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


“There is no law against it,” Nisao protested. To Egwene, not Siuan. “No law against passing a bond.” Siuan received a frown that should have made her step back and shut her mouth. She was having none of it, though.

“That’s not the point, is it?” she demanded. “Even if it hasn’t been done in—what? four hundred years or more?—even if customs have changed, you might have escaped with a few stares and a little censure if all you and Moiraine had done was pass his bond between you. But he wasn’t asked, was he? He was given no choice. You might as well have bonded him against his will. In fact, you bloody well did!”

At last the puzzle came clear for Egwene. She knew she should feel the same disgust as Siuan. Aes Sedai put bonding a man against his will on a level with rape. He had as much chance to resist as a farmgirl would if a man the size of Lan cornered her in a barn. If three men the size of Lan did. Sisters had not always been so particular, though—a thousand years earlier, it would hardly have been remarked—and even today an argument could sometimes be made as to whether a man had actually known what he was agreeing to. Hypocrisy was a fine art among Aes Sedai sometimes, like scheming or keeping secrets. The thing was, she knew he had resisted admitting his love for Nynaeve. Some nonsense about how he was bound to be killed sooner or later and did not want to leave her a widow; men always did spout drivel when they thought they were being logical and practical. Would Nynaeve have let him walk away unbonded, had she had the chance, whatever he said? Would she herself let Gawyn? He had said he would accept, yet if he changed his mind . . . ?

Nisao’s mouth worked, but she could not find the words she wanted. She glared at Siuan as though it were all her fault, yet that was nothing alongside the scowl she directed at Myrelle. “I should never have listened to you,” she growled. “I must have been mad!”

Somehow, Myrelle still managed to maintain a smooth face, but she wavered a little, as though her knees had gone weak. “I did not do it for myself, Mother. You must believe that. It was to save him. As soon as he is safe, I will pass him on to Nynaeve, the way Moiraine wanted, just as soon as she’s—”

Egwene flung up a hand, and Myrelle stopped as if she had clapped it over her mouth. “You mean to pass his bond to Nynaeve?”

Myrelle nodded uncertainly, Nisao much more vigorously. Scowