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


“I wish you would stop bringing that up,” Egwene said. It was well to be careful, but she could not afford to refuse every offer of help for fear of plots. “Do you think everybody believes Aes Sedai because of the Three Oaths? People who know Aes Sedai know a sister can stand truth on its head and turn it inside out if she chooses to. Myself, I think the Three Oaths hurt as much as they help, maybe more. I will believe you until I learn you’ve lied to me, and I will trust you until you show you don’t deserve it. The same way everybody else does with one another.” Come to think of it, the Oaths did not really change that. You still had to take a sister on trust most of the time. The Oaths just made people warier about it, wondering whether and how they were being manipulated. “Another thing. You two are Aes Sedai. I don’t want to hear any more about having to be tested, or hold the Oath Rod, or any of it. Bad enough you have to face that nonsense without parroting it yourselves. Have I made myself clear?”

The two women standing on the other side of the table murmured hastily that she had, then exchanged long looks. This time, it was Faolain who appeared indecisive. Finally, Theodrin glided around to kneel beside Egwene’s chair and kiss her ring. “Under the Light and by my hope of salvation and rebirth, I, Theodrin Dabei, swear fealty to you, Egwene al’Vere, to faithfully serve and obey on pain of my life and honor.” She looked at Egwene questioningly.

It was all Egwene could do to nod. This was no part of Aes Sedai ritual; this was how noble swore to ruler. Even some rulers did not receive so strong an oath. Yet no sooner had Theodrin risen with a relieved smile than Faolain took her place.

“Under the Light and by my hope of salvation and rebirth, I, Faolain Orande. . . .”

All that she could have wished for and more. From any other sisters, at least, who were not just as likely to be sent to fetch another’s dustcloak if the wind rose.

When Faolain finished, she remained kneeling, but stiffly upright. “Mother, there is the matter of my penance. For what I said to you, about not liking you. I will set it myself, if you wish, but it is your right.” Her voice was as rigid as her posture, yet not at all fearful. She looked ready to stare down a lion. Eager to, in fact.

Biting her lip, Egwene nearly laughed aloud. Keeping her face smooth took effort; maybe they would take it for a hiccough. However much they claimed they were not really Aes Sedai, Faolain had just proved how much of one she was. Sometimes sisters set themselves penances, in order to maintain the proper balance between pride and humility—that balance was much prized, supposedly, and the only reason given usually—but certainly none sought to have one imposed. Penance set by another could be quite harsh, and the Amyrlin was supposed to be harder in this than the Ajahs. Either way, though, many sisters made a haughty display of submission to the greater will of the Aes Sedai, an arrogant showing of their lack of arrogance. The pride of humility, Siuan called it. She considered telling the woman to eat a handful of soap just to see her expression—Faolain had a mean tongue—but instead. . . .

“I don’t hand out penance for telling the truth, daughter. Or for not liking me. Dislike to your heart’s content, so long as you keep your oath.” Not that anyone except a Darkfriend would break that particular oath. Still, there were ways around almost anything. But weak sticks were better than none, when you were fending off a bear.

Faolain’s eyes widened, and Egwene sighed as she motioned the woman to rise. Had their positions been reversed, Faolain would have put her nose firmly in the dust.

“I’m setting you two tasks to begin, daughters,” she went on.

They listened carefully, Faolain not even blinking, Theodrin with a thoughtful finger to her lips, and this time when she dismissed them, they said, “As you command, Mother,” in unison as they curtsied.

Egwene’s good mood was fleeting, though. Meri arrived with her breakfast on a tray as Theodrin and Faolain departed, and when Egwene thanked her for the rose-petal pomander, she said, “I had a few spare moments, Mother.” By her expression, that could have been an accusation that Egwene worked her too hard, or that she herself did not work hard enough. Not a pleasant spice for the stewed fruit. For that matter, the woman’s face might sour the mint tea and turn the warm crusty bun hard as a rock. Egwene sent her away before eating. The tea was weak anyway. Tea was one of the things in short supply.

The note that had been under the inkwell proved no better seasoning. “Nothing of interest in the dream,” said Siuan’s fine script. So Siuan had been in Tel’aran’rhiod last night too; she did a good deal of spying there. It mattered little whether she had been hunting some sign of Moghedien, though that would have been insanely foolish, or something else; nothing was nothing.

Egwene grimaced, and not just for the “nothing.” Siuan in Tel’aran’rhiod last night meant a visit from Leane sometime today, complaining. Siuan most definitely no longer was allowed any of the dream ter’angreal, not since she had tried to teach some of the other sisters about the World of Dreams. It was not so much that she knew little more than they, or even that few sisters believed they actually needed a teacher to learn anything, but Siuan possessed a tongue like a rasp and no patience. Usually she managed to hold her temper, but two outbursts of shouting and fist-shaking, and she had been fortunate just to find herself denied access to the ter’angreal. Leane was given one whenever she asked, though, and frequently Siuan used it in secret. That was one of the few real bones of contention between them; both would have been in Tel’aran’rhiod every night if they could.

With a grimace Egwene channeled the tiniest spark of Fire to set a corner of the parchment alight and held it until it burned nearly to her fingers. Nothing left to be found by anyone rooting through her belongings and reported where it would rouse suspicions.

Breakfast almost done, she was still alone, and that was not usual. Sheriam might well be avoiding her, but Siuan should have been there. Popping a last bit of the bun into her mouth and washing it down with a final swallow of tea, she rose to go find her, only to have the object of her intended search stalk into the tent. Had Siuan had a tail, she would have been lashing it.

“Where have you been?” Egwene demanded, weaving a ward against listeners.

“Aeldene pulled me out of my blankets first thing,” Siuan growled, dropping onto one of the stools. “She still thinks she’ll pump the Amyrlin’s eyes-and-ears out of me. No one