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


Mistress Anan was not letting her husband off easily. “You frequently do, husband,” she said, fingering the hilt between her breasts. “Many women would not let it pass. Elynde always tells me I am not firm enough when you speak out of line. I need to provide a good example for my daughters.” Acerbity melted into a smile, if a small one. “Consider yourself chastised. I will refrain from telling you who should haul which net on which boat.”

“You are too kind to me, wife,” he replied dryly. There was no guild for innkeepers in Ebou Dar, but every inn in the city was in the hands of a woman; to Ebou Dari, bad luck of the worst sort would dog any inn owned by a man or any vessel owned by a woman. There were no women in the fishermen’s guild.

Mat pulled out the paper. It was snowy white, expensive and stiff, and folded small. The few lines on it were printed in square letters like those Olver might use. Or an adult who did not want the hand recognized.


That was all; no signature. Still in danger? That suggested it was nothing new, and somehow it did not fit with them being snared up by the rebels. No, that was the wrong question. Who had slipped him this note? Obviously somebody who thought they could not simply hand it to him. Who had had the opportunity since he put the coat on this morning? It had not been there then, for sure. Somebody who had gotten close. Somebody. . . . Unbidden, he found himself humming a snatch of “She Dazzles My Eyes and Clouds My Mind.” Around here the tune had different words; they called it “Upside Down and ’Round and ’Round.” Only Teslyn or Joline fit, and that was impossible.

“Bad news, my Lord?” Mistress Anan asked.

Mat stuffed the note into his pocket. “Does any man ever get to understand women? I don’t mean just Aes Sedai. Any women.”

Jasfer roared, and when his wife directed a meaning gaze his way, he only laughed harder. The look she gave Mat would have shamed an Aes Sedai for its perfect serenity. “Men have it quite easy, my Lord, if they only looked or listened. Women have the difficult task. We must try to understand men.” Jasfer took hold of the doorframe, tears rolling down his dark face. She eyed him sideways, tilting her head, then turned, all cool calmness—and punched him under the ribs with her fist so hard that his knees buckled. His laughter took on a wheeze without stopping. “There is a saying in Ebou Dar, my Lord,” she said to Mat over her shoulder. “ ‘A man is a maze of brambles in darkness, and even he does not know the way.’ ”

Mat snorted. Fat lot of help she was. Well, Teslyn or Joline or somebody else—it must have been somebody else, if he could only think who—the White Tower was a long way away. Jaichim Carridin was right here. He frowned at the two corpses. And so were a hundred other scoundrels. Somehow he would see those two women safely out of Ebou Dar. The trouble was, he did not have a clue how. He wished those bloody dice would stop, and be done with it.

The apartments Joline shared with Teslyn were quite spacious, including a bedchamber for each of them, plus one apiece for their maids and another that would have done quite well for Blaeric and Fen, if Teslyn could have stood to have her Warders with them. The woman saw every man as a potentially rabid wolf, and there was no gainsaying her when she truly wanted something. As inexorable as Elaida, she ground down whatever lay in her path. They stood as equals in every real way, certainly, but not many managed to prevail over Teslyn without a clear advantage. She was at the writing table in the sitting room when Joline entered, her pen making an awful scritch-scritch. She was always parsimonious with the ink.

Without a word, Joline swept by her and out onto the balcony, a long cage of white-painted iron. The scrollwork was so tight that the men working in the garden three stories below would have a difficult time seeing that there was anyone within. Flowers in this region ordinarily thrived in heat, wild colors to outshine the interior of the palace, but nothing bloomed down there. Gardeners moved along the gravel walks with buckets of water, yet nearly every leaf was yellow or brown. She would not have admitted it under torture, but the heat made her afraid. The Dark One was touching the world, and their only hope a boy who was running wild.

“Bread and water?” Teslyn said suddenly. “Send the Cauthon boy off to the Tower? If there do be changes in what we did plan, you will please inform me before telling others.”

Joline felt a touch of heat in her cheeks. “Merilille needed to be set down. She lectured when I was a novice.” So had Teslyn; a severe teacher who held her classes with an iron grip. Just the way she spoke was a reminder, a marked warning not to go against her, equal or not. Merilille, though, stood lower. “She used to make us stand in front of the class, and she would dig and dig for the answer she wanted, until we stood there in front of everyone, weeping with frustration. She pretended to sympathize, or perhaps she really did, but the more she patted us and told us not to cry, the worse it was.” She cut off abruptly. She had not intended to say all that. It was Teslyn’s fault, always looking at her as if she were about to be upbraided for a spot on her dress. But she should understand; Merilille had taught her, too.

“You have remembered that all this time?” Stark incredulity painted Teslyn’s voice. “The sisters who did teach us did only do their duty. Sometimes I do think what Elaida did say of you do be right.” The annoying scritch-scritch resumed.

“It . . . simply came to mind when Merilille began as if she were truly an ambassador.” Instead of a rebel. Joline frowned at the garden. She despised every one of those women who had broken the White Tower, and flaunted the break before all the world. Them and anyone who aided them. But Elaida had blundered too, horribly. The sisters who were rebels now could have been reconciled, with a little effort. “What did she say of me? Teslyn?” The sound of the pen continued, like fingernails scraping across a slate. Joline went back inside. “What did Elaida say?”

Teslyn laid another sheet atop her letter, either to blot or to shield it from Joline’s eyes, but she did not answer immediately. She scowled at Joline—or perhaps just looked; it was difficult to say with her at times—and at last sighed. “Very well. If you must know. She did say you still do be a child.”

“A child?” Joline’s shock had no