie. 

"You have all the time you need," Galina replied. "The rest
of your life, Lady Faile t'Aybara, if you are not careful. Do
not fail me." She gave Faile a last hard stare, then turned to
labor away into the snow, holding her arms as if trying to
hide her jeweled belt behind her wide sleeves. 

Faile struggled onward in silence. Neither of her companions
had anything to say, either. There did not seem to be anything
to say. Alliandre appeared sunk in thought, hands in her
sleeves, peering straight ahead as if seeing something beyond

the blizzard. Maighdin had gone back to gripping her golden
collar in a tight fist. They were caught in three snares, not
one, and any of the three might kill. Rescue suddenly seemed 

very attractive. Somehow, though, Faile intended to find her
way out of this trap. Pulling her hand away from her own
collar, she fought through the snowstorm, planning. 

Chapter 5: Flags 

Hå ran across the snow-covered plain, nose into the wind,
hunting for a scent, for that one precious scent. The falling
snow no longer melted on his chilled fur, but cold could not
deter him. The pads of his paws were numb, yet his burning
legs worked furiously, carrying him on, faster and faster,
till the land blurred in his eyes. He had to find her. 

Suddenly a great grizzled gray wolf, ragged-eared and
scarred from many fights, settled down out of the sky to race
the sun beside him. Another great gray wolf, but not so large
as himself. His teeth would tear the throats of those who had
taken her. His jaws would crush their bones! 

Your she is not here, Hopper sent to him, but you are here
too strongly, and too long from your body. You must go back,
Young Bull, or you will die. 

I must find her. Even his thoughts seemed to pant. He did
not think of himself as Perrin Aybara. He was Young Bull.
Once, he had found the falcon here, and he could again. He had
to find her. Beside that need, death was nothing. 

In a flash of gray the other wolf lunged against his side,
and though Young Bull was the larger, he was tired, and he
fell heavily. Scrambling to his feet in the mow, he snarled
and launched himself at Hopper's throat. Nothing mattered more
than the falcon, 

The scarred wolf flew into the air like a bird, and Young
Bull went sprawling. Hopper lighted on the snow behind him. 

Hear me, cub! Hopper thought at him fiercely. "Your mind is
twisted with fear! She is not here, and you will die if you
remain longer, find her in the waking world. You can only find
her there. Go back, and find her! 

Perrin's eyes snapped open. He was bone tired and his middle
felt hollow, but hunger was a shadow beside the hollowness in
his chest. He was all hollow, and distanced even from himself,
as if he were another person watching Perrin Aybara suffer.
Above him, a blue-and-gold-striped tent roof rippled in the
wind. The interior of the tent was dim and shadowed, but
sunlight made the bright canvas glow softly. And yesterday had
not been a nightmare any more than Hopper was. Light, he had
tried to kill Hopper. In the Wolf Dream, death was . . .
final. The air was warm, but he shivered. He was lying on a
feather mattress, in a large bed with heavy cornerposts
thickly carved and gilded. Through the scent of charcoal
burning in the braziers he smelled musky perfume, and the
woman wearing it. No one else was present. 

Without raising his head from the pillow, he said, "Have
they found her yet, Berelain?" His head felt too heavy to
lift. 

One of her camp chairs squeaked faintly as she shifted. He
had been here before often, with Faile, to discuss plans. The

tent was big enough to house a family, and Berelain's
elaborate furnishings would not have looked out of place in a
palace, all intricate carving and gilt, though everything,
tables and chairs and the bed itself, was held together with
pegs. They could be disassembled for storage on a cart, but
the pegs did not make for true sturdiness. 

Under the perfume, Berelain smelled of surprise that he knew
she was there, yet her voice was composed. "No. Your scouts
haven't returned yet, and mine. . . . When they didn't return
by nightfall, I sent a full company. They found my men dead in
an ambush, killed before they had gone more than five or six
miles. 

I ordered Lord Gallenne to keep a tight watch around the
camps. Arganda has a strong guard mounted, too, but he sent
patrols out. Against my advice. The man's a fool. He thinks no
one can find Alliandre but him. I am not sure he believes
anyone else is really trying. Certainly not the Aiel." 

Perrin's hands tightened on the soft wool blankets covering
him. Gaul would not be caught by surprise, or Jondyn, not even
by Aiel. They were still hunting, and that meant Faile was
alive. They would have been back long since if they had found
her body. He had to believe that. He lifted one of the blue
blankets a trifle. Beneath them, he was bare. "Is there an
explanation for this?" 

Her voice did not change, but caution shimmered in her
scent. "You and your armsman might have frozen to death if I
hadn't gone looking for you when Nurelle returned with news of
my scouts. No one else had the nerve to disturb you;
apparently you snarled like a wolf at everyone who did. When I
found you, you were so numb you couldn't hear anyone speak to
you, and the other man was ready to fall on his face. Your
woman Lini kept him-all he needed was hot soup and
blankets-but I had you carried here. You might have lost some
toes at best without An-noura. She. . . . She seemed afraid
you might die even after she Healed you. You slept like a man
already dead. She said you almost felt like someone who had
lost his soul, cold no matter how many blankets were piled on
you. I felt it, as well, when I touched you." 

Too much explanation, and not enough. Anger flared, a dis
tant anger, but he hammered it down. Faile was always jealous
when he raised his voice to Berelain. The woman would get no
shouts from him. "Grady or Neald could have done whatever was
necessary," he said in a flat voice. "Even Seonid and Masuri
were closer." 

"My own advisor came to mind first. I never thought of the
others till I was almost back here. Anyway, does it matter who
did the Healing?" 

So plausible. And if he asked why the First of Mayene
herself was watching over him in a half-dark tent instead of
her serving women, or some of her soldiers, or even Annoura,
she would have another plausible answer. He did not want to
hear it. 

"Where are my clothes?" he asked, propping himself up on his
elbows. His voice still had no expression. 

A single candle on a small table beside Berelain's chair
gave the only real light in the tent, but it was more than
enough for his eyes, even grainy with tiredness as they were.

She was garbed demurely enough, in a dark green riding dress
with a high neck that nestled her chin in a thick ruff of
lace. Putting demure on Berelain was like putting a sheepskin
on a ridgecat. Her face was faintly shadowed, beautiful and
untrustworthy. She would do what she promised, but like an Aes
Sedai, for her own reasons, and the things she had made no
promises about could stab you in the back. 

"On the chest over there," she said, gesturing with a
graceful hand nearly hidden in pale lace. "I had Rosene and
Nana clean them, but you need rest and food more than
clothing. And before we get to food, and business, I want you
to know that no one hopes Faile is alive more than I." Her
expression was so open and honest, he could have believed her
had she been anyone else. She even managed to smell honest! 

"I need my clothes now." He twisted around to sit up on the
side of the bed with the blankets pulled across his legs. The
clothes he had been wearing lay neatly folded on a banded
travel chest that was carved and gilded within an inch of its
life. His fur-lined cloak was draped across one end of the
chest, and his axe leaned next to his boots on the brightly
flowered carpets layered for a floor. Light, he was tired. He
did not know how long he had been in the Wolf Dream, but awake
there was awake, as far as your body was concerned. His
stomach rumbled loudly. "And food." 

Berelain made an exasperated sound in her throat and rose,
smoothing her skirts, her chin lifted high with disapproval.
"Annoura will not be pleased with you when she comes back from
talking with the Wise Ones," she said firmly. "You can't just
ignore Aes Sedai. You are not Rand al'Thor, as they will prove
to you sooner or later." 

But she left the tent, letting in a swirl of cold air. In
her displeasure, she did not even bother to take a cloak.
Through the momentary gap in the entry flaps, he saw that it
was still snowing. Not as hard as last night, but white flakes
drizzled down steadily. Even Jondyn would have difficulty
finding sign after last night. He tried not to think about
that. 

Four braziers warmed the air in the tent, but ice seeped
into his feet as soon as they hit the carpets, and he hurried
to his clothes. Tottered to them, really, though not dallying
about it. He was so tired he could have lain down on the
carpets and gone to sleep again. On top of that, he felt weak
as a newborn lamb. Perhaps the Wolf Dream had something to do
with that, too- going there as strongly as he had, abandoning
his body-but Healing likely had exacerbated matters. With
nothing to eat since yesterday's breakfast and a night spent
standing in the snow, he had had no reserve to draw on. Now
his hands fumbled with the simple task of putting on his
smallclothes. Jondyn would find her. Or Gaul would. Find her
alive. Nothing else in the world mattered. He felt numb. 

He had not expected Berelain to return herself, but a gust
of cold entered carrying her perfume while he was still
drawing on his breeches. Her gaze on his back was like
stroking fingers, but he made himself go on as if alone. She
would not have the satisfaction of seeing him hurry because
she was watching. He did not look at her. 

"Rosene is bringing hot food," she said. "There is only

mutton stew, I'm afraid, but I told her enough for three men."
She hesitated, and he heard her slippers shift on the carpets.
She sighed softly. "Perrin, I know you are hurting. There are
things you might want to say that you can't to another man. I
can't see you crying on Lini's shoulder, so I offer mine. We
can call a truce until Faile is found." 

"A truce?" he said, carefully bending to tug on a boot. Care
fully so he did not fall over. Stout wool stockings and thick
leather soles would have his feet warm soon enough. "Why do we
need a truce?" She was silent while he donned the other boot
and folded the turndowns below his knees, not speaking until
he had done up the laces of his shirt and was stuffing it into
his breeches. 

"Very well, Perrin. If that is how you want it." Whatever
that was supposed to mean, she sounded very determined.
Suddenly he wondered whether his nose had failed him. Her
scent was affronted, of all things! When he looked at her,
though, she wore a faint smile. On the other hand, those big
eyes held a glint of anger. "The Prophet's men began arriving
before daylight," she said in a brisk voice, "but as I far as
I know, he hasn't come himself, yet. Before you see him
again-" 

"Began arriving?" he broke in. "Masema agreed to bring only
an honor guard, a hundred men." 

"Whatever he agreed, there were three or four thousand the
last I looked-an army of ruffians, every man within miles who
could carry a spear, it seemed-and more coming from every di
rection." 

Hurriedly, he shrugged into his coat and buckled his belt
over it, settling the weight of the axe at his hip. It always
felt heavier than it should. "We will see about that! Burn me,
I won't be lumbered with his murderous vermin!" 

"His vermin are an annoyance compared to the man himself.
The danger lies with Masema." Her voice was cool, but tightly
leashed fear quivered in her scent. It always did when she
spoke, of Masema. "The sisters and the Wise Ones are right
about that. If you need more proof of it than your own eyes,
he has been meeting with the Seanchan." 

That hit him like a hammer, especially after Balwer's news
of the fighting in Altara. "How do you know?" he demanded.
"Your thief-catchers?" She had a pair, brought from Mayene,
and she sent them off to learn what they could at every town
or village. Between them they never discovered half of what
Balwer did. Not that she told him, anyway. 

Berelain shook her head slightly, regretfully. "Paile's ...
retainers. Three of them found us just before the Aiel
attacked. They had talked with men who saw a huge flying
creature land." She shivered a little too ostentatiously, but
by her smell, it was a true reaction. No surprise; he had seen
some of the beasts once, and a Trolloc did not look more like
Shadowspawn. "A creature carrying a passenger. They traced her
to Abila, to Masema. I don't believe it was a first meeting.
It had the sound of practice, to me." 

Suddenly her lips curved in a smile, slightly mocking,
flirtatious. This time, her scent matched her face. "It was
not very nice of you to make me think that dried-up little
secretary of yours was finding out more than my thief-catchers

when you have two dozen eyes-and-ears masquerading as Faile's
retainers. I must admit, you had me fooled. There are always
new surprises to find in you. Why do you look so startled? Did
you really think you could trust Masema after all we've seen
and heard?" 

Perrin's stare had little to do with Masema. That news could
mean a great deal or nothing at all. Perhaps the man thought
he could bring the Seanchan to the Lord Dragon, too. He was
mad enough for it. But. . . . Faile had those fools spying?
Sneaking into Abila? And the Light knew where else. Of course,
she always said spying was a wife's work, but listening to
gossip around a palace was one thing; this was altogether
different. She could have told him, at least. Or had she kept
quiet because her retainers were not the only ones poking
their noses where they should not? It would be just like her.
Faile truly did possess a falcon's spirit. She might think it
fun to spy herself. No, he was not going to get angry with
her, certainly not now. Light, she would think it was fun. 

"I am glad to know you can be discreet," Berelain murmured.
"I would not have thought it in your nature, but discretion
can be a fine thing. Especially now. My men were not killed by
Aiel, unless Aiel have taken to using crossbows and axes." 

His head jerked up, and despite his best intentions, he
glared at her. "You just slip that in? Is there anything else
you've forgotten to tell me, anything that escaped your mind?" 

"How can you ask?" she almost laughed. "I would have to
strip myself naked to reveal more than I already have."
Spreading her arms wide, she twisted slightly like a snake as
if to demonstrate. 

Perrin growled in disgust. Faile was missing, the Light only
knew whether she was alive-Light, let her be alive!-and Bere-
lain chose now to flaunt herself worse than she ever had
before? But she was who she was. He should be grateful she had
clung to decency long enough for him to dress. 

Eyeing him thoughtfully, she ran a fingertip along her lower
lip. "Despite what you may have heard, you will be only the
third man to share my bed." Her eyes were . . . smoky . . .
yet she might have been saying he was the third man she had
spoken to that day. Her scent. . . . The only thing that came
to mind was a wolf eyeing a deer caught in brambles. "The
other two were politics. You will be pleasure. In more ways
than one," she finished with a surprising touch of bite. 

Just then Rosene bustled into the tent in a billow of icy
air, her blue cloak thrown back and carrying an oval silver
tray covered with a white linen cloth. Perrin snapped his
mouth shut, praying she had not overheard. Smiling, Berelain
seemed not to care. Setting the tray on the largest table, the
stout serving woman spread her blue-and-gold-striped skirts in
a deep curtsy for Berelain and another, shorter, for him. Her
dark eyes lingered on him a moment, and she smiled, as pleased
as her mistress, before gathering her cloak together and
hurrying out again at a quick gesture from Berelain. She had
overheard, all right. The tray gave off the smells of mutton
stew and spiced wine that made Perrin's belly rumble again,
but he would not have stayed to eat if his legs had been
broken. 

Flinging his cloak around his shoulders, he stalked out into

the soft snowfall, tugging on his gauntlets. Heavy clouds
shrouded the sun, but dawn was a few hours past, by the light.
Paths had been beaten through the snow on the ground, yet the
white drifting out of the sky was piling up on bare branches
and giving the evergreens new coats. This storm was far from
finished. Light, how could the woman talk to him that way? Why
would she talk that way, and now? 

"Remember," Berelain called after him, making no effort to
mute her voice. "Discretion." With a wince, he quickened his
step. 

A dozen paces from the great striped tent he realized he had
forgotten to ask the location of Masema's men. All around him
the Winged Guards were warming themselves at campfires, ar
mored and cloaked and near to their saddled mounts on the
horselines. Their lances stood close at hand in steel-tipped
cones that trailed red streamers in the wind. Despite the
trees, a straight line could have been drawn through any row
of those fires, and they were even as near the same size as
humanly possible. The supply carts they had acquired coming
south were all loaded, the horses harnessed, and they were
arrayed in rigid lines, too. 

The trees did not hide the crest of the hill completely. Two
Rivers men still stood guard up there, but the tents were
down, and he could make out loaded packhorses. He thought he
saw a black coat, too; one of the Asha'man, though he could
not see which. Among the Ghealdanin, knots of men stood
staring up the hill, yet all in all, they appeared as ready as
the Mayeners. The two camps were even laid out alike. But
nowhere was there any sign that thousands of men were
gathering, no broad trampled paths in the snow to follow. For
that matter, there were no footprints between the three camps
at all. If Annoura was with the Wise Ones, she had been on the
hill for some time. What were they talking about? Probably how
to kill Masema without him finding out they were responsible.
He glanced at Berelain's tent, but the thought of going back
in there with her made his hackles rise. 

One other tent remained up, not far away, the smaller
striped tent belonging to Berelain's two serving women.
Despite the drizzling snow, Rosene and Nana sat on camp stools
in front of the smaller tent, cloaked and hooded and warming
their hands over a small fire. Alike as two peas in the pod,
neither was pretty, but they had company, likely the reason
they were not huddled around a brazier inside. Doubtless
Berelain insisted on more propriety in her serving women than
she managed for herself. Normally Berelain's thief-catchers
seldom seemed to speak more than three words together, at
least in Perrin's hearing, but they were animated and laughing
with Rosene and Nana. Plainly dressed, the pair was so
nondescript you would not notice one bumping into him on the
street. Perrin was still not sure which was Santes and which
Gendar. A small kettle set off to one side of the fire smelled
of mutton stew; he tried to ignore it, but his stomach growled
anyway. 

Talk stopped as he approached, and before he reached the
fire, Santes and Gendar glanced from him to Berelain's tent,
faces absolutely blank, then pulled their cloaks around them 

and hurried away, avoiding his eyes. Rosene and Nana looked

from Perrin to the tent, and tittered behind cupped hands.
Perrin did not know whether to blush or howl. 

"Would you by any chance know where the Prophet's men are
gathering?" he asked. Keeping his voice level was hard with
all their arched eyebrows and smirks. "Your mistress forgot to
tell me exactly." The pair exchanged looks hidden by their
hoods and giggled behind their hands again. He wondered
whether they were brainless, but he doubted Berelain would
tolerate fluff-brains around her for long. 

After a great deal of tittering interspersed with quick
glances at him, at each other, at Berelain's tent, Nana
allowed as how she was not really sure but thought it was that
way, waving a hand vaguely toward the southwest. Rosene was
certain she had heard her mistress say it was no more than two
miles. Or maybe three.' They were still giggling when he
strode away. Maybe they really were goose-brained. 

Wearily he tramped around the hill thinking about what he
had to do. The depth of snow he had to wade through once he
left the Mayener camp made his foul mood no better. Nor did
the decisions he reached. It only got fouler after he arrived
where his own people were camped. 

Everything was as he had ordered. Cloaked Cairhienin sat on
loaded carts with the reins looped around a wrist or tucked
under a haunch, and other short figures moved along the lead
lines of remounts, soothing the haltered horses. The Two
Rivers men not on the hilltop squatted around dozens of small
fires scattered through the trees, dressed to ride and holding
their horses' reins. There was no order to them, not like the
soldiers in the other camps, but they had faced Trollocs, and
Aiel. Every man had his bow slung across his back and a full
quiver on his hip, sometimes balanced by a sword or short-
sword as well. For a wonder, Grady was at one of the fires.
The two Asha'man usually kept a little apart from the other
men, and the other way around as well. No one was talking,
just concentrating on staying warm. The glum faces told Perrin
that Jondyn had not returned yet, nor Gaul, nor Elyas or
anybody else. There was still a chance they would bring her
back. Or at least find where she was held. For a time, it
seemed those were the last good thoughts he would have for the
day. The Red Eagle of Manetheren and his own Wolfshead banner
hung limp in the falling snow, on two staffs leaning against a
cart. 

He had planned to use those flags with Masema in the same
way he had to come south, hiding in the open. If a man was mad
enough to try reclaiming Manetheren's ancient glories, no one
looked further, to any other reason for him marching with a
small army, and so long as he did not linger, they were far
too pleased to see the madman ride on to try stopping him.
There were enough troubles in the land without calling more
down on your head. Let someone else fight and bleed and lose
men who would be needed come spring planting. Manetheren's
borders had run almost to where Murandy now stood, and with
luck, he could have been into Andor, where Rand had a firm
grip, before having to give up the deception. That was
changed, now, and he knew the price of changing. A very large
price. He was prepared to pay, only it would not be he who
paid. He would have nightmares about it, though.

 Chapter 6: The Scent of Madness 

Seeking through the falling snow for Dannil, Perrin found
him at one of the fires and pushed between the horses. The
other men straightened and backed away enough to give him
room. Not knowing whether to offer sympathy, they barely
looked at him, and jerked their eyes away when they did,
hiding their faces in their cowls. "Do you know where Masema's
people are?" he asked, then had to conceal a yawn behind his
hand. His body wanted sleep, but there was no time. 

"About three miles south and west," Dannil replied in a sour
voice, and tugged irritably at his mustache. So the goose-
brains had been right after all. "Flocking in like ducks into
the Water-wood in autumn, and the lot of them look like they'd
skin their own mothers." Horse-faced Lem al'Dai spat in
disgust through the gap in his teeth he had gotten tussling
with a wool merchant's guard long ago. Lem liked to fight with
his fists; he looked eager to pick a scrap with some of
Masema's followers. 

"They would, if Masema said to," Perrin said quietly. "Best
you make sure everybody remembers that. You've heard how
Berelain's men died?" Dannil gave a sharp nod, and some of the
others shifted their boots and muttered angrily under their
breath. "Just so you know. There's no proof of anything, yet."
Lem snorted, and the rest looked about as bleak as Dannil.
They had seen the corpses Masema's followers left behind. 

The snow was picking up, fat flakes that dotted the men's
cloaks. The horses kept their tails tucked in against the
cold. It would be a full blizzard again in a few hours, if not
sooner. No weather to be leaving the fires' warmth. No weather
to be on the move. 

"Bring everybody off the hill and start toward where the am
bush was," he ordered. That was one of the decisions he had
made, walking back. He had delayed too long already, no matter
who or what was out there. The renegade Aiel had too much lead
as it was, and if they were headed in any direction but south
or east, someone would have brought word by this time. By this
time, they would expect him to be following. "We'll ride until
I have a better idea where we're heading, then Grady or Neald
will take us there through a gateway. Send men to Berelain and
Ar-ganda. I want the Mayeners and Ghealdanin moving, too. Put
scouts out, and flankers, and tell them not to look for Aiel
so hard they forget there are others who might want to kill
us. I don't want to stumble into anything before I know it's
there. And ask the Wise Ones to stay close to us." He would
not put it past Arganda to try putting them to the question in
spite of his orders. If the Wise Ones killed some of the
Ghealdanin defending themselves, the fellow might strike out
entirely on his own, fealty or no. He had the feeling he was
going to need every fighting man he could find. "Be as firm as
you dare." 

Dannil took in the flood of orders calmly, but at the last
his mouth twisted in a sickly grimace. Likely, he would as
soon try to be firm with the Women's Circle back home. "As you
say, Lord Perrin," he said stiffly, touching a knuckle to his

forehead before he swung into his high-cantled saddle and
began calling out orders. 

Surrounded by men scrambling to mount, Perrin caught Kenly
Maerin's sleeve while the young man still had one foot in his
stirrup and asked him to have Stepper saddled and brought. 

With a wide grin, Kenly knuckled his forehead. "As you say,
Lord Perrin. Right away." 

Perrin growled inside his head as Kenly tramped toward the
horselines pulling his brown gelding behind. The young whelp
should not grow a beard if he was going to scratch at it all
the time. The thing was straggly, anyway. 

Waiting for his horse, he moved close to the blaze. Faile
said he had to live with all the Lord Perrining and bowing and
scraping, and most of the time he managed to ignore it, but
today it was another drop of bile. He could feel a chasm
growing wider between him and the other men from home, and he
seemed to be the only one who wanted to bridge it. Gill found
him muttering to himself as he held his hands out to the
flames. 

"Forgive me for bothering you, my Lord," Gill said, bowing
and briefly snatching off his floppy hat to reveal a thinly
thatched scalp. The hat went right back on his head again to
keep off the snow. City bred, he felt the cold badly. The
stout man was not obsequious-few Caemlyn innkeepers were-but
he seemed to enjoy a certain amount of formality. He had
certainly fitted into his new job well enough to please Faile.
"It's young Tallanvor. At first light, he saddled his horse
and went off. He said you gave him permission, if... if the
search parties hadn't gotten back by then, but I wondered,
since you wouldn't let anyone else go." 

The fool. Everything about Tallanvor marked him an experi
enced soldier, though he had never been very clear about his
background, but alone against Aiel, he was a hare chasing
weasels. Light, I want to be riding with him! I shouldn't have
listened to Berelain about ambushes. But there had been
another ambush. Arganda's scouts might end the same way. But
he had to move. He had to. 

"Yes," he said aloud. "I told him he could." If he said
otherwise, he might have to take notice later. Lords had to do
that sort of thing. If he ever saw the man alive again. "You
sound as though you want to go hunting yourself." 

"I am . . . very fond of Maighdin, my Lord," Gill replied.
Quiet dignity marked his voice, and a degree of sriffness, as
though Perrin had said he was too old and fat for the task. He
certainly smelled of vexation, all prickly and ginger, though
his cold-reddened face was smooth. "Not like Tallanvor-nothing
like that, of course-but very fond all the same. And of the
Lady Faile, of course," he added hastily. "It's just that it
seems I've known Maighdin my whole life. She deserves better." 

Perrin's sigh misted in front of his mouth. "I understand,
Master Gill." He did. He himself wanted to rescue everyone,
but he knew if he had to choose, he would take Faile and let
the others go. Everything could go, to save her. Horse-scent
was heavy in the air, but he smelled someone else who was
irritated, and looked over his shoulder. 

Lini was glaring at him from the middle of the turmoil,
shifting her ground just enough to keep from being ridden down

accidentally by men jostling to form ragged files. One bony
hand gripped the edge of her cloak, and the other held a brass-
studded cudgel, nearly as long as her arm. It was a wonder she
had not gone with Tallanvor. 

"You'll hear as soon as I do," he promised her. A rumbling
in his middle reminded him suddenly and forcefully of that
stew he had scorned. He could almost taste the mutton and
lentils. Another yawn cracked his jaws. "Forgive me, Lini," he
said when he could talk. "I didn't get much sleep last night. 

Or a bite to eat. Is there anything? Some bread, and
whatever's to hand?"
"Everyone's eaten long since," she snapped. "The scraps are
gone, and the kettles cleaned and stored away. Sup from too
many dishes, and you deserve a bellyache that'll split you
open. Especially when they're not your dishes." Trailing off 

into dissatisfied mutters, she scowled at him a moment longer 

before stalking away, glaring at the world. 

"Too many dishes?" Perrin muttered. "I haven't had a one; 

that's my trouble, not a bellyache." Lini was making her way
across the campground, threading her way between horses and
carts. Three or four men spoke to her in passing, and she
barked at every one, even shaking her cudgel if they failed to
take the hint. The woman must be out of her mind over
Maighdin. "Or was that one of her sayings? They usually make
more sense than that." 

"Ah . . . well, as to that, now. . . ." Gill snatched his
hat off again and peered inside, then stuffed it back on. "I
... ah ... 1 have to see to the carts, my Lord. Need to make
sure all's ready." 

"A blind man could see the carts are ready," Perrin told
him. "What is it?" 

Gill's head swung wildly in search of another excuse.
Finding none, he wilted. "I. ... I suppose you'll hear sooner
or later," he mumbled. "You see, my Lord, Lini. . . ." He drew
a deep breath. "She walked over to the Mayener camp this
morning, before sunrise, to see how you were and ... ah ...
why you hadn't come back. The First's tent was dark, but one
of her maids was awake, and she told Lini. . . . She implied.
... I mean to say. . . . Don't look at me that way, my Lord." 

Perrin smoothed the snarl from his face. Tried to, at any
rate. It stayed in his voice. "Burn me, I slept in that tent,
man. That is all I did! You tell her that!" 

A violent coughing fit wracked the stout man. "Me?" Gill
wheezed once he could talk. "You want me to tell her? She'll
crack my pate if I mention a thing like that! I think the
woman was born in Far Madding in a thunderstorm. She probably
told the thunder to be quiet. It probably did." 

"You're shambayan," Perrin told him. "It can't all be
loading carts in the snow." He wanted to bite someone! 

Gill seemed to sense it. Mumbling his courtesies, he made a
jerky bow and scurried away clutching his cloak close. Not to
find Lini, Perrin was sure. Gill ordered the household, such
as it was, but never her. No one ordered Lini except Faile. 

Glumly Perrin watched the scouts ride out through the
falling snow, ten men already watching the trees around them
before they were beyond sight of the carts. Light, women would
believe anything about a man so long as it was bad. And the

worse it was, the more they had to talk about it. He had
thought Rosene and Nana were all he had to worry about. Likely
Lini had told Breane, Faile's other maid, first thing on
getting back, and by this time, Breane surely had told every
woman in the camp. There were plenty among the horse handlers
and cart drivers, and Cairhienin being Cairhienin, they
probably had been eager to pass everything on to the men, too.
That sort of thing was not seen with charity in the Two
Rivers. Once you gained the reputation, losing it was not
easy. Suddenly the men backing away to give him room took on a
new light, and the uncertain way they had looked at him, and
even Lem spitting. In memory, Kenly's grin became a smirk. The
one bright spot was that Faile would not believe it. Of course
she would not. Certainly not. 

Kenly returned at a stumbling trot through the snow, drawing
Stepper and his own rangy gelding behind. Both horses were
miserable with the cold, their ears folded back and tails
tight, and the dun stallion made no effort to bite at Kenly's
mount, as he usually would have. 

"Don't show your teeth all the time," Perrin snapped, snatch
ing Stepper's reins. The boy eyed him doubtfully, then slunk
away glancing back over his shoulder. 

Growling under his breath, Perrin checked the stallion's sad
dle girth. It was time to find Masema, but he did not mount.
He told himself it was because he was tired and hungry, that
he wanted just a bit of rest and something in his belly, if he
could find anything. He told himself that, but he kept seeing
burned farms and bodies hanging by the side of the road, men
and women and even children. Even if Rand was still in Altara,
it was a long way. A long way, and he had no choice. None he
could make himself take. 

He was standing with his forehead sunk against Stepper's sad
dle when a delegation of the young fools who had attached them
selves to Faile sought him out, near a dozen of them. He
straightened wearily, wishing the snow would bury them all. 

Selande planted herself alongside Stepper's hindquarters, a
short slender woman with green-gloved fists on her hips and an
angry scowl creasing her forehead. She managed to swagger
standing still. Despite the falling snow, one side of her
cloak was thrown back to give easy access to her sword,
exposing six bright slashes across the front other dark blue
coat. All the women wore men's clothing and swords, and
usually they were twice as ready to use them as the men, which
was saying quite a bit. Men and women alike, they were touchy
with everyone, and would have been fighting duels every day
had not Faile put a stop to it. Men and women alike, the lot
with Selande smelled angry, sullen, sulky and petulant, all
jumbled together, a scent that twitched uncomfortably in his
nose. 

"I see you, my Lord Perrin," Selande said formally in the
crisp accents of Cairhien. "Preparations are being made to
move out, but still we are refused our horses. Will you have
this made right?" She made it sound a demand. 

She saw him, did she? He wished he did not see her. "Aiel
walk," he growled, and stifled a yawn, not caring a whit for
the furious glares that earned him. He tried to put sleep out
his mind. "If you won't walk, ride on the carts."

 "You cannot do that!" one of the Tairen women announced
haughtily, one hand tight on the edge of her cloak, the other
on her sword hilt. Medore was tall, with bright blue eyes in a
dark face, and if she missed beautiful, it was not by much.
The fat, red-striped sleeves of her coat looked decidedly odd
with her full bosom. "Redwing is my favorite mount! I won't be
denied her!" 

"Third time," Selande said cryptically. "When we stop to
night, we will discuss your toh, Medore Damara." 

Supposedly, Medore's father was an aging man who had retired
to his country estates years ago, but Astoril was still a High
Lord for all that. As those things were reckoned, that put his 

daughter well above Selande, only a minor noble in Cairhien.
Yet Medore swallowed hard, and her eyes widened till she
looked as though she expected to be skinned alive. 

Abruptly Perrin had had all he could take of these idiots
and their dog's dinner of Aiel bits and pieces and pure
highborn jac-foolery. "When did you start spying for my wife?"
he demanded. They could not have gone stiffer had their
backbones frozen. 

"We carry out such small tasks and errands as the Lady Faile
might require of us from time to time," Selande said after a
long moment, in very careful tones. Wariness was thick in her
scent. The whole gaggle of them smelled like foxes wondering
whether a badger had taken over their den. 

"Did my wife really go hunting, Selande?" he growled heat
edly. "She's never wanted to before." Anger roared in him,
flames fanned by all the events of the day. He pushed Stepper
away with one hand and stepped closer to the woman, looming
over her. The stallion tossed his head, sensing Perrin's
humor. His fist ached in his gauntlet from its grip on the
reins. "Or did she ride out to meet some of you, fresh from
Abila? Was she kidnapped because of your bloody spying?" 

That made no sense, and he knew it as the words left his
mouth. Faile could have talked with them anywhere. And she
would never have arranged to meet her eyes-and-ears-Light, her
spies!-in company with Berelain. It was always a mistake to
speak without thinking. He knew about Masema and the Seanchan
because of their spying. But he wanted to lash out, he needed
to lash out, and the men he wanted to hammer into nothingness
were miles away. With Faile. 

Selande did not back away from his anger. Her eyes narrowed
to slits. Her fingers opened and closed on the hilt of her
sword, and she was not alone. "We would die for the Lady
Faile!" she spat. "Nothing we have done has put her in danger!
We are sworn to her by water oath!" To Faile and not to him,
her tone added. 

He should apologize. He knew he should. Instead, he said,
"You can have your horses if you give me your word you'll do
as I say and not try anything rash." "Rash" was not the word
for this lot. They were capable of rushing off alone as soon
as they learned where Faile was. They were capable of getting
Faile killed. "When we find her, I will decide how to rescue
her. If your water oath says different, tie a knot in it, or
I'll tie you in knots." 

Her jaw tightened and her scowl deepened, but finally she
said, "I agree!" as though the words were being pried out of

her. One of the Tairens, a long-nosed fellow named Carlon,
grunted in protest, but Selande raised one finger, and he shut
his mouth. With that narrow chin, he probably regretted
shaving off his beard. The little woman had the rest of these
fools in the palm of her hand, which did not make her any less
a fool herself. Water oath, indeed! She did not take her eyes
from Perrin's. "We will obey you until the Lady Faile is
returned. Then, we are hers again. And she can decide our
toh." That last seemed more for the others than him. 

"Good enough," he told her. He attempted to moderate his
tone, but his voice was still rough. "I know you are loyal to
her, all of you. I respect that." That was about all he did
respect in them. As an apology it was not very much, and that
was just how they took it. A grunt from Selande was the only
reply he got, that and glowers from the rest as they stalked
off. So be it. As long as they kept their word. The whole
bunch had never done an honest day's work between them. 

The camp was emptying out. The carts had begun moving south,
sliding on their sleds behind the carthorses. The horses left
deep tracks, but the sleds made only shallow ruts that the
falling snow began to bury immediately. The last of the men
from the hill were scrambling into their saddles and joining
the others already riding with the carts. Just off to one
side, the Wise Ones' party began to pass, even the gai'shain
leading the pack animals themselves mounted. However firm
Dannil had dared to be, or not as was more likely, apparently
it had been enough. The Wise Ones looked particularly awkward
on horseback compared to the grace of Seonid and Masuri,
though not so bad as the gai'shain. The white-robed men and
women had all been riding since the third day in snow, yet
they crouched low over the tall pommels of their saddles and
clung to neck or mane as if expecting to fall off at the next
step. Getting them mounted in the first place had required
direct commands from the Wise Ones, and some would still slide
down and walk if they were not watched. 

Perrin pulled himself up onto Stepper. He was not sure he
might not fall off himself. It was time to make this ride he
did not want to make, though. He would have killed for a piece
of bread. Or some cheese. Or a nice rabbit. 

"Aiel coming!" someone shouted from the head of the column,
and everything came to a halt. More shouts rang out, passing
the word as if everyone had not already heard, and men
unlimbered bows from their backs. Cart drivers stood up on
their seats, peering ahead, or leaped down to crouch beside
the cart. Growling under his breath, Perrin heeled Stepper in
the flanks. 

At the front of the column, Dannil was still in his saddle,
and the two men carrying those bloody banners, but a good
thirty were on the ground, coverings stripped from their
bowstrings and arrows nocked. The men holding the horses for
the dismounted men jostled about, pointing and trying to get a
clear view. Grady and Neald were there, as well, peering ahead
with intent faces but sitting on their horses calmly. Everyone
else reeked of agitation. The Asha'man only smelled . . .
ready. 

Perrin could make out what they were staring at through the
trees a good deal more clearly than they. Ten veiled Aiel

trotting toward them through the falling snow, one leading a
tall white horse. A little behind them rode three men, cloaked
and hooded. There seemed to be something odd in the way the
Aiel moved. And there was a bundle tied to the white's saddle.
A fist gripped Perrin's heart until he realized it was not
nearly large enough to be a body. 

"Put up your bows," he said. "That's Alliandre's gelding. It
must be our people. Can't you see the Aiel are all Maidens?"
Not a one was tall enough to be an Aielman. 

"I can barely make out they're Aiel," Dannil muttered,
giving him a sidelong look. They all cook it for granted that
his eyes were good, even took pride in it-or used to-but he
tried to keep them from knowing how good. Right then, he did
not care, though. 

"They are ours," he told Dannil. "Everybody stay here." 

Slowly he rode out to meet the returning party. The Maidens
began unveiling as he approached. In one of the deep cowls on
the mounted men, he made out Furen Alharra's black face. The
three Warders, then; they would have come back together. Their
horses looked as tired as he felt, near exhaustion. He wanted
to force Stepper to run, to hear what they had to report. He
dreaded hearing. Ravens would have been at the bodies, and
foxes, badgers maybe, and the Light alone knew what besides.
Maybe they thought they were sparing him by not bringing back
what they had found. No! Faile had to be alive. He tried to
fix that thought in his head, but it hurt like gripping a
sharp blade bare-handed. 

Dismounting in front of them, he stumbled and had to hold on
to the saddle to keep from falling. He felt numb around the
bright pain of holding on to that one thought. She had to be
alive. Little details loomed large, for some reason. Not one
bundle fastened to the elaborately tooled saddle, but a number
of small bundles that looked like gathered rags. The Maidens
wore snow-shoes, rough-made of vines and supple pine branches
with the needles still on. That was why they seemed to be
moving oddly. Jondyn must have shown them how to make them. He
tried to focus. He thought his heart was going to pound
through his ribs. 

Gripping spears and buckler in her left hand, Sulin took one
of the small bundles of cloth from the saddle before she came
to him. The pink scar running down her leathery cheek twisted
as she smiled. "Good news, Perrin Aybara," she said softly,
handing him the dark blue cloth. "Your wife lives." Alharra
exchanged glances with Seonid's other Warder, Teryl Wynter,
who frowned. Masuri's man, Rovair Kirklin, stared straight
ahead stonily. It was as plain as Wynter's curled mustaches
that they were not sure it was good news. "The others press on
to see what more they can find," she went on. "Though we
already have found oddities enough." 

Perrin let the bundle fall open in his hands. It was Faile's
dress, sliced down the front and along the arms. He inhaled
deeply, pulling Faile's scent into him, a faint trace of her
flowery soap, a touch other sweet perfume, but most of all,
the smell that was her. And no hint of blood. The rest of the
Maidens gathered around him, mostly older women with hard
faces, though not as hard as Sulin's. The Warders climbed
down, showing no sign that they had been all night in the

saddle, but they held back behind the Maidens. 

"All of the men were killed," the wiry woman said, "but by
the garments we found, Alliandre Kigarin, Maighdin Dorlain,
Lacile Aldorwin, Arrela Shiego, and two more also were made
gai'shain." The other two must have been Bain and Chiad; men
tioning them by name, that they had been taken, would have
shamed them. He had learned a little about Aiel. "This goes
against custom, but it protects them." Wynter frowned in
doubt, then tried to hide it by adjusting his hood. 

The neat cuts were like those made skinning an animal. It
hit Perrin suddenly. Someone had cut Faile's clothes off! His
voice shook. "They only took women?" 

A round-faced young Maiden named Briain shook her head.
"Three men would have been made gai'shain, I think, but they
fought too hard and were killed with knife or spear. All the
rest died by arrow." 

"It is not like that, Perrin Aybara," Elienda said
hurriedly, sounding shocked. A tall woman with wide shoulders,
she managed to look almost motherly, though he had seen her
knock a man down with her fist. "Harming a gai'shain is like
harming a child, or a blacksmith. It was wrong to take
wetlanders, but I cannot believe they will break custom that
far. I am sure they will not even be punished, if they can be
meek until they are recovered. There are others who will show
them." Others; Bain and Chiad again. 

"What direction did they go?" he asked. Could Faile be meek?
He could not picture her that way. At least let her try, till
he could find her. 

"Almost south," Sulin replied. "Much nearer south than east.
After the snow hid their tracks, Jondyn Barran saw other
traces. What the others are following. I believe him. He sees
as much as Elyas Machera. There is much to see." Thrusting her
spears behind the bow case on her back, she hung her buckler
from the hilt of her heavy belt knife. Her fingers flashed
handtalk, and Elienda unfastened a second, larger bundle and
handed it to her. "Many people are moving out there, Perrin
Aybara, and strange things. This you must see first, I think."
Sulin unfolded another cut dress, this one green. He thought
he remembered it on Allian-dre. "These, we recovered where
your wife was taken." Inside, forty or fifty Aiel arrows
shifted in a heap. There were dark stains on the shafts, and
he caught the scent of dried blood. 

"Taardad," Sulin said, picking out an arrow and immediately
throwing it to the ground. "Miagoma." She tossed two more
aside. "Goshien." Those brought a grimace to her face; she was
Goshien. Clan by clan, she named them all except the Shaido,
dropping arrows until just over half lay scattered around her.
She held up the cut dress holding the remainder in both hands,
then spilled them. "Shaido," she said significantly. 

Clutching Faile's dress to his chest-her scent eased the
pain in his heart, and made it worse at the same time-Perrin
frowned at the arrows jumbled on the snow. Already, some were
half buried in the fresh fall. "Too many Shaido," he said at
last. They should all be bottled up in Kinslayer's Dagger,
five hundred leagues distant. But if some of their Wise Ones
had learned to Travel. . . . Maybe even one of the Forsaken. .
. . Light, he was rambling like a fool-what would the Forsaken

have to do with this?-rambling when he had to think. His brain
felt as weary as the rest of him. "The others are men who
wouldn't accept Rand as the car'a'carn." Those cursed colors
flashed in his head. He had no time for anything but Faile.
"They joined the Shaido." Some of the Maidens averted their
eyes. Elienda glared at him. They knew that some had done what
he said, but it was one of those things they did not like to
hear said aloud. "How many altogether, do you reckon? Not the
whole clan, surely?" If the Shaido were here in a body, there
would be more than rumors of distant raids. Even among all the
other troubles, all of Amadicia would know. 

"Near enough to be going on with, I'm thinking," Wynter
muttered under his breath. Perrin was not meant to hear. 

Reaching in among the bundles tied to the ornate saddle,
Sulin drew out a rag doll dressed in cadin'sor. "Elyas Machera
found this just before we turned back, about forty miles from
here." She shook her head, and for a moment her voice and
scent became . . . startled. "He said he smelled it beneath
the snow. He and Jondyn Barran found scrapes on the trees they
said were caused by carts. Very many carts. If there are
children ... I think it may be a whole sept, Perrin Aybara.
Perhaps more than one. Even a single sept will have at least a
thousand spears, and more at need. Every man but the
blacksmiths will pick up a spear at need. They are days south 

of us. Perhaps more days than I think, in this snow. But I
believe those who took your wife are going to meet them."
"This blacksmith has picked up a spear," Perrin murmured. A 

thousand, maybe more. He had over two thousand, counting the
Winged Guards and Arganda's men. Against Aiel, though, the
numbers would favor the Shaido. He fingered the doll in
Sulin's sinewy hand. Was a Shaido child weeping over the loss
of her doll? "We go south." 

He was turning to mount Stepper when Sulin touched his arm
to stop him. "I told you we saw other things. Twice, Elyas
Machera found horse droppings and campfires under the snow.
Many horses, and many campfires." 

"Thousands," Alharra put in. His black eyes met Perrin's lev-
elly, and his voice was matter-of-fact. He was simply
reporting what was. "Five, maybe ten or more; it's hard to
tell. But soldiers' camps. The same men both places, I think.
Machera and Barran agree. Whoever it is, they're heading near
enough south, too. Maybe they have nothing to do with the
Aiel, but they could be following." 

Sulin gave the Warder an impatient frown and continued with
barely a pause for his interruption. "Three times we saw
flying creatures like those you say the Seanchan use, huge
things with ribbed wings and people riding their backs. And
twice we saw tracks like this." Bending, she picked up one of
the arrows and drew a rounded shape a little like a large
bear's paw in the snow, but with six toes longer than a man's
fingers. "Sometimes it shows claws," she said, marking them,
longer even than one of the big bears in the Mountains of
Mist. "It has a long stride. I think it runs very fast. Do you
know what it is?" 

He did not-he had never heard of anything with six toes
except the cats in the Two Rivers; he had been surprised to
find cats elsewhere only had five-but he could make a safe

guess. "Another Seanchan animal." So there were Seanchan to
the south as well as Shaido, and-what?-Whitecloaks, or a
Seanchan army. It could not be anyone else. He trusted
Balwer's information. "We still go south." The Maidens stared
at him as if he had told them it was snowing. 

Pulling himself up into Stepper's saddle, he turned back
toward the column. The Warders walked, leading their weary
horses. The Maidens took Alliandre's gelding with them as they
trotted to where the Wise Ones were standing. Masuri and
Seonid were riding to meet their Warders. He wondered why they
all had not come to stick their noses in. Perhaps it was as
simple as letting him be alone with his grief if the news
turned out bad. Perhaps. In his head, he tried to fit
everything together. The Shaido, however many they were. The
Seanchan. The mounted army, whether Whitecloak or Seanchan. It
was like the puzzles Master Luhhan had taught him to make,
intricate twists of metal that slid apart and slipped back
togther like a dream, if you knew the trick. Only, his head
felt muddled, groping at pieces that would not slide anywhere. 

The Two Rivers men were all mounted again when he reached
them. Those who had been on the ground with their bows ready
looked a little abashed. They all eyed him uneasily,
tentatively. 

"She's alive," he said, and it was as if every man of them
started breathing again. They took the rest of his news with a
strange impassiveness, some even nodding as though they had
expected no less. 

"Won't be the first time we've faced long odds," Dannil
said. "What do we do, my Lord?" 

Perrin grimaced. The man was still stiff as an oak. "For
starters, we're Traveling forty miles due south. After that, I
will see. Neald, you go ahead and find Elyas and the others.
Tell them what I'm doing. They will be a good deal further on,
by this time. And have a care. You can't fight ten or a dozen
Wise Ones." A whole sept should have at least that many who
could channel. And if it was more than one? A bog he had to
cross when he came to it. 

Neald nodded before turning his gelding back toward the
camp, where he had already memorized the ground. There were
only a few more orders to give. Riders had to be sent to find
the Mayeners and Ghealdanin, who would be moving apart as they
camped apart. Grady thought he could memorize the ground right
there before they could join up, so there was no need to turn
everything around and follow Neald back. And that left only
one thing. 

"I need to find Masema, Dannil," Perrin said. "Somebody who
can give him a message, anyway. With luck, I won't be long." 

"You go among that filth alone, my Lord, and you'll need
luck," Dannil replied. "I heard some of them talking about
you. Said you're Shadowspawn, because of your eyes." His gaze
met Pen-in's golden eyes and slid sideways. "Said you'd been
tamed by the Dragon Reborn, but still Shadowspawn. You ought
to take a few dozen men to watch your back." 

Perrin hesitated, patting Stepper's neck. A few dozen men
would not be enough if Masema's people really thought he was
Shadowspawn and decided to take matters into their own hands.
All the Two Rivers men together might not be enough. Maybe he

did not need to tell Masema, just let him learn for himself. 

His ears caught a bluetit's trill from the trees to the
west, followed a moment later by a second that everyone could
hear, and the decision was taken away from him. He was sure of
it, and wondered whether this was part of being ta'veren. He
reined Stepper around and waited. 

The Two Rivers men knew what it meant, hearing that partic
ular bird from back home. Men coming, more than a handful, and
not necessarily peaceful. It would have been a crookbill
trilling if they were friends, and a mocker's cry of alarm had
they been clearly unfriendly. This time, they behaved better.
Along the west side of the column, every second man as far as
Perrin could see in the snow dismounted and handed his reins
to the man next to him, then readied his bow. 

The strangers appeared through the scattered trees spread
out in a line as if to increase the impression of their
numbers. They were perhaps a hundred, with two in advance, but
their slow advance did seem ominous. Half carried lances, not
couched but held as though ready be tucked under an arm. At a
steady walk they came on. Some wore armor, a breastplate or a
helmet but rarely both. Still, they were better armed than the
general run of Masema's followers. One of the pair out front
was Masema himself, his zealot's face staring out of his
cloak's cowl like a rabid mountain cat staring out of a cave.
How many of those lances had borne a red streamer yesterday
morning? 

Masema stopped his men with a raised hand only when he was
just a few paces from Perrin. Pushing back his hood, he ran
his gaze along the dismounted men with their bows. He seemed
unaware of the snow hitting his bare scalp. His companion, a
bigger man with a sword on his back and another at his saddle
bow, kept his cowl up, but Perrin thought his head was shaved,
too. That one managed to study the column and watch Masema
with equal intensity. His dark eyes burned almost as much as
Masema's. Perrin thought about telling them that at this
range, a Two Rivers longbow would put a pile shaft right
through a breastplate, and out the wearer's back besides. He
considered mentioning Seanchan. Discretion, Berelain had
counseled. Perhaps it was a fine thing, in the circumstances. 

"You were coming to meet me?" Masema said abruptly. Even the
man's voice seethed with intensity. Nothing was ever casual on
his tongue. Anything he had to say was important. The pale
triangular scar on his cheek pulled his sudden smile crooked.
There was no warmth in it anyway. "No matter. I am here, now.
As you no doubt know by now, those who follow the Lord Dragon
Reborn-the Light illumine his name!-refuse to be left behind.
I cannot demand it of them. They serve him as I do." 

Perrin saw a tide of flame rolling across Amadicia into
Altara and perhaps beyond, leaving death and devastation
behind. He took a deep breath, sucking cold into his lungs.
Faile was more important than anything. Anything! If he burned
for it, then he burned. "Take your men east." He was shocked
at how steady his voice was. "I will catch up when I can. My
wife has been kidnapped by Aiel, and I'm heading south to get
her back." For once, he saw Masema surprised. 

"Aiel? So they are more than rumor?" He frowned at the Wise
Ones on the far side of the column. "South, you say?" Folding

his gloved hands on the pommel of his saddle, he turned his
study to Perrin. Insanity rilled the man's scent; Perrin could
not find anything but madness in it. "I will come with you,"
Masema said at last, as if reaching a decision. Odd, he had
been impatient to reach Rand without delay. So long as he did
not have to be touched by the Power to do so, at least. "All
those who follow the Lord Dragon Reborn-the Light illumine his
name!-will come. Killing Aiel savages is doing the Light's
work." His eyes flickered toward the Wise Ones, and his smile
was even colder than before. 

"I would appreciate the help," Perrin lied. That rabble
would be useless against Aiel. Still, they numbered in the
thousands. And they had held off armies, if not armies of
Aiel. A piece of that puzzle in his head shifted. Ready to
drop with fatigue, he could not make out exactly how, just
that it had. In any case, it was not going to happen. "They
have a long lead on me, though. I intend to Travel, to use the
One Power, to catch up. I know how you feel about that." 

Uneasy murmurs ran through the men behind Masema, and they
eyed one another and shifted weapons. Perrin caught muttered
curses and also "yellow eyes" and "Shadowspawn." The second
shaven-headed man glared at Perrin as though he had
blasphemed, but Masema just stared, trying to bore a hole into
Perrin's head and see what lay inside. 

"He would be grieved if harm came to your wife," the madman
said at last. The emphasis named Rand as clearly as the name
Masema did not allow to be spoken. "There will be a ...
dispensation, in this one instance. Only to find your wife,
because you are his friend. Only this." He spoke calmly-calmly
for him-but his deep-set eyes were dark fire, his face
contorted with unknowing rage. 

Perrin opened his mouth, then closed it without speaking.
The sun might as well rise in the west as Masema say what he
just had. Suddenly Perrin thought that Faile might be safer
with the Shaido than he was here and now. 

Chapter 7: The Streets of Caemlyn 

Elayne's entourage attracted plenty of attention as it rode
through Caemlyn, along streets that rose and fell with the
hills of the city. The Golden Lily on the breast of her fur-
lined crimson cloak was sufficient to identify her for
citizens of the capital, but she kept her hood back, framing
her face so the single golden rose on the coronet of the
Daughter-Heir was clearly visible. Not just Elayne, High Seat
of House Trakand, but Elayne the Daughter-Heir. Let everyone
see, and know. 

The domes of the New City glinted white and gold in the pale
morning light, and icicles sparkled on the bare branches of
the trees down the center of the main streets. Even nearing
its zenith the sun lacked warmth, despite a blessedly
cloudless sky. Luckily, there was no wind today. The air was
cold enough to frost her breath, yet with the paving stones
cleared of snow even on the narrower, twisting ways, the city
was alive again, the streets full and bustling. Carters and
wagon drivers, harnessed by their work as surely as the horses

between the shafts, clutched their cloaks in resignation as
they made slow passage through the throng. A huge water wagon
rumbled by, empty by the sound, on its way to be refilled for
fighting the too-frequent arsons. A few hawkers and street
peddlers braved the chill to cry their wares, but most folk
hurried about their tasks, eager to be indoors as soon as
possible. Not that hurrying meant moving very fast. The city
bulged, its population swollen beyond that of Tar Valon. In
such a swarm, even the few who were mounted moved no faster
than a man could walk. In the whole morning she had seen only
two or three carriages inching along the streets. If their
passengers were not invalids or facing miles ahead, they were
fools. 

Everyone who saw her and her party paused at the very least,
some pointing her out to others, or hoisting a child for a
better view so one day they could tell their own children they
had seen her. Whether they said they had seen the future Queen
or simply a woman who held the city for a time was the
question. Most people simply stared, but now and then a
handful of voices cried out "Trakand! Trakand!" or even
"Elayne and Andor!" as she passed. Better if there had been
more cheering, yet silence was to preferable to jeers.
Andorans were outspoken folk, none more so than Caemlyners.
Rebellions had begun and queens lost their thrones because
Caemlyners voiced their displeasure in the streets. 

An icy thought made Elayne shiver. Who holds Caemlyn holds
Andor, the ancient saying went; it was not exactly true, as
Rand had demonstrated, yet Caemlyn was Andor's heart. She had
laid claim to the city-the Lion Banner and Trakand's Silver
Keystone shared pride of place on the towers of the outer
wall-but she did not yet hold the heart of Caemlyn, and that
was far more important than holding stone and mortar. 

They will all cheer me, one day, she promised herself. /
will earn their acclaim. Today, though, the crowded ways felt
lonely between those few upraised voices. She wished Aviendha
were there, just for her company, but Aviendha saw no reason
to climb onto a horse simply to move about the city. Anyway,
Elayne could feel her. It was different from the bond with
Birgitte, yet she could feel her sister's presence in the
city, like sensing an unseen person in the same room, and it
was comforting. 

Her companions drew their own share of attention. After
barely three years as Aes Sedai, Sareitha's dark square face
had not yet achieved agelessness, and she looked a prosperous
merchant in her fine bronze-colored woolens with a large
silver-and-sapphires brooch holding her cloak. Her Warder, Ned
Yarman, rode at her heels, and he certainly caught eyes. A
tall, broad-shouldered young man with bright blue eyes and
corn-yellow hair curling to his shoulders, he wore a
shimmering Warder's cloak that made him appear a disembodied
head floating above a tall gray gelding that was not entirely
there either, where the cloak draped its haunches. There was
no mistaking what he was, or that his presence announced an
Aes Sedai. The others, maintaining a circle around Elayne as
they made a way through the crowd, attracted just as many
eyes, though. Eight women in the red coats and burnished
helmets and breastplates of the Queen's Guard were not

something seen every day. Or ever before, come to that. She
had chosen them out from the new recruits herself for that
very reason. 

Their under-lieutenant, Caseille Raskovni, lean and hard as
any Aiel Maiden, was that rarity of rarities, a woman
merchant's guard, nearly twenty years in the trade, as she put
it. Silver bells in her stocky roan gelding's mane named her
Arafellin, though she was vague about her past. The only
Andoran among the eight was a graying, placid-faced woman with
wide shoulders, Deni Colford, who had kept order in a wagon
drivers' tavern in Low Caemlyn, outside the walls, another
rough and singular job for a woman. Deni did not yet know how
to use the sword at her hip, but Birgitte said she had very
quick hands and quicker eyes, and she was quite adept with the
pace-long cudgel that hung opposite her sword. The remainder
were Hunters for the Horn, disparate women, tall and short,
slender and wide, dewy-eyed and gray-haired, with backgrounds
as varied, though some were as discreet as Caseille and others
clearly inflated their former station in life. Neither
attitude was uncommon among Hunters. They had leaped at the
chance to be listed on the Guards' roll, though. More
important, they had passed Birgitte's close inspection. 

"These streets are not safe for you," Sareitha said
suddenly, heeling her chestnut up beside Elayne's black
gelding. Fireheart almost managed to nip the sleek mare before
Elayne reined his head away. The street was narrow here,
compressing the crowd and forcing the Guardswomen in closer
around them. The Brown sister's face pictured Aes Sedai
composure, but apparent concern sharpened her tone. "Anything
might happen in a crush like this. Remember who is staying at
the Silver Swan, less than two miles from this spot. Ten
sisters at one inn are not simply seeking their own for
company. Elaida might well have sent them." 

"She might not have, too," Elayne replied calmly. More
calmly than she felt. A great many sisters seemed to be
waiting on the side until the struggle between Elaida and
Egwene was over. Two had departed the Silver Swan and three
more come just since her arrival in Caemlyn. That did not
sound like a party sent on a mission. And none were Red Ajah;
surely Elaida would include Reds. Still, they were being
watched as well as she could arrange, though she did not tell
Sareitha that. Elaida very much wanted her, much more than she
would want a runaway Accepted, or one connected to Egwene and
those Elaida called rebels. Why, she could not quite
understand. A queen who was Aes Sedai would be a great prize
for the White Tower, but she would not become queen if she was
snatched back to Tar Valon. For that matter, Elaida had issued
the order to bring her back by any means necessary long before
there seemed any possibility she would assume the throne for
many years to come. It was a puzzle she had fretted over more
than once since Ronde Macura slipped her that foul brew that
dulled a woman's ability to channel. A very worrying puzzle,
especially now she was announcing her location to the world. 

Her eyes lingered a moment on a black-haired woman in a blue
cloak with her hood thrown back. The woman barely glanced at
her before turning into a candlemaker's shop. A weighted cloth
bag hung from her shoulder. Not an Aes Sedai, Elayne decided.

Merely another woman who aged well, like Zaida. "In any case,"
she went on firmly, "I won't be penned up by fear of Elaida."
What were those sisters at the Silver Swan up to? 

Sareitha snorted, and not very softly; she seemed about to
roll her eyes, then thought better of it. Occasionally Elayne
caught an odd look from one of the other sisters in the
Palace, doubtless thinking of how she had been raised, yet on
the surface, at least, they accepted her as Aes Sedai,
acknowledged that she stood higher among them than any except
Nynaeve. That was not enough to stop them speaking their
minds, often more bluntly that they would have with a sister
who stood where she did and had achieved the shawl in more
usual fashion. "Forget Elaida, then," Sareitha said, "and
remember who else would like to have you in hand. One well-
aimed rock, and you are an unconscious bundle, easily carried
away in the confusion." 

Did Sareitha really have to tell her water was wet? Kidnap
ping other claimants to the throne was almost customary, after
all. Every House that stood against her had supporters in
Caemlyn watching for an opportunity, or she would have her
slippers for her midday meal. Not that they could succeed, not
so long as she could channel, but they would make the attempt
given a chance. She had never thought that simply reaching
Caemlyn provided safety. 

"If I don't dare leave the Palace, Sareitha, I will never
get the people behind me," she said quietly. "I must be seen,
out and about and unafraid." That was why she had eight Guards
instead of the fifty Birgitte had wanted. The woman refused to
grasp the realities of politics. "Besides, they would need two
well-aimed rocks with you here." 

Sareitha snorted again, but Elayne did her best to ignore
the other's obstinacy. She wished she could ignore the woman's
presence, but that was impossible. She had more reason for
this ride than being seen. Halwin Norry gave her facts and
figures by the ream, though the First Clerk's droning voice
almost put her to sleep, yet she wanted to see for herself. 

Norry could make a riot sound as lifeless as a report on the
state of the city's cisterns or the expense of cleaning the
sewers. 

The crowds were thick with foreigners, Kandori with forked
beards and Illianers with beards that left their upper lips
bare and Arafellin with silver bells in their braids, copper-
skinned Domani, olive-skinned Altarans and dark Tairens,
Cairhienin who stood out for their short stature and pale
skins. Some were merchants, caught by the sudden onset of
winter or hoping to steal a jump on their competition, smooth-
faced puffed-up folk who knew that trade was the life's blood
of nations, and every one of them claiming to be a major
artery even when betrayed by a poorly dyed coat or a brooch of
brass and glass. Many of the people afoot had worn and ragged
coats, breeches out at the knee, dresses with tattered hems,
and threadbare cloaks or none at all. Those were refugees,
either harried from their homes by war or sent wandering by
the belief that the Dragon Reborn had broken every bond that
held them. They hunched against the cold, faces haggard and
defeated, and let themselves be buffeted by the flow of others
around them.

 Watching a dull-eyed woman stagger through the crowd
clutching a small child on her shoulder, Elayne fumbled a coin
from her purse and handed it to one of the Guards, an apple-
cheeked woman with cold eyes. Tzigan claimed to be from 

Ghealdan, the daughter of a minor noble; well, she might be
Ghealdanin, at least. When the Guardswoman leaned down to
proffer the coin, the woman with her child staggered on by 

unheeding, unseeing. There were too many in the city like
that. The Palace fed thousands every day, at kitchens set up
throughout the city, but too many could not even summon the
energy to collect their bread and soup. Elayne offered a
prayer for mother and child as she dropped the coin back into
her purse. 

"You cannot feed everyone," Sareitha offered quietly. 

"Children are not allowed to starve in Andor," Elayne said,
as if issuing a decree. But she did not know how to stop it.
Food was still plentiful in the city, but no command could
force people to eat. 

Some of the other foreigners had come to Caemlyn that way,
too, men and women who no longer wore rags and haunted faces.
Whatever had sent them flying from their homes, they had begun
thinking that they had traveled far enough, thinking about the
trades they had abandoned, often along with everything they
possessed. In Caemlyn, though, anyone with skill in a craft
and a little drive could always find a banker with ready coin.
There were new trades being followed in the city these days.
She had seen three clockmakers shops already this morning!
Within her sight were two shops selling blown glass, and
nearly thirty manufactories had been built north of the city.
From now on, Caemlyn would export glass, not import it, and
crystal as well. The city had lacemakers, now, producing as
fine as Lugard ever had, and no wonder since nearly all of
them had come from there. 

That brightened her mood a little-the taxes those new crafts
paid would help, though it would take time before they paid
much-yet it was still others in the crowds she noticed most.
Foreign or Andoran, the mercenaries were easily picked out,
hard-faced men wearing swords, swaggering even when slowed to
a crawl by the press. Merchants' guards also went armed, rough
fellows shouldering aside most men who got in their way, but
they seemed subdued and sober compared to the sell-swords. And
on the whole, they displayed fewer scars. Mercenaries dotted
the crowd like raisins in a cake. With such a large pool to
draw on, and with winter employment for their skills always in
short supply, she did not think they would come too dear.
Unless, as Dyelin feared, they cost her Andor. Somehow, she
had to find enough men that foreigners were not a majority in
the Guards. And the money to pay them. 

Abruptly, she became aware of Birgitte. The other woman was
angry-she often was, of late-and coming closer. Very angry,
and coming very quickly. An ominous combination that set alarm
gongs ringing in Elayne's head. 

Immediately she ordered a return to the Palace by the most
direct route-that would be how Birgitte was coming; the bond
would lead her straight to Elayne-and they took the next turn
south, onto Needle Street. It was actually a rather wide
street, though it meandered like a river, down one hill and up

the next, but generations ago it had been full of
needlemakers. Now a few small inns and taverns were jammed
among cutlers and tailors and every short of shop except
needlemakers. 

Before they had even reached the Inner City, Birgitte found
them climbing Pearman's Lane, where a handful of fruit-sellers
still clung to shops handed down since the days of Ishara,
though there was precious little to be seen in their windows
this time of year. Despite the crowd Birgitte cantered into
sight, red cloak flaring behind, scattering people before her
left and right, and only slowed her rangy gray when she saw
them ahead. 

As if to make up for her hurry, she took a moment to study
the Guardswomen and return Caseille's salute before turning
her mount to walk beside Elayne's. Unlike them, she wore
neither sword nor armor. The memories of her past lives were
fading- she said she could remember nothing at all clearly
before the founding of the White Tower, now, though fragments
still floated up-but one thing she claimed to recall
absolutely. Every time she had tried to use a sword, she had
nearly gotten herself killed, and had even done so more than
once. Her strung bow was in a leather saddle-case, though,
with a bristling quiver of arrows on the other side. Anger
boiled in her, and she wore a frown that only deepened as she
spoke. 

"A half-frozen pigeon flew into the Palace cote a little
while ago with word from Aringill. The men escorting Naean and
Elenia were ambushed and killed not five miles out of the
town. Luckily, one of their horses came back with blood on the
saddle, or we'd have known nothing for weeks yet. I doubt our
luck extends to that pair being held for ransom by brigands." 

Fireheart pranced a few steps, and Elayne reined him in
sharply. Someone in the crowd shouted what might have been a
cry for Trakand. Or not. Shopkeepers trying to attract custom
raised enough din to muffle the words. "So we have a spy in
the Palace," she said, then compressed her lips, wishing she
had held her tongue in front of Sareitha. 

Birgitte did not seem to care. "Unless there's a ta'veren
trotting around we don't know about," she replied dryly.
"Maybe now you'll let me assign a bodyguard. Just a few
Guards, well chosen and-" 

"No!" The Palace was her home. She would not be guarded
there. Glancing at the Brown, she sighed. Sareitha was
listening very attentively. There was no point in trying to
hide things now. Not this. "You let the First Maid know?" 

Birgitte gave her a sidelong look that, combined with a
burst of mild outrage through their shared bond, told her to
go teach her grandmother to knit. "She intends to question
every servant who didn't serve your mother at least five
years. I'm not sure she doesn't mean to put them to the
question. The look on her face when I told her, I was glad to
get out of her study with a whole skin. I'm looking at others,
myself." She meant the Guards, but she would not say so in
hearing of Caseille and the others. Elayne did not think it
likely. All the recruiting gave anyone a perfect opportunity
to slip in eyes-and-ears, yet without any assurance they would
ever be where they could learn anything useful.

