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


“Some,” Teslyn said calmly, “do change little from the day they do put on novice white. Some do change no at all. Elaida does believe you have no grown up yet and never will.”

Joline tossed her head angrily, unwilling to let herself speak. To have that said by someone whose mother had been a child when she herself gained the shawl! Elaida had been petted too much as a novice, made over too much for her strength and the remarkable speed of her learning. Joline suspected that was why she was in such a fury about Elayne and Egwene and the wilder Nynaeve; because they were stronger than she, because they had spent far less time as novices, no matter that they had been pushed ahead too fast. Why, Nynaeve had never been a novice at all, and that was completely unheard of.

“Since you did bring it up,” Teslyn went on, “perhaps we should try to take advantage of the situation.”

“What do you mean?” Embracing the True Source, Joline channeled Air to lift the silver pitcher on the turquoise-inlaid side table and fill a silver goblet with punch. As always, the joy of embracing saidar thrilled her, soothing even as it exhilarated.

“It do be obvious, I should think. Elaida’s orders do still stand. Elayne and Nynaeve are to be returned to the Tower as soon as found. I did agree to wait, but perhaps we should wait no longer. A pity the al’Vere girl does no be with them. But two will put us back in Elaida’s good graces, and if we can add the Cauthon boy. . . . I do think those three will make her welcome us as if we did come with al’Thor himself. And this Aviendha will make a fine novice, wilder or no.”

The goblet floated into Joline’s hand on Air, and she reluctantly released the Power. She had never lost the ardor she felt the first time she touched the Source. Dewmelon punch was a poor substitute for saidar. The worst part of her penance before leaving the Tower had been losing the right to touch saidar. Almost the worst part. She had set it all herself, but Elaida had made it clear that if she did not make it harsh, Elaida would. She had no doubt the result would have been much worse, then. “Her good graces? Teslyn, she humiliated us for no more reason than to show the others that she could. She sent us to this fly-ridden hole as far from everything important as she could, short of the other side of the Aryth Ocean, ambassadors to a queen with less power than a dozen of her own nobles, any one of whom could snatch the throne from her tomorrow if they could be bothered to. And you want to wheedle your way back into Elaida’s favor?”

“She do be the Amyrlin Seat.” Teslyn touched the letter with the page lying atop it, moving the sheets a bit this way then a bit that, as if framing her thoughts. “Remaining silent for a time did let her know we are no lap-dogs, but remaining silent too long could be seen as treason.”

Joline sniffed. “Ridiculous! When they’re returned they’ll only be punished for running away, and now for pretending to be full sisters.” Her mouth tightened. They were both guilty there, and those who allowed them to, as well, but it made a sharp difference when one of them claimed her own Ajah. By the time the Green Ajah finished with Elayne for that, it would be a very chastened young woman indeed who took the throne of Andor. Though it might be best if Elayne secured the Lion Throne first. Her training had to be completed, either way. Joline did not intend to see Elayne lost to the Tower, whatever she had done.

“Do no forget joining with the rebels.”

“Light, Teslyn, they were probably scooped up just like the girls the rebels took out of the Tower. Does it really matter a whit whether they begin mucking out stalls tomorrow or next year?” That was surely as much as the novices and Accepted with the rebels would have to face. “Even the Ajahs can wait to have them in hand, really. It is not as if they aren’t safe. They are Accepted, after all, and they certainly seem content to stay where we can reach them whenever we choose. I say, let us sit where Elaida put us, and continue to fold our hands and hold our tongues. Until she asks nicely to find out what we are doing.” She did not say that she was prepared to wait until Elaida found herself deposed as Siuan had been. The Hall surely would not put up with the bullying and bungling forever, but Teslyn was Red, after all, and would not appreciate hearing that.

“I suppose there do be no urgency,” Teslyn said slowly, the unspoken “but” all but shouting itself.

Drawing a ball-footed chair to the table with another flow of Air, Joline settled herself to convincing her companion that silence remained the best policy. Still a child, was she? If she had her way, Elaida would not get so much as a word out of Ebou Dar until she begged for it.

The woman on the table arched up as far as her bonds would allow, eyes bulging, throat corded with a piercing scream that went on and on. Abruptly the scream was a loud choking rasp instead, and she convulsed, shaking from wrists to ankles, then collapsed in silence. Wide-open eyes stared sightlessly at the cobwebbed basement ceiling.

Giving vent to curses was irrational, but Falion could have turned the air as blue as any stableman. Not for the first time she wished she had Temaile here instead of Ispan. Questions were answered eagerly for Temaile, and nobody died until she was ready. Of course, Temaile enjoyed the work entirely too much, but that was beside the point.

Channeling once more, Falion gathered the woman’s clothes from the filthy floor and dropped them atop the body. The red leather belt fell off, and she snatched it up by hand and slapped it back onto the pile. Perhaps she should have used other methods, but straps and pincers and hot irons were so . . . messy. “Leave the body in an alley somewhere. Slit the throat so it looks as if she was robbed. You can keep the coins in her purse.”

The two men squatting on their heels against the stone wall exchanged looks. Arnin and Nad might have been brothers by their appearance, all black hair and beady eyes and scars, with more muscles than any three men could need, but they did have sufficient brains to carry out simple orders. Usually. “Forgiveness, Mistress,” Arnin said hesitantly, “but no one will believe—”

“Do as you are told!” she snapped, channeling to haul him to his feet and slam him back against the stones. His head bounced, yet that surely could do him no damage.

Nad rushed to the table, babbling, “Yes, Mistress. As you command, Mistress.” When she released Arnin, he did not babble, but he staggered over without any more objections to help gather up the body like so much rubbish and carry it out. Well, it was so much rubbish, now. She regretted the outburst. Letting temper take control was irrational. It did seem to be effective at times, though. After all these years,