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


“This is a delicate situation.” Moving closer to Rand, remarkably, Kiruna ignored Sorilea. For such a scrawny woman, the Wise One had eyes like hammers. “Whatever you do can have serious repercussions. I—”

“What has Colavaere said about me?” Rand asked Sorilea in a too-casual tone. “Has she harmed Berelain?” Berelain, the First of Mayene, was who Rand had left in charge of Cairhien. Why did he not ask about Faile?

“Berelain sur Paendrag is well,” Sorilea murmured, without stopping her study of the Aes Sedai. Outwardly Kiruna stayed calm despite being interrupted and ignored, but the gaze she fixed on Rand could have frozen a forge-fire solid with the bellows pumping. For the rest, Sorilea gestured to Feraighin.

The red-haired woman gave a start and cleared her throat; plainly she had not expected to be allowed a word. She put dignity back on like a hastily donned garment. “Colavaere Saighan says you have gone to Caemlyn, Car’a’carn, or maybe to Tear, but wherever you have gone, all must remember that you are the Dragon Reborn and must be obeyed.” Feraighin sniffed; the Dragon Reborn was no part of Aiel prophecies, only the Car’a’carn. “She says you will return and confirm her on the throne. She speaks often to the chiefs, encouraging them to move the spears south. In obedience to you, she says. She does not see the Wise Ones, and hears only the wind when we speak.” This time her sniff was a fair approximation of Sorilea’s. No one told the clan chiefs what to do, but angering the Wise Ones was a bad way to start convincing the chiefs of anything.

It made sense to Perrin, though, to the part of him that could think of anything besides Faile. Colavaere probably had never paid enough attention to the “savages” to realize the Wise Ones did more than dispense herbs, but she would want every last Aiel out of Cairhien. The question was, given the circumstances, had any of the chiefs listened to her? But the question Rand asked was not the obvious.

“What else has happened in the city? Anything you’ve heard, Feraighin. Maybe something that might only seem important to a wetlander.”

She tossed her red mane contemptuously. “Wetlanders are like sandflies, Car’a’carn: who can know what they find important? Strange things sometimes happen in the city, so I have heard, as they do among the tents. People sometimes see things that cannot be, only for a time, what cannot be, is. Men, women, children have died.” Perrin’s skin prickled: he knew she meant what Rand called “bubbles of evil,” rising from the Dark One’s prison like froth in a fetid swamp, drifting along the Pattern till they burst. Perrin had been caught in one once; he never wanted to see another. . . . “If you mean what the wetlanders do,” she went on, “who has time to watch sandflies? Unless they bite. That minds me of one thing. I do not understand it, but perhaps you do. These sandflies will bite sooner or later.”

“What sandflies? Wetlanders? What are you talking about?”

Feraighin was not as good as Sorilea at that level look, yet no Wise One that Perrin had seen appreciated others’ impatience. Not even the chief of chiefs’. Thrusting her chin up, she gathered her shawl and answered. “Three days ago the treekillers Caraline Damodred and Toram Riatin approached the city. They issued a proclamation that Colavaere Saighan is a usurper, but they sit in their camp south of the city and do nothing except send a few people into the city now and then. Away from their camp, a hundred of them will run from one algai’d’siswai, or even a gai’shain. The man called Darlin Sisnera and other Tairens arrived by ship below the city yesterday and joined them. They have been feasting and drinking ever since, as if celebrating something. Treekiller soldiers gather in the city at Colavaere Saighan’s command, yet they watch our tents more than they do the other wetlanders’ or the city itself. They watch, and do nothing. Perhaps you know the why of all this, Car’a’carn, but I do not, nor does Bair or Megana, or anyone else in the tents.”

Lady Caraline and Lord Toram led the Cairhienin who refused to accept that Rand and the Aiel had conquered Cairhien, just as High Lord Darlin led their counterparts in Tear. Neither revolt amounted to much; Caraline and Toram had been sitting in the foothills of the Spine of the World for months, making threats and claims, and Darlin the same down in Haddon Mirk. But not any longer, it seemed. Perrin found himself running a thumb lightly along the edge of his axe. The Aiel were in danger of slipping away, and Rand’s enemies were coming together in one place. All it needed now was for the Forsaken to appear. And Sevanna with her Shaido. That would put the cream on the honeycake. Yet none of it was any more important than whether somebody saw a nightmare walking. Faile had to be safe; she just had to be.

“Better watching than fighting,” Rand murmured thoughtfully, listening to something unseen again.

Perrin agreed with Rand wholeheartedly—just about anything was better than fighting—but Aiel did not see it that way, not when it came to enemies. From Rhuarc to Sorilea, Feraighin to Nandera and Sulin, they stared as though Rand had said sand was better to drink than water.

Feraighin drew herself up practically on tiptoe. She was not particularly tall for an Aiel woman, not quite to Rand’s shoulder, but she appeared to be trying to put herself nose-to-nose. “There are few more than ten thousand in that wetlander camp,” she said reprovingly, “and fewer in the city. They can be dealt with easily. Even Indirian remembers that you commanded no wetlander killed except in self-defense, but they will make trouble left to themselves. It does not help that there are Aes Sedai in the city. Who can know what they—”

“Aes Sedai?” The words came out cold, Rand’s knuckles white on the Dragon Scepter. “How many?” At the smell of him the skin between Perrin’s shoulders crawled; suddenly he could feel the Aes Sedai prisoners watching, and Bera and Kiruna and the rest.

Sorilea lost all interest in Kiruna. Her hands planted themselves on her hips and her mouth narrowed. “Why did you not tell me this?”

“You gave me no chance, Sorilea,” Feraighin protested a touch breathily, shoulders hunching. Blue eyes swung to Rand, and her voice firmed. “There may be as many as ten or more, Car’a’carn. We avoid them, of course, especially since. . . .” Back to Sorilea and breathiness. “You did not want to hear about the wetlanders, Sorilea. Only our own tents. You said so.” To Rand, her back straightening. “Most of them stay beneath the roof of Arilyn Dhulaine, Car’a’carn, and seldom leave it.” To Sorilea, hunching. “Sorilea, you know I would have told you everything. You cut me short.” As she realized how many were watching, and how many beginning to smile, among the Wise Ones anyway, Feraighin’s eyes grew wild, and her cheeks reddened. Her head swung between Rand and Sorilea, and her mouth worked but no sound came out. Some of the Wise Ones began laughing behind their hands; Edarra did not bother with a hand. Rhuarc threw