 "If there are spies in the Palace," Sareitha said quietly,
"there may be worse. Perhaps you should accept the Lady
Birgitte's suggestion of a bodyguard. There is precedent."
Birgitte showed the Brown sister her teeth; as a smile, it was
a miserable failure. However much she disliked being addressed
by her title, however, she turned hopeful eyes on Elayne. 

"I said no, and I mean no!" Elayne snapped. A beggar, ap
proaching the slow-moving circle of horses with a wide, gap-
toothed grin and his cap in his hand, flinched and scurried
away into the throng before she could even think of reaching
for her purse. She was not sure how much of her anger was her
own and how much Birgitte's, but it was appropriate. 

"I should have gone to get them myself," she growled
bitterly. Instead, she had woven a gateway for the messenger
and spent the rest of the day meeting with merchants and
bankers. "At the least, I should have stripped the garrison at
Aringill for escort. Ten men dead because I blundered!
Worse-the Light help me, it is worse!-I've lost Elenia and
Naean because of it!" 

Birgitte's thick golden braid, hanging outside her cloak,
swung as she shook her head emphatically. "In the first place,
queens don't go running off to do everything themselves.
They're bloody queens!" Her anger was dying down, a little,
but irritation flared on top of it, and her tone reflected
both. She really wanted Elayne to have a bodyguard, very
likely even in her bath. "Your adventuring days are done. The
next thing, you'd be sneaking out of the Palace in disguise,
maybe even wandering around after nightfall, when you might
get your skull cracked open by some tough you never even saw." 

Elayne sat up straight in her saddle. Birgitte knew, of
course-she did not know any way to get around the bond, though
she was sure there must be one-but the woman had no right to
bring it up now. If Birgitte offered enough hints, she would
have other sisters trying to follow her with their Warders and
likely squads of Guardsmen as well. Everyone was so ridiculous
about keeping her safe. You would think she had never been in
Ebou Dar, much less Tanchico, or Falme. Besides, she had only
done it once. So far. And Aviendha went with her. 

"Cold dark streets don't compare to a warm fire and an inter
esting book," Sareitha put in idly, as if talking to herself.
Studying the shops they were passing, she seemed intent on
them. "I very much dislike walking on icy pavement, myself,
especially in the dark, without so much as a candle. Young,
pretty women often think plain clothes and a dirty face make
them invisible." The shift was so sudden, with no change in
tone, that at first Elayne did not realize what she was
hearing. "Being knocked down and dragged into an alley by
drunken rowdies is a hard way to learn differently. Of course,
if you are lucky enough to have a friend with you who also can
channel, if she's lucky enough that the tough fails to hit her
as hard as he should. . . . Well, you cannot be lucky every
time. Wouldn't you agree, Lady Birgitte?" 

Elayne closed her eyes for a moment. Aviendha had said some
one was following them, but she had been sure it was only a
footpad. Anyway, it had not been like that. Not exactly.
Birgitte's glare promised a talking to, later. She refused to
understand that a Warder just did not dress down her Aes

Sedai. 

"In the second place," Birgitte went on grimly, "ten men or
nearly three hundred, the bloody outcome would have been the
bloody same. Burn me, it was a good plan. A few men could have
brought Naean and Elenia to Caemlyn unnoticed. Emptying out
the garrison would have pulled every flaming eye in the east
of Andor, and whoever took them would have brought enough
armsmen to be sure. Very likely, they'd hold Aringill now on
top of it. Small as the garrison is, Aringill keeps anybody
who wants to move against you in the east off balance, and the
more Guards who come out of Cairhien, the better that gets,
since they're nearly all loyal to you." For someone who
claimed to be a simple archer, she had a good grasp of the
situation. The only thing she had left out was the loss of the
customs duties from the river trade. 

"Who did take them, Lady Birgitte?" Sareitha asked, leaning
to look past Elayne. "Surely that is a very important
question." Birgitte sighed loudly, almost a whimper. 

"We will know soon enough, I fear," Elayne said. The Brown
quirked a doubting eyebrow at her, and she tried not grind her
teeth. She seemed to be doing that quite a lot since coming
home. 

A Taraboner woman in a green silk cloak stepped out of the
way of the horses and made a deep curtsy, her thin, beaded
braids swinging out of her cowl. Her maid, a diminutive woman
with her arms full of small packages, imitated her mistress
awkwardly. The two wide men close behind, guards carrying
brass-ferruled quarterstaffs, remained upright and alert.
Their long heavy leather coats would turn all but the most
determined thrust of a knife. 

Elayne inclined her head as they rode by to acknowledge the
Taraboner's courtesy. She had not received as much from any
Andoran in the streets, so far. The handsome face behind the
woman's sheer veil showed too much age to be Aes Sedai. Light,
she had too much on her plate to be worrying about Elaida now! 

"It is very simple, Sareitha," she said in a carefully
controlled voice. "If Jarid Sarand took them, Elenia will give
Naean a choice. Declare Arawn for Elenia, with some sweetening
of estates for Naean in return, or else have her throat slit
in a quiet cell somewhere and her corpse buried behind a barn.
Naean won't give in easily, but her House is arguing over who
is in charge until she returns, so they'll dither, Elenia will
threaten torture and maybe use it, and eventually Arawn will
stand behind Sarand for Elenia. Soon to be joined by Anshar
and Baryn; they will go where they see strength. If Naean's
people have them, she will offer the same choices to Elenia,
but Jarid will go on a rampage against Arawn unless Elenia
tells him not to, and she won't if she thinks he has any hope
of rescuing her. So we must hope to hear in the next few weeks
that Arawn estates are being burned." If not, she thought, /
have four houses united to face, and I still don't know
whether I really have even two! 

"That is ... very nicely reasoned out," Sareitha said,
sounding faintly surprised. 

"I'm sure you could have, too, with time," Elayne said, too
sweetly, and felt a stab of pleasure when the other sister
blinked. Light, her mother would have expected her to see that

much when she was ten! 

The rest of the ride back to the Palace passed in silence,
and she barely noticed the bright mosaic towers and grand
vistas of the Inner City. Instead, she thought about Aes Sedai
in Caemlyn and spies in the Royal Palace, about who had Elenia
and Naean and how much Birgitte could step up recruiting,
about whether it was time to sell the Palace's plate and the
rest of her gems. A gloomy list to consider, but she kept her
face smooth and serenely acknowledged the scant cheers that
followed her. A queen could not show herself afraid,
especially when she was. 

The Royal Palace was a pure white confection of intricately
worked balconies and columned walks atop the highest hill of
the Inner City, the highest in Caemlyn. Its slender spires and
gilded domes loomed against the midday sky, visible for miles,
proclaiming the power of Andor. Grand entrances and departures
were made at the front, at the Queen's Plaza, where in the
past great crowds had gathered to hear the proclamations of
queens and shout their acclaim for Andor's rulers. Elayne
entered at the rear of the Palace, Fireheart's steel-shod
hooves ringing on the paving stones as she trotted into the
main stableyard. It was a broad space fronted on two sides by
the rows of tall arched doors of the stables, overlooked by a
single long white stone balcony, plain and sturdy. Several of
the high, columned walks offered partial views from above, but
this was a working place. In front of the simple colonnade
that gave entry to the Palace itself a dozen Guardsmen
preparing to replace those on duty in the Plaza stood rigidly
beside their horses, being inspected by their under-lieuten
ant, a grizzled fellow with a limp who had been a bannerman
under Gareth Bryne. Along the outer wall, thirty more were
mounting, ready to begin patrols of the Inner City in pairs.
In normal days, there would have been Guardsmen whose main
duty was policing the streets, but with numbers so reduced,
those who protected the Palace had to do that as well. Careane
Fransi was there, as well, a stocky woman in an elegant green-
striped riding dress and blue-green cloak, sitting her gray
gelding while one of her Warders, Venr Kosaan, climbed onto
his bay. Dark, with touches of gray in his tight-curled hair
and beard, the blade-slim man wore a plain brown cloak.
Apparently they did not mean to advertise who they were. 

Elayne's arrival bought a flash of surprise to the
stableyard. Not to Careane or Kosaan, of course. The Green
sister merely looked thoughtful in the sheltering cowl of her
cloak, and Kosaan not even that. He simply nodded to Birgitte
and Yarman, Warder to Warder. Without another glance they rode
out as soon as the last of Elayne's escort cleared the iron-
strapped gates. But some of those mounting along the wall
paused with one foot in a stirrup, staring, and heads whipped
toward the new arrivals among the men standing inspection. She
had not been expected back for another hour at least, and
excepting a few who never thought beyond what their hands were
doing, everyone in the Palace knew the situation was volatile.
Rumors spread among soldiers even faster than among other men,
and the Light knew, that was saying something, the way men
gossiped. These had to know that Birgitte had departed in a
hurry, and now she returned with Elayne, ahead of time. Was

one of the other Houses marching on Caemlyn? Ready to attack?
Were they to be ordered to the walls that they could not man
completely, even with what Dyelin had in the city? Moments of
surprise and worry, then the leathery under-lieutenant barked
a command, and eyes snapped straight ahead, arms swept across
chests in salute. Only three besides the former bannerman had
been on the rolls a few days gone, but there were no raw
recruits here. 

Grooms in red coats with the White Lion embroidered on one
shoulder came rushing out from the stable, though in fact
there was little for them to do. The Guardswomen quietly
dismounted at Birgitte's order and began leading their horses
through the tall doors. She herself leaped from her saddle and
tossed her reins to one of the grooms, and she was no quicker
than Yarman, who hurried to hold Sareitha's bridle while she
climbed down. He was what some sisters called "fresh caught,"
bonded less than a year- the term dated from a time when
Warders had not always been asked whether they wanted the
bond-and he was very assiduous in his duties. Birgitte just
stood scowling, fists on her hips, apparently watching the men
who would patrol the Inner City for the next four hours ride
out in a column of twos. Elayne would have been surprised if
those men more than crossed Birgitte's mind, though. 

In any event, she had her own worries. Trying not to be obvi
ous about it, she studied the wiry woman who held Fireheart's
bridle, and the stocky fellow who put down a leather-covered
mounting stool and held her stirrup as she dismounted. He was
unsmilingly stolid and deliberate, while she was wrapped up in
stroking the gelding's nose and whispering to him. Neither
really looked at Elayne beyond a respectful bow of the head;
courtesies came second to making sure she was not tossed from
the saddle by a horse made skittish by bobbing people. No
matter that she had no need of their help. She was not in the
country any longer, and there were forms to be followed. Even
so, she tried not to frown. Leaving them as they led Fireheart
away, she did not look back. But she wanted to. 

The windowless entry hall beyond the colonnade seemed dim,
though a few of the mirrored stand-lamps were lit. Plain lamps
here, the iron worked into simple scrolls. Everything was
utilitarian, the plastered cornices unadorned, the white stone
walls bare and smooth. Word of their arrival had spread, and
before they were well inside, half a dozen men and women
appeared, bowing and curtsying, to take cloaks and gloves.
Their livery differed from the stablefolk's in having white
collars and cuffs, and the Lion of Andor on the left breast
rather than shoulder. Elayne did not recognize anyone on duty
today. Most servants in the Palace were new, and others had
come out of retirement to take the places of those frightened
off when Rand captured the city. A bald, bluff-faced fellow
did not quite meet her eyes, but he might have feared it would
be too forward. A slender young woman with a squint put too
much enthusiasm into her curtsy, and her smile, but perhaps
she simply wanted to show eagerness. Elayne walked away,
followed by Birgitte, before she began glaring at them.
Suspicion had a bitter taste. 

Sareitha and her Warder left them after a few paces, the
Brown murmuring an excuse about books she wanted to see in the

library. The collection was not small, though nothing in com
parison to the great libraries, and she spent hours there
every day, frequently pulling up age-worn volumes she said
were unknown elsewhere. Yarman heeled her as she glided off
down a crossing hallway, a dark stocky swan drawing a
strangely graceful stork in her wake. He still carried his
disturbing cloak, carefully folded over one arm. Warders
rarely let those out of their own hands for long. Kosaan's
likely was in his saddlebags. 

"Would you like a Warder's cloak, Birgitte?" Elayne asked,
walking on. Not for the first time, she envied Birgitte her
voluminous trousers. Even divided skirts made an effort of
anything beyond a sedate pace. At least she had on riding
boots instead of slippers. The bare red-and-white floor tiles 

would have been freezing in slippers. There were not enough
carpets to layer in the halls as well as in the rooms; they
would have been worn out in no time, anyway, just from the 

constant traffic of servants keeping up the Palace. "As soon
as Egwene has the Tower, I will have one made for you. You
should have one." 

"I don't care about flaming cloaks," Birgitte replied
grimly. A foreboding scowl set her mouth in a hard line. "It
was over so fast, I thought you'd just bloody stumbled and hit
your bloody head. Blood and ashes! Knocked down by street
toughs! The Light only knows what might have happened!" 

"There is no need to apologize, Birgitte." Outrage and indig
nation began flooding through the bond, but she meant to seize
the advantage. Birgitte's chiding was bad enough in private;
she was not about to put up with it in the halls, with
servants all around, scurrying by on errands, polishing the
carved wall panels, tending stand-lamps that were gilded here.
They barely paused to otter silent courtesies to Birgitte and
her, but doubtless every one was wondering why the Captain-
General looked like a thunderhead and had their ears wide to
catch whatever they could. "You were not there because I
didn't want you there. I'll wager Sareitha didn't have Ned
with her." It hardly seemed possible that Birgitte's face
could darken more. Perhaps mentioning Sareitha was a mistake.
Elayne changed the subject. "You really must do something
about your language. You are beginning to sound like the worst
sort of layabout." 

"My . . . language," Birgitte murmured dangerously. Even her
strides changed, to something like a pacing leopard. "You talk
about my language? At least I always know what the words I use
mean. At least I know what fits where, and what doesn't."
Elayne colored, and her neck stiffened. She did know! Most of
the time. Often enough, at least. "As for Yarman," Birgitte
went on, her voice still soft, and still dangerous, "he's a
good man, but he isn't over being goggle-eyed that he's a
Warder yet. He probably jumps when Sareitha snaps her fingers.
I was never goggle-eyed, and I don't jump. Is that why you
saddled me with a title? Did you think it would rein me in?
Wouldn't have been the first silly thought in that head of
yours. For someone who thinks so clearly most of the time. . .
. Well. I have a writing desk buried in flaming reports I have
to shovel through if you're going to get even half the Guards
you want, but we'll have a good long talk tonight. My Lady,"

she added, much too firmly. Her bow was almost mockingly
formal. She stalked away, and her long golden braid should
have been bristling like an angry cat's tail. 

Elayne stamped her foot in frustration. Birgitte's title was
a well-earned reward, earned ten times over just since she
bonded the woman! And ten thousand times over before that.
Well, she had thought of the other, but not until afterwards.
Much good it had done, anyway. Whether from liege lady or Aes
Sedai, Birgitte chose which commands she obeyed. Not when it
was important- not when she thought it was important,
anyway-but over anything else, especially what she called
unnecessary risks, or improper behavior. As if Birgitte
Silverbow could talk to anyone about taking risks! And as for
proper behavior, Birgitte caroused in taverns! She drank and
gambled, and ogled pretty men to boot! She enjoyed looking at
the pretty ones even if she did prefer those who looked as if
they had been beaten about the head often. Elayne did not want
to change her-she admired the woman, liked her, counted her a
friend-but she wished there were a little more of Warder to
Aes Sedai in their relationship. And much less of knowing
older sister to scampish younger. 

Abruptly she realized that she was standing there scowling
at nothing. Servants hesitated as they went by, and tucked
their heads down as if afraid she might be glaring at them.
Smoothing her face, she gestured to a gangling, pimply-faced
boy coming down the hall. He bowed so awkwardly and so deeply
that he staggered and almost fell over. 

"Find Mistress Harfor and ask her to see me immediately in
my apartments," she told him, then added in a not unkindly
voice, "And you might remember, your superiors won't be
pleased if they find you gawking at the Palace when you should
be working." His mouth dropped open as though she had read his
mind. Perhaps he thought she had. His wide eyes flashed to her
Great Serpent ring, and he squeaked and made an even deeper
bow before darting away at a dead run. 

She smiled in spite of herself. It had been a wild stab, but
he was too young to be anyone's spy, and too nervous not to be
up to something he should not. On the other hand. . . . Her
smile faded. On the other hand, he was not that much younger
than she. 

Chapter 8: The Sea Folk and Kin 

It was no surprise to Elayne when she encountered the First
Maid before reaching her apartments. After all, they were both
heading for the same place. Mistress Harfor made her curtsy
and fell in with her, carrying an embossed leather folder
beneath one arm. She had certainly been up as early as Elayne
if not earlier, but her scarlet tabard appeared freshly
ironed, the White Lion on her front as clean and pale as new-
fallen snow. The servants scurried faster and polished harder
when they saw her. Reene Harfor was not harsh, but she kept as
tight a discipline over the Palace as Gareth Bryne ever had
over the Guards. 

"I fear I haven't caught any spies yet, my Lady," she said

in response to Elayne's question, her voice pitched to reach
Elayne's ears alone, "but I believe I uncovered a pair. A
woman and a man, both taken in service during the last months
of the late Queen your mother's reign. They left the Palace as
soon as word spread that I was questioning everyone. Without
waiting to gather a scrap of their belongings, not so much as
a cloak. That's as good as an admission, I'd say. Unless they
were afraid of being caught out in some other mischief," she
added reluctantly. "There have been cases of pilfering, I'm
afraid." 

Elayne nodded thoughtfully. Naean and Elenia had been much
in the Palace during the last months of her mother's reign.
More than enough opportunity to settle eyes-and-ears in place.
Those two had been in the Palace, and more who had opposed
Morgase Trakand's claim to the throne, accepted her amnesty
once she had it, then betrayed her. She would not make her
mother's mistake. Oh, there must be amnesty wherever possible-
anything else was planting the seeds for a civil war-but she
planned to watch those who took her pardon very closely. Like
a cat watching a rat that claimed to have given up interest in
the grain barns. "They were spies," she said. "And there may
well be others. Not just for Houses. The sisters at the Silver
Swan may have bought eyes-and-ears in the Palace, too." 

"I will continue to look, my Lady," Reene replied, inclining
her head slightly. Her tone was perfectly respectful; she did
not so much as raise an eyebrow, but once again Elayne found
herself thinking of teaching her grandmother to knit. If only
Birgitte could handle matters the way Mistress Harfor did. 

"As well you returned early," the plump woman went on. "You
have a busy afternoon, I fear. To begin, Master Norry wishes
to speak with you. On an urgent matter, he says." Her mouth
hardened for an instant. She always required to know why
people wanted to approach Elayne, so she could winnow out the
chaff rather than let Elayne be buried under it, but the First
Clerk never saw fit to give her even a hint of his business.
Any more than she told him hers. Both were jealous of their
fiefs. With a shake of her head, she dismissed Halwin Norry.
"After him, a delegation of tabac merchants has petitioned to
see you, and another of weavers, both asking remission of
taxes because times are hard. My Lady does not need my advice
to tell them times are hard for everyone. A group of foreign
merchants is waiting as well; rather a large group. Merely to
wish you well in a way that doesn't encumber them, of
course-they wish to be on your good side without antagonizing
anyone else-but I suggest meeting them briefly." She laid
plump fingers on the folder under her arm. "Also, the Palace
accounts require your signature before they can go to Master
Norry. They'll make him sigh, I fear. I hardly expected it in
winter, but much of the flour is full of weevils and moths,
and half the cured hams have turned, as well as most of the
smoked fish." Quite respectful. And quite firm. 

/ rule Andor, Elayne's mother had told her once, in private,
but at times I think Reene Harfor rules me. Her mother had
been laughing, but she sounded as if she meant it, too. Come
to think on it, Mistress Harfor as a Warder would be ten times
worse than Birgitte. 

Elayne did not want to meet with Halwin Norry or with mer

chants. She wanted to sit quietly and think about spies, and
who had Naean and Elenia, and how she could counter them. Ex
cept .... Master Norry had kept Caemlyn alive since her mother
died. In truth, by what she could see in the old accounts, he
had done so almost from the day she had fallen into Rahvin's
clutches, though Norry was vague about that. He seemed
offended by the events of those days, in a rather dusty way.
She could not simply shuffle him off. Besides, he never
expressed urgency over anything. And the goodwill of merchants
was not to be sneered at, even foreign merchants. And the
accounts did need to be signed. Weevils and moths? And hams
spoiling? In winter? That was decidedly odd. 

They had reached the tall, lion-carved doors of her apart
ments. Smaller lions than on the doors to those her mother had
used, and smaller apartments, but she never considered using
the Queen's chambers. That would have been as presumptuous as
sitting on the Lion Throne before her right to the Rose Crown
was acknowledged. 

With a sigh, she reached for the folder. 

Down the hallway she caught sight of Solain Morgeillin and
Keraille Surtovni, hurrying along as quickly as they could
without appearing to run. Flashes of silver showed at the neck
of the sullen woman squeezed between them, though the
Kinswomen had draped a long green scarf around her to hide the
a'dam's leash. That would cause talk, and it would be seen
sooner or later. Better if she and the others did not have to
be moved, but there was no way to avoid it. Between Kinswomen
and Sea Folk Windfinders, rooms in the servants' quarters had
been needed to hold the overflow even with two and three to a
bed, and the Palace had basements for storage, not dungeons.
How did Rand always manage to do the wrong thing? Being male
just was not excuse enough. Solain and Keraille vanished
around a corner with their prisoner. 

"Mistress Corly asked to see you this morning, my Lady."
Reene's voice was carefully neutral. She had been watching the
Kinswomen, too, and a trace of frown remained on her broad
face. The Sea Folk were odd, yet she could fit a clan
Wavemistress and her entourage into her view of the world even
if she did not know precisely what a clan Wavemistress was. A
high-ranking foreigner was a high-ranking foreigner, and
foreigners were expected to be odd. But she could not
understand why Elayne had given shelter to nearly a hundred
and fifty merchants and crafts-women. Neither "the Kin" nor
"the Knitting Circle" would have meant anything to her had she
heard them, and she did not understand the peculiar tensions
between those women and the Aes Sedai. Nor did she understand
the women the Asha'man had brought, prisoners in truth if not
confined in cells, kept secluded and never allowed to speak to
anyone but the women who escorted them through the halls. The
First Maid knew when not to ask questions, yet she disliked
not understanding what was going on in the Palace. Her voice
did not change by a hair. "She said she had good news for you.
Of a sort, she said. She did not petition for an audience,
though." 

Good news of any sort was better than going over the ac
counts, and she had hopes of what this news might be. Relin
quishing the folder in the First Maid's hands, she said,

"Leave that on my writing table, please. And tell Master Norry
that I will see him shortly." 

Setting out in the direction the Kin had come from with
their prisoner, she walked quickly in spite of her skirts.
Good news or no good news, Norry and the merchants did have to
be seen, and the merchants, not to mention the accounts gone
over and signed. Ruling meant endless weeks of drudgery and
rare hours of doing what you wanted. Very rare hours. Birgitte
lay in the back of her head, a tight ball of the purest
irritation and frustration. No doubt, she was digging through
that table piled with papers. Well, her own relaxation this
day would be whatever time was required to change out of
riding clothes and snatch a hasty meal. So she walked very
quickly, lost in thought and hardly seeing what was in front
other. What did Norry find urgent? Surely not street repairs.
How many spies? Small chance Mistress Harfor would catch them
all. 

As she rounded a corner, only the sudden awareness of other
women who could channel kept her from running headlong into
Vandene coming the other way. They recoiled from one another
in startlement. Apparently the Green had been deep in thought,
too. Her two companions raised Elayne's eyebrows. 

Kirstian and Zarya wore plain white and stayed a careful
pace behind Vandene, hands folded meekly at their waists.
Their hair was bound back simply, and they wore no jewelry.
Jewelry was strongly discouraged among novices. They had been
Kinswomen-Kirstian had actually been in the Knitting Circle it
self-but they were runaways from the Tower, and there were
prescribed ways of dealing with those, set in Tower law, no
matter how long they had been gone. Returned runaways were
required to be absolutely perfect in everything they did, the
very model of an initiate striving for the shawl, and small
slips that might be overlooked in others were punished swiftly
and strongly. They faced a much stronger punishment when they
reached the Tower, in addition, a public birching, and even
then they would be held to their straight and painful path for
at least a year. A returned runaway was made to know in her
heart that she never, ever wanted to run away again. Not ever!
Half-trained women were just too dangerous to be left loose. 

Elayne had tried to be lenient, the few times she was with
them-the Kinswomen were not really half-trained; they had as
much experience with the One Power as any Aes Sedai, if not
the training-she had tried, only to discover that even most of
the other Kinswomen disapproved. Given another chance to
become Aes Sedai-those who could, at least-they embraced all
of the Tower's laws and customs with shocking fervor. She was
not surprised at the subdued eagerness in the two women's eyes
or the way they seemed to radiate a promise of good
behavior-they wanted that chance as badly as anyone-just that
they were with Vandene at all. Until now, she had ignored the
pair entirely. 

"I was looking for you, Elayne," Vandene said without pream
ble. Her white hair, gathered at the nape of neck with a dark
green ribbon, had always given her an air of age despite her
smooth cheeks. Her sister's murder had added grimness, soaked
it into the bone, so she seemed like an implacable judge. She
had been slender; now she was bony, her cheeks hollow. "These

children-" She cut off, a faint grimace thinning her mouth. 

It was the proper way to refer to novices-the worst moment
for a woman who went to the Tower was not when she discovered
she would not be considered fully adult until she earned the 

shawl, but when she realized that so long as she wore novice
white, she really was a child, one who might injure herself or
others through ignorance and blundering-the proper way, yet
even to Vandene it must have seemed strange here. Most novices
came to the Tower at fifteen or sixteen, and until recently,
none over eighteen, except for a handful who had managed to
carry off a lie. Unlike Aes Sedai, the Kin used age to set
their hierarchy, and Zarya-she had been calling herself
Garenia Rosoinde, but Zarya Alkaese was the name in the novice
books, and Zarya Alkaese she would answer to-Zarya, with her
strong nose and wide mouth, was more than ninety years old,
though she appeared well short of her middle years. Neither
woman had the agelessness despite their years of using the
Power, and pretty, black-eyed Kirstian looked a little older,
perhaps thirty or so. She was over three hundred, older than
Vandene herself, Elayne was sure. Kirstian had been gone from
the Tower so long that she had felt safe using her true name
again, or part of it. Not at all the usual run of novices. 

"These children," Vandene went on more firmly, a deep frown
creasing her forehead, "have been thinking over events in
Harlon Bridge." That was where her sister had been murdered.
And Ispan Shefar, but as far as Vandene was concerned, the
death of a Black sister counted with the death of a rabid dog.
"Unfortunately, rather than keeping silent about their
conclusions, they came to me. At least they haven't blathered
where anyone could hear." 

Elayne frowned slightly. Everyone in the Palace knew of the
murders by this time. "I don't understand," she said slowly.
And carefully. She did not want to give the pair hints if they
had not really dug up| painstakingly hidden secrets. "Have
they worked out that it was Darkfriends instead of robbery?"
That was the tale they had put about, two women in an isolated
house, killed for their jewelry. Only she, Vandene, Nynaeve
and Lan knew any real measure of the truth. Until now anyway,
it seemed. They must have gotten that far, or Vandene would
have sent them away with a flea in their collective ear. 

"Worse." Vandene looked around, then moved a few paces to
the center of where the hallways crossed, forcing Elayne to
follow. From that vantage, they could see anyone coming along
either corridor. The novices attentively maintained their
positions relative to the Green. Maybe they had already gotten
that flea, for all their eagerness. There were plenty of
servants in sight, but no one approaching, no one close enough
to overhear. Vandene lowered her voice anyway. Quietness did
nothing to mask her displeasure. "They reasoned out that the
killer must be Merilille, Sareitha or Careane. Good thinking
on their part, I suppose, but they shouldn't have been
thinking about it in the first place. They should have been
kept at their lessons so hard they had no time to think of
anything else." Despite the scowl she directed at Kirstian and
Zarya, the two overaged novices beamed with delight. There had
been a compliment buried in the scolding, and Vandene was
sparing of compliments.

 Elayne did not point out that the pair might have been kept
a little busier if Vandene had been willing to take part of
their lessons. Elayne herself and Nynaeve had too many other
duties, and since they had added daily lessons for the
Windfinders- everyone but Nynaeve had, anyway-no one at all
had the energy for much time with the two novices. Teaching
the Atha'an Miere women was like being fed through a
laundress's mangle! They had little respect for Aes Sedai. And
even less for rank among "the shorebound." 

"At least they didn't speak to anyone else," she murmured. A
blessing, if small. 

It had been obvious when they found Adeleas and Ispan that
their killer must be an Aes Sedai. They had been paralyzed
with crimsonthorn before they were killed, and it was all but
impossible that the Windfinders knew of an herb only found far
from the sea. And even Vandene was sure the Kin numbered no
Dark-friends among them. Ispan had run away herself as a
novice, and even gotten as far as Ebou Dar, but she had been
retaken before the Kin revealed themselves to her, that they
were more than a few women put out of the Tower who had
decided on a whim to help her. Under questioning by Vandene
and Adeleas, she had revealed a great deal. Somehow she had
managed to resist saying anything about the Black Ajah itself
except for exposing old schemes long carried out, but she had
been eager to tell anything else once Vandene and her sister
were done with her. They had not been gentle, and they had
plumbed her depths, yet she knew no more of the Kin than any
other Aes Sedai. If there were any Darkfriends among the Kin,
the Black Ajah would have known everything. So as much as they
could wish otherwise, the killer was one of three women they
had all grown to like. A Black sister in their midst. Or more
than one. They had all been frantic to keep that knowledge
secret, at least until the murderer was uncovered. The news
would throw the entire Palace into a panic, maybe the entire
city. Light, who else had been thinking over events in Harlon
Bridge? Would they have the sense to hold silence? 

"Someone had to take them in hand," Vandene said firmly, "to
keep them out of further mischief. They need regular lessons
and hard work." The pair's beaming faces had taken on a hint
of smugness, but it faded a little at that. Their lessons had
been few, but very hard, the discipline very strict. "That
means you, Elayne, or Nynaeve." 

Elayne clicked her tongue in exasperation. "Vandene, I
hardly have a moment for myself to think. I'm already
straining to give them an hour now and then. It will have to
be Nynaeve." 

"What will have to be Nynaeve?" the woman herself demanded
cheerfully, joining them. Somehow she had acquired a long,
yellow-fringed shawl embroidered with leaves and bright
flowers, but it lay looped over her elbows. Despite the
temperatures she wore a blue gown with quite a low neckline
for Andor, though the thick, dark braid pulled over her
shoulder and nestled in her cleavage kept the exposure from
being too great. The small red dot, the ki'sain, in the middle
of her forehead did look quite strange. According to Malkieri
custom, a red ki'sain marked a married woman, and she had
insisted on wearing it as soon as she learned. Toying idly

with the end of her braid, she looked . . . content . . . not
an emotion anyone usually associated with Nynaeve al'Meara. 

Elayne gave a start when she noticed Lan, a few paces off,
strolling a circle around them and keeping watch down both
hallways. As tall as an Aielman in his dark green coat, with
shoulders belonging on a blacksmith, the hard-faced man still
managed to move like a ghost. His sword was buckled at his
waist even here in the Palace. He always made Elayne shiver.
Death gazed from his cold blue eyes. Except when he looked at
Nynaeve, anyway. 

Contentment vanished from Nynaeve's face as soon as she
learned what would have to be her task. She stopped fingering
her braid, and seized it in a tight fist. "Now you listen to
me. Elayne might be able to loll around playing politics, but
I have my hands full. More than half the Kin would have
vanished by now if Alise wasn't holding them by the scruff of
the neck, and since she hasn't a hope of reaching the shawl
herself, I'm not sure how much longer she'll hold anybody. The
rest think they can argue with me! Yesterday, Sumeko called me
. . . girl!" 

She bared her teeth, but it was all her own fault, one way
and another. After all, she was the one who had hammered at
the Kin that they ought to show some backbone instead of
groveling to Aes Sedai. Well, they certainly had stopped
groveling. Instead, they were all too likely to hold sisters
up to the standard of their Rule. And find the sister wanting!
It might not be Nynaeve's fault, exactly, that she appeared to
be little more than twenty- she had slowed early-but age was
important to the Kin, and she had chosen to spend most of her
time with them. She was not jerking her braid, just pulling at
it so steadily it must be ready to pull free of her scalp. 

"And those cursed Sea Folk! Wretched women! Wretched; 

wretched; wretched! If it wasn't for that bloody bargain . .
. ! The last thing I need on my hands is a couple of whining,
bleating novices!" Kirstian's lips thinned for an instant, and
Zarya's dark eyes flashed indignation before she managed to
assume meekness again. A semblance of it. They had sense
enough to know that novices did not open their mouths to Aes
Sedai, though. 

Elayne shoved down the desire to smooth everything over. She
wanted to slap Kirstian and Zarya both. They had complicated
everything by not keeping their mouths shut in the first
place. She wanted to slap Nynaeve. So she finally had been
cornered by the Windfinders, had she? That earned no sympathy.
"I'm not playing at anything, Nynaeve, and you well know it! I
have asked your advice often enough!" Drawing a deep breath,
she tried to calm herself. The servants she could see beyond
Vandene and the two novices had paused in their work to goggle
at the cluster of women. She doubted they more than noticed
Lan, impressive as he was. Arguing Aes Sedai were something to
watch, and stay clear of. "Someone has to take charge of
them," she said more quietly. "Or do you think you can just
tell them to forget all this? Look at them, Nynaeve. Left to
themselves, they will be trying to find out who it is in a
heartbeat. They wouldn't have gone to Vandene unless they
thought she would let them help." The pair became pictures of
wide-eyed novice innocence, with just a hint of offense at an

unjust accusation. Elayne did not believe it. They had had a
lifetime to work on disguising themselves. 

"And why not?" Nynaeve said after a moment, shifting her
shawl. "Light, Elayne, you have to remember they aren't what
we normally expect in novices." Elayne opened her mouth in pro
test-what we normally expect, indeed!-Nynaeve might never have
been a novice, but she had been Accepted not all that long
ago; a whining, bleating Accepted, often enough, too!-she
opened her mouth, and Nynaeve went right on. "Vandene can make
good use of them, I'm sure," she said. "And when she isn't,
she can give them regular lessons. I remember someone telling
me you've taught novices before, Vandene. There. It's
settled." 

The two novices smiled broad, eager smiles of anticipation-
they all but rubbed their hands together in satisfaction-but
Vandene scowled. "I do not need novices getting under my feet
while I-" 

"You're just as blind as Elayne," Nynaeve broke in. "They
have experience making Aes Sedai take them for something other
than what they are. They can work at your direction, and that
will give you time to sleep and eat. I don't believe you're
doing either." She drew herself up, draping her shawl across
her shoulders and along her arms. It was quite a performance.
Short as she was, no taller than Zarya and markedly shorter
than Vandene or Kirstian, she managed to seem the tallest one
there by inches. It was a skill Elayne wished she could
master. Although she would not try in a dress cut that way.
Nynaeve was in danger of coming right out. Still, that did not
diminish her presence. She was the essence of command. "You
will do it, Vandene," she said firmly. 

Vandene's scowl faded slowly, but fade it did. Nynaeve stood
higher in the Power than she, and even if she never
consciously thought of the fact, deeply ingrained custom made
her yield, however unwillingly. By the time she turned to the
two women in white, her face was as near composed as it had
been since Adeleas' murder. Which just meant that the judge
might not order an execution right now. Later, perhaps. Her
gaunt face was calm, and starkly grim. 

"I did teach novices for a time," she said. "A short time.
The Mistress of Novices thought I was too hard on my
students." The pair's eagerness cooled a bit. "Her name was
Sereille Bagand." Zarya's face went as pale as Kirstian's, and
Kirstian swayed as if suddenly dizzy. As Mistress of Novices
and later Amyrlin Seat, Sereille was a legend. The sort of
legend that made you wake in the middle of the night sweating.
"I do eat," Vandene said to Nynaeve. "But everything tastes
like ashes." With a curt gesture at the two novices, she led 

them away past Lan. They were staggering slightly as they
followed.
"Stubborn woman," Nynaeve grumbled, frowning at the re 

treating backs, but there was more than a hint of sympathy in
her voice. "I know a dozen herbs that would help her sleep,
but she won't touch them. I've half a mind to slip something
into her evening wine." 

A wise ruler, Elayne thought, knows when to speak and when
not. Well, that was wisdom in anyone. She did not say that
Nynaeve calling anyone stubborn was the rooster calling the

pheasant proud. "Do you know what Reanne's news is?" she said
instead. "Good news-'of a sort'-so I understand." 

"I haven't seen her this morning," the other woman muttered,
still peering after Vandene. "I haven't been out of my rooms."
Abruptly she gave herself a shake, and for some reason frowned
suspiciously at Elayne. And then at Lan, of all things.
Unperturbed, he continued to stand guard. 

Nynaeve claimed her marriage was glorious-she could be
shockingly frank about it with other women-but Elayne thought
she must be lying to cover up disappointment. Very likely Lan
was ready for an attack, ready to fight, even when asleep. It
would be like lying down beside a hungry lion. Besides, that
stone face was enough to chill any marriage bed. Luckily,
Nynaeve had no idea what she thought. The woman actually
smiled. An amused smile, oddly. Amused, and . . . could it be
condescending? Of course not. Imagination. 

"I know where Reanne is," Nynaeve said, settling her shawl
back down to her elbows. "Come with me. I'll take you to her." 

Elayne knew exactly where Reanne would be, since she was not
closeted with Nynaeve, but once again she schooled her tongue,
and let Nynaeve lead her. A sort of penance for arguing
earlier, when she should have tried to make peace. Lan
followed, those cold eyes scanning the halls. The servants
they passed flinched when Lan's gaze fell on them. A youngish,
pale-haired woman actually gathered her skirts and ran,
bumping into a stand-lamp and setting it rocking in her
flight. 

That reminded Elayne to tell Nynaeve about Elenia and Naean,
and about the spies. Nynaeve took it quite calmly. She agreed
with Elayne that they would know soon enough who had rescued
the two women, with a dismissive sniff for Sareitha's doubts.
For that matter, she expressed surprise that they had not been
taken right from Aringill long since. "I couldn't believe they
were still there when we arrived in Caemlyn. Any fool could
see they would be brought here sooner or later. Much easier to
get them out of a small town." A small town. Aringill would
have seemed a great city to her, once. "As for spies. ..." She
frowned at a lanky, gray-haired man filling a gold-worked
stand-lamp with oil, and shook her head. "Of course there are
spies. I knew there must be, right from the start. You just
have to watch what you say, Elayne. Don't say anything to
anyone you don't know well unless you don't mind everyone
knowing." 

When to speak and when not, Elayne thought, pursing her
lips. Sometimes that could be a true penance, with Nynaeve. 

Nynaeve had her own information to impart. Eighteen of the
Kin who had accompanied them to Caemlyn were no longer in the
Palace. They had not run away, though. Since none was strong
enough to Travel, Nynaeve had woven the gateways herself,
sending them deep into Altara and Amadicia and Tarabon, into 

the Seanchan-held lands where they would try to find any of
the Kin who had not already fled and bring them back to
Caemlyn. 

It would have been nice if Nynaeve had thought to inform her
yesterday, when they left, or better yet, when she and Reanne
reached the decision to send them, but Elayne did not mention
that. Instead, she said, "That's very brave of them. Avoiding

capture won't be easy." 

"Brave, yes," Nynaeve said, sounding irritated. Her hand
crept up to her braid again. "But that isn't why we chose
them. Alise thought they were the most likely to run if we
didn't give them something to do." Glancing over her shoulder
at Lan, she snatched her hand back down. "I don't see how
Egwene means to do it," she sighed. "All very well to say
every one of the Kin will be 'associated' with the Tower
somehow, but how? Most aren't strong enough to earn the shawl.
Many can't even reach Accepted. And they certainly won't stand
for being novices or Accepted the rest of their lives." 

This time Elayne said nothing because she did not know what
to say. The promise had to be kept; she had made it herself.
In Egwene's name, true, and at Egwene's order, but she had
spoken the words herself, and she would not break her word.
Only, she did not see how to keep it unless Egwene came up
with something truly wonderful. 

Reanne Corly was just where Elayne had known she would be,
in a small room with two narrow windows looking down on a
small, fountained courtyard deep in the Palace, though the
fountain was dry, this time of year, and the glass casements
made the room a little stuffy. The floor was plain dark tile
with no carpet, and for furnishings there were only a narrow
table and two chairs. There were two people with Reanne when
Elayne entered. Alise Tenjile, in simple high-necked gray,
looked up from where she stood at the end of the table.
Seemingly in her middle years, she was a woman of pleasant,
unremarkable appearance who was quite remarkable indeed once
you came to know her and could be very unpleasant indeed when
it was called for. A single glance, and she returned to her
study of what was going on at the table. Aes Sedai, Warders
and Daughter-Heirs did not impress Alise, not any longer.
Reanne herself was sitting on one side of the table, her face
creased and her hair more gray than not, in a green dress more
elaborate than Alise's; she had been put out of the Tower
after failing her test for Accepted, and offered a second
chance, she had already adopted the colors of her preferred
Ajah. Across from her sat a plump woman in plain brown wool,
her face set in stubborn defiance and her dark eyes locked on
Reanne, avoiding the silvery segmented a'dam lying like a
snake between them on the table. Her hands stroked the edge of
the tabletop, though, and Reanne wore a confident smile that
deepened the fine lines at the corners of her eyes. 

"Don't tell me you have made one of them see reason,"
Nynaeve said before Lan had even shut the door behind them.
She scowled at the woman in brown as though she wanted to box
her ears if not worse, then glanced at Alise. Elayne thought
Nynaeve was a little in awe of Alise. The woman was far from
strong in the Power-she would never attain the shawl-but she
had a way of taking charge when she wanted to and making
everyone around her accept it. Including Aes Sedai. Elayne
thought she might be just a little in awe of Alise herself. 

"They still deny they can channel," Alise muttered, folding
her arms beneath her breasts, and frowned at the woman facing
Reanne. "They can't, really, I suppose, but I can feel . . .
something. Not quite the spark of a woman born to it, but
almost. It's as if she were right at the brink of being able

to channel, one foot poised to step over. I have never sensed
anything like it before. Well. At least they don't try to
attack us with their fists anymore. I think I put them
straight on that, at least!" The woman in brown flashed a
sullen, angry glare at her, but jerked her eyes away from
Alise's firm gaze, her mouth twisting in a sickly grimace.
When Alise set somebody straight, they were set very straight
indeed. Her hands continued to shift along the tabletop; 

Elayne did not think she was aware of it. 

"They still deny seeing the flows, too, but they're trying
to convince themselves," Reanne said in her high, musical
voice. She continued to meet the other's obstinate stare with
a smile. Any sister might have envied Reanne's serenity and
presence. She had been Eldest of the Knitting Circle, the
highest authority among the Kin. According to their Rule, the
Knitting Circle existed only in Ebou Dar, but she was still
the oldest among those in Caemlyn, a hundred years older than
any Aes Sedai in living memory, and she could match any sister
with her air of calm command. "They claim we trick them with
the Power, use it to make them believe the a'dam can hold
them. Sooner or later, they will run out of lies." Drawing the
a'dam to her, she opened the collar's catch with a deft
motion. "Shall we try again, Marii?" The woman in
brown-Marii-still avoided looking at the length of silver
metal in Reanne's hands, but she stiffened and her hands
fluttered on the table's edge. 

Elayne sighed. What a gift Rand had sent her. A gift! Twenty-
nine Seanchan sui'dam neatly held by a'dam, and five
damane-she hated that word; it meant Leashed One, or simply
Leashed; but that was what they were-five damane who could not
be uncollared for the simple reason that they would try to
free the Seanchan women who had held them prisoner. Leopards
tied with string would have been a better gift. At least
leopards could not channel. They had been given into the Kin's
keeping because no one else had the time. 

Still, she had seen right away what to do with the sui'dam.
Convince them that they could learn to channel, then send them
back to the Seanchan. Apart from Nynaeve, only Egwene,
Aviendha and a few of the Kin knew her plan. Nynaeve and
Egwene were doubtful, but however hard the sui'dam tried to
hide what they were once they were returned, eventually one
would slip. If they did not just report everything right away.
Seanchan were peculiar; even the Seanchan among the damane
truly believed that any woman who could channel had to be
collared for the safety of everyone else. Sui'dam, with their
ability to control women wearing the a'dam, were highly
respected among the Seanchan. The knowledge that sui'dam
themselves were able to channel would shake the Seanchan to
their core, maybe even break them apart. It had seemed so
simple, in the beginning. 

"Reanne, I understood that you had good news," she said. "If
the sui'dam haven't started breaking down, what is it?" Alise
frowned at Lan, who stood silent guard in front of the
door-she disapproved of him knowing their plans-but she said
nothing. 

"A moment, if you please," Reanne murmured. It was not
really a request. Nynaeve truly had done her job too well.

"There is no need for her to listen." The glow of saidar
suddenly shone around her. She moved her fingers as she
channeled, as though guiding the flows of air that bound Marii
to her chair, then tied them off and cupped her hands as
though shaping in her sight the ward against sound that she
wove around the woman. The gestures were no part of
channeling, of course, but necessary to her, since she had
learned the weaves that way. The sui'dam's lips twisted
slightly in contempt. The One Power did not frighten her at
all. 

"Take your time," Nynaeve put in acidly, planting her hands
on her hips. "There's no hurry." Reanne did not intimidate her
the way Alise did. 

Then again, Nynaeve no longer intimidated Reanne, either.
Reanne did take her time, studying her handiwork, then nodded
with satisfaction before rising. The Kin had always tried to
channel as little as was necessary, and she took great
pleasure in the freedom to use saidar as often as she wished,
as well as pride in weaving well. 

"The good news," she said, standing and smoothing her
skirts, "is that three of the damane seem ready to be let out
of their collars. Perhaps." 

Elayne's eyebrows rose, and she exchanged surprised looks
with Nynaeve. Of the five damane Taim had handed over to them,
one had been taken by the Seanchan on Toman Head and another
in Tanchico. The others had come from Seanchan. 

"Two of the Seanchan women, Marille and Jillari, still say
they deserve to be collared, need to be collared." Reanne's
mouth tightened with distaste, but she paused for only a
moment. "They truly seem horrified at the prospect of freedom.
Alivia has stopped that. Now she says it was only because she
was afraid she would be retaken. She says she hates all the
sui'dam, and she certainly makes a good show of it, snarling
at them and cursing them, but. . . ." She shook her head
slowly in doubt. "She was collared at thirteen or fourteen,
Elayne, she's not certain which, and she's been damane for
four hundred years! And aside from that, she is ... she's . .
. Alivia is considerably stronger than Nynaeve," she finished
in a rush. Age, the Kin might discuss openly, but they had all
the Aes Sedai reticence about speaking of strength in the
Power. "Do we dare let her free? A Seanchan wilder who could
tear the entire Palace apart?" The Kin shared the Aes Sedai
view of wilders, too. Most did. 

Sisters who knew Nynaeve had learned to take care with that
word around her. She could become quite snappish when it was
used in a disparaging tone. Now, she just stared at Reanne.
Perhaps she was trying to find the answer. Elayne knew what
her own answer would be, but this had nothing to do with
claiming the throne, or Andor. It was a decision for Aes
Sedai, and here, that meant it was Nynaeve's to make. 

"If you don't," Lan said quietly from the door, "then you
might as well give her back to the Seanchan." He was not at
all abashed by the dark looks given him by the four women who
heard his deep voice toll those words like a funeral gong.
"You will have to watch her closely, but keep her collared
when she wants to be free, and you are no better than they
are."

 "That isn't for you to say, Warder," Alise said firmly. He
met her stern stare with cool equanimity, and she gave a small
disgusted grunt and threw up her hands. "You should give him a
good talking-to when you get him alone, Nynaeve." 

Nynaeve must have been feeling her awe of the women partic
ularly strongly, because her cheeks colored. "Don't think that
I will not," she said lightly. She did not look at Lan at all.
Finally condescending to notice the chill, she pulled her
shawl up onto her shoulders, and cleared her throat. "He is
right, though. At least we don't have to worry about the other
two. I'm just surprised it took them this long to stop
imitating those fool Seanchan." 

"I am not so sure," Reanne sighed. "Kara was a sort of wise
woman on Toman Head, you know. Very influential in her
village. A wilder, of course. You would think she'd hate the
Seanchan, but she doesn't, not all of them. She is very fond
of the sui'dam captured with her, and very anxious that we
shouldn't hurt any of the sui'dam. Lemore is just nineteen, a
pampered noblewoman with the extreme bad luck to have the
spark manifest itself in her on the very day Tanchico fell.
She says she hates the Seanchan and wants to make them pay for
what they did to Tanchico, but she answers to Larie, her
damane name, as readily as to Lemore, and she smiles at the
sui'dam and lets them pet her. I don't mistrust them, not the
way I do Alivia, but I doubt either one could stand up to a
sui'dam. I think if a sui'dam ordered either to help her
escape, she would, and I fear she might not fight too hard if
the sui'dam tried to collar her again." 

After she stopped speaking, the silence stretched. 

Nynaeve seemed to look inward, struggling with herself. She
gripped her braid, then let go and folded her arms tight
across her chest, the fringe of her shawl swaying as she
hugged herself. She glared at everyone except Lan. Him, she
did not so much as glance at. 

Finally she took a deep breath, and squared herself to face
Reanne and Alise. "We must remove the a'dam. We will hold on
to them until we can be sure-and Lemore after; she needs to be
put in white!-and we will make sure they are never left alone,
especially with the sui'dam, but the a'dam come off!" She
spoke fiercely, as if expecting opposition, but a broad smile
of approval spread across Elayne's face. The addition of three
more women they could not be sure of hardly counted as good
news, but there had been no other choice. 

Reanne merely nodded acceptance-after a moment-but a smiling
Alise came around the table to pat Nynaeve's shoulder, and
Nynaeve actually blushed. She tried to hide it behind clearing
her throat roughly and grimacing at the Seanchan woman in her
cage of saidar, but her efforts were not very effectual, and
Lan spoiled them in any case. 

"Tai'shar Manetheren," he said softly. 

Nynaeve's mouth fell open, then curled into a tremulous
smile. Sudden tears glistened in her eyes as she spun to face
him, her face joyous. He smiled back at her, and there was
nothing cold in his eyes. 

Elayne struggled not to gape. Light! Maybe he did not chill
their marriage bed after all. The thought made her cheeks
warm. Trying not to look at them, her eyes fell on Marii,

still fastened in her chair. The Seanchan woman was staring
straight ahead, tears flowing down her plump cheeks. Straight
ahead. At the weaves holding sound away from her. She could
not deny seeing the weaves now. But when she said as much,
Reanne shook her head. 

"They all weep if they are made to look at waves very long,
Elayne," she said wearily. And a touch sadly. "But once the
weaves are gone, they convince themselves we tricked them.
They have to, you understand. Else they'd be damane, not
sui'dam. No, it will take time to convince the Mistress of the
Hounds that she is really a hound herself. I am afraid I
really haven't given you any good news at all, have I?" 

"Not very much," Elayne told her. None, really. Just another
problem to stack up on all the rest. How much bad news could
be stacked before the pile buried you? She had to get some
good, soon. 

Chapter 9: A Cup of Tea 

Once in her dressing room, Elayne hurriedly changed out of
her riding clothes with the help of Essande, the white-haired
pensioner she had chosen for her maid. The slender, dignified
woman was a trifle slow-moving, but she knew her job and did
not waste time chattering. In fact, she seldom said a word
beyond suggestions on clothing, and the comment given every
day, that Elayne looked like her mother. Flames danced atop
thick logs on a wide marble hearth at one end of the room, but
the fire did little to take the chill off the air. Quickly she
put on a fine blue wool with patterns of seed pearls on the
high neck and down the sleeves, her silver-worked belt with a
small silver-sheathed dagger, and the silver-embroidered blue
velvet slippers. There might be no time to change again before
seeing the merchants, and they must be impressed at the sight
of her. She would have to be sure Birgitte was there; Birgitte
was most impressive in her uniform. And Birgitte would take
even listening to merchants as a break. By the heated knot of
irritation resting in the back of Elayne's head, the Captain-
General of the Queen's Guard was finding those reports heavy
going. Hastening dusters of pearls in her ears, she dismissed
Essande to her own fire, in the pensioners' quarters. The
woman had denied it when offered Healing, but Elayne suspected
her joints ached. In any case, she herself was ready. She
would not wear the coronet of the Daughter-Heir; it could stay
atop the small ivory jewelry chest on her dressing table. She
did not have many gems; 

most had already been put in pawn, and the rest might have
to go when the plate did. No point worrying about it now. A
few moments to herself, and she would have to leap back to
duty. 

Her dark-paneled sitting room with its wide cornices of
carved birds contained two tall fireplaces with elaborate
mantels, one at either end, which did a better job of warming
than the one in the dressing room, though here, too, the
carpets layered on the white-tiled floor were necessary. To
her surprise, the room also contained Halwin Norry. Duty had

leaped at her, it seemed. 

The First Clerk stretched up out of a low-backed chair as
she entered, clutching a leather folder to his narrow chest,
and lurched around the scroll-edged table in the middle of the
room to make an awkward leg. Norry was tall and lean, with a
long nose, his sparse fringe of hair rising behind his ears
like sprays of white feathers. He often minded her of a heron.
Any number of clerks under him actually wielded the pens, yet
a small inkstain marred one edge of his scarlet tabard. The
stain looked old, though, and she wondered whether the folder
hid others. He had only taken to holding it against his chest
when he donned formal dress, two days after Mistress Harfor.
Whether he had done so as an expression of loyalty, or simply
because the First Maid had, was still in question. 

"Forgive me for being precipitate, my Lady," he said, "but I
do believe I have matters of some importance, if not actual
haste, to lay before you." Important or not, his voice still
droned. 

"Of course, Master Norry. I would not want to press you to
haste." He blinked at her, and she tried not to sigh. She
thought he might be more than a little deaf, from the way he
tilted his head this way and that as if to catch sound better.
Maybe that was why his voice almost never changed pitch. She
raised hers a little. He might just be a bore, after all.
"Sit, and tell me these matters of importance." 

She took one of the carved chairs away from the table and
motioned him to another, but he remained standing. He always
did. She settled back to listen, crossing her knees and
adjusting her skirts. 

He did not refer to his folder. Everything on the papers in
it would be inside his head, the papers there only in case she
required to see with her own eyes. "Most immediate, my Lady,
and perhaps most important, large deposits of alum have been
discovered on your estates at Danabar. The first quality of
alum. I believe the bankers will be ... umm . . . less
hesitant regarding my inquiries on your behalf once they learn
of this." He smiled briefly, a momentary curving of thin lips.
For him, that was near to capering. 

Elayne sat up straight as soon as he mentioned alum, and she
smiled much more broadly. She felt a little like capering
herself. Had her companion been anyone but Norry, she might
have. Her elation was so strong that for a moment she felt
Birgitte's irritability wane. Dyers and weavers devoured alum,
and so did glass-makers and papermakers among others. The only
source for first quality alum was Ghealdan-or had been till
now-and just the taxes on the trade had been sufficient to
support the throne of Ghealdan for generations. What came from
Tear and Arafel was not nearly so fine, yet it put as much
coin in those countries' coffers as olive oil or gems. 

"That is important news, Master Norry. The best I've had
today." The best since reaching Caemlyn, very likely, but
certainly the best today. "How quickly can you overcome the
bankers' 'hesitation'?" It had been more like slamming the
door in her face, only not so rude. The bankers knew to a man
how many swords stood behind her at the moment, and how many
behind her opponents. Even so, she had no doubts the riches of
alum would bring them around. Neither did Norry.

 "Quite quickly, my Lady, and on very good terms, I believe.
I shall tell them if their best offers are insufficient, I
will approach Tear or Cairhien. They will not risk losing the
custom, my Lady." All in that dry, flat voice, without a hint 

of the satisfaction any other man would have. "It will be
loans against future income, of course, and there will be
expenses. The mining itself. Transportation. Danabar is in 

mountainous country, and some distance from the Lugard Road.
Still, there should be sufficient to meet your ambitions for
the Guards, my Lady. And for your Academy." 

"Sufficient is hardly the word, if you've given over trying
to talk me out of my plans for the Academy, Master Norry," she
said, nearly laughing. He was as jealous of Andor's treasury
as a hen with one chick, and he had been adamantly opposed to
her taking over the school Rand had ordered founded in
Caemlyn, returning to his arguments time and again until his
voice seemed a drill boring into her skull. So far the school
consisted of only a few dozen scholars with their students,
scattered about the New City in various inns, but even in
winter more arrived every day, and they had begun to clamor
for more space. She did not propose giving them a palace,
certainly, yet they needed something. Norry was trying to
husband Andor's gold, but she was looking to Andor's future.
Tarmon Gai'don was coming, yet she had to believe there would
be a future afterward, whether or not Rand broke the world
again. Otherwise, there was no point in going on with
anything, and she could not see just sitting down to wait.
Even if she knew for a fact that the Last Battle would end
everything, she did not think she could sit on her hands. Rand
started schools in case he did end breaking the world, in the
hope of saving something, but this school would be Andor's,
not Rand al'Thor's. The Academy of the Rose, dedicated to the
memory of Morgase Trakand. There would be a future, and the
future would remember her mother. "Or have you decided the
Cairhienin gold can be traced to the Dragon Reborn after all?" 

"I still believe the risk to be very small, my Lady, but no
longer worth taking in view of what I have just learned from
Tar Valon." His tone did not alter, but clearly he was
agitated. His fingers drummed the leather folder against his
chest, spiders dancing, then still. "The . . . umm . . . White
Tower has issued a proclamation acknowledging . . . umm . . .
Lord Rand as the Dragon Reborn and offering him . . . umm . .
. protection and guidance. It also pronounces anathema on
anyone approaching him save through the Tower. It is wise to
be wary of Tar Valon's anger, my Lady, as you yourself are
aware." He looked significantly at the Great Serpent ring on
her hand resting on the carved arm of the chair. He knew of
the split in the Tower, of course- maybe a crofter in Seleisin
did not; no one else could fail to, by now-but he had been too
discreet to ask her allegiance. Though plainly he had been
about to say "the Amyrlin Seat" instead of "the White Tower."
And the Light alone knew what in place of "Lord Rand." She did
not hold that against him. He was a cautious man, a quality
needed in his post. 

Elaida's proclamation stunned her, though. Frowning, she
thumbed her ring thoughtfully. Elaida had worn that ring
longer than she herself had lived. The woman was arrogant,

wrong-headed, blind to any view except her own, but she was
not stupid. Far from it. "Can she possibly think he will
accept such an offer?" she mused, half to herself. "Protection
and guidance? I can't imagine a better way to put his back
up!" Guidance? No one could guide Rand with a barge pole! 

"He may possibly have accepted already, my Lady, according
to my correspondent in Cairhien." Norry would have shuddered
at the suggestion he was in any way a spymaster. Well, he
would have twisted his mouth in distaste, anyway. The First
Clerk administered the treasury, controlled the clerks who ran
the capital, and advised the throne on matters of state. He
certainly had no network of eyes-and-ears, like the Ajahs and
even some individual sisters did. But he did exchange regular
letters with knowledgeable and often well-connected people in
other capitals, so his advice could be current with events.
"She sends a pigeon only once a week, and it seems that right
after her last, someone attacked the Sun Palace using the One
Power." 

"The Power?" she exclaimed, jerking forward in shock. 

Norry nodded once. He might have been reporting the current
state of street repairs. "So my correspondent reports, my
Lady. Aes Sedai, perhaps, or Asha'man, or even the Forsaken.
She repeats gossip here, I fear. The wing housing the
apartments of the Dragon Reborn was largely destroyed, and he
himself has vanished. It is widely believed that he has gone
to Tar Valon to kneel before the Amyrlin Seat. Some do believe
him dead in the attack, but not a great many. I advise doing
nothing until you have a clearer picture." He paused, head
tilted in thought. "From what I saw of him, my Lady," he said
slowly, "I myself would not believe him dead unless I sat
three days with the corpse." 

She almost stared. That was very nearly a joke. A rough
witticism, at least. From Halwin Norry! She did not believe
Rand was dead, either. She would not believe he was dead. As
for kneeling to Elaida, the man was too stubborn to submit to
anyone. A great many difficulties could be surmounted if only
he could bring himself to kneel to Egwene, but he would not do
it, and she was his childhood friend. Elaida stood as much
chance as a goat at a court ball, particularly once he learned
other proclamation. Who had attacked him, though? Surely the
Seanchan could not have reached out to Cairhien. If the
Forsaken had decided to move openly, that could mean worse
chaos and destruction than already faced the world, but the
worst would be Asha'man. If his own creations turned on him. .
. . No! She could not protect him, however much he needed it.
He would just have to fend for himself. 

Fool man! she muttered in her head. He's probably marching
around with banners, just as if no one tried to kill him at
all! You had better fend for yourself, Rand al'Thor, or I'll
slap you silly when I get my hands on you! 

"What else do your correspondents have to say, Master
Norry?" she asked aloud, putting Rand aside. She did not have
her hands on him yet, and she needed to concentrate on trying
to hold on to Andor. 

His correspondents had a great deal to say, though some of
it was quite old. Not all the writers used pigeons, and
letters given to the most trustworthy merchant could take

months to come across land in the best of times. Untrustworthy
merchants accepted the post fee and never bothered to deliver
the letter. Few people could afford to hire couriers. Elayne
had a mind to start a Royal Post, if the situation ever
allowed. Norry lamented the fact that his latest from Ebou Dar
and Amador were already overtaken by events that had been the
talk of the streets for weeks. 

Not all the news was important, either. His letter writers
really were not eyes-and-ears; they just wrote the news of
their city, the talk of the court. The talk of Tear was of
increasing numbers of Sea Folk ships that made their way
through the Fingers of the Dragon without pilots and now
crowded the river at the city, of rumors that Sea Folk vessels
had fought the Seanchan at sea, though that was purely rumor.
Illian was quiet, and full of Rand's soldiers, recovering from
a battle against the Seanchan; no more was known; even whether
Rand had been in the city was in question. The Queen of
Saldaea was still on her long retreat in the country, which
Elayne already knew about, but it seemed the Queen of Kandor
had not been seen in Chachin for months, either, and the King
of Shienar was supposedly still on an extended inspection of
the Blightborder, though the Blight was reported quieter than
any time in memory. In Lugard, King Roedran was gathering
every noble who would bring armsmen, and a city already
worried about two great armies camped near the border with
Andor, one full of Aes Sedai and the other full of Andorans,
now also worried about what a dissolute wastrel like Roedran
intended. 

"And your counsel here?" she asked when he was done, though
she did not need it. In truth, she had not needed it in the
others. The events were too far away to affect Andor, or else
unimportant, just a view of what was occurring in other lands.
Still, she was expected to ask even when they both knew she
already had the answer-"do nothing"-and he had been prompt
with his replies. Murandy was neither far away nor
unimportant, yet this time he hesitated, pursing his lips.
Norry was slow and methodical, but seldom hesitant. 

"None, in this regard, my Lady," he said at last. "Normally,
I would advise an emissary to Roedran to attempt sounding out
his goals and reasons. He may be fearful of events north of
him, or of the Aiel raids we hear so much about. Then again,
though he has always been unambitious, he may have some
enterprise in northern Altara. Or in Andor, under the
circumstances. Unfortunately. . . ." Still pressing the folder
to his chest, he spread his hands slightly and sighed, perhaps
in apology, perhaps distress. 

Unfortunately, she was not queen yet, and no emissary from
her would get near Roedran. If her claim failed, and he had re
ceived her envoy, the successful claimant might seize a swath
of Murandy to teach him a lesson, and Lord Luan and the others
had already seized territory. She had better information than
the First Clerk, though, from Egwene. She had no intention of
revealing her source, but she decided to ease his distress.
That must be what had his mouth wrinkled: knowing what should
be done and not being able to see how to do it. 

"I know Roedran's aims, Master Norry, and he aims at Murandy
itself. The Andorans in Murandy have accepted oaths from

Murandian nobles in the north, which make the rest nervous.
And there is a large band of mercenaries-Dragonsworn, really,
but Roedran thinks they are mercenaries-who he has hired in
secret, to sit and provide a menace after the other armies are
gone. He plans to use those threats to bind nobles to him
tightly enough that each is afraid to be the first to break
away when the threats are all gone. He may be a problem in the
future, if his plan succeeds-for one thing, he will want those 

northern lands back-but he presents no immediate problems for
Andor."
Norry's eyes widened, and he tilted his head first to one 

side then other, studying her. He wet his lips before
speaking. "That would explain much, my Lady. Yes. Yes, it
would." His tongue touched his lips again. "There was one
other point mentioned by my correspondent in Cairhien which I
... umm . . . forgot to mention. As you may be aware, your
intention to claim the Sun Throne is well known there, and has
large support. It seems that many Cairhienin speak openly of
coming to Andor, to aide you in gaining the Lion Throne so you
can take the Sun Throne sooner. I think perhaps you do not
need my advice concerning any such offers?" 

She nodded, quite graciously in the circumstances, she
thought. Aid from Cairhien would be worse than the
mercenaries, for there had been too many wars between Andor
and Cairhien. He had not forgotten. Halwin Norry never forgot
anything. So why had he decided to tell her, rather than let
her be caught by surprise, perhaps by the arrival of her
Cairhien supporters? Had her display of knowledge impressed
him? Or made him fearful she might learn he had held back? He
waited on her patiently, a dried-up heron waiting ... on a
fish? 

"Have a letter prepared for my signature and seal, Master
Norry, to be sent to every major House in Cairhien. Begin with
setting out my right to the Sun Throne as the daughter of
Taringail Damodred, and say that I will come to put forward my
claim when events in Andor are more settled. Say that I will
bring no soldiers with me, as I know that Andoran soldiers on
Cairhienin soil would incite all of Cairhien against me, and
rightly so. Finish with my appreciation of the support offered
to my cause by many Cairhienin, and my hope that any divisions
within Cairhien can be healed peacefully." The intelligent
would see the message behind the words, and with luck, explain
it to any who were not bright enough. 

"A deft response, my Lady," Norry said, hunching his shoul
ders in a semblance of a bow. "I shall make it so. If I may
ask, my Lady, have you had time to sign the accounts? Ah. No
matter. I will send someone for them later." Bowing properly,
if no less awkwardly than before, he prepared to go, then
paused. "Forgive me for being so bold, my Lady, but you remind
me very much of the late Queen your mother." 

