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


Two full days since the battle, and fewer than twenty thousand spears had grouped around Sevanna. Therava and most of the Wise Ones who had been to the west were still absent, including all the rest who were tied to her. Some of the missing surely were making their way back to Kinslayer’s Dagger, but how many would never again see the sun rise? No one remembered such a slaughter, so many dead in so short a time. Even the algai’d’siswai were not truly ready to dance the spears again so soon. Reason to be afraid, yet none for showing it, displaying heart and soul on your face like a wetlander, open and naked for all to see. Rhiale at least seemed to realize that much. “If we are to do this thing, let us do it,” she muttered, stiff with embarrassment. She was one who had jumped.

Sevanna took the small gray cube from her pouch and placed it atop the brown leaves in the middle of the circle. Someryn put her hands on her knees, leaning over to examine it until she appeared in danger of falling out of her blouse. Her nose nearly touched the cube. Intricate patterns covered every side, and close up you could see smaller patterns within the larger, and still smaller inside those, and a hint of what seemed smaller yet. How they could have been made, the tiniest so fine, so precise, Sevanna had no idea. Once she had thought the cube stone, but she was no longer certain. Yesterday she had dropped it accidentally on some rocks without marring one line of the carving. If it was carving. The thing must be a ter’angreal; that they knew.

“The smallest flow possible of Fire must be touched lightly there, on what looks like a twisted crescent moon,” she told them, “and another there on the top, on that mark like a lightning bolt.” Someryn straightened very quickly.

“What will happen then?” Alarys asked, combing her hair with her fingers. It seemed an absentminded gesture, but she always found ways to remind everyone that her hair was black instead of common yellow or red.

Sevanna smiled. She enjoyed knowing what they did not. “I will use it to summon the wetlander who gave it to me.”

“That much you told us already,” Rhiale said in a sour voice, and Tion bluntly asked, “How will it summon him?” She might fear Rand al’Thor, but not a great deal else. Certainly not Sevanna. Belinde lightly stroked the cube with one bony finger, her sun-bleached eyebrows drawn down.

Maintaining a smooth face, Sevanna irritably prevented her hands from fingering a necklace or adjusting her shawl. “I have told you all you need know.” Considerably more than they needed, in her opinion, but it had been necessary. Otherwise they would all be back with the spears and the other Wise Ones, eating hard bread and dried meat. Or rather they would all be on the move eastward, watching for any sign of other survivors.

Watching for any sign of pursuit. With a late start, they might still cover fifty miles before halting. “Words will not skin the boar, much less kill it. If you have decided to creep back to the mountains and spend your lives running and hiding, then go. If not, then do what you must, and I will do my part.”

Rhiale’s blue eyes stared flat defiance, and Tion’s gray. Even Modarra looked doubtful, and she and Someryn lay the most solidly in her grasp.

Sevanna waited, outwardly calm, unwilling to tell them again or ask. Inside, her stomach churned with anger. She would not be beaten because these women had pale hearts.

“If we must,” Rhiale sighed at last. Excepting the absent Therava, she resisted most often, but Sevanna had hopes of her. The spine that refused to bend at all was often the most malleable once it gave way. That was as true for women as men. Rhiale and the others turned their eyes to the cube, some frowning.

Sevanna saw nothing, of course. In fact, she realized that if they did nothing, they could claim the cube failed to work, and she would never know.

Abruptly, though, Someryn gasped, and Meira almost whispered, “It draws more. Look.” She pointed. “Fire there and there, and Earth, and Air and Spirit, filling the runnels.”

“Not all of them,” Belinde said. “They could be filled many ways, I think. And there are places where the flows . . . twist . . . around something that is not there.” Her forehead furrowed. “It must be drawing the male part, as well.”

Several drew back a little, shifting shawls, brushing skirts as though to rub away dirt. Sevanna would have given anything to see. Almost anything. How could they be such cowards? How could they let it show?

Finally Modarra said, “I wonder what would happen if we touched it with Fire elsewhere.”

“Power the callbox too much or in the wrong way, and it may melt,” a man’s voice said out of the air. “It could even ex—”

The voice cut off as the other women surged to their feet, peering in among the trees. Alarys and Modarra went so far as to draw their belt knives, though they had no need of steel when they had the One Power. Nothing moved among the sun-streaked shadows, not so much as a bird.

Sevanna did not stir. She had believed perhaps a third of what of the wetlander had told her, not including this, in truth, but she recognized Caddar’s voice. Wetlanders always had more names, but that was all he had given. A man of many secrets, she suspected. “Take your places again,” she ordered. “And put the flows back where they were. How can I summon him if you fear words?”

Rhiale swung around, mouth gaping and eyes incredulous. Undoubtedly wondering how she knew they had stopped channeling; the woman was not thinking clearly. Slowly, uneasily, they settled in the circle again. Rhiale donned a flatter face than anyone else.

“So you are back,” Caddar’s voice said from the air. “Do you have al’Thor?”

Something in his tone warned her. He could not know. But he did. She abandoned all she had prepared to say. “No, Caddar. But we still must talk. I will meet you in ten days where we first met.” She could reach that valley in Kinslayer’s Dagger sooner, but she needed time to prepare. How did he know?

“Well that you told the truth, girl,” Caddar murmured dryly. “You will learn I do not like being lied to. Maintain the wayline for location, and I will come to you.”

Sevanna stared at the cube in shock. Girl? “What did you say?” she demanded. Girl! She could not believe her ears. Rhiale very pointedly did not look at her, and Meira’s mouth twisted in a smile, awkward because so seldom used.

Caddar’s sigh filled the clearing. “Tell your Wise One to continue doing exactly what she is doing—nothing else—and I will come to you.” The forced patience in his tone scraped like a grist-stone. When she had what she wanted from the wetlander, she would dress him in gai’