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


“Don’t you think I’ve enough on my plate without a war against the White Tower? Elaida grabbed my throat and was slapped down.” The ground erupting in fire and torn flesh. Ravens and vultures gorging. How many dead? Slapped down. “If she has sense enough to stop there, I will too.” So long as they did not ask him to trust. The chest. He was shaking his head, half-aware of Lews Therin suddenly moaning about the dark and the thirst. He could ignore, he had to ignore, but not forget, or trust.

Leaving Bael and Bashere arguing over whether Elaida did have sense enough to stop, now that she had begun, he moved to a map-covered table against the wall, beneath a tapestry of some battle where the White Lion of Andor stood prominent. Apparently Bael and Bashere used this room for their planning. A little rooting around found the map he needed, a large roll displaying all of Andor from the Mountains of Mist to the River Erinin, and parts of the lands to the south as well, Ghealdan and Altara and Murandy.

“The women held captive in the treekillers’ lands are allowed to cause no trouble, so why should any others?” Melaine said, apparently in answer to something he had not heard. She sounded angry.

“We will do what we must, Deira t’Bashere,” Dorindha said calmly; she was seldom anything but. “Hold to your courage, and we will arrive where we must go.”

“When you leap from a cliff,” Deira replied, “it is too late for anything but holding to your courage. And hoping there’s a haywain at the bottom to land in.” Her husband chuckled as though she was making a joke. She did not sound it.

Spreading the map out and weighting the corners with ink jars and sand bottles, Rand measured off distances with his fingers. Mat was not moving very fast if rumor placed him in Altara or Murandy. He took pride in how fast the Band could march. Maybe the Aes Sedai were slowing him, with servants and wagons. Maybe there were more sisters than he had thought. Rand realized his hands were clenched into fists and made them straighten. He needed Elayne. To take the throne here and in Cairhien; that was why he needed her. Just that. Aviendha. . . . He did not need her, not at all, and she had made it clear she had no need for him. She was safe, away from him. He could keep them both safe by keeping them as far from him as possible. Light, if he could only look at them. He needed Mat, though, with Perrin being stubborn. He was not sure how Mat had suddenly become expert on everything to do with battle, but even Bashere respected Mat’s opinions. About war, anyway.

“They treated him as da’tsang,” Sulin growled, and some of the other Maidens growled wordlessly in echo.

“We know,” Melaine said grimly. “They have no honor.”

“Will he truly hold back after what you describe?” Deira demanded in disbelieving tones.

The map did not extend far enough south to show Illian—no map on the table showed any part of that country—but Rand’s hand drifted down across Murandy, and he could imagine the Doirlon Hills, not far inside Illian’s borders, with a line of hillforts no invading army could afford to ignore. And some two hundred and fifty miles to the east, across the Plains of Maredo, an army such as had not been seen since the nations gathered before Tar Valon in the Aiel War, maybe not since Artur Hawkwing’s day. Tairen, Cairhienin, Aiel, all poised to smash into Illian. If Perrin would not lead, then Mat must. Only there was not enough time. There was never enough time.

“Burn my eyes,” Davram muttered. “You never mentioned that, Melaine. Lady Caraline and Lord Toram camped right outside the city, and High Lord Darlin as well? They didn’t come together by chance, now right at this time, they did not. That’s a pit of vipers to have on your doorstep, whoever you are.”

“Let the algai’d’siswai dance,” Bael replied. “Dead vipers bite no one.”

Sammael had always been at his best defending. That was Lews Therin’s memory, from the War of the Shadow. With two men inside one skull, maybe it was to be expected that memories would drift between them. Had Lews Therin suddenly found himself recalling herding sheep, or cutting firewood, or feeding the chickens? Rand could hear him faintly, raging to kill, to destroy; thoughts of the Forsaken almost always drove Lews Therin over the brink.

“Deira t’Bashere speaks truly,” Bael said. “We must stay on the path we have begun until our enemies are destroyed, or we are.”

“That was not how I meant it,” Deira said dryly. “But you are right. We have no choice, now. Until our enemies are destroyed, or we are.”

Death, destruction and madness floated in Rand’s head as he studied the map. Sammael would be at those forts soon after the army struck, Sammael with the strength of a Forsaken and the knowledge of the Age of Legends. Lord Brend, he called himself, one of the Council of Nine, and Lord Brend they called him who refused to admit the Forsaken were loose, but Rand knew him. With Lews Therin’s memory, he knew Sammael’s face, knew him to the bone.

“What does Dyelin Taravin intend with Naean Arawn and Elenia Sarand?” Dorindha asked. “I confess I do not understand this shutting people away.”

“What she does there is hardly important,” Davram said. “It is her meetings with those Aes Sedai that concern me.”

“Dyelin Taravin is a fool,” Melaine muttered. “She believes the rumors about the Car’a’carn kneeling to the Amyrlin Seat. She will not brush her hair unless those Aes Sedai give her permission.”

“You mistake her,” Deira said firmly. “Dyelin is strong enough to rule Andor; she proved that at Aringill. Of course she listens to the Aes Sedai—only a fool ignores Aes Sedai—but to listen is not to obey.”

The wagons that had been brought from Dumai’s Wells would have to be searched again. The fat-little-man angreal had to be there somewhere. None of the sisters who escaped could have had a clue what it was. Unless, perhaps, one had stuck a souvenir of the Dragon Reborn in her pouch. No. It had to be in the wagons somewhere. With that, he was more than a match for any of the Forsaken. Without it. . . . Death, destruction and madness.

Suddenly what he had been hearing rushed forward. “What was that?” he demanded, turning from the ivory-inlaid table.

Surprised faces turned toward him. Jonan straightened from where he had been slouching against the doorframe. The Maidens, squatting easily on their heels, suddenly appeared alert. They had been talking idly among themselves; even they