Watching the door close behind him, she wondered whether she
could count him in her camp. Administering Caemlyn without
clerks, much less Andor, was impossible, and the First Clerk
had the power to bring a queen to her knees if unchecked. A
compliment was not the same as a declaration of fealty. 

She did not have long to mull the question, for only moments
after he departed, three liveried maids entered, bearing

silver-domed trays that they placed in a row on the long side
table standing against one wall. 

"The First Maid said my Lady forgot to send for her midday
meal," a round, gray-haired woman said, curtsying as she
gestured for her younger companion to remove the tall domes,
"so she sent a choice for my Lady." 

A choice. Shaking her head at the display, Elayne was re
minded how long it had been since breakfast, eaten with the
rising sun. There was sliced saddle of mutton with mustard
sauce, and capon roasted with dried figs, sweetbreads with
pinenuts, and creamy leek and potato soup, cabbage rolls with
raisins and peppers, and a squash pie, not to mention a small
plate of apple tarts and another of tipsy cake topped with
clotted cream. Mists of steam rose from two squat silver
pitchers of wine, in case she preferred one sort of spicing
over another. A third held hot tea. And pushed scornfully into
a corner of one tray was the meal she always ordered in the
middle of the day, clear broth and bread. Reene Harfor
disapproved of that; she claimed Elayne was "thin as a rail." 

The First Maid had spread her opinions. The gray-haired
woman put on a reproachful face as she set the bread and broth
and tea on the table in the middle of the room with a white
linen napkin, a thin blue porcelein cup and saucer, and a
silver pot of honey. And a few of the figs on a dish. A full
stomach at midday made for a dull head in the afternoon, as
Lini used to say. Her opinions were not shared, however. The
maids were all comfortably padded women, and even the younger
pair looked disappointed as they departed with the remainder
of the food. 

It was very good broth, hot and lightly spiced, and the tea
was pleasantly minty, but she was not left alone with her
meal, and her thoughts that perhaps she could have taken a
little of the tipsy cake, for long. Before she had swallowed
two mouthfuls, Dyelin stormed into the room like a whirlwind
in a green riding dress, breathing hard. Setting down her
spoon, Elayne offered tea before realizing there was only the
one cup she was already using, but Dyelin waved the offer
aside, her face set in a dire frown. 

"There is an army in Braem Wood," she announced, "like
nothing seen since the Aiel War. A merchant down from New
Braem brought the news this morning. A solid, reliable man,
Tormon; an Illianer; not given to flights of fancy or jumping
at shadows. He said he saw Arafellin, Kandori, and Shienarans,
in different places. Thousands of them, altogether. Tens of
thousands." Collapsing into a chair, she fanned herself with
one hand. Her face was touched with red, as if she had run
with the news. "What in the Light are Borderlanders doing
nearly on the border of Andor?" 

"It's Rand, I'll wager," Elayne said. Stifling a yawn, she
drank the rest of her tea and refilled the cup. Her morning
had been tiring, but enough tea would perk her up. 

Dyelin stopped fanning and sat up straight. "You don't think
he sent them, do you? To ... help you?" 

That possibility had not occurred to Elayne. At times she re
gretted letting the older woman know her feelings for Rand. "I
cannot think he was ... I mean, would be ... that foolish." 

Light, she was tired! Sometimes Rand behaved as if he were

the King of the World, but surely he would not. . . . Would
not. . . . What it was he would not do seemed to slide away
from her. 

She covered another yawn, and suddenly her eyes widened
above her hand, staring at her teacup. A cool, minty taste.
Carefully, she put the cup down, or tried to. She nearly
missed the saucer altogether, and the cup toppled over,
spilling tea onto the tabletop. Tea laced with forkroot. Even
knowing there was no use, she reached out to the Source, tried
to fill herself with the life and joy of saidar, but she might
as well have tried to catch the wind in a net. Birgitte's
irritation, less hot than before, was still lodged in a corner
of her mind. Frantically she tried to pull up fear, or panic.
Her head seemed stuffed with wool, everything in it dulled.
Help me, Birgitte! she thought. Help me! 

"What is it?" Dyelin demanded, leaning forward sharply.
"You've thought of something, and by your face, it is
horrific." 

Elayne blinked at her. She had forgotten the other woman was
there. "Go!" she said thickly, then swallowed heavily to try
clearing her throat. Her tongue still felt twice its size.
"Get help! I've . . . been poisoned!" Explaining would take
too much time. "Go!" 

Dyelin gaped at her, frozen, then lurched to her feet
gripping the hilt other belt knife. 

The door opened, and a servant hesitantly put his head in.
Elayne felt a flood of relief. Dyelin would not stab her
before a witness. The man wet his lips, eye darting between
the two women. Then he came in. Drawing a long-bladed knife
from his belt. Two more men in red-and-white livery followed,
each unsheathing a long knife. 

/ will not die like a kitten in a sack, Elayne thought
bitterly. With an effort, she pushed herself to her feet. Her
knees wobbled, and she had to support herself on the table
with one hand, but she used the other to draw her own dagger.
The pattern-etched blade was barely as long as her hand, but
it would suffice. It would have, had her fingers not felt
wooden gripping the hilt. A child could take it away. Not
without fighting back, she thought. It was like pushing
through syrup, but determined even so. No/ without fighting! 

Strangely little time seemed to have passed. Dyelin was just
turning to her henchmen, the last of them just closing the
door behind him. 

"Murder!" Dyelin howled. Picking up her chair, she hurled it
at the men. "Guards'. Murder! Guards'." 

The three tried to dodge the chair, but one was too slow,
and it caught him on the legs. With a yell, he fell into the
man next to him, and they both went down. The other, a
slender, tow-headed young man with bright blue eyes, skipped
by with his knife advanced. 

Dyelin met him with her own, slashing, stabbing, but he
moved like a ferret, avoiding her attack with ease. His own
long blade slashed, and Dyelin stumbled back with a shriek,
one hand clutching at her middle. He danced forward nimbly, 

stabbing, and she screamed and fell like a rag doll. He
stepped over her, walking toward Elayne.
Nothing else existed for her except him, and the knife in 

his hand. He did not rush at her. Those big blue eyes studied
her cautiously as he advanced at a steady pace. Of course. He
knew she was Aes Sedai. He had to be wondering whether the
potion had done its work. She tried to stand straight, to
glare at him, to win a few moments by bluff, but he nodded to
himself, hefting his knife. If she could have done anything,
it would have happened by now. There was no pleasure on his
face. He was just a man with a job to do. 

Abruptly, he stopped, staring down at himself in astonish
ment. Elayne stared, too. At the foot of steel sticking out
from his chest. Blood bubbled in his mouth as he toppled into
the table, shoving it hard. 

Staggering, Elayne fell to her knees, and barely caught the
edge of the table again to stop herself falling further.
Amazed, she stared at the man bleeding onto the carpets. There
was a sword hilt sticking out of his back. Her leaden thoughts
were wandering. Those carpets might never come clean, with all
that blood. Slowly she raised her eyes, past the motionless
form of Dyelin. She did not appear to be breathing. To the
door. The open door. One of the remaining two assassins lay in
front of it, his head at an odd angle, only half attached to
his neck. The other was struggling with another red-coated
man, the pair of them grunting and rolling on the floor, both
striving for the same dagger. The would-be killer was trying
to pry the other's fist from his throat with his free hand.
The other. A man with a face like an axe. In the white-
collared coat of a Guardsman. 

Hurry, Birgitte, she thought dully. Please hurry. 

Darkness consumed her. 

Chapter 10: A Plan Succeeds 

Elayne's eyes opened in darkness, staring at dim shadows
dancing on misty paleness. Her face was cold, the rest of her
hot and sweaty, and something confined her arms and legs. For
an instant panic flared. Then she sensed Aviendha's presence
in the room, a simple, comforting awareness, and Birgitte's, a
fist of calm, controlled anger in her head. They soothed her
by being there. She was in her own bedchamber, lying beneath
blankets in her own bed and staring up at the taut linen
canopy with hot-water bottles packed along her sides. The
heavy winter bed-curtains were tied back against the carved 

posts, and the only light in the room came from tiny
flickering flames in the fireplace, just enough to make
shadows shift, not dispel them. 

Without thought she reached out for the Source and found it.
Touched saidar, wondrously, without drawing on it. The desire
to draw deeply welled up strong in her, but reluctantly she re
treated. Oh, so reluctantly, and not just because her wanting
to be filled with the deeper life of saidar was often a
bottomless need that must be controlled. Her greatest fear
during those endless minutes of terror had not been death, but
that she would never touch the Source again. Once, she would
have thought that strange. 

Abruptly, memory returned, and she sat up unsteadily, the

blankets sliding to her waist. Immediately, she pulled them
back up. The air was cold against her bare skin slick with
sweat. They had not even left her a shift, and try as she
would to copy Aviendha's ease about being unclothed in front
of others, she could not manage it. "Dyelin," she said
anxiously, twisting to drape the blankets around herself
better. It was an awkward operation; she felt wrung out and
more than a little wobbly. "And the Guardsman. Are they . . .
?" 

"The man didn't suffer a scratch," Nynaeve said, stepping
out of the shifting shadows, a shadow herself. She rested her
hand on Elayne's forehead and grunted in satisfaction at
finding it cool. "I Healed Dyelin. She will need time to
recover her strength fully, though. She lost a great deal of
blood. You are doing well, too. For a time, I thought you were
taking a fever. That can come on suddenly when you're
weakened." 

"She gave you herbs instead of Healing," Birgitte said
sourly from a chair at the foot of the bed. In the near
darkness, she was just a squat, ominous shape. 

"Nynaeve aI'Meara is wise enough to know what she cannot
do," Aviendha said in level tones. Only her white blouse and a
flash of polished silver were really visible, low against the
wall. As usual, she had chosen the floor over a chair. "She
recognized the taste of this forkroot in the tea and did not
know how to work her weaves against it, so she did not take
foolish chances." 

Nynaeve sniffed sharply. No doubt as much at Aviendha's
defense of her as Birgitte's acidity. Perhaps more so. Nynaeve
being Nynaeve, she probably would have preferred to let slide
what she did not know and could not do. And she was more
prickly than usual about Healing, of late. Ever since it
became clear that several of the Kin were already outstripping
her skill. "You should have recognized it yourself, Elayne,"
she said in a brusque voice. "At any rate, greenwort and
goatstongue might make you sleep, but they're sovereign for
stomach cramps. I thought you would prefer the sleep." 

Fishing leather hot-water bottles from under the covers and
dropping them onto the carpets so she did not start roasting
again, Elayne shuddered. The days right after Ronde Macura
dosed her and Nynaeve with forkroot had been a misery she had
tried to forget. Whatever the herbs were that Nynaeve had
given her, she felt no weaker than the forkroot would have
made her. She thought she could walk, so long as she did not
have to walk far or stand long. And she could think clearly.
The casements showed only thin moonlight. How deeply into the
night was it? 

Embracing the Source again, she channeled four threads of
Fire to light first one stand-lamp, then a second. The small,
mirrored flames brightened the room greatly after the
darkness, and Birgitte put a hand up to shield her eyes, at
first. The Captain-General's coat truly did suit her; she
would have impressed the merchants no end. 

"You should not be channeling yet," Nynaeve fussed, squint
ing at the sudden light. She still wore the same low-cut blue
dress Elayne had seen her in earlier, with her yellow-fringed
shawl caught in her elbows. "A few days to regain strength

would be best, with plenty of sleep." She frowned at the hot-
water bottles tumbled on the floor. "And you need to be kept
warm. Better to avoid a fever than need to Heal it." 

"I think Dyelin proved her loyalty today," Elayne said,
shifting her pillows so she could lean back against the
headboard, and Nynaeve threw up her hands in disgust. A small
silver tray on one of the side tables flanking the bed held a
single silver cup filled with dark wine that Elayne gave a
brief, mistrusting look. "A hard way to prove it. I think I
have toh toward her, Aviendha." 

Aviendha shrugged. On their arrival in Caemlyn she had re
turned to Aiel garments with almost laughable haste, forsaking
silks for algode blouses and bulky woolen skirts as though sud
denly afraid of wetlander luxury. With a dark shawl tied
around her waist and a dark folded kerchief holding her long
hair back, she was the image of a Wise One's apprentice,
though her only jewelry was a complicated silver necklace of
intricately worked discs, a gift from Egwene. Elayne still did
not understand her hurry. Melaine and the others had seemed
willing to let her go her own way so long as she wore wetander
clothes, but now they had her back in their grip as tightly as
any novice in the hands of Aes Sedai. The only reason they
allowed her to stay any time at all in the Palace-in the city,
for that matter-was that she and Elayne were first-sisters. 

"If you think you do, then you do." Her tones of pointing
out the obvious slid into an affectionate chiding. "But a
small toh, Elayne. You had reason to doubt. You cannot assume
obligation for every thought, sister." She laughed as if
suddenly seeing a wonderful joke. "That way lies too much
pride, and I will have to be overproud with you, only the Wise
Ones will not call to you to account for it." 

Nynaeve rolled her eyes ostentatiously, but Aviendha simply
shook her head, wearily patient with the other woman's igno
rance. She had been studying more than the Power with the Wise
Ones. 

"Well, we wouldn't want the pair of you being too proud,"
Birgitte said with what sounded suspiciously like suppressed
mirth. Her face was much too smooth, almost rigid with the ef
fort of not laughing. 

Aviendha eyed Birgitte with a wooden-faced wariness. Since
she and Elayne had adopted one another, Birgitte had adopted
her, too, in way. Not as a Warder, of course, but with the
same elder-sister attitude she often displayed toward Elayne.
Aviendha was not quite sure what to make of it, or how to
respond. Joining the tiny circle who knew who Birgitte really
was certainly had not helped. She bounced between fierce
determination to show that Birgitte Silverbow did not overawe
her and a startling meekness, with odd stops in between. 

Birgitte smiled at her, an amused smile, but it faded as she
picked up a narrow bundle from her lap and began unfolding the
cloth with great care. By the time she revealed a dagger with
a leather-wrapped hilt and a long blade, her expression was
severe, and tight anger flowed through the bond. Elayne
recognized the knife instantly; she had last seen its twin in
the hand of a tow-headed assassin. 

"They were not trying to kidnap you, sister," Aviendha said
softly.

 Birgitte's tone was grim. "After Mellar killed the first
two- the second by spearing him with his sword across the
width of the room like somebody in a bloody gleeman's tale,"
she held the dagger upright by the end of the hilt, "he took
this from the last fellow and killed him with it. They had
four near identical daggers between them. This one is
poisoned." 

"Those brown stains on the blade are gray fennel mixed with
powdered peach pit," Nynaeve said, sitting down on the edge of
the bed, and grimaced in disgust. "One look at his eyes and
tongue, and I knew that was what killed the fellow, not the
knife." 

"Well," Elayne said quietly after a moment. Well, indeed.
"Forkroot so I couldn't channel, or stand up, for that matter,
and two men to hold me on my feet while the third put a
poisoned dagger in me. A complicated plan." 

"Wetlanders like complicated plans," Aviendha said. Glancing
at Birgitte uneasily, she shifted against the wall and added,
"Some do." 

"Simple, in its way," Birgitte said, rewrapping the knife
with as great a care as she had shown unwrapping. "You were
easy to reach. Everyone knows you eat your midday meal alone."
Her long braid swung as she shook her head. "A lucky thing the
first man to reach you didn't have this; one stab, and you'd
be dead. A lucky thing Mellar happened to be walking by and
heard a man cursing in your rooms. Enough luck for a
ta'veren." 

Nynaeve snorted. "You might be dead from a deep enough cut
on your arm. The pit is the most poisonous part of a peach.
Dyelin wouldn't have had a chance if the other blades had been
poisoned as well." 

Elayne looked around at her friends' flat, expressionless
faces and sighed. A very complicated plan. As if spies in the
Palace were not bad enough. "A small bodyguard, Birgitte," she
said finally. "Something . . . discreet." She should have
known the woman would be prepared. Birgitte's face did not
change in the slightest, but the tiniest burst of satisfaction
flared through their shared bond. 

"The women who guarded you today, for a start," she said,
without so much as pretending to pause for thought, "and a few
more that I'll pick. Maybe twenty or so, altogether. Too few
can't protect you day and night, and you bloody well must be,"
she put in firmly, though Elayne had not offered any protest.
"Women can guard you where men can't, and they'll be discreet
just by being who they are. Most people will think they're
ceremonial-your very own Maidens of the Spear-and we'll give
them something, a sash maybe, to make them look more so." That
earned her a very sharp look from Aviendha, which she affected
not to notice. "The problem is who to command," she said,
frowning in thought. "Two or three nobles, Hunters, are
already arguing for rank 'sufficient to their station.' The
bloody women know how to give orders, but I'm not sure they
know the right bloody orders to give. I could promote Caseille
to lieutenant, but she's more a bannerman at heart, I think."
Birgitte shrugged. "Maybe one of the others will show promise,
but I think they are better followers than leaders." 

Oh, yes; all thought out. Twenty or so? She would have to

keep a close eye on Birgitte to make sure the number did not
climb to fifty. Or more. Able to guard her where men could
not. Elayne winced. That probably meant guards watching her
bathe at the very least. "Caseille will do, surely. A
bannerman can handle twenty." She was certain she could talk
Caseille into keeping it all unobtrusive. And keeping the
guards outside while she took a bath. "The man who arrived
just in the nick of time. Mellar? What do you know of him,
Birgitte?" 

"Doilin Mellar," Birgitte said slowly, her brows drawing
down as a sharp angle. "A coldhearted fellow, though he smiles 

a lot. Mainly at women. He pinches serving girls, and he's
tumbled three in four days that I know of-he likes to talk
about his 'conquests'-but he hasn't pressed anyone who said 

no. He claims to have been a merchant's guard and then a
mercenary, and now a Hunter for the Horn, and he certainly has
the skills. Enough that I made him a lieutenant. He's Andoran,
from somewhere out west, near Baerlon, and he says he fought
for your mother during the Succession, though he couldn't have
been much more than a boy at the time. Anyway, he knows the
right answers-I checked-so maybe he was involved in it.
Mercenaries lie about their pasts without thinking twice." 

Folding her hands on her middle, Elayne considered Doilin
Mellar. She remembered only the impression of a wiry man with
a sharp face, choking one of her assailants while they
struggled over the poisoned dagger. A man with enough of a
soldier's skills that Birgitte had made him an officer. She
was trying to make sure that as many as possible of the
officers, at least, were Andoran. A rescue just in time, one
man against three, and a sword hurled across the room like a
spear; very much like a glee-man's tale. "He deserves a
suitable reward. A promotion to captain and command of my
bodyguard, Birgitte. Caseille can be his second." 

"Are you mad?" Nynaeve burst out, but Elayne shushed her. 

"I'll feel much safer knowing he's there, Nynaeve. He won't
try pinching me, not with Caseille and twenty more like her
around him. With his reputation, they'll watch him like hawks.
You did say twenty, Birgitte? I will hold you to that." 

"Twenty," Birgitte said absently. "Or so." There was nothing
absent about the gaze she fixed on Elayne, though. She leaned
forward intently, hands on her knees. "I suppose you know what
you're doing." Good; she was going to behave like a Warder for
once instead of arguing. "Guardsman-Lieutenant Mellar becomes
Guardsman-Captain Mellar, for saving the life of the Daughter-
Heir. That will add to his swagger. Unless you think it's
better to keep the whole thing secret." 

Elayne shook her head. "Oh, no; not at all. Let the whole
city know. Someone tried to murder me, and Lieutenant-Captain-
Mellar saved my life. We will keep the poison to ourselves,
though. Just in case someone makes a slip of the tongue." 

Nynaeve harrumphed and gave her a sidelong glare. "One day
you will be too clever, Elayne. So sharp you cut yourself." 

"She is clever, Nynaeve al'Meara." Rising smoothly to her
feet, Aviendha settled her heavy skirts, then patted her horn-
hiked belt knife. It was not so large as the blade she had
worn as a Maiden, yet still a credible weapon. "And she has me
to watch her back. I have permission to stay with her, now."

 Nynaeve opened her mouth angrily. And for a wonder, closed
it again, composing herself visibly, smoothing her skirts and
her features. "What are you all staring at?" she muttered. "If
Elayne wants this fellow close enough to pinch her whenever he
feels like, who am I to argue?" Birgitte's mouth dropped open,
and Elayne wondered whether Aviendha was going to choke. Her
eyes were certainly popping. 

The faint sound of the gong atop the Palace's tallest tower,
tolling the hour, made her jerk. It was later than she had
thought. "Nynaeve, Egwene might already be waiting for us."
None other clothes were anywhere to be seen. "Where's my
purse? My ring is in it." Her Great Serpent ring was on her
finger, but that was not the one she meant. 

"I will see Egwene alone," Nynaeve said firmly. "You are in
no condition to enter Tel'aran'rhiod. In any case, you just
slept the afternoon away. You won't go to sleep again soon,
I'll wager. And I know you've had no luck putting yourself
into a waking trance, so that is that." She smiled smugly,
certain other victory. She had gone cross-eyed and dizzy
attempting to enter the waking trance Egwene had tried to
teach them. 

"You'll wager that, will you?" Elayne murmured. "What will
you bet? Because I intend to drink that," she glanced at the
silver cup on the sidetable, "and / wager I'll go right to
sleep. Of course, if you didn't put something in it, if you
didn't intend trying to trick me into drinking it. ... Well,
of course, you wouldn't do that. So what shall we wager?" 

That insufferable smile slid greasily off Nynaeve's face, re
placed by bright spots of color in her cheeks. 

"A fine thing," Birgitte said, standing. Fists on hips, she
squared herself at the foot of the bed, her face and tone
alike censuring. "The woman saves you a roiling belly, and you
snip at her like Mistress Priss. Maybe if you drink that cup
and go to sleep and forget about adventuring in the World of
Dreams tonight, I'll decide you've grown up enough that I can
trust fewer than a hundred guards to keep you alive. Or do I
need to hold your nose to make you drink?" Well, Elayne had
not expected her to keep holding back for long. Fewer than a
hundred? 

Aviendha spun to face Birgitte before she finished, and
barely waited for the last word to leave the other woman's
mouth. "You should not speak to her so, Birgitte Trahelion,"
she said, drawing herself to gain the full advantage other
greater height. Given the raised heels on Birgitte's boots, it
was not that much, yet with her shawl drawn tightly over her
breasts, she looked very much a Wise One rather than an
apprentice. Some had faces not much older than hers. "You are
her Warder. Ask Aan'allein how to behave. He is a great man,
yet he obeys as Nynaeve tells him." Aan'allein was Lan, The
Man Alone, his story well known and much admired among the
Aiel. 

Birgitte eyed her up and down as if measuring her, and
adopted a lounging posture that all but lost the extra inches
of her boot heels. With a mocking grin, she opened her mouth,
plainly ready to prick Aviendha's bubble if she could. She
usually could. Before she said a word, Nynaeve spoke quietly
and quite firmly.

 "Oh, for the love of the Light, give over, Birgitte. If
Elayne says she's going, then she is going. Now, not another
word out of you." She stabbed a finger at the other woman. "Or
you and I will have words, later." 

Birgitte stared at Nynaeve, her mouth working soundlessly,
the Warder bond carrying an intense blend of irritation and
frustration. At last, she flung herself back into her chair,
legs sprawled and boots balanced on her lion-head spurs, and
began a sullen muttering under her breath. If Elayne had not
known her better, she would have sworn the woman was sulking.
She wished she knew how Nynaeve did it. Once, Nynaeve had been
as much in awe of Birgitte as Aviendha ever was, but that had
changed. Completely. Now Nynaeve bullied Birgitte as readily
as anyone else. And more successfully than with most. She's a
woman just like any other, Nynaeve had said. She told me so
herself, and I realized she was right. As if that explained
anything. Birgitte was still Birgitte. 

"My purse?" Elayne said, and of all people, Birgitte went to
fetch the gold-embroidered red purse from the dressing room.
Well, a Warder did do that sort of thing, but Birgitte always
made some comment when she did. Though perhaps her return was
meant for one. She presented the purse to Elayne with a
flourishing bow. And a twist of her lips for Nynaeve and
Aviendha. Elayne sighed. It was not that the other women
disliked one another; they really got on very well, if you
ignored their little foibles. They just rubbed against each
other sometimes. 

The oddly twisted stone ring, strung on a plain loop of
leather, lay in the bottom of the purse underneath a mix of
coins, next to the carefully folded silk handkerchief full of
feathers she considered her greatest treasure. The ter'angreal
appeared to be stone, anyway, all flecks and stripes of blue
and red and brown, but it felt as hard and slick as steel, and
too heavy even for that. Settling the leather cord around her
neck, and the ring between her breasts, she pulled the
drawstrings tight and set the purse on the side table, taking
up the silver cup instead. The fragrance was simply that of
good wine, but she raised an eyebrow anyway and smiled at
Nynaeve. 

"I will go to my own room," Nynaeve said stiffly. Rising
from the mattress, she shared out a stern look between
Birgitte and Aviendha. Somehow, the ki'sain on her forehead
made it seem even more uncompromising. "The pair of you stay
awake and keep your eyes open! Until you have those women
around her, she is still in danger. And after, I hope I don't
have to remind you." 

"You think I do not know that?" Aviendha protested at the
same time that Birgitte growled, "I'm not a fool, Nynaeve!" 

"So you say," Nynaeve answered them both. "I hope so, for
Elayne's sake. And for your own." Gathering her shawl, she
glided from the room, as stately as any Aes Sedai could wish
to be. She was getting very good at that. 

"You'd think she was the bloody queen here," Birgitte mut
tered. 

"She is the one who is overproud, Birgitte Trahelion," Avien
dha grumbled. "As proud as a Shaido with one goat." They nod
ded at one another in perfect agreement.

 But Elayne noticed that they had waited to speak until the
door had shut behind Nynaeve. The woman who had denied S( hard
wanting to be Aes Sedai was becoming very much Aes Sedai
Perhaps Lan had something to with that. Coaching her, from hi&
experience. She still had to work at staying composed,
sometimes, but it seemed to come more and more easily since
her peculiar wedding. 

The first sip of the wine had no taste other than wine, a
very good wine, but Elayne frowned at the cup and hesitated.
Until she realized what she was doing, and why. The memory of
fork-root hidden in her tea was still strong. What had Nynaeve
put in here? Not forkroot, of course, but what? Raising the
cup to take a full swallow seemed very difficult. Defiantly,
she drained the wine. / was thirsty, that's all, she thought,
stretching to set the cup back on the silver tray. / certainly
wasn't trying to prove anything. 

The other two women had been watching her, but as she began
settling herself in a more comfortable position for sleep.
they turned to one another. 

"I'll keep watch in the sitting room," Birgitte said. "I
have my bow and quiver in there. You stay here in case she
needs you for anything." 

Rather than arguing, Aviendha drew her belt knife and knelt.
ready to spring up again, off to one side, where she would sec-
anyone coming through the door before they saw her. "Knock
twice, then once, and name yourself before you enter," she
said. "Otherwise, I will assume it is an enemy." And Birgitte
nodded as if that were the most reasonable thing in the world. 

"This is sil-" Elayne smothered a yawn behind her hand.
"Silly," she finished when she could speak again. "No one is
going to try to-" Another yawn, and she could have put her
fist into her mouth! Light, what had Nynaeve put in that wine?
"To kill me-tonight," she said drowsily, "and you-both know-"
Her eyelids were leaden, sliding down despite every effort to
keep them open. Unconsciously snuggling her face into her
pillow, she tried to finish what she had been about to say,
but. . . . 

She was in the Grand Hall, the throne room of the Palace. In
the Grand Hall's reflection in Tel'aran'rhiod. Here, the
twisted stone ring that felt too heavy for its size in the
waking world seemed light enough to float up from between her
breasts. There was light, of course, seeming to come from
everywhere and nowhere. It was not like sunlight, or lamps,
but even if it was night here, too, there was always enough of
that odd light to see. As in a dream. The ever-present
sensation of unseen eyes watching was not dreamlike-more like
a nightmare-but she had grown accustomed to that. 

Great audiences were held in the Grand Hall, foreign ambas
sadors formally received, important treaties and declarations
of war announced to gathered dignitaries, and the long chamber
suited its name and function. Empty of people save for her, it
seemed cavernous. Two rows of thick gleaming white columns,
ten spans high, marched the length of the room, and at one
end, the Lion Throne stood atop a marble dais, with red
carpeting climbing the white steps from the red-and-white
floor tiles. The throne was sized for a woman, but still
massive on its heavy lion-pawed legs, carved and gilded, with

the White Lion picked out in moonstones on a field of rubies
at the top of its high back, announcing that whoever sat there
ruled a great nation. From large, colored windows set in the
arched ceiling high overhead, the queens who had founded Andor
stared down, their images alternating with the White Lion and
scenes of the battles they had fought to build Andor from a
single city in Artur Hawk-wing's shattering empire into that
nation. Many lands that had come out of the War of the Hundred
Years no longer existed, yet Andor had survived the thousand
years since and prospered. Sometimes Elayne felt those images
judging her, weighing her worth to follow in their footsteps.
No sooner did she find herself in the Grand Hall than
another woman appeared, sitting on the Lion Throne, a dark-
haired young woman in flowing red silk embroidered in silver
lions on the sleeves and hem, with a strand of firedrops as 

large as pigeon's eggs around her neck and the Rose Crown
sitting on her head. One hand resting lightly on the lion-
headed arm of the throne, she gazed regally about the Hall.
Then her eyes fell on Elayne, and recognition dawned, along
with confusion. Crown and firestone ring that felt too heavy 

for its size in the waking world seemed light enough to float
up from between her breasts. There was light, of course,
seeming to come from everywhere and nowhere. It was not like
sunlight, or lamps, but even if it was night here, too, there
was always enough of that odd light to see. As in a dream. The
ever-present sensation of unseen eyes watching was not
dreamlike-more like a nightmare-but she had grown accustomed
to that. 

Great audiences were held in the Grand Hall, foreign ambas
sadors formally received, important treaties and declarations
of war announced to gathered dignitaries, and the long chamber
suited its name and function. Empty of people save for her, it
seemed cavernous. Two rows of thick gleaming white columns,
ten spans high, marched the length of the room, and at one
end, the Lion Throne stood atop a marble dais, with red
carpeting climbing the white steps from the red-and-white
floor tiles. The throne was sized for a woman, but still
massive on its heavy lion-pawed legs, carved and gilded, with
the White Lion picked out in moonstones on a field of rubies
at the top of its high back, announcing that whoever sat there
ruled a great nation. From large, colored windows set in the
arched ceiling high overhead, the queens who had founded Andor
stared down, their images alternating with the White Lion and
scenes of the battles they had fought to build Andor from a
single city in Artur Hawkwing's shattering empire into that
nation. Many lands that had come out of the War of the Hundred
Years no longer existed, yet Andor had survived the thousand
years since and prospered. Sometimes Elayne felt those images
judging her, weighing her worth to follow in their footsteps.
No sooner did she find herself in the Grand Hall than
another woman appeared, sitting on the Lion Throne, a dark-
haired young woman in flowing red silk embroidered in silver
lions on the sleeves and hem, with a strand of firedrops as
large as pigeon's eggs around her neck and the Rose Crown
sitting on her head. One hand resting lightly on the lion-
headed arm of the throne, she gazed regally about the Hall.
Then her eyes fell on Elayne, and recognition dawned, along

with confusion. Crown and firedrops and silks vanished,
replaced by plain woolens and a long apron. An instant later,
the young woman vanished, too. 

Elayne smiled in amusement. Even scullions dreamed of sit
ting on the Lion Throne. She hoped the young woman had not
been wakened in fright by the start she received, or at least
that she had gone on to another pleasant dream. A safer dream
than Tel'aran'rhiod. 

Other things shifted in the throne room. The elaborately
worked stand-lamps standing in rows down the chamber seemed to
vibrate against the tall columns. The great arched doors stood
now open, now closed, in the blink of an eye. Only things that
had stood in one place for a goodly time had a truly permanent
reflection in the World of Dreams. 

Elayne imagined a stand-mirror, and it was before her, re
flecting her image in high-necked green silk worked in silver
across the bodice, with emeralds in her ears and smaller ones
strung in her red-gold curls. She made the emeralds disappear
from her hair, and nodded. Fit for the Daughter-Heir, but not
too ostentatious. You had to be careful of how you imagined
yourself, here, or else. . . . Her modest green silk gown
became the snug, form-hugging folds of a Taraboner gown, then
flashed to dark, wide Sea Folk trousers and bare feet,
complete with golden earrings and nose ring and chain full of
medallions, and even dark tattoos on her hands. But without a
blouse, the way the Atha'an Miere went at sea. Cheeks
coloring, she hastily returned everything to how it had been,
then changed the emerald earrings for plain silver hoops. The
simpler you imagined your garb, the easier it was to maintain. 

Letting the stand-mirror disappear-she just had to stop con
centrating on it-she looked up at those stern faces overhead.
"Women have taken the throne as young as I," she told them.
Not very many, though; only seven who had managed to wear the
Rose Crown for very long. "Women younger than I." Three. And
one of those lasted barely a year. "I don't claim I will be as
great as you, but I will not make you ashamed, either. I will
be a good queen." 

"Talking to windows?" Nynaeve said, making Elayne start in
surprise. Using a copy of the ring Elayne wore next to her
skin, she appeared misty, almost transparent. Frowning, she
tried to stride toward Elayne and staggered, nearly tripped by
the hobbling skirt of a deep blue Taraboner dress that was
much tighter than the one Elayne had imagined on herself.
Nynaeve gaped down at the thing, and abruptly it was an
Andoran gown in the same colored silk, embroidered in gold on
the sleeves and atop the bodice. She still went on about
"good, stout Two Rivers wool" being good enough for her, but
even here where she could appear in it if she wished, she
almost never did. 

"What did you put in that wine, Nynaeve?" Elayne asked. "I
went out like a snuffed candle." 

"Don't try to change the subject. If you are talking to win
dows, you should really be asleep instead of here. I've half a
mind to order you-" 

"Please don't. I'm not Vandene, Nynaeve. Light, I don't even
know half the customs Vandene and the others take for granted.
But I would rather not disobey you, so don't, please."

 Nynaeve glowered at her, giving her braid one firm tug. De
tails of her dress changed, the skirts growing a trifle
fuller, the embroidery's pattern altering, the high neck
sinking, then rising again, sprouting lace. She was just not
very good at the necessary concentration. The red dot on her
forehead never wavered, though. 

"Very well," she said calmly, the scowl vanishing. Her
yellow-fringed shawl appeared on her shoulders, and her face
took on something of the Aes Sedai agelessness. There were
wings of white at her temples. Her words contrasted with her
appearance and composed tone, though. "Let me do the talking
when Egwene gets here. I mean about what happened today. You
always end up chattering as if you're brushing each other's
hair for bed. Light! I don't want her coming to the Amyrlin
with me, and you know she will be all over both of us if she
finds out." 

"If I find out what?" Egwene said. Nynaeve's head whipped
around, eyes panic-stricken, and for a moment her fringed
shawl and silk gown were replaced by an Accepted's banded
white. Even the ki'sain went. Just a moment, and she was back
as she had been except for the white in her hair, yet that was
enough to put a rueful expression on Egwene's face. She knew
Nynaeve very well. "If I find out what, Nynaeve?" she asked
firmly. 

Elayne drew a deep breath. She had not intended to hold
anything back, exactly. Not anything important to Egwene, any
way. But in her present mood, Nynaeve was likely to babble ev
erything, or else grow stubborn and try insisting there was
nothing to find out. Which would only make Egwene dig harder. 

"Someone put forkroot in my midday tea," she said, and went
on succinctly about the men with their daggers and Doilin
Mellar's fortuitous appearance, and how Dyelin had proved
herself. For good measure she added the news of Elenia and
Naean, and the First Maid's search for spies in the Palace,
and even Zarya and Kirstian being assigned to Vandene, and the
attack on Rand and his disappearance. Egwene appeared to be
unruffled by the recital-she even cut Elayne short about Rand,
saying she already knew-but she gave a dismissive shake of her
head at hearing that Vandene had made no progress in learning
who the Black sister was, and that was of the gravest concern
to her. "Oh, and I'm to have a bodyguard," Elayne finished.
"Twenty women, commanded by Captain Mellar. I don't think
Birgitte will find me any Maidens, but she will come close." 

A backless armchair appeared behind Egwene, and she sat
without looking for it. She was much more skilled here than
Elayne or Nynaeve. She wore a dark green woolen riding dress,
fine and well-cut but unadorned, likely what she had worn
awake that day. And it remained a green woolen riding dress.
"I would tell you to join me in Murandy tomorrow-tonight," she
said, "if the arrival of the Kinswomen would not light a
wildfire among the Sitters." 

Nynaeve had recovered herself, though she gave her skirts an
unneeded adjusting shake. The embroidery on her dress was sil
ver, now. "I thought you had the Hall of the Tower under your
thumb, now." 

"That's very much like having a ferret under your thumb,"
Egwene said dryly. "It twists and writhes and wriggles around

to nip at your wrist. Oh, they do just as I say when it
concerns the war with Elaida-they can't get around that,
however much they grumble over the expense of more
soldiers!-but the agreement with the Kin is no part of the
war, or letting the Kin learn the Tower had known about them
all along. Or thought it did. The entire Hall would have
apoplexy, just at finding out how much they didn't know. They
are trying very hard to find a way to stop accepting new
novices." 

"They can't, can they?" Nynaeve demanded. She made a chair
for herself, but it was a copy of Egwene's when she looked to
make sure it was there, a three-legged stool as she began to
sit, and a ladder-backed farm chair by the time she settled on
it. Her dress had divided skirts, now. "You made a
proclamation. Any woman of any age, if she tested true. All
you have to do is make another, about the Kin." Elayne made
her own seat a copy of one of the chairs in her sitting room.
Much easier to hold onto. 

"Oh, an Amyrlin's proclamation is as good as law," Egwene
said. "Until the Hall sees a way around it. The newest
complaint is that we only have sixteen Accepted. Though most
sisters do treat Faolain and Theodrin as if they were still
Accepted. But even eighteen isn't near sufficient to give the
novice lessons that Accepted are supposed to handle. Sisters
have to take them, instead. I think some were hoping the
weather would hold the numbers down, but it hasn't." She
smiled suddenly, a light of mischief in her dark eyes.
"There's one new novice I'd like you to meet, Nynaeve. Sharina
Melloy. A grandmother. I think you'll agree she's a remarkable
woman." 

Nynaeve's chair disappeared completely, and she hit the
floor with an audible smack. She hardly seemed to notice,
sitting there and staring at Egwene in astonishment. "Sharina
Melloy?" she said in a shaky voice. "She's a novice?" Her
dress was a style Elayne had never seen before, with flowing
sleeves and a deeply scooped neck worked with flowers in
embroidery and seed pearls. Her hair flowed to her waist, held
by a cap of moonstones and sapphires on golden wires no
thicker than threads. And there was a plain golden band on her
left forefinger. Only the ki'sain and her Great Serpent ring
remained the same. 

Egwene blinked. "You know the name?" 

Getting to her feet, Nynaeve stared at her dress. She held
up her left hand and touched the plain gold ring almost
hesitantly. Strangely, she left everything as it was. "It
might not be the same woman," she muttered. "It couldn't be!"
Making another chair like Egwene's, she frowned at it as if
commanding it to stay, but it still had a high back and
carving by the time she sat. "There was a Sharina Melloy. ...
It was during my test for Accepted," she said in a rush, "I
don't have to talk about that; it's the rule!" 

"Of course you don't," Egwene said, though the look she gave
Nynaeve was certainly as strange as Elayne knew her own must
be. Still, there was nothing to be done; when Nynaeve wanted
to be stubborn, she could teach mules. 

"Since you brought up the Kin, Egwene," Elayne said, "have
you thought further on the Oath Rod?"

 Egwene raised one hand as if to stop her, but her reply was
calm and level. "There's no need to think further, Elayne. The
Three Oaths, sworn on the Oath Rod, are what make us Aes
Sedai. I didn't see that, at first, but I do, now. The very
first day we have the Tower, I will swear the Three Oaths, on
the Oath Rod." 

"That's madness!" Nynaeve burst out, leaning forward in her
chair. Surprisingly, still the same chair. And still the same
dress. Very surprising. Her hands were fists resting on her
lap. "You know what it does; the Kin are proof! How many Aes
Sedai live past three hundred? Or reach it? And don't tell me
I shouldn't talk about age. That's a ridiculous custom, and
you know it. Egwene, Reanne was called Eldest because she was
the oldest Kinswoman in Ebou Dar. The oldest anywhere is a
woman called Aloisia Nemosni, an oil merchant in Tear. Egwene, 

she's nearly six ... hundred . . . years . . . old! When the
Hall hears that, I wager they'll be ready to put the Oath Rod
on a shelf." 

"The Light knows three hundred years is a long time," Elayne
put in, "but I can't say I'm happy myself at the prospect of
perhaps cutting my life in half, Egwene. And what of the Oath
Rod and your promise to the Kin? Reanne wants to be Aes Sedai,
but what happens when she swears? What about Aloisia? Will she
fall over dead? You can't ask them to swear, not knowing." 

"I don't ask anything." Egwene's face was still smooth, but
her back had straightened, her voice cooled. And hardened. Her
eyes augered deep. "Any woman who wants to be a sister will
swear. And anyone who refuses and still calls herself Aes
Sedai will feel the full weight of Tower justice." 

Elayne swallowed hard under that steady gaze. Nynaeve's face
paled. There was no mistaking Egwene's meaning. They were not
hearing a friend now, but the Amyrlin Seat, and the Amyrlin
Seat had no friends when it came time to pronounce judgment. 

Apparently satisfied with what she saw in them, Egwene re
laxed. "I do know the problem," she said in a more normal
tone. More normal, but still not inviting argument. "I expect
any woman whose name is in the novice books to go as far as
she can, to earn the shawl if she can, and serve as Aes Sedai,
but I don't want anyone to die for it when they could live.
Once the Hall learns about the Kin-once they're over pitching
fits-I think I can get them to agree that a sister who wants
to retire should be able to. With the Oaths removed." They had
decided long ago that the Rod could be used to unbind as well
as bind, else how could Black sisters lie? 

"I suppose that would be all right," Nynaeve allowed judi
ciously. Elayne simply nodded; she was certain there was more. 

"Retire into the Kin, Nynaeve," Egwene said gently. "That
way, the Kin are bound to the Tower, too. The Kin will keep
their own ways, of course, their Rule, but they will have to
agree that their Knitting Circle is beneath the Amyrlin, if
not the Hall, and that Kinswomen stand below sisters. I do
mean them to be part of the Tower, not go their own way. But I
think they will accept." 

Nynaeve nodded again, happily, but her smile faded as the
full import reached her. She spluttered indignantly. "But . .
. ! Standing among the Kin is by age! You'll have sisters
taking orders from women who couldn't even reach Accepted!"

 "Former sisters, Nynaeve." Egwene fingered the Great Serpent
ring on her right hand and sighed faintly. "Even Kinswomen who
earned the ring don't wear it. So we will have to give it up,
too. We will be Kinswomen, Nynaeve, not Aes Sedai any longer."
She sounded as if she could already feel that distant day,
that distant loss, but she took her hand from the ring and
took a deep breath. "Now. Is there anything else? I have a
long night ahead of me, and I would like to get a little real
sleep before I have to face the Sitters again." 

Frowning, Nynaeve had clenched her fist tight and laid her
other hand over it to cover her rings, but she appeared ready
to give up arguing over the Kin. For the time being. "Do your
headaches still trouble you? I'd think if that woman's
massages did any good, you'd stop having them." 

"Halima's massages work wonders, Nynaeve. I couldn't sleep
at all without her. Now, is there . . . ?" She trailed off,
staring toward the doors at the entrance of the throne room,
and Elayne turned to look. 

A man was standing there watching, a man as tall as an Aiel-
man, with dark red hair faintly streaked with white, but his
high-collared blue coat would never be worn by an Aiel. He
appeared muscular, and his hard face seemed somehow familiar.
When he saw them looking, he turned and ran down the corridor
out of sight. 

For an instant, Elayne gaped. He had not just accidentally
dreamed himself into Tel'aran'rhiod, or he would have vanished
by now, but she could still hear his boots, loud on the floor
tiles. Either he was a dreamwalker-rare among men, so the Wise
Ones said-or he had a ter'angreal of his own. 

Leaping to her feet, she ran after him, but as fast as she
was, Egwene was faster. One instant Egwene was behind, the
next she was standing in the doorway, peering the way the man
had gone. Elayne tried thinking of herself standing beside
Egwene, and she was. The corridor was silent, now, and empty
except for stand-lamps and chests and tapestries, all
flickering and shifting. 

"How did you do that?" Nynaeve demanded, running up with her
skirts hoisted above her knees. Her stockings were silk, and
red! Hastily letting her skirts fall when she realized Elayne
had noticed her stockings, she peered down the hallway. "Where
did he go? He could have heard everything! Did you recognize
him? He reminded me of someone; I don't know who." 

"Rand," Egwene said. "He could have been Rand's uncle." 

Of course, Elayne thought. If Rand had a mean uncle. 

A metallic click echoed from the far end of the throne room.
The door into the dressing rooms behind the dais, closing.
Doors were open or closed or sometimes in between in
Tel'aran'rhiod; 

they did not swing shut. 

"Light!" Nynaeve muttered. "How many people have been
eavesdropping on us? Not to mention who, and why?" 

"Whoever they are," Egwene replied calmly, "they apparently
don't know Tel'aran'rhiod as well as we do. Not friends, safe
to say, or they wouldn't be eavesdropping. And I think they
may not be friends to one another, otherwise, why listen from
opposite ends of the room? That man was wearing a Shienaran
coat. There are Shienarans in my army, but you both know them

all. None resemble Rand." 

Nynaeve sniffed. "Well, whoever he is, there are too many
people listening at corners. That's what I think. I want to be
back in my own body, where all I have to worry about are spies
and poisoned daggers." 

Shienarans, Elayne thought. Borderlanders. How could that
have slipped her mind? Well, there had been the little matter
of forkroot. "There is one more thing," she said aloud, though
in a careful voice she hoped would not carry, and related
Dyelin's news of Borderlanders in Braem Wood. She added Master
Norry's correspondence, too, all the while trying to watch
both ways along the corridor and the throne room as well. She
did not want to be caught napping by another spy. "I think
those rulers are in Braem Wood," she finished, "all four of
them." 

"Rand," Egwene breathed, sounding irritated. "Even when he
can't be found he complicates things. Do you have any idea
whether they came to offer him allegiance or try to hand him
over to Elaida? I can't think of any other reasons for them to
march a thousand leagues. They must be boiling shoes for soup
by now! Do you have any idea how hard it is to keep an army
supplied on the march?" 

"I think I can find out," Elayne said. "Why, I mean. And at
the same time. . . . You gave me the idea, Egwene." She could
not help smiling. Something good had come of today. "I think I
might just be able to use them to secure the Lion Throne." 

Asne examined the tall embroidery frame in front of her and
gave a sigh that turned into a yawn. The nickering lamps gave
a poor light for this, but that was not the reason her birds
all seemed lopsided. She wanted to be in her bed, and she
despised embroidery. But she had to be awake, and this was the
only way to avoid conversation with Chesmal. What Chesmal
called conversation. The smugly arrogant Yellow was intent on
her own embroidery, on the other side of the room, and she
assumed that anyone who took up a needle had her own keen
interest in the work. On the other hand, Asne knew, if she
rose from her chair, Chesmal would soon start regaling her
with tales of her own importance. In the months since
Moghedien vanished, she had heard Chesmal's part in putting
Tamra Ospenya to the question at least twenty times, and how
Chesmal had induced the Reds to murder Sierin Vayu before
Sierin could order her arrest perhaps fifty! To hear Chesmal
tell it, she had saved the Black Ajah single-handed, and she
would tell it, given half a chance. That sort of talk was not
only boring, it was dangerous. Even deadly, if the Supreme
Council learned of it. So Asne stifled another yawn, squinted
at her work, and pushed the needle through the tightly
stretched linen. Perhaps if she made the redbird larger, she
could even up the wings. 

The click of the doorlatch brought both women's heads up.
The two servants knew not to bother them, and in any case, the
woman and her husband should be fast asleep. Asne embraced
saidar, readying a weave that would sear an intruder to the
bone, and the glow surrounded Chesmal, too. If the wrong
person stepped through that door, they would regret it until
they died. 

It was Eldrith, gloves in hand, with her dark cloak still

hanging down her back. The plump Brown's dress was dark, too,
and unadorned. Asne hated wearing plain woolens, but they did
need to avoid notice. The drab clothes suited Eldrith. 

She stopped at the sight of them, blinking, a momentary look
of confusion on her round face. "Oh, my," she said. "Who did
you think I was?" Throwing her gloves onto the small table by
the door, she suddenly became aware of her cloak and frowned
as if just realizing she had worn it upstairs. Carefully
unpinning the silver brooch at her neck, she tossed the cloak
onto a chair in a tumbled heap. 

The light of saidar winked out around Chesmal as she twisted
her embroidery frame aside so she could stand. Her stern face
made her seem taller than she was, and she was a tall woman.
The brightly colored flowers she had embroidered might have
been in a garden. "Where have you been?" she demanded. Eldrith
stood highest among them, and Moghedien had left her in charge
besides, but Chesmal had begun taking only cursory notice if
that. "You were supposed to be back by afternoon, and the
night is half gone!" 

"I lost track of the hour, Chesmal," Eldrith replied
absently, appearing lost in thought. "It has been a long time
since I was last in Caemlyn. The Inner City is fascinating,
and I had a delightful meal at an inn I remembered. Though I
must say, there were fewer sisters about then. No one
recognized me, however." She peered at her brooch as though
wondering where it had come from, then tucked it into her belt
pouch. 

"You lost track," Chesmal said flatly, lacing her fingers to
gether at her waist. Perhaps to keep them from Eldrith's
throat. Her eyes glittered with anger. "You lost track." 

Once more Eldrith blinked, as if startled to be addressed.
"Oh. Were you afraid Kennit had found me again? I assure you,
since Samara I have been quite careful at keeping the bond
masked." 

At times, Asne wondered how much of Eldrith's apparent
vagueness was real. No one so unaware of the world around her
could have survived this long. On the other hand, she had been
unfocused enough to let the masking slip more than once before
they reached Samara, enough for her Warder to track her. Obedi
ent to Moghedien's orders to await her return, they had hidden
through the riots after her departure, waited while the so-
called Prophet's mobs swept south into Amadicia, stayed in
that wretched, ruined town even after Asne became convinced
that Moghedien had abandoned them. Her lip curled at the
memory. What had sparked the decision to leave was the arrival
of Eldrith's Kennit in the town, sure that she was a murderer, 

half convinced she was Black Ajah, and determined to kill her
no matter the consequences to himself. Not surprisingly, she
had been unwilling to face those consequences herself, and
refused to let anyone kill the man. The only alternative was
to flee. Then again, Eldrith was the one who had pointed out
Caemlyn as their only hope. 

"Did you learn anything, Eldrith?" Asne asked politely.
Chesmal was a fool. However tattered the world seemed at the
moment, affairs would right themselves. One way or another. 

"What? Oh. Only that the pepper sauce wasn't as good as I
remembered. Of course, that was fifty years ago."

 Asne suppressed a sigh. Perhaps after all it was time for El
drith to have an accident. 

The door opened and Temaile slipped into the room so
silently they were all caught by surprise. The diminutive fox-
faced Gray had tossed a robe embroidered with lions over her
shoulders, but it gaped down the front, exposing a cream-
colored silk nightdress that molded itself to her indecently.
Draped over one hand she carried a bracelet made of twisted
glass rings. They looked and felt like glass, at least, but a
hammer could not have chipped one. 

"You've been to Tel'aran'rhiod," Eldrith said, frowning at
the ter'angreal. She did not speak forcefully, though. They
were all a little afraid of Temaile since Moghedien had made
them observe the last of Liandrin being broken. Asne had lost
track of how often she had killed or tortured in the hundred
and thirty-odd years since she gained the shawl, but she had
seldom seen anyone so ... enthusiastic ... as Temaile.
Watching Temaile and trying to pretend not to, Chesmal seemed
unaware that she was licking her lips nervously. Asne
hurriedly put her own tongue back behind her teeth and hoped
no one had noticed. Eldrith certainly had not. "We agreed not
to use those," she said, not very far short of pleading. "I'm
certain it was Nynaeve who wounded Moghedien, and if she can
best one of the Chosen in Tel'aran'rhiod, what chance do we
have?" Rounding on the others, she attempted a scolding tone.
"Did you two know about this?" She had managed to sound
peevish. 

Chesmal met Eldrith's stare indignantly, while Asne gave her
surprised innocence. They had known, but who was going to
stand in Temaile's way? She doubted very much that Eldrith
would have made more than a token protest had she been there. 

Temaile knew exactly her effect on them. She should have
hung her head at Eldrith's lecture, fainthearted as it was,
and apologized for going against her wishes. Instead, she
smiled. That smile never reached her eyes, though, large and
dark and much too bright. "You were right, Eldrith. Right that
Elayne would come here, and right that Nynaeve would come with
her, it seems. They were together, and it is clear they are
both in the Palace." 

"Yes," Eldrith said, squirming slightly under Temaile's
gaze. "Well." And she licked her lips, and shifted her feet,
too. "Even so, until we can see how to get at them past all
those wilders-" 

"They are wilders, Eldrith." Temaile threw herself down in a
chair, limbs sprawling carelessly, and her tone hardened. Not
enough to seem commanding, but still more than merely firm.
"There are only three sisters to trouble us, and we can
dispose of them. We can take Nynaeve, and perhaps Elayne in
the bargain." Abruptly she leaned forward, hands on the arms
of the chair. Disarrayed clothing or not, there was no shred
of indolence about her now. Eldrith stepped back as though
pushed by Temaile's eyes. "Else why are we here, Eldrith? It
is what we came for." 

No one had anything to say to that. Behind them lay a string
of failures-in Tear, in Tanchico-that might well cost them
their lives when the Supreme Council laid hands on them. But
not if they had one of the Chosen for a patron, and if

Moghedien had wanted Nynaeve so badly, perhaps another of them
would, too. The real difficulty would be finding one of the
Chosen to present with their gift. No one but Asne seemed to
have considered that part of it. 

"There were others, there," Temaile went on, leaning back
once more. She sounded almost bored. "Spying on our two Ac
cepted. A man who let them see him, and someone else I could
not see." She pouted irritably. At least, it would have been a
pout except for her eyes. "I had to stay behind a column so
the girls would not see me. That should please you, Eldrith.
That they did not see me. Are you pleased?" 

Eldrith almost stammered getting out how pleased she was.
Asne let herself feel her four Warders, coming ever closer.
She had stopped masking herself when they left Samara. Only
Powl was a Friend of the Dark, of course, yet the others would
do whatever she said, believe whatever she told them. It would
be necessary to keep them concealed from the others unless
absolutely necessary, but she wanted armed men close at hand.
Muscles and steel were very useful. And if worse came to
worst, she could always reveal the long, fluted rod that
Moghedien had not hidden so well as she thought she had. 

The early-morning light in the sitting room's windows was
gray, an earlier hour than the Lady Shiaine usually rose, but
this morning she had been dressed while it was still full
dark. The Lady Shiaine was how she thought of herself, now.
Mili Skane, the saddler's daughter, was almost completely
forgotten. In every way that mattered, she really was the Lady
Shiaine Avarhin, and had been for years. Lord Willim Avarhin
had been impoverished, reduced to living in a ramshackle
farmhouse and unable to keep even that in good repair. He and
his only daughter, the last of a declining line, had stayed in
the country, far from anywhere their penury might be exposed,
and now they were only bones buried in the forest near that
farmhouse, and she was the Lady Shiaine, and if this tall,
well-appointed stone house was not a manor, it still had been
the property of a well-to-do merchant. She was long dead, too,
after signing over her gold to her "heir." The furnishings
were well made, the carpets costly, the tapestries and even
the seat cushions embroidered with thread-of-gold, and the
fire roared in a wide blue-veined marble fireplace. She had
had the once-plain lintel carved with Avarhin's Heart and Hand
row on row. 

"More wine, girl," she said curtly, and Falion scurried with
the tall-necked silver pitcher to refill her goblet with
steaming spiced wine. The livery of a maid, with the Red Heart
and Golden Hand on her breast, suited Falion. Her long face
was a stiff mask as she hurried to replace the pitcher on the
drawered highchest and take up her place beside the door. 

"You play a dangerous game," Marillin Gemalphin said, roll
ing her own goblet between her palms. A skinny woman with
lifeless pale brown hair, the Brown sister did not look an Aes
Sedai. Her narrow face and wide nose would have fitted better
above Falion's livery than it did above her fine blue wool,
and that was suitable only for a middling merchant. "She is
shielded somehow, I know, but when she can channel again, she
will make you howl for this." Her thin lips quirked in a
humorless smile. "You may find yourself wishing you could

howl." 

"Moridin chose this for her," Shiaine replied. "She failed
in Ebou Dar, and he ordered her punished. I don't know the
details and don't want to, but if Moridin wants her nose
ground in the mud, I'll push it so deep she is breathing mud a
year from now. Or do you suggest I disobey one of the Chosen?"
She barely suppressed a shudder at the very thought. Marillin
tried to hide her expression in drinking, but her eyes
tightened. "What about you, Falion?" Shiaine asked. "Would you
like me to ask Moridin to take you away? He might find you
something less onerous." Mules might sing like nightingales,
too. 

Falion did not even hesitate. She bobbed a maid's straight-
backed curtsy, her face going even paler than it already was.
"No, mistress," she said hastily. "I am content with my
situation, mistress." 

"You see?" Shiaine said to the other Aes Sedai. She doubted
very much that Falion was anything approaching content, but
the woman would accept whatever was handed out rather than
face Moridin's displeasure directly. For the same reason,
Shiaine would rule her with a very heavy hand. You never knew
what one of the Chosen might learn of, and take amiss. She
herself thought her own failure was buried deep, but she would
take no chances. "When she can channel again, she won't have
to be a maid all the time, Marillin." Anyway, Moridin had said
Shiaine could kill her if she wished. There was always that,
if her position began to chafe too much. He had said she could
kill both sisters, if she wished. 

"That's as may be," Marillin said darkly. She cast a
sidelong glance at Falion and grimaced. "Now, Moghedien
instructed me to offer you what assistance I thought I could
give, but I'll tell you right now, I won't enter the Royal
Palace. The whole city has too many sisters in it for my
taste, but the Palace is stuffed with wilders on top. I
wouldn't get ten feet without someone knowing I was there." 

Sighing, Shiaine leaned back and crossed her legs, idly
kicking a slippered foot. Why did people always think you did
not know as much as they? The world was full of fools!
"Moghedien ordered you to obey me, Marillin. I know, because
Moridin told me. He did not say so right out, but I think when
he snaps his fingers, Moghedien jumps." Talking about the
Chosen this way was dangerous, but she had to make matters
clear. "Do you want to tell me again what you won't do?" 

The narrow-faced Aes Sedai licked her lips, darting another
glance at Falion. Did the woman fear she would end up that
way? Truth to tell, Shiaine would have traded Falion for a
proper lady's maid in a heartbeat. Well, as long as she could
retain her other services. Very likely, they both would have
to die when this was finished. Shiaine did not like leaving
loose ends. 

"I wasn't lying about that," Marillin said slowly. "I really
wouldn't get ten feet. But there's a woman already in the
Palace. She can do what you need. It may take time to make
contact, though." 

"Just make sure it's not too long a time, Marillin." So. One
of the sisters in the Palace was Black Ajah, was she? She
would have to be Aes Sedai, not just a Darkfriend, to do what

Shiaine needed. 

The door opened, and Murellin looked in questioningly, his
heavily muscled bulk almost filling the doorway. Beyond him,
she could make out another man. At her nod, Murellin stepped
aside and motioned Daved Hanlon to enter, closing the door
behind him. Hanlon was swathed in a dark cloak, but he snaked
out one hand to cup Falion's bottom through her dress. She
glared at him bitterly, but did not move away. Hanlon was part
of her punishment. Still, Shiaine had no wish to watch him
fondle the woman. 

"Do that later," she ordered. "Did it go well?" A broad
smile split his axe-like face. "It went exactly as I planned
it, of course." He threw one side of the dark cloak over his
shoulder, revealing golden knots of rank on his red coat. "You
are speaking to the Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard." 

Chapter 11: Ideas of Importance 

Without even taking a look, Rand stepped through the gateway
into a large dark room. The strain of holding the weave, of
fighting saidin, made him sway; he wanted to gag, to double
over and spew up everything in him. Holding himself upright
was an effort. A little light crept through cracks between the
shutters on a few small windows set high in one wall, just
enough to see by with the Power in him. Furniture and large
cloth-covered shapes nearly filled the room, interspersed with
wide barrels of the sort used to store crockery, chests of all
shapes and sizes, boxes and crates and knickknacks. Little
more than walkways a pace or two wide remained clear. He had
been sure he would not find servants hunting for something, or
cleaning up. The highest floor of the Royal Palace had several
such storerooms, looking like the attics of huge farmhouses
and just about forgotten. Besides, he was ta'veren, after all.
A good thing no one had been there when the gateway opened.
One edge of it had sliced the corner off an empty chest bound
in cracked, rotting leather, and the other had taken a glass-
smooth shaving down the length of a long, inlaid table stacked
with vases and wooden boxes. Maybe some Queen of Andor had
eaten at that table, a century or two gone. 

A century or two, Lews Therin laughed thickly in his head. A
very long time. For the love of the Light, let go! This is the
Pit of Doom! The voice dwindled as the man fled into the
recesses of Rand's mind. 

For once, he had his own reasons to listen to Lews Therin's
complaints. Hastily he motioned Min to follow him from the for
est clearing on the other side of the gateway, and as soon as
she did, he let it close behind her in a quick vertical slash
of light by releasing saidin. Blessedly, the nausea went with
it. His head still spun a little, but he did not feel as if he
were going to vomit or fall over or both. The feel of filth
remained, though, the Dark One's taint oozing into him from
the weaves he had tied off around himself. Shifting the strap
of his leather scrip from one shoulder to the other, he tried
to use the motion to hide wiping sweat from his face with his

sleeve. He did not have to worry about Min noticing after all,
however. 

Her blue, heeled boots stirred the dust on the floor at her
first step, and her second made it rise. She pulled a lace-
edged handkerchief from her coatsleeve just in time to catch a
violent sneeze, followed by a second and third, each worse
than the last. He wished she had been willing to stay in a
dress. Embroidered white flowers decorated the sleeves and
lapels of her blue coat, and paler blue breeches molded her
legs snugly. With yellow-embroidered bright blue riding gloves
tucked behind her belt, and a cloak edged with yellow
scrollwork and held by a golden pin in the shape of a rose,
she did look as if she had arrived by more normal means, but
she would draw every eye. He was in coarse brown woolens any
laborer might wear. Most places in the last few days, he had
been blatant with his presence; this time he did not want just
to be gone before anyone knew he had been here, he did not
want anyone but a special few to ever know he had been. 

"Why are you grinning at me and thumbing your ear like a
loobie?" she demanded, stuffing the handkerchief back into her
sleeve. Suspicion filled her big, dark eyes. 

"I was just thinking how beautiful you are," he said
quietly. She was. He could not look at her without thinking
so. Or without regretting that he was too weak to send her
away to safety. 

She drew a deep breath, and sneezed before she could even
clap a hand over her mouth, then glared at him as if it were
somehow his fault. "I abandoned my horse for you, Rand
al'Thor. I curled my hair for you. I gave up my life for you!
I will not give up my coat and breeches! Besides, no one here
has ever seen me in a dress for more time than it took me to
change out of it. You know this won't work unless I'm
recognized. You certainly can't pretend you wandered in off
the street with that face." 

Unthinking, he ran a hand across his jaw, feeling his own
face, but that was not what Min saw. Anyone looking at him
would see a man inches shorter and years older than Rand
al'Thor, with lank black hair, dull brown eyes and a wart on
his bulbous nose. Only someone who touched him could pierce
the Mask of Mirrors. Even an Asha'man would not see it, with
the weaves inverted. Though if there were Asha'man in the
Palace, it might mean his plans had gone further awry than he
believed. This visit could not, must not, come to killing. In
any case, she was right; 

it was not a face that would have been allowed into the
Royal Palace of Andor unescorted. 

"As long as we can finish this and be gone quickly," he
said. "Before anyone has time to think that if you're here,
maybe I am, too." 

"Rand," she said, her voice soft, and he eyed her warily.
Resting a hand on his chest, she looked up at him with a
serious expression. "Rand, you really need to see Elayne. And
Aviendha, I suppose; you know she's probably here, too. If
you-" 

He shook his head, and wished he had not. The dizziness had
still not gone completely. "No!" he said curtly. Light! No
matter what Min said, he just could not believe that Elayne

and Aviendha both loved him. Or that the fact they did, if it
was a fact, did not upset her. Women were not that strange!
Elayne and Aviendha had reason to hate him, not love him, and
Elayne, at least, had made herself clear. Worse, he was in
love with both of them, as well as with Min! He had to be as
hard as steel, but he thought he might shatter if he had to
face all three at once. "We find Nynaeve and Mat, and go, as
fast as we can." She opened her mouth, but he gave her no
chance to speak. "Don't argue with me, Min. This is no time
for it!" 

Tilting her head to one side, Min put on a small, amused
smile. "When do I ever argue with you? Don't I always do
exactly as you tell me?" If that lie were not bad enough, she
added, "I was going to say, if you want to hurry, why are we
standing in this dusty storeroom all day?" For punctuation,
she sneezed again. 

She was the least likely to cause comment, even dressed as
she was, so she put her head out of the room first. Apparently
the storeroom was not entirely forgotten; the heavy door's
hinges barely creaked. A quick look both ways, and she hurried
out, gesturing him to follow. Ta'veren or no, he was relieved
to find the long corridor empty. The most timid servant might
have wondered at seeing them emerge from a storeroom in the
upper reaches of the Palace. Still, they would encounter
people soon enough. The Royal Palace did not run as heavily to
servants as the Sun Palace or the Stone of Tear, but there
were still hundreds of them in a place this size. Walking
along beside Min, he tried to shamble and gawk at bright
tapestries and carved wall panels and polished highchests.
None were so fine this high as they would be lower down, but a
common workman would gawk. 

"We need to get down to a lower floor as fast as we can," he
murmured. There was still no one in sight, but there might be
ten people around the next corner. "Remember, just ask the
first servant we see where to find Nynaeve and Mat. Don't
elaborate unless you have to." 

"Why, thank you for reminding me, Rand. I knew something had
slipped my mind, and I just couldn't imagine what." Her brief
smile was much too tight, and she muttered something under her
breath. 

Rand sighed. This was too important for her to play games,
but she was going to, if he let her. Not that she saw it that
way. Sometimes, though, her ideas of important differed widely
from his. Very widely. He would have to keep a close eye on
her. 

