A Crown of Swords (The Wheel of Time #7)


“Press harder,” she commanded. “Harder! We will humble these Aes Sedai for Desaine!” And she would have Rand al’Thor.

Abruptly there was a roar from the front of the battle, men shouting, screaming. She cursed that she could not see what was happening. Again she shouted for the Wise Ones to press harder, but if anything, it seemed the fall of flame and lightning against the dome lessened. And then there was something she could see.

Close to the wagons, cadin’sor-clad figures and earth erupted into the air with a thunderous crash, not in one place, but in a long line. Again the ground exploded, and again, again, each time a little farther from the encircled wagons. Not a line, but a solid ring of exploding ground and men and Maidens that she had no doubt ran all the way around the wagons. Again and again and again, ever expanding, and suddenly algai’d’siswai were pushing past her, buffeting through the line of Wise Ones, running.

Sevanna beat at them with her spear, flailing at heads and shoulders, not caring when the spearhead came away redder then before. “Stand and fight! Stand, for the honor of the Shaido!” They rushed by unheeding. “Have you no honor! Stand and fight!” She stabbed a fleeing Maiden in the back, but the rest just trampled over the fallen woman. Abruptly she realized that some of the Wise Ones were gone, and others picking up the injured. Rhiale turned to run, and Sevanna seized the taller woman’s arm, threatening her with the spear. She did not care that Rhiale could channel. “We must stand! We can still have him!”

The other woman’s face was a mask of fear. “If we stand, we die! Or else we end chained outside Rand al’Thor’s tent! Stay and die if you wish, Sevanna. I am no Stone Dog!” Ripping her arm free, she sped eastward.

For a moment more, Sevanna stood there, letting the men and Maidens push her this way and that as they streamed by in panic. Then she tossed down the spear and felt her belt pouch, where a small cube of intricately carved stone lay. Well that she had hesitated over throwing that away. She had another cord for her bow yet. Gathering her skirts to bare her legs, she joined in the chaotic flight, but if all the rest fled in terror, she ran with plans whirling through her head. She would have Rand al’Thor on his knees before her, and the Aes Sedai as well.

Alviarin finally left Elaida’s apartments, as cool and collected as ever on the surface. Inside, she felt wrung out like a damp cloth. She managed to keep her legs steady down the long curving flights of stairs, marble even in the very heights. Liveried servants bowed and curtsied as they scurried about their tasks, seeing only the Keeper in all her Aes Sedai serenity. As she went lower, sisters began to appear, many wearing their shawls, fringed in the colors of their Ajahs, as if to emphasize by formality that they were full sisters. They eyed her as she passed, uneasy often as not. The only one to ignore her was Danelle, a dreamy Brown sister. She had been part of bringing down Siuan Sanche and raising Elaida, but lost in her own thoughts, a solitary with no friends even in her own Ajah, she seemed unaware that she had been shoved aside. Others were all too aware. Berisha, a lean and hard-eyed Gray, and Kera, with the fair hair and blue eyes that appeared occasionally among Tairens and all the arrogance so common to Greens, went so far as to curtsy. Norine made as if to, then did not; big-eyed and nearly as dreamy as Danelle at times, and as friendless, she resented Alviarin; if the Keeper came from the White, in her eyes it should have been Norine Dovarna.

The courtesy was not required toward the Keeper, not from a sister, but no doubt they hoped she might intercede with Elaida should that become necessary. The others merely wondered what commands she carried, whether another sister was to be singled out today for some failure in the Amyrlin’s eyes. Not even Reds went within five levels of the Amyrlin’s new apartments unless summoned, and more than one sister actually hid when Elaida came below. The very air seemed heated, thick with a fear that had nothing to do with rebels or men channeling.

Several sisters tried to speak, but Alviarin brushed past, barely polite, hardly noticing worry bloom in their eyes when she refused to pause. Elaida filled her mind as much as theirs. A woman of many layers, Elaida. The first look at her showed a beautiful woman filled with dignified reserve, the second a woman of steel, stern as a bared blade. She overwhelmed where others persuaded, bludgeoned where others tried diplomacy or the Game of Houses. Anyone who knew her saw her intelligence, but only after a time did you realize that for all her brains, she saw what she wanted to see, would try to make true what she wanted to be true. Of the two indisputably frightening things about her, the lesser was that she so often succeeded. The greater was her Talent for Foretelling.

So easy to forget that, erratic and infrequent; it had been so long since the last Foretelling that the very unpredictability made it strike like a thunderbolt. No one could say when it would come, not even Elaida, and no one could say what it would reveal. Now Alviarin almost felt the woman’s shadowy presence following and watching.

It might be necessary to kill her yet. If so, Elaida would not be the first she had killed in secret. Still, she hesitated to take that step without orders, or at least permission.

She entered her own apartments with a sense of relief, as though Elaida’s shade could not cross the threshold. A foolish thought. If Elaida had a suspicion of the truth, a thousand leagues would not keep her from Alviarin’s throat. Elaida would expect her to be hard at work, personally penning orders for the Amyrlin’s signature and seal—but which of those orders were actually to be carried out had yet to be decided. Not by Elaida, of course. Nor by herself.

The rooms were smaller than those Elaida occupied, though the ceilings reached higher, and a balcony looked over the great square in front of the Tower from a hundred feet up. Sometimes she went out on the balcony to see Tar Valon spread out before her, the greatest city in the world, filled with countless thousands who were less than pieces on a stone’s board. The furnishings were Domani, pale striped wood inlaid with pearlshell and amber, bright carpets in patterns of flowers and scrolls, brighter tapestries of forest and flowers and grazing deer. They had belonged to the last occupant of these rooms, and if she retained them for any reason beyond not wanting to waste time choosing new, it was to remind herself of the price of failure. Leane Sharif had dabbled in schemes and failed, and now she was cut off from the One Power forever, a helpless refugee dependent on charity, doomed to a life of misery until she either ended it or simply put her face to the wall and died. Alviarin had heard of a few stilled women who managed to survive, but she would doubt those stories until she met one. Not that she had the