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


This was dithering. She had to start thinking clearly.


“. . . . look like you need your head rubbed for the ache again is what, is what you. . . . Yes, Mother?”

“Find Siuan and Leane. Tell them to come to me. But don’t let anyone hear you.”

Grinning, Chesa dropped a curtsy and scampered out. She could hardly avoid knowing the currents that swirled around Egwene, yet she found all the plotting and scheming fun. Not that she knew more than surface, and little enough of that. Egwene did not doubt her loyalty, but Chesa’s opinion of what was exciting might change if she learned the depth of those swirls.

Channeling the oil lamps inside the tent alight, Egwene blew out the lantern and set it carefully in a corner. Maybe she had to think clearly, but she still felt as if she was stumbling in the dark.

Chapter 9

A Pair of Silverpike

Egwene was sitting in her chair—one of the few real chairs in the camp, with a little plain carving like a farmer’s best armchair, roomy and comfortable enough that she felt only a touch of guilt about taking up valuable wagon space for it—she was sitting there trying to pull her thoughts together when Siuan swept aside the entry flaps and ducked into the tent. Siuan was not happy.

“Why in the Light did you run off?” Her voice had not changed with her face, and she chided with the best even when she did it in respectful tones. Barely respectful. Her blue eyes remained the same, too; they could have done for a saddlemaker’s awls. “Sheriam brushed me aside like a fly.” That surprisingly delicate mouth twisted bitterly. “She was gone almost as soon as you were. Don’t you realize she handed herself to you? She certainly does. Her, and Anaiya and Morvrin and the lot of them. You can be sure they’ll spend tonight trying to bail water and patch holes. They could manage it. I don’t see how, but they might.”

Almost as the last word left her mouth, Leane entered. A tall, willowy woman, her coppery face was as youthful as Siuan’s, and for the same reason; she also was more than old enough to be Egwene’s mother, in truth. Leane took one look at Siuan and threw up her hands as much as the roof of the tent would allow. “Mother, this is a foolish risk.” Her dark eyes went from dreamy to flashing, but her voice had a languorous quality even when she was irritated. Once, it had been brisk. “If anyone sees Siuan and me together this way—”

“I don’t care if the whole camp learns your squabbling is a fraud,” Egwene broke in sharply, weaving a small barrier against eavesdropping around the three of them. It could be worked through with time, but not without detection, so long as she held the weave instead of tying it off.

She did care, and perhaps she should not have called them both, but her first half-coherent thought had been to summon the two sisters she could count on. No one in the camp so much as suspected. Everyone knew the former Amyrlin and her former Keeper detested one another every bit as much as Siuan detested being tutor to her successor. Should any sister uncover the truth, they might well find themselves doing penance for a long time to come, and not an easy one—Aes Sedai appreciated being made fools of even less than other people; kings had been made to pay for that—but in the meanwhile their supposed animosity resulted in a certain leverage with the other sisters, including Sitters. If they both said the same thing, it must be so. Another incidental effect of being stilled was very useful, one no one else knew about. The Three Oaths no longer held them; they could lie like wool merchants, now.

Schemes and deceptions on every side. The camp was like some fetid swamp where strange growths sprouted unseen in mists. Maybe anywhere Aes Sedai gathered was like that. After three thousand years of plotting, however necessary, it was hardly surprising that scheming had become second nature to most sisters and only a breath away for the rest. The truly horrible thing was that she found herself beginning to enjoy all the machinations. Not for their own sake, but as puzzles, though no twisted bits of iron could intrigue her a quarter so much. What that said about her, she did not want to know. Well, she was Aes Sedai, whatever anyone thought, and she had to take the bad of it with the good.

“Moghedien has escaped,” she went on without pause. “A man removed the a’dam from her. A man who can channel. I think one of them took the necklace away; it wasn’t in her tent, that I saw. There might be some way to find it using the bracelet, but if there is, I don’t know it.”

That took the starch right out of them. Leane’s legs gave way, and she dropped like a sack onto the stool Chesa sometimes used. Siuan sat down on the cot slowly, back very straight, hands very still on her knees. Incongruously, Egwene noticed that her dress had tiny blue flowers embroidered in a wide Tairen maze around the bottom, a band that made the divided skirts seem one when she was still. Another band curved becomingly across the bodice. Concern for her clothes, that they be pretty instead of just suitable, was certainly a small change, looking at it one way—she never took it to extremes—yet in another, it was as drastic as her face. And a puzzle. Siuan resented the changes, and resisted them. Except for this one.

Leane, on the other hand, in true Aes Sedai fashion embraced what had changed. A young woman again—Egwene had overheard a Yellow exclaiming in wonder that both were prime childbearing age, by everything she could find—she might never have been Keeper, never have had any other face. The very image of practicality and efficiency became the ideal of an indolent and alluring Domani woman. Even her riding dress was cut in the style of her native land, and no matter that its silk, so thin it barely seemed opaque, was as impractical as the pale green color for traveling dusty roads. Told that having been stilled had broken all ties and associations, Leane had chosen the Green Ajah over a return to the Blue. Changing Ajahs was not done, but then, no one had been stilled and then Healed before, either. Siuan had gone right back into the Blue, grumbling over the idiotic need to “entreat and appeal for acceptance” as the formal phrase went.

“Oh, Light!” Leane breathed as she thumped onto the stool with considerably less than her usual grace. “We should have turned her over for trial the first day. Nothing we’ve learned from her is worth letting her loose on the world again. Nothing!” It was a measure of her shock; she did not normally go about stating the obvious. Her brain had not grown indolent, whatever her outward demeanor. Languid and seductive Domani women might be on the outside, but they were still known as the