"Why, Mistress Farshaw," a woman's voice said behind them.
"It is Mistress Farshaw, isn't it?" 

The scrip swung and thumped Rand's back heavily as he spun
around. The plump graying woman staring at Min in astonishment
was perhaps the last person he wanted to meet, besides Elayne
or Aviendha. Wondering why she was wearing a red tabard with
the White Lion large on the front, he slouched and avoided
looking at her directly. Just a workman doing his job. No
reason to glance at him twice. 

"Mistress Harfbr?" Min exclaimed, beaming delightedly. "Yes,
it's me. And you are just the woman I was looking for. I'm
afraid I am lost. Can you tell me where to find Nynaeve

aI'Meara? And Mat Cauthon? This fellow has something Nynaeve
asked him to deliver." 

The First Maid frowned slightly at Rand before returning her
attention to Min. She raised an eyebrow at Min's garments, or
maybe at the dust on them, but she mentioned neither. "Mat
Cauthon? I don't believe I know him. Unless he's one of the
new servants or Guardsmen?" she added doubtfully. "As for
Nynaeve Sedai, she's very busy. I suppose it will be all right
with her if I accept whatever it is and put it in her room." 

Rand jerked upright. Nynaeve Sedai? Why would the others-the
real Aes Sedai-let her play at that still? And Mat was not
here? Had never been here, apparently. Colors whirled in his
head, almost an image he could make out. In a heartbeat it van
ished, but he staggered. Mistress Harfor frowned at him again,
and sniffed. Likely she thought him drunk. 

Min frowned, too, but in thought, tapping a finger on her
chin, and that only lasted a moment. "I think Nynaeve . . .
Sedai wants to see him." The hesitation was barely noticeable.
"Could you have him shown to her rooms, Mistress Harfor? I
have another errand before I go. You mind your manners, now,
Nuli, and do as you're told. There's a good fellow." 

Rand opened his mouth, but before he could get out a word
she darted away down the corridor, almost running. Her cloak
flared behind her, she was moving so quickly. Burn her, she
was going to try finding Elayne! She could ruin everything! 

"Your plans fail because you want to live, madman. Lews
Therin's voice was a rough, sweaty whisper. Accept that you
are dead. Accept it, and stop tormenting me, madman, Rand
suppressed the voice to a muted buzz, a biteme buzzing in the
darkness of his head. Nuli? What kind of name was Nuli? 

Mistress Harfor gaped after Min until she vanished around a
corner, then gave her tabard an adjusting tug it did not need.
She turned her disapproval on Rand. Even with the Mask of
Mirrors she saw a man who towered over her, but Reene Harfor
was not a woman to let a small thing like that put her off
stride for an instant. "I mistrust the looks of you, Nuli,"
she said, her eyebrows drawn down sharply, "so you watch your
step. You'll watch it very carefully, if you have any brain at
all." 

Holding the scrip's shoulder strap with one hand, he tugged
his forelock with the other. "Yes, Mistress," he muttered
gruffly. The First Maid might recognize his real voice. Min
had been supposed to do all the talking until they found
Nynaeve and Mat. What in the Light was he going to do if she
did bring Elayne? And maybe Aviendha. She probably was here,
too. Light! "Pardon, Mistress, but we ought to hurry. It's
urgent I see Nynaeve as soon as possible." He hefted the scrip
slightly. "She wanted this real important like." If he was
done when Min returned, he might be able to get away with her
before he had to face the other two. 

"If Nynaeve Sedai thought it was urgent," the plump woman
told him tartly, placing heavy emphasis on the honorific he
had omitted, "she would have left word you were expected. Now,
follow me, and keep your comments and opinions to yourself." 

She started off without waiting for a reply, without looking
back, gliding along with a stately grace. After all, what
could he do except as he had been told? As he recalled, the

First Maid was accustomed to everyone doing as they were told.
Striding to catch up, he took only one step at her side before
her startled look made him drop back, tugging his forelock and
mumbling apologies. He was not used to having to walk behind
anyone. It was not calculated to moderate his mood. The tag
end of dizziness hung on, too, and the filth of the taint. He
seemed to be in a foul mood more often than not of late,
unless Min was with him. 

Before they had gone very far, liveried servants began to ap
pear in the hallway, polishing and dusting and carrying,
scurrying every which way. Plainly the absence of people when
he and Min left the storeroom was a rare occurrence. Ta'veren
again. Down a flight of narrow service stairs built into the
wall, and there were even more. And something else, a great
many women who were not in livery. Copper-skinned Domani
women, short pale Cairhienin, women with olive skins and dark
eyes who were certainly not Andoran. They made him smile, a
tight satisfied smile. None had what he could call an ageless
face, and a number even bore lines and wrinkles that never
decorated any Aes Sedai's face, but sometimes goose bumps
danced on his skin when he came near one of them. They were
channeling, or least holding saidar. Mistress Harfor led him
past closed doors where that prickling raced, too. Behind
those doors, still other women had to be channeling. 

"Pardon, Mistress," he said in the coarse voice he had
adopted for Nuli. "How many Aes Sedai are there in the
Palace?" 

"That is no concern of yours," she snapped. Glancing over
one shoulder at him, though, she sighed and relented. "I don't
suppose there is any harm in you knowing. Five, counting the
Lady Elayne and Nynaeve Sedai." A touch of pride entered her
voice. "It has been a long time since that many Aes Sedai
claimed guestright here at one time." 

Rand could have laughed, though without amusement. Five? No,
that included Nynaeve and Elayne. Three real Aes Sedai. Three!
Whoever the rest were did not really matter. He had begun to
believe that the rumors of hundreds of Aes Sedai moving toward
Caemlyn with an army meant there really might be that many
ready to follow the Dragon Reborn. Instead, even his original
hope for a double handful of them had been wildly optimistic.
The rumors were only rumors. Or else some scheme of Elaida's
making. Light, where was Mat? Color flashed in his head-for an
instant he thought it was Mat's face-and he stumbled. 

"If you came here drunk, Nuli," Mistress Harfor said firmly,
"you will leave regretting it bitterly. I will see to it
myself!" 

"Yes, Mistress," Rand muttered, jerking at his forelock.
Inside his head, Lews Therin cackled in mad, weeping laughter.
He had had to come here-it was necessary-but he was already
beginning to regret it. 

Surrounded by the light of saidar, Nynaeve and Talaan faced
one another at four paces in front of the fireplace, where a
brisk blaze had managed to take all chill out of the air. Or
maybe it was effort that had warmed her, Nynaeve thought
sourly. This lesson had lasted an hour already, by the ornate
clock on the carved mantel. An hour of channeling without rest
would warm anyone. Sareitha was supposed to be here, not her,

but the Brown had slipped out of the Palace leaving a note
about an urgent errand in the city. Careane had refused to
take two days in a row, and Vandene still refused to take any,
on the ridiculous grounds that teaching Kirstian and Zarya
left her no time. 

"Like this," she said, whipping her flow of Spirit around
the boy-slim Sea Folk apprentice's attempt at fending her off.
Adding the force of her own flow, she pushed the girl's
further away and at the same time channeled Air in three
separate weaves. One tickled Talaan's ribs through her blue
linen blouse. A simple ploy, but the girl gasped in surprise,
and for an instant her embrace of the Source lessened just a
hair, the faintest flicker in the Power filling her. In that
heartbeat Nynaeve stopped the pushing she had just begun on
the other's flow and snapped her own back to its original
target. Forcing the shield onto Talaan still felt much like
slapping a wall-except the sting was spread evenly across her
skin rather than just in her palm, hardly an improvement- but
the glow of saidar vanished just as the last two flows of Air
trapped Talaan's arms at her sides and pulled her knees
together in their wide, dark trousers. 

Very neatly done, if Nynaeve did think so herself. The girl
was very agile, very deft with her weaves. Besides, trying to
shield someone who held the Power was chancy at best and
futile at worst, unless you were very much stronger than
they-sometimes if you were-and Talaan matched her as closely
as made no difference. That helped keep a satisfied smile from
her face. It seemed a very short time ago that sisters had
been startled at her strength and believed that only some of
the Forsaken possessed greater. Talaan had not slowed, yet;
she was little more than a child. Fifteen? Maybe younger! The
Light alone knew what her potential was. At least, none of the
Windfinders had mentioned it, and Nynaeve was not about to
ask. She had no interest in knowing how much stronger than she
a Sea Folk girl was going to be. None at all. 

Bare feet shuffling on the patterned green carpet, Talaan
made one futile attempt to break the shield that Nynaeve held
easily, then sighed in defeat and lowered her eyes. Even when
she had succeeded in following Nynaeve's instruction, she
behaved as if she had failed, and now she slumped so
dejectedly you might have thought the weaves of Air were all
that held her upright. 

Letting her flows dissipate, Nynaeve adjusted her shawl and
opened her mouth to tell Talaan what she had done wrong. And
to point out-once again-that it was useless to try breaking
free unless you were much stronger than whoever had shielded
you. The Sea Folk hardly seemed to believe anything she told
them until she told them ten times and showed them twenty. 

"She used your own force against you," Senine din Ryal said
bluntly before Nynaeve could speak. "And distraction, again.
It is like wrestling, girl. You know how to wrestle." 

"Try again," Zaida commanded with a brisk gesture of one
dark, tattooed hand. 

All of the chairs in the room had been moved against the
wall, though there was no real need for a clear space, and
Zaida sat watching the lesson flanked by six Windfinders, a
riot of reds and yellows and blues in brocaded silks and

brightly dyed linens, a flinch-inducing display of earrings
and nose rings and medallion-laden chains. That was always the 

way; one of the two apprentices was used for the actual
lesson-or Merilille, Nynaeve had heard, actually forced to
take the part of an apprentice unless she herself was 

teaching-while Zaida and one group or another of Windfinders
watched. The Wavemistress could not channel, of course, though
she was always present, and none of the Windfinders would
actually stoop to participating personally. Oh, never that. 

In Nynaeve's estimation, today's grouping was very odd, con
sidering the Sea Folks' obsession with rank. Zaida's own Wind-
finder, Shielyn, sat on her right, a slender, coolly reserved
woman almost as tall as Aviendha and towering over Zaida. That
was proper, as far as Nynaeve understood, but at Zaida's left
was Senine, and she served on a soarer, one of the Sea Folk's
smaller vessels, and hers among the smallest of those. Of
course, the weathered woman, with her creased face and hair
thick with gray, had worn more than her present six earrings
in the past, and more golden medallions on the chain across
her dark left cheek. She had been Windfinder to the Mistress
of the Ships before Nesta din Reas was elected to the post,
but by their law, when the Mistress of the Ships or a
Wavemistress died, her Windfinder had to begin again at the
lowest level. There was more to it than respect for Senine's
former position, though, Nynaeve was certain. Rainyn, an apple-
cheeked young woman who also served on a soarer, occupied the
chair next to Senine, and stone-faced, flat-eyed Kurin sat
beside Shielyn like a black carving. This relegated Caire and
Tebreille to the outermost chairs, and they were both
Windfinders to Wavemistresses themselves, with four fat
earrings in each ear and nearly as many medallions as Zaida
herself. Perhaps it was just to keep the haughty-eyed sisters
apart, though. They hated one another with a passion only
blood kin could achieve. Perhaps that was it. Understanding
the Atha'an Miere was worse than trying to understand men. A
woman could go mad trying. 

Muttering to herself, Nynaeve gave her shawl a jerk and pre
pared herself, readying her flows. The pure joy of holding
saidar could hardly compete with her vexation. Try again,
Nynaeve. One more time, Nynaeve. Do it now, Nynaeve. At least
Renaile was not there. Often they wanted her to teach things
she did not know as well as others-too often, things she
barely knew at all, she admitted reluctantly; she had not
really had much training in the Tower-and whenever she fumbled
in the slightest, Renaile positively delighted in making her
sweat. The others made her sweat, too, but they did not seem
to take so much pleasure in it. Anyway, after a solid hour,
she was tired. Drat Sareitha and her errand! 

She struck out again, but this time Talaan's flow of Spirit
met hers much more lightly than she expected, and her own flow
swept the other further aside than she had meant. Abruptly six
weaves of Air shot out from the girl, darting toward Nynaeve,
and Nynaeve quickly sliced them with Fire. The severed flows
snapped back into Talaan, jolting her visibly, but before they
had vanished properly, six more appeared, faster than before.
Nynaeve slashed. And gaped as Talaan's weave of Spirit
flickered around hers and wrapped around her, cutting off

saidar. She was shielded! Talaan had shielded her! For the
final indignity, flows of Air pinioned her arms and legs
tightly, crushing her skirts. If she had not been so upset at
Sareitha, it never would have happened. 

"The girl has her," Caire said, sounding surprised. No one
would think she was Talaan's mother by the cold look she gave
her. Indeed, Talaan seemed embarrassed by her own success, re
leasing the flows immediately and dropping her eyes to the
floor. 

"Very good, Talaan," Nynaeve said, since no one else was
offering a word of praise or encouragement. Irritably she
shook out her shawl behind her and settled it into the crooks
of her elbows. No need to tell the girl she had been lucky.
She was quick, true, but Nynaeve was not sure she herself
could keep channeling much longer. She certainly was not at
her best now. "I'm afraid that is all the time I have today,
so-" 

"Try again," Zaida commanded, leaning forward intently. "I
want to see something." That was not an explanation, or any
thing near apology, simply a statement of fact. Zaida never ex
plained or apologized. She just expected obedience. 

Nynaeve considered telling the woman she could not see any
thing they were doing anyway, but she rejected the thought im
mediately. Not with six Windfinders in the room. Two days
earlier she had voiced her opinions freely, and she certainly
did not want a repeat of that. She had tried thinking of it as
a penance, for speaking without thinking, but that did not
help very much. She wished she had never taught them to link. 

"One more time," she said tightly, turning back to Talaan,
"and then I must go." 

She was ready for the girl's trick this time. Channeling,
she met Talaan's weave more dexterously, and without so much
force. The girl smiled at her uncertainly. Thinking Nynaeve
would not be distracted by extraneous flows of Air this time,
was she? Talaan's weave began to curl around hers, and she
nimbly spun her own to catch it. She would be ready when the
woman produced her flows of Air. Or maybe not Air, this time.
Nothing dangerous surely. This was practice. Only, Talaan's
flow of Spirit did not complete that curl, and Nynaeve's swung
wide while Talaan's struck straight at her and latched on.
Once again, saidar winked out of her, and bonds of Air snapped
her arms to her sides, fastened her knees. 

Carefully, she drew breath. She would have to congratulate
the young woman. There was no getting out of it. If she had
had a hand free, she would have yanked her braid right out of
her scalp. 

"Hold!" Zaida commanded, rising to stride gracefully toward
Nynaeve, her red silk trousers whisking softly above her bare
feet, intricately knotted red sash swaying against her thigh.
The Wind-finders stood with her and followed, in order of
rank. Caire and Tebreille icily ignored one another as they
hurried to take places nearest the Wavemistress while Senine
and Rainyn fell a pace to the rear. 

Obediently, Talaan held the shield on Nynaeve, and the
bonds, leaving her standing like a statue. And fuming like a
kettle too long on the boil. She refused to shuffle about, a
broken puppet, and that was all that was left to her except

standing still. Caire and Tebreille studied her with icy
disdain, Kurin with the hard contempt she had for all land
dwellers. The stone-eyed woman did not sneer or grimace or
wear any real expression at all, but you could not be with her 

long without becoming aware of her opinion. Only Rainyn
displayed the smallest touch of sympathy, a slight rueful
smile. 

Zaida's eyes met Nynaeve's levelly. They were much the same
height. "She is held as tightly as you can, apprentice?" 

Talaan bowed deeply, parallel to the floor, touching her
forehead, lips and heart. "As you commanded, Wavemistress,"
she all but whispered. 

"What is the meaning of this?" Nynaeve demanded. "Let me go.
You may get away with treating Merilille this way, but if you
think for one minute-!" 

"You say there is no way to break this shield unless you are
much stronger," Zaida cut her off. Her tone was not harsh, but
she meant to be heard, not to listen. "The Light willing, we
will learn whether you told us correctly. It is well known how
Aes Sedai make truth spin like a whirlpool. Windfinders, you
will form a circle. Kurin, you will lead. If she does break
free, see that she causes no harm. For incentive. . . .
Apprentice, prepare to turn her upside down at my count of
five. One." 

The light of saidar enveloped the Windfinders, all of them
together, as they linked. Kurin stood with her feet apart and
her hands on her hips, as if balancing on the deck of a ship.
Her very lack of expression seemed to convey that she was
already convinced they would uncover prevarication if not an
outright lie. Talaan drew a deep breath, and for once stood
very straight, not even blinking as she kept her anxious eyes
on Zaida. 

Nynaeve blinked. No! They could not do this to her! Not
again! "I am telling you," she said, much more calmly than she
felt, "there is no way for me to break the shield. Talaan is
too strong." 

"Two," Zaida said, folding her arms beneath her breasts and
staring at Nynaeve as though she really could see the weaves. 

Nynaeve pushed tentatively at the shield. She might as well
push at a stone wall for all the give in it. "Listen to me, Za
. . . uh . . . Wavemistress." There was certainly no need to
antagonize the woman further. They were sticklers for proper
forms of address. Sticklers for all too many things. "I'm sure
Merilille has told you something about shielding, at least.
She swore the Three Oaths. She can't lie." Maybe Egwene was
right about the Oath Rod. 

Zaida's gaze never wavered, her expression never changed.
"Three." 

"Listen to me," Nynaeve said, not caring at all if she
sounded a bit desperate. Maybe more than just a bit. She
pushed against the shield harder, then as hard as she could.
She might as well have beat her head against a boulder for all
the effect it had. Instinctively, uselessly, she struggled in
the bonds of Air holding her, the fringe and loose folds of
her shawl dancing around her. She had as much chance of
breaking free of those bonds as she did of breaking through
the shield, but she could not stop herself. Not again! She

could not face that! "You have to listen!" 

"Four." 

No! No! Not again! Frantically she scrabbled at the shield.
It might be as hard as stone, but it felt more like glass,
sleek and slippery. She could feel the Source beyond it,
almost see the Source, like light and warmth just beyond the
corner of vision. In desperation, panting, she felt her way
across the smooth surface. It had an edge, like a circle at
once small enough to hold in her hands and large enough to
cover the world, but when she attempted to slip around that
edge, she found herself right back in the center of the slick
hard circle again. This was useless. She had learned all this
long ago, tried it all long ago. Her heart pounded fit to
burst out of her ribs. Struggling vainly for calm, she hur
riedly felt her way back to the edge, felt along it without
trying to go around. There was one place where it felt . . .
softer. She had never noticed that before. The soft point-a
slight lump?- seemed no different in any other way from the
rest, and it was not much softer, but she hurled herself at
it. And found herself back in the center. In a frenzy, she
flung all of her strength at the soft spot, again and again,
being hurled back to the center, not even pausing before
launching herself at it again. Again. Oh, Light! Please! She
had to, before . . . ! 

Abruptly she realized that Zaida still had not said five.
Gulping air as if she had run ten miles, she stared. Sweat
rolled down her face, her back. It trickled between her
breasts, slid down her belly. Her legs wobbled. The
Wavemistress looked straight into her eyes, thoughtfully
tapping full lips with a slim finger. The glow still enveloped
the circle of six, Kurin still could have been a scornfully
stony statue, but Zaida had not said five. 

"Did she truly try as hard as it seemed, Kurin," the
Wavemistress asked finally, "or was all that thrashing about
and whimpering just a show?" Nynaeve tried to summon an
indignant glare. She had not whimpered! Had she? Her scowl,
such as it was, made no more impression on Zaida than rain on
a rock. 

"With that much effort, Wavemistress," Kurin said reluc
tantly, "she could have carried a raker on her back." The flat
black pebbles of her eyes still held contempt, though. Only
those who lived at sea got any respect from her. 

"Release her, Talaan," Zaida commanded, and shield and bonds
vanished as she turned away, starting back toward the chairs
without another glance at Nynaeve. "Windfinders, I will have
words with you after she goes. I will see you at the same hour
tomorrow, Nynaeve Sedai." 

Smoothing her rumpled skirts and irritably shaking out her
shawl again, Nynaeve attempted to regather a little dignity.
It was not easy, sweat-slicked and trembling. She certainly
had not whimpered! She tried not to look at the woman who had
shielded her. Twice! Standing there meek as butter, with her
eyes fixed on the carpet. Ha! Nynaeve jerked her shawl around
her shoulders. "Sareitha Sedai will take her turn tomorrow,
Wavemistress." At least her voice was steady. "I will be busy
until-" 

"Your instruction is more edifying than that of the others,"

Zaida said, still not bothering to look at her. "At the same
hour, or I will send your pupils to bring you. You may leave
now." And that had the sound of you will leave now. 

With an effort, Nynaeve swallowed her arguments. They had a 

bitter taste. More edifying? What did that mean? She did not
think she really wanted to know.
Until she actually left the room, she was still the 

teacher-the Sea Folk were rigid in their rules; Nynaeve
supposed that lax rules on ships could lead to trouble, but
she wished they would realize they were not on a ship-she was
still the teacher, and that meant she could not simply stalk
out, however much she wanted to. Worse, their rules were quite
specific about teachers from among the shorebound. She could
simply have refused to cooperate, she supposed, but if she
violated their bargain by a hair, these women would spread it
from Tear to the Light knew where! The whole world would know
that Aes Sedai had broken their word. What that would do to
Aes Sedai standing did not bear thinking about. Blood and
bloody ashes! Egwene was right, and burn her for it! 

"Thank you, Wavemistress, for allowing me to instruct you,"
she said, bowing and touching fingers to forehead, lips and
heart. Not a very deep bow, but a quick bob was all they were
getting today. Well, two. The Windfinders had to have one.
"Thank you, Windfinders, for allowing me to instruct you." The
sisters who finally went to the Atha'an Miere would explode
when they learned that their pupils could tell them what to
teach and when, and even order what they did when not
teaching. On a Sea Folk vessel, a land-dwelling teacher
outranked the common deck-hands, but only just. And the
sisters would not even get the fat purses of gold used to lure
other teachers on board. 

Zaida and the Windfinders reacted very much as if the lowest
deckhand had announced her departure. That is, they stood in a
silent cluster, plainly waiting for her to go, and not very
patient about it. Only Rainyn favored her with as much as a
glance. An impatient glance. She was a Windfinder, after all
was said and done. Talaan still stood where she had been left,
a meek figure gazing at the carpet in front other bare feet. 

Head high and back straight, Nynaeve left the room with
every shred of dignity she could wrap around herself. Sweaty,
rumpled shreds. In the hall, she seized the door in both hands
and slammed it as hard as she could. The great, echoing crash
was very satisfying. She could always say it had slipped out
of her hands, if anyone complained. It really had, once she
got a good swing going. 

Turning from the door, she dusted her hands with
satisfaction. And gave a start at who was waiting in the
corridor for her. 

In a simple dark blue dress provided by one of the Kins
women, Alivia did not look at all unusual at first glance, a
woman a little taller than Nynaeve, with fine lines at the
corners of her blue eyes and threads of white in her golden
yellow hair. Those blue eyes crackled with intensity, though,
like the eyes of a hawk focused on prey. 

"Mistress Corly sent me to tell you she'd like to see you at
dinner tonight," the blue-eyed hawk said in a slow Seanchan
drawl. "Mistress Karistovan, Mistress Arman, and Mistress

Juarde will be there." 

"What are you doing here alone?" Nynaeve demanded. She
wished she could be like most other sisters, aware of another
woman's strength without ever really thinking about it, but
that was something else she had not had time to learn. Maybe
some of the Forsaken topped Alivia, but surely no one else.
And she was Seanchan. Nynaeve wished there was someone else
there besides the two of them. Even Lan, and she had ordered
him to stay away from her lessons with the Sea Folk. She was
not certain he believed her story about slipping on the stairs
the other day. "You aren't supposed to go anywhere without an
escort!" 

Alivia shrugged, a slight movement of one shoulder. A few
days ago, she had been a bundle of simpers that made Talaan
look bold. She did not simper for anybody, now. "There wasn't
anyone free, so I slipped out by myself. Anyway, if you always
guard me, you'll never come to trust me, and I'll never get to
kill sui'dam." Somehow that sounded even more chilling,
delivered in such a casual tone. "You ought to be learning
from me. Those Asha'man say they're weapons, and they aren't
bad, I know for a fact, but I'm better." 

"That's as may be," Nynaeve replied sharply, shifting her
shawl. "And maybe we know more than you think we do." She
would not mind demonstrating a few of the weaves she had
learned from Moghedien for this woman. Including a few they
had all agreed were too nasty to do to anyone. Except. . . .
She was fairly certain the other woman could overpower her
easily, whatever she did. Keeping her feet from shifting under
that intense stare was not easy. "Until-unless!-we decide
differently, you won't let me see you without two or three
Kinswomen again, if you know what's good for you." 

"If you say so," Alivia said, not at all abashed. "What
message do you want me to take back to Mistress Corly?" 

"Tell Mistress Corly I have to decline her kind invitation.
And remember what I told you!" 

"I'll tell her," the Seanchan woman drawled, completely ig
noring the admonition. "But I don't think it was exactly an
invitation. An hour after first dark, she said. You might want
to remember that." With a slight, knowing smile, she walked
away, not hurrying at all to return where she belonged. 

Nynaeve glared at the retreating woman's back, and not be
cause of her lack of a curtsy. Well, not only that. A pity she
had not hung on to a few of her simpers, for sisters, anyway.
With a glance at the door that hid the Atha'an Miere, Nynaeve
considered following Alivia to make sure she did as she had
been told. Instead, she went in the opposite direction. She
did not hurry. It would be unpleasant if the Sea Folk came out
and decided she had been eavesdropping, but she definitely did
not hurry. She merely wanted to walk briskly. That was all. 

The Atha'an Miere were hardly the only ones in the Palace
she wanted to avoid. Not exactly an invitation, was it? Sumeko
Karistovan, Chilares Arman and Famelle Juarde had been in the
Knitting Circle with Reanne Corly. Dinner was only an excuse.
They would want to talk to her about the Windfinders. More
specifically, about the relationship between the Aes Sedai in
the Palace and the Sea Folk "wilders." They would not quite
upbraid her for failing to maintain the dignity of the White

Tower. They had not gone that far; not yet, though they seemed
to be coming closer. But the whole dinner would be full of
pointed questions and sharper comments. Nothing she could
simply order them to stop. She doubted they would for less
than a command. And they were quite capable of coming to find
her if she did not go to them. Trying to teach them to show
backbone had been a terrible mistake. At least she was not the
only one who had to put up with it, though she thought Elayne
had managed to avoid the worst. Oh, how she looked forward to
seeing them back in novice white or Accepted's dresses. How
she looked forward to seeing the last of the Atha'an Miere! 

"Nynaeve!" came a strangely muted cry behind her. In Sea
Folk accents. "Nynaeve!"
Forcing her hand away from her braid, Nynaeve spun on her 

heel, ready to deliver a tongue-lashing. She was not teaching
now, they were not on a ship, and they could bloody well leave
her alone! 

Talaan skidded to a halt in front of her, bare feet sliding
on the dark red floor tiles. Panting, the young woman swiveled
her head as if afraid someone would sneak up on her. She
flinched every time a liveried servant moved just on the edge
of her sight, and only breathed again when she saw it was just
a servant. "Can I go to the White Tower?" she asked
breathlessly, wringing her hands and dancing from foot to
foot. "I will never be chosen. A sacrifice, they call it,
leaving the sea forever, but I dream of becoming a novice. I
will miss my mother terribly, but. . . . Please. You must take
me to the Tower. You must!" 

Nynaeve blinked at the onslaught. Many women dreamed of
becoming Aes Sedai, but she had never before heard one say she
dreamed of becoming a novice. Besides. . . . The Atha'an Miere
refused passage to Aes Sedai on any ship whose Windfinder
could channel, but to keep sisters from trying to look deeper,
every so often an apprentice was chosen to go to the White
Tower. Egwene said there were only three sisters from among
the Sea Folk at present, all weak in the Power. For three
thousand years that had been enough to convince the Tower that
the ability was rare and small with Atha'an Miere women, not
worth investigating. Talaan was right; no one as strong as she
would ever be allowed to go to the Tower, even now that their
subterfuge was coming to an end. In fact, it was part of the
bargain with them that Atha'an Miere sisters be allowed to
give up being Aes Sedai and return to the ships. The Hall of
the Tower would not half howl about that! 

"Well, the training is very hard, Talaan," she said gently,
"and you must be at least fifteen. Besides. . . ." Something
else the young woman had said struck her suddenly. "You will
miss your mother?" she said incredulously, not caring how it
sounded. 

"I am nineteen!" Talaan replied indignantly. Looking at that
boyish face and form, Nynaeve was not sure she believed. "And
of course I will miss my mother. Do I look unnatural? Oh; I
see. You do not understand. We are very affectionate in
private, but she must avoid any sign of favor in public. That
is a serious crime, with us. It could have mother stripped of
her rank, and both of us hung upside down in the rigging to be
flogged."

 Nynaeve grimaced at the mention of upside down. "I certainly
can see where you would want to avoid that," she said. "Even
so-" 

"Everyone tries to avoid even a hint of favor, but it is
worse for me, Nynaeve!" Really, the girl-woman-young
woman-would have to learn not to step on what a sister was
saying if she did become a novice. Not that she could, of
course. Nynaeve tried to regain the initiative, but words
poured out of Talaan in a torrent. "My grandmother is
Windfinder to the Wavemistress of Clan Rossaine, my great-
grandmother is Windfinder to Clan Dacan, and her sister to
Clan Takana. My family is honored that five of us have risen
so high. And everyone watches for signs that Gelyn abuses its
influence. Rightly so, I know-favor cannot be allowed-but my
sister was kept an apprentice five years longer than normal,
and my cousin six! Just so no one can claim they were favored.
When I cast the stars and give our position correctly, I am
punished for being slow even when I have the answer as fast as
Windfinder Ehvon! When I taste the sea and name the coast we
are approaching, I am punished because the taste I name is not
quite what Windfinder Ehvon tastes! I shielded you twice, but
tonight I will hang by my ankles for not doing so sooner! I am
punished for flaws ignored in others, for flaws I never make,
because I might! Was your novice training any harder than
that, Nynaeve?" 

"My novice training," Nynaeve said faintly. She wished the
woman would not keep bringing up being hung by the ankles.
"Yes. Well. You really don't want to hear about that." Four
generations of women with the ability? Light! Even daughter
following mother was rare enough. The Tower really would want
Talaan. That was not going to happen, though. "I suppose Caire
and Tebreille really love one another, too?" she said, trying
to change the subject. 

Talaan sneered. "My aunt is sly and deceitful. She
celebrates any humiliation she can cause my mother. But my
mother will bring her low, as she deserves. One day, Tebreille
will find herself serving on a soarer, beneath a Sailmistress
with an iron hand and sore teeth!" She gave a grim, satisfied
nod at the thought. And then jumped, wide-eyed as a fawn, when
a serving man hurried by behind her. That recalled her to her
purpose. She went back to trying to look every way at once as
she spoke hastily. "You cannot speak out during the lessons,
of course, but any other time will do. Announce that I am to
go the Tower, and they will not be able to deny you. You are
Aes Sedai!" 

Nynaeve goggled at the girl. And they would have forgotten
all about it by the next time she gave a lesson? The fool had
seen what they did to her! "I can see how much you want to go,
Talaan," she said, "but-" 

"Thank you," Talaan broke in, making a quick bow. "Thank
you!" And she darted back the way she had come at a dead run. 

"Wait!" Nynaeve shouted, taking a few steps after her. "Come
back! I didn't promise anything!" 

Servants turned to stare at her, and continued to shoot won
dering glances in her direction even after returning to their
tasks. She would have run after the idiot except that she was
afraid she would have to follow her straight to Zaida and the

others. And the fool would probably gush out that she was
going to the Tower, that Nynaeve had promised. Light, she
would probably tell them anyway! 

"You look as if you just swallowed a rotten plum," Lan said,
appearing at her side, tall and starkly handsome in his well-
fitting green coat. She wondered how long he had been there.
It did not seem possible that a man so large, so commanding in
his presence, could stand still enough that you failed to
notice him, even without a Warder's cloak. 

"A basketful of them," she murmured, pressing her face
against her husband's broad chest. It felt very good to lean
against his strength, just for a moment, while he stroked her
hair softly. Even if she did have to shift his sword hilt out
of her ribs. And anyone who wanted to stare at such a public
display of affection could go hang themselves. She could see
disaster piling up on disaster. Even if she told Zaida and the
others she had no intention of taking Talaan anywhere, they
were going to skin her. There would be no hiding it from Lan
this time. If she had managed to the first. Reanne and the
others would learn of it. And Alise! They would start treating
her the way they did Merilille, ignoring her orders, giving
her about as much respect as the Windfinders did Talaan.
Somehow she would be saddled with guarding Alivia, and some
catastrophe would come of it, some utter humiliation. That was
all she seemed fit to do, lately; find another way to be
humiliated. And every fourth day, she would still have to face
Zaida and the Windfinders. 

"Do you remember how you kept me in our rooms yesterday
morning?" she murmured, looking up in time to catch a grin
replacing concern on his face. Of course he remembered. Her
face grew hot. Talking to friends was one thing, but being
forward with her own husband still seemed quite another.
"Well, I want you to take me back there right now and keep me
from putting on any clothes for about a year!" She had been
quite furious about that, at first. But he had ways to make
her forget to be furious. 

He threw back his head and laughed, a great booming sound,
and after a moment, she echoed him. She wanted to weep,
though. She had not really been joking. 

Having a husband meant that she did not have to share a bed
with another woman, or two, and it gained her a sitting room.
It was not large, but it always seemed snug, with a good
fireplace and a small table with four chairs. Certainly as
much as she and Lan needed. Her hopes for privacy were dashed
as soon as they entered the sitting room, though. The First
Maid was waiting in the middle of the flowered carpet, as
stately as a queen, as neatly turned out as if she had just
finished dressing, and not at all pleased. And in one corner
of the room was a roughly dressed, lumpy fellow with a
horrible wart on his nose and a scrip dangling heavily from
his shoulder. 

"This man claims he has something you want urgently," Mis
tress Harfor said once she had made brief courtesies. Very
brief, if proper; she did not waste them on anyone except
Elayne. She sounded equally disapproving of Nynaeve and the
fellow with the wart. "I don't mind telling you, I do not like
the looks of him."

 Tired as Nynaeve was, embracing the Source was almost beyond
her, but she managed it in a flash, spurred by thoughts of
assassins and the Light knew what. Lan must have caught some
change in her face, because he took a step toward the warty
fellow; he did not touch his sword, but suddenly his whole
stance seemed as if the blade were already drawn. How he
sometimes managed to read her mind when another held his bond,
she could not say, but she was pleased. She had managed to
match Talaan-in strength, at least!-but she was not sure she 

could channel enough right then to knock over a chair. "I
never," she began.
"Pardon, Mistress," the lumpy fellow muttered hurriedly, 

tugging his greasy forelock. "Mistress Thane said you wanted
to see me right away. Women's Circle business, she said.
Something about Cenn Buie." 

Nynaeve gave herself a shake, and after a moment remembered
to close her mouth. "Yes," she said slowly, staring at the
fellow. Seeing anything but that awful wart was difficult, but
she was certain she had never laid eyes on him before. Women's
Circle business. No man would be allowed a sniff of that. It
was secret. She held on to saidar, though. "I ... remember,
now. Thank you, Mistress Harfor. I'm sure you have all sorts
of things to see to." 

Rather than take the hint, the First Maid hesitated,
frowning at her suspiciously. That frown slid around to the
lumpy man, then settled on Lan and vanished. She nodded to
herself, as if his presence somehow made the difference! "I
will leave you, then. I'm sure Lord Lan can handle this
fellow." 

Stifling her indignation, Nynaeve barely waited for the door
to close before rounding on the lumpy fellow and his wart.
"Who are you?" she demanded. "How do you know those names?
You're no Two Riv-" 

The man . . . rippled. There was no other word for it. He
rippled and stretched taller, and suddenly it was Rand,
grimacing and swallowing, in rumpled woolens with those awful
heads glittering red-and-gold on the backs of his hands and a
leather scrip on his shoulder. Where had he learned that? Who
had taught him? She resisted the idea of disguising herself,
just for a moment, to show him she could do as much. 

"I see you didn't take your own advice," Rand said to Lan,
just as if she were not there. "But why do you let her pretend
to be Aes Sedai? Even if the real Aes Sedai let her, she can
get hurt." 

"Because she is Aes Sedai, sheepherder," Lan replied
quietly. He did not look at her either! And he still seemed
ready to draw his sword in a heartbeat. "As for the other. . .
. Sometimes, she is stronger than you. Did you take it?" 

Rand looked at her then. To frown disbelievingly. Even when
she pointedly adjusted her shawl so the yellow fringe swayed.
What he said though, shaking his head slowly, was "No. You're
right. Sometimes you're just too weak to do what you should." 

"What are you two blathering about?" she said sharply.
"Just things that men talk about," Lan replied.
"You wouldn't understand," Rand said.
She sniffed at that. Gossip and idle chatter, that was what 

men's talk was, nine times in ten. At best. Wearily, she let

go of saidar. Reluctantly. She did not need to protect herself
against Rand, certainly, but she would have liked to hold on a
little longer, just to touch it, tired or not. 

"We know about Cairhien, Rand," she said, sinking gratefully
into a chair. Those cursed Sea Folk had worn her out! "Is that
why you're here, dressed that way? If you're trying to hide
from whoever it was. . . ." He looked tired. Harder than she
remembered, but very tired. He remained standing, though.
Strangely, he seemed much like Lan, ready to draw a sword he
was not wearing. Maybe that attempt to kill him would be
enough to make him see sense. "Rand, Egwene can help you." 

"I'm not hiding exactly," he said. "At least, just until I
kill some men who need killing." Light, he was as matter of
fact about it as Alivia! Why did he and Lan keep eyeing one
another and pretending they were not? "Anyway, how could
Egwene help?" he went on, setting the scrip on the table. It
made a soft but solid sound of weight inside. "I suppose she's
Aes Sedai, too?" He sounded amused! "Is she here, as well? You
three, and two real Aes Sedai. Only two! No. I don't have time
for that. I need you to keep something until-" 

"Egwene is the Amyrlin Seat, you fool woolhead," she
growled. It was nice to be able to interrupt someone else for
a change. "Elaida is a usurper. I hope you've had sense enough
not to go near her! You wouldn't leave that meeting on your
own two legs, I can tell you! There are five real Aes Sedai
here, including me, and three hundred more with Egwene and an
army, ready to pull Elaida down. Look at yourself! Whatever
your brave talk, somebody almost killed you, and you're
sneaking around dressed like a stableman! What safer place for
you than with Egwene? Even those Asha'man of yours wouldn't
dare go against three hundred sisters!" Oh, yes; very nice
indeed. He tried to mask his surprise, but he made a poor job
of it, staring at her. 

"You'd be surprised what my Asha'man would dare," he said
dryly after a minute. "I suppose Mat is with Egwene's army?"
Putting a hand to his head, he staggered. 

Only half a step, but she was out of her chair before he
could right himself. Embracing saidar with an effort, she
reached up to clasp his head between her hands, and
laboriously wove a Delving around him. She had tried finding a
better way to find what ailed someone, so far without success.
It was enough. No sooner had the weave settled on him than her
breath caught. She had known about the wound in his side from
Faime, never healing completely, resisting all the Healing she
knew, like a pustule of evil in his flesh. Now there was
another half-healed wound atop the old, and that pulsed with
evil, too. A different sort of evil, somehow, like a mirror of
the other, yet just as virulent. And she could not touch
either with the Power. She did not really want to-just
thinking of it made her skin crawl!-but she tried. And some
thing unseen held her away. Like a ward. A ward she could not
see. A ward of saidin? 

That made her stop channeling and step back. She clung to
the Source; no matter how tired she was, she would have had to
force herself to let go. No sister could think of the male
half of the Power without at least a touch of fear. He looked
down at her calmly, and that made her shiver. He seemed

another man entirely from the Rand al'Thor she had watched
grow up. She was very glad that Lan was there, hard as that
was to admit. Suddenly she realized that he had not relaxed by
a whisker. He might chatter with Rand like two men over pipes
and ale, but he thought Rand was dangerous. And Rand looked at
Lan as if he knew it, and accepted it. 

"None of that is important now," Rand said, turning to the
scrip on the table. She did not know whether he meant his
wounds or where Mat was. From the scrip he produced two statu
ettes a foot high, a wise-looking, bearded man and an equally
wise and serene woman, each in flowing robes and holding aloft
a clear crystal sphere. From the way he handled them, they
were heavier than they appeared. "I want you to keep these
hidden for me until I send for them, Nynaeve." One hand on the
figure of the woman, he hesitated. "And for you. I'll need you
when I use them. When we use them. After I take care of those
men. That has to come first." 

"Use them?" she said suspiciously. Why did killing anyone
have to come first? That was hardly the important question,
though. "For what? Are they ter'angreal?" 

He nodded. "With this, you can touch the greatest sa'angreal
ever made for a woman. It's buried on Tremalking, I
understand, but that doesn't matter." His hand moved to the
figure of the man. "With this one, I can touch its male twin.
I was told by ... someone . . . once, that a man and woman
using those sa'angreal could challenge the Dark One. They
might have to be used for that, one day, but in the meantime,
I hope they're enough to cleanse the male half of the Source." 

"If it could be done, wouldn't they have done it in the Age
of Legends?" Lan said quietly. Quiet the way steel sliding
from a scabbard was quiet. "You said once that I could get her
hurt." It seemed impossible his voice could grow any harder,
but it did. "You could kill her, sheepherder." And his tone
made clear that he would not allow that. 

Rand met Lan's cold blue stare with one just as cold. "I
don't know why they didn't. I don't care why. It has to be
tried." 

Nynaeve bit her lower lip. She supposed Rand made this a
public occasion-shifting from public to private, deciding
which was which, made her dizzy sometimes-but she did not care
that Lan had spoken out of turn. He was bad that way, in any
case, but she liked an outspoken man. She needed to think. Not
about her decision. She had made that. About how to implement
it. Rand might not like it. Lan certainly would not. Well, men
always wanted their own way. Sometimes you just had to teach
them they could not always have it. 

"I think it is a wonderful idea," she said. That was not
exactly a lie. It was wonderful, compared to the alternatives.
"But I don't see why I should sit here waiting for your
summons like a serving maid. I'll do it, but we all go
together." 

She had been right. They did not like it one bit. 

Chapter 12: A Lily in Winter

 Another serving man nearly fell on his nose bowing, and
Elayne sighed as she glided past along the Palace corridor. At
least, she tried to glide. The Daughter-Heir of Andor, stately
and serene. She wanted to run, though her dark blue skirts
probably would have tripped her had she tried. She could
almost feel the stout man's goggling eyes following her and
her companions. A minor irritant, and one that would pass; a
grain of sand in her slipper. Rand bloody thinks-he-knows-best-
for-everybody al'Thor is itchoak down my back! she thought. If
he managed to get away from her this time . . . ! 

"Just remember," she said firmly. "He hears nothing about
spies, or forkroot, or any of that!" The very last thing she
needed was him deciding to "rescue" her. Men did that sort of
nonsense; 

Nynaeve called it "thinking with the hair on their chests."
Light, he would probably try to move the Aiel and the
Saldaeans back into the city! Into the Palace itself! Bitter
as it was to admit, she could not stop him if he did, not
short of open war, and even that might not be enough. 

"I don't tell him things he doesn't need to know," Min said,
frowning at a lanky, wide-eyed serving woman whose curtsy
nearly collapsed into a sprawl on the red-brown floor tiles.
Eyeing Min sideways, Elayne remembered her own time wearing
breeches, and wondered whether she might not try again. They
were certainly freer than skirts. Not the heeled boots,
though, she decided judiciously. They made Min almost as tall
as Aviendha, but even Birgitte swayed in those, and with Min's
snug breeches and a coat that barely covered her hips, it
looked positively scandalous. 

"You lie to him?" Suspicion larded Aviendha's tone. Even the
way she adjusted her dark shawl on her shoulders carried disap
proval, and she glared past Elayne at Min. 

"Of course not," Min replied sharply, glaring right back.
"Not unless it's necessary." Aviendha chuckled, then looked
startled that she had, and put on a stony face. 

What was she to do about them? They had to like one another.
They just had to. But the two women had been staring at each
other like strange cats in a small room every since they met.
Oh, they had agreed to everything-there really had been no
choice, not when none of them could guess when they would all
have the man at hand again-but she hoped they did not show one
another again how skillfully they handled their knives. Very
casually, not actually implying any threat, but very open
about it, too. On the other hand, Aviendha had been quite
impressed with the number of knives Min carried about her
person. 

A gangly young serving man carrying a tray of tall mantles
for the stand lamps bowed as she swept by. Unfortunately, he
was staring so hard that he forgot to pay attention to his
burden. The crash of glass shattering on the floor tiles
filled the corridor. 

Elayne sighed again. She did hope everyone became used to
the new order of things soon. She was not the object of all
that gaping, of course, or Aviendha, or even Min, though she
probably drew some. No, it was Caseille and Deni, following
close behind, who were making eyes pop and servants stumble.

She had eight bodyguards, now, and those two had been standing
guard at her door when she woke. 

Very likely some of the gaping was just that Elayne had
Guardswomen trailing behind her at all, and almost certainly
that they were women. No one was used to that, yet. But
Birgitte had said she would make them appear ceremonial, and
she had. She must have set every seamstress and milliner in
the Palace working as soon as she left Elayne's rooms the
night before. Each woman wore a bright red hat with a long
white plume lying flat along the wide brim, and a wide red
sash edged in snowy lace across her chest with rampant White
Lions marching up it. Their white-collared crimson coats were
silk, and the cut had been altered a little, so they fit
better and hung almost to the knee above scarlet breeches with
a white stripe up the outsides of the legs. Pale lace hung
thickly at their wrists and necks, and their black boots had
been waxed till they shone. They looked quite dashing, and
even placid-eyed Deni swaggered just a little. Elayne
suspected they would be even prouder once the sword belts and
scabbards with gold tooling were ready, and the lacquered
helmets and breastplates. Birgitte was having breastplates
made to fit women, which Elayne suspected had certainly made
the Palace armorer's eyes pop! 

At the moment, Birgitte was busy interviewing women to round
out the twenty for the bodyguard. Elayne could feel her
concentrating, with no sign of physical activity, so it must
be that, unless she was reading, or playing stones, and she
seldom took a moment away from her duties for herself. Elayne
hoped she would keep it to just twenty. She hoped Birgitte was
busy enough that she did not notice until too late when she
masked the bond. To think that she had been so worried about
Birgitte sensing what she did not want her to when the
solution lay in a simple question to Vandene. The answer had
been a rueful reminder how little she actually knew about
being Aes Sedai, especially the parts other sisters took for
granted. Apparently, every sister who had a Warder knew how,
even those who remained celibate. 

It was odd how things came about, sometimes. If not for the
bodyguards, if not for wondering how she could manage to elude
them and Birgitte, she would never have thought to ask, would
never have learned the masking in time for this. Not that she
planned to elude her guards any time soon, but it was best to
be prepared in advance of need. Birgitte certainly was not
going to allow her and Aviendha to wander the city alone, day
or night, not any longer. 

Their arrival at Nynaeve's door put thoughts of Birgitte com
pletely out of her head. Except that she must not mask the
bond until the very last instant. Rand was on the other side
of that door. Rand who sometimes crowded her thoughts until
she wondered whether she was like some fool woman in a story
who threw her head over the wall because of a man. She had
always thought those stories must have been written by men.
Only, Rand sometimes did make her feel witless. At least he
did not realize it, thank the Light. 

"Wait out here, and admit no one," she commanded the
Guardswomen. She could not afford interruptions or attention
now. With luck, her bodyguard was new enough that no one would

even recognize what their fine uniforms meant. "I will only be
a few minutes." 

They saluted briskly, an arm across the chest, and took posi
tions on either side of the door, Caseille stone-faced with a
hand on her sword hilt, Deni taking her long cudgel in both
hands and smiling faintly. Elayne was sure the stocky woman
thought Min had brought her here to meet a secret lover. She
suspected Caseille might, as well. They had hardly been as
discreet in front of the two women as they might have; no one
had mentioned his name, but there had more than enough of "he
this" and "he that." At least neither had tried making an
excuse to leave so she could report to Birgitte. If they were
her bodyguard, then they were her bodyguard, not Birgitte's.
Except that they would not keep Birgitte out if she masked the
bond too soon. 

And she was dithering, she realized. The man she dreamed of
every night was on the other side of that door, and she was
standing there like a witling. She had waited so long, wanted
so much, and now she was almost afraid. She would not let this
go wrong. With an effort, she gathered herself. 

"Are you ready?" Her voice was not as strong as she could
have hoped, but at least it did not tremble. Butterflies the
size of foxes fluttered in her stomach. That had not happened
in a long time. 

"Of course," Aviendha said, but she had to swallow first. 

"I'm ready," Min said faintly. 

They went in without knocking, hurriedly closing the door
behind them. 

Nynaeve jumped to her feet, wide-eyed, before they were well
into the sitting room, but Elayne barely noticed her or Lan,
though the sweet smell of the Warder's pipe filled the room.
Rand really was there; it had been hard to believe he would
be. That dreadful disguise Min had described was gone, except
for the shabby clothing and rough gloves, and he was . . .
beautiful. 

He leaped from his chair at the sight of her, too, but
before he was completely upright, he staggered and grabbed the
table with both hands, gagging and heaving with dry retches.
Elayne embraced the Source and took a step toward him, then
stopped and made herself let go of the Power. Her ability with
Healing was tiny, and anyway, Nynaeve had moved as quickly as
she, the shine of saidar suddenly around her, hands raised
toward Rand. 

He recoiled, waving her away. "It's nothing you can Heal,
Nynaeve," he said roughly. "In any case, it seems you win the
argument." His face was a rigid mask hiding emotion, but his
eyes seemed to Elayne to be drinking her in. And Aviendha as
well. She was surprised to feel gladdened by that. She had
hoped it would be that way, hoped she could manage for her
sister's sake, and now it took no managing at all.
Straightening up was a visible effort for him, and pulling his
gaze away from her and Aviendha, though he tried to hide both.
"It is past time to be gone, Min," he said. 

Elayne's jaw dropped. "You think you can just go without
even speaking to me, to us?" she managed. 

"Men!" Min and Aviendha breathed at almost the same instant,
and gave one another startled looks. Hastily they unfolded

their arms. For an instant, despite the disparity in just
about everything about them, they had been almost mirror
images of womanly disgust. 

"The men who tried to kill me in Cairhien would turn this
palace into a slag heap if they knew I was here," Rand said
quietly. "Maybe if they just suspected. I suppose Min told you
it was Asha'man. Don't trust any of them. Except for three,
maybe. Darner Flinn, Jahar Narishma and Eben Hopwil. You may
be able to trust them. For the rest. ..." He clenched
gauntleted fists at his sides, seemingly unaware. "Sometimes a
sword turns in your hand, but I still need a sword. Just stay
away from any man in a black coat. Look, there's no time for
talking. It's best I go quickly." She had been wrong. He was
not exactly as she had dreamed of him. There had been a
boyishness about him sometimes, but it was gone as if burned
away. She mourned that for him. She did not think he did, or
could. 

"He is right in one thing," Lan said around his pipestem
with the same sort of quiet. Another man who seemed never to
have been a boy. His eyes were blue ice beneath the braided 

leather cord that encircled his brows. "Anyone near him is in
great danger. Anyone." For some reason, Nynaeve snorted. Then
put her hand on a leather scrip with hard bulges lying on the
table and smiled. Though after a moment her smile faltered. 

"Do my first-sister and I fear danger?" Aviendha demanded,
planting her fists on her hips. Her shawl slipped from her
shoulders and fell to the floor, but she was so intent that
she seemed unaware of the loss. "This man has toh to us,
Aan'allein, and we to him. It must be worked out." 

Min spread her hands. "I don't know what anybody's toes have
to do with anything, or feet either, but I'm not going any
where until you talk to them, Rand!" She affected not to
notice Aviendha's outraged glare. 

Sighing, Rand leaned against a corner of the table and raked
gloved fingers through the dark, reddish curls that hung to
his neck. He seemed to be arguing with himself under his
breath. 

"I'm sorry you ended up with the sui'dam and damane," he
said finally. He did sound sorry, but not very; he might have
been regretting the cold. "Taim was supposed to deliver them
to the sisters I thought were with you. But I suppose anyone
can make a mistake like that. Maybe he thought all those
Wisdoms and Wise Women Nynaeve has gathered were Aes Sedai."
His smile was quiet. It did not touch his eyes. 

"Rand," Min said in a low, warning tone. 

He had the nerve to look at her questioningly, as if he did
not understand. And he went right on. "Anyway, you seem to
have enough of them to hold on to a handful of women until you
can turn them over to the . . . the other sisters, the ones
with Egwene. Things never turn out quite the way you expect,
do they? Who would have thought a few sisters running away
from Elaida would grow into a rebellion against the White
Tower? With Egwene as Amyrlin! And the Band of the Red Hand
for her army. I suppose Mat can stay there awhile." For some
reason he blinked and touched his forehead, then went on in
that irritatingly casual tone. "Well. A strange turn of events
all around. At this rate, I won't be surprised if my friends

in the Tower work up enough courage to come out in the open." 

Arching an eyebrow, Elayne glanced at Nynaeve. Wisdoms and
Wise Women? The Band was Egwene's army, and Mat was with it?
Nynaeve's attempt at wide-eyed innocence made her look like
guilt nailed to a door. Elayne supposed it did not matter. He
would learn the truth soon enough, if he could be talked into
going to Egwene. In any case, she had more important matters
to take up with him. The man was babbling, however offhand he
managed to sound, tossing out anything they might snap at in
hopes of diverting them. 

"It won't do, Rand." Elayne tightened her hands on her
skirts to keep herself from shaking a finger at him. Or a
fist; she was not sure which it would be. The other sisters?
The real Aes Sedai, he had been about to say. How dare he? And
his friends in the Tower! Could he still believe Alviarin's
strange letter? Her voice was cool and firm and steady,
brooking no nonsense. "None of that matters a hair, not now.
You and Aviendha and Min and I are what we need to talk about.
And we will. We all will, Rand al'Thor, and you are not
leaving the Palace until we do!" 

For the longest time, he simply looked at her, his
expression never changing. Then he inhaled audibly, and his
face turned to granite. "I love you, Elayne." Without a pause,
he went on, words rushing out of him, water from a burst dam.
And his face a stone wall. "I love you, Aviendha. I love you,
Min. And not one a whisker more or less than the other two. I
don't just want one of you, I want all three. So there you
have it. I'm a lecher. Now you can walk away and not look
back. It's madness, anyway. I can't afford to love anybody!" 

"Rand al'Thor," Nynaeve shrieked, "that is the most outra
geous thing I ever heard out of your mouth! The very idea of
telling three women you love them! You're worse than a lecher!
You apologize right now!" Lan had snatched his pipe from his
mouth and was staring at Rand. 

"I love you, Rand," Elayne said simply, "and although you
haven't asked, I want to marry you." She blushed faintly, but
she intended to be much more forward before very long, so she
supposed this hardly counted. Nynaeve's mouth worked, but no
sound came out. 

"My heart is in your hands, Rand," Aviendha said, treating
his name like something rare and precious. "If you make a
bridal wreath for my first-sister and me, I will pick it up."
And she blushed, too, trying to cover it in bending to take
her shawl from the floor and arranging it on her arms. By Aiel
customs, she should never had said any of that. Nynaeve
finally got a sound out. A squeak. 

"If you don't know by this time that I love you," Min said, 

"then you're blind, deaf and dead!" She certainly did not
blush;
there was a mischievous light in her dark eyes, and she 

seemed ready to laugh. "And as for marriage, well, we'll work
that out between the three of us, so there!" Nynaeve took a
grip on her braid with both hands and gave it a steady pull,
breathing heavily through her nose. Lan had begun an intense
study of the contents of his pipe's bowl. 

Rand examined the three of them as if he had never seen a
woman before and wondered what they were. "You're all mad," he

said finally. "I'd marry any of you-all of you, the Light help
me!-but it can't be, and you know it." Nynaeve collapsed into
a chair, shaking her head. She muttered to herself, though all
Elayne could understand was something about the Women's Circle
swallowing their tongues. 

"There is something else we need to discuss," Elayne said.
Light, Min and Aviendha could have been looking at a pastry!
With an effort she managed to make her own smile a little less
. . . eager. "In my rooms, I think. There's no need to bother
Nynaeve and Lan." Or rather, she was afraid that Nynaeve would
try to stop them, if she heard. The woman was very quick to
use her authority when it came to Aes Sedai matters. 

"Yes," Rand said slowly. And then, strangely, added, "I said
you'd won, Nynaeve. I won't leave without seeing you again." 

"Oh!" Nynaeve gave a start. "Yes. Of course not. I watched
him grow up," she blathered, turning a sickly smile on Elayne.
"Almost from the start. Watched his first steps. He can't go
without a good long talk with me." 

Elayne eyed her suspiciously. Light, she sounded for all the
world like an aged nurse. Though Lini had never babbled. She
hoped Lini was alive and well, but she was very much afraid
that neither was true. Why was Nynaeve carrying on in this
fashion? The woman was up to something, and if she was not
going to use her standing to carry it off, it was something
even she knew was wrong. 

Suddenly, Rand seemed to waver, as though the air around him
were shimmering with heat, and everything else flew out of
Elayne's head. In an instant, he was . . . someone else,
shorter and thicker, coarse and brutish. And so repulsive to
look at that she did not even consider the fact that he was
using the male half of the Power. Greasy black hair hung down
onto an unhealthily pale face dominated by hairy warts,
including one on a bulbous nose above thick slack lips that
appeared on the edge of drooling. He squeezed his eyes shut
and swallowed, hands gripping the arms of his chair, as if he
could not stand to see them look at him. 

"You are still beautiful, Rand," she said gently. 

"Ha!" Min said. "That face would make a goat faint!" Well,
it would, but she should not have said so. 

Aviendha laughed. "You have a sense of humor, Min Farshaw.
That face would make a herd of goats faint." Oh, Light, it
would! Elayne swallowed a giggle just in time. 

"I am who I am," Rand said, pushing himself up out of the
chair. "You just won't see it." 

At Deni's first sight of Rand in his disguise, the smile
slid crookedly off the stocky woman's face. Caseille's mouth
dropped open. So much for thoughts of secret lovers, Elayne
thought, laughing to herself in amusement. She was sure he
drew as many stares as the Guardswomen, shambling along
between them with a sullen scowl. Certainly no one could
suspect who he was. The servants in the corridors probably
thought he had been apprehended in some crime. He certainly
had the look. Caseille and Deni kept a hard eye on him as if
they thought so, too. 

The Guardswomen came near to arguing when they realized she
intended them to wait outside her apartments while the three
of them took him inside. Suddenly, Rand's disguise did not

seem amusing at all any longer. Caseille's mouth thinned, and
Deni's wide face set in stubborn displeasure. Elayne almost
had to wave her Great Serpent ring beneath their noses before
they took positions beside her door, scowling. She shut the
door softly, cutting off the sight of their frowns, but she
wanted to slam it. Light, the man could have chosen something
a little less unsavory for his disguise. 

And as for him, he went straight to the inlaid table,
leaning against it while the air around him shimmered and he
became himself once more. The Dragon's heads on the backs of
his hands glittered metallically, scarlet and gold. "I need a
drink," he muttered thickly, catching sight of the tall-necked
silver pitcher on the long side-table against the wall. 

Still not looking at her or Min or Aviendha, he walked over
unsteadily and filled a silver winecup that he half-drained in
one long swallow. That sweet spicy wine had been left when her
breakfast was taken away. It must be cold as ice by now. She
had not been expected to return to her rooms so soon, and the
fire on the hearth had been banked down beneath ashes. But he
made no move she could see to warm the wine by channeling. She
would have seen steam, at least. And why had he walked to the
wine, instead of channeling to bring it to him? That was the
sort of thing he always did, floating winecups and lamps about
on flows of Air. 

"Are you well, Rand?" Elayne asked. "I mean, are you sick?"
Her stomach tightened at the thought of what sickness it might
be, with him. "Nynaeve can-" 

"I am as fine as I can be," he said flatly. Still with his
back to them. Emptying the cup, he began to fill it again.
"Now what is it you don't want Nynaeve to hear?" 

Elayne's eyebrows shot up, and she exchanged looks with
Aviendha and Min. If he had seen through her subterfuge, Ny
naeve certainly had. Why had she let them go? And how had he
seen through it? Aviendha shook her head slightly in wonder.
Min shook hers, too, but with a grin that said you just had to
expect this sort of thing now and then. Elayne felt the
smallest stab of-not quite jealousy; jealousy was out of the
question, for them-just irritation that Min had had so much
time with him and she had not. Well, if he wanted to play
surprises. . . . 

"We want to bond you our Warder," she said, smoothing her
dress under her as she took a chair. Min sat on the edge of
the table, legs dangling, and Aviendha settled onto the carpet
cross-legged, carefully spreading out her heavy woolen skirts.
"All three of us. It is customary to ask, first." 

He spun around, wine sloshing out of his cup, more pouring
from the pitcher before he could bring it upright. With a mut
tered oath, he hastily stepped out of the spreading wetness on
the carpet and put the pitcher back on the tray. A large damp
spot decorated the front of his rough coat, and droplets of
dark wine that he tried to brush away with his free hand. Very
satisfactory. 

"You really are mad," he growled. "You know what's ahead of
me. You know what it means for anyone I'm bonded to. Even if I
don't go insane, she has to live through me dying! And what do
you mean, all three of you? Min can't channel. Anyway, Alanna
Mosvani got there ahead of you, and she didn't bother asking.

She and Verin were taking some Two Rivers girls to the White
Tower. I've been bonded to her for months, now." 

"And you kept it from me, you woolheaded sheepherder?" Min 

demanded. "If I'd known-!" She deftly produced a slim knife
from her sleeve, then glared at it and glumly put it back.
That cure would have been as hard on Rand as on Alanna. 

"This was against custom," Aviendha said, half questioning.
She shifted on the carpet and fingered her belt knife. 

"Very much so," Elayne replied grimly. That a sister would
do that to any man was disgusting. That Alanna had done it to
Rand. . . ! She remembered the dark, fiery Green with her
quicksilver humor and her quicksilver temper. "Alanna has more
toh to him than she could repay in a lifetime! And to us. Even
if she doesn't, she will wish I had just killed her after I
lay hands on her!" 

"After we lay hands on her," Aviendha said, nodding for em
phasis. 

"So." Rand peered into his wine. "You can see there's no
point in this. I ... I think I'd better go back to Nynaeve,
now. Are you coming, Min?" Despite what they had told him, he
sounded as though he did not really believe, as if Min might
abandon him now. He did not sound afraid of it, only resigned. 

"There is a point," Elayne said insistently. She leaned
toward him, trying by the force of her will to make him accept
what she was saying. "One bond doesn't ward you against
another. Sisters don't bond the same man because of custom,
Rand, because they don't want to share him, not because it
can't be done. And it isn't against Tower law, either." Of
course, some customs were strong as law, at least in the eyes
of the sisters. Nynaeve seemed to go on more every day about
upholding Aes Sedai customs and dignity. When she learned of
this, she would probably explode right through the roof.
"Well, we do want to share you! We will share you, if you
agree." 

How easy it was to say that! She had been sure she could
not, once. Until she came to realize that she loved Aviendha
as much as she did him, just in a different way. And Min, too;
another sister, even if they had not adopted one another. She
would stripe Alanna from top to bottom for touching him, given
the chance, but Aviendha and Min were different. They were
part of her. In a way, they were her, and she them. 

She softened her tone. "I am asking, Rand. We are asking.
Please let us bond you." 

"Min," he murmured, almost accusingly. His eyes on Min's
face were rilled with despair. "You knew, didn't you? You knew
if I laid eyes on them. . . ." He shook his head, unable or
unwilling to go on. 

"I didn't know about the bonding until they told me less
than an hour ago," she said, meeting his gaze with the most
gentle look Elayne had ever seen. "But I knew, I hoped, what
would happen if you saw them again. Some things have to be,
Rand. They have to be." 

Rand stared into the winecup, moments seeming to stretch
like hours, and at last set it back on the tray. "All right,"
he said quietly. "I can't say I do not want this, because I
do. The Light burn me for it! But think of the cost. Think of
the price you'll pay."

 Elayne did not need to think of the price. She had known it 

from the beginning, had discussed it with Aviendha to make
sure she understand, too. She had explained it to Min. Take
what you want, and pay for it, the old saying went. None of
them had to think about the price; they knew, and they were 

willing to pay. There was no time to waste, though. Even now,
she did not put it past him to decide that price was too high.
As if that were his decision to make! 

Opening herself to saidar, she linked with Aviendha, sharing
a smile with her. The increased awareness of one another, the
more intimate sharing of emotions and physical feelings, was
always a pleasure with her sister. It was very much like what
they would soon share with Rand. She had worked this out
carefully, studied it from every angle. What she had been able
to learn of the Aiel adoption weaves had been a great help.
That ceremony had been when the idea first came to her. 

Carefully she wove Spirit, a flow of over a hundred threads,
every thread placed just so, and laid the weave on Aviendha
sitting on the floor, then did the same to Min on the table's
edge. In a way, they were not two separate weaves at all. They
glowed with a precise similarity, and it seemed that looking
at one, she saw the other as well. These were not the weaves
used in the adoption ceremony, but they used the same
principles. They included; what happened to one meshed in that
weave, happened to all in it. As soon as the weaves were in
place, she passed the lead of the circle of two to Aviendha.
The weaves already made remained, and Aviendha immediately
wove identical weaves around Elayne, and around Min again,
blending that one until it was indistinguishable from Elayne's
before passing control back. They did that very easily now,
after a great deal of practice. Four weaves, or rather, three
now, yet they all seemed the same weave. 

Everything was ready. Aviendha was a rock of confidence as
strong as anything Elayne had ever felt from Birgitte. Min sat
gripping the edge of the table, her ankles locked together;
she could not see the flows, but she gave an assured grin that
was only spoiled a little when she licked her lips. Elayne
breathed deeply. To her eyes, they three were surrounded and
connected by a tracery of Spirit that made the finest lace
seem drab. Now if only it worked as she believed it would. 

From each of them, she extended the weave in narrow lines
toward Rand, twisting the three lines into one, changing it
into the Warder bond. That, she laid on Rand as softly as if
she were laying a blanket on a baby. The spiderweb of Spirit
settled around him, settled into him. He did not even blink,
but it was done. She let go of saidar. Done. 

He stared at them, expressionless, and slowly put his
fingers to his temples. 

