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


Perrin cleared his throat. Why was Rand dragging this out? It was done, or nearly. Let whatever else had to be done, be done. Then he could take Faile away, where they could talk. “Did you have the right to murder Lord Maringil and High Lord Meilan?” Perrin demanded. There was no doubt in his mind she had had it done; they had been her biggest rivals for the throne. Or she, and they, thought they were, anyway. Why was Rand just standing there? He knew all of this. “Where is Berelain?”

Before the name was off his tongue he wanted to call it back. Faile only glanced at him, her face still a cool mask of propriety, but that glance could have set water aflame. “A jealous wife is like a hornets’ nest in your mattress,” the saying went. No matter how you twitched, you got stung.

“You dare accuse me of so vile a crime?” Colavaere demanded. “There is no proof. There can be no proof! Not when I am innocent.” Abruptly she seemed to become aware of where she was, of the nobles crowded shoulder-to-shoulder among the columns, watching and listening. Whatever else could be said of her, she did have courage. Standing straight, she did her best to stare Rand in the eye without tilting her head too far back. “My Lord Dragon, eight days ago at sunrise I was crowned Queen of Cairhien according to the laws and usages of Cairhien. I will keep my oath of fealty to you, but I am Queen of Cairhien.” Rand only stared at her, silent. And troubled, Perrin would have said. “My Lord Dragon, I am Queen, unless you would rip all our laws away.” Still silence from Rand, and an unblinking stare.

Why doesn’t he end it? Perrin wondered.

“These charges against me are false. They are mad!” Only that silent stare for answer. Colavaere moved her head uneasily. “Annoura, advise me. Come, Annoura! Advise me!”

Perrin thought she spoke to one of the women with Faile, but the woman who stepped from behind the throne did not wear the striped skirts of an attendant. A broad face with a wide mouth and a beak of a nose regarded Rand from beneath dozens of long thin dark braids. An ageless face. To Perrin’s surprise, Havien made a sound in his throat and began grinning. His own hackles were standing straight.

“I cannot do this, Colavaere,” the Aes Sedai said in a Taraboner accent, shifting her gray-fringed shawl. “I fear I have allowed you to misperceive my relationship to you.” Drawing a deep breath, she added, “There . . . there is no need for this, Master al’Thor.” Her voice became slightly unsteady for a moment. “Or my Lord Dragon, if you prefer. I assure you, I harbor no ill intentions toward you. If I did, I would have struck before you knew I was here.”

“You might well have died if you had.” Rand’s voice was icy steel; his face made it seem soft. “I’m not who has you shielded, Aes Sedai. Who are you? Why are you here? Answer me! I don’t have much patience with . . . your kind. Unless you want to be hauled out to the Aiel camp? I wager the Wise Ones can make you speak freely.”

This Annoura was not slow-witted. Her eyes darted to Aram, then to the aisle where the Asha’man stood. And she knew. They had to be who he meant, in their black coats, grim faces dry when every other but hers and Rand’s glistened. Young Jahar was watching her like a hawk watching a rabbit. Incongruously, Loial stood in the midst of them with his axe propped against his shoulder. One big hand managed to hold an ink bottle and an open book, pressed awkwardly against his chest, while the other scribbled as fast as he could dip a pen fatter than Perrin’s thumb. He was taking notes. Here!

The nobles heard Rand as well as Annoura did. They had been watching the veiled Maidens uneasily; now they crowded back from the Asha’man, pressing together like fish in a barrel. Here and there someone sagged in a faint, held up by the throng.

Shivering, Annoura adjusted her shawl, and regained all the vaunted Aes Sedai composure. “I am Annoura Larisen, my Lord Dragon. Of the Gray Ajah.” Nothing about her said that she was shielded, and in the presence of men who could channel. She seemed to answer as a favor. “I am the advisor to Berelain, First of Mayene.” So that was why Havien was grinning like a madman; he had recognized the woman. Perrin did not feel like grinning at all. “This has been kept secret, you understand,” she went on, “because of the attitude of Tear both toward Mayene and toward Aes Sedai, but I think me the time for secrets, it is past, yes?” Annoura turned to Colavaere, and her mouth firmed. “I let you think what you would think, but Aes Sedai do not become advisors simply because someone tells them they are. Most especially when they already advise someone else.”

“If Berelain confirms your story,” Rand said, “I will parole you to her custody.” Looking at the crown, he seemed to realize for the first time that the spray of gold and gems was still in his hand. Very gently he set it on the silk-covered seat of the Sun Throne. “I don’t think every Aes Sedai is my enemy, not entirely, but I won’t be schemed against, and I won’t be manipulated, not anymore. It’s your choice, Annoura, but if you make the wrong one, you will go to the Wise Ones. If you live long enough. I won’t hobble the Asha’man, and a mistake could cost you.”

“The Asha’man,” Annoura said calmly. “I quite understand.” But she touched her lips with her tongue.

“My Lord Dragon, Colavaere plotted to break her oath of fealty.” Perrin had wished so hard for Faile to speak that he jumped when she did, stepping out of the line of attendants. Choosing her words carefully, she confronted the would-be queen like a stooping eagle. Light, but she was beautiful! “Colavaere swore to obey you in all things and uphold your laws, but she has made plans to rid Cairhien of the Aiel, to send them south and return all to as it was before you came. She also said that if you ever returned, you would not dare change anything she had done. The woman she told these things, Maire, was one of her attendants. Maire vanished soon after telling me. I have no proof, but I believe she is dead. I believe Colavaere regretted revealing too much of her mind, too soon.”

Dobraine strode up the steps to the dais, his helmet under his arm. His face might have been cold iron. “Colavaere Saighan,” he announced in a formal voice that carried to every corner of the Grand Hall, “by my immortal soul, under the Light, I, Dobraine, High Seat of House Taborwin, do arraign and censure you of treason, the penalty for which is death.”

Rand’s head went back, eyes closed. His mouth moved slightly, but Perrin knew that only he and Rand heard what was said. “No. I cannot. I will not.” Perrin understood the delay now. Rand was searching for a way out. Perri