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


The clan chiefs watched Merana watch them. Not so much as the flicker of an eyelash betrayed their thoughts.

“The Wise Ones have told you where the Aes Sedai stand,” Rand said bluntly. Sorilea had told him they knew, but the fact would have been clear from the lack of surprise when they first saw Merana fetch and curtsy. “You’ve seen her bring the tray and pour your tea. You’ve seen her come and go as I say. If you want, I’ll have her dance a jig.” Convincing the Aiel that he was not on the end of an Aes Sedai leash was the most needed service any of the sisters could do him right now. He would have them all doing jigs, if necessary.

Mandelain adjusted the gray-green patch over his right eye, the way he did when he wanted a moment to think. A thick puckered scar ran up his forehead from behind the leather patch and halfway across his mostly bald head. When he finally spoke, it was only a little less blunt than Rand. “Some say an Aes Sedai will do anything to have what she wants.”

Indirian lowered heavy white eyebrows and peered down his long nose at his tea. Of only average height for an Aiel man, he was shorter than Rand by half a hand, yet everything about him seemed long. The heat of the Waste appeared to have melted away every spare ounce of flesh and a few more besides. His cheekbones stood out sharp, and his eyes were emeralds set in caves. “I do not like speaking of Aes Sedai.” His deep, rich voice was always a shock, coming from that gaunt face. “What is done, is done. Let the Wise Ones deal with them.”

“Better to speak of the Shaido dogs,” Janwin said mildly. Which was almost as great a shock, coming from his fierce face. “Within a few months, less than half a year at most, every Shaido who can be will be dead—or made gai’shain.” Just because his voice was soft did not mean he was. The other two nodded; Mandelain smiled eagerly.

They still seemed unconvinced. The Shaido had been the professed reason for this meeting, and no less important for not being the most important. Not unimportant—the Shaido had made trouble long enough—just not on the same page with the Aes Sedai in his book. They did present problems, though. Three clans joining Timolan’s Miagoma, already near Kinslayer’s Dagger, might well be able to do as Janwin said, but there were those who could not be made gai’shain and could not be killed. Some were more critical than others. “What of the Wise Ones?” he asked.

For a moment their faces became unreadable; not even Aes Sedai could do that so well as Aiel. Facing the One Power did not frighten them, not where it showed, at least; no one could outrun death, so Aiel believed, and a hundred Aes Sedai in a rage could not make a lone Aiel lower the veil once raised. But learning that Wise Ones had taken part in the fighting at Dumai’s Wells had hit them like watching the sun rise by night and the moon by day in a blood-red sky.

“Sarinde tells me almost all of the Wise Ones will run with the algai’d’siswai,” Indirian said at last, reluctantly. Sarinde was the Wise One who had followed him from Red Springs, clan hold of the Codarra. Or perhaps “followed” was not the right word; Wise Ones seldom did. In any case, most of the Codarra Wise Ones, and the Shiande and the Daryne, would go north with the spears. “The Shaido Wise Ones will be . . . dealt with . . . by Wise Ones.” His mouth twisted with disgust.

“All things change.” Janwin’s voice was even softer than usual. He believed, but he did not want to. Wise Ones taking part in battle violated custom as old as the Aiel.

Mandelain set his cup down with exaggerated care. “Corehuin wishes to see Jair again before the dream ends, and so do I.” Like Bael and Rhuarc, he had two wives; the other chiefs had only one each, except Timolan, but a widowed chief seldom remained so long. The Wise Ones saw to that if he did not. “Will any of us ever see the sun rise again in the Three-fold Land?”

“I hope so,” Rand said slowly. As the plow breaks the earth shall he break the lives of men, and all that was shall be consumed in the fire of his eyes. The trumpets of war shall sound at his footsteps, the ravens feed at his voice, and he shall wear a crown of swords. The Prophecies of the Dragon gave little hope for anything except victory over the Dark One, and only a chance of that. The Prophecy of Rhuidean, the Aiel Prophecy, said he would destroy them. The bleakness swept through the clans because of him and ancient customs were ripped apart. Even without the Aes Sedai, small wonder if some chiefs pondered whether they were right to follow Rand al’Thor, Dragons on his arms or no. “I hope so.”

“May you always find water and shade, Rand al’Thor,” Indirian said.

After they left, Rand sat frowning into his cup, finding no answers in the dark tea. Finally he set it beside the tray and pushed his sleeves down. Merana’s eyes were intent on him, as if trying to pull out his thoughts. There was a hint of impatience about her, too. He had told her to stay in the corner unless she could hear voices. Doubtless she saw no reason why she should not come out now the clan chiefs were gone. Come out, and dig out what had been said.

“Do you think they believe I dance on Aes Sedai strings?” he said.

Young Narishma gave a start. In truth, he was a little older than Rand, but he had the look of a boy five or six years younger. He glanced at Merana as though she had the answer, and shifted his shoulders uncomfortably. “I . . . do not know, my Lord Dragon.”

Dashiva blinked and stopped murmuring to himself. Tilting his head, bird-like, he eyed Rand sideways. “Does it matter, so long as they obey?”

“It matters,” Rand said. Dashiva shrugged, and Narishma frowned thoughtfully; neither seemed to understand, yet maybe Narishma could come to.

Maps littered the stone floor behind the throne on its dais, rolled or folded or spread out where he had left them. He shifted some with the toe of his boot. So much to be juggled at once. Northern Cairhien and the mountains called Kinslayer’s Dagger, and the region around the city. Illian and the Plains of Maredo out to Far Madding. The island of Tar Valon and all the surrounding towns and villages. Ghealdan and part of Amadicia. Movement and color in his head. Lews Therin moaned and laughed in the distance, faint mad mutters of killing the Asha’man, killing the Forsaken. Killing himself. Alanna stopped weeping, cutting anguish subdued beneath a thin thread of anger. Rand scrubbed his hands through his hair, pressing hard against his temples. What had it been like to be alone inside his own skull