"Oh, Light, Rand, the pain," Min murmured in a hurt voice.
"I never knew; I never imagined. How can you stand it? There
are pains you don't even seem to know, as if you've lived with
them so long they're part of you. Those herons on your hands; 

you can still feel the branding. Those things on your arms
hurt! And your side. Oh, Light, your side! Why aren't you
crying, Rand? Why aren't you crying?" 

"He is the Car'a'carn," Aviendha said, laughing, "as strong
as the Three-fold Land itself!" Her face was proud-oh, so

proud- but even as she laughed, tears streamed down her sun-
dark cheeks. "The veins of gold. Oh, the veins of gold. You do
love me, Rand." 

Elayne simply stared at him, felt him in her head. The pain
of wounds and hurts he really had forgotten. The tension and
disbelief; the wonder. His emotions were too rigid, though,
like a knot of hardened pine sap, almost stone. Yet laced
through them, golden veins pulsed and glowed whenever he
looked at Min, or Aviendha. Or her. He did love her. He loved
all three of them. And that made her want to laugh with joy.
Other women might find doubts, but she would always know the
truth of his love. 

"The Light send you know what you've done," he said in a low
voice. "The Light send you aren't. . . ." The pine sap grew a
trifle harder. He was sure they would be hurt, and was already
steeling himself. "I ... I have to go, now. At least I'll know
you are all well now; I won't have to worry about you."
Suddenly he grinned; he might have looked almost boyish if it
had reached his eyes. "Nynaeve will be frantic thinking I've
slipped away without seeing her. Not that she doesn't deserve
a little flustering." 

"There is one more thing, Rand," Elayne said, and stopped to
swallow. Light, she had thought this would be the easy part. 

"I suppose Aviendha and I have to talk while we can," Min
said hurriedly, springing off the table. "Somewhere we can be
alone. If you'll excuse us?" 

Aviendha rose from the carpet gracefully, smoothing her
skirts. "Yes. Min Farshaw and I must learn about one another."
She eyed Min doubtfully, adjusting her shawl, but they left
arm in arm. 

Rand watched them warily, as if he knew their leaving had
been planned. A cornered wolf. But those veins of gold gleamed
in her head. 

"There is something they have had from you that I haven't,"
Elayne began, and choked, a flush scalding her face. Blood and
ashes! How did other women go about this? Carefully she consid
ered the bundle of sensations in her head that was him, and
the bundle that was Birgitte. There was still no change in the
second. She imagined wrapping it in a kerchief, knotting the
kerchief snugly, and Birgitte was gone. There was only Rand.
And those shining golden veins. Butterflies the size of
wolfhounds drummed their wings in her middle. Swallowing hard,
she took a long breath. "You will have to help me with my
buttons," she said unsteadily. "I cannot take this dress off
by myself." 

The two Guardswomen stirred when Min came into the corridor
with the Aiel woman, and jerked erect when they realized, as
Min closed the door, that no one else was coming out. 

"Her taste can't be that bad," the blocky, sleepy-eyed one
muttered under her breath, hands tightening on her long
cudgel. Min did not think anyone had been meant to hear. 

"Too much courage, and too much innocence," the lean, man
nish one growled. "The Captain-General warned us about that."
She put a gauntleted hand on the lion-headed doorlatch. 

"You go in there now, and she might skin you, too," Min said
blithely. "Have you ever seen her in a temper? She could make
a bear weep!"

 Aviendha disengaged her arm from Min's and put a little dis
tance between them. It was the Guardswomen who received her
scowl, though. "You doubt my sister can handle a single man?
She is Aes Sedai, and has the heart of a lion. And you are
oath-sworn to follow her! You follow where she leads, not put
your noses up her sleeve." 

The Guardswomen exchanged a long look. The heavier woman
shrugged. The wiry one grimaced, but she took her hand from
the doorlatch. "I'm oath-sworn to keep that girl alive," she
said in a hard voice, "and I mean to. Now you children go play
with your dolls and let me do my job." 

Min considered producing a knife and performing one of the
flashy finger-rolls Thom Merrilin had taught her. Just to show
them who was a child. The lean woman was not young, but there
was no gray in her hair, and she looked quite strong. And
quick. Min wanted to believe some of the other woman's bulk
was fat, but she did not. She could not see any images or
auras around either, but neither looked in the least afraid to
do whatever she thought needed doing. Well, at least they were
leaving Elayne and Rand alone. Maybe the knife was
unnecessary. 

From the corner of her eye she caught sight of the Aiel
reluctantly letting a hand fall from her belt knife. If the
woman did not stop mirroring her this way, she was going to
start thinking there was more to this jiggery-pokery with the
Power than she had been told. Then again, it had begun before
the jiggery-pokery. Maybe they just thought alike. A
disturbing idea. Light, all this talk about him marrying all
three of them was very well for talk, but which one was he
really going to marry? 

"Elayne is brave," she told the Guards, "as brave as anybody
I've ever met. And she isn't stupid. If you start off thinking
she is, you'll soon go wrong with her." They stared down at
her from the vantage of an added fifteen or twenty years,
solid, unperturbed and determined. In a moment they would tell
her to run along, again. "Well, we can't stand around here if
we're going to talk, can we, Aviendha?" 

"No," the Aiel woman breathed in a tight voice, glaring at
the Guardswomen. "We cannot stand here." 

The Guardswomen took no notice of their going at all. They
had a job to do, and it had nothing to with watching Elayne's
friends. Min hoped they did their job well. She isn't at all
stupid, she thought. She just lets her courage lead the way,
sometimes. She hoped they would not let Elayne scramble into
brambles she could not get out of. 

Walking along the hallway, she eyed the Aiel woman sideways.
Aviendha strode along as far from her as she could be and
still remain in the same corridor. Not even glancing in Min's
direction, she pulled a thickly carved ivory bracelet from her
belt pouch and slipped it over her left wrist with a small,
satisfied smile. She had had a fly on her nose from the first,
and Min did not understand why. Aiel were supposed to be used
to women sharing a man. A far cry more than she could say for
herself. She just loved him so badly she was willing to share,
and if she must, then there was no one in the world she would
rather share with than Elayne. With her, it almost wasn't like
sharing at all. This Aiel woman was a stranger, though. Elayne

had said it was important they get to know one another, but
how could they it the woman would not talk to her? 

She did not spend much time worrying about Elayne, though,
or Aviendha. What lay in her head was too wondrous. Rand. A
little ball that told her everything about him. She had been
sure the whole thing would fail, for her at least. What would
making love with him be like after this, when she knew
everything! Light! Of course, he would know everything about
her, too. She was definitely uncertain how she felt about
that! 

Abruptly she realized that the bundle of emotions and sensa
tions was no longer the same as at first. There was a ... red
roaring ... to it, now, like wildfire raging through a tinder
dry forest. What could . . . ? Light! She stumbled, and just
caught her footing short of tumbling. If she had known this
furnace, this fierce hunger, was inside him, she would have
been afraid to let him touch her! On the other hand. ... It
might be nice, knowing she had sparked such an inferno. She
could not wait to see whether she produced the same effect as.
... She stumbled again, and this time had to catch herself on
an ornately carved highchest. Oh, Light! Elayne! tier face
felt like a furnace. This was like peeking through the
bedcurtains! 

Hurriedly she tried the trick Elayne had told her about, im
aging that ball of emotions tied up in a kerchief. Nothing hap
pened. Frantically she tried again, but the raging fire was
still there! She had to stop looking at it, stop feeling it.
Anything to get her attention anywhere but there! Anything!
Maybe if she started talking. 

"She should have drunk that heartleaf tea," she babbled. She
never told what she saw except to those involved, and only
then if they wanted to hear, but she had to say something.
"She'll get with child from this. Two of them; a boy and a
girl; both healthy and strong." 

"She wants his babies," the Aiel woman mumbled. Her green
eyes stared straight ahead; her jaw was tight, and sweat
beaded on her forehead. "I will not drink the tea myself if
I-" Giving herself a shake, she frowned across the width of
the hall at Min. "My sister and the Wise Ones told me about
you. You really see things about people that come true?" 

"Sometimes I see things, and if I know what they mean, they
happen," Min said. Their voices, raised to reach each other,
carried along the corridor. Red-and-white-liveried servants
turned to stare at them. Min moved to the center of the
hallway. She would meet the other woman halfway, no more.
After a moment, Aviendha joined her. 

Min wondered whether to tell her what she had seen while
they were all together. Aviendha would have Rand's babies,
too. Four of them at once! Something was odd about that,
though. The babies would be healthy, but still something odd.
And people often did not like hearing about their futures,
even when they said they wanted to. She wished someone could
tell her whether she herself would. . . . 

Walking along in silence, Aviendha wiped sweat from her face
with her fingers and swallowed hard. Min had to swallow, too.
Everything Rand was feeling was in that ball. Everything! 

"The kerchief trick didn't work for you, either?" she said

hoarsely. ^ 

Aviendha blinked, and crimson darkened her face. A moment
later, she said, "That is better. Thank you. I. ... With him
in my head, I forgot." She frowned. "It did not work for you?" 

Min shook her head miserably. This was indecent! "It helps
if I talk, though." She had to make friends with this woman,
somehow, if this whole peculiar business was to have a hope of
working. "I'm sorry for what I said. About toes, I mean. I
know a little of your customs. There's something about that
man that just makes me cheeky. I can't control my tongue. But
don't think I'm going let you start hitting me or carving on
me. Maybe I have toh, but we'll have to find some other way. I
could always groom your horse, when we have time." 

"You are as proud as my sister," Aviendha muttered, frown
ing. What did she mean by that? "You have a good sense of
humor, too." She seemed to be talking to herself. "You did not
make a fool of yourself about Rand and Elayne the way most
wetlander women would. And you did remind me. . . ." With a
sigh, she flipped her shawl up onto her shoulders. "I know
where there is some oosquai. If you are too drunk to think, 

then-" Staring down the hallway, she stopped dead. "No!" she
growled. "Not yet!"
Coming toward them was an apparition that made Min's jaw
drop. Consternation pushed Rand beyond awareness. From com 

ments she had known that the Captain-General of Elayne's
Guards was a woman, and Elayne's Warder to boot, but nothing
else. This woman had a thick, intricate golden braid pulled
over one shoulder other short, white-collared red coat, and
her voluminous blue trousers were tucked into boots with heels
as high as Min's. Auras danced around her and images
flickered, more than Min had ever seen around anyone,
thousands it seemed, cascading over one another. Elayne's
Warder and Captain-General of the Queen's Guards . . . wobbled
... a little, as though she had already been into the oosquai.
Servants who caught sight of her decided they had work in
another part of the Palace, leaving the three of them alone in
the corridor. She did not seem to see Min and Aviendha until
she almost walked into them. 

"You bloody helped her in this, didn't you?" she growled,
focusing glassy-looking blue eyes on Aviendha. "First, she
flaming vanishes out of my head, and then . . . !" She
trembled, and visibly controlled herself, but even then she
was breathing hard. Her legs did not seem to want to hold her
upright. Licking her lips, she swallowed and went on angrily.
"Burn her, I can't concentrate enough to shake it off! You let
me tell you, if she's doing what I think she's doing, I'll
kick her tickle-heart around the bloody Palace, and then I'll
flaming welt her till she can't sit for a month-and you
alongside her!-if I have to find forkroot to do it!" 

"My first-sister is a grown woman, Birgitte Trahelion,"
Aviendha said truculently. Despite her tone, her shoulders
were hunched, and she did not quite meet the other woman's
stare. "You must stop trying to treat us as children!" 

"When she bloody well behaves like an adult, I bloody well
treat her as one, but she has no right to do this, not in my
flaming head, she doesn't! Not in my-!" Abruptly, Birgitte's
glazed blue eyes bulged. The golden haired woman's mouth

dropped open, and she would have fallen if Min and Aviendha
had not each seized an arm. 

Squeezing her eyes shut, she sobbed, just once, and whim
pered, "Two months!" Shaking free of them, she straightened
and fixed Aviendha with blue eyes clear as water and hard as
ice. "Shield her for me, and I'll let you off your share."
Aviendha's sullen, indignant glare just slid off her. 

"You're Birgitte Silverbow!" Min breathed. She had been sure
even before Aviendha said the name. No wonder the Aiel woman 

was behaving as if she feared those threats would be carried
out right then and there. Birgitte Silverbow! "I saw you at
Faime!" 

Birgitte gave a start as if goosed, then looked around hur
riedly. Once she realized they were alone, she relaxed. A
little. She eyed Min up and down. "Whatever you saw, Silverbow
is dead," she said bluntly. "I'm Birgitte Trahelion, now, and
that's all." Her lips twisted wryly for a moment. "The flaming
Lady ^Birgitte Trahelion, if you flaming please. Kiss a sheep
on Mother's Day if I can do anything about that, I suppose.
And who might you be when you're to home? Do you always show
off your legs like a bloody feather dancer?" 

"I am Min Farshaw," she replied curtly. This was Birgitte
Silverbow, hero of a hundred legends? The woman was foul-
mouthed! And what did she mean, Silverbow was dead? The woman
was standing right in front of her! Besides, those multitudes
of images and auras flashed by too quickly for her to make out
any clearly, but she was certain they indicated more adven
tures than a woman could have in one lifetime. Strangely, some
were connected to an ugly man who was older than she, and
others to an ugly man who was much younger, yet somehow Min
knew they were the same man. Legend or no legend, that
superior air irritated her no end. "Elayne, Aviendha and I
just bonded a Warder," she said without thinking. "And if
Elayne is celebrating a little, well, you better think twice
about storming in, or you'll be the one sitting tender." 

That was enough to make her aware of Rand again. That raging
furnace was still there, hardly lessened at all, but thank the
Light, he was no longer. . . . Blood rushed into her cheeks.
He had lain often enough in her arms, catching his breath in
the tangle of their bedding, but this really did seem like
peeping! 

"Him?" Birgitte said softly. "Mothers' milk in a cup! She
could have fallen in love with a cutpurse or a horse thief,
but she had to choose him, more fool her. By what I saw of him
at that place you mentioned, the man's too pretty to be good
for any woman. In any case, she has to stop." 

"You have no right!" Aviendha insisted in a sulky voice, and
Birgitte took on a look of patience. Stretched patience, but
still patience. 

"She might be proper as a Talmouri maiden except when it
comes to putting her head on the chopping block, but I think
she'll wind up her courage to put him through his paces again,
and even if she does whatever it was she did, she'll forget
and be back in my head. I won't bloody go through that again!"
She squared herself, plainly ready to march off and confront
Elayne. 

"Think of it as a good joke," Aviendha said pleadingly.

Pleadingly! "She has played a good joke on you, that is all."
A curl of Birgitte's lip expressed what she thought of that. 

"There's a trick Elayne told me," Min said hurriedly,
catching hold of Birgitte's sleeve. "It didn't work for me,
but maybe. . . ." Unfortunately, once she had explained. . . . 

"She's still there," Birgitte said grimly after a moment.
"Step out of my way, Min Farshaw," she said, pulling her arm
free, "or-" 

"Oosquai!" Aviendha voice rose desperately, and she was actu
ally wringing her hands! "I know where there is oosquai! If
you are drunk . . . '. Please, Birgitte! I ... I will pledge
myself to obey you, as apprentice to mistress, but please do
not interrupt her! Do not shame her so!" 

"Oosquai?" Birgitte mused, rubbing her jaw. "Is that
anything like brandy? Hmm. I think the girl is blushing! She
really is prim most of the time, you know. A joke, you said?"
Suddenly she grinned, and spread her arms expansively. "Lead
me to this oosquai of yours, Aviendha. I don't know about you
two, but I intend to get drunk enough to ... well ... to take
off my clothes and dance on the table. And not a hair
drunker." 

Min did not understand that at all, or why Aviendha stared
at Birgitte and suddenly began laughing about it being "a won
derful joke," but she was sure she knew why Elayne was
blushing, if she actually was. That hard ball of sensations in
her head was a raging wildfire again. 

"Could we go find that oosquai, now?" she said. "I want to
get drunk as a drowned mouse, and fast!" 

When Elayne woke the next morning, the bedchamber was icy, a
light snow was falling on Caemlyn, and Rand was gone. Except
inside her head. That would do. She smiled, a slow smile. For
now, it would. Stretching languorously beneath the blankets,
she remembered her abandon the night before-and most of the
day as well! She could hardly believe it had been her!-and
thought that she should be blushing like the sun! But she
wanted to be abandoned with Rand, and she did not think she
would ever blush again, not for anything connected to him. 

Best of all, he had left her a present. On the pillow beside
her when she woke lay a golden lily in full bloom, the dew
fresh on the lush petals. Where he could have gotten such a
thing in the middle of winter she could not begin to imagine.
But she wove a Keeping around it, and set it on a side table
where she would see it every morning when she woke. The weave
was Moghedien's teaching, but it would hold the blossom fresh
forever, the dew-drops never evaporating, a constant reminder
of the man who had given her his heart. 

Her morning was taken up with the news that Alivia had
vanished during the night, a serious matter that put the Kin
in a tumult. It was not until Zaida appeared in a taking
because Nynaeve had not come for a lesson with the Atha'an
Miere that Elayne learned that Nynaeve and Lan were both gone
from the Palace, too, and no one knew when or how. Not until
much later did she learn that the collection of angreal and
ter'angreal they had carried out of Ebou Dar was missing the
most powerful of the three angreal, and several other items
besides. Some of those, she was sure, were intended for a
woman who expected to be attacked at any moment with the One

Power. Which made the hastily scribbled note Nynaeve had left
hidden among the remainder all the more disturbing. 

Chapter 13: Wonderful News 

The Sun Palace's sunroom was cold despite fires roaring on
hearths at either end of the room, thickly layered carpets,
and a slanted glass roof that let in bright morning light
where snow caught on the thin mountains did not shield it, but
it was suitable for holding audiences. Cadsuane had thought it
best not to appropriate the throne room. So far, Lord Dobraine
had remained quiet about her holding Caraline Damodred and
Darlin Sisnera-she saw no better way to keep them from going
on with their mischief than keeping them in a firm grip-but
Dobraine might begin to fuss over that if she pushed beyond
what he considered proper. He was too close to the boy for her
to want to force him, and faithful to his oaths. She could
look back on her life and recall failures, some bitterly
regretted, and mistakes that had cost lives, but she could not
afford mistakes or failure here. Most definitely not failure.
Light, she wanted to bite someone! 

"I demand the return of my Windfinder, Aes Sedai!" Harine
din Togara, all in green brocaded silk, sat rigidly in front
of Cadsuane, her full mouth tight. Despite an unlined face,
white streaked her straight black hair. Wavemistress of her
clan for ten years, she had commanded a large vessel long
before that. Her Sailmistress, Derah din Selaan, a younger
woman all in blue, sat on a chair placed a careful foot
farther back in accordance with their notions of propriety.
The pair might have been dark carvings of outrage, and their
outlandish jewelry somehow added to the effect. Neither so
much as flickered an eye toward Eben when he bowed and offered
silver goblets of hot spiced wine on a tray. 

The boy did not seem to know what to do next when they took
nothing. Frowning uncertainly, he remained bent until Daigian
plucked at his red coat and led him away smiling, an amused
pouter pigeon in dark blue slashed with white. A slender lad
with a big nose and large ears, never to be called handsome
much less pretty, but she was very possessive of him. They
took seats close together on a padded bench in front of one of
the fireplaces and began playing cat's cradle. 

"Your sister is assisting us in learning what happened on
the unfortunate day," Cadsuane said smoothly, and somewhat ab
sently. Taking a swallow of her own spiced wine, she waited,
uncaring whether they saw her impatience. No matter how
Dobraine grumbled about how impossible it was to meet the
terms of that incredible bargain Rafela and Merana had made on
behalf of the al'Thor boy, he still might have handled the Sea
Folk himself. She could hardly give them half of her mind.
Probably that was just as well for them. If she focused on the
Atha'an Miere, she would be hard-pressed not to swat them like
bitemes, though they were not the real source of her
exasperation. 

Five sisters were arrayed around the fireplace at the other
end of the sunroom from Daigian and Eben. Nesune had a large

wood bound volume from the Palace library spread on a reading
stand in front other chair. Like the others, she wore a plain
woolen dress more suited to a merchant than an Aes Sedai. If
any regretted the lack of silks, or money for silks, they did
not show it. Sarene, with her thin, beaded braids, stood
working at a large embroidery frame, her needle making the
tiny stitches of yet another flower in a field of blossoms.
Brian and Beldeine were playing stones, watched by Elza, who
waited her turn to take on the winner. By all appearances they
were enjoying an idle morning, without a care in the world.
Perhaps they knew they were here because she wanted to study
them. Why had they sworn fealty to the al'Thor boy? At least
Kiruna and the others had been in his presence when they
decided to swear. She was willing to admit that no one could
resist the influence of a ta'veren when it caught you. But
these five had taken a harsh penance for kidnapping him and
reached their decision to offer oath before they were brought
near him. In the beginning she had been inclined to accept
their various explanations, but over the last few days that
inclination had taken hard knocks. Disturbingly hard knocks. 

"My Windfrnder is not subject to your authority, Aes Sedai,"
Harine said sharply, as if denying the blood connection.
"Shalon must and will be returned to me at once." Derah nodded
curt agreement. Cadsuane thought the Sailmistress might do the
same if Harine ordered her to jump from a cliff. In the 

Atha'an Miere's hierarchy, Derah stood a long distance below
Harine. And that was almost as much as Cadsuane knew of them.
The Sea Folk might prove useful or might not, but she could
find a way to get a grip on them in any case. 

"This is an Aes Sedai inquiry," she replied blandly. "We
must follow Tower law." Loosely interpreted, to be sure. She
had always believed the spirit of the law was far more
important than the letter. 

Harine puffed up like an adder and began yet another ha
rangue listing her rights and demands, but Cadsuane listened
with half an ear. 

She could almost understand Erian, a pale, black-haired
Illianer, fiercely insisting that she must be at the boy's
side when he fought the Last Battle. And Beldeine, so new to
the shawl that she had not yet achieved agelessness, so
determined to be everything that a Green should be. And Elza,
a pleasant-faced Andoran whose eyes almost glowed when she
spoke of making certain that he lived to face the Dark One.
Another Green, and even more intense than most. Nesune,
hunched forward to peer at her book, looked like a black-eyed
bird examining a worm. A Brown, she would climb into a box
with a scorpion if she wanted to study it. Sarene might be
fool enough to be startled that anyone thought her pretty,
much less stunning, but the White insisted on the cool
precision of her logic; al'Thor was the Dragon Reborn, and
logically, she must follow him. Tempestuous reasons, idiotic
reasons, yet she could have accepted them, if not for the
others. 

The door to the hall opened to admit Verin and Sorilea. The
leathery, white-haired Aiel woman handed something small to
Verin that the Brown tucked into her belt pouch. Verin was
wearing a flowered brooch on her simple bronze-colored dress,

the first jewelry Cadsuane had ever seen on her aside from her
Great Serpent ring. 

"That will help you sleep," Sorilea said, "but remember,
just three drops in water or one in wine. A little more, and
you might sleep a day or longer. Much more, and you will not
wake. There is no taste to warn you, so you must be careful." 

So Verin was having trouble sleeping, too. Cadsuane had not
had a good night's rest since the boy fled the Sun Palace. If
she did not find one soon, she thought she might bite someone.
Nesune and the others were eyeing Sorilea uneasily. The boy
had made them apprentice themselves to the Wise Ones, and they
had learned that the Aiel women took that very seriously. One
snap of Sorilea's bony fingers could end their idle morning. 

Harine leaned forward out of her chair and gave Cadsuane's
cheek a sharp tap with her fingers! "You are not listening to
me," she said harshly. Her face was a thunderhead, and that of
her Sailmistress scarcely less stormy. "You will listen!" 

Cadsuane put her hands together and regarded the woman over 

her fingertips. No. She would not stand the Wavemistress on
her head here and now. She would not send the woman back to
her apartments weeping. She would be as diplomatic as Coiren 

could wish. Hastily she scanned through what she had heard.
"You speak for the Mistress of the Ships to the Atha'an Miere,
with all of her authority, which is more than I can imagine,"
she said mildly. "If your Windfinder is not returned to you
within the hour, you will see that the Coramoor punishes me
severely. You require an apology for your Windfinder's
imprisonment. And you require me to make Lord Dobraine set
aside the land promised by the Coramoor immediately. I believe
that covers the essential points." Except for the one about
having her flogged! 

"Good," Harine said, leaning back comfortably, in command
now. Her smile was sickeningly self-satisfied. "You will learn
that-" 

"I do not care a fig for your Coramoor," Cadsuane continued,
her voice still mild. All the figs in the world for the Dragon
Reborn, but not one for the Coramoor. She did not alter her
tone by a hair. "If you ever touch me again without
permission, I will have you stripped, striped, bound and
carried back to your rooms in a sack." Well, diplomacy had
never been her strongest point. "If you do not cease pestering
me about your sister. . . . Well, I might actually grow
angry." Standing, she ignored the Sea Folk woman's indignant
puffing and gaping and raised her voice to be heard at the end
of the room. "Sarene!" 

The slender Taraboner whirled from her embroidery, beaded
braids clicking, and hurried to Cadsuane's side, barely
hesitating before spreading her dark gray skirts in a curtsy.
The Wise Ones had had to teach them to leap when a Wise One
spoke, but more than custom made them leap for her. There
truly were advantages to being a legend, especially an
unpredictable legend. 

"Escort these two to their rooms," Cadsuane commanded. "They
wish to fast and meditate on civility. See that they do. And
if they offer one uncivil word, spank them both. But be diplo
matic about it." 

Sarene gave a start, half opening her mouth as if to protest

the illogic of that, but one glance at Cadsuane's face and she
quickly turned to the Atha'an Miere women, gesturing for them
to rise. Harine sprang to her feet, her dark face hard and
scowling. Before she could utter a word of her no doubt
furious tirade, though, Derah touched her arm and leaned close
to whisper into her ring-heavy ear behind a cupped hand
covered with dark tattoos. Whatever the Sailmistress had to
say, Harine closed her mouth. Her expression certainly did not
soften, yet she eyed the sisters at the far end of the room
and after a moment curtly motioned Sarene to lead the way.
Harine might pretend that it was her decision to leave, but
Derah followed so close on her heels she appeared to be
herding her and shot an uneasy glance back over her shoulder
before the door shut her from sight. 

Cadsuane almost regretted giving that frivolous order.
Sarene would do exactly as she had been told. The Sea Folk
women were an irritant, and useless thus far, besides. The
irritation must be removed so she could concentrate on what
was important, and if she found a use for them, tools needed
to be shaped one way or another. She was too angry with them
to care how that was done, and it might as well begin now as
later. No, she was angry with the boy, but she could not lay
hands on him yet. 

With a loud harrumph, Sorilea turned from watching Sarene
and the Atha'an Miere go and directed her scowl at the sisters
gathered at the end of the solar. Bracelets clattered on her
wrists as she adjusted her shawl. Another woman not in her
best temper. The Sea Folk had peculiar notions of "Aiel
savages"-though in truth not that much stranger than some
Cadsuane herself had believed before meeting Sorilea-and the
Wise One did not like them a hair. 

Cadsuane went to meet her with a smile. Sorilea was not a
woman you made come to you. Everyone thought they were be
coming friends-which they might yet, she realized in surprise-
but no one knew of their alliance. Eben appeared with his
tray, and appeared relieved when she set her half-empty goblet
on it. 

"Late last night," Sorilea said as the red-coated boy
hurried back to Daigian, "Chisaine Nurbaya asked to serve the
Car'a'carn." Disapproval lay heavy in her voice. "Before first
light, Janine Pavlara asked, then Innina Darenhold, then
Vayelle Kamsa. They had not been allowed to speak to one
another. There could be no collusion. I accepted their pleas."
Cadsuane made a vexed sound. "I suppose you already have
them serving penance," she murmured, thinking hard. Nineteen
sisters had been prisoners in the Aiel camp, nineteen sisters
sent by that fool Elaida to kidnap the boy, and now they all
had sworn to follow him! These last were the worst. "What
could make Red sisters swear fealty to a man who can channel?" 

Verin began to make an observation, but fell silent for the
Aiel woman. Strangely, Venn had taken to her own enforced ap
prenticeship like a heron to the marsh. She spent more time in
the Aiel camp than out of it. 

"Not penance, Cadsuane Melaidhrin." Sorilea made a dismiss
ive gesture with one sinewy hand in another rattle of gold and
ivory bracelets. "They are attempting to meet toh that cannot
be met. As foolish in its way as our naming them da'tsang in

the first place, but perhaps they are not beyond redemption if
they are willing to try," she allowed grudgingly. Sorilea more
than merely disliked those nineteen sisters. She gave a thin 

smile. "In any event, we will teach them much they need to
learn." The woman seemed to believe all Aes Sedai could do
with time apprenticing under the Wise Ones. 

"I hope you will continue to watch them all closely," Cadsu
ane said. "Especially these last four." She was sure they
would keep that ridiculous oath, if not always in ways the boy
would like, but there was always the possibility that one or
two might be Black Ajah. Once she had thought herself on the
point of rooting out the Black only to watch her quarry slip
through her fingers like smoke, her bitterest failure except
possibly for failing to learn what Caraline Damodred's cousin
had been up to in the Borderlands until the knowledge was
years too late to do any good. Now, even the Black Ajah seemed
a diversion from what was truly important. 

"Apprentices are always watched closely," the weathered
woman replied. "I think I must remind these others to be
grateful for being allowed to loll about like clan chiefs." 

The remaining four sisters in front of the fireplace rose
with alacrity at her approach, made deep curtsies, and
listened carefully to what she told them in a low voice with
much finger shaking. Sorilea might think she had much to teach
them, but they had already learned that an Aes Sedai shawl
offered no protection to a Wise One's apprentice. Toh seemed a
great deal like penance to Cadsuane. 

"She is ... formidable," Verin murmured. "I am very glad she
is on our side. If she is." 

Cadsuane gave her a sharp look. "You have the appearance of
a woman with something to say that you don't want to. About
Sorilea?" That alliance was very vaguely denned. Friendship or
no friendship, she and the Wise One still might turn out to be
aiming at different goals. 

"Not that," the stout little woman sighed. Despite a square
face, tilting her head to one side made her look like a very
plump sparrow. "I know it was not my business, Cadsuane, but
Bera and Kiruna were getting nowhere with our guests, so I had
a little talk alone with Shalon. After a little gentle
questioning, she spilled out the whole story, and Ailil
confirmed everything once she realized I already knew. Soon
after the Sea Folk first arrived here, Ailii approached Shalon
hoping to learn what they wanted with young al'Thor. For her
part, Shalon wanted to learn whatever she could about him, and
about the situation here. That led to meetings, which led to
friendship, which led to them becoming pillow friends. As much
from loneliness as anything else, I suspect. In any case, that
was what they were hiding more than their mutual snooping." 

"They put up with days under the question to hide that?"
Cadsuane said incredulously. Bera and Kiruna had had the pair
howling! 

Verin's eyes twinkled with suppressed mirth. "Cairhienin are
prim and prudish, Cadsuane, in public at least. They might
carry on like rabbits when the curtains are drawn, but they
wouldn't admit to touching their own husbands if anyone might
overhear! And the Sea Folk are almost as straitlaced. At
least, Shalon is married to a man with duties elsewhere, and

breaking marriage vows is a very serious crime. A breach of
proper discipline, it seems. If her sister found out, Shalon
would be-'Windfinder on a rowboat,' I think her exact words
were." 

Cadsuane was aware of her hair ornaments swaying as she
shook her head. When the two women had been discovered right
after the attack on the Palace, bound and gagged and stuffed
under Ailil's bed, she had suspected they knew more of the
attack than they were admitting. Once they refused to say why
they had been meeting in secret, she was sure. Perhaps even
that they were involved in some way, though the attack
apparently was the work of renegade Asha'man. Supposedly
renegade, at least. All that time and effort wasted on
nothing. Or perhaps not quite nothing, if they were so
desperate to keep things hidden. 

"Return the Lady Ailii to her apartments with apologies for
her treatment, Verin. Give her very . . . tenuous . . .
assurances that her confidences will be kept. Be sure she is
aware just how tenuous. And suggest strongly that she might
wish to keep me abreast of anything she hears concerning her
brother." Blackmail was a tool she disliked using, but she had
already used it on the three Asha'man, and Toram Riatin might
still cause trouble even if his rebellion did seem to have
evaporated. In truth, she cared little who sat on the Sun
Throne, yet the plots and schemes of those who considered
thrones important often had a way of interfering with more
significant matters. 

Verin smiled, her bun bobbing as she nodded. "Oh, yes, I
think that will work very nicely. Especially since she
dislikes her brother intensely. The same for Shalon, I
suppose? Except that you will want to hear of events among the
Atha'an Miere? I'm not certain how far she will betray Marine,
no matter the consequences to herself." 

"She will betray what I require her to betray," Cadsuane
said grimly. "Keep her until tomorrow, late." Harine must not
be allowed to think for a moment that her demands were being
met. The Sea Folk were another tool to be used on the boy, no
more. Everyone and everything had to be viewed in that light. 

Beyond Verin, Corele slipped into the sunroom and shut the
door carefully behind her as if hoping not to disturb anyone.
That was not her way. Boyishly slim, with thick black eyebrows
and a mass of glossy black hair flowing down her back that
gave her a wild appearance no matter how neat her clothes
were, the Yellow was much more likely to sweep into a room
laughing. Rubbing the end of her upturned nose, she looked at
Cadsuane hesitantly, with none of the usual sparkle in her
blue eyes. 

Cadsuane made a peremptory gesture at her, and Corele drew a
breath and glided across the carpets gripping her yellow-
slashed blue skirts with both hands. Eyeing the sisters
clustered around Sorilea at the far end of the room, and
Daigian playing cat's cradle with Eben at the other end, she
spoke in a soft voice that carried the lilting accents of
Murandy. 

"I have the most wonderful news, Cadsuane." By the sound
other, she was not all certain how wonderful it was. "I know
you said I should keep Darner busy here in the Palace, but he

insisted on looking at the sisters still in the Aiel camp.
Mild-tempered as he is, he's very insistent when he wants to
be, and sure as the sun there's nothing can't be Healed. And,
well, the fact of it is, he's gone and Healed Irgain.
Cadsuane, it's as if she'd never been . . ." She trailed off,
unable to say the word. It hung in the air even so. Stilled. 

"Wonderful news," Cadsuane said flatly. It was. Every sister
carried the fear somewhere deep inside that she might be cut
off from the Power. And now a way to Heal what could not be
Healed had been discovered. By a man. There would be tears and
recriminations before this was done with. In any case, while
every sister who heard would consider it a world-shaking
discovery-in more ways than one; a man!-it was a storm in a
teacup compared to Rand al'Thor. "I suppose she is offering
herself up to be beaten like the others?" 

"She won't need to," Verin said absently. She was frowning
at an inkstain on her finger, but she seemed to be studying
something beyond. "The Wise Ones apparently decided that Rand
had punished Irgain and the other two sufficiently when he ...
did what he did. At the same time they were treating the
others like worthless animals, they have been working to keep
those three alive. I heard talk about finding Ronaille a
husband." 

"Irgain knows all about the oaths the others swore."
Corele's voice took on tones of amazement. "She started
weeping for the loss of her Warders almost as soon as Darner
finished with her, but she's ready to swear, too. The thing of
it is, Darner wants to try with Sashalle and Ronaille, too."
Surprisingly, she drew herself up almost defiantly. She had
always been as arrogant as any other Yellow, but she had
always known where she stood with Cadsuane. "I can't see
letting a sister remain in that condition if there's a way
out, Cadsuane. I want to let Damer try his hand with them." 

"Of course, Corele." It seemed some of Darner's insistence
was rubbing off on her. Cadsuane was willing to let that go,
so long as it did not go too far. She had begun gathering
sisters she trusted, those here with her and others, the day
she first heard of strange events in Shienar-her eyes and ears
had kept watch on Siuan Sanche and Moiraine Damodred for years
without learning anything useful until then-yet just because
she trusted them did not mean she intended to let them start
going their own way. Too much lay at stake. But in any case,
she could not leave a sister like that, either. 

The door banged open to admit Jahar at a run, the silver
bells on the ends of his dark braids jangling. Heads turned to
look at the youth in the well-fitted blue coat Merise had
chosen for him-even Sorilea and Sarene stared-but the words 

that came out of him in a rush drove away thoughts of how
pretty his sun-dark face was.
"Alanna's unconscious, Cadsuane. She just collapsed in the
hallway. Merise had her taken to a bedchamber and sent me for
you." 

Riding over exclamations of shock, Cadsuane gathered Corele
and Sorilea-who could not be left behind in this-and ordered
Jahar to lead the way. Venn came as well, and Cadsuane did not
stop her. Verin had a way of noticing what others missed. 

The black-liveried servants had no idea who or what Jahar

was, but they stepped lively to get out of Cadsuane's way as
she walked quickly along behind him. She would have told him
to be quicker about it, but any faster, and she would have had
to run. Before she had gone very far, a short man with the
front of his head shaved, in a dark coat with horizontal
stripes of color down the front, stepped into her path and
bowed. She had to stop for him. 

"Grace favor you, Cadsuane Sedai," he said smoothly, "For
give me for bothering you when you are in such a hurry, but I
thought I should tell you that the Lady Caraline and the High
Lord Darlin are no longer in the Lady Arilyn's palace. They
are on a rivership bound for Tear. Beyond your reach by this
time, I fear." 

"You might be surprised what is within my reach, Lord
Dobraine," she said in a cold voice. She should have left at
least ore sister at Arilyn's palace, but she had been certain
the pair was secure. "Was this wise?" She had no doubt it was
his work, though she doubted he had the nerve to admit it. No
wonder he had not pressed her over them. 

Her tone made no impression on the fellow. And he surprised
her. "The High Lord Darlin is to be the Lord Dragon's Steward
of Tear, and it did seem wise to send the Lady Caraline out of
the country. She has foresworn her rebellion and her claims to
the Sun Throne, but others still might try to use her.
Perhaps, Cadsuane Sedai, it was unwise to leave them in the
charge of servants. Under the Light, you must not hold them at
fault. They were able to hold two . . . guests . . . but not
to stand up to my armsmen." 

Jahar was all but dancing with anxiety to go on. Merise had
a firm hand. Cadsuane herself was anxious to reach Alanna. 

"I hope you have the same opinion in a year," she said.
Dobraine merely bowed. 

The bedchamber where Alanna had been taken was the nearest
that had been available, and it was not large, appearing
smaller for the dark paneling that Cairhienin liked so much.
It seemed quite crowded once everyone was inside. Merise
snapped her fingers and pointed, and Jahar retreated to a
corner, but that helped little. 

Alanna was lying on the bed, her eyes closed, with her
Warder, Ihvon, kneeling beside it chafing her wrist. "She
seems afraid to wake," the tall, slender man said. "There's
nothing wrong with her that I can tell, but she seems afraid." 

Corele brushed him aside so she could cup Alanna's face in
her hands. The glow of saidar surrounded the Yellow, and the
weave of Healing settled on Alanna, but the slim Green did not
even twitch. Corele drew back, shaking her head. 

"My skill with Healing, it may not equal yours, Corele," Mer
ise said dryly, "but I did try." The accents of Tarabon were
still strong in her voice after all these years, but she wore
her dark hair drawn back severely from her stern face.
Cadsuane trusted her perhaps more than any of the others.
"What do we do now, Cadsuane?" 

Sorilea stared at the woman stretched out on the bed with no
expression beyond a thinning of her lips. Cadsuane wondered
whether she was reevaluating their alliance. Verin was staring
at Alanna, too, and she looked absolutely terrified. Cadsuane
had not thought anything could frighten Verin that far. But

she felt a thrill of terror herself. If she lost this
connection to the boy now. . . .
"We sit down and wait for her to wake," she said in a calm
voice. There was nothing else to do. Nothing. 

"Where is he?" Demandred growled, clenching his fists behind
his back. Standing with his feet apart, he was aware that he
dominated the room. He always did. Even so, he wished
Semirhage or Mesaana were present. Their alliance was
delicate-a simple agreement that they would not turn on one
another until the others had been eliminated-yet it had held
all this time. Working together, they had unbalanced opponent
after opponent, toppling many to their deaths or worse. But it
was difficult for Semirhage to attend these meetings, and
Mesaana had been shy, of late. If she was thinking of ending
the alliance. . . . "Al'Thor has been seen in five cities,
including that cursed place in the Waste, and a dozen towns
since those blind fools-those idiots!- failed in Cairhien. And
that only includes the reports we have! The Great Lord only
knows what else is crawling toward us by horse, or sheep, or
whatever else these savages can find to carry a message." 

Graendal had chosen the setting, since she had been first to
arrive, and it irritated him. View-walls made the striped
wooden floor appear to be surrounded by a forest full of
brightly flowered vines and fluttering birds that were even
more colorful. Sweet scents and soft birdcalls filled the air.
Only the arch of the doorway spoiled the illusion. Why did she
want a reminder of what was lost? They could as soon make
shocklances or sho-wings as a view-wall outside of this place,
close to Shayol Ghul. In any case, she despised anything to do
with nature, as he recalled. 

Osan'gar frowned at "idiots" and "blind fools," as well he
might, but he quickly smoothed that plain, creased face, so
unlike the one he had been born with. By whatever name he was
called, he had always known who he dared challenge and who
not. "A matter of chance," he said calmly, though he did begin
dry-washing his hands. An old habit. He was garbed like some
ruler of this Age, in a coat so heavy with golden embroidery
that it almost hid the red of the cloth, and boots fringed
with golden tassels. There was enough white lace at his neck
and wrists to clothe a child. The man had never known the
meaning of excess. If not for his particular skills, he never
would have been Chosen. Realizing what his hands were doing,
Osan'gar snatched the tall cuendillar wineglass from the round
table beside his chair and inhaled the dark wine's aroma
deeply. "Simply probabilities," he murmured, trying to sound
offhand. "Next time, he will be killed or taken. Chance can't
protect him forever." 

"You are going to depend on chance?" Aran'gar was stretched
out in a long, flowing chair as though it were a bedchair.
Directing a smoky smile at Osan'gar, she arched one leg on
bare toes so the slit in her bright red skirts exposed her to
the hip. Every breath threatened to free her from the red
satin that just contained her full breasts. All of her
mannerisms had changed since she became a woman, but not the
core of what had been placed into that female body. Demandred
hardly scorned fleshly pleasures, but one day her cravings
would be the death of her. As they already had been once. Not

that he would mourn, of course, if the next time was final.
"You were responsible for watching him, Osan'gar," she went
on, her voice caressing every syllable. "You, and Demandred."
Osan'gar flinched, flicking his tongue against his lips, and
she laughed throatily. "My own charge is . . ." She pressed a
thumb down on the edge of the chair as if pinning something
and laughed again. 

"I should think you would be more worried, Aran'gar,"
Graendal murmured over her wine. She concealed her contempt
about as well as the almost transparent silvery mist of her
streith gown concealed her ripe curves. "You, and Osan'gar,
and Demandred. And Moridin, wherever he is. Perhaps you should
fear al'Thor's success as much as his failure." 

Laughing, Aran'gar caught the standing woman's hand in one
others. Her green eyes sparkled. "And perhaps you could
explain what you mean better if we were alone?" 

Graendal's gown turned to stark black concealing smoke.
Jerking her hand free with a coarse oath, she stalked away
from the chair. Aran'gar . . . giggled. 

"What do you mean?" Osan'gar said sharply, struggling out of
his chair. Once on his feet, he struck a lecturer's pose,
gripping his lapels, and his tone became pedantic. "In the
first place, my dear Graendal, I doubt that even I could
devise a method to remove the Great Lord's shadow from saidin.
Al'Thor is a primitive. Anything he tries inevitably will
prove insufficient, and I, for one, cannot believe he can even
imagine how to begin. In any event, we will stop him trying
because the Great Lord commands it. I can understand fear of
the Great Lord's displeasure if we somehow failed, unlikely as
that might be, but why should those of us you named have any
special fear?" 

"Blind as ever, and dry as ever," Graendal murmured. With
the return of composure, her gown was clear mist again, though
red. Perhaps she was not so calm as she pretended. Or perhaps
she wanted them to believe she was controlling some agitation.
Except for the streith, her adornments all came from this age,
firedrops in her golden hair, a large ruby dangling between
her breasts, ornate golden bracelets on both wrists. And
something quite strange, that Demandred wondered whether
anyone else had noticed. A simple ring of gold on the little
finger of her left hand. Simple was never associated with
Graendal. "If the young man does somehow remove the shadow,
well. . . . You who channel saidin will no longer need the
Great Lord's special protection. Will he trust your . . .
loyalty . . . then?" Smiling, she sipped her wine. 

Osan'gar did not smile. His face paled, and he scrubbed a
hand across his mouth. Aran'gar sat up on the edge of her long
chair, no longer trying to be sensuous. Her hands formed claws 

on her lap, and she glared at Graendal as if ready to go to
her throat.
Demandred's fists unclenched. It was out in the open at 

last. He had hoped to have al'Thor dead-or failing that,
captive- before this suspicion reared its head. During the War
of Power, more than a dozen of the Chosen had died of the
Great Lord's suspicion. 

"The Great Lord is sure you are all faithful," Moridin an
nounced, striding in as though he were the Great Lord of the

Dark himself. He had often seemed to believe he was, and the
boy's face he wore now had not changed that. In spite of his
words, that face was grim, and his unrelieved black made his 

name, Death, fit. "You need not worry until he stops being
sure." The girl, Cyndane, trotted at his heels like a bosomy
little silver-haired pet in red-and-black. For some reason,
Moridin had a rat riding his shoulder, pale nose sniffing the
air, black eyes studying the room warily. Or for no reason,
perhaps. A youthful face had not made him any saner, either. 

"Why have you called us here?" Demandred demanded. "I have
much to do, and no time for idle talk." Unconsciously he tried
to stand taller, to match the other man. 

"Mesaana is absent again?" Moridin said instead of
answering. "A pity. She should hear what I have to say."
Plucking the rat from his shoulder by its tail, he watched the
animal wave its legs futilely. Nothing except the rat seemed
to exist for him. "Small, apparently unimportant matters can
become very important," he murmured. "This rat. Whether Isam
succeeds in finding and killing that other vermin, Fain. A
word whispered in the wrong ear, or not spoken to the right. A
butterfly stirs its wings on a branch, and on the other side
of the world a mountain collapses." Suddenly the rat twisted,
trying to sink its teeth into his wrist. Casually, he flung
the creature away. In midair, there was a burst of flame,
something hotter than flame, and the rat was gone. Moridin
smiled. 

Demandred flinched in spite of himself. That had been the
True Power; he had felt nothing. A black speck floated across
Moridin's blue eyes, then another, in a steady stream. The man
must have been using the True Power exclusively since he last
saw him to gain so many saa so quickly. He himself had never
touched the True Power except at need. Great need. Of course,
only Moridin had that privilege now, since his ... anointing.
The man truly was insane to use it so freely. It was a drug
more addictive than saidin, more deadly than poison. 

Crossing the striped floor, Moridin laid a hand on
Osan'gar's shoulder, his smile made more ominous by the saa.
The shorter man swallowed, and gave a wavering smile in
return. "It is well you've never considered how to remove the
Great Lord's shadow," Moridin said quietly. How long had he
been outside? Osan'gar's smile grew even more sickly. "Al'Thor
is not as wise as you. Tell them, Cyndane." 

The little woman drew herself up. By face and form she was a
luscious plum, ready for plucking, but her big blue eyes were
glacial. A peach, perhaps. Peaches were poisonous, here and
now. "You recall the Choedan Kal, I suppose." No amount of
effort could make that low, breathy voice anything except
sultry, but she managed to inject sarcasm. "Lews Therin has
two of the access keys, one for each. And he knows a woman
strong enough to use the female of the pair. He plans to use
the Choedan Kal for his deed." 

Nearly everyone began to talk at once. 

"I thought the keys were all destroyed!" Aran'gar exclaimed,
surging to her feet. Her eyes were wide with fear. "He could
shatter the world just trying to use the Choedan Kal!" 

"If you had ever read anything besides a history book, you
would know they're almost impossible to destroy!" Osan'gar

snarled at her. But he was tugging at his collar as if it were
too tight, and his eyes seemed ready to fall out of his face.
"How can this girl know he has them? How?" 

Graendal's wineglass had dropped from her hand as soon the
words were out of Cyndane's mouth, bouncing end over end
across the floor. Her gown turned as crimson as fresh blood,
and her mouth twisted as if she were going to vomit. "And
you've just been hoping to blunder into him!" she screamed at
Demandred. "Hoping someone will find him for you! Fool! Fool!" 

Demandred thought Graendal had been a touch flamboyant even
for her. He would wager the announcement had been no surprise
to her. It seemed she bore watching. He said nothing. 

Putting a hand over his heart, for all the world like a
lover, Moridin tilted up Cyndane's chin on his fingertips.
Resentment burned in her eyes, but her face might have been a
doll's unchanging face. She certainly accepted his attentions
like a pliable doll. "Cyndane knows many things," Moridin said
softly, "and she tells me everything she knows. Everything."
The tiny woman's expression never altered, but she trembled
visibly. 

She was a puzzle to Demandred. At first he had thought she
was Lanfear reincarnated. Bodies for transmigration supposedly
were chosen by what was available, yet Osan'gar and Aran'gar
were proof of the Great Lord's cruel sense of humor. He had
been sure, until Mesaana told him the girl was weaker than
Lanfear. Mesaana and the rest thought she was of this Age. Yet
she spoke of al'Thor as Lews Therin, just as Lanfear had, and
spoke of the Choedan Kal as one familiar with the terror they
had inspired during the War of Power. Only balefire had been
more feared, and only just. Or had Moridin taught her for
purposes of his own? If he had any real purposes. There had
always been times when the man's actions had been sheer
madness. 

"So it seems he must be killed after all," Demandred said.
Hiding his satisfaction was not easy. Rand al'Thor or Lews
Therin Telamon, he would rest easier when the fellow was dead.
"Before he can destroy the world, and us. Which makes finding
him all the more urgent." 

"Killed?" Moridin moved his hands as though weighing
something. "If it comes to that, yes," he said finally. "But
finding him is no problem. When he touches the Choedan Kal,
you will know where he is. And you will go there and take him.
Or kill him, if necessary. The Nae'blis has spoken." 

"As the Nae'blis commands," Cyndane said eagerly, bowing her
head, and echos of her ran around the room, though Aran'gar
sounded sullen, Osan'gar desperate, and Graendal oddly
thoughtful. 

Bending his neck hurt Demandred as much as speaking those
words. So they would take al'Thor-while he was trying to use
the Choedan Kal, no less, he and some woman drinking enough of
the One Power to melt continents!-but there had been no
indication that Moridin would be with them. Or his twin pets,
Moghedien and Cyndane. The man was Nae'blis for now, but
perhaps matters could be arranged so he did not get another
body the next time he died. Perhaps it could be arranged soon.

 Chapter 14: What the Veil Hides 

The Victory of Kidron rolled on long sea swells, making the
gilded lamps in the stern cabin swing on their gimbals, but
Tuon sat calmly as the razor in Selucia's sure hand slid
across her scalp. Through the tall stern windows she could see
other greatships crashing through the gray-green swells in
sprays of white, hundreds of them row on row, stretching to
the horizon. Four times as many had been left at Tanchico. The
Rhyagelle, Those Who Come Home. The Corenne, the Return, had
begun. 

A soaring albatross seemed to be following the Kidron, an
omen of victory indeed, though the bird's long wings were
black instead of white. It must still mean the same thing.
Omens did not change according to location. An owl calling at
dawn meant a death and rain without clouds an unexpected
visitor whether in Imfaral or Noren M'Shar. 

The morning ritual with her dresser's razor was soothing,
and she needed that today. Last night, she had given a command
in anger. No command should be issued in anger. She felt
almost sei'mosiev, as if she had lost honor. Her balance was
disturbed, and that boded as ill for the Return as a loss of
sei'taer, albatross or no albatross. 

Selucia wiped away the last of the lather with a warm damp
cloth, then used a dry cloth, and finally powdered her smooth
scalp lightly with a brush. When her dresser stepped back,
Tuon rose and let her elaborately embroidered blue silk
dressing gown slide to the gold-and-blue patterned carpet.
Instantly the cool air pebbled her dark bare skin. Four of her
ten maids rose gracefully from where they had been kneeling
against the walls, cleanlimbed and comely in their filmy white
robes. All had been purchased for their appearance as much as
their skills, and they were very skilled. They had become used
to the motions of the ship during the long voyage from
Seanchan, and they scurried to fetch the garments that had
already been laid out atop the carved chests and bring them to
Selucia. Selucia never allowed the da'covale to actually dress
her, not so much as stockings or slippers. 

When she settled a pleated gown the color of well-aged ivory
over Tuon's head, the younger woman could not help comparing
the two of them in the tall mirror fastened to the inner wall.
Golden-haired Selucia possessed a stately, cream-skinned
beauty and cool blue eyes. Anyone might have taken her for one
of the Blood, and of high rank, rather than so'jhin, if the
left side of her head had not been shaved. A notion that would
have shocked the woman to the quick, expressed aloud. The very
idea of any stepping above her appointed station horrified
Selucia. Tuon knew she herself would never have such a
commanding presence. Her eyes were too large, and a liquid
brown. When she forgot to keep a stern mask, her heart-shaped
face belonged on a mischievous child. The top of her head
barely came to Selucia's eyes, and her dresser was not a tall
woman. Tuon could ride with the best, she excelled at
wrestling and the use of suitable weapons, but she had always
had to exercise her mind to impress. She had trained that tool
as hard as she had trained at every other talent combined. At

least the wide, woven belt of gold emphasized her waist enough
that she would not be taken for a boy in a dress. Men watched
when Selucia passed by, and Tuon had overheard some murmur 

about her full breasts. Perhaps that had nothing to do with a
commanding presence, but it would have been nice to possess a
little more bosom. 

"The Light be upon me," Selucia murmured, sounding amused,
as the da'covale hurried back to kneel upright against the
walls. "You've done that every morning since the first day
your head was shaved. Do you still think after three years
that I'll leave a patch of stubble?" 

Tuon realized that she had rubbed a hand across her bare
scalp. Searching for stubble, she admitted to herself
ruefully. "If you did," she said with mock severity, "I would
have you beaten. A repayment for all the times you used a
switch on me." 

Placing a rope of rubies around Tuon's neck, Selucia
laughed. "If you pay me back for all that, I'll never be able
to sit down again." 

Tuon smiled. Selucia's mother had given her to Tuon for a
cradle-gift, to be her nursemaid, and more important, her
shadow, a bodyguard no one knew about. The first twenty-five
years of Selucia's life had been training for those jobs,
training in secret for the second. On Tuon's sixteenth naming
day, when her head was first shaved, she had made the
traditional gifts of her House to Selucia, a small estate for
the care she had shown, a pardon for the chastisements she had
given, a sack of one hundred golden thrones for each time she
had needed to punish her charge. The Blood assembled to watch
her presented as an adult for the first time had been
impressed by all those sacks of coin, more than many of them
could have laid hand on themselves. She had been . . . unruly
... as a child, not to mention headstrong. And the last
traditional gift: the offer for Selucia to choose where she
would be appointed next. Tuon was not sure whether she or the
watching crowd had been more astonished when the dignified
woman turned her back on power and authority, and asked
instead to be Tuon's dresser, her chief maid. And her shadow
still, of course, though that was not made public. She herself
had been delighted. 

"Perhaps in small doses, spread over sixteen years," she
said. Catching sight of herself in the mirror, she held her
smile long enough to make sure there was no sting in her
words, then replaced it with sternness. She certainly felt
more affection for the woman who had raised her than for the
mother she had seen only twice a year before becoming an
adult, or the brothers and sisters she had been taught from
her first steps to battle for their mother's favor. Two of
them had died in those struggles, so far, and three had tried
to kill her. A sister and a brother had been made da'covale
and had their names stricken from the records as firmly as if
it had been discovered they could channel. Her place was far
from secure even now. A single misstep could see her dead, or
worse, stripped and sold on the public block. Blessings of the
Light, when she smiled, she still looked sixteen! At best! 

Chuckling, Selucia turned to take the close-fitting cap of
golden lace from its red-lacquered stand on the dressing

table. The sparse lace would expose most of her shaven scalp,
and mark her with the Raven-and-Roses. Perhaps she was not
sei'mosiev, but for the sake of the Corenne, she had to
restore her balance. She could ask Anath, her Soe'feia, to
administer a penance, but it was less than two years since
Neferi's unexpected death, and she still was not entirely
comfortable with her replacement. Something told her she must
do this on her own. Perhaps she had seen an omen she had not
recogni2ed consciously. Ants were not likely on a ship, but
several sorts of beetle might be. 

"No, Selucia," she said quietly. "A veil." 

Selucia's mouth tightened in disapproval, but she replaced
the cap on its stand silently. In private, as now, she had
license to free her tongue, yet she knew what could be spoken
and what not. Tuon had only ever had to have her punished
twice, and Light's truth, she had regretted it as much as
Selucia. Wordlessly, her dresser produced a long sheer veil,
draping it over Tuon's head and securing it with a narrow band
of golden braid set with rubies. Even more transparent than
the da'covale's robes, the veil did not hide her face at all.
But it hid what was most important. 

Laying a long, gold-embroidered blue cape on Tuon's shoul
ders, Selucia stepped back and bowed deeply, the end of her
golden braid touching the carpet. The kneeling da'covale bowed
their faces to the deck. Privacy was about to end. Tuon left
the cabin alone. 

In the second cabin stood six of her sui'dam, three to
either side, with their charges kneeling in front of them on
the wide, polished planks of the deck. The sui'dam
straightened when they saw her, proud as the silver lightning
in the red panels on their skirts. The gray-clad damane knelt
erect, full of their own pride. Except for poor Lidya, who
crouched over her knees and tried to press her tearstained
face against the deck. Lanelle, holding the red-haired
damane'5, leash, scowled down at her. 

Tuon sighed. Lidya had been responsible for her anger last
night. No, she had caused it, but Tuon herself was responsible
for her own emotions. She had commanded the damane to read her
fortune, and she should not have ordered her caned because she
disliked what she heard. 

Bending, she cupped Lidya's chin, laying long red-enameled
fingernails against the damane’s, freckled cheek, and drew her
up to sit on her heels. Which produced a wince and a fresh set
of tears that Tuon carefully wiped away with her fingers as
she pulled the damane upright on her knees. "Lidya is a good
damane, Lanelle," she said. "Paint her welts with tincture of
sorfa and give her lionheart for the pain until the welts are
gone. And until they are gone, she is to have a sweet custard
with every meal." 

"As the High Lady commands," Lanelle replied formally, but
she smiled slightly. All the sui'dam were fond of Lidya, and
she had not liked punishing the damane. "If she gets fat, I
will take her for runs, High Lady." 

Lidya twisted her head around to kiss Tuon's palm and mur
mured, "Lidya's mistress is kind. Lidya will not get fat." 

Making her way along the two lines, Tuon spoke a few words
to each sui'dam and petted each of the damane. The six she had

brought with her were her best, and they beamed at her with a
fondness equal to hers for them. They had competed eagerly to
be chosen. Plump, yellow-haired Dali and Dani, sisters who
hardly needed a sul'dam's direction. Charral, her hair as gray
as her eyes, but still the most agile in her spinning. Sera,
with red ribbons in her tightly curled black hair, the
strongest, and proud as a sui'dam. Tiny Mylen, shorter even
than Tuon herself. Mylen was Tuon's special pride among the
six. 

Many had thought it odd when Tuon tested for sui'dam on
reaching adulthood, though none could gainsay her, then.
Except her mother, who had allowed it by remaining silent.
Actually becoming a sui'dam was unthinkable, of course, but
she found as much enjoyment in training damane as in training
horses, and she was as good at one as the other. Mylen was the
proof of that. The pale little damane had been half-dead with
shock and fear, refusing to eat or drink, when Tuon bought her
on the docks at Shon Kifar. The der'sul'dam all had despaired,
saying she would not live long, but now Mylen smiled up at
Tuon and leaned forward to kiss her hand before she even
reached to stroke the damane's dark hair. Once skin and bones,
she was becoming a trifle plump. Instead of rebuking her,
Catrona, who held her leash, let a smile crease her usually
stern black face and murmured that Mylen was a perfect damane.
It was true, no one would believe now that once she had called
herself Aes Sedai. 

Before leaving, Tuon gave a few orders concerning the da
mane's diet and exercise. The sui'dam knew what to do, just
like the other twelve in Tuon's entourage, or they would not
have been in her service, but she believed no one should be
allowed to own damane unless they took an active interest. She
knew the quirks of every one of hers as well as she knew her
own face. 

In the outer cabin, the Deathwatch Guards, lining the walls
in armor lacquered blood red and nearly black green, stiffened
at her entrance. That is, they stiffened if statues could be
said to stiffen. Hard-faced men, they and five hundred more
like them had been charged personally with Tuon's safety. Any
or all would die to protect her. They would die if she did.
Every man had volunteered, asked to be in her guard. Seeing
the veil, grizzled Captain Musenge ordered only two to
accompany her on deck, where two dozen Ogier Gardeners in the
red-and-green made a line to either side of the doorway, great
black-tasseled axes upright in front of them and grim eyes
watching for any danger even here. They would not die if she
did, but they also had asked to be in her guard, and she would
rest her life in any of those huge hands without a qualm. 

The ribbed sails on the Kiaron's three tall masts were taut
with the cold wind that drove the vessel toward the land that
lay ahead, a dark shore near enough that she could make out
hills and headlands. Men and women filled the deck, all of the
Blood on the vessel in their finest silks, ignoring the wind
that whipped their cloaks as they ignored the barefoot men and
women of the ship's crew who darted between them. Some of the
nobles were much too ostentatious about ignoring the crew, as
though they could run the ship while kneeling or bowing every
two paces. Prepared for prostration, the Blood made slight

bows instead, one equal to another, when they saw her veil.
Yuril, the sharp-nosed man everyone thought was her secretary,
went to one knee. He was her secretary, of course, but also
her Hand, commanding her Seekers. The Macura woman flung
herself down prostrate and kissed the deck before a few quiet
words from Yuril made her get back to her feet blushing and
smoothing her pleated red skirts. Tuon had been uncertain
about taking her into service, back in Tanchico, but the woman
had pleaded like a da'covale. She hated Aes Sedai in her
bones, for some reason, and despite the rewards already given
for her extremely valuable information, she hoped to do them
more injury. 

Bowing her head to the Blood, Tuon climbed to the quarter
deck followed by the two Deathwatch Guards. The wind made
handling her cape difficult, and pressed her veil against her
face one moment, then flailed it over her head the next. It
did not matter; that she wore it was sufficient. Her personal
banner, two golden lions harnessed to an ancient war-cart,
flew at the stern above the six helmsmen struggling to control
the long tiller. The Raven-and-Roses would have been packed
away as soon as the first crewman to see her veil could pass
the word. Kidron's captain, a wide, weathered woman with white
hair and the most incredible green eyes, bowed as Tuon's
slipper touched the quarterdeck then immediately returned her
attention to her ship. 

Anath was standing by the railing, in unrelieved black silk,
outwardly undisturbed by the chill wind in spite of her lack
of a cloak or cape. A slender woman, she would have been tall
even for a man. Her charcoal-dark face was beautiful, but her
large black eyes seemed to pierce like awls. Tuon's Soe'feia,
her Truth-speaker, named by the Empress, might she live
forever, when Neferi died. A surprise, with Neferi's Left Hand
trained and ready to replace her, but when the Empress spoke
from the Crystal Throne, her word was law. You certainly were
not supposed to be afraid of your Soe'feia, yet Tuon was, a
little. Joining the woman, she gripped the railing, and had to
loosen her hands before she broke a lacquered nail. That would
have meant very bad luck. 

"So," Anath said, the word like a nail driven into Tuon's
skull. The tall woman frowned down at her, and contempt lay
thick in her voice. "You hide your face-in a way-and now you
are just the High Lady Tuon. Except that everyone still knows
who you really are, even if they won't mention it. How long do
you intend carrying on this farce?" Anath's full lips sneered,
and she made a curt, dismissive gesture with one slim hand. "I
suppose this idiocy is over having the damane caned. You are a
fool to think your eyes are downcast by a little thing like
that. What did she say to make you angry? No one seems to
know, except that you threw a tantrum I am sorry to have
missed." 

Tuon made her hands be still on the railing. They wanted to
tremble. She forced her face to maintain a stern appearance.
"I will wear the veil until an omen tells me the time has come
to remove it, Anath," she said, schooling her voice to calm.
Only luck had kept anyone from overhearing Lidya's cryptic
words. Everyone knew that damane could foretell the future,
and if any of the Blood had heard, they would all have been

chattering behind their hands about her fate. 

Anath laughed rudely and began telling her again what a fool
she was, in greater detail this time. Much greater detail. She
did not bother to lower her voice. Captain Tehan was staring
straight ahead, but her eyes were almost falling out other
lined face. Tuon listened attentively, though her cheeks grew
hotter and hotter, until she thought her veil might burst into
flame. 

Many of the Blood called their Voices Soe'feia, but Voices
of the Blood were so'jhin, and knew they could be punished if
their owners were displeased by what they said even if they
were called Soe'feia. A Speaker of Truth could not be
commanded or coerced or punished in any way. A Truthspeaker
was required to tell the stark truth whether or not you wanted
to hear it, and to make sure that you heard. Those Blood who
called their Voices Soe'feia thought that Algwyn, the last man
to sit on the Crystal Throne, almost a thousand years ago, had
been insane because he let his Soe'feia live and continue in
her post after she slapped his face before the entire court.
They did not understand the traditions of her family any more
than the goggle-eyed captain did. The Deathwatch Guards'
expressions never altered behind the half-concealing cheek-
pieces of their helmets. They understood. 

"Thank you, but I do not need a penance," she said politely
when Anath finally ceased her harangue. 

Once, after she cursed Neferi for dying by something as stu
pid as a fall down stairs, she had asked her new Soe'feia to
perform that service for her. Cursing the dead was enough to
make you sei'mosiev for months. The woman had been almost
tender about it, in an odd fashion, though she left her
weeping for days, unable to don even a shift. That was not why
she refused the offer, though; a penance must be severe or it
was useless in redressing balance. No, she would not take the
easier way because she had made her decision. And, she had to
admit, because she wanted to resist her Soe'feia's advice.
Wanted not to listen to her at all. As Selucia said, she
always had been headstrong. Refusing to listen to your
Truthspeaker was abominable. Perhaps she should accept after
all, to redress that balance. Three long gray porpoises rose
beside the ship and sounded. Three, and they did not rise
again. Hold to your chosen course. 

"When we are ashore," she said, "the High Lady Suroth must
be commended." Hold to your chosen course. "And her ambition
must be looked into. She has done more with the Forerunners
than the Empress, may she live forever, dreamed of, but
success on such a scale often breeds ambitions to match." 

