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


Mat could have shaved with Teslyn’s return smile. “Do no dissemble with me, Merilille. Mat Cauthon do be of considerable interest. He should no be running loose.” As if he was not standing there listening!

“Don’t fight over me,” he said. Tugging his coat was not making anyone let go. “There’s enough to go around.”

Five sets of eyes made him wish he had kept his mouth shut. Aes Sedai had no sense of humor. He pulled a little harder, and Vandene—or Adeleas—jerked back hard enough to pull the coat out of his hand. Vandene, he decided. She was Green, and he had always thought she wanted to turn him upside down and shake the secret of the medallion out of him. Whichever she was, she smiled, part knowing, part amused. He saw nothing funny. The others did not look at him long. He might as well have vanished.

“What he needs,” Joline said firmly, “is to be taken into custody. For his own protection, and more. Three ta’veren coming out of a single village? And one of them the Dragon Reborn? Master Cauthon should be sent to the White Tower immediately.” And he had thought her pretty.

Merilille only shook her head. “You overestimate your situation here, Joline, if you think I will simply allow you to take the boy.”

“You overestimate yours, Merilille.” Joline stepped closer, until she was looking down at the other woman. Her lips curved, superior and condescending. “Or do you understand that it’s only a wish not to offend Tylin that keeps us from confining all of you on bread and water until you can be returned to the Tower?”

Mat expected Merilille to laugh in her face, but she shifted her head slightly as if she really wanted to break away from Joline’s gaze.

“You would not dare.” Sareitha wore Aes Sedai tranquility like a mask, face smooth and hands calmly adjusting her shawl, but her breathy voice shouted that it was a mask.

“These are children’s games, Joline,” Vandene murmured dryly. Surely that was who she was. She was the only one of the three who really did appear unruffled.

Faint splashes of color blossomed on Merilille’s cheeks as if the white-haired woman had spoken to her, but her own gaze steadied. “You can hardly expect us to go meekly,” she told Joline firmly, “and there are five of us. Seven, counting Nynaeve and Elayne.” The last was a clear afterthought, and reluctant at that.

Joline arched an eyebrow. Teslyn’s bony fingers did not loosen their grip any more than Vandene’s, but she studied Joline and Merilille with an unreadable expression. Aes Sedai were a country of strangers, where you never knew what to expect until it was too late. There were deep currents here. Deep currents around Aes Sedai could snatch a man to his death without them so much as noticing. Maybe it was time to start prying at fingers.

Laren’s sudden reappearance saved him the effort. Struggling to control her breath as if she had been running, the plump woman spread her skirts in a curtsy markedly deeper than she had given him. “Forgiveness for disturbing you, Aes Sedai, but the Queen summons Lord Cauthon. Forgiveness, please. It’s more than my ears are worth if I don’t bring him straight away.”

The Aes Sedai looked at her, all of them, till she began to fidget; then the two groups stared at one another as if trying to see who could out–Aes Sedai who. And then they looked at him. He wondered whether anybody was going to move.

“I can’t keep the Queen waiting, now can I?” he said cheerily. From the sniffs, you would have thought he had pinched somebody’s bottom. Even Laren’s brows drew down in disapproval.

“Release him, Adeleas,” Merilille said finally.

He frowned as the white-haired woman complied. Those two ought to wear little signs with their names, or different-color hair ribbons or something. She gave him another of those amused, knowing smiles. He hated that. It was a woman’s trick, not just Aes Sedai, and they usually did not know anything at all like what they wanted you to believe. “Teslyn?” he said. The grim Red still had hold of his coat with both hands. She peered up at him, ignoring everyone else. “The Queen?”

Merilille opened her mouth and hesitated, obviously changing what she had been going to say. “How long do you intend to stand here holding him, Teslyn? Perhaps you will explain to Tylin why her summons is disregarded.”

“Consider well who you do tie yourself to, Master Cauthon,” Teslyn said, still looking only at him. “Wrong choices can lead to an unpleasant future, even for a ta’veren. Consider well.” Then she let go.

As he followed Laren, he did not allow himself to show his eagerness to be away, but he did wish the woman would walk a little faster. She glided along ahead of him, regal as any queen. Regal as any Aes Sedai. When they reached the first turning, he looked over his shoulder. The five Aes Sedai were still standing there, staring after him. As if his look had been a signal, they exchanged silent glances and went, each in a different direction. Adeleas came toward him, but a dozen steps before reaching him she smiled at him again and disappeared through a doorway. Deep currents. He preferred swimming where his feet could touch the bottom of the pond.

Laren was waiting around the corner, hands on broad hips and her face much too smooth. Beneath her skirts, he suspected, her foot was tapping impatiently. He gave her his most winning smile. Giggling girls or gray-haired grandmothers, women softened for that one; it had won him kisses and eased him out of predicaments more often than he could count. It was almost as good as flowers. “That was neatly done, and I thank you. I’m sure the Queen doesn’t really want to see me.” If she did, he did not want to see her. Everything he thought about nobles was tripled for royalty. Nothing he had found in those old memories changed that, and some of those fellows had spent considerable time around kings and queens and the like. “Now, if you will just show me where Nynaeve and Elayne stay. . . .”

Strangely, the smile did not seem to have any effect. “I would not lie, Lord Cauthon. It would be more than my ears are worth. The Queen is waiting, my Lord. You are a very brave man,” she added, turning, then said something more under her breath. “Or a very great fool.” He doubted he had been supposed to hear that.

A choice between going to see the Queen and wandering miles of corridor until he stumbled on somebody who would tell him what he wanted to know? He went to see the Queen.

Tylin Quintara, by the Grace of the Light, Queen of Altara, Mistress of the Four Winds, Guardian of the Sea of Storms, High Seat of House Mitsobar, awaited him in a room with yellow walls and a pale blue ceiling, standing before a huge white fireplace with a stone lintel carved into a stormy sea. She was well worth seeing, he decided. Tylin was not young—the shiny black hair cascading over her shoulders had gray at the temples, and faint lines webbed the corners of her eyes—nor was she exactly pretty, though the two thin scars on her cheeks had nearly vanished with age. Handsome came closer. But she was . . . imposing. Large dark eyes regarded him majestically, an eagle’s eyes. She had little real power—a man could ride beyond her writ in two or three days and still have a lot of Altara ahead—but he thought she might make even an Aes Sedai step back. Like Isebele of Dal Calain, who had made the Amyrlin Anghara come to her. That was one of the old memories; Dal Calain had van