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


“Majesty,” he said, sweeping his hat wide in a bow and flourishing an imaginary cloak, “by your summons do I come.” Imposing or not, it was hard to keep his eyes away from the not small lace-trimmed oval where her white-sheathed marriage-knife hung. A very nicely rounded sight indeed, yet the more bosom a woman displayed, the less she wanted you to look. Openly, at least. White-sheathed; but he already knew she was a widow. Not that it mattered. He would as soon tangle himself with that fox-faced Darkfriend as with a queen. Not looking at all was difficult, but he managed. Most likely she would call guards rather than draw the gem-encrusted dagger thrust behind a woven-gold belt to match the collar her marriage knife hung from. Maybe that was why the dice were still rolling in his head. The possibility of an encounter with the headsman would set them spinning if anything did.

Layered silk petticoats rippled white and yellow as she crossed the room and walked slowly all the way around him. “You speak the Old Tongue,” she said once she stood in front of him again. Her voice was low-pitched and musical. Without waiting for a reply, she glided to a chair and sat, adjusting her green skirts. An unconscious gesture; her gaze remained fixed on him. He thought she could probably tell when his smallclothes had been washed last. “You wish to leave a message. I have what is necessary.” A lace fall at her wrist swayed as she gestured to a small writing table standing beneath a gilt-framed mirror. All the furnishings were gilded and carved like bamboo.

Tall triple-arched windows opening onto a wrought-iron balcony admitted a sea breeze that was surprisingly pleasant, if not exactly cool, yet Mat felt hotter than in the street, and it had nothing to do with her stare. Deyeniye, dyu ninte concion ca’lyet ye. That was what he had said. The bloody Old Tongue popping out of his mouth again without him knowing it. He had thought he had that little bother under control. No telling when those bloody dice would stop or for what. Best to keep his eyes to himself and his mouth shut as much as possible. “I thank you, Majesty.” He made very sure of those words.

Thick sheets of pale paper already waited on the slanted table, at a comfortable height for writing. He propped his hat against the table leg. He could see her in the mirror. Watching. Why had he let his tongue run loose? Dipping a golden pen—what else would a queen have?—he composed what he wanted to write in his head before bending over the paper with an arm curled around it. His hand was awkward and square. He had no love of writing.

I followed a Darkfriend to the palace Jaichim Carridin is renting. She tried to kill me once, and maybe Rand as well. She was greeted like an old friend of the house.

For a moment he studied that, biting the end of the pen before realizing he was scoring the soft gold. Maybe Tylin would not notice. They needed to know about Carridin. What else? He added a few more reasonably worded lines. The last thing he wanted was to put their backs up.

Be sensible. If you have to go traipsing around, let me send a few men along to keep you from having your heads split open. Anyway, isn’t it about time I took you back to Egwene? There’s nothing here but heat and flies, and we can find plenty of those in Caemlyn.

There. They could not ask for pleasanter than that.

Blotting the page carefully, he folded it four times. Sand in a small golden bowl covered a coal. He puffed on it till it glowed, then used it to light a candle and picked up the stick of red wax. As the sealing wax dripped onto the edges of the paper, it suddenly struck him that he had a signet ring in his pocket. Just something the ringmaker had carved to show his skill, but better than a plain lump. The ring was slightly longer than the pool of solidifying wax, yet most of the sigil took.

For the first time he got a good look at what he had bought. Inside a border of large crescents, a running fox seemed to have startled two birds into flight. That made him grin. Too bad it was not a hand, for the Band, but appropriate enough. He certainly needed to be crafty as a fox to keep up with Nynaeve and Elayne, and if they were not exactly flighty, well. . . . Besides, the medallion had made him fond of foxes. He scrawled Nynaeve’s name on the outside, and then Elayne’s, as an afterthought. One or the other, they should see it soon.

Turning with the sealed letter held in front of him, he gave a start as his knuckles brushed against Tylin’s bosom. He stumbled back against the writing table, staring and trying not to turn red. Staring at her face; just her face. He had not heard her approach. Best to simply ignore the brushing, not embarrass her any further. She probably thought he was a clumsy lout as it was. “There is something in this you should know, Majesty.” Insufficient room remained between them to lift the letter. “Jaichim Carridin is entertaining Darkfriends, and I don’t mean arresting them.”

“You are certain? Of course you are. No one would make that charge without being certain.” A furrow creased her forehead, but she gave her head a shake and the frown disappeared. “Let us speak of more pleasant things.”

He could have yelped. He told her the Whitecloak ambassador to her court was a Darkfriend, and all she did was grimace?

“You are Lord Mat Cauthon?” There was just a hint of question in the title. Her eyes minded him more than ever of an eagle’s. A queen could not like someone coming to her pretending to be a lord.

“Just Mat Cauthon.” Something told him she would hear a lie. Besides, letting people think he was a lord was just a ruse, one he would rather have managed without. In Ebou Dar you could find a duel any time you turned around, but few challenged lords except other lords. As it was, in the last month he had cracked a number of heads, bloodied four men and run half a mile to escape a woman. Tylin’s stare made him nervous. And those dice still rattled about in his skull. He wanted out of there. “If you’ll tell me where to leave the letter, Majesty . . . ?”

“The Daughter-Heir and Nynaeve Sedai seldom mention you,” she said, “but one learns to hear what is not said.” Casually she reached up and touched his cheek; he half-raised his own hand uncertainly. Had he smeared ink there, chewing the pen? Women did like to tidy things, including men. Maybe queens did, too. “What they do not say, but I hear, is that you are an untamed rogue, a gambler and chaser after women.” Her eyes held his, expression never altering a hair, and her voice stayed firm and cool, but as she spoke, her fingers stroked his other cheek. “Untamed men are often the most interesting. To talk to.” A finger outlined his lips. “An untamed rogue who travels with Aes Sedai, a ta’veren who, I think, makes them a little afraid. Uneasy, at the least. It takes a man with a strong liver to make Aes Sedai uneasy. How will you bend the Pattern in Ebou Dar, just Mat Cauthon?” Her hand settled against his neck; he could feel his pulse thro