Peeved at the change of subject, Anath drew herself up, lips
compressing. Her eyes glittered. "I am sure Suroth has only
the best interests of the Empire for ambition," she said
curtly. 

Tuon nodded. She herself was not sure at all. That sort of
sureness could lead to the Tower of the Ravens even for her.
Perhaps especially for her. "I must find a way to make contact
with the Dragon Reborn as soon as possible. He must kneel
before the Crystal Throne before Tarmon Gai'don, or all is
lost." The Prophecies of the Dragon said so, clearly. 

Anath's mood changed in a flash. Smiling, she laid a hand on

Tuon's shoulder almost possessively. That was going too far,
but she was Soe'feia, and the feel of ownership might have
been only in Tuon's mind. "You must be careful," Anath purred.
"You must not let him learn how dangerous you are to him until
it is too late for him to escape." 

She had more advice, but Tuon let it wash over her. She lis
tened enough to hear, yet it was nothing she had not heard a
hundred times before. Ahead of the ship she could make out the
mouth of a great harbor. Ebou Dar, from where the Corenne
would spread, as it was spreading from Tanchico. The thought
gave her a thrill of pleasure, of accomplishment. Behind her
veil, she was merely the High Lady Tuon, of no higher rank
than many others of the Blood, but in her heart, always, she
was Tuon Athaem Kore Paendrag, Daughter of the Nine Moons, and
she had come to reclaim what had been stolen from her
ancestor. 

Chapter 15: In Need of a Bellfounder 

The boxlike wagon reminded Mat of Tinker wagons he had seen,
a little house on wheels, though this one, filled with
cabinets and workbenches built into the walls, was not made
for a dwelling. Wrinkling his nose at the odd, acrid smells
that filled the interior, he shifted uncomfortably on his
three-legged stool, the only place for anyone to sit. His
broken leg and ribs were near enough healed, and the cuts that
he had suffered when that whole bloody building fell on his
head, but the injuries still pained him now and then. Besides,
he was hoping for sympathy. Women loved to show sympathy, if
you played it out right. He made himself stop twisting his
long signet ring on his finger. Let a woman know you were
nervous, and she put her own construction on it, and sympathy
went right out the window. 

"Listen, Aludra," he said, assuming his most winning smile,
"by this time you must know the Seanchan won't look twice at
fireworks. Those damane do something called Sky Lights that
makes your best fireworks look like a few sparks flying up the
chimney, so I hear. No offense meant." 

"Me, I have not seen these so-called Sky Lights myself," she
replied dismissively in her strong Taraboner accent. Her head
was bent over a wooden mortar the size of a large keg on one
of the workbenches, and despite a wide blue ribbon gathering
her dark waist-length hair loosely at the nape of her neck, it
fell forward to hide her face. The long white apron with its
dark smudges did nothing to conceal how well her dark green
dress fit over her hips, but he was more interested in what
she was doing. Well, as interested. She was grinding at a
coarse black powder with a wooden pestle nearly as long as her
arm. The powder looked a little like what he had seen inside
fireworks he had cut open, but he still did not know what went
into it. "In any event," she went on, unaware of his scrutiny,
"I will not give you the Guild secrets. You must understand
this, yes?" 

Mat winced. He had been working on her for days to bring her

to this point, ever since a chance visit to Valan Luca's
traveling show revealed that she was here in Ebou Dar, and all
the while he had dreaded that she would mention the
Illuminators' Guild. "But you aren't an Illuminator anymore,
remember? They kicked ... ah ... you said you left the Guild."
Not for the first time he considered a small reminder that he
had once saved her from four Guild members who wanted to cut
her throat. That sort of thing was enough to make most women
fall on your neck with kisses and offers of whatever you
wanted. But there had been a notable lack of kisses when he
actually saved her, so it was unlikely she would begin now.
"Anyway," he went on airily, "you don't have to worry about
the Guild. You've been making nightflowers for how long? And
nobody has come around trying to stop you. Why, I'll wager you 

never see another Illuminator."
"What have you heard?" she asked quietly, her head still
down. The pestle's rotation slowed almost to a stop. "Tell
me." 

The hair on his scalp nearly stood on end. How did women do
that? Hide every clue, and they still went straight to what
you wanted to conceal. "What do you mean? I hear the same
gossip you do, I suppose. Mostly about the Seanchan." 

She spun around so fast that her hair swung like a flail,
and snatched the heavy pestle up in both hands, brandishing it
overhead. Perhaps ten years or so older than he, she had large
dark eyes and a small plump mouth that usually seemed ready to
be kissed. He had thought about kissing her a time or two.
Most women were more amenable after a few kisses. Now, her
teeth were bared, and she looked ready to bite off his nose.
"Tell me!" she commanded. 

"I was playing at dice with some Seanchan down near the
docks," he said reluctantly, keeping a careful eye on the
upraised pestle. A man might bluff and bluster and walk away
if the matter was not serious, but a woman could crack your
skull on a whim. And his hip was aching and stiff from sitting
too long. He was not sure how quickly he could move from the
stool. "I didn't want to be the one to tell you, but. . . .
The Guild doesn't exist anymore, Aludra. The chapter house in
Tanchico is gone." That had been the only real chapter house
in the Guild. The one in Cairhien was long abandoned now, and
for the rest, Illuminators only traveled to put on displays
for rulers and nobles. "They refused to let Seanchan soldiers
inside the compound, and fought, tried to, when they broke in
anyway. I don't know what happened-maybe a soldier took a
lantern where he shouldn't have-but half the compound
exploded, as I understand it. Probably exaggeration. But the
Seanchan believed one of the Illuminators used the One Power,
and they. ..." He sighed, and tried to make his voice gentle.
Blood and ashes, he did not want to tell her this! But she was
glaring at him, that bloody club poised to split his scalp.
"Aludra, the Seanchan gathered up everyone left alive at the
chapter house, and some Illuminators that had gone to Amador,
and everybody in between who even looked like an Illuminator,
and they made them all da'covale. That means-" 

"I know what it means!" she said fiercely. Swinging back to
the big mortar, she began pounding away with the pestle so
hard that he was afraid the thing might explode, if that

powder really was what went inside fireworks. "Fools!" she
muttered angrily, thumping the pestle loudly in the mortar.
"Great blind fools! With the mighty, you must bend your neck a 

little and walk on, but they would not see it!" Sniffing, she
scrubbed at her cheeks with the back of her hand. "You are
wrong, my young friend. So long as one Illuminator lives, the 

Guild, it lives too, and me, I still live!" Still not looking
at him, she wiped her cheeks with her hand again. "And what
would you do if I gave you the fireworks? Hurl them at the
Seanchan from the catapult, I suppose?" Her snort told what
she thought of that. 

"And what's wrong with the idea?" he asked defensively. A
good field catapult, a scorpion, could throw a ten-pound stone
five hundred paces, and ten pounds of fireworks would do more
damage than any stone. "Anyway, I have a better idea. I saw
those tubes you use to toss nightflowers into the sky. Three
hundred paces or more, you said. Tip one on its side more or
less, and I'll bet it could toss a nightflower a thousand
paces." 

Peering into the mortar, she muttered almost under her
breath. "Me, I talk too much," he thought it was, and
something about pretty eyes that made no sense. He hurried on
to stop her from starting up about Guild secrets again. "Those
tubes are a lot smaller than a catapult, Aludra. If they were
well hidden, the Seanchan would never know where they came
from. You could think of it as paying them back for the
chapter house." 

Turning her head, she gave him a look of respect. Mingled
with surprise, but he managed to ignore that. Her eyes were
red-rimmed, and there were tearstains on her cheeks. Maybe if
he put an arm around her. . . . Women usually appreciated a
little comforting when they cried. 

Before he could even shift his weight, she swung the pestle
between them, pointing it at him like a sword with one hand.
Those slender arms must be stronger than they looked; the
wooden club never wavered. Light, he thought, she couldn't
have known what I was going to do! 

"This is not bad, for one who only saw the lofting tubes a
few days ago," she said, "but me, I have thought about this
long before you. I had reason." For a moment, her voice was
bitter, but it smoothed out again, and became a little amused.
"I will set you the puzzle, since you are so clever, no?" she
said, arching an eyebrow. Oh, she definitely was amused by
something! "You tell me what use I might have for a
bellfounder, and I will tell you all of my secrets. Even the
ones that will make you blush, yes?" 

Now, that did sound interesting. But the fireworks were more
important than an hour snuggling with her. What secrets did
she have that could make him blush? He might surprise her,
there. Not all of those other men's memories that had been
stuffed into his head had to do with battles. "A bellmaker,"
he mused, without a notion of where to go from there. None of
those old memories gave even a hint. "Well, I suppose. ... A
bellmaker could. . . . Maybe. . . ." 

"No," she said, suddenly brisk. "You will go, and return in
two or three days. I have the work to do, and you are too
distracting with all of your questions and wheedling. No; no

arguments! You will go now." 

Glowering, he rose and clapped his wide-brimmed black hat
onto his head. Wheedling? Wheedling! Blood and bloody ashes!
He had dropped his cloak in a heap by the door on entering,
and he grunted softly, bending to pick it up. He had been
sitting on that stool most of the day. But maybe he had made a
little headway with her. If he could solve her puzzle, anyway.
Alarm bells. Gongs to sound the hour. It made no sense. 

"I might think of kissing such a smart young man as you if
you did not belong to another," she murmured in decidedly warm
tones. "You have such a pretty bottom." 

He jerked erect, keeping his back to her. The heat in his
face was pure outrage, but she was sure to say he was
blushing. He could usually manage to forget what he was
wearing unless someone brought it up. There had been an
incident or three in taverns. While he was flat on his back
with his leg in splints and his ribs strapped and bandages
just about everywhere else, Tylin had hidden all of his
clothes. He had not found where, yet, but surely they were
hidden, not burned. After all, she could not mean to hold on
to him forever. All that remained of his own were his hat and
the black silk scarf tied around his neck. And the silvery
foxhead medallion, of course, hanging on a leather cord under
his shirt. And his knives; he really would have felt lost
without those. When he finally managed to crawl out of that
bloody bed, the bloody woman had had new clothes made for him,
with her sitting there watching the bloody seamstresses
measure and fit him! Snowy lace at his wrists almost hid his
bloody hands unless he was careful, and more spilled from his
neck almost to his flaming waist. Tylin liked lace on a man.
His cloak was a brilliant scarlet, as red as his too-tight
breeches, and edged with golden scrollwork and white roses, of
all bloody things. Not to mention a white oval on his left
shoulder with House Mitsobar's green Sword and Anchor. His
coat was blue enough for a Tinker, worked in red and gold
Tairen mazes across the chest and down the sleeves for good
measure. He did not like recalling what he had been forced to
go through to convince Tylin to leave off the pearls and sap
phires and the Light alone knew what else she had wanted. And
it was short, to boot. Indecently short! Tylin liked his
bloody bottom, too, and she did not seem to mind who saw it! 

Settling the cloak around his shoulders-it was some cover
ing, at least-he grabbed his shoulder-high walking staff from
where it was leaning beside the door. His hip and leg were
going to ache until he could walk the pain away. "In two or
three days, then," he said with as much dignity as he could
muster. 

Aludra laughed softly. Not softly enough that he could not
hear, though. Light, but a woman could do more with a laugh
than a dockside bullyboy with a string of curses! And just as
deliberately. 

Limping out of the wagon, he slammed the door behind him as
soon as he was far enough down the wooden steps that were
fastened to the wagon bed. The afternoon sky was just like the
morning sky had been, gray and blustery, thatched with sullen
clouds. A sharp wind gusted fitfully. Altara had no true
winter, but what it did have was enough to be going on with.

Rather than snow, there were icy rains and thunderstorms
racing in off the sea, and in between it was damp enough to
make the cold seem harder. The ground had a sodden feel under
your boots even when it was dry. Scowling, he hobbled away
from the wagon. 

Women! Aludra was pretty, though. And she did know how to
make fireworks. A bellfounder? Maybe he could make it a short
two days. So long as Aludra did not start chasing him. A good
many women seemed to be doing that, of late. Had Tylin changed
something about him, to make women pursue him the way she
herself did? No. That was ridiculous. The wind caught his
cloak, flaring it behind him, but he was too absorbed to
master it. A pair of slender women-acrobats, he thought-gave
him sly smiles as they passed, and he smiled and made his best
leg. Tylin had not changed him. He was still the same man he
had always been. 

Luca's show was fifty times as large as what Thorn had told
him about, maybe more, a sprawling hodgepodge of tents and
wagons the size of a large village. Despite the weather, a
number of performers were practicing where he could see them.
A woman in a flowing white blouse and breeches as tight as his
swung back and forth on a sagging rope slung between two tall
poles, then threw herself off and somehow caught her feet in
the rope just before she hurtled to the ground below. Then she
twisted to catch the rope with her hands, pulled herself back
to her seat and began the same thing again. Not far off, a
fellow was running on top of an egg-shaped wheel that must
have been a good twenty feet long, mounted on a platform that
put him higher above the ground when he dashed across the
narrow end than the woman who was going to break her fool neck
soon. Mat eyed a bare-chested man who was rolling three shiny
balls along his arms and across his shoulders without ever
touching them with his hands. That was interesting. He might
be able to manage that himself. At least those balls would not
leave you bleeding and broken. He had had enough of that to
suit him a lifetime. 

What really caught his eyes, however, were the horselines.
Long horselines, where two dozen men bundled against the cold
were shoveling dung into barrows. Hundreds of horses. Suppos
edly, Luca had given shelter to some Seanchan animal trainer,
and his reward had been a warrant, signed by the High Lady
Suroth herself, allowing him to keep all of his animals. Mat's
own Pips was secure, saved from the lottery ordered by Suroth
because he was in the Tarasin Palace stables, but getting the
gelding out of those stables was beyond him. Tylin as good as
had a leash around his neck, and she did not intend to let him
go any time soon. 

Turning away, he considered having Vanin steal some of the
show's horses if the talks with Luca went badly. From what Mat
knew of Vanin, it would be an evening stroll for the unlikely
man. Fat as he was, Vanin could steal, and ride, any horse
ever foaled. Unfortunately, Mat doubted he himself could sit a
saddle for more than a mile. Still, it was something to
consider. He was growing desperate. 

Limping along, idly eyeing tumblers and jugglers and acro
bats at their practice, he wondered how matters had come to
this pass. Blood and ashes! He was ta'veren! He was supposed

to shape the world around him! But here he was, stuck in Ebou
Dar, Tylin's pet and toy-the woman had not even let him heal
completely before leaping on him again like a duck on a
beetle!- while everyone else was having a fine time of it.
With those Kinswomen fawning at her heels, likely Nynaeve was
lording it over everyone in sight. Once Egwene realized those
stark raving mad Aes Sedai who had named her Amyrlin did not
really mean it, Talmanes and the Band of the Red Hand were
ready to spirit her away. Light, Elayne might be wearing the
Rose Crown by now, if he knew her! Rand and Perrin probably
were lolling in front of a fire in some palace, swilling wine
and telling jokes. 

He grimaced and rubbed at his forehead as a faint rush of
colors seemed to swirl inside his head. That happened lately
whenever he thought about either man. He did not know why, and
he did not want to know. He just wanted it to stop. If only he
could get away from Ebou Dar. And take the secret of fireworks
with him, of course, but he would take escape over the secret
any day. 

Thorn and Beslan were still where he had left them, drinking 

with Luca in front of Luca's elaborately decorated wagon, but
he did not join them immediately. For some reason, Luca had
taken an instant dislike to Mat Cauthon. Mat returned the 

favor, but with reason. Luca had a smug, self-satisfied face,
and a way of smirking at any woman in sight. And he seemed to
think every woman in the world enjoyed looking at him. Light,
the man was married! 

Sprawled in a gilded chair he must have stolen from a
palace, Luca was laughing and making expansive, lordly
gestures to Thorn and Beslan, seated on benches to either side
of him. Golden stars and comets covered Luca's brilliant red
coat and cloak. A Tinker would have blushed! His wagon would
have made a Tinker weep! Much larger than Aludra's work-wagon,
the thing appeared to have been lacquered! The phases of the
moon repeated themselves in silver all the way around the
wagon, and golden stars and comets in every size covered the
rest of the red-and-blue surface. In that setting, Beslan
looked almost ordinary in a coat and cloak worked in swooping
birds. Thom, knuckling wine from his long white mustaches,
seemed positively drab in plain bronze-colored wool and a dark
cloak. 

One person who should have been there was not, but a quick
glance around found a cluster of women at a nearby wagon. They
were every age from his own up to graying hair, but every one
of them was giggling at what they surrounded. Sighing, Mat
made his way there. 

"Oh, I just cannot decide," came a boy's piping voice from
the center of the women. "When I look at you, Merici, your
eyes are the prettiest I have ever seen. But when I look at
you, Neilyn, yours are. Your lips are ripe cherries, Gillin,
and yours make me want to kiss them, Adria. And your neck,
Jameine, graceful as a swan's. ..." 

Swallowing an oath, Mat quickened his pace as much as he
could and pushed through the women muttering apologies left
and right. Olver was in the middle of them, a short, pale boy
posturing and grinning at one woman then another. That toothy
grin alone was enough that any of them might decide to slap

his ears off in a moment. 

"Please forgive him," Mat murmured, taking the boy's hand.
"Come on, Olver; we have to get back to the city. Stop waving
your cloak about. He doesn't know what he's saying, really. I
don't know where he picks up that sort of thing." 

Luckily, the women laughed and ruffled Olver's hair as Mat
led him away. Some murmured that he was a sweet boy, of all
things! One slipped her hand under Mat's cloak and pinched his
bottom. Women! 

Once clear, he scowled at the boy tripping along happily at
his side. Olver had grown since Mat first met him, but he was
still short for his years. And with that wide mouth and ears
to match, he would never be handsome. "You could get yourself
in deep trouble talking to women that way," Mat told him.
"Women like a man to be quiet, and well-mannered. And re
served. Reserved, and maybe a little shy. Cultivate those
qualities, and you'll do well." 

Olver gave him a gaping, incredulous stare, and Mat sighed.
The lad had a fistful of uncles looking after him, and every
one except Mat himself was a bad influence. 

Thom and Beslan were enough to restore Olver's grin. Pulling
his hand free, he ran ahead to them laughing. Thom was
teaching him how to juggle and play the harp and the flute,
and Beslan was teaching him how to use a sword. His other
"uncles" gave him other lessons, in a remarkably varied set of
skills. Mat intended to start teaching him to use a
quarterstaff, and the Two Rivers bow, once he had his strength
back. What the boy was learning from Chel Vanin, or the
Redarms, Mat did not want to know. 

Luca rose from his fancy chair at Mat's approach, his
fatuous smile fading to a sour grimace. Eyeing Mat up and
down, he swept that ridiculous cloak around himself with a
wide flourish and announced in a booming voice, "I am a busy
man. I have much to do. It may be that I soon will have the
honor of guesting the High Lady Suroth for a private showing."
Without another word he strode away holding the ornate cloak
with just one hand, so gusts rippled it behind him like a
banner. 

Mat gathered his own with both hands. A cloak was for
warmth. He had seen Suroth in the Palace, though never
closely. As closely as he wanted, though. He could not imagine
her giving a moment to Valan Luca's Grand Traveling Show and
Magnificent Display of Marvels and Wonders, as the streamer
strung between two tall poles at the entrance to the show
announced in red letters a pace high. If she did, likely she
would eat the lions. Or frighten them to death. 

"Has he agreed yet, Thom?" he asked quietly, frowning after
Luca. 

"We can travel with him when he leaves Ebou Dar," the
weathered man replied. "For a price." He snorted, blowing out
his mustaches, and irritably raked a hand through his white
hair. "We should eat and sleep like kings for what he wants,
but knowing him, I doubt we will. He doesn't think we are
criminals, since we're still walking free, but he knows we're
running from something, or we would travel some other way.
Unfortunately, he does not intend to leave until spring at the
earliest."

 Mat considered several choice curses. Not until spring. The
Light knew what Tylin would have done to him, would have him
doing, by spring. Maybe Vanin stealing horses was not such a
bad notion. "Gives me more time for dice," he said, as if it
did not matter. "If he wants as much as you say, I need to
fatten my purse. One thing you can say for the Seanchan, they
don't seem to mind losing." He tried to be careful how long he
let his luck run, and he had not faced any threats of having
his throat slit for cheating, at least since he had been able
to leave the Palace on his own feet. At first, he had believed
it was his luck spreading, or perhaps being ta'veren finally
coming in for something useful. 

Beslan regarded him gravely. A dark slender man a little
younger than Mat, he had been blithely rakish when Mat first
met him, always ready for a round of the taverns, especially
if it ended with women or a fight. Since the Seanchan came, he
had grown more serious, though. To him, they were very serious
business. "My mother won't be pleased if she learns I am
helping her pretty leave Ebou Dar, Mat. She will marry me to
someone with a squint and a mustache like a Taraboner foot
soldier." 

After all this time, Mat still winced. He could never get
used to Tylin's son thinking what his mother was doing with
Mat was all right. Well, Beslan did believe she had become a
little too possessive-just a little, mind!-but that was the
only reason he was willing to help. Beslan claimed Mat was
what his mother needed to take her mind off the agreements she
had been forced into by the Seanchan! Sometimes, Mat wished he
was back in the Two Rivers, where at least you knew how other
people thought. Sometimes he did. 

"Can we return to the Palace now?" Olver said, more a demand
than a question. "I have a reading lesson with the Lady
Riselle. She lets me rest my head on her bosom while she reads
to me." 

"A notable achievement, Olver," Thom said, stroking his
mustaches to hide a smile. Leaning closer to the other two
men, he pitched his voice to escape the boy's ears. "The woman
makes me play the harp for her before she lets me rest my head
on that magnificent pillow." 

"Riselle makes everyone entertain her first," Beslan
chuckled in a knowing way, and Thom stared at him in
astonishment. 

Mat groaned. It was not his leg, this time, or the fact that
every man in Ebou Dar seemed to be choosing the bosom they
rested their heads on except for Mat Cauthon. Those bloody
dice had just started tumbling in his head again. Something
bad was coming his way. Something very bad. 

Chapter 16: An Unexpected Encounter 

The walk back to the city was better than two miles, across
low hills that worked the ache out of Mat's leg and put it
back again before they topped a rise and saw Ebou Dar ahead,
behind its extravagantly thick, white-plastered wall that no
siege catapult had ever been able to break down. The city

within was white, too, though here and there pointed domes
bore thin stripes of color. The white-plastered buildings,
white spires and towers, white palaces, gleamed even on a gray
winter day. Here and there a tower ended in a jagged top or a
gap showed where a building had been destroyed, but in truth,
the Seanchan conquest had occasioned little damage. They had
been too fast, too strong, and in control of the city before
more than scattered resistance could form. 

Surprisingly, such trade as there was this time of year had
hardly faltered with the city's fall. The Seanchan encouraged
it, though merchants and ship captains and crews were required
to take an oath to obey the Forerunners, await the Return, and
serve Those Who Come Home. In practice, that meant largely
going about your life as usual, so few objected. The broad
harbor was more crowded with ships every time Mat looked at
it. This afternoon, it seemed he could have walked from Ebou
Dar proper across to the Rahad, a rough quarter he would just
as soon never revisit. Often in the days after he first
managed to walk again, he had gone down to the docks to stare.
Not at the vessels with ribbed sails or the Sea Folk ships
that the Seanchan were re-rigging and manning with their own
crews, but at craft flying the Golden Bees of Illian, or the
Sword and Hand of Arad Doman, or the Crescents of Tear. He no
longer did. Today, he barely glanced toward the harbor. Those
dice spinning in his head seemed to roar like thunder.
Whatever was going to happen, he very much doubted he would
like it. He seldom did, when the dice gave warning. 

Though a steady stream of traffic flowed out of the great
arched gateway, and people afoot seemed to be squeezing
through to get in, a thick column of wagons and ox-carts,
stretching all the way back to the rise, was waiting to enter
and hardly moving. Everyone departing on a horse was Seanchan,
whether with skin as dark as one of the Sea Folk or pale as a
Cairhienin, and they stood out for more than being mounted.
Some of the men wore voluminous trousers and odd, tight coats
with high collars that fit their necks snugly right to the
chin and rows of shiny metal buttons down the front, or
flowing, elaborately embroidered coats almost as long as a
woman's dress. They were of the Blood, as were the women in
strangely cut riding dresses that seemed made of narrow
pleats, with divided skirts cut to expose colorfully booted
ankles and wide sleeves that hung to their feet in the
stirrups. A few wore lace veils that hid all but their eyes,
so their faces were not exposed to the lowborn. Most of the
riders by far, however, wore brightly painted armor of
overlapping plates. Some of the soldiers were women, too,
though there was no way to tell which with those painted
helmets like the heads of monstrous insects. At least none
wore the black-and-red of the Death-watch Guard. Even other
Seanchan seemed nervous around them, and that was enough to
warn Mat to walk wide around them. 

In any case, none of the Seanchan spared so much as a glance
for three men and a boy slowly walking toward the city along
the column of waiting carts and wagons. Well, the men walked
slowly. Olver skipped. Mat's leg was setting their pace, but
he tried not to let the others see how much he was leaning on
his staff. The dice usually announced incidents he managed to

survive by the skin of his teeth, battles, a building dropping
on his head. Tylin. He dreaded what would happen when they
stopped this time. 

Nearly all of the wagons and carts leaving the city had
Seanchan driving or walking alongside, more plainly dressed
than those on horses, hardly peculiar looking at all, but
those in the waiting line were more likely to belong to Ebou
Dari or folk from the surrounding area, men in long vests,
women with their skirts sewn up on one side to expose a
stockinged leg or colorful petticoats, their wagons as well as
their carts pulled by oxen. Outlanders dotted the column,
merchants with small trains of horse-drawn wagons. There was
more trade in winter here in the south than farther north,
where merchants had to contend with snow-covered roads, and
they came from far, some of them. A stout Domani woman with a
dark beauty patch on her copper cheek, riding the lead of four
wagons, clutched her flowered cloak around her and scowled at
a man five wagons ahead of her in the line, a greasy-looking
fellow, hiding long thick mustaches behind a Taraboner veil,
beside the wagon driver. A competitor, no doubt. A lean
Kandori with a large pearl in her left ear and silver chains
across her chest sat her saddle calmly, gloved hand folded on
the pommel, maybe still unaware that her gray gelding and her
wagon teams alike would be put into the lottery once she was
into the city. One horse in five had been taken from locals,
and so as not to discourage trade, one in ten from outlanders.
Paid for, true, and a fair price in other days, but not nearly
what the market would bear, given the demand. Mat always
noticed horses, even if with only half his mind or less. A fat
Cairhienin in a coat as drab as those of his wagon drivers was
shouting angrily about the delay and letting his fine bay mare
dance nervously. A very good conformation on that mare. She
would go to an officer, most likely. What was going to happen
when the dice stopped? 

The wide arched gates into the city had their guards, though
it was likely only the Seanchan recognized them as such.
Sui'dam in their lightning-paneled blue dresses threaded back
and forth through the streams of traffic with gray-clad damane
on silvery a'dam. Just one of those pairs would have been
sufficient to quell any disturbance short of a full-scale
assault, and maybe even that, but that was not the real reason
for their presence. In the first days after Ebou Dar's fall,
while he was still confined to bed, they had harrowed the city
searching for the women they called Marath'damane, and now
they made sure none could enter. The sul'dam each carried an
extra leash coiled on her shoulder just in case. Pairs
patrolled the docks, too, meeting every arriving ship and
boat. 

Beside the wide arched gate into the city, a long platform
displayed, on spikes twenty feet above the ground, the tarred
but still recognizable heads of over a dozen men and two women
who had fallen afoul of Seanchan justice. Above them hung the
symbol for that justice, a headsman's slant-edged axe with the
haft wrapped in an intricately knotted white cord. A placard
below each head announced the crime that had placed it there,
murder or rape, robbery with violence, assault on one of the
Blood. Lesser offenses brought fines or flogging, or being

made da'covale. The Seanchan were evenhanded about it. None of
the Blood themselves were on display-one of those who earned
execution would be sent back to Seanchan, or strangled with
the white cord-but three of those heads had been attached to
Seanchan, and the weight of their justice fell on high as well
as low. Two placards marked rebellion hung below the heads of
the woman who had been Mistress of the Ships to the Atha'an
Miere and her Master of the Blades. 

Mat had been through that gate often enough that he barely
noticed the display, now. Olver skipped along singing a
rhyming song. Beslan and Thom walked with their heads
together, and once Mat caught a soft "risky business" from
Thom, but he did not care what they were talking about. Then
they were into the long, dim tunnel that carried the road
through the wall, and the rumble of wagons passing through
would have made listening impossible even had he wanted to.
Keeping close to the side, well away from the wagon wheels,
Thorn and Beslan forged ahead talking in low murmurs, Olver
darting after them, but when Mat emerged into daylight again,
he walked into Thorn's back before he realized that all of
them had stopped, hard beside the tunnel's mouth. On the point
of making a caustic comment, he suddenly saw what they were
staring at. People afoot pushing out of the tunnel behind him
shoved them aside, but he just stared, too. 

The streets of Ebou Dar were always full of people, but not
like this, as though a dam had burst and sent a flood of
humanity into the city. The throng packed the street in front
of him from one side to the other, surrounding pools of
livestock the like of which he had never seen before, spotted
white cattle with long upswept horns, pale brown goats covered
in fine hair that hung to the paving stones, sheep with four
horns. Every street he could see looked as jammed. Wagons and
carts inched through the mass where they moved at all, the
shouts and curses of the wagon drivers and carters all but
drowned in the babble of voices and the noise of the animals.
He could not make out words, but he could distinguish accents.
Slow, drawling Seanchan accents. Some of them nudged a
neighbor and pointed at him in his bright clothing. They were
gaping and pointing at everything, as if they had never seen
an inn or a cutler's shop before, but he still growled under
his breath and jerked his hat brim low over his eyes. 

"The Return," Thom muttered, and if Mat had not been right
at his shoulder he would not have heard. "While we were taking
our ease with Luca, the Corenne has arrived." 

Mat had been thinking of this Return that the Seanchan kept
going on about as an invasion, an army. One of the wagon
drivers shouted and waved her long-handled whip at some boys
who had crawled up on the side of the wagon box to poke at
what appeared to be grapevines in wooden tubs of earth.
Another wagon held a long printing press, and still another,
just managing to turn into the tunnel, carried what looked
like brewers' vats and a faint smell of hops. Crates of
strangely colored chickens and ducks and geese decorated some
of those wagons, not birds for sale, but a farmer's stock. It
was an army all right, only not the sort he had imagined. This
kind of army would be harder to fight than soldiers. 

"Stab my eyes, we'll have to wade to get though this!"

Beslan grumbled in disgust, rising on his toes to try peering
farther ahead over the crowd. "How far before we find a clear
street?" 

Mat found himself remembering what he had not really seen
when it was in front of his eyes, the harbor full of ships.
Full of ships. Maybe two or three times the vessels that had
been there when they left for Luca's camp at first light,
quite a few of them still maneuvering under sail. Which meant
there might be more still waiting to enter the harbor. Light!
How many could have disgorged their cargo since morning? How
many remained to be unloaded? Light, how many people could be
carried on that number of ships? And why had they all come
here instead of Tanchico? A shiver ran down his spine. Maybe
this was not all of them. 

"You had best try to find your way by back streets and
alleys," he said, raising his voice so they could hear over
the cacophony. "You won't reach the Palace before night,
otherwise." 

Beslan turned a frown on him. "You aren't returning with us?
Mat, if you try to buy passage on a ship again. . . . You know
she won't go easy on you this time." 

Mat matched the Queen's son scowl for scowl. "I just want to
walk around a little," he lied. As soon as he returned to the
Palace, Tylin would start cosseting and petting him. It would
not have been that bad, really-not really-except that she did
not care who saw her caress his cheeks and whisper endearments
in his ear, even her son. Besides, what if the dice in his
head stopped when he reached her? Possessive was hardly the
word for Tylin these days. Blood and ashes, the woman might
have decided to marry him! He did not want to marry, not yet,
but he knew who he was going to marry, and it was not Tylin
Quintara Mitsobar. Only, what could he do if she decided
differently? 

Suddenly he remembered Thorn's murmur of "risky business."
He knew Thorn, and he knew Beslan. Olver was gaping at the
Seanchan as hard as they themselves were at everything around
them. He started to dart away for a closer look, and Mat
seized his shoulder just in time and pushed him, protesting,
into Thorn's hands. "Take the boy back to the Palace and give
him his lessons when Riselle is done with him. And forget
whatever madness you have in mind. You could put your heads on
display outside the gate, and Tylin’s, too." And his own.
Never let that be forgotten! 

The two men stared back at him without any expression, as
good as confirming his suspicions. 

"Perhaps I should walk with you," Thorn said at last. "We
could talk. You're remarkably lucky, Mat, and you have a
certain flair for, shall we say, the adventurous?" Beslan
nodded. Olver squirmed in Thom's grip, trying to stare at all
the strange people at once and unconcerned with what his
elders were talking about. 

Mat grunted sourly. Why did people always want him to be a
hero? Sooner or later that sort of thing was going to get him
killed. "I don't need to talk about anything. They are here,
Beslan. If you couldn't stop them getting in, sure as morning,
you won't be able to push them out. Rand will deal with them,
if the rumors are anything to go by." Again, those whirling

colors spun through his head, almost obliterating the sound of
the dice for an instant. "You took that bloody oath to wait on
the Return; we all did." Refusal had meant being put in chains
and set to work on the docks, or clearing the canals in the
Rahad. Which made it no oath at all, in his book. "Wait on
Rand." The colors came once more and vanished. Blood and
ashes! He just had to stop thinking about. . . . About certain
people. Again they swirled. "It might come out right yet, if
you give it time." 

"You don't understand, Mat," Beslan said fiercely. "Mother
still sits on the throne, and Suroth says she will rule all of
Altara, not just what we hold around Ebou Dar, and maybe more
besides, but mother had to lie down on her face and swear
fealty to some woman on the other side of the Aryth Ocean.
Suroth says I should marry one of their Blood and shave the
sides of my head, and mother is listening to her. Suroth might
pretend they are equals, but she has to listen when Suroth
speaks. No matter what Suroth says, Ebou Dar isn't really ours
anymore, and the rest won't be either. Maybe we can't push
them out by force of arms, but we can make the country too hot
to hold them. The Whitecloaks found out. Ask them what they
mean by 'the Altaran Noon.' " 

Mat could guess without asking anyone. He bit his tongue to
keep from pointing out that there were more Seanchan soldiers
in Ebou Dar than there had been Whitecloaks in all of Altara
during the Whitecloak War. A street full of Seanchan was no
place for a flapping tongue, even if most did appear to be
farmers and crafts-folk. "I understand you're hot to put your
head on a spike," he said quietly. As quietly as he could and
still be heard in that din of voices and cattle lowing and
geese honking. "You know about their Listeners. That fellow 

over there who looks like a stableman could be one, or that
skinny woman with the bundle on her back."
Beslan glowered so hard at the pair Mat had pointed out that 

if they really were Listeners, they might report him for that
alone. "Maybe you'll sing a different song when they reach
Andor," he growled, and pushed his way into the throng,
shoving anyone who got in his way. Mat would have been
unsurprised to see a fight break out. He suspected that was
what the man was looking for. 

Thorn turned to follow with Olver, but Mat caught his
sleeve. "Cool his temper if you can, Thom. And cool your own
while you're about it. I would think by this time you'd have
had enough of shaving blind." 

"My head is cool and I'm trying to cool his," Thom said
dryly. "He can't just sit, though; it is his country." A faint
smile crossed his leathery face. "You say you won't take
risks, but you will. And when you do, you'll make anything
Beslan and I might try look like an evening stroll in the
garden. With you around, even the barber is blind. Come along,
boy," he said, swinging Olver up onto his shoulders. "Riselle
might not let you rest your head if you're late for your
lesson." 

Mat frowned after him as he strode away, making much better
progress with Olver straddling his neck than Beslan had. What
did Thom mean? He never took risks unless they were forced on
him. Never. He glanced casually toward the skinny woman, and

the fellow with dung on his boots. Light, they could be
Listeners. Anybody could be. It was enough to set a prickle
between his shoulders, as if he were being watched. 

He inched a goodly distance along streets that actually grew
thicker with people and animals and wagons the nearer he came
to the docks. The stalls on the bridges over the canals had
their shutters down, the street peddlers had picked up their
blankets, and the tumblers and jugglers that usually
entertained at every street crossing would have had no room to
perform if they had not gone away, too. There were too many
Seanchan, that was how many there were, and maybe one in five
a soldier, plain enough by their hard eyes and the set of
their shoulders, so different from farmer or craftsman, even
when they were not wearing armor. Now and then a group sui'dam
and damane moved along the street in a little eddy of clear
space, more even than soldiers got. It was not given out of
fear, at least not by the Seanchan. They bowed respectfully to
the women with lightning-marked red panels on the blue
dresses, and smiled with approval as the pairs passed by.
Beslan was out of his mind. The Seanchan were not going to be
driven off by anyone except an army with Asha'man, like the
one rumor said had fought them to the east a week ago. Or one
armed with the Illuminator's secrets. What in the Light could
Aludra want with a bellfounder? 

He took pains not to come in sight of the docks. He had
learned his lesson on that. What he really wanted was a game
of dice, one that would last well into the night. Preferably
late enough that Tylin would be asleep when he returned to the
Palace. She had taken away his dice, claiming she did not like
him gambling, though she did it after he talked her into
wagering forfeits, while he was still confined to bed.
Fortunately, dice could always be found, and with his luck, it
was always better to use the other men's dice anyway.
Unfortunately, once he discovered she was not about to pay a
forfeit of letting him go-the woman pretended not to know what
he was talking about!-he had used them to give her back a bit
other own medicine. A grave mistake, however much fun it had
been at the time. Since the forfeits ran out, she had been
twice as bad as before. 

The taverns and common rooms he entered were as packed as
the streets, though, with barely room to lift a mug, much less
toss dice, full of Seanchan laughing and singing, and glum-
faced Ebou Dari who eyed the Seanchan in sullen silence. He
still queried the innkeepers and tapsters on the chance they
might have a cubby hole he could rent, but one and all they
shook their heads. He had not really expected anything else.
There had been nothing available even before all the new
arrivals. Still, he began to feel as gloomy as the foreign
merchants he saw peering into their wine and wondering how
they were to get their goods out of the city with no horses.
He had gold to pay whatever Luca wanted, and more, but it was
all in a chest in the Tarasin Palace, and he was not about to
try taking enough out in one go, not after Palace servants had
carried him back from the docks like a stag taken in hunt. All
he had been doing then was talking to ship captains; if Tylin
learned, and she would, that he was trying to leave the Palace
with more gold than he needed for an evening of gambling. . .

. Oh, no! He had to have a room, a garret in some inn's attic
the size of a wardrobe, anything, where he could hide away
gold a little at a time, or he had to have a chance with the
dice, one or the other. Luck or no luck, though, he eventually
realized that he was going to find neither today. And those
bloody dice were still tumbling in his head, tumbling. 

He did not stay in any one place long, and not just for the
lack of a game or a room. His colorful clothes, his shame-a-
Tinker-for-brightness clothes, drew eyes. Some of the Seanchan
thought he was there for entertainment, and tried to pay him
to sing! He almost let them, once or twice, but once they
heard him, they would have demanded the money back. Some of
the Ebou Dari men, with long curved knives tucked behind their
belts and a bellyful of anger they could not take out on the
Seanchan, thought to take it out on the buffoon who lacked
only a painted face to look like a noble's fool. Mat ducked
back into the crowded street whenever he saw such fellows 

eyeing him. He had learned the hard way that he was in no
condition for a fight yet, and his killer's head going up
beside the city gate would do him no good at all. 

Mat took rest where he could find it, on an empty barrel
abandoned beside the mouth of an alleyway, on the rare bit of
bench in front of a tavern that had room for one more, on a
stone step until the building's owner came out and knocked his
hat off with a swipe of her broom. His belly was kissing his
backbone, he was beginning to feel that everyone was gaping at
his garish clothes, the dank cold was seeping into his bones,
and the only dice he was going to find were those still
thundering away in his head like horse's hooves. He did not
think they had ever been this loud before. 

"Nothing for it but to go back and be the Queen's bloody
pet!" he growled, using his staff to lever himself up off a
cracked wooden crate lying at the side of the street. Several
passersby looked at him as if his face were already painted.
He ignored them. Beneath his notice, they were. He was not
beating them over the head with his staff as they deserved,
goggling at a man that way. 

The streets really were as full as earlier, he realized, and
it would be well after nightfall before he got back to the
Palace if he tried to make his way through the crowds. Of
course, Tyiin might be asleep by then. Maybe. His stomach
growled, almost loudly enough to drown out the dice. She might
order the kitchens not to feed him, if he was too late. 

Ten hard-won paces through the press, and he turned down an
alley, narrow and dark. There were no paving stones. The white
plaster on the windowless walls was cracked and falling to
expose the brick beneath, often as not. The air was rank with
the fetid stench of decay, and he hoped that what squished
under his boots was mud even when it gave off a loathsome
odor. There were no people, either. He could step out with a
good stride. Or what passed for one, today. He could hardly
wait for the day he could walk a few miles again without
panting and aching and needing to lean on a stick. Twisting
alleys, most so narrow his shoulders brushed both sides,
crisscrossed the city in a maze that was easy to get lost in
if you did not know your way. He never took a wrong turn, even
when a narrow, crooked passage suddenly forked into three or

even four that all seemed to meander in roughly the same
direction. There had been a good many times in Ebou Dar when
he needed to avoid eyes, and he knew these alleys like he knew
his own hand. Though, oddly enough, he still had the feeling
he was being watched. He expected to feel that as long as he
had to wear those bloody clothes. 

If he had to struggle through a mass of people and animals
from one alley to another, and occasionally shove his way
across a bridge that seemed a solid wall of humanity, he was
still almost back to the Palace in the time it would have
taken him to go three streets otherwise. Hurrying into the
shadowed passage between a well-lit tavern and a shuttered
lacquerware shop, he wondered what the kitchens would have
ready. More capacious than most, wide enough for three if they
were friendly, this alley let out onto the Mol Hara Square
almost in front of the Tarasin Palace. Suroth was living
there, and the cooks had been outdoing themselves since she
had had the lot of them flogged after her first meal. There
might be oysters with cream, and perhaps gilded fish, and
squid with peppers. Ten strides into the shadows, his foot
came down on something that did not squish, and he went down
in the freezing mud with a grunt, twisting at the last instant
so he did not land on his bad leg. Icy liquid immediately
soaked through his coat. He hoped it was water. 

He grunted again when boots landed on his shoulder. The
fellow toppled off of him, cursing and skidding deeper into
the alley on the mud, and went to one knee, just managing to
catch himself against the side of the tavern short of falling
flat himself. Mat's eyes were accustomed to the dim light,
enough for him to make out a slender, nondescript man. A man
with what appeared to be a large scar on his cheek. Not a man,
though. A creature he had seen rip out his friend's throat
with one bare hand and take a knife out of its own chest and
throw it back at him. And the thing would have landed right in
front of him, in easy reach, if he had not tripped. Maybe a
little twist of ta'veren shaping had worked in his favor,
thank the Light! All that flashed through his head in the time
it took the gholam to catch itself against the wall and turn
its head to glare at him. 

With an oath, Mat snatched his fallen walking staff and
awkwardly hurled it at the creature like a spear. At its legs,
hoping to tangle them, gain a moment. The thing flowed aside
like water, avoiding the staff, boots sliding a little in the
mud, then threw itself toward Mat. The delay had been enough,
though. As soon as the staff left his hand, Mat fumbled inside
his shirt for the foxhead medallion, breaking the leather cord
as he snatched the medallion out. The gholam threw itself at
him, and he swung the medallion desperately. Silver that had
lain cool on his chest brushed across an outstretched hand
with a hiss like bacon frying and a smell of burning flesh.
Fluid as quicksilver, snarling, the thing tried to dodge by
the whirling medallion, to seize some part of Mat. Once it
laid hands on him, he was as good as dead. It would not try to
toy with him this time, as it had in the Rahad. Flailing
continuously, he caught it with the foxhead on the other hand,
across the face, each time with a hiss and stench of burning
as if he had struck with a hot iron. Teeth bared, the gholam

backed away, but in a crouch on the balls of its feet, hands
clawed, ready to jump at the slightest weakness. 

Not letting the spinning medallion slow, Mat pushed un
steadily to his feet, watching the thing that looked a like a
man. He wants you dead as much as he wants her, it had told
him in the Rahad, smiling. It was not talking or smiling now.
He did not know who the "her" was, or the "he," but the rest
was clear as good glass. And here he was, barely able to stay
on his feet. His leg and hip ached like fire, and his ribs.
Not to mention the shoulder the gholam had landed on. He had
to get back to the street, back among people. Maybe enough
people would deter the thing. A small hope, but the only hope
he could see. The street was not far. He could hear the babble
of voices, hardly softened by distance at all. 

He took a careful step backward. His boot slid in something
that gave off a foul smell and threw him against the tavern's
wall. Only frantic swings of the silver foxhead kept the
gholam back. Those voices in the street were so tantalizingly
close. They might as well have been in Barsine. Barsine was 

long dead, and he would be too soon.
"He's down this alley!" a man shouted. "Follow me! Hurry!
He'll get away!"
Mat kept his eyes on the gholam. Its gaze flickered beyond 

him, toward the street, and it hesitated. "I am ordered to
avoid notice, save by those I harvest," it spat at him, "so
you will live a little longer. A little longer." 

Spinning, it ran down the alley, slipping a little in the
mud, yet still seeming to flow as it dodged around behind the
tavern. 

Mat ran after it. He could not have said why, except that it
had tried to kill him, would try again, and his hackles were
stiff. So it was going to kill him at leisure, was it? If the
medallion could hurt it, maybe the medallion could kill it. 

Reaching the corner of the tavern, he saw the gholam at the
same time that it glanced back and saw him. Again, the thing
hesitated for an instant. The tavern's back door stood ajar,
letting out the sounds of revelry. The creature stuck its
hands into a hole left by a missing brick in the back wall of
the building opposite the tavern, and Mat stiffened. It hardly
seemed to need weapons, but if it had hidden one in there. . .
. He did not think he would survive facing that thing with any
sort of weapon. Hands followed arms, and then the gholam's
head went into the hole. Mat's jaw dropped. The gholam's chest
slithered through, its legs, and it was gone. Through an
opening maybe the size of Mat's two hands. 

"I don't think I have ever seen the like," someone said
quietly beside him, and Mat gave a start at realizing he was
no longer alone. The speaker was a stoop-shouldered, white-
haired old man with a large hooked nose planted in the middle
of a sad face and a bundle slung on his back. He was sliding a
very long dagger into a sheath beneath his coat. 

"I have," Mat said hollowly. "In Shadar Logoth." Sometimes
bits of his own memory he thought lost floated up out of no
where, and that one had just surfaced, watching the gholam. It
was one memory he wished had remained lost. 

"Not many survive a visit there," the old man said, peering
at him. His weathered face looked familiar, somehow, but Mat

could not place him. "Whatever took you to Shadar Logoth?" 

"Where are your friends?" Mat said. "The people you were
shouting to?" The alleyway held only the two of them. The
sounds from the street continued unabated, and undisturbed by
any cries about anyone getting away if they did not hurry. 

The old man shrugged. "I'm not certain anyone out there
understood what I was shouting. It's hard enough understanding
them. Anyway, I thought it might scare off the fellow. Seeing
that, though ..." Gesturing toward the hole in the wall, he
laughed mirthlessly, showing gaps in his teeth. "I think maybe
you and I both have the Dark One's own luck." 

Mat grimaced. He had heard that too often about himself, and
he did not like it. Mainly because he was not sure it was not
true. "Maybe we do," he muttered. "Forgive me; I should intro
duce myself to the man who saved my neck. I'm Mat Cauthon. Are
you new-come to Ebou Dar?" That bundle strapped to the
fellow's back gave him the look of a man on the move. "You
will have a hard time finding a place to sleep." He took care
with the gnarled hand the other man put in his. It was all
knobs, as if every bone had been broken at the same time and
had healed badly. It had a strong grip, though. 

"I am Noal Charin, Mat Cauthon. No, I have been here some
time. But my pallet in the attic of The Golden Ducks is now
occupied by a fat Illianer oil merchant who was rousted from
his room this morning in favor of a Seanchan officer. I
thought I'd find somewhere back in this alley for tonight."
Rubbing the side of his big nose with a crooked, knobby
finger, he chuckled as if sleeping in an alley were of no
moment. "It will not be the first time I've slept rough, even
in a city." 

"I think I can do better for you than that," Mat told him,
but the rest of what he had been going to say died on his
tongue. The dice were still spinning in his head, he realized.
He had managed to forget them with the gholam trying to kill
him, but they were still bouncing, still waiting to land. If
they were warning of something worse than the gholam, he did
not want to know. Only, he would. There was no doubt of that.
He would, when it was too late. 

Chapter 17: Pink Ribbons 

Cold winds gusted through the Mol Hara, lifting Mat's cloak
and threatening to freeze the mud caking his clothing as he
and Noal hurried out of the alley. The sun sat on the
rooftops, half-hidden, and the shadows stretched long. With
one hand for his staff and the other gripping the broken cord
of the foxhead, stuffed into a coat pocket where he could
snatch it out if need be, he had to let his cloak go where it
would. He ached from head to foot, the dice rattled warning
inside his skull, and he hardly noticed either thing. He was
too busy trying to watch every direction at once, and
wondering just how small a hole that thing could get through.
He found himself uneasily eyeing cracks between the square's
paving stones. Though it hardly seemed likely the thing would
come at him in the open.

 A hum carried from surrounding streets, but here only a slat-
ribbed dog moved, running past the fountained statue of long-
dead Queen Nariene. Some said her uplifted hand pointed to the
ocean's bounty that had enriched Ebou Dar, and some that it
pointed in warning of dangers. Others said her successor had
wanted to draw attention to the fact that only one of the
statue's breasts was uncovered, proclaiming that Nariene had
only been of middling honesty. 

In other days the Mol Hara would have been full of strolling
lovers and lingering street vendors and hopeful beggars at
this hour even in winter, but beggars found themselves
snatched off the streets and put to work, since the Seanchan
came, and the rest stayed away even in daylight. The reason
was the Tarasin Palace, that great mound of white domes and
marble spires and wrought-iron balconies, the residence of
Tylin Quintara Mitsobar, by the Grace of the Light, Queen of
Altara-or as much of Altara as lay within a few days' ride of
Ebou Dar-Mistress of the Four Winds and Guardian of the Sea of
Storms. And, perhaps more important, the residence of the High
Lady Suroth Sabelle Meldarath, commanding the Forerunners for
the Empress of the Seanchan, might she live forever. A
position of much greater eminence in Ebou Dar, at the moment.
Tylin’s green-booted guards stood at every entrance in their
baggy white trousers and gilded breastplates worn over green
coats, and so did men and women in those insectile helmets
with armor striped in blue-and-yellow or green-and-white or
any other combination you might happen to think of. The Queen
of Altara required security and silence for her rest. Or
rather, Suroth said she did, and what Suroth said Tylin
wanted, Tyiin soon decided that she did indeed want. 

After a moment's consideration, Mat led Noal to one of the
stableyard gates. There was more chance of getting a stranger
in there than if he used the grand marble stairs that led down
into the square. Not to mention a much better chance of
getting all the mud off him before he had to face Tyiin. She
had made her displeasure markedly known the last time he came
back disheveled, after a tavern brawl. 

A handful of Ebou Dari guards stood to one side of the open
gates with halberds, and the same number of Seanchan on the
other with tasseled spears, all as stiff as Nariene's statue. 

"The Light's blessing on all here," Mat murmured politely to
the Ebou Dari guards. It was always best to be polite to Ebou
Dari until you were sure of them. Afterwards, too, for that
matter. Even so, they were more . . . flexible . . . than the
Seanchan. 

"And on you, my Lord," their stocky officer replied, ambling
forward, and Mat recognized him, Surlivan Sarat, a good
fellow, always ready with a quip and possessing a fine eye for
horses. Shaking his head, Surlivan tapped the side of his
pointed helmet with the thin, gilded rod of his office. "Have
you been in another fight, my Lord? She will go up like a
waterspout, when she sees you." 

Squaring his shoulders, and trying not to lean so obviously
on his staff, Mat bristled. Ready with a quip? Come to think
on it, the sun-dark man had a tongue like a rasp. And his eye
for horses was not all that fine, either. "Will there be any
questions if my friend here beds down with my men?" Mat asked

roughly. "There shouldn't be. There's room for one more with
my fellows." Room for more than one, truth be told. Eight men
had died so far, for following him to Ebou Dar. 

"None from me, my Lord," Surlivan said, though he eyed the
scrawny man at Mat's side and pursed his lips judiciously.
Noal's coat appeared of good quality, though, at least in the
dim light, and he did have his lace, and in a better state
than Mat's. Perhaps that tipped the balance. "And she doesn't
need to know everything, so none from her, either." 

Mat scowled, but before intemperate words could put himself
and Noal in the soup kettle, three armored Seanchan galloped
up to the gate, and Surlivan turned to face them. 

"You and your lady wife live in the Queen's Palace?" Noal
enquired, starting toward the gate. 

Mat pulled him back. "Wait on them," he said, nodding toward
the Seanchan. His lady wife? Bloody women! Bloody dice in his
bloody head! 

"I have dispatches for the High Lady Suroth," one of the
Seanchan announced, slapping a leather satchel hanging from
one armored shoulder. Her helmet bore a single thin plume,
marking her a low-ranking officer, yet her horse was a tall
dun gelding with a look of speed. The other two animals were
sturdy enough, but there was nothing to be said for them
beyond that. 

"Enter with the blessings of the Light," Surlivan said,
bowing slightly. 

The Seanchan woman's bow from her saddle was a mirror of
his. "The blessings of the Light be on you also," she drawled,
and the three of them clattered into the stableyard. 

"It is very strange," Surlivan mused, peering after the
three. "They always ask permission of us, not them." He
flicked his rod toward the Seanchan guards on the other side
of the gates. They had not stirred an inch from their rigid
stance, or even glanced at the arrivals that Mat had noticed. 

"And what would they do if you said they couldn't go in?"
Noal asked quietly, easing the bundle on his back. 

Surlivan spun on his heel. "It is enough that I have given
oath to my Queen," he said in an expressionless voice, "and
she has given hers . . . where she has given it. Give your
friend a bed, my Lord. And warn him, there are things better
left unsaid in Ebou Dar, questions better left unasked." 

Noal looked befuddled and began protesting that he was sim
ply curious, but Mat exchanged further benisons and courtesies
with the Altaran officer-as quickly as he could, to be
sure-and hustled his newfound acquaintance through the gates,
explaining about Listeners in a low voice. The man might have
saved his hide from the gholam, but that did not mean he would
let the fellow hand it over to the Seanchan. They had people
called Seekers, too, and from the little he had heard-even
people who spoke freely about the Deathwatch Guard locked
their teeth when it came to the Seekers-from the little he had
heard, Seekers made Whitecloak Questioners look like boys
tormenting flies, nasty but hardly anything to worry a man. 

"I see," the old man said slowly. "I hadn't known that." He
sounded irritated with himself. "You must spend a good deal of
time with the Seanchan. Do you know the High Lady Suroth as
well, then? I must say, I had no idea you had such high connec

tions." 

"I spend time with soldiers in taverns, when I can," Mat re
plied sourly. When Tyiin let him. Light, he might as well be
married! "Suroth doesn't know I'm alive." And he devoutly
hoped it remained that way. 

The three Seanchan were already out of sight, their horses
being led into the stables, but several dozen sui'dam were
giving damane their evening exercise, walking them in a big
circle around the stone-paved yard. Nearly half the gray-clad
damane were dark-skinned women, lacking the jewelry they had
worn as Wind-finders. There were more like them in the Palace
and elsewhere; 

the Seanchan had had a rich harvest from Sea Folk vessels
that had failed to escape. Most wore sullen resignation or
stony faces, but seven or eight stared ahead of them, lost and
confused, disbelieving still. Each of those had a Seanchan-
born damane at her side, holding her hand or with an arm
around her, smiling and whispering to her under the approving
eyes of the women who wore the bracelets attached to their
silvery collars. A few of those dazed women clutched the
damane walking with them as if holding to lifelines. It would
have been enough to make Mat shiver, if his damp clothes had
not already been doing the job. 

He tried to hurry Noal across the yard, but the circle
brought a damane who was neither Seanchan nor Atha'an Miere
near him, linked to a plump, graying sui'dam, an olive-skinned
woman who might have passed for Altaran and someone's mother.
A stern mother with a possibly fractious child, from the way
she regarded her charge. Teslyn Baradon had fleshed out after
a month and a half in Seanchan captivity, yet her ageless face
still looked as if she ate briars three meals a day. On the
other hand, she walked placidly on her leash and obeyed the
sui'dam's murmured directions without hesitation, pausing to
bow very deeply to him and Noal. For an instant, though, her
dark eyes flashed hatred at him before she and the sui'dam
continued their circuit of the stable-yard. Placidly,
obediently. He had seen damane upended and switched till they
howled in this same stableyard for making any sort of fuss,
Teslyn among them. She had done him no good turns, and maybe a
few bad, but he would not have wished this on her. 

"Better than being dead, I suppose," he muttered, moving on.
Teslyn was a hard woman, likely plotting every moment how to
escape, yet hardness only took you so far. The Mistress of the
Ships and her Master of the Blades had died on the stake
without ever screaming, but it had not saved them. 

"Do you believe that?" Noal asked absently, fumbling
awkwardly with his bundle again. His broken hands had handled
that knife well enough, but they seemed clumsy at everything
else. 

Mat frowned at him. No; he was not sure he believed it.
Those silver a'dam seemed too much like the invisible collar
Tylin had on him. Then again, Tylin could tickle him under the
chin the rest of his life if it kept him off the stake. Light,
he wished those bloody dice in his head would just stop and
get it over with! No, that was a lie. Since he had finally
realized what they meant, he had never wanted the dice to
stop.

 The room Chel Vanin and the surviving Redarms shared lay not
far from the stables, a long white-plastered chamber with a
low ceiling and too many beds for those who remained alive.
Vanin, a balding suety heap, was lying on one in his
shirtsleeves, an open book propped on his chest. Mat was
surprised the man could read. Spitting through a gap in his
teeth, Vanin eyed Mat's mud-smeared clothes. "You been
fighting again?" he asked. "She won't like that, I reckon." He
did not rise. With a few startling exceptions, Vanin
considered himself as good as any lord or lady. 

"Trouble, Lord Mat?" Harnan growled, leaping to his feet. He
was a solid man, physically and by temperament, but his heavy
jaw clenched, twisting the hawk crudely tattooed on his cheek.
"Begging your pardon, but you're in no condition for it. Tell
us what he looks like, and we'll sort him out for you." 

The last three gathered behind him with eager expressions,
two grabbing for their coats while still tucking in
shirttails. Metwyn, a boyish-appearing Cairhienin who was ten
years older than Mat, instead picked up his sword from where
it was propped at the foot of his bed and eased a little of
the blade out of the scabbard to check the edge. He was the
best of them with a sword, very good indeed, though Gorderan
came close for all he looked a blacksmith. Gorderan was not
nearly as slow as his thick shoulders made him appear. A dozen
Redarms had followed Mat Cauthon to Ebou Dar, eight of those
were dead, and the rest were stuck here in the Palace where
they could not pinch the maids, get into a fight over dice,
and drink till they fell on their faces, as they could have
staying at an inn and knowing the innkeeper would see them
carried up to their beds, though maybe with their purses a
little lighter than they had been. 

"Noal here can tell you what happened better than I can,"
Mat replied, pushing his hat back on his head. "He'll be
bedding in here with you. He saved my life tonight." 

That brought exclamations of shock, and cries of approbation
for Noal, not to mention slaps on the back that almost toppled
the old fellow. Vanin went so far as to mark his place in the
book with a fat finger and sit up on the side of his thin
mattress. 

Setting his bundle down on a vacant bed, Noal told the tale
with elaborate gestures, playing down his own role and even
making himself a bit of a buffoon, slipping in the mud and
gaping at the gholam while Mat fought like a champion. The man
was a natural storyteller, as good as a gleeman for making you
see what he described. Harnan and the Redarms laughed
genially, knowing what he was about, not stealing their
captain's thunder, and approving of it, but laughter died when
he came to Mat's attacker slipping away through a tiny hole in
a wall. He made you see that, too. Vanin put down his book and
spat through his teeth again. The gholam had left Vanin and
Harnan half-dead in the Rahad. Half-dead because it was after
other prey. 

"The thing wants me for some reason, it seems," Mat said
lightly when the old man finished and sank onto the bed with
his belongings, seemingly exhausted. "It probably played at
dice with me some time I don't recall. None of you has to
worry, as long as you don't get between it and me." He

grinned, trying to make it all a joke, but no one so much as
smiled. "In any case, I'll parcel out gold to you in the
morning. You'll book passage on the first ship leaving for
Illian, and take Olver with you. Thom and Juilin, too, if
they'll go." He imagined the thief-catcher would, anyway. "And
Nerim and Lopin, of course." He had gotten used to having a
pair of serving men look after him, but he hardly needed them
here. "Talmanes must be somewhere close to Caemlyn by this
time. You shouldn't have much trouble finding him." When they
were gone, he would be alone with Tylin. Light, he would
rather face the gholam again! 

Harnan and the other three Redarms exchanged looks, Fergin
scratching his head as it he did not quite understand. He
might not. The bony man was a good soldier-not the best, mind,
but good enough-yet he was not very bright when it came to
other things. 

"That wouldn't be right," Harnan allowed finally. "One
thing, Lord Talmanes'd have our hides if we came back without
you." The other three nodded. Fergin could understand that. 

"And you, Vanin?" Mat asked. 

The fat man shrugged. "I take that boy away from Riselle,
and he'll gut me like a trout the first time I go to sleep. I
would myself, in his boots. Anyway, I got time to read, here.
Don't get much chance for that working as a farrier." That was
one of the itinerant trades he claimed to follow. The other
was stableman. In truth, he was a horsethief and poacher, the
best in two countries and maybe more. 

"You're all mad," Mat said with a frown. "Just because it
wants me, doesn't mean it won't kill you if you get in the
way. The offer stays open. Anyone who comes to his senses can
go." 

"I have seen your like before," Noal said suddenly. The
stooped old man was the image of hard age and exhaustion, but
his eyes were bright and sharp studying Mat. "Some men have an
air about them that makes other men follow where they lead.
Some lead to devastation, others to glory. I think your name
may go into the history books." 

Harnan looked as confused as Fergin. Vanin spat and lay back
down, opening his book. 

"If all my luck goes away, maybe," Mat muttered. He knew
what it took to get into the histories. A man could get
killed, doing that sort of thing. 

"Better clean up before she sees you," Fergin piped up sud
denly. "All that mud will put a burr under her saddle for
sure." 

Snatching his hat off angrily, Mat stalked out without a
word. Well, he stalked as well as he could, hobbling on a
walking staff. Before the door closed behind him, he heard
Noal starting a story about one time he sailed on a Sea Folk
ship and learned to bathe in cold salt water. At least, that
was how it began. 

He intended to get himself clean before Tylin saw him-he
did-but as he limped through hallways hung with the flowered
tapestries Ebou Dari called summer-hangings, for the season
they evoked, four serving men in the Palace's green-and-white
livery and no fewer than seven maids suggested he might want
to bathe and change his clothes before the Queen saw him,

offering to draw him a bath and fetch clean garments without
her learning of it. They did not know everything about him and
Tylin, thank the Light-no one but Tylin and himself knew the
worst bits- but they knew too bloody much. Worse, they
approved, every last flaming servant in the whole flaming
Tarasin Palace. For one thing, Tylin was Queen and could do as
she pleased, so far as they were concerned. For another, her
temper had been on a razor's edge since the Seanchan captured
the city, and if Mat Cauthon scrubbed and bright in lace kept
her from snapping their noses off for trifles, then they would
scrub behind his ears and wrap him in lace like a Sunday gift! 

"Mud?" he said to a pretty, smiling maid spreading her
skirts in a curtsy. There was a twinkle in her dark eyes, and
the plunging neckline of her bodice displayed a fair amount of
bosom to almost rival Riselle's. On another day he might have
taken a little time to enjoy looking. "What mud? I don't see
any mud!" Her mouth dropped open, and she forgot to
straighten, staring at him with her knees bent as he hobbled
away. 

Juilin Sandar, rounding a corner quickly, nearly walked into
him. The Tairen thief-catcher leaped back with a muffled oath,
his swarthy face turning gray until he realized who had almost
run him over. Then he muttered an apology and started to hurry
on by. 

"Has Thorn got you mixed into his foolishness, Juilin?" Mat
said. Juilin and Thorn shared a room deep in the servants'
quarters, and there was no excuse for him to be up here. In
that dark Tairen coat, flaring over his boot tops, Juilin
would stand out among the servants like a duck in a chicken
coop. Suroth was strict about things like that, stricter than
Tylin. The only reason for it Mat could see was whatever Thorn
and Beslan were meddling with. "No; don't bother telling me.
I've made an offer to Harnan and the others, and it's open to
you, too. If you want to leave, I'll give you the money for
it." 

Actually, Juilin did not look ready to tell him anything.
The thief-catcher tucked his thumbs behind his belt and met
Mat's gaze levelly. "What did Harnan and the others say? And
what is Thorn doing that you call foolish? This is one set of
rooftops he knows his way around better than you or I." 

"The gholam is still in Ebou Dar, Juilin." Thorn knew that
the Game of Houses was what he knew, and he loved sticking his
nose into politics. "The thing tried to kill me, earlier this
evening." 

Juilin grunted as if he had been hit in the pit of his
belly, and scrubbed a hand through his short black hair. "I
have a reason to stay a while longer," he said, "even so." His
air changed slightly, to something stubborn and defensive and
tinged with guilt. He had never shown a roving eye that Mat
had seen, but when a man looked like that, it could only mean
one thing. 

"Take her with you," Mat said. "And if she won't go, well,
you'll not be in Tear an hour before you have a woman on each
knee. That's the thing about women, Juilin. If one says no,
there's always another will say yes." 

A serving man hurrying by with an armload of linen towels
stared at Mat's muddiness in amazement, but Juilin thought it

was at him, and snatched his thumbs free of his belt and at
tempted to adopt a more humble stance. Without much success.
Thorn might sleep with the servants, yet from the beginning he
had somehow made it seem to be his own choice, an
eccentricity, and no one thought it odd to see him up here,
perhaps slipping into Riselle's rooms that had once been
Mat's. Juilin had gone on at length about being a thief-
catcher-never a thief-taker-and stared so many prickly
lordlings and complacent merchants in the eye to show he was
as good as they that everyone in the Palace knew who and what
he was. And where he was supposed to be, which was
belowstairs. 

