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


“What’s the matter, Faile? Light, you’d think Coiren and that lot had won instead of. . . .” Her face did not change, but the thread grew thicker. “Is that why you didn’t say anything at first?” he asked softly. “Were you afraid we had come back as puppets, and them pulling the strings?”

She eyed the rapidly diminishing crowd across the Grand Hall. The nearest of them was a long way, and all making a good deal of noise, but she lowered her voice even so. “Aes Sedai can do that sort of thing, I’ve heard. My husband, no one knows more than I that even Aes Sedai would find hard times trying to make you dance for a puppet, much harder than a man who’s just the Dragon Reborn, but when you walked in here, I was more afraid than at any time since you left.” Amusement trickled through in the first of that, like tiny bubbles in his nose, and warm fondness, and love, the smell of her, clear and pure and strong, but all of those faded by the end, leaving that thin trembling thread.

“Light, Faile, it’s true. Every word Rand said. You heard Dobraine, and Aram.” She smiled, and nodded, and worked her fan. That thread still quivered in his nostrils, though. Blood and ashes, what does it take to convince her? “Would it help if he had Verin dance the sa’sara? She will, if he tells her to.” He meant it for a joke. All he knew of the sa’sara was that it was scandalous—and that Faile had once admitted knowing how to dance it, though recently she sidestepped and all but denied it. He meant it for a joke, but she closed her fan and tapped it on her wrist. He knew that one: I am giving your suggestion serious thought.

“I don’t know what would be enough, Perrin.” She shivered slightly. “Is there anything an Aes Sedai would not do, or put up with, if the White Tower told her to? I have studied my history, and I was taught to read between the lines. Mashera Donavelle bore seven children for a man she loathed, whatever the stories say, and Isebaille Tobanyi delivered the brothers she loved to their enemies and the throne of Arad Doman with them, and Jestian Redhill. . . .” She shivered again, not so slightly.

“It’s all right,” he murmured, wrapping her in his arms. He had studied several books of history himself, but he had never seen those names. The daughter of a lord received a different education from a blacksmith’s apprentice. “It really is true.” Dobraine averted his eyes, and so did Aram, though with a pleased grin.

She resisted at first, but not very hard. He could never be sure when she would avoid a public embrace and when welcome it, only that if she did not want one, she made it clear in no uncertain terms, with or without words. This time she snuggled her face into his chest and hugged him back, squeezing harder.

“If any Aes Sedai ever harms you,” she whispered, “I will kill her.” He believed her. “You belong to me, Perrin t’Bashere Aybara. To me.” He believed that, too. As her hug grew fiercer, so did the thorny scent of jealousy. He almost chuckled. It seemed the right to put a knife in him was reserved to her. He would have chuckled, except that filament of fear remained. That, and what she had said about Maire. He could not smell himself, but he knew what was there. Fear. Old fear, and new fear, for the next time.

The last of the nobles forced their way from the Grand Hall, without anyone being trampled. Sending Aram off to tell Dannil to bring the Two Rivers men into the city—and wondering how he was going to feed them—Perrin offered Faile his arm and led her out, leaving Dobraine with Colavaere, who was finally showing signs of awakening. He had no wish to be around when she woke, and Faile, with her hand on his wrist, seemed not to either. They walked quickly, eager to reach their rooms, if not necessarily for the same reasons.

The nobles apparently had not stopped their flight once they were out of the Grand Hall. The corridors were empty except for servants who kept their eyes down and moved at a silent rush, but before they had gone very far, Perrin caught the sound of footsteps and realized they were being followed. It seemed unlikely that Colavaere had any open supporters still, but if there were any, they might think to strike at Rand through his friend, walking alone with his wife while the Dragon Reborn was elsewhere.

Only, when Perrin spun about, hand to his axe, he stared instead of drawing the weapon. It was Selande and her friends from the entry hall, with eight or nine new faces. They gave a start when he turned, and exchanged abashed glances. Some were Tairens, including a woman who stood taller than all but one of the Cairhienin men. She wore a man’s coat and tight breeches, just like Selande and the rest of the women, with a sword on her hip. He had not heard that this nonsense had spread to the Tairens.

“Why are you following us?” he demanded. “If you try to make me any of your woolhead trouble, I vow I’ll kick the lot of you from here to Bel Tine!” He had had problems before with these idiots, or some just like them, anyway. All they thought about was their honor, and fighting duels, and taking one another gai’shain. That last really set the Aiel’s teeth on edge.

“Attend my husband and obey,” Faile put in sharply. “He is not a man to be trifled with.” Gawking stares vanished, and they backed away, bowing, competing over flourishes. They were still at it when they vanished around a turn.

“Bloody young buffoons,” Perrin muttered, offering Faile his wrist again.

“My husband is wise in his years,” she murmured. Her tone was utterly serious; her smell was something else again.

Perrin managed not to snort. True, a few of them might be a year or two older than he, but they all were like children with their playing at Aiel. Now, with Faile in a good mood, seemed as good a time as any to begin what they had to talk about. What he had to talk about. “Faile, how did you come to be one of Colavaere’s attendants?”

“The servants, Perrin.” She spoke softly; nobody two steps away could have heard a word. She knew all about his hearing, and the wolves. That was nothing a man could keep from his wife. Her fan touched her ear, admonishing caution in speech. “Too many people forget servants are there, but servants listen too. In Cairhien, they listen far too much.”

None of the liveried people he saw were doing any listening. The few who did not duck down side corridors when they saw him and Faile went by at a near run, gazes on the floor and gathered in on themselves. Any sort of news spread quickly in Cairhien. Events in the Grand Hall would have flown. The word was in the streets by now, probably on its way out of the city already. Without any doubt there were eyes-and-ears in Cairhien for the Aes Sedai, and the Whitecloaks, and lik