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


Myrelle turned as if to go, and Egwene snapped, “You stay right there! Right where you are!” Myrelle’s mouth dropped open. Her surprise seemed as much for her own obedience as Egwene’s decisive tone, and it faded into bitter resignation that she quickly hid behind a cool façade. One belied by the way she twiddled her reins.

Bryne did not even blink, though Egwene was sure he at least had an inkling of her situation. She suspected that very little surprised him, or unsettled him. Just the sight of him had made Siuan ready to fight back, for all it was apparently she who started most of their arguments. Already her fists rested on her hips and her gaze was fixed on him, an auguring stare that should have made anyone uneasy even had it not come from an Aes Sedai. Myrelle offered more than helping Siuan, though. Perhaps. “I intended to ask you to come this afternoon, Lord Bryne. I ask now.” She had questions to put to him. “We can talk then. If you will forgive me.”

Instead of accepting her dismissal, he said, “Mother, one of my patrols found something just before dawn, something I think you should see for yourself. I can have an escort ready in—”

“No need for that,” she broke in quickly. “Myrelle, you will come with us. Siuan, would you ask someone to bring my horse, please? Without delay.”

Riding out with Myrelle would be better than confronting her here, if Siuan’s patched-together clues really pointed at anything, and on a ride she could ask Bryne her questions, but neither fueled her haste. She had just spotted Lelaine striding toward her through the tentrows, Takima at her side. With one exception, all the women who had been Sitters before Siuan was deposed had drifted to either Lelaine or Romanda. Most of the newly chosen Sitters went their own way, which was slightly better in Egwene’s view. Just slightly.

Even at a little distance the set of Lelaine’s shoulders was evident. She looked ready to walk through whatever got in her way. Siuan saw her as well and darted off without pausing for so much as a curtsy, yet there was no time to make a clean escape short of leaping onto Lord Bryne’s horse.

Lelaine planted herself in front of Egwene, but it was Bryne she fixed with eyes sharp as tacks, considering, calculating what he was doing there. She had larger fish to put on the fire, though. “I must speak with the Amyrlin,” she said peremptorily, pointing toward Myrelle. “You will wait; I will talk to you after.” Bryne bowed, not too deeply, and led his horse where she pointed. Men who had any brains at all soon learned arguments did little good with Aes Sedai, and with Sitters the tally was usually none.

Before Lelaine could open her mouth, Romanda was suddenly there, radiating command so strongly that at first Egwene did not even notice Varilin with her, and the slender, red-haired Sitter for the Gray was inches taller than most men. The only surprise was that Romanda had not appeared sooner. She and Lelaine watched one another like hawks, neither allowing the other near Egwene alone. The glow of saidar surrounded both women at the same instant, and each wove a ward around the five of them to stop eavesdropping. Their eyes clashed, challenging in faces utterly cool and collected, but neither let her ward drop.

Egwene bit her tongue. In a public place, it was up to the strongest sister present to decide whether a conversation should be warded, and protocol said the Amyrlin made that decision wherever she was present. She had no desire for the not-quite apologies mentioning it would bring, though. If she pressed, they would accede, of course. While behaving as though soothing a petulant toddler. She bit her tongue, and boiled inside. Where was Siuan? That was not fair—getting horses saddled required more than moments—but she wanted to grip her skirts to keep her hands away from her head.

Romanda dropped the staring match first, though not in defeat. She rounded on Egwene so suddenly that Lelaine was left staring past her and looking foolish. “Delana is making trouble again.” Her high-pitched voice was almost sweet, but it held a sharpness that emphasized the lack of any title of respect. Romanda’s hair was completely gray, gathered in a neat bun on the nape of her neck, but age had certainly not softened her. Takima, with her long black hair and aged ivory complexion, had been almost nine years a Brown Sitter, as forceful in the Hall as in the classroom, yet she stood a meek pace back, hands folded at her waist. Romanda led her faction as firmly as Sorilea. She was one to whom strength was indeed all-important, and in truth, Lelaine seemed not far behind.

“She plans to lay a proposal before the Hall,” Lelaine put in sourly, refusing to look at Romanda at all, now. Agreeing with the other woman certainly pleased her as little as speaking second. Aware that she had gained an edge, Romanda smiled, a faint curving of her lips.

“About what?” Egwene asked, playing for time. She was certain she knew. It was very hard not to sigh. It was very hard not to rub her temples.

“Why the Black Ajah, of course, Mother,” Varilin replied, lifting her head as if surprised at the question. Well she might be; Delana was rabid on the subject. “She wants the Hall to condemn Elaida openly as Black.” She stopped abruptly when Lelaine raised a hand. Lelaine allowed her followers more leeway than Romanda, or maybe she just did not have as tight a grip.

“You must speak with her, Mother.” Lelaine had a warm smile when she chose to use it. Siuan said they had been friends once—Lelaine had accepted her back with some version of welcome—yet Egwene thought that smile a practiced tool.

“And say what?” Her hands ached to soothe her head. These two each made sure the Hall passed only what she wanted, certainly little that Egwene suggested, with the result that nothing much at all was passed, and they wanted her to intercede with a Sitter? Delana did support her proposals, true—when they suited her. Delana was a weathervane, turning with the last breath of air to pass, and if she turned in Egwene’s direction a great deal of late, it did not mean very much. The Black Ajah seemed her only fixed point. What was keeping Siuan?

“Tell her she must stop, Mother.” Lelaine’s smile and tone made her seem to be counseling a daughter. “This foolishness—worse than foolishness—has everyone at daggers’ points. Some of the sisters are even beginning to believe, Mother. It will not be long before the notion spreads to the servants, and the soldiers.” The look she directed toward Bryne was full of doubt. Bryne appeared to be attempting to chat with Myrelle, who was staring at the warded group and running her reins uneasily