"My Lord is wise," he said, too loudly, and making a stiff,
jerky bow. "My Lord knows all about women. If my Lord will
forgive a humble man, I must return to my place." Turning to
go, he spoke over his shoulder, still in a carrying voice. "I
heard today that if my Lord comes back one more time looking
like he's been dragged in the street, the Queen intends taking
a switch to my Lord's person." 

And that was the stone that broke the wagon clean in two. 

Flinging open the doors of Tylin’s apartments, Mat strode
in, sailed his hat across the width of the room. . . . And
stopped dead, his mouth hanging open and everything he had
planned to say frozen on his tongue. His hat hit the carpets
and rolled, he did not see where. A gust of wind rattled the
tall triple-arched windows that let out onto a long, screened
balcony overlooking the Mol Hara. 

Tyiin turned in a chair carved to look like gilded bamboo
and stared at him over her golden winecup. Waves of glossy
black hair touched with gray at the temples framed a beautiful
face with the eyes of a bird of prey, and not one best pleased
at the moment. Inconsequential things seemed to leap at him.
She kicked her crossed leg slightly, rippling layered green
and white petticoats. Pale green lace trimmed the oval opening
in her gown that half exposed her full breasts, where the
jeweled hilt of her marriage knife dangled. She was not alone.
Suroth sat facing her, frowning into her winecup and tapping
long fingernails on the arm of her chair, a pretty enough
woman despite her hair being shaved to that long crest, except
that she made Tylin seem a rabbit by comparison. Two of those
fingernails on each hand were lacquered blue. Seated at her
side was a little girl, of all things, also in an elaborately
flowered robe over pleated white skirts, but with a sheer veil
covering her entire head-it seemed to be shaved
completely!-and wearing a fortune in rubies. Even in a state
of shock, he noticed rubies and gold. A slender woman, nearly
as dark as her stark black gown and tall even had she been
Aiel, stood behind the girl's chair with her arms folded and
ill-concealed impatience. Her wavy black hair was short, but
not shaved at all, so she was neither of the Blood nor
so'jhin. Imperiously beautiful, she put Tylin and Suroth both
in the shade. He noticed beautiful women, too, even when he
did feel hit in the head with a hammer. 

It was not the presence of Suroth or the strangers that
jerked him to a halt, though. The dice had stopped, landing
with a thunder that made his skull ring. That had never
happened before. He stood there waiting for one of the

Forsaken to leap out of the flames in the marble fireplace, or
the earth to swallow the Palace beneath him. 

"You aren't listening to me, pigeon," Tylin cooed in danger
ous tones. "I said, take yourself down to the kitchens and
have a pastry until I have time for you. Have a bath while
you're about it." Her dark eyes glittered. "We will discuss
your mud later." 

In a daze, he ran it through again in his head. He had
walked into the room, the dice had stopped, and. . . . Nothing
had happened. Nothing! 

"This man has been set upon," the tiny, veiled figure said,
rising. Her tone turned cold as the wind outside. "You told me
the streets were safe, Suroth! I am displeased." 

Something had to happen! It already should have! Something
always happened when the dice stopped. 

"I assure you, Tuon, the streets of Ebou Dar are as safe as
the streets of Seandar itself," Suroth replied, and that
pulled Mat out of his stupor. She sounded . . . anxious.
Suroth made other people anxious. 

A slender, graceful young man in the almost transparent robe
of a da'covale appeared at her side with a tall blue porcelain
pitcher, bowing his head and silently offering to replenish
her wine. And giving Mat another start. He had not realized
anyone else was present in the room. The yellow-haired man in
his indecent garment was not the only one, either. A slim but
nicely rounded red-haired woman wearing the same sheer robe
was kneeling beside a table that held spice bottles and more
fine Sea Folk porcelain wine pitchers and a small gilded brass
brazier with the pokers needed for heating the wine, while a
graying nervous-eyed serving woman wearing green-and-white
House Mitsobar livery stood at the other end. And in one
corner, so motionless that he still almost missed her, yet
another Seanchan, a short woman with half her golden head
shaved and a bosom that might outmatch Riselle's if her dress
of red-and-yellow panels had not covered her neck to the chin.
Not that he had any real desire to find out. Seanchan were
very touchy about their so'jhin. Tylin was touchy about any
woman. There had not been a serving woman younger than his
grandmother in her apartments since he was able to get out of
bed. 

Suroth looked at the graceful man as though wondering what
he was, then shook her head wordlessly and turned her
attention back to the child, Tuon, who waved the fellow away.
The liveried serving maid scurried forward to take the pitcher
from him and try to refill Tylin’s cup, but the Queen made a
very small gesture that sent her back to the wall. Tylin was
sitting very, very still. Little wonder that she wanted to
avoid notice if this Tuon frightened Suroth, as she plainly
did. 

"I am displeased, Suroth," the girl said again, sternly
frowning down at the other woman. Even standing, she did not
have all that far down to stare at the seated High Lady. Mat
supposed she must be a High Lady, too, only Higher than
Suroth. "You have recovered much, and that will please the
Empress, may she live forever, but your ill-considered attack
eastward was a disaster that must not be repeated. And if the
streets of this city are safe, how can he have been set upon?"

 Suroth's knuckles were white from gripping the chair arm,
and her winecup. She glared at Tylin as though the lecture 

were her fault, and Tylin gave her an apologetic smile and
bowed her head. Oh, blood and ashes, he was going to pay for
that! 

"I fell down, that's all." His voice might as well have been
fireworks for the way heads whipped around. Suroth and Tuon
looked shocked that he had spoken. Tylin looked like an eagle
who wanted her rabbit fried. "My Ladies," he added, but that
did not seem to improve anything. 

The tall woman suddenly reached out and snatched the wine-
cup from Tuon's hand, throwing it into the fireplace. Sparks
showered up the chimney. The serving woman stirred as if to
retrieve the cup before it could be damaged further, then
subsided at a touch from the so'jhin. 

"You are being foolish, Tuon," the tall woman said, and her
voice made the girl's sternness seem laughter. The too-
familiar Seanchan drawl seemed almost absent entirely. "Suroth
has the situation here well in her control. What happened to
the east can happen in any battle. You must stop wasting time
on ridiculous trifles." 

Suroth gaped at her in astonishment for an instant before
she could assume a frozen mask. Mat did a little gaping on his
own part. Use that tone of voice to one of the Blood, and you
were lucky to escape with a trip to the flogging post! 

Shockingly, Tuon inclined her head slightly. "You may be
right, Anath," she said calmly, and even with a touch of defer
ence. "Time and the omens will tell. But the young man plainly
is lying. Perhaps he fears Tylin's anger. But his injuries
clearly are more than he could sustain falling down unless
there are cliffs in the city I have not seen." 

So he feared Tylin’s anger, did he? Well, come to that, he
did, a little. Only a little, mind. But he did not like being
reminded of it. Leaning on his shoulder-high staff, he tried
to make himself comfortable. They could ask a man to sit,
after all. "I was hurt the day your lads took the city," he
said with his cheekiest grin. "Your lot were flinging around
lightning and balls of fire something fierce. I'm just about
healed, though, thank you for asking." Tylin buried her face
in her winecup, and still managed to shoot him a look over the
rim that promised retribution later. 

Tuon's skirts rustled as she crossed the carpets to him. The
dark face behind that sheer veil might have been pretty,
without the expression of a judge passing sentence of death.
And with a decent head of hair instead of a bald pate. Her
eyes were large and liquid, but utterly impersonal. All other
long fingernails were lacquered, he noticed, a bright red. He
wondered whether that signified anything. Light, a man could
live in luxury for years on the price of those rubies. 

She reached up with one hand, putting her fingertips under
his chin, and he started to jerk back. Until Tylin glared at
him over Tuon's head, promising retribution here and now, if
he did any such thing. Glowering, he let the girl shift his
head for her study. 

"You fought us?" she demanded. "You have sworn the oaths?"
"I swore," he muttered. "For the other, I had no chance."
"So you would have," she murmured. Circling him slowly, she

continued her study, fingering the lace at his wrist, touching
the black silk scarf tied around his neck, lifting the edge of
his cloak to examine the embroidery. He endured it, refusing
to shift his stance, glowering fit to match Tylin. Light, he
had bought horses without so thorough an examination! Next,
she would want to look at his teeth! 

"The boy told you how he was injured," Anath said in frosty
tones of command. "If you want him, then buy him and be done.
The day has been long, and you should be in your bed." 

Tuon paused, examining the long signet ring on his finger.
It had been carved as a try-piece, to show the carver's
skills, a running fox and two ravens in flight, all surrounded
by crescent moons, and he had bought it by chance, though he
had come to like it. He wondered whether she wanted it.
Straightening, she stared up at his face. "Good advice,
Anath," she said. "How much for him, Tylin? If he is a
favorite, name your price, and I will double it." 

Tylin choked on her wine and began coughing. Mat almost fell
off his staff. The girl wanted to buy him? Well, she might as
well have been looking at a horse for all the expression on
her face. 

"He is a free man, High Lady," Tylin said unsteadily when
she could speak. "I ... I cannot sell him." Mat could have
laughed, if Tylin did not sound as though she were trying to
keep her teeth from chattering, if bloody Tuon had not just
asked his price. A free man! Ha! 

The girl turned away from him as though dismissing him from
her mind. "You are afraid, Tylin, and under the Light, you
should not be." Gliding to Tylin’s chair, she lifted her veil
with both hands, baring the lower half of her face, and bent
to kiss Tylin lightly, once on each eye and once on the lips.
Tylin looked astounded. "You are a sister to me, and to
Suroth," Tuon said in a surprisingly gentle voice. "I myself
will write your name as one of the Blood. You will be the High
Lady Tylin as well as Queen of Altara, and more, as was
promised you." 

Anath snorted, loudly. 

"Yes, Anath, I know," the girl sighed, straightening and low
ering her veil. "The day has been long and arduous, and I am
weary. But I will show Tylin what lands are in mind for her,
so she will know and be easy in her mind. There are maps in my
chambers, Tylin. You will honor me by accompanying me, there?
I have excellent masseuses." 

"The honor is mine," Tylin said, sounding not all that much
steadier than before. 

At a gesture from the so'jhin, the yellow-haired man went
running to open the door and kneel holding it open, but there
was still all the smoothing and adjusting of clothes that
women had to do before they would go anywhere, Seanchan or
Altaran or from anywhere else. Though, the red-haired
da'covale performed the function for Tuon and Suroth. Mat took
the opportunity to draw Tylin a little aside, far enough that
he would not be overheard. The so'jhin's blue eyes kept coming
back to him, he realized, but at least Tuon, accepting the
attentions of the slender da'covale woman, seemed to have
forgotten he existed. 

"I didn't just fall down," he told Tylin softly. "The gholam

tried to kill me not much more than an hour ago. It might be
best if I left. That thing wants me, and it'll kill anybody
near me, too." The plan had just occurred to him, but he
thought it had a good chance of success. 

Tylin sniffed. "He-it-it cannot have you, piglet." She di
rected a look at Tuon that might have made the girl forget
about Tylin being a sister had she seen. "And neither can
she." At least she had sense enough to whisper. 

"Who is she?" he asked. Well, it had never been more than a
chance. 

"The High Lady Tuon, and you know as much as I," Tylin
replied, just as quietly. "Suroth jumps when she speaks, and
she jumps when Anath speaks, though I would almost swear that
Anath is some sort of servant. They are a very peculiar
people, sweetling." Suddenly she flaked some mud from his
cheek with one finger. He had not realized he had mud on his
face, too. Suddenly, the eagle was strong in her eyes. "Do you
recall the pink ribbons, sweetling? When I come back, we'll
see how you look in pink." 

She swanned out of the room with Tuon and Suroth, trailed by
Anath and the so'jhin and the da'covale, leaving Mat with the
grandmotherly serving woman who began to clean up the wine
table. He sank into one of the bamboo carved chairs and rested
his head in his hands. 

Any other time, those pink ribbons would have had him gib
bering. He never should have tried to get his own back with
her. Even the gholam did not occupy much of his thoughts. The
dice had stopped and. . . . What? He had come face-to-face, or
near enough, with three people he had not met before, but that
could not be it. Maybe it was something to do with Tylin
becoming one of the Blood. But always before, when the dice
stopped, something had happened to him, personally. 

He sat there worrying over it while the serving woman called
in others to carry everything away, sat there until Tylin
returned. She had not forgotten about the pink ribbons, and
that made him forget about anything else for quite a long
time. 

Chapter 18: An Offer 

The days after the gholam tried to kill him settled into
rhythms that irritated Mat no end. The gray sky never altered,
except to give rain or not. 

There was talk in the streets of a man being killed by a
wolf not far outside the city, his throat ripped. No one was
worried, just curious; wolves had not been seen close to Ebou
Dar in years. Mat worried. City people might believe a wolf
would come that close to city walls, but he knew better. The
gholam had not gone away. Harnan and the other Redarms
stubbornly refused to leave, claiming they could watch his
back, and Vanin refused without reasons, unless a muttered
comment that Mat had a good eye for fast horses was supposed
to be one. He spat after he said it, though. Riselle, her
olive face pretty enough to make a man swallow, her big dark

eyes knowing enough to dry his tongue, inquired about Olver's
age, and when he said close on ten, she looked surprised and
tapped her full lips thoughtfully, but if she changed anything
in the boy's lessons, he still came away from them bubbling
equally over her bosom and the books she read him. Mat thought
Olver would almost have given up his nightly games of Snakes
and Foxes for Riselle and the books. And when the lad ran out
of the rooms that once had been Mat's, Thorn often slipped in
with his harp under his arm. By itself that was enough to make
Mat grind his teeth, only that was not the half. 

Thorn and Beslan frequently went out together, not inviting
him, and were gone for half the day, or half the night.
Neither would say a word more about their schemes, though
Thorn had the grace to look embarrassed. Mat hoped they were
not going to get people killed for nothing, but they showed
little interest in his opinions. Beslan glared at the very
sight of him. Juilin continued to slip abovestairs and was
seen by Suroth, which earned him a strapping hung up by his
wrists from a stallpost in the stables. Mat saw his welts
tended by Vanin-the man claimed doctoring men was the same as
doctoring horses-and warned him it could be worse next time,
but the fool was back on the upper floors that very night,
still wincing from the weight of his shirt on his back. It had
to be a woman, though the thief-catcher refused to say. Mat
suspected one of the Seanchan noblewomen. One of the Palace
servants could have met him in his own room, with Thorn out of
it so much. 

Not Suroth or Tuon, to be sure, but they were not the only
Seanchan High Blood in the Palace. Most of the Seanchan nobles
rented rooms, or more often whole houses, in the city, but
several had come with Suroth and a handful with the girl, too.
More than one of the women looked a pleasant armful in spite
of their crested heads and their way of staring down their
noses at everybody without shaved temples. If they noticed
them more than they did the furniture, that was. If it seemed
unlikely that one of those haughty women would look twice at a
man who slept in the servant's quarters, well, the Light knew
women had peculiar tastes in men. He had no choice but to
leave Juilin alone. Whoever the woman was, she might get the
thief-catcher beheaded yet, but that sort of fever had to burn 

itself out before a man could think straight. Women did
strange things to a man's head.
The newly arrived ships disgorged people and animals and 

cargo for days on end, enough that the city's massive walls
would have burst from the inside had they all stayed, but they
flowed through the city and out into the countryside with
their families and their crafts and their livestock, prepared
to put down roots. Soldiers passed through in thousands, too,
well-ordered infantry and cavalry with the flair of veterans,
moving north in bright-colored armor, and east across the
river. Mat gave up trying to count them. Sometimes he saw
strange creatures, though most of those were unloaded above
the city to avoid the streets. Torm like three-eyed bronze-
scaled cats the size of horses, sending most real horses
around them into a frenzy just by their presence, and corim,
like hairy wingless birds as tall as a man, tall ears
twitching constantly and long beaks seeming to yearn for flesh

to rend, and huge s'redit with their long noses and longer
tusks. Raken and the larger to'raken flew from their landing
site below the Rahad, huge lizards spreading wings like bats
and carrying men on their backs. The names were easy enough to 

pick up; any Seanchan soldier was eager to discuss the
necessity of scouts on raken and the abilities of corim at
tracking, whether s'redit were useful for more than moving 

heavy loads and torm too intelligent to trust. He learned a
great deal of interest from men who wanted what most soldiers
did, a drink and a woman and a bit of a gamble, not
necessarily in any given order. Those soldiers were indeed
veterans. Seanchan was an Empire larger than all the nations
between the Aryth Ocean and the Spine of the World, all under
one Empress, but with a history of almost constant rebellions
and revolts that kept its soldiers' skills keen. The farmers
would be harder to dig out. 

Not all the soldiers left, of course. A strong garrison
remained, not only Seanchan, but steel-veiled Taraboner
lancers and Amadician pikemen with their breastplates painted
to resemble Seanchan armor. And Altarans, too, besides Tylin’s
House armsmen. According to the Seanchan, the Altarans from
inland, with red slashes crisscrossing their breastplates,
were Tylin’s as much as the fellows guarding the Tarasin
Palace, which, strangely, did not seem to best please her. It
did not please the fellows from inland very much, either. They
and the men in Mitsobar's green-and-white eyed each other like
strange tomcats in a small room. There was plenty of glaring
going on, Taraboners at Amadicians, Amadicians at Altarans,
and the other way round, well-aged, longstanding animosities
bubbling to the surface, but no one went further than shaken
fists and a few curses. Five hundred men of the Deathwatch
Guards had come off the ships and remained in Ebou Dar for
some reason. The ordinary sort of crime expected in any large
city had fallen off dramatically under the Seanchan, but the
Guards took to patrolling the streets as if they expected
cutpurses, bullyboys and maybe fully armed bands of brigands
to spring out of the pavement. The Altarans and the Amadicians
and the Taraboners kept their tempers reined in. No one but a
fool argued with the Deathwatch Guards, not more than once.
And another contingent of the Guards had taken up residence in
the city, too, a hundred Ogier, of all things, in the red-and-
black. Sometimes they patrolled with the others, and sometimes
they wandered about with their long-handled axes on their
shoulders. They were not at all like Mat's friend Loial. Oh,
they had the same wide noses and tufted ears and long eyebrows
that drooped to their cheeks beside eyes the size of teacups,
but the Gardeners looked at a man as though wondering whether
he needed pruning of a few limbs. Nobody at all was fool
enough to argue even once with the Gardeners. 

Seanchan flowed out from Ebou Dar, and news flowed in. Even
when they had to sleep in the attic, merchants preened in the
common rooms of inns, smoking their pipes and telling what
they knew that no one else did. So long as the telling did not
affect their profits. The merchants' guards cared little for
profits they would not share and told everything, some of it
true. Seamen spread tales for anyone who would buy a mug of
ale, or better, hot spiced wine, and when they had drunk

enough, they talked even more, of ports they had visited, and
events they had witnessed, and likely dreams they had had
after the last time their heads were full of fumes. Still, it
was clear the world outside Ebou Dar was seething like the Sea
of Storms. Tales of Aiel looting and burning came from
everywhere, and armies were on the move other than the
Seanchan, armies in Tear and Murandy, in Arad Doman and Andor,
in Amadicia, which was not yet entirely under Seanchan
control, and dozens of armed gatherings too small to be called
armies in the heartland of Altara itself. Except for the men
in Altara and Amadicia, no one really seemed sure who intended
to fight whom, and there was some doubt about Altara. Altarans 

had a way of taking advantage of troubles to try paying off
grievances against their neighbors.
The news that shook the city most, though, was of Rand. Mat 

tried his best not to think of him, or Perrin, but avoiding
those odd swirls of color in his head was difficult when the
Dragon Reborn was on everyone's lips. The Dragon Reborn was
dead, some claimed, murdered by Aes Sedai, by the whole White
Tower descending on him at once in Cairhien, or maybe it was
in Illian, or Tear. No, they had kidnapped him, and he was
held prisoner in the White Tower. No, he had gone to the White
Tower on his own and sworn fealty to the Amyrlin Seat. The
last gained great credence because a number of men claimed to
have seen a proclamation, signed by Elaida herself, that
announced as much. Mat had his doubts, about Rand being dead
or swearing fealty, at least. For some odd reason, he felt
sure he would know if Rand died, and as for the other, he did
not believe the man would put himself within a hundred miles
of the White Tower voluntarily. Dragon Reborn or no Dragon
Reborn, he had to have more sense than that. 

That news-all the versions of it-stirred the Seanchan the
way a stick stirs an antheap. High-ranking officers strode the
halls of the Tarasin Palace at every hour of the day and
night, their odd, plumed helmets beneath their arms, their
boots ringing on the floor tiles, their faces set. Couriers
raced away from Ebou Dar, on horses and on to'raken. Sui'dam
and damane began patrolling the streets instead of just
standing guard at the gates, once more hunting for women who
could channel. Mat kept out of the officers' way and nodded
politely to the sui'dam when he passed one in the streets.
Whatever Rand's situation was, he could do nothing about it in
Ebou Dar. First, he had to get out of the city. 

The morning after the gholam tried to kill him, Mat burned
every last one of the long pink ribbons, the whole great wad
of them, in the fireplace as soon as Tylin left her
apartments. He also burned a pink coat she had had made for
him, two pairs of pink breeches and a pink cloak. A stench of
burning wool and silk filled the rooms, and he opened some
windows to let it out, but he did not really care. He felt a
great relief dressing himself in bright blue breeches and
embroidered green coat, and a blue cloak with painfully ornate
working. Even all the lace did not bother him. At least none
of it was pink. He never wanted to see anything that
particular color ever again! 

Clapping his hat on his head, he stumped out of the Tarasin
Palace with a renewed determination to find that cubbyhole to

store what he needed for his escape, if he had to visit every
tavern, inn and sailors' dive in the city ten times over. Even
those in the Rahad. A hundred times! Gray gulls and black-
winged skimmers swirled in leaden sky that promised more rain,
and an icy wind carrying the tang of salt whipped across the
Mol Hara, flailing cloaks about. He thumped the paving stones
as though intending to crack every one. Light, if need be, he
would go with Luca in what he wore. Maybe Luca would let him
work his way as a buffoon! The man would probably insist on 

it. At least that would keep him close to Aludra and her
secrets.
He stalked the whole width of the square before he realized 

that he was in front of a wide white building he knew well.
The sign over the arched door proclaimed The Wandering Woman.
A tall fellow in red-and-black armor strode out, three thin
black plumes on the front of the helmet under his arm, and
stood waiting for his horse to be brought around. A bluff-
faced man with gray at his temples, he did not look at Mat,
and Mat avoided looking at him. No matter how pleasant the man
might appear on the surface, he was a Deathwatch Guard, after
all, and a banner-general to boot. The Wandering Woman, so
near the Palace, had every room rented by high Seanchan
officers, and for that reason he had not been back since he
was able to walk again. Ordinary Seanchan soldiers were not
such bad fellows, ready to gamble half the night and buy a
round when it came their turn, but high-ranking officers might
as well be nobles. Still, he had to start somewhere. 

The common room was almost as he remembered, high-ceilinged
and well-lighted by lamps burning on all the walls despite the
early hour. Solid shutters covered the tall arched windows
now, for warmth, and fires crackled in both long fireplaces. A
faint haze of pipesmoke filled the air, and the smell of good
cooking from the kitchens. Two women with flutes and a fellow
with a drum between his knees were playing a quick, shrill
Ebou Dari tune that he nodded in time to. Not so different
from when he had stayed there, so far as it went. But all of
the chairs held Seanchan, now, some in armor, others in long,
embroidered coats, drinking, talking, studying maps spread out
on the tables. A graying woman with the flame of a der'sul'dam
embroidered on her shoulder seemed to be making a report at
one table, and at another a skinny sui'dam with a round-faced
damane at her heels appeared to be getting orders. A number of
the Seanchan had the sides and backs of their heads shaved so
they seemed to be wearing bowls, with the hair remaining at
the back left long in a sort of wide tail that hung to the
shoulders on men and often to the waist on women. Those were
simple lords and ladies, not High anything, but that hardly
mattered. A lord was a lord, and besides, the men and women
going to fetch a serving maid for more drinks had the smooth-
cheeked disdainful look of officers themselves, which meant
the folk they were fetching for had rank to cause a man
trouble. Several noticed him and frowned, and he almost left.
Then he saw the innkeeper coming down the railless stairs at
the back of the room, a stately hazel-eyed woman with large
golden hoops in her ears and a little gray in her hair.
Setalle Anan was not Ebou Dari, or even Altaran he suspected,
but she wore the marriage-knife, hanging hilt-down from a

silver collar into a deep narrow neckline, and a long curved
blade at her waist. She knew he was supposed to be a lord, but
he was not sure how far she believed any longer or what good
it would do if she still swallowed the whole taradiddle. In
any case, she saw him at the same instant and smiled, a
friendly, welcoming smile that made her face even prettier.
There was nothing for it but to go and greet her and ask after
her health, not too elaborately. Her muscular husband was a
fishing-boat captain with more dueling scars than Mat wanted
to think about. Straight off she wanted to know about Nynaeve
and Elayne, and to his surprise, whether he knew anything
about the Kin. He had had no idea she had even heard of them. 

"They went with Nynaeve and Elayne," he whispered, cau
tiously keeping watch to make sure no Seanchan was paying them
any mind. He did not intend to say too much, but talking about
the Kin where Seanchan might hear made the back of his neck
prickle. "So far as I know, they're all safe." 

"Good. I would be pained had any of them been collared." The
fool woman did not even lower her voice! 

"Yes; that's good," he muttered, and hurriedly explained his
needs before she could start shouting how happy she was that
women who could channel had escaped the Seanchan. He was
happy, too, just not happy enough to put himself in chains for
joy. 

Shaking her head, she seated herself on the steps and put
her hands on her knees. Her dark green skirts, sewn up on the
left side, showed red petticoats. Ebou Dari really did seem to
knock Tinkers on their heels when it came to choosing colors.
The buzz of Seanchan voices fought with the high-pitched music
all around them, and she sat there looking at him sternly.
"You don't know our ways, that is the trouble," she said.
"Pretties are an old and honored custom in Altara. Many a
young man or woman has a final fling as a pretty, pampered and
showered with presents, before settling down. But you see, a
pretty leaves when she chooses. Tylin shouldn't be treating
you as I hear she is. Still," she added judiciously, "I must
say she dresses you well." She made a circling motion with one
hand. "Hold out your cloak and turn around so I can get a
better look." 

Mat drew a deep, calming breath. And then three more. The
color flooding his face was sheer fury. He was not blushing.
Certainly not! Light, did the whole city know? "Do you have a
space I can use or don't you?" he demanded in a strangled
voice. 

It turned out that she did. He could use a shelf in her
cellar, which she said stayed dry year round, and there was
the small hollow under the kitchen's stone floor where he once
had kept his chest of gold. It turned out the rental price was
for him to hold out his cloak and turn around so she could get
a better look. She grinned like a cat! One of the Seanchan, a
buzzard-faced woman in red-and-blue armor, enjoyed the show so
much that she tossed him a fat silver coin with strange
markings, a forbidding woman's face on one side and some sort
of heavy chair on the other. 

Still, he had his place to store clothes and money, and once
he returned to the Palace, to Tylin’s apartments, he found out
he had clothes to store in it.

 "I fear my Lord's garments are in a terrible state," Nerim
said lugubriously. The skinny, gray-haired Cairhienin would
have been as dolorous announcing the gift of a sack of
firedrops, though. His long face was perpetually in mourning.
He did keep an eye on the door against Tyiin's return,
however. "Everything is quite filthy, and I am afraid mildew
has ruined several of my Lord's best coats." 

"They were all in a cupboard with Prince Beslan's childhood
toys, my Lord," Lopin laughed, tugging at the lapels of a dark
coat like Juilin’s. The balding man was the reverse of Nerim,
stout instead of bony, dark instead of pale, his round belly
always shaking with laughter. For a time after Nalesean's
death it had seemed he intended to compete with Nerim at
sighing, the way they did over everything else, but the
intervening weeks had recovered him to his normal self. As
long as no one mentioned his former master, anyway. "They are
dusty, though, my Lord. I doubt anyone has been in that
cupboard since the Prince put his toy soldiers away." 

Feeling that his luck was running strong at last, Mat told
them to start taking his clothes across to The Wandering Woman
a few pieces at a time, and a pocket full of gold each trip.
His black-hafted spear, propped in a corner of Tyiin's
bedchamber with his unstrung Two Rivers bow, would have to
wait for last. Getting that out might be as difficult as
getting himself out. He could always make a new bow for
himself, but he was not going to abandon the ashandarei. 

I paid too high a price for the bloody thing to leave it, he
thought, fingering the scar hidden beneath the scarf around
his neck. One of the first, among too many. Light, it would be
nice to think that he had more to look forward to than scars
and battles he did not want. And a wife he did not want or
even know. There had to be more than that. First came getting
out of Ebou Dar with a whole hide, though. That above all
else, first. 

Lopin and Nerim bowed themselves out of his presence with
the equivalent of two fat purses spread about their clothing,
so as not to create any bulges, but no sooner had they gone
than Tylin appeared, wanting to know why his bodyservants were
running in the halls as though racing each other. If he had
been feeling suicidal he could have told her they were racing
to see who would be first to reach the inn with his gold, or
maybe just the first to start cleaning his clothes. Instead he
busied himself diverting her, and soon enough that chased any
other thoughts out of his head, except for a glimmer that his
luck had finally begun to pay off at something besides
gambling. All it needed to put the cap on would be for Aludra
to give him what he wanted before he left. Tylin put her mind
to what she was doing, and for a time he forgot fireworks and
Aludra and escaping. For a time. 

After a little searching through the city, he finally
located a bellfounder. There were a number of gongmakers in
Ebou Dar, but only one bellmaker, with a foundry outside the
western wall. The bellmaker, a cadaverous, impatient fellow,
sweated in the heat of his huge iron furnace. The sweltering
foundry's one long room might have been some sort of torture
chamber. Hoisting chains dangled from the rafters, and sudden
flames gouted from the furnace, throwing flickering shadows

and leaving Mat half-blind. And no sooner would he blink away
the afterimage of raging fire than another eruption would
leave him squinting again. Workmen dripping with sweat poured
molten bronze from the furnace's melting pot into a square
mold, half again as tall as a man, that had been levered into
position on rollers. Other great molds like it stood around 

the stone floor, amid a litter of smaller molds in various
sizes.
"My Lord is pleased to jest." Master Sutoma forced a 

chuckle, but he did not look amused, with his damp black hair
hanging down and clinging to his face. His chuckle sounded as
hollow as his cheeks, and he kept shooting frowns at his
workmen as though suspecting they would lie down and go to
sleep if he did not maintain a dose watch on them. A dead man
could not have slept in that heat. Mat's shirt stuck to him
damply, and he was beginning to sweat his coat through in
patches. "I know nothing of Illuminators, my Lord, and I wish
to know nothing. Useless fripperies, fireworks. Not like
bells. If my Lord will excuse me? I am very busy. The High
Lady Suroth has commissioned thirteen bells for a victory set,
the largest bells ever cast anywhere. And Calwyn Sutoma will
cast them!" That it was a victory over his own city did not
seem to bother Sutoma in the least. The last was enough to
make him grin and rub his bony hands together. 

Mat attempted to make Aludra relent, but the woman might as
well have been cast bronze herself. Well, she was considerably
softer than bronze once she finally let him put an arm around
her, yet kisses that left her trembling did nothing to slacken
her resolve. 

"Me, I do not believe in telling a man more than he needs to
know," she said breathlessly, sitting beside him on a padded
bench in her wagon. She allowed no more than kisses, but she
was very enthusiastic about those. The thin beaded braids she
had taken to wearing again were a tangle. "Men gossip, yes?
Chatter, chatter, chatter, and you yourselves don't know what
you will say next. Besides, maybe I have made you the puzzle
just to make you return, yes?" And she set about further
disarraying her hair, and his as well. 

She put up no more nightflowers, though, not after he told
her about the chapter house in Tanchico. He tried two more
visits to Master Sutoma, but on the second, the bellmaker had
the doors barred against him. He was casting the largest bells
ever made, and no foolish foreigner with foolish questions
would be allowed to interfere with that. 

Tylin began lacquering the first two fingernails on each
hand green, though she did not shave the sides of her head.
She would, eventually, she told him, pulling her flowing hair
back with her hands to study herself in the gilt-framed mirror
on the bedchamber wall, but she wanted to become used to the
idea first. She was making her accommodations with the
Seanchan, and he could not fault her for it, no matter how
many dark scowls Beslan gave his mother. 

There was no way she could suspect anything about Aludra,
but the day after he first kissed the Illuminator, the
grandmotherly maids disappeared from her chambers, replaced by
women white-haired and wizened. Tylin began sticking her
curved belt knife into one of the bedposts at night, close to

hand, and musing aloud in his hearing about how he would look
in a da'covale's sheer robes. In fact, night was not the only
time she stuck her knife in the bedpost. Grinning serving
women started delivering summonses to Tyiin's rooms by simply
telling him that she had stabbed the bedpost, and he started
trying to avoid any woman in livery he saw with a smile on her
face. It was not that he disliked being bedded by Tylin, aside
from the fact she was a queen, as snooty as any other
noblewoman. And the fact that she made him feel like a mouse
that had been made a pet by a cat. But there were only so many 

hours of daylight, if more than he was used to back home in
winter, and for a bit he had to wonder whether she meant to
consume all of them. 

Luckily, Tylin began spending more and more time with Suroth
and Tuon. Her accommodations seemed to have embraced
friendship, with Tuon at least. No one could be friends with
Suroth. Tylin seemed to have adopted the girl, or the girl had
adopted her. Tylin told him little of what they talked about
except in the sketchiest outlines, and often not even that,
but they closeted themselves alone for hours, and swept along
the Palace corridors conversing quietly, or sometimes
laughing. Frequently Anath or Selucia, Tuon's golden-haired
so'jhin, trailed along behind, and now and then a pair of hard-
eyed Deathwatch Guards. 

He still could not figure out the relationship between
Suroth, Tuon and Anath. On the surface, Suroth and Tuon
behaved as equals, calling each other by name, laughing at one
another's jests. Tuon certainly never gave Suroth any order,
at least not in his hearing, but Suroth seemed to take Tuon's
suggestions as orders. Anath, on the other hand, badgered the
girl unmercifully with razor-sharp criticisms, calling her a
fool and worse. 

"This is the worst sort of stupidity, girl," he heard her
say coldly one midday in the halls. Tylin had not sent her
crude summons-yet-and he was trying to sneak out before she
could, slipping along the walls and peeking around corners. He
had a visit to Sutoma planned, and another to Aludra. The
three Seanchan women-four, counting Selucia, but he did not
think they saw it that way-were clustered just around the next
turning. Trying to keep an eye out for serving women wearing a
smile, he waited impatiently for them to move. Whatever they
were talking about, they would not appreciate him blundering
by in the middle of it. "A taste of the strap will set you
right, and clear your head of nonsense," the tall woman went
on in a voice like ice. "Ask for it and be done." 

Mat worked a finger in his ear, and shook his head. He must
have misheard. Selucia, standing placidly with her hands
folded at her waist, certainly never turned a hair. 

Suroth gasped, though. "Surely you will punish her for
this!" she drawled angrily, glaring holes through Anath. Or
trying to. Suroth might as well have been a chair for all the
notice the tall woman gave her. 

"You do not understand, Suroth." Tuon's sigh stirred the
veil covering her face. Covering but not concealing. She
looked . . . resigned. He had been shocked to learn she was
only a few years younger than he. He would have said more like
ten. Well, six or seven. "The omens say otherwise, Anath," the

girl said calmly, and not at all in anger. She was simply
stating facts. "Be assured, I will tell you if they change." 

Someone tapped him on the shoulder, and he looked back into
the face of a serving woman wearing a broad grin. Well, he had
not really been that anxious to go out right away. 

Tuon troubled him. Oh, when they passed in the hallways, he
made his best leg politely, and in return she ignored him as
completely as Suroth or Anath did, but it began to seem to him
that they passed in the hallways a little too often. 

One afternoon, he walked into Tyiin's apartments, having
checked and found out that Tylin was shut up with Suroth on
some business or other, and in the bedchamber, he found Tuon
examining his ashandarei. He froze at the sight of her
fingering the words in the Old Tongue carved into the black
shaft. A raven in some still darker metal was inlaid at each
end of the line of script, and a pair of them engraved on the 

slightly curved blade. Ravens were an Imperial sigil, to the
Seanchan. Not breathing, he tried to move backwards without
making a sound. 

That veiled face swivelled toward him. A pretty face,
really, it might even have been beautiful if she ever stopped
looking as though she was about to bite off a mouthful of
wood. He no longer thought she looked like a boy-those tight
wide belts she always wore made sure you noticed what curves
there were-but she was the next thing to it. He seldom saw a
grown woman younger than his grandmother that he did not at
least think idly of what it would be like dancing with her,
maybe kissing her, even those snooty Seanchan Blood, but never
a glimmer of that crossed his mind with Tuon. A woman had to
have something to put an arm around, or what was the point? 

"I don't see Tylin owning a thing like this," she drawled
coolly, setting the long-bladed spear back next to his bow,
"so it must be yours. What is it? How did you come to possess
it?" Those cold demands for information set his jaw. The
bloody woman could have been ordering a servant. Light, as far
as he was aware, she did not even know his name! Tylin said
she had never asked about him or mentioned him since the offer
of purchase. 

"It's called a spear, my Lady," he said, resisting the urge
to lean against the doorframe and tuck his thumbs behind his
belt. She was Seanchan Blood, after all. "I bought it." 

"I will give you ten times the price you paid," she said.
"Name it." 

He almost laughed. He wanted to, and not for pleasure, that
was certain sure. No would you think of selling, just / will
buy it and here is what I will pay. "The price wasn't gold, my
Lady." Involuntarily, his hand went to the black scarf to make
sure it still hid the ridged scar that encircled his neck.
"Only a fool would pay it one time, let alone ten." 

She studied him for a moment, her expression unreadable no
matter how sheer her veil. And then, he might as well have
vanished. She glided past him as though he were no longer
there and swept out of the apartments. 

That was not the only time he encountered her alone. Of
course, she was not always followed by Anath or Selucia, or
guards, yet it seemed to him that rather too often he would
decide to go back for something and turn to find her by

herself, looking at him, or he might leave a room suddenly and
find her outside the door. More than once he looked over his
shoulder leaving the Palace and saw her veiled face peering
out of a window. True, there was nothing of staring about it.
She looked at him and glided away as though he had ceased to
exist, peered from a window and turned back into the room as
soon as he saw her. He was a stand lamp in the corridor, a
paving stone in the Mol Hara. It began to make him nervous,
though. After all, the woman had offered to buy him. A thing
like that had a tendency to make a man nervous by its own
self. 

Even Tuon could not truly upset his welling sense that
things were finally coming right, though. The gholam did not
return, and he began to think maybe it had gone on an easier
"harvest." In any event, he was staying away from dark and
lonely places where it might have a chance at him. His
medallion was all very well for what it did, but a good crowd
was better. On his latest visit to Aludra she had almost let
something slip-he was certain of it-before coming to herself
and hastily bundling him out of her wagon. There was nothing a
woman would not tell you if you kissed her enough. He stayed
away from The Wandering Woman, to avoid rousing Tyiin's
suspicions, but Nerim and Lopin stealthily transferred his
real clothing to the inn's cellar. Bit by bit, half the
contents of the iron-bound chest under Tyiin's bed traveled
across the Mol Hara to the hidden hollow beneath the inn's
kitchen. 

That hollow under the kitchen floor began to trouble him,
though. It had been good enough for hiding the chest. A man
could break chisels getting into that. He had been living
upstairs at the inn then, too. Now the gold would be just
spilled into the hole after Setalle cleared the kitchen. What
if someone began to wonder why she chased everybody out when
Lopin and Nerim came? Anybody at all could lift up that
floorstone, if they knew where to look. He had to make sure
for himself. Afterwards, long afterwards, he would wonder why
the bloody dice had not warned him. 

Chapter 19: Three Women 

The wind was out of the north with the sun not yet fully
above the horizon, which the locals said always meant rain,
and a sky full of clouds certainly threatened as he made his
way across the Mol Hara. The particular men and women in the
common room of The Wandering Woman had changed, there were no
sui'dam or damane this time, but the place was still full of
Seanchan and pipesmoke, though the musicians had not yet
appeared. Most of the people in the room were breakfasting,
sometimes eyeing the bowls uncertainly as if unsure what they
were being asked to eat-he felt that way himself about the
strange white porridge Ebou Dari liked for breakfast-but not
everyone was intent on food. Three men and a woman in those
long embroidered robes were playing cards and smoking pipes at
one table, all with their heads shaved in the fashion of

lesser nobles. The gold coins on their table caught Mat's
attention for a moment; they were playing for high stakes. The
largest stacks of coins sat in front of a tiny black-haired
man, as dark as Anath, who grinned wolfishly at his opponents
around the very long stem of a silver-mounted pipe. Mat had
his own gold, though, and his luck at cards had never been as
good as at dice. 

Mistress Anan, however, had gone out on some errand or other
while it was still dark, so her daughter Marah said, leaving
Marah herself in charge. A pleasingly plump young woman with
big pretty eyes the same hazel shade as her mother's, she wore
her skirts sewn up to mid-thigh on the left side, something
Mistress Anan would not have allowed when he was staying
there. Marah was not best pleased to see him, frowning as soon
as he approached her. Two men had died by his hand in the inn
when he was staying there; thieves who were trying to split
his skull, to be sure, but that sort of thing did not happen
at The Wandering Woman. She had made it clear she was happy to
see the back of him when he moved out. 

Marah was hardly interested in what he wanted now, either,
and he could not really explain. Only Mistress Anan knew what
was hidden in the kitchen, so he devoutly hoped, and he
certainly was not about to bleat out the information in the
common room. So he made up a tale about missing the dishes the
cook turned out, and eyeing that blatantly sewn skirt, he
slipped in the implication that he had missed looking at her
even more. He could not understand why exposing a little more
petticoat was scandalous when every woman in Ebou Dar walked
around showing half her bosom, but if Marah was feeling
rakish, maybe a few blandishments might ease his path. He gave
her his very best smile. 

Giving him half an ear in return, Marah seized a passing
serving maid, a smoky-eyed cat of a woman he knew well. "Air
Captain Yulan's cup is almost empty, Caira," Marah said
angrily. "You are supposed to keep it full! If you can't do
your job, girl, there are plenty in Ebou Dar who will!" Caira,
several years older than Marah, made her a mocking curtsy. And
scowled at Mat. Before Caira could straighten her knees again,
Marah turned to grab a boy who was walking by carefully
balancing a tray piled with dirty dishes. "Stop lollygagging,
Ross!" she snapped. "There is work to be done. Do it, or I'll
take you out to the stables, and you will not like that, I
tell you!" 

Marah's youngest brother glared at her. "I can't wait till
spring, when I can work on the boats again," he muttered
sullenly. "You've been in a bad skin ever since Frielle got
married, just because she's younger than you and you haven't
been asked yet." 

She directed a cuff at his head that he easily eluded,
though the stacked cups and plates rattled and nearly fell.
"Why not just pin up your petticoats at the fishing docks?" he
shouted, darting off before she could slap at him again. 

Mat sighed as she finally turned her full attention to him.
Pinning up petticoats was a new one on him, but from Marah's
face, he could guess. Steam should have been jetting from her
ears. "If you want to eat, you must come back later. Or you
can wait, if you like. I don't know how long before you can be

served." 

Her smile was malicious. No one would choose to wait in that
common room. Every seat was taken by a Seanchan, and there
were more Seanchan standing, enough that the aproned maids
were forced to weave their way carefully, holding trays of
food and drink aloft. Caira was filling the dark little man's
cup and offering him the sort of sultry smiles she had once
offered Mat. He did not know why she had soured on him, but he
had as many women in his life as he could handle at the
moment. What was an Air Captain, anyway? He would have to find
out. Later. 

"I will wait in the kitchen," he told Marah. "I want to tell
Enid how much I enjoyed her cooking." 

She started to protest, but a Seanchan woman raised her
voice demanding wine. Grim-eyed in blue-and-green armor, with
a helmet carrying two plumes under her arm, she wanted her
stirrup cup right then. All of the maids seemed occupied, so
Marah grimaced at him one last time and went scurrying, trying
to set her face in a pleasant smile. And not getting far with
it. Holding his walking staff wide, Mat flourished a bow to
her retreating back. 

The good smells that had mingled with sweet pipesmoke in the
common room permeated the kitchen, roasting fish, baking
bread, meats sizzling on the spits. The room was hot from the
iron stoves and the ovens and the fire in the long brick
fireplace, and six sweating women and three potboys were
dashing about under the orders of the chief cook. Wearing a
snowy white apron as if it were a tabard of office and
wielding a long-handled wooden spoon to reign over her domain,
Enid was the roundest woman Mat had even seen. He did not
think he could have gotten his arms around her had he wanted
to. She recognized him right away, and a sly grin split her
wide olive face. 

"So, you found out I was right," she said, pointing the
spoon at him. "You squeezed the wrong melon, and it turned out
the melon was a lionfish in disguise and you were just a plump
grunter." Throwing back her head, she cackled with laughter. 

Mat forced a grin. Blood and bloody ashes! Everybody really
did know! / have to get out of this bloody city, he thought
grimly, or I'll hear them bloody laughing at me the rest of my
life! 

Suddenly his fears about the gold began to seem foolish. The
gray floorstone in front of the stoves appeared firmly in
place, no different from any other in the kitchen. You had to
know the trick in order to lift it. Lopin and Nerim would have
told him if so much as a single coin had vanished between
their visits. Mistress Anan likely would have tracked down and
skinned the culprit if anyone tried thieving in her inn. He
might as well be on his way. Maybe Aludra's willpower would be
weaker at this hour. Maybe she would give him breakfast. He
had slipped out of the Palace without waiting to eat. 

So as not rouse curiosity about his visit, he did tell Enid
how much he had enjoyed her gilded fish, how it was better
than that served in the Tarasin Palace, without having to
exaggerate even a whisker. Enid was a marvel. The woman
positively beamed, and to his surprise, lifted one out of the
oven onto a platter just for him. Somebody in the common room

could just wait, she told him, setting the platter at the end
of the kitchen's long worktable. A wave of her spoon brought a
stout potboy with a stool. 

Looking at the golden-crusted flatfish, he felt his mouth wa
tering. Aludra likely would be no weaker now than any other
time. And if she was upset over being disturbed so early, she
might not give him breakfast. His stomach rumbled loudly.
Hanging his cloak on a peg beside the door to the stableyard
and propping his walking staff beneath, he tucked his hat
under the stool and turned back his lace to keep it out of the 

platter.
By the time Mistress Anan came in through the door to the
stableyard, swinging her cloak off and shaking rain onto the
floor, little remained beyond a tangy taste on his tongue and 

fine white bones on the platter. He had learned to enjoy a
number of odd things since coming to Ebou Dar, but he left the
eyes staring up at him. The things were on the same side of
the fish's head! 

Another woman slipped in behind Mistress Anan as he dabbed
his mouth with a linen napkin. She closed the door behind her
quickly, and kept her damp cloak on with the hood pulled well
up. Rising, he caught a glimpse of the face inside that hood
and nearly knocked his stool over. He thought he covered well,
though, making a leg to the women, but his head was spinning. 

"It is well you are here, my Lord," Mistress Anan said
briskly, handing her cloak to a potboy. "I would have sent for
you, otherwise. Enid, clear the kitchen, please, and watch the
door. I need to speak with the young lord alone." 

The cook briskly herded the under-cooks and potboys out into
the stableyard, and despite their muttered complaints about
the rain and wails about the food burning, it was clear they
were as accustomed to this as Enid. She herself did not even
glance at Mistress Anan and her companion again before
hurrying through the door into the common room with her long
spoon held up like a sword. 

"What a surprise," Joline Maza said, tossing her hood back.
Her dark woolen dress, with a deep neckline in the local
style, fit loosely and looked worn and frayed. You would never
have thought it from her carefree attitude, though. "When
Mistress Anan told me she knew a man who might take me with
him when he left Ebou Dar, I never guessed it was you." Pretty
and brown-eyed, she had a smile almost as warm as Caira's. And
an ageless face that screamed Aes Sedai. With dozens of
Seanchan just the other side of a door guarded by a cook with
a spoon. 

Removing her cloak, Joline turned to hang it on one of the
pegs, and Mistress Anan made an irritated sound in her throat.
"That isn't safe yet, Joline," she said, sounding more as if
talking to one of her daughters than to an Aes Sedai. "Until I
have you safely-" 

Suddenly a commotion rose at the door to the common room,
Enid protesting in a shout that no one could enter, and a
voice almost as loud, in Seanchan accents, demanding that she
move aside. 

Ignoring the protests of his leg, Mat moved faster than he
thought he ever had in his life, grabbing Joline by the waist
and plunking himself down on the bench by the door to the

stableyard with the Aes Sedai on his lap. Hugging her close,
he pretended to be kissing her. It was a fool way to try
hiding her face, but all he could think of short of throwing
her cloak over her head. She gasped indignantly, but fear
widened her eyes when she finally heard the Seanchan voice,
and she snaked her arms around him in a flash. Praying for his
luck to hold, he watched the door open. 

Still protesting loudly, Enid backed into the kitchen thump
ing away with her spoon at the so'jhin with a wet cloak
hanging down his back who was pushing her ahead of him. A
heavy set scowling man with a stub of a braid that did not
even come close to reaching his shoulder, he fended off most
of her blows with his free hand and seemed to ignore the few
he could not. He was the first so'jhin Mat had seen with a
beard, and it gave him a lopsided look, running down the right
side of his chin and up the left to stop dead at the middle of
his ear. A tall woman with sharp blue eyes in a pale stern
face followed him, flinging back an elaborately embroidered
blue cloak, held at her throat by a large silver pin shaped
like a sword, to reveal a pleated dress of a paler blue. Her
short dark hair was cut in the bowl, the rest shaved off all
the way around above her ears. Still, she was better than a
sui'dam with a damane. A little better. Realizing the battle
was lost, Enid backed away from the man, but by the way she
gripped her spoon and glared, she was ready to leap on him
again in a heartbeat if Mistress Anan gave the word. 

"A fellow out front did say he did see the innkeeper going
round the back," the so'jhin announced. He was looking at
Setalle, but eyeing Enid warily. "If you be Setalle Anan, then
know this do be Captain of the Green Lady Egeanin Tamarath,
and she do have an order for rooms signed by the High Lady
Suroth Sabelle Meldarath herself." His tone altered, becoming
less a pronouncement and more the voice of a man wanting
accommodations. "Your best rooms, mind, with a good bed, a
view of the square out there, and a fireplace that no does
smoke." 

Mat gave a start when the man spoke, and Joline, perhaps
thinking someone was coming toward them, moaned against his
mouth in fear. Her eyes shone with unshed tears, and she trem
bled in his arms. The Lady Egeanin Tamarath glanced at the
bench when Joline moaned, then grimaced in disgust and turned
so she could avoid seeing the pair. It was the man who
intrigued Mat, though. How in the Light did an Illianer come
to be so'jhin? And the fellow looked familiar, somehow. Likely
another of those thousands of long-dead faces he could not
help recalling. 

"I am Setalle Anan, and my best rooms are occupied by Cap
tain of the Air Lord Abaldar Yulan," Mistress Anan said
calmly, unintimidated by so'jhin or Blood. She folded her arms
beneath her breasts. "My second-best rooms are occupied by
Banner-General Furyk Karede. Of the Deathwatch Guards. I don't
know whether a Captain of the Green outranks them, but either
way, you will have to sort out for yourselves who stays and
who has to go elsewhere. I have a firm policy of not expelling
any Seanchan guest. So long as he pays his rent." 

Mat tensed, waiting for the explosion-Suroth would have her
flogged for half that!-but Egeanin smiled. "It's a pleasure to

deal with someone who has a little nerve," she drawled. "I
think we'll get on just fine, Mistress Anan. So long as you
don't take nerve too far. Captain gives the orders, and crew
obeys, but I never made anyone crawl on my deck." Mat frowned.
Deck. A ship's deck. Why did that tug at something in his
head? Those old memories were a nuisance, sometimes. 

Mistress Anan nodded, never taking her dark eyes from the
Seanchan's blue. "As you say, my Lady. But I hope you will re
member that The Wandering Woman is my ship." Luckily for her,
the Seanchan woman had a sense of humor. She laughed. 

"Then you be captain of your ship," she chuckled, "and I
will be Captain of the Gold." Whatever that meant. With a
sigh, Egeanin shook her head. "Light's truth, I don't outrank
many here, I suspect, but Suroth wants me close at hand, so
some move down, and somebody moves out unless they want to
double up." Suddenly she frowned, half glancing toward Mat and
Joline, and her lip curled in distaste. "I trust you don't let
that sort of thing go on everywhere, Mistress Anan?" 

"I assure you, you will never see the like again under my
roof," the innkeeper replied smoothly. 

The so'jhin was frowning at Mat and the woman on his lap,
too, and Egeanin had to tug at his coatsleeve before he gave a
start and followed her back into the common room. Mat grunted
contemptuously. The fellow could pretend to be outraged like
his mistress all he wanted; Mat had heard about festivals in
Illian, though, and they were almost as bad as festivals in
Ebou Dar when it came to people running around half-clothed or
less. No better than da'covale, or those shea dancers the
soldiers went on about. 

He tried to ease Joline from his lap when the door swung
shut behind the pair, but she clung to him and buried her face
on his shoulder, weeping softly. Enid heaved a great sigh and
sagged against the worktable as though her bones had softened.
Even Mistress Anan appeared shaken. She dropped onto the stool
Mat had vacated and put her head in her hands. Only for a
moment, though, and then she was back on her feet. 

"Count to fifty and then get everyone in out of the rain,
Enid," she said briskly. No one would have known that she had
been trembling a moment earlier. Gathering Joline's cloak from
its peg, she took a long splinter from a box on the
mantelpiece and bent to light it in the fire beneath the
spits. "I will be in the cellar if you need me, but if anyone
asks, you don't know where I am. Until I say otherwise, no one
but you or I goes down there." Enid nodded as though this was
nothing out of the ordinary. "Bring her," the innkeeper told
Mat, "and don't dawdle. Carry her if you must." 

He did have to carry her. Still weeping almost soundlessly,
Joline would not loosen her hold on him or even lift her head
from his shoulder. She was not heavy, thank the Light, yet
even so, a dull ache began in his leg as he followed Mistress
Anan to the cellar door with his burden. He might have enjoyed
it in spite of the throbbing, if Mistress Anan had not taken
her time about everything. 

As though there were no Seanchan within a hundred miles she
lit a lamp on a shelf beside the heavy door and carefully blew
out the splinter before replacing the tall glass mantle, then
laid the smoking splinter on a small tin tray. Unhurriedly

producing a long key from her belt pouch, she undid the iron
lock and, finally, motioned him to go through. The stairs
beyond were wide enough to bring up a barrel, yet steep,
vanishing into darkness. He obeyed, but waited on the second
step while she drew the door shut and re-locked it, waited for
her to take the lead with the lamp held high. The last thing
he needed was a tumble. 

"Do you do this often?" he asked, shifting Joline. She had
stopped her crying, but she still held tight to him,
trembling. "I mean, hiding Aes Sedai?" 

"I heard whispers there was a sister still in the city,"
Mistress Anan replied, "and I managed to find her before the
Seanchan did. I couldn't leave a sister to them." She glared
back over her shoulder, daring him to say different. He wanted
to, but he could not make the words come. He supposed he would
have helped anyone get away from the Seanchan, if he could,
and he owed a debt to Joline Maza. 

The Wandering Woman was a well-stocked inn, and the dark
cellar was large. Aisles stretched between barrels of wine and
ale stacked on their sides, high, slatted bins of potatoes and
turnips that stood up off the stone floor, rows of tall
shelves holding sacks of dried beans and peas and peppers,
mounds of wooden crates holding the Light alone knew what.
There appeared to be little dust, but the air had the dry
smell common to sound storerooms. 

He spotted his clothes, neatly folded on a cleared shelf-
unless someone else was storing garments down there-but he had
no chance to look at them. Mistress Anan led the way to the
far end of the cellar, where he set Joline down on an upturned
keg. He had to pry her arms free in order to leave her huddled
there. Sniveling, she pulled a handkerchief from her sleeve
and dabbed at red-rimmed eyes. With her face blotchy, she was
hardly the image of an Aes Sedai, never mind her worn dress. 

"Her nerve is broken," Mistress Anan said, putting the lamp
on a barrel that also stood on end, the bung in its end gone.
Several other empty barrels stood about the floor where others
had been removed, awaiting return to the brewer. It was as
close to a clear space as he had seen in the cellar. "She's
been hiding ever since the Seanchan came. The last few days,
her Warders have had to move her several times when Seanchan
decided to search a building instead of just the streets.
Enough to break anyone's nerve, I suppose. I doubt they will
try to search here, though." 

Thinking of all those officers upstairs, Mat had to concede
she was probably right. Still, he was glad it was not him
taking the risk. Squatting in front of Joline, he grunted at a
stab of pain up his leg. "I will help you if I can," he said.
How, he could not have said, but there was that debt. "Just be
glad you were lucky enough to dodge them all this time. Teslyn
wasn't so lucky." 

Snatching the handkerchief from her eyes, Joline glared at
him. "Luck?" she spat angrily. It she had been other than Aes
Sedai, he would have said she was sullen, sticking her lower
lip out that way. "I could have escaped! It was all confusion
the first day, as I understand. But I was unconscious. Fen and
Blaeric barely managed to carry me out of the Palace before
the Seanchan swarmed over it, and two men carrying a limp

woman attracted too much attention for them to get anywhere
near the city gates before they were secured. I am glad Teslyn
was caught! Glad! She gave me something; I am sure she did!
That is why Fen and Blaeric couldn't wake me, why I have been
sleeping in stables and hiding in alleys, afraid those
monsters would find me. It serves her right!" 

Mat blinked at the tirade. He doubted he had ever heard so
much pure venom in a voice before, even in those old memories.
Mistress Anan frowned at Joline, and her hand twitched. 

"Anyway, I'll help you as much as I can," he said hurriedly,
rising so he could move between the two women. He would not
put it past Mistress Anan to slap Joline, Aes Sedai or no Aes
Sedai, and Joline looked in no mood to consider the
possibility of a damans being upstairs to feel whatever she
did in retaliation. It was a simple truth; the Creator made
women so men would not find life too easy. How in the Light
was he to get an Aes Sedai out of Ebou Dar? "I'm in debt to
you." 

A tiny frown wrinkled Joline's brow. "In debt?" 

"The note asking me to warn Nynaeve and Elayne," he said
slowly. He licked his lips and added, "The one you left on my
pillow." 

She flicked a hand dismissively, but her eyes, focused on
his face, never blinked. "All debts between us are settled the
day you help me get outside the city walls, Master Cauthon,"
she said, in tones as regal as a queen on her throne. 

Mat swallowed hard. The note had been stuck into his coat
pocket somehow, not left on his pillow. And that meant he was
mistaken about who he owed the debt to. 

He made his leave without calling Joline on her lie-a lie
even if only by letting his mistake pass-and he left without
telling Mistress Anan, either. It was his problem. It made him
feel sick. He wished he had never found out. 

Back in the Tarasin Palace, he went straight to Tyiin's
apartments and spread his cloak over a chair to dry. A
pounding rain beat against the windows. Putting his hat atop
one of the carved and gilded wardrobes, he toweled his face
and hands dry and considered changing his coat. The rain had
soaked through his cloak in a few places. His coat was damp
here and there. Damp. Light! 

Growling in disgust, he wadded up the striped towel and
threw it on the bed. He was delaying, even hoping-a little-
that Tyiin might walk in and stab the bedpost, so he could put
off what he had to do. What he had to do. Joline had left him
with no choice. 

The Palace was laid out simply, if you cared to look at it
that way. Servants lived on the lowest level, where the
kitchens were, and some in the cellars. The next floor up
contained the spacious public rooms and the cramped studies of
the clerks, and the third apartments for less favored guests,
most occupied now by Seanchan Blood. The highest floor held
Tyiin's apartments, and rooms for more favored guests, like
Suroth and Tuon and a few others. Except, even palaces had
attics, of a sort. 

Pausing at the foot of a flight of stairs hidden around an
innocuous corner where they would not be noticed, Mat drew a
deep breath before going up slowly. The huge windowless room

at the top of the stairs, low-ceiling and floored with rough
planks, had been cleared of whatever it held before the
Seanchan, and the space filled with a grid of tiny wooden
rooms, each with its own closed door. Plain iron stand-lamps
lit the narrow halls between. The rain beating down on the
roof tiles was loud here, just overhead. He paused again on
the top step, and only breathed again when he realized that he
could hear no footsteps. A woman was crying in one of the tiny
rooms, but no sui'dam was going to appear and demand to know
what he was doing there. Likely they would learn he had been, 

but not until after he found out what he needed, if he was
quick.
He did not know which room was hers, was the trouble. He 

walked to the first and opened the door long enough to peek
in. An Atha'an Miere woman in a gray dress was sitting on the
side of a narrow bed, hands folded in her lap. The bed and a
washstand with bowl and pitcher and a tiny mirror took up most
of the room. Several gray dresses hung from pegs on the wall.
The segmented silver leash of an a'dam ran in an arc from the
silver collar around her neck to a silver bracelet looped over
a hook set in the wall. She could reach any part of the tiny
room. The small holes where her earrings and nose ring had
been had not yet had time to heal. They looked like wounds.
When the door opened, her head came up with a fearful
expression that faded into speculation. And maybe hope. 

He closed the door without saying a word. / can't save all
of them, he thought harshly. / can't! Light, but he hated
this. 

The next doors revealed identical rooms and three more Sea
Folk women, one of them weeping loudly on her bed, and then a
sleeping yellow-haired woman, all with their a'dam loosely
stretched to hooks. He eased that door shut as though he were
trying to filch one of Mistress al'Vere's pies right under her
nose. Maybe the yellow-haired woman was not Seanchan, but he
was not about to take the chance. A dozen doors later, he
exhaled heavily in relief and slipped inside, pulling the door
shut behind him. 

Teslyn Baradon lay on the bed, her face pillowed on her
hands. Only her dark eyes moved, stabbing at him. She said
nothing, just looked at him as though trying to bore holes in
his skull. 

"You put a note in my coat pocket," he said softly. The
walls were thin; he could still hear the weeping woman. "Why?" 

"Elaida does want those girls as much as she ever wanted the
staff and stole," Teslyn said simply, without moving. Her
voice still had a harshness to it, but less than he recalled.
"Especially Elayne. I did wish to ... inconvenience . . .
Elaida, if I could. Let her whistle for them." She gave a soft
laugh tinged with bitterness. "I did even dose Joline with
forkroot, so she could no interfere with those girls. And look
what it did get me. Joline did escape, and I. . . ." Her eyes
moved again, to the silver bracelet hanging on the hook. 

Sighing, Mat leaned against the wall beside the dresses hang
ing on pegs. She knew what had been in the note, a warning for
Elayne and Nynaeve. Light, but he had hoped she would not,
that someone else had put the bloody thing in his pocket. It
had not done any good, anyway. They both knew Elaida was after

them. The note had changed nothing! The woman had not really
been trying to help them, anyway, just to ... inconvenience .
. . Elaida. He could walk away with a clean conscience. Blood
and ashes! He should never actually have spoken to her. Now
that he had actually exchanged words with her. . . . 

"I'll try to help you escape, if I can," he said
reluctantly. 

She remained still on the bed. Neither her expression nor
her tone of voice changed. She might have been explaining
something simple and unimportant. "Even if you can remove the
collar, I will no get very far, perhaps no even out of the
Palace. And if I do, no woman who can channel can walk through
the city gates unless she does wear an a'dam. I have stood
guard there myself, and I do know." 

"I'll figure out something," he muttered, raking his fingers
through his hair. Figure out something? What? "Light, you
don't even sound as if you want to escape." 

"You do be serious," she whispered, so low he nearly did not
hear. "I did think you only did come to taunt me." Slowly she
sat, swinging her feet down to the floor. Her eyes latched on
to his intently, and her voice took on a low urgency. "Do I
want to escape? When I do something that does please them, the
sui'dam do give me sweets. I do find myself looking forward to
those rewards." Breathy horror crept into her voice. "Not for
liking of sweets, but because I have pleased the sui'dam." A
single tear trickled from her eye. She inhaled deeply. "If you
do help me escape, I will do anything you ask of me that does
not encompass treason to the White-" Her teeth snapped shut,
and she sat up straight, staring right through him. Abruptly,
she nodded to herself. "Help me escape, and I will do anything
you ask of me," she said. 

"I will do what I can," he told her. "I must think of a
way." 

She nodded as though he had promised an escape by nightfall.
"There do be another sister held prisoner here in the Palace.
Edesina Azzedin. She must come with us." 

"One other?" Mat said. "I thought I'd seen three or four,
counting you. Anyway, I'm not sure I can get you out, much
less-" 

"The others do be ... changed." Teslyn's mouth tightened.
"Guisin and Mylen-I did know her as Sheraine Caminelle, but
she do answer only to Mylen, now-those two would betray us.
Edesina do still be herself. I will no leave her behind, even
if she do be a rebel." 

"Now, look," Mat said with a smile, soothingly, "I said I
will try to get you out, but I can't see any way to get two of
you-" 

"It do be best if you go now," she broke in again. "Men are
no allowed up here, and in any case, you will rouse suspicions
if you do be found." Frowning at him, she sniffed. "It would
help if you did not dress so flamboyantly. Ten drunken Tinkers
could no attract as much attention as you do. Go, now.
Quickly. Go!" 

He went, muttering to himself. Just like an Aes Sedai. Offer
to help her, and the next thing you knew, she had you scaling
a sheer cliff in the middle of the night to break fifty people
out of a dungeon by yourself. That had been another man, a

long time dead, but he remembered it, and it fit. Blood and
bloody ashes! He did not know to rescue one Aes Sedai, and she
had him trying to rescue two! 

He stalked around the innocuous corner at the foot of the
stairs and almost walked into Tuon. 

"Damane kennels are forbidden to men," she said, peering up
at him coldly through her veil. "You could be punished just
for entering." 

"I was looking for a Windfinder, High Lady," he said
hastily, making a leg and thinking as fast as he ever had in
his life. "She did me a favor once, and I thought she might
like something from the kitchens. Some pastries, or the like.
I didn't see her, though. I suppose she wasn't caught when. .
. ." He trailed off, staring. The stern judicial mask the girl
always wore for a face had melted into a smile. She really was
beautiful. 

