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


Two days. Only two. He avoided looking at Adley. “I’m getting up,” he said.

“I won’t let them kill you, sheepherder,” Min said with an obstinate glint in her eyes, “and I won’t let you kill you, either.” She put her arms around his shoulders as if to hold him where he was.

“If the Car’a’carn wishes to rise,” Amys said flatly, “I will have Nandera bring in the Maidens from the corridor. Somara and Enaila will be especially happy to give him just the assistance he needs.” The corners of her mouth twitched toward a smile. Once a Maiden herself, she knew close enough to everything of that situation. Neither Kiruna nor Bera smiled; they frowned at him as at an absolute fool.

“Boy,” Cadsuane said dryly, “I’ve already seen more of your hairless bottomcheeks than I wish to, but if you want to flaunt them in front of all six of us, perhaps someone will enjoy the show. If you fall on your face, though, I may just spank you before I put you back to bed.” By Samitsu’s face, and Corele’s, they would be happy to assist her.

Narishma and Adley stared at Cadsuane in shock, while Flinn tugged at his coat as though arguing with himself. Dashiva, though, barked a rough laugh. “If you want us to clear the women out. . . .” The plain-faced man began preparing flows; not shields, but complex weaves of Spirit and Fire that Rand suspected would put anyone they were laid on in too much pain to think of channeling.

“No,” he said quickly. Bera and Kiruna would obey a simple order to go, and if Corele and Samitsu had helped keep him alive, he owed them more than pain. But if Cadsuane thought nakedness would hold him where he was, she was in for a surprise. He was not sure the Maidens had left him any modesty at all. With a smile for Min, he unwound her arms, tossed back the sheet, and climbed out of the bed on Amys’ side.

The Wise One’s mouth tightened; he could almost see her considering whether to call for the Maidens. Bera gave Amys an agonized, uncertain look, while Kiruna hurriedly turned her back, her cheeks darkening. Slowly he walked to the wardrobe. Slowly because he expected he might give Cadsuane her chance if he tried to move quickly.

“Phaw!” she muttered behind him. “I vow, I should smack the stubborn boy’s bottom.” Someone grunted what might have been agreement, or just disapproval of what he was doing.

“Ah, but it’s such a pretty bottom, now isn’t it that?” someone else said in a lilting Murandian accent. That must have been Corele.

A good thing he had his head inside the wardrobe. Maybe the Maidens had not peeled away as much modesty as he thought. Light! His face felt hot as a furnace. Hoping the motions of dressing would cover any wobbles, he climbed into his clothes hurriedly. His sword stood propped in the back of the wardrobe, sword belt wound around the dark boarhide scabbard. He touched the long hilt, then took his hand away.

Barefoot, he turned back to the others while still tying the laces of his shirt. Min still sat cross-legged on the bed in her snug green silk breeches, by her expression unable to decide between approval and frustration. “I need to talk with Dashiva and the other Asha’man,” he said. “Alone.”

Min scrambled off the bed and ran to hug him. Not tightly; she was very careful of his Bandaged side. “I’ve waited too long to see you awake again,” she said, sliding an arm around his waist. “I need to be with you.” She emphasized that just a tad; she must have had a viewing. Or maybe she just wanted to help steady his legs; that arm seemed to offer support. Either way, he nodded; he was not all that steady. Laying a hand on her shoulder, he suddenly realized that he did not want the Asha’man to know how weak he was any more than Cadsuane or Amys.

Bera and Kiruna made reluctant curtsies and started for the door, then hesitated when Amys did not move right away. “So long as you do not intend to leave these rooms,” the Wise One said, not in the slightest as though speaking to her Car’a’carn.

Rand raised a naked foot. “Do I look as though I’m going anywhere?” Amys sniffed, but with a glance at Adley, she gathered up Bera and Kiruna and departed.

Cadsuane and the other two were only a moment more in going. The gray-haired Green glanced at Adley, too. It could not be much of secret that he had been gone from Cairhien for days. At the door, she paused. “Don’t do anything foolish, boy.” She sounded like a stern aunt cautioning a shiftless nephew, without much expectation he would listen. Samitsu and Corele followed her out, dividing their frowns between him and the Asha’man. As they vanished, Dashiva laughed, a sharp wheeze, shaking his head; he actually sounded amused.

Rand stepped away from Min to fetch his boots from beside the wardrobe and take a rolled pair of stockings from inside. “I’ll join you in the anteroom as soon as I’m booted, Dashiva.”

The plain-faced Asha’man gave a start. He had been frowning at Adley. “As you command, my Lord Dragon,” he said, pressing fist to heart.

Waiting until the four men were gone, Rand sat down in a chair with a feeling of relief and began pulling on his stockings. He was sure his legs felt stronger just for being up and moving. Stronger, but they still did not want to support him very well.

“Are you sure this is wise?” Min said, kneeling beside his chair, and he gave her a startled look. If he had talked in his sleep during those two days, the Aes Sedai would have known. Amys would have had Enaila and Somara and fifty more Maidens waiting when he woke.

He tugged the stocking the rest of the way up. “Do you have a viewing?”

Min sat back on her heels, folded her arms beneath her breasts and gave him a firm look. After a moment, she decided it was not working and sighed. “It’s Cadsuane. She is going to teach you something, you and the Asha’man. All the Asha’man, I mean. It’s something you have to learn, but I don’t know what it is, except that none of you will like learning it from her. You aren’t going to like it at all.”

Rand paused with a boot in hand, then stuffed his foot in. What could Cadsuane, or any Aes Sedai, teach the Asha’man? Women could not teach men, or men women; that was as hard a fact as the One Power itself. “We will see” was all he said.

Plainly that did not satisfy Min. She knew it would happen, and so did he; she was never wrong. But what could Cadsuane possibly teach him? What would he let her teach him? The woman made him unsure of himself, uneasy in a way he had not felt since befo