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


“Blood and bloody—! We should have had her watched,” Siuan growled through her teeth.

Egwene’s eyebrows rose. Siuan must be as shaken as Leane. “By who, Siuan? Faolain? Theodrin? They don’t even know you two are of my party.” A party? Five women. And Faolain and Theodrin were hardly eager adherents, especially Faolain. Nynaeve and Elayne could be counted too, of course, and Birgitte certainly, even if she was not Aes Sedai, but they were a long way off. Stealth and cunning were still her major strengths. Plus the fact that no one expected them of her. “How should I have explained to anyone why they were supposed to watch my serving woman? For that matter, what good would it have done? It had to be one of the Forsaken. Do you really think Faolain and Theodrin together could have stopped him? I’m not sure I could have, even linked with Romanda and Lelaine.” They were the next two strongest women in the camp, as strong in the Power as Siuan used to be.

Siuan visibly forced a scowl from her face, but even so, she snorted. She often said that if she could no longer be Amyrlin, then she would teach Egwene how to be the best Amyrlin ever, yet the transition from lion on a hill to mouse underfoot was difficult. Egwene allowed her no little latitude because of that.

“I want the two of you to ask about among those near the tent Moghedien was sleeping in. Someone must have seen the man. He had to come afoot. Anybody opening a gateway inside a space that little risked cutting her in two, however small he wove it.”

Siuan snorted, louder than the first time. “Why bother?” she growled. “Do you mean to go chasing after like some fool hero in a gleeman’s fool story and bring her back? Maybe tie up all the Forsaken at one go? Win the Last Battle while you’re at it? Even if we get a description head to toe, nobody knows one Forsaken from another. Nobody here, anyway. It’s the most bloody useless barrel of fish guts I ever—!”

“Siuan!” Egwene said sharply, sitting up straighter. Latitude was one thing, but there were limits. She did not put up with this even from Romanda.

Color bloomed slowly in Siuan’s cheeks. Struggling to master herself, she kneaded her skirts and avoided Egwene’s eyes. “Forgive me, Mother,” she said finally. She almost sounded as if she meant it.

“It has been a difficult day for her, Mother,” Leane put in with an impish smile. She was very good at those, though she generally used them to set some man’s heart racing. Not promiscuously, of course; she possessed discrimination and discretion in ample supply. “But then, most are. If she could only learn not to throw things at Gareth Bryne every time she gets angry—”

“Enough!” Egwene snapped. Leane was only trying to take a little of the pressure from Siuan, but she was in no mood for it. “I want to know anything I can learn about whoever freed Moghedien, even if it’s just whether he was short or tall. Any scrap that makes him less a shadow creeping in the dark. If that’s not more than I have a right to ask.” Leane sat quite still, staring at the flowers in the carpet in front of her toes.

The redness spread to cover nearly Siuan’s whole face; with her fair skin, it made her look like a sunset. “I . . . humbly beg your pardon, Mother.” This time, she did sound penitent. Her difficulty meeting Egwene’s gaze was obvious. “Sometimes it’s hard to. . . . No, no excuses. I humbly beg pardon.”

Egwene fingered her stole, letting the moment set itself as she looked at Siuan without blinking. That was something Siuan herself had taught her, but after a bit she shifted uneasily on the cot. When you knew you were in the wrong, silence pricked, and the pricks drove home that you were wrong. Silence was a very useful tool in a number of situations. “Since I can’t recall what I should forgive,” she said at last, quietly, “there seems to be no need. But, Siuan. . . . Don’t let it happen again.”

“Thank you, Mother.” A hint of wry laughter curled the corners of Siuan’s mouth. “If I may say so, I seem to have taught you very well. But if I may suggest . . . ?” She waited for Egwene’s impatient nod. “One of us should carry your order to Faolain or Theodrin to ask the questions, very sulky at being made a messenger. They’ll occasion a deal less comment than Leane or I. Everyone knows you are their patron.”

Egwene agreed immediately. She still was not thinking clearly, or she would have seen that for herself. The headachy feeling was back again. Chesa claimed it came from too little sleep, but sleeping was difficult when your head felt taut as a drumhead. It would take a larger head than hers not to feel tight, stuffed with as many worries as she had. Well, at least now she could pass on the secrets that had kept Moghedien hidden, how to weave disguises with the Power and how to mask your ability from other women who could channel. Revealing those had been too risky when they might have led to unmasking Moghedien.

A bit more acclaim, she thought wryly. There had been great petting and exclaiming when she announced the once-lost secret of Traveling, which at least had been her own, and more praise since for every one of the secrets she had wrenched out of Moghedien, like pulling a back tooth each time. None of the acclaim made an ounce of difference in her position, though. You could pat a talented child on the head without forgetting she was a child.

Leane departed with a curtsy and a dry comment that she was not sorry somebody else would have less than a full night’s rest for once. Siuan waited; no one could be allowed to see her and Leane leaving together. For a time Egwene merely studied the other woman. Neither spoke; Siuan seemed lost in thought. Finally she gave a start and stood, straightening her dress, plainly preparing to go.

“Siuan,” Egwene began slowly, and found herself uncertain how to continue.

Siuan thought she understood. “You were not only right, Mother,” she said, looking Egwene straight in the eye, “you were lenient. Too lenient, though I say it who shouldn’t. You are the Amyrlin Seat, and no one may be insolent or impertinent to you. If you’d given me a penance that made even Romanda feel sorry for me, it would have been no more than I deserved.”

“I will remember that next time,” Egwene said, and Siuan bowed her head as if in acceptance. Maybe it was. Unless the changes in her ran deeper than seemed possible, there almost certainly would be a next time, and more after that. “But what I want to ask about is Lord Bryne.” All expression vanished from Siuan’s face. “Are you sure you wouldn’t like me