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


That turned their faces to stone, as intended. Even Efalin showed eyes like polished gray gems as she veiled; her fingers moved in Maiden handtalk, and as the society leaders sprinted up the rise, the Maidens around Sevanna followed. That was not what she had intended, but at least the spears were moving. Even from the bottom of the fold she could see what had seemed bare ground disgorging cadin’sor-clad figures, all hurrying south with the long strides that could run down horses. There was no time to waste. With a thought to have words with Efalin later, Sevanna turned to the Wise Ones.

Chosen from the strongest of the Shaido Wise Ones who could wield the One Power, they were six or seven for every Aes Sedai around Rand al’Thor, yet Sevanna saw doubt. They tried to hide it behind stony faces, but it was there, in shifting eyes, in tongues wetting lips. Many traditions fell today, traditions old and strong as law. Wise Ones did not take part in battles. Wise Ones kept far from Aes Sedai. They knew the ancient tales, that the Aiel had been sent to the Three-fold Land for failing the Aes Sedai, that they would be destroyed if ever they failed them again. They had heard the stories, what Rand al’Thor had claimed before all, that as part of their service to the Aes Sedai, the Aiel had sworn to do no violence.

Once Sevanna had been sure those stories were lies, but of late she believed the Wise Ones knew them for truth. None had told her so, of course. It did not matter. She herself had never made the two journeys to Rhuidean required to become a Wise One, but the others had accepted her, however reluctant some had been. Now they had no choice but to go on accepting. Useless traditions would be carved into new.

“Aes Sedai,” she said softly. They leaned toward her in a muted clatter of bracelets and necklaces, to catch her low words. “They hold Rand al’Thor, the Car’a’carn. We must take him from them.” There were scattered frowns. Most believed she wanted the Car’a’carn taken alive in order to avenge the death of Couladin, her second husband. They understood that, but they would not have come here for it. “Aes Sedai,” she hissed angrily. “We kept our pledge, but they broke theirs. We violated nothing, but they have violated everything. You know how Desaine was murdered.” And of course they did. The eyes watching her were suddenly sharper. Killing a Wise One ranked with killing a pregnant woman, a child or a blacksmith. Some of those eyes were very sharp. Therava’s, Rhiale’s, others’. “If we allow these women to walk away from that, then we are less than animals, we will have no honor. I hold my honor.”

On that she gathered her skirts with dignity and climbed the slope, head high, not looking back. She was certain the others would follow. Therava and Norlea and Dailin would see to that, and Rhiale and Tion and Meira and the rest who had accompanied her a few days past to see Rand al’Thor beaten and put back into his wooden chest by the Aes Sedai. Her reminder had been for those thirteen even more than the others, and they dared not fail her. The truth of how Desaine had died tied them to her.

Wise Ones with their skirts looped over their arms to free their legs could not keep up with the algai’d’siswai in cadin’sor however hard they ran, though race they did. Five miles across those low rolling hills, not a long run, and they topped a crest to see the dance of spears already begun. After a fashion.

Thousands of algai’d’siswai made a huge pool of veiled gray-and-brown surging around a circle of wetlander wagons, which itself surrounded one of the small clumps of trees that dotted this region. Sevanna drew an angry breath. The Aes Sedai had even had time to bring all of their horses inside. The spears encircled the wagons, pressed in on them, showered arrows toward them, but those at the front seemed to push against an invisible wall. At first the arrows that arched highest passed over this wall, but then they too began striking something unseen and bouncing back. A low murmur rose among the Wise Ones.

“You see what the Aes Sedai do?” Sevanna demanded, as though she also could see the One Power being woven. She wanted to sneer; the Aes Sedai were fools, with their vaunted Three Oaths. When they finally decided they must use the Power as a weapon instead of just to make barriers, it would be too late. Provided the Wise Ones did not stand too long staring. Somewhere in those wagons was Rand al’Thor, perhaps still doubled into a chest like a bolt of silk. Waiting for her to pick him up. If the Aes Sedai could hold him, then she could, with the Wise Ones. And a promise. “Therava, take your half to the west now. Be ready to strike when I do. For Desaine, and the toh the Aes Sedai owe us. We will make them meet toh as no one ever has before.”

It was a foolish boast to speak of making someone meet an obligation they had not acknowledged, yet in the angry mutters from the other women, Sevanna heard other furious promises to make the Aes Sedai meet toh. Only those who had killed Desaine on Sevanna’s orders stood silent. Therava’s narrow lips tightened slightly, but finally she said, “It will be as you say, Sevanna.”

At an easy lope, Sevanna led her half of the Wise Ones to the east side of the battle, if it could be called that yet. She had wanted to remain on a rise where she could have a good view—that was how a clan chief or battle leader directed the dance of spears—but in this one thing she found no support even from Therava and the others who shared the secret of Desaine’s death. The Wise Ones made a sharp contrast with the algai’d’siswai as she lined them up in their white algode blouses and dark wool skirts and shawls, their glittering bracelets and necklaces and their waist-length hair held back by dark folded scarves. For all their decision that if they were to be in the dance of the spears, they would be in it, not on a rise apart, she did not believe they yet realized that the true battle today was theirs to fight. After today, nothing would be the same again, and tethering Rand al’Thor was the smallest part.

Among the algai’d’siswai staring toward the wagons only height quickly told men from Maidens. Veils and shoufa hid heads and faces, and cadin’sor was cadin’sor aside from the differences of cut that marked clan and sept and society. Those at the outer edge of the encirclement appeared confused, grumbling among themselves as they waited for something to happen. They had come prepared to dance with Aes Sedai lightning, and now they milled impatiently, too far back even to use the horn bows still in leather cases on their backs. They would not have to wait much longer if Sevanna had her way.

Hands on hips, she addressed the other Wise Ones. “Those to the south of me will disrupt what the Aes Sedai are doing. Those to the north will attack. Forward the spears!” With the command, she turned to watch the destruction of the Aes Sedai who thought th