"That is very kind of you," she said. "It's good to know you
are kind to damans. But you must be careful. There are men who
actually take damane to their beds." Her full mouth twisted in
disgust. "You would not want anyone to think you are per
verted." That severe expression settled on her face again. All
prisoners would be executed immediately. 

"Thank you for the warning, High Lady," he said, a little
unsteadily. What kind of man wanted to bed a woman who was on
a leash? 

He disappeared then, as far as she was concerned. She just
glided away down the hall as if she saw no one. For once,
though, the High Lady Tuon did not concern him at all. He had
an Aes Sedai hiding in the cellar of The Wandering Woman and
two wearing damane leashes who all expected Mat bloody Cauthon
to save their necks. He was sure Teslyn would inform this
Edesina all about it as soon as she was able. Three women who
might start getting impatient if he failed to waft them to
safety soon enough. Women liked to talk, and when they talked
enough, they let slip things better left unspoken. Impatient
women talked even more than the rest. He could not feel the
dice in his head, but he could almost hear a clock ticking.
And the hour might be struck by a headsman's axe. Battles he
could plan in his sleep, but those old memories did not seem
much help here. He needed a schemer, someone used to plotting
and crooked ways of thinking. It was time to make Thorn sit
down and talk. And Juilin. 

Setting out in search of either, he unconsciously began hum
ming "I'm Down at the Bottom of the Well." Well, he was, and
night was falling and the rain well and truly coming down. As
often happened, another name drifted up out of those old memo
ries, a song of the Court of Takedo, in Farashelle, crushed a
thousand years ago and more by Artur Hawkwing. The intervening
years had made remarkably little change in the tune itself,
though. Then, it had been called "The Last Stand at
Mandenhar." Either way, it fit too bloody well. 

Chapter 20: Questions of Treason 

Climbing to the cramped kennels at the very top of the

Tarasin Palace, Bethamin held her writing board carefully.
Sometimes the ink jar's cork came loose, and ink spots were
difficult to remove from clothing. She kept herself as
presentable at all times as if she had been called to appear
before one of the High Blood. She did not talk to Renna, who
had the inspection duty with her today, as they walked up the
stairs. They were supposed to be doing an assigned task, not
chattering idly. That was part of her reason. Where others
jockeyed to be complete with their favorite damane, and
goggled at the strange sights of this land, and speculated on
the rewards to be gained here, she focused on her duties,
asking for the most difficult marath'damane to tame to the
a'dam, working twice as hard and twice as long as anyone else. 

The rain had stopped, finally, leaving the kennels in
silence. The damane would get some exercise at least,
today-most grew sulky if confined to the kennels too long, and
these makeshift kennels were decidedly confining-but
regrettably, she was not assigned to walking today. Renna
never was, though once she had been Suroth's best trainer, and
well respected. A little harsh, sometimes, but highly skilled.
Once, everyone had said she would soon be made der’sul’dam in
spite of her youth. Matters had changed. There were always
more sui'dam than damane, yet no one could recall Renna being
complete since Faime, her or Seta, whom Suroth had taken into
personal service after Faime. Bethamin enjoyed gossiping over
wine about the Blood and those who served them as much as
anyone else, yet she never ventured any opinion when the talk
turned to Renna and Seta. She thought of them often, though. 

"You start on the other side, Renna," she ordered. "Well? Do
you want to be reported to Essonde for laziness yet again?" 

Before Faime, the shorter woman had been nearly overpowering
in her self-assurance, but a muscle twitched in her pale
cheek, and she gave Bethamin a sickly, obsequious smile before
hurrying into the kennel's warren of narrow passages patting
at her long hair as though afraid it might be disordered.
Everyone except Renna's closest friends bullied her at least a
little, repaying her former lofty pride. To do otherwise was
to mark yourself out, something Bethamin avoided except in
carefully chosen ways. Her own secrets were buried as deeply
as she could bury them, and she held silent about the secrets
no one knew she was aware of, but she wanted to fix in
everyone's mind that Bethamin Zeami was the image of the
perfect sui'dam. Absolute perfection was what she strove for,
in herself and in the damane she trained. 

She set about her inspection briskly and efficiently,
checking that the damane had kept themselves and their
individual kennels neat, making a short notation in her neat
hand on the top page pinned to the writing board when one had
failed to, and she did not dawdle, except to give out hard
candies to a few who were doing particularly well in the
training. Most of those she had been complete with greeted her
entrance with smiles even as they knelt. Whether from the
Empire or from this side of the ocean, they knew she was firm
yet fair. Others did not smile. For the most part, the Atha'an
Miere damane met her with stony faces as dark as her own, or
sullen anger they seemed to believe they were concealing. 

She did not mark their anger down for punishment, as some

would have. They still thought they were resisting, but
unseemly demands for the return of their garish jewelry
already were a thing of the past, and they knelt and spoke
properly. A new name was a useful tool with the most difficult
cases, creating a break with what was done and gone, and they
answered to theirs, however reluctantly. Reluctance would
fade, along with scowls, and eventually they would hardly
remember they ever had other names. It was a familiar pattern,
and unfailing as sunrise. Some accepted immediately, and some
went into shock at learning what they were. Always there were
a handful who gave ground grudgingly over months, while with
others, one day it was shrieked protests that a terrible
mistake had been made, that they could never have failed the
tests, and the next day came acceptance and calm. The details
differed on this side of the ocean, but here or in the Empire,
the end result remained the same. 

For two of the damane she made notes that had nothing to do
with neatness. Zushi, an Atha'an Miere damane even taller than
she herself, was certainly marked for a switching. Her dress
was rumpled, her hair uncombed, her bed unmade. But her face
was swollen from crying, and no sooner had she knelt than a
new set of sobs racked her, tears streaming down her cheeks.
The gray dress that had been fitted on her so carefully now
hung loosely, and she had not been plump to begin with.
Bethamin had named Zushi herself, and she felt a special
concern. Unclipping the steelnibbed pen, she dipped it and
wrote a suggestion that Zushi be moved from the Palace to
somewhere she could be kept in a double kennel with a damane
from the Empire, preferably one experienced in becoming heart-
friends with newly collared damane. Sooner or later, that
always put an end to tears. 

She was not sure Suroth would allow it, though. Suroth had
claimed these damane for the Empress, of course-anyone who
owned a tenth so many personally would be suspected of
plotting rebellion, or even accused outright-yet she behaved
as though they were her own property. If Suroth disallowed,
some other way would have to be found. Bethamin refused to
lose a damane to despondency. She refused to lose a damane for
any reason! The second to receive a special comment was Tessi,
and she expected no objections there. 

The Illianer damane knelt gracefully, hands folded at her
waist, as soon as Bethamin opened the door. Her bed was made,
her extra gray dresses hung neatly on their pegs, her brush
and comb were laid out precisely on her washstand, and the
floor had been swept. Bethamin expected no less. Tessi had
been neat from the start. She was fleshing out nicely now that
she had learned to clean her plate. Other than treats,
damane's diets were regulated strictly; an unhealthy damane
was a waste. Tessi would never be decked in ribbons and
entered in the competitions for the prettiest damane, though.
Her face seemed perpetually angry even in repose. But today
she wore a slight smile that Bethamin was sure had been in
place before she entered. Tessi was not one she expected
smiles from, not yet. 

"How is my little Tessi feeling today?" she asked. 

"Tessi do feel very well," the damane replied smoothly.
Always before she had had to struggle to speak properly, and

had earned her latest switching for outright refusal only
yesterday. 

Fingering her chin thoughtfully, Bethamin studied the kneel
ing damane. She was suspicious of any damane who had called
herself Aes Sedai. History fascinated her, and she had even
read translations from the myriad of languages that had
existed before the Consolidation began. Those ancient rulers
reveled in their murderous, capricious rule, and delighted in
setting down how they came to power and how they crushed
neighboring states and undermined other rulers. Most had died 

by assassination, often at the hands of their own heirs or
followers. She knew very well what Aes Sedai were like.
"Tessi is a good damane," she murmured warmly, taking one of 

the hard candies from the twist of paper in her belt pouch.
Tessi leaned forward to receive it and kiss her hand in
thanks, but the smile slipped a little, though it was back by
the time she stuffed the red candy into her mouth. So. It was
like that, was it? Pretending to accept in order to lull the
sui'dam was not unknown, but given what Tessi had been, very
likely she was plotting escape as well. 

Back out in the narrow hallway, Bethamin wrote a strong
suggestion that Tessi's training be redoubled, along with her
punishments, and her rewards be made sporadic, so she could
never be sure that even perfection would earn so much as a pat
on the head. It was a harsh method, one she normally avoided,
but for some reason it turned even the most recalcitrant
marath'damane into a supple damane in a remarkably short time.
It also produced the meekest of damane. She disliked breaking
a damane's spirit, yet Tessi needed to be broken to the a'dam
so she could forget the past. She would be happier for it, in
the end. 

Finishing ahead of Renna, Bethamin waited at the foot of the
stairs until the other sui'dam came down. "Take this to
Essonde when you take yours," she said, thrusting her writing
board at Renna before she cleared the final step.
Unsurprisingly, Renna accepted the task as meekly as she had
accepted the earlier order, and hurried away eyeing the extra
writing board as though wondering whether the pages held a
report on her. She was a very different woman than she had
been before Falme. 

Fetching her cloak and leaving the Palace, Bethamin intended
to return to the inn where she was forced to share a bed with
two other sui'dam, but only long enough to take some coin from
her lockbox. The inspection had been her only duty today, and
the rest of the hours were her own. For a change, instead of
seeking extra assignments, she would spend them buying
souvenirs. Perhaps one of those knives the local women wore at
their necks, if she could find one without the gems they
seemed to like on the hilt. And lacquerware, of course; that
was as good here as any in the Empire, and the designs were so
... foreign. It would be soothing to shop. She needed
soothing. 

The paving stones of the Mol Hara still glistened damply
from the morning's rain, and a pleasant tang of salt filled
the air, reminding her of the village on the Sea of L'Heye
where she had been born, though the freezing cold made her
clutch her cloak around herself. It had never been cold in

Abunai, and she had never become accustomed to it no matter
how far she had traveled. Thoughts of home were no comfort,
now, though. As she made her way through the crowded streets,
Renna and Seta filled her head to the extent that she bumped
into people and once almost walked right in front of a
merchant's train of wagons leaving the city. A shout from a
wagon driver caught her attention, and she leaped back just in 

time. The wagon rumbled across the paving stones where she
would have been standing, and the woman wielding the whip did
not even glance at her. These foreigners had no idea of the
respect due a sui'dam. 

Renna and Seta. Everyone who had been at Faime had memories
they wanted to forget, memories they would not talk about
except when they drank too much. She did, too, only hers were
not about the shock of battling half-recognized ghosts out of
legend, or the horror of defeat, or mad visions in the sky.
How often had she wished she had not gone upstairs that day?
If only she had not wondered how Tuli was doing, the damane
who had the marvelous skill with metals. But she had looked
into Tuli's kennel. And she had seen Renna and Seta
frantically trying to remove a'dam from each other's necks,
shrieking with the pain, wavering on their knees from the
nausea, and still fumbling at the collars. Vomit stained the
fronts of their dresses. In their frenzy they had not noticed
her backing away, horror-stricken. 

Not simply horror at seeing two sui'dam revealed as
marath'damane, but her own sudden personal terror. Often she
thought she could almost see damane's weaves, and she could
always sense a damane's presence and know how strong she was.
Many sui'dam could; everyone knew it came from long experience
at handling the a'dam. Yet the sight of that desperate pair
roused unwanted thoughts, putting a different and frightening
complexion on what she had always accepted. Did she almost see
the weaves, or did she really see? Sometimes she thought she
felt the channeling, too. Even sui'dam had to undergo the
yearly testing, until their twenty-fifth naming day, and she
had passed by failing every time. Only. . . . There would be a
new testing after Renna and Seta were discovered, a new
testing to find the marath'damane who somehow had evaded the
first. The Empire itself might tremble before such a blow. And
with the image of Renna and Seta burned into her brain, she
had known with total certainty that after those tests,
Bethamin Zeami would no longer be a respected citizen.
Instead, a damane called Bethamin would serve the Empire. 

The shame curdled in her still. She had placed personal
fears ahead of the needs of the Empire, ahead of everything
she knew to be right and true and good. Battle came to Faime,
and nightmare, but she had not rushed to complete herself with
a damane and join the battle line. Instead, she had used the
confusion to secure a horse and flee, to run as hard and as
far as she could. 

She realized she had stopped, staring into a seamstress's
shop window without really seeing what was on display inside.
Not that she wanted to see. The blue dress with its lightning-
marked red panels was the only one she had thought of wearing
in years. And she certainly would not wear something that
exposed her so indecently. Skirts swirling about her ankles,

she walked on, but she could not shake Renna and Seta from her
thoughts, or Suroth. 

Obviously Alwhin had found the collared pair of sui'dam and
reported them to Suroth. And Suroth had sheltered the Empire
by protecting Renna and Seta, dangerous as that was. What if
they suddenly began channeling? Better perhaps for the Empire
if she had arranged their deaths, though killing a sui'dam was
murder even for the High Blood. Two suspicious deaths among
the sui'dam would certainly have brought in Seekers. So Renna
and Seta were free, if it could be called that when they were
never allowed to be complete. Alwhin had done her duty, and
been honored by becoming Suroth's Voice. Suroth had done her
duty as well, however distasteful. There was no new testing.
Her own flight had been for nothing. And if she had remained,
she would not have ended up in Tanchico, a nightmare she
wanted to forget even more than she did Falme. 

A squad of the Deathwatch Guards marched by, resplendent in
their armor, and Bethamin paused to watch them pass. They left
a wake through the crowd like a greatship under full sail.
There would be joy in the city, in the land, when Tuon finally
revealed herself, and celebrations as though she had just
arrived. She felt a guilty pleasure at thinking of the
Daughter of the Nine Moons so, as when she had done something
forbidden as a child, though of course, until Tuon removed her
veil, she was merely the High Lady Tuon, no higher than
Suroth. The Deathwatch Guards tramped on, dedicated heart and
soul to Empress and Empire, and Bethamin went in the opposite
direction. Appropriately, since she was dedicated heart and
soul to preserving her own freedom. 

The Golden Swans of Heaven was a grand name for a tiny inn
squeezed between a public stable and a lacquerware shop. The
lacquerware shop was full of military officers buying
everything the shop contained, the stable was full of horses
purchased in the lottery and not yet assigned, and The Golden
Swans was full of sui'dam. Packed with them, in fact, at least
once night came. Bethamin was lucky to have only two bedmates.
Ordered to accommodate as many as she could, the innkeeper
pushed four and five into a bed when she thought they would
fit. Still, the bedding was clean and the food quite good, if
peculiar. And given that the alternative was likely a hayloft,
she was glad to share. 

At this hour, the round tables in the common room were
empty. Some of the sui'dam living there surely had duties, and
the rest simply wanted to avoid the innkeeper. Arms folded,
frowning, Darnella Shoran was watching several serving women
sweep the green-tiled floor industriously. A skinny woman with
gray hair worn rolled on the nape of her neck and a long jaw
that gave her a belligerent appearance, she might have been a
der’sul’dam in spite of the ridiculous knife she wore, its
hilt studded with cheap red and white gems. Supposedly the
serving women were free, but they jumped like property
whenever the innkeeper spoke. 

Bethamin jumped slightly herself when the woman rounded on
her. "You are aware of my rules concerning men, Mistress
Zeami?" she demanded. After all this time, the slow way these
people talked still sounded odd. "I've heard about your
foreign ways, and if that is how you are, it is your business,

but not under my roof. If you want to meet with men, you will 

do it elsewhere!"
"I assure you, I have not been meeting men here or anywhere
else, Mistress Shoran."
The innkeeper frowned at her in suspicion. "Well, he came 

around asking for you by name. A pretty, yellow-haired man.
Not a boy, but not very old, either. One of your lot, dragging
his words out so you could hardly understand him." 

Making her tone placating, Bethamin did her best to convince
the woman that she did not know anyone who met that descrip
tion, and that she had no time for men with her duties. Both
were true, yet she would have lied if necessary. The Golden
Swans had not been commandeered, and three in a bed was much
preferable to a hayloft. She tried to find out whether the
woman might like some small gift when she went shopping, but
the woman actually seemed offended when she suggested a knife
with more colorful gems. She had not meant anything expensive,
nothing in way of a bribe-not really-yet Mistress Shoran
seemed to take it so, huffing and frowning indignantly. In any
case, she was not sure she succeeded in changing the woman's
mind by a hair. For some reason, the innkeeper seemed to
believe they spent all their free hours engaged in debauchery.
She was still frowning when Bethamin started up the railless
stairs at the side of the common room pretending that she had
not a thought in her mind beyond shopping. 

The man's identity did concern her, though. She certainly
did not recognize the description. In all likelihood, he had
come about her inquiries, but if that was the case, if he had
been able to trace her here, then she had been insufficiently
discreet. Perhaps dangerously so. Still, she hoped he came
back. She needed to know. She needed to! 

Opening the door to her room, she froze. Impossibly, her
iron lockbox sat on the bed with its lid thrown open. That was
a very good lock, and the only key lay at the bottom of her
belt pouch. The thief was still there, and oddly, he was
thumbing through her diary! How in the Light had the man
gotten past Mistress Shoran's surveillance? 

Paralysis lasted only an instant. Snatching her belt knife
from its sheath, she opened her mouth to scream for help. 

The fellow's expression never changed, and he neither tried
to run nor to attack her. He just took something small from
his pouch and held it up where she could see it, and her
breath turned to lead in her throat. Numbly she fumbled her
knife back into its scabbard and held out her hands to show
him she held no weapon and was not attempting to reach one.
Between his fingers was a gold-edged ivory plaque, engraved
with a raven and a tower. Suddenly she really saw the man,
yellow-haired and in his middle years. Perhaps he was pretty,
as Mistress Shoran had said, but only a madwoman would think
of a Seeker for Truth in that fashion. Thank the Light she had
not recorded anything dangerous in her diary. But he must
know. He had asked for her by name. Oh, Light, he must know! 

"Close the door," he said quietly, returning the plaque to
his pouch, and she obeyed. She wanted to run. She wanted to
plead for mercy. But he was a Seeker, so she stood there,
trembling. To her surprise, he dropped her diary back into the
lockbox and gestured to the room's single chair. "Sit. There

is no need for you to be uncomfortable." 

Slowly, she hung up her cloak and settled onto the chair,
for once not caring how uncomfortable the strange ladderlike
back was. She did not try to hide her shivers. Even one of the
Blood, even one of the High Blood, might quake at being
questioned by a Seeker. She had a small hope. He had not
simply ordered her to accompany him. Perhaps he did not know
after all. 

"You have been asking questions about a ship captain named
Egeanin Sarna," he said. "Why?" 

Hope faltered with a thud she could feel in her chest. "I
was looking for an old friend," she quavered. The best lies
always contained as much truth as possible. "We were at Faime
together. I don't know whether she survived." Lying to a
Seeker was treason, but she had committed her first treason in
deserting during the battle at Falme. 

"She lives," he said curtly. He sat down on the end of the
bed without taking his eyes from her. They were blue, and made
her want her cloak back. "She is a hero, a Captain of the
Green, and the Lady Egeanin Tamarath, now. Her reward from the
High Lady Suroth. She is also here in Ebou Dar. You will renew
your friendship with her. And report to me who she sees, where
she goes, what she says. Everything." 

Bethamin clamped her jaws to keep from laughing
hysterically. He was after Egeanin, not her. The Light be
praised! The Light be praised in all its infinite mercy! She
had only wanted to know if the woman still lived, if she had
to take precautions. Egeanin had freed her once, yet in the
ten years Bethamin had known her before that, she had been a
model of duty. It had always seemed possible she would repent
that one aberration no matter the cost to herself, but, wonder
of wonders, she had not. And the Seeker was after her, not . .
. ! Possibilities reared up in front of her, certainties, and
she no longer wanted to laugh. Instead, she licked her lips. 

"How . . . ? How can I renew our friendship?" It had never
been friendship anyway, merely acquaintance, but it was too
late to say that now. "You tell me she's been raised to the
Blood. Any overture must come from her." Fear emboldened her.
And panicked her as it had at Falme. "Why do you need me to be
your Listener? You can take her for questioning any time you
decide to." She bit the inside of her cheek to still her
tongue. Light, she wanted nothing less than she wanted him to
do that. Seekers were the secret hand of the Empress, might
she live forever; in the Empress's name, he could put even
Suroth to the question, or Tuon herself. True, he would die
horribly if it turned out he had been in error, but the risk
was small with Egeanin. She was only of the low Blood. If he
put Egeanin to the question. . . . 

To her shock, rather than simply telling her to obey, he sat
studying her. "I will explain certain things," he said, and
that was a greater shock. Seekers never explained, so she had
heard. "You are no use to me, or the Empire, unless you
survive, and you will not survive if you fail to understand
what you face. If you reveal a word of what I tell you to
anyone, you will dream of the Tower of the Ravens as a respite
from where you will find yourself. Listen, and learn. Egeanin
was sent to Tanchico before the city fell to us, among other

things as part of the effort to find sui'dam who had been left
behind at Falme. Strangely, she found none, though others did,
like those who aided your own return. Instead, Egeanin
murdered the sui'dam she found. I put the charge to her my
self, and she did not bother denying it. She did not even show
outrage, or even indignation. As bad, she consorted in secret
with Aes Sedai." He said the name flatly, not with the normal
disgust but rather like an accusation. "When she departed
Tanchico, she was traveling on a ship commanded by a man named
Bayle Domon. He made some disturbance at having his ship
boarded and was made property. She bought him and immediately
made him so'jhin, so plainly he is of some importance to her.
Interestingly, she had brought the same man to the High Lord
Turak in Falme. Domon engaged the High Lord's regard to the
extent that the fellow was often invited to converse with
him." He grimaced. "Do you have wine? Or brandy?" 

Bethamin gave a start. "Lona has a flask of the local
brandy, I think. It's a rough drink. ..." 

He ordered her to pour him a cup anyway, and she obeyed
hurriedly. She wanted to keep him talking, anything to delay
the inevitable. She knew for a fact that Egeanin had not been
killing sui'dam, yet her proof would condemn her to share
Renna and Seta's sour fate. If she was lucky. If this Seeker 

saw his duty to the Empire as Suroth had. He peered into the
pewter cup, swirling the dark apple brandy while she took her
seat again. 

"The High Lord Turak was a great man," he murmured. "Perhaps
one of the greatest the Empire has ever seen. A pity his
so'jhin decided to follow him into death. Honorable of them,
but it makes it impossible to be sure Domon was in the band
that murdered the High Lord." Bethamin flinched. Sometimes the
Blood died at one another's hands, of course, but the word
murder was never mentioned. The Seeker continued, still
peering into his cup without drinking. "The High Lord had
ordered me to watch Suroth. He suspected she was a danger to
the Empire itself. His own words. And with his death, she
managed to gain command of the Forerunners. I have no evidence
that she ordered his death, but there is much that is
suggestive. Suroth brought a damane to Falme, a young woman
who was Aes Sedai," again, the name was flat and hard, "and
who somehow escaped the very day that Turak died. Suroth also
has a damane in her entourage who was once Aes Sedai. She has
never been seen uncollared, but. . . ." He shrugged, as though
that were a thing of no moment. Bethamin's eyes popped. Who
would uncollar a damane? A well-trained damane was a treat and
a joy, but as well unleash a drunken grolm! "It seems very
likely she has a marath'damane hidden among her property,
too," he went on, just as if he were not listing crimes little
lower than treason. "I believe Suroth gave the order for
sui'dam who managed to reach Tanchico to be killed, perhaps in
order to hide Egeanin's meetings with Aes Sedai. You sui'dam
always say you can tell a marath'damane at sight, correct?" 

He looked up suddenly, and somehow she managed to meet those
frozen eyes with a smile. His face could have belonged to any
man, but those eyes. . . . She was glad to be seated. Her
knees were shaking so hard she was surprised it did not show
through her skins. "It is not quite that easy, I'm afraid."

She almost succeeded in keeping her voice steady. "You. . . .
Surely you know enough to charge Suroth with the High Lord
Turak's m-m-murder." If he took Suroth, there would be no need
to involve her, or Egeanin. 

"Turak was a great man, but my duty is to the Empress, may
she live forever, and through her, to the Empire." He drank
the brandy down in one long swallow, and his face became as
hard as his voice. "Turak's death is dust beside the danger
facing the Empire. The Aes Sedai of these lands seek power in
the Empire, a return to the days of chaos and murder when no
man could close his eyes at night knowing he would wake, and
they are aided by a venomous worm of treachery boring from
within. Suroth may not even be that worm's head. For the
Empire's sake, I dare not take her until I can kill the whole
worm. Egeanin is a thread I can follow to the worm, and you
are a thread to Egeanin. So you will renew your friendship
with her, whatever it takes. Do you understand me?" 

"I understand, and I will obey." Her voice shook, but what
else could she say? The Light save her, what else could she
say? 

Chapter 21: A Matter of Property 

Egeanin lay on her back on the bed with her hands raised,
palms toward the ceiling and fingers spread. Her pale blue
skirts made a fan across her legs, and she tried to lie very
still so as not to wrinkle the narrow pleats too much. The way
dresses confined movement, they must be an invention of the
Dark Lord. Lying there, she studied fingernails too long for
her to lay hands on a line without breaking at least half. Not
that she had personally handled lines in quite a few years,
but she had always been ready and able to, at need. 

". . . plain foolheadedness!" Bayle growled, poking at the
blazing logs in the brick fireplace. "Fortune prick me,
Seahawk could sail nearer the wind, and faster, than any
Seanchan ship ever made. There did be squalls ahead, too, and.
. . ." She listened only enough to know he had stopped
grumbling about the room and taken up the same old argument.
The dark-paneled chamber was not the best at The Wandering
Woman, or even close, yet it met his requirements excepting
the view. The two windows looked out on the stableyard. A
Captain of the Green ranked with a banner-general, but in this
place, most of those she outranked were aides or secretaries
to senior officers of the Ever Victorious Army. Among the army
as at sea, being of the Blood added little unless it was the
High Blood. 

The sea-green lacquer on the nails of her little fingers
sparkled. She had always hoped to rise, eventually perhaps to
Captain of the Gold, commanding fleets, as her mother had. As
a girl, she had even dreamed of being named the Hand of the
Empress at Sea just like her mother, to stand at the left hand
of the Crystal Throne, so'jhin to the Empress herself, might
she live forever, allowed to speak directly to her. Young
women had foolish dreams. And she had to admit that once
chosen for the Forerunners, she considered the possibility of

a new name. Not hoping for it, certainly-that would have been
getting above herself-yet everyone had known the recovery of
the stolen lands would mean new additions to the Blood. Now
she was Captain of the Green, ten years before she should have
had any hope of it, and stood on the slopes of that steep
mountain that rose through the clouds to the sublime pinnacle
of the Empress, might she live forever. 

She doubted she would be given command of one greatship,
however, much less a squadron. Suroth claimed to accept her
story, but if so, why had she been left sitting at Cantorin?
Why, when orders finally came, were they to report here and
not to a ship? Of course, there were only so many commands
available, even for a Captain of the Green. It might be that.
She might have been chosen for a position near Suroth, though
her orders said only that she was to travel to Ebou Dar by the
first available means and await further instructions. Maybe.
The High Blood might speak to the low without the intervention
of a Voice, but it seemed to her that Suroth had forgotten her
as soon as she was dismissed after receiving her rewards.
Which also might mean Suroth was suspicious. Arguments that
ran in circles. In any case, she could live on seawater if
that Seeker had given over his suspicions. He had no more, or
she would already be in a dungeon shrieking, yet if he was in
the city, too, he would be watching her, waiting for one
misstep. He could not shed so much as a single drop of her
blood, now, but the Seekers were experienced at dealing with
that minor difficulty. So long as he left it to watching,
though, he could stare at her until his eyes shriveled. She
had a stable deck under her feet, now, and from here on she
would take great care how she stepped. Captain of the Gold
might no longer be possible, yet retiring as Captain of the
Green was honorable. 

"Well?" Bayle demanded. "What about that?" 

Wide and solid and strong, just the sort of man she had al
ways favored, he was standing beside the bed in his
shirtsleeves, a frown on his face and his fists on his hips.
Not a pose a so'jhin should take with his mistress. With a
sigh, she let her hands drop onto her stomach. Bayle just
would not learn how a so'jhin was supposed to behave. He took
it all as a joke, or play, as though none of it were real.
Sometimes he even said he wanted to be her Voice, no matter
how often she explained she was not of the High Blood. Once,
she had had him beaten, and afterwards he had refused to sleep
in the same bed with her until she apologized. Apologized! 

Hastily, she ran through what she had half-heard of his
growling. Yes; still the same arguments after all this time.
Nothing new. Swinging her legs over the side of the bed, she
sat up and ticked points off on her fingers. She had done it
so often, she could deliver them by rote. "Had you tried to
run, the damane on the other ship would have snapped your
masts like twigs. It was not a chance stop, Bayle, and you
know it; their first hail was a demand to know whether you
were Seahawk. By bringing you into the wind and announcing we
were on our way to Cantorin with a gift for the Empress, may
she live forever, I allayed their suspicions. Anything
else-anything!-and we would all have been chained in the hold
and sold as soon as we reached Cantorin. I doubt we'd have

been lucky enough to face the headsman instead." She held up
her thumb. "And last, if you had kept calm as I told you to,
you would not have gone to the block, either. You cost me a
great deal!" Several other women in Cantorin apparently had
her same taste in men. They had pushed the bidding up
extravagantly. 

Stubborn man that he was, he scowled and scrubbed at his
short beard irritably. "I do still say we could have dropped
it all over the side," he muttered. "That Seeker had no proof
I did have it aboard." 

"Seekers do no need proof," she said, mocking his accent.
"Seekers do find proof, and the finding do be painful." If he
was reduced to bringing up what even he had conceded long
since, maybe she was finally nearing the end of the whole
thing. "In any case, Bayle, you have already admitted there is
no harm in Suroth having that collar and bracelets. They can't
be put on him unless someone gets close enough, and I've heard
nothing that suggests anyone has or will." She refrained from
adding that it would not matter if someone did. Bayle was not
really familiar with even the versions of the Prophecies they
had on this side of the World Sea, but he was adamant that
none mentioned the necessity of the Dragon Reborn kneeling to
the Crystal Throne. It might prove necessary for him to be
fitted with this male a'dam, but Bayle would never see it.
"What is done is done, Bayle. If the Light shines on us, we
will live long in the service of the Empire. Now, you know
this city, so you say. What is there interesting to see or
do?" 

"There always do be festivals of some sort," he said slowly,
grudgingly. He never liked giving up his argument, no matter
how futile. "Some may be to your taste. Some not, I do think.
You do be ... picky." What did he mean by that? Suddenly he
grinned. "We could find a Wise Woman. They do hear marriage
vows, here." He ran his fingers across the shaven side of his
scalp, rolling his eyes upward as though trying to see it. "Of
course, if I do recall the lecture you did give me on the
'rights and privileges' of my position, so'jhin can only marry
other so'jhin, so you do need to free me, first. Fortune prick
me, you do no have a foot of those promised estates, yet. I
can take up my old trade and give you an estate soon enough." 

Her mouth fell open. This was not something old. This was
very, very new. She had always prided herself on being level
headed. She had risen to command by skill and daring, a
veteran of sea battles and storms and shipwreck. And right
that moment she felt like a first-voyage fingerling looking
down from the main peak, panicked and dizzy, with the whole
world spinning around her and a seemingly inevitable fall to
the sea filling her eyes. 

"It is not so simple," she said, surging to her feet so he
was forced to step back. Light's truth, she hated sounding
breathless! "Manumission requires me to provide for your
livelihood as a free man, to see you can support yourself."
Light! Words flooding out in a rush were as bad as being
breathless. She imagined herself on a deck. It helped, a
little. "In your case, that means buying a ship, I suppose,"
she said, sounding unruffled, at least, "and as you reminded
me, I have no estates yet. Besides, I could not allow you to

return to smuggling, and you know it." That much was simple
truth, and the rest not really a lie. Her years at sea had
been profitable, and if the gold she could call on was small 

gleanings to one of the Blood, she could buy a ship, so long
as he did not want a greatship, but she had not actually
denied being able to afford one. 

He spread his arms, another thing he was not supposed to do,
and after a moment she laid her cheek against his broad
shoulder and let him enfold her. "It will be well, lass," he
murmured gently. "Somehow, it will be well." 

"You must not call me 'lass,' Bayle," she chided, staring be
yond his shoulder toward the fireplace. It would not seem to
come into focus. Before leaving Tanchico she had decided to
marry him, one of those lightning decisions that had made her
reputation. Smuggler he might be, but she could have put a
stop to that, and he was steadfast, strong and intelligent, a
seafarer. That last had always been a necessity, to her. Only,
she had not known his customs. Some places in the Empire, men
did the asking, and were actually offended if a woman even
suggested. She knew nothing of enticing a man, either. Her few
lovers had all been men of equal rank, men she could approach
openly and bid farewell when one or the other of them was
ordered to another ship or promoted. And now he was so'jhin.
There was nothing wrong with bedding your own so'jhin, of
course, so long as you did not flaunt the fact. He would make
up a pallet at the foot of the bed as usual, even if he never
slept on it. But freeing a so'jhin, casting him off from the
rights and privileges Bayle sneered at, was the height of
cruelty. No, she was lying by avoidance again, and worse,
lying to herself. She wanted wholeheartedly to marry the man
Bayle Domon. She was bitterly unsure she could bring herself
to marry manumitted property. 

"As my Lady do command, so shall it be," he said in a blithe
mockery of formality. 

She punched him under the ribs. Not hard. Just enough to
make him grunt. He had to learn! She did not want to see the
sights of Ebou Dar any longer. She just wanted to stay where
she was, wrapped in Bayle's arms, not needing to make
decisions, stay right where they stood forever. 

A sharp knock sounded at the door, and she pushed him away.
At least he knew enough not to protest that. While he tugged
on his coat, she shook out the pleats of her dress and
attempted to smooth away the wrinkles from lying on the bed.
There seemed to be a good many, despite how still she had
been. This knock might be a summons from Suroth or a maid
seeing whether she needed anything, but whoever it was, she
was not going to let anyone see her looking as if she had been
rolling about on the deck. 

Giving up the useless attempt, she waited until Bayle had
buttoned himself up and adopted the attitude he thought proper
for a so'jhin-Like a captain on his quarterdeck ready to shout
orders, she thought, sighing to herself-then barked, "Come!"
The woman who opened the door was the last she expected to
see. 

Bethamin eyed her hesitantly before darting in and closing
the door softly behind her. The sui'dam took a deep breath,
then knelt, holding herself stiffly upright. Her dark blue

dress with its lightning-worked red panels looked freshly
cleaned and ironed. The sharp contrast to her own dishevelment
irritated Egeanin. "My Lady," Bethamin began uncertainly, then
swallowed. "My Lady, I beg a word with you." Glancing at
Bayle, she licked her lips. "In private, if it pleases you, my
Lady?" 

The last time Egeanin had seen this woman was in a basement
in Tanchico, when she removed an a'dam from Bethamin and told
her to go. That would have been enough for blackmail if she
were of the High Blood! Without doubt the charge would be the
same as for freeing a damane. Treason. Except that Bethamin
could not reveal it without condemning herself, too. 

"He can hear anything you have to say, Bethamin," she said
calmly. She was in shoal waters, and that was no place for any
thing except calm. "What do you want?" 

Bethamin shifted on her knees and wasted more time with lip
licking. Then, suddenly, words came out in a rush. "A Seeker
came to me and ordered me to resume our . . . our acquaintance
and report on you to him." As if to stop herself babbling, she
caught her underlip in her teeth and stared at Egeanin. Her
dark eyes were desperate and pleading, just as they had been
in that Tanchico basement. 

Egeanin met her gaze coolly. Shoal waters, and an unexpected
gale. Her strange orders to Ebou Dar suddenly were explained.
She did not need a description to know it must be the same
man. Nor did she need to ask why Bethamin was committing
treason by betraying the Seeker. If he decided his suspicions
were strong enough to take her for questioning, eventually
Egeanin would tell him everything she knew, including about a
certain basement, and Bethamin would soon find herself once
more wearing an a'dam. The woman's only hope was to help
Egeanin evade him. 

"Rise," she said. "Have a seat." Luckily, there were two
chairs, though neither appeared comfortable. "Bayle, I think
there is brandy in that flask on the drawered chest." 

Bethamin was so shaky that Egeanin had to help her up and
guide her to a chair. Bayle brought worked silver cups holding
a little brandy and remembered to bow and present Egeanin's
first, but when he returned to the chest, she saw he had
poured for himself, as well. He stood there, cup in hand,
watching them as if it were the most natural thing in the
world. Bethamin stared at him pop-eyed. 

"You think you are poised over the impaling stake," Egeanin
said, and the sui'dam flinched, her frightened gaze jerking
back to Egeanin's face. "You are wrong, Bethamin. The only
real crime I have committed was freeing you." Not precisely
true, but in the end, after all, she had placed the male a'dam
in Suroth's hands herself. And talking with Aes Sedai was not
a crime. The Seeker might suspect-he had tried to listen at a
door in Tanchico-but she was not a sui'dam, charged with
catching marath'damane. At worst that meant a reprimand. "So
long as he doesn't learn about that, he has no reason to
arrest me. If he wants to know what I say, or anything else
about me, tell him. Just remember that if he does decide to
arrest me, I will give him your name." A reminder could only
guard against Bethamin suddenly thinking she saw a safe way
out, leaving her behind. "He won't have to make me scream

once." 

To her surprise, the sui'dam began to laugh hysterically.
Until Egeanin leaned forward and slapped her, anyway. 

Rubbing her cheek sullenly, Bethamin said, "He knows near
enough everything except the basement, my Lady." And she began
to describe a fantastical web of treason connecting Egeanin
and Bayle and Suroth and maybe even Tuon herself with Aes
Sedai, and marath'damane, and damane who had been Aes Sedai. 

Bethamin's voice began to grow panicky as she darted from
one incredible charge to another, and before long, Egeanin
began sipping brandy. Just sips. She was calm. She was in
command of herself. She was. . . . This was beyond shoal
waters. She was riding close on a lee shore, and Soulblinder
himself rode that gale, coming to steal her eyes. After
listening for a time with his own eyes growing wider and
wider, Bayle drank down a brimful cup of the dark raw liquor
in one go. She was relieved to see his shock, and guilty at
feeling relieved. She would not believe him a murderer.
Besides, he was very good using his hands but only fair at a
sword; with weapons or bare-handed, the High Lord Turak would
have gutted Bayle like a carp. Her only excuse for even
considering it was that he had been with two Aes Sedai in
Tanchico. The whole thing was nonsense. It had to be! Those
two Aes Sedai had not been part of any plot, just a chance
meeting. Light's truth, they had been little more than girls,
and near innocents at that, too softhearted to accept her
suggestion they cut the Seeker's throat when they had the
chance. A pity, that. They had handed her the male a'dam. Ice
crept down her spine. If the Seeker ever learned she had
intended disposing of the a'dam the way those Aes Sedai
suggested, if anyone learned, she would be judged as guilty of
treason as if she had succeeded in dropping it into the
ocean's depths. Are you not? she demanded of herself. The Dark
One was coming to steal her eyes. 

Tears streaming down her face, Bethamin clutched her cup to
her breasts as though hugging herself. If she was trying to
keep from shaking, she failed miserably. Trembling, she stared
at Egeanin, or perhaps at something beyond her. Something
horrifying. The fire had not warmed the room very far yet, but
sweat was beaded on Bethamin's face. ". . . and if he learns
about Renna and Seta," she babbled, "he will know for sure!
He'll come after me, and the other sui'dam! You have to stop
him! If he takes me, I'll give him your name! I will!"
Abruptly she tilted lifted the cup to her mouth unsteadily and
gulped the contents, choking and coughing, then thrust it out
toward Bayle for more. He did not move. He looked poleaxed. 

"Who are Renna and Seta?" Egeanin asked. She was as fright
ened as the sui'dam, but as always, she kept her fear hard-
reefed. "What can the Seeker learn about them?" Bethamin's
eyes slid away, refusing to meet hers, and abruptly she knew.
"They are sui'dam, aren't they, Bethamin? And they were
collared, too, just like you." 

"They are in Suroth's service," the woman whimpered. "They
are never allowed to be complete, though. Suroth knows." 

Egeanin rubbed at her eyes wearily. Perhaps there was a con
spiracy, after all. Or Suroth might be hiding what the pair
were to protect the Empire. The Empire depended on sui'dam;

its strength was built on them. The news that sui'dam were
women who could learn to channel might shatter the Empire to
its core. It had surely shaken her. Maybe shattered her. She
herself had not freed Bethamin out of duty. So many things had
changed in Tanchico. She no longer believed that any woman who
could channel deserved to be collared. Criminals, certainly,
and maybe those who refused oaths to the Crystal Throne, and.
. . . She did not know. Once, her life had been made up of
rock-solid certainties, like guiding stars that never failed.
She wanted her old life back. She wanted a few certainties. 

"I thought," Bethamin began. She would have no lips left if
she did not stop licking them. "My Lady, if the Seeker . . .
suffers an accident . . . perhaps the danger would pass with
him." Light, the woman believed in this intrigue against the
Crystal Throne, and she was ready to let it pass to save her
own skin! 

Egeanin rose, and the sui'dam had no choice but to follow.
"I will think on it, Bethamin. You will come to see me every
day you are free. The Seeker will expect it. Until I make my
decision, you will do nothing. Do you understand me? Nothing
except your duties and what I tell you." Bethamin understood.
She was so relieved that someone else was dealing with the
danger that she knelt again and kissed Egeanin's hand. 

All but bundling the woman out of the room, Egeanin closed
the door, then hurled her cup at the fireplace. It hit the
bricks and bounced off, rolling across the small rug on the
floor. It was dented. Her father had given her that set of
cups when she gained her first command. All the strength
seemed to have leached out other. The Seeker had knitted
moonbeams and happenstance into a strangling cord for her
neck. If she was not named property instead. She shuddered at
the possibility. Whatever she did, the Seeker had her trapped. 

"I can kill him." Bayle flexed his hands, broad like the
rest of him. "He be a skinny man, as I recall. Used to
everyone obeying his word. He will no be expecting anyone to
snap his neck." 

"You'll never find him to kill, Bayle. He won't meet her in
the same place twice, and even if you followed her day and
night, he might well be in disguise. You cannot kill every man
she speaks to." 

Stiffening her spine, she marched to the table where her
writing desk sat and flipped open the lid. The wave-carved
writing desk, with its silver-mounted glass inkpot and silver
sand jar, had been her mother's gift at that first command.
The neatly stacked sheets of fine paper bore her newly granted
sigil, a sword and a fouled anchor. "I will write out your
manumission," she said, dipping the silver pen, "and give you
enough coin to buy passage." The pen glided across the page.
She had always had a good hand. Log entries had to be legible.
"Not enough to buy a ship, I fear, but it must do. You will
depart on the first available ship. Shave the rest of your
head, and you should have no trouble. It's still a shock,
seeing bald men not wearing wigs, but so far no one seems to-"
She gasped as Bayle slid the page right out from under her
pen. 

"If you do free me, you can no give me orders," he said.
"Besides, you must ensure I can support myself if you do free

me." He stuck the page into the fire and watched while it
blackened and curled. "A ship, you did say, and I will hold
you to it." 

"Listen well and hear," she said in her best quarterdeck
voice, but it made no impression on him. It had to be the
cursed dress. 

"You do need a crew," he said right over her, "and I can
find you one, even here." 

"What good will a crew do me? I don't have a ship. If I did,
where could I sail that the Seeker couldn't find me?" 

Bayle shrugged as though that was not important. "A crew,
first. I did recognize that young fellow in the kitchens, the
one with the lass on his knee. Stop grimacing. There be no
harm to a little kissing." 

She drew herself up, prepared to set him firmly to rights.
She was frowning, not grimacing, that pair had been groping at
one another in public like animals, and he was her property!
He could not speak to her this way! 

"His name be Mat Cauthon," Bayle went on even as she opened
her mouth. "By his clothes, he has come up in the world, and
far. The first time I did see him, he did be in a farmer's
coat, escaping Trollocs in a place even Trollocs be afraid of.
The last time, half the town of Whitebridge did be burning,
close enough to, and a Myrddraal did be trying to kill him and
his friends. I did no see for myself, but anything else be
more than I can believe. Any man who can survive Trollocs and
Myrddraal do be useful, I think. Especially now." 

"Someday," she growled, "I am going to have to see some of
these Trollocs and Myrddraal you go on about." The things
could not be half as fearsome as he described. 

He grinned and shook his head. He knew what she thought
about these so-called Shadowspawn. "Better still, young Master
Cauthon did have companions on my ship. Good men for this
situation, too. One, you do know. Thom Merrilin." 

Egeanin's breath caught. Merrilin was a clever old man. A
dangerous old man. And he had been with those two Aes Sedai
when she met Bayle. "Bayle, is there a conspiracy? Tell me.
Please?" No one said please to property, not even to so'jhin.
Not unless they wanted something badly, anyway. 

Shaking his head again, he leaned a hand on the stone mantel
piece and frowned into the flames. "Aes Sedai do plot the way
fish swim. They could scheme with Suroth, but the question do
be, could she scheme with them? I did see her look at damane,
like they did be mangy dogs with fleas and catching diseases.
Could she even talk to an Aes Sedai?" He looked up, and his
eyes were clear and open, hiding nothing. "I do tell this for
true. On my grandmother's grave, I do know of no plot. But did
I know of ten, I still will no let that Seeker or anyone else
harm you, whatever it do take." It was the sort of thing any
loyal so'jhin might say. Well, no so'jhin she had ever heard
of would have been so straightforward, but the sentiments were
the same. Only, she knew he did not mean it that way, could
never mean it that way. 

"Thank you, Bayle." A steady voice was a necessity for com
mand, but she was proud that hers was steady now. "Find this
Master Cauthon, and Thom Merrilin, if you can. Perhaps some
thing can be done."

 He failed to bow before leaving her presence, but she did
not even consider upbraiding him., She did not intend to let
the Seeker take her, either. Whatever it took to stop him.
That was a decision she had reached before she freed Bethamin.
She filled the dented cup to the brim with brandy, meaning to
get so drunk she could not think, but instead she sat peering
into the dark liquid without touching a drop. Whatever it
took. Light, she was no better than Bethamin! But knowing it
changed nothing. Whatever it took. 

Chapter 22: Out of Thin Air 

The Amhara Market was one of three in Far Madding where
foreigners were allowed to trade, but despite the name, the
huge square had nothing of the look of a market, no market
stalls or displays of merchandise. A few mounted riders, a
handful of closed sedan chairs carried by brightly liveried
bearers and the occasional coach with its window curtains
drawn made their way though a sparse yet bustling crowd that
might have been seen in any large city. Most were well wrapped
in their cloaks against the morning winds blowing in off the
lake that surrounded the city, and it was the cold that made
them hurry more than any urgent business. Around the square,
as at the city's other two Strangers' Markets, the tall stone
houses of bankers rubbed shoulders with slate-roofed stone
inns where the foreign merchants stayed and blocky windowless
stone warehouses where their goods were stored, all jumbled in
among stone stables and stone-walled wagon yards. Far Madding
was a city of stone walls and slate roofs. This time of year,
the inns were a quarter full at best, and the warehouses and
wagon yards emptier than that. 

Come spring and the full revival of trade, though, merchants
would pay triple for whatever space they could find. 

A round marble pedestal in the center of the square held a
statue of Savion Amhara, two spans tall and proud in fur-
trimmed robes of marble, with elaborate marble chains of
office around her neck. Her marble face was stern beneath the
First Counsel's jeweled marble diadem, and her right hand
firmly gripped the hilt of a marble sword, its point resting
between her slippered feet, while her raised left hand aimed a
warning marble finger toward the Tear Gate, some three-
quarters of a mile away. Far Madding depended on merchants
from Tear and Illian and Caemlyn, but the High Council was
ever wary of foreigners and their corrupting outland ways. One
of the steel-capped Street Guards, in a leather coat sewn with
overlapping square metal plates and a Golden Hand on the left
shoulder, stood below the statue using a long limber pole to
frighten away black-winged gray pigeons. Savion Amhara was one
of the three most revered women in Far Mad-ding's history,
though none was known very far beyond the lake's shores. Two
men from the city were mentioned in every history of the
world, though it had been called Aren Mador when one was born
and Fel Moreina for the other, but Far Madding did its fervent
best to forget Raolin Darksbane and Yurian Stonebow. In a real
way, those two men were why Rand was in Far Madding.

 A few people in the Amhara glanced at him as he passed, yet
nobody glanced twice. That he was from off was plain enough,
with his blue eyes and his hair cut at the shoulder. Men here
wore it sometimes hanging all the way to the waist, either
tied at the nape of the neck or held with a clip. His plain
brown woolens were nondescript, though, no better than a
moderately successful merchant might wear, and he was not the
only one cloakless in spite of the lake winds. Most of the
others were fork-bearded Kandori or Arafellin with belled
braids, or hawk-nosed Saldaeans, men and women who found this
weather mild compared to Borderland winter, but nothing about
him said he was not a Borderlander, too. For his part, he
simply refused to let the cold touch him, ignored it as he
might have a fly buzzing. A cloak might get in his way, if he
found his chance to act. 

For once, even his height did not attract notice. There were
a good many very tall men in Far Madding, few of them natives.
Manel Rochaid himself was only a hand shorter than Rand, if
that. Rand stayed well behind the man, letting people and
sedan chairs sift between them and sometimes even hide his
quarry. With his hair dyed black by herbs Nynaeve had
provided, he doubted that the renegade Asha'man would notice
him even if the man turned around. For his part, he was not
worried about losing Rochaid. Most of the local men wore dull
colors, with brighter embroidery about the chest and shoulders
and perhaps a jeweled hair clip for the more prosperous, while
the outland merchants favored sober unpretentious clothes, so
as not to seem overly wealthy, and their guards and drivers
bundled themselves in rough woolens. Rochaid's bright red silk
coat stood out. He strode across the square like a king, one
hand resting lightly on the hilt of his sword, a fur-edged
cloak billowing behind him in the wind. He was a fool. That
flapping cloak and the sword alike drew eyes. His waxed and
curled mustaches named him a Murandian, who should be
shivering like any normal human being, and that sword. ... A
pure bull goose fool. 

You are the fool, coming to this place, Lews Therin panted
wildly inside his head. Madness! Madness! We have to get out!
We have to! 

Ignoring the voice, Rand pulled his snug gloves tighter and
kept a steady pace after Rochaid. A number of the Street
Guards in the square were watching the man. Foreigners were
considered troublemakers and hotheads, and Murandians had a
prickly reputation. A foreigner carrying a sword always
attracted the Guards' attention. Rand was glad he had decided
to leave his at the inn with Min. She nestled in the back of
his head more strongly than Elayne or Aviendha, or Alanna. He
was only vaguely aware of the others. Min seemed alive inside
him. 

As Rochaid left the Amhara, heading deeper into the city,
flights of pigeons sprang up from the rooftops, but instead of
making the unerring swoops that normally would have taken them
into the sky, birds crashed into one another and some tumbled
fluttering to the pavement. People gaped, including the Street
Guards who had been watching Rochaid so intently a moment
before. The man did not look back, but it would not have
mattered had he seen. He knew Rand was in the city without

seeing the effects of a ta'veren, or he would not have been
there. 

Following Rochaid onto the Street of Joy, really two broad
straight streets separated by a measured row of leafless gray-
barked trees, Rand smiled. Rochaid and his friends probably
thought themselves very clever. Perhaps they had found the map
of the northern Plains of Maredo replaced upside down in the
racks in the Stone of Tear, or the book on cities of the south
misshelved in the library of the Aesdaishar Palace in Chachin,
or one of the other hints he had left behind. Small mistakes a
man in a hurry might make, but any two or three together
painted an arrow pointing to Far Madding. Rochaid and the
others had been quick to see it, quicker than he had expected,
or else they had had help to point it out. Either way, it did
not matter. 

He was not sure why the Murandian had come ahead of the
others, but he knew they would come, Torval and Dashiva,
Gedwyn and Kisman, to try finishing what they had bungled in
Cairhien. A pity none of the Forsaken would be fool enough
come after him here. They would just send the others. He
wanted to kill Rochaid before the rest arrived, if he could.
Even here, where they were all on an equal footing, it would
be best to cut down the odds. Two days Rochaid had been in Far
Madding, openly asking questions about a tall red-haired man,
swaggering about as if he had not a worry in the world. The
man had seen any number who more or less met his description,
but he still thought he was the hunter, not the hunted. 

You've brought us here to die! Lews Therin moaned. Being
here is as bad as death! 

Rand shrugged uncomfortably. He agreed with the voice about
that last. He would be as glad as Lews Therin to leave. But
sometimes the only choice was between bad and worse. Rochaid
was ahead of him, almost within reach. That was all that
mattered now. 

The gray stone shops and inns along the Street of Joy
changed the farther Rand went from the Amhara Market.
Silversmiths replaced cutlers, and then goldsmiths replaced
silversmiths. Seamstresses and tailors displayed embroidered
silks and brocades instead of woolens. The coaches that
rumbled over the paving stones now had sigils lacquered on the
doors and teams of four or six matched for size and color, and
more riders were mounted on prime Tairen bloodstock or animals
as good. Sedan chairs borne by trotting bearers became almost
as common as people afoot, and, afoot, shopkeepers in coats or
dresses heavily embroidered around the chest and shoulders
were outnumbered by folk in livery as bright as that of the
chair-bearers. Often as not, bits of colored glass now
decorated men's hair clips, or occasionally pearls or richer
gems, though few men walked whose wives could afford gems.
Only the cold wind was the same, that and the Street Guards
patrolling in threes, eyes alert for trouble. There were not
so many as in the Strangers' Markets, yet as soon as one
patrol strode out of sight another appeared, and wherever a
street wider than an alleyway met the Street of Joy, a stone
watchstand stood with two Guardsmen waiting at the foot in
case the man atop spotted trouble. The peace was kept
rigorously in Far Madding.

 Rand frowned as Rochaid kept on along the street. Could he
be headed for the Counsels' Plaza, in the middle of the
island? There was nothing there but the Hall of the Counsels,
monuments from more than five hundred years earlier, when Far
Mad-ding had been the capital of Maredo, and the counting
houses of the city's wealthiest women. In Far Madding, a
wealthy man was one whose wife gave him a generous allowance
or a widower who had been provided for. Maybe Rochaid was
meeting Darkfriends. But if so, why had the man waited? 

Suddenly a wave of dizziness hit him, a murky face filling
his vision for an instant, and he staggered against a
passerby. Taller than Rand himself, in bright green livery,
the yellow-haired man shifted the large basket he was carrying
and fended Rand off gently. A long, puckered scar ran down the
side of his sun-dark face. Bowing his head, he murmured an
apology and hurried on. 

Righting himself, Rand growled a curse under his breath. 

You destroyed them already, Lews Therin whispered in his
head. 

Now you have someone else to destroy, and not beforetime.
How many will we three kill before the end, I wonder. 

Shut up! Rand thought fiercely, but cackling, derisive
laughter answered him. It was not the encounter with an
Aielman that upset him. He had seen many since coming to Far
Madding. For some reason, hundreds of the Aiel who fled after
learning the truth of their history had ended up there,
attempting to follow the Way of the Leaf when they had no more
idea of what that entailed except that they were supposed to
be lifelong gai'shain. He was not even worried about the
dizziness, or whose face it was that he half saw when it
struck. Ahead of him, a coach drawn by six grays clattered
through the stream of sedan chairs and hurrying folk in
livery, and men and women darting in and out of the shops, but
there was no sign of a red coat. He smacked a gloved fist into
his palm in irritation. 

Going ahead blindly was idiotic. He might run right into the
man, or at least be seen. So far, Rochaid thought Rand did not
know he was in the city, an advantage too important to
squander. He knew where Rochaid had his rooms, one of the inns
that catered to foreign men. He could loiter outside tomorrow
and wait for another chance. The others might arrive in the
night, too. He thought he could kill any two together, or
maybe even all five, but it could not be done quietly. He
would take injuries against five, and at best, he would have
to abandon his sword, which he was reluctant to do. It was a
gift from Aviendha. At worst. . . . 

A nicker of fur-trimmed cloak caught his eye, fluttering in
the wind as it vanished around a corner ahead, and he ran
toward it. The Guardsmen at the watchstand there straightened,
the man at the top taking his rattle from his belt. One of
those at the bottom of the stand hefted his long cudgel, while
the other lifted a catchpole from where it had leaned against
the watchstand's steps. The forked end was fashioned to catch
and hold an arm or a leg or a neck, and the pole itself was
belted with iron, proof against any sword or axe. They watched
him closely, with hard eyes. 

He nodded to them and smiled, then ostentatiously peered

down the side street, searching the crowd there. Not a running
thief, just a man trying to catch up to someone. The cudgel
went back onto its belt hook, the catchpole returned to the
steps. He did not look at the Guardsmen again. Ahead, he got a
glimpse of the cloak, and maybe a red coat, as the wearer
turned onto another street. 

Raising his hand as if to hail somebody, Rand sped after the
man, dodging between people and street peddlers' barrows.
Hawkers displaying pins or needles or combs on their trays
tried to catch his attention, or anyone's, with their cries.
Few people here wore embroidery, and a simple cord tying a
man's hair was much more common than even the plainest clip.
These streets were cramped at best, and crooked, a haphazard
maze where cheap inns and narrow stone apartment buildings of
three and four stories towered over the shops of butchers and
candlemakers and barbers, tinsmiths and potters and coopers.
Coaches would not have fit along these streets, and there were
no sedan chairs, either, no riders, and only a handful of
liveried servants, carrying baskets on errands but strolling
and looking down their noses at everyone around them except
the Street Guards. Their patrols and watchstands were present
even here. 

At last he got near enough for a clear view of the man he
was following. Rochaid had finally shown enough sense to pull
his cloak about him, hiding his red coat and his useless 

sword, but there was no doubt of who he was. In truth, he
seemed to be trying to avoid notice altogether now, slinking
along the side of the street with his shoulder brushing the
shopfronts. Abruptly he looked around furtively, then darted
into an alley between a tiny basketweaver's shop and an inn
with a sign so dirty the name was completely obscured. Rand
almost grinned, and wasted no time hurrying after him. There
were no Street Guards or watchstands in Far Madding's
alleyways. 

Those alleys were even more crooked than the streets Rand
had just left, making a warren of their own through the
interior of every block of the city, and Rochaid was already
out of sight, but Rand could hear his boots pounding on the
damp stony dirt. The sound bounced and multiplied between the
windowless stone walls until he could hardly tell where it was
coming from, but he followed, running along passages barely
wide enough for two men abreast. If they were friendly. Why
had Rochaid come into this maze? Wherever he was going, he
wanted to be there quickly. But he could not know how to use
the alleys to get from one place to another. 

Abruptly Rand realized the only boots he was hearing were
his own and stopped dead. Silence. From where he stood, he
could see three more narrow alleys splitting off from the one
he stood in. Barely breathing, he strained his ears. Silence.
Almost, he decided to turn back. And then he heard a distant
clatter from the nearest alley mouth, as though someone had
accidentally kicked a rock against a stone wall in passing.
Best to kill the man and be done. 

Rand turned the corner in to the alley, and found Rochaid
waiting for him. 

The Murandian had his cloak thrown back again, and both
hands on his sword hilt. The Far Madding peace-bond wove hilt

and scabbard inside a net of fine wire. He wore a small,
knowing smile. "You were as easy to bait as a pigeon," he
said, beginning to draw his sword. The wires had been cut, 

then fixed so they still appeared solid to a casual glance.
"Run, if you want." 

Rand did not run. Instead, he stepped forward, slamming his
left hand down on the end of Rochaid's sword hilt, trapping
the blade still half in its scabbard. Surprise widened the
man's eyes, yet he still did not realize that pausing to gloat
had already killed him. He moved back, trying to get room to
complete his draw, but Rand followed smoothly, keeping the
sword trapped, and pivoted from the hips, driving folded
knuckles hard into Rochaid's throat. Cartilage cracked loudly,
and the renegade forgot about trying to kill anyone.
Staggering backwards, wide-eyed and staring, he clapped both
hands to his throat and desperately tried to pull air through
his ruined windpipe. 

Rand was already beginning the killing stroke, beneath the
breastbone, when a whisper of sound came to him from behind,
and suddenly Rochaid's taunting took on new meaning. Back-
heeling Rochaid, Rand let himself fall to the ground atop the
man. Hard-swung metal clanged against a stone wall, and a man
cursed. Grabbing Rochaid's sword, Rand let the motion of
falling turn into a roll, pulling the blade clear as he
tumbled over his own shoulder. Rochaid gave a shrill, gurgling
scream as Rand came up in a crouch facing back the way he had
come. 

Raefar Kisman stood gaping down at Rochaid, the blade he had
meant to stab through Rand instead driven into Rochaid's
chest. Blood bubbled on the Murandian's lips, and he dug his
heels into the ground and bloodied his hands on the sharp
steel as though he could push it out of him. Of only average
height, and pale for a Tairen, Kisman wore clothes as plain as
Rand's except for the sword belt. Hiding that beneath his
cloak, he could have gone anywhere in Far Madding without
being noticed. 

His dismay lasted only an instant. As Rand rose, sword ready
in both hands, Kisman jerked his own blade free and did not
look at his thrashing accomplice again. He watched Rand, and
his hands shifted nervously on the long hilt of his sword. No
doubt he was one of those so proud of being able to use the
Power as a weapon that he had disdained really learning the
sword. Rand had not disdained. Rochaid gave a last twitch and
was still, staring up at the sky. 

"Time to die," Rand said quietly, but as he started forward,
a rattle sounded somewhere behind the Tairen, an incessant
chattering, and then another. The Street Guards. 

"They'll take us both," Kisman breathed, sounding frantic.
"If they find us standing over a corpse, they'll hang us both!
You know they will!" 

He was right, at least in part. If the Guards found them
there, they would both be hauled off to the cells beneath the
Hall of the Counsels. More rattles chattered, coming closer.
The Guards must have noticed three men ducking one by one into
the same alley. Perhaps they had even seen Kisman's sword.
Reluctantly, Rand nodded. 

The Tairen backed away cautiously, and when he saw Rand

making no move to follow, he sheathed his blade and ran
wildly, dark cloak flaring behind him. 

Rand threw his borrowed sword down atop Rochaid's body and
ran the other way. There were no rattles in that direction
yet. With luck, he could be out into the streets, blending
into the crowds, before he was seen. He had other fears than
the noose. Stripping off his gloves, showing the Dragons that
marked his arms, would be enough to prevent his hanging, he
was sure. But the Counsels had proclaimed their acceptance of
that odd decree Elaida had issued. Once he was in a cell, he
would remain there until the White Tower sent for him. So he
ran as hard as he could. 

Melting into the crowd in the street, Kisman heaved a sigh
of relief as three Street Guards ran into the alley he had
just emerged from. Holding his cloak close to hide his
scabbarded sword, he moved with the flow of traffic, no faster
than anyone else and slower than some. Nothing to draw a
Guardsman's eye. A pair of them passed with a trussed prisoner
stuffed into a large sack slung from a quarterstaff carried on
their shoulders. Only the man's head stuck out, his eyes wild
and darting. Kisman shuddered. Burn his eyes, that could have
been him! Him! 

He had been a fool to let Rochaid talk him into this in the
first place. They were supposed to wait until everyone had ar
rived, slipping into the city one by one to avoid notice.
Rochaid had wanted the glory of being the one to kill al'Thor;
the Murandian had burned with the desire to prove himself a
better man than al'Thor. Now he was dead of it, and very
nearly Raefar Kisman with him, and that made Kisman furious.
He wanted power more than glory, perhaps to rule Tear from the
Stone. Perhaps more. He wanted to live forever. Those things
had been promised; 

they were his due. Part of his anger was because he was
unsure they actually were supposed to kill al'Thor. The Great
Lord knew he wanted to-he would not sleep soundly until the
man was dead and buried!-and yet. . . . 

"Kill him," the M'Hael had ordered before sending them to
Cairhien, but he had been as displeased that they were found
out as that they had failed. Far Madding was to be their last
chance; 

he had made that as plain as polished brass. Dashiva had
simply vanished. Kisman did not know whether he had run or the
M'Hael had killed him, and he did not care. 

"Kill him," Demandred had commanded later, but he had added
that it would be better they died than let themselves be
discovered again. By anyone, even the M'Hael, as if he did not
know of Taim's order. 

And later still, Moridin had said, "Kill him if you must,
but above all, bring everything in his possession to me. That
will redeem your previous transgressions." The man said he was
one of the Chosen, and no one was mad enough to make that
claim unless it was true, yet he seemed to think al'Thor's
belongings more important than his death, the killing
incidental and not really necessary. 

Those two were the only Chosen Kisman had met, but they made
his head hurt. They were worse than Cairhienin. He suspected
that what they left unsaid could kill a man quicker than a

signed order from a High Lord. Well, once Torval and Gedwyn
arrived, they could work out- 

Abruptly something stung his right arm, and he stared down
in consternation at the bloodstain spreading on his cloak. It
did not feel like a deep cut, and no cutpurse would have
slashed his forearm. 

"He belongs to me," a man whispered behind him, but when he
turned, there was only the crowd in the street, all going
about their business. The few who noticed the dark stain on
his cloak looked away quickly. In this place, no one wanted to
be associated with even the smallest violence. They were good
at ignoring what they did not want to see. 

The wound throbbed, burning more than it had at first. Re
leasing his cloak to the wind, Kisman pressed his left hand
over the bloody slash in his sleeve. His arm felt swollen to
his touch, and hot. Suddenly he stared in horror at his right
hand, stared as it turned as black and bloated as a week-old
corpse. 

Frantically he began to run, pushing people out of his way,
knocking them down. He did not know what was happening to him,
how it had been done, but he was sure of the result. Unless he
could get out of the city, beyond the lake, up into the hills.
He had a chance, then. A horse. He needed a horse! He had to
have a chance. He had been promised he would live forever! All
he could see were people afoot, and they were scattering
before his charge. He thought he heard Guardsmen's rattles,
but it might have been the blood pounding in his ears.
Everything was going dark. His face hit something hard, and he 

knew he had fallen. His last thought was that one of the
Chosen had decided to punish him, but for what, he could not
have said.
Only a few men were sitting at the round tables in the
common room of The Crown of Maredo when Rand walked in. 

Despite the grand name, it was a modest inn, with two dozen
rooms on two floors above. The plastered walls of the common
room were painted yellow, and the men serving table here wore
long yellow aprons. A stone fireplace at either end of the
room gave it a marked warmth after outside. The shutters were
bolted, but lamps hung on the walls took the edge off the
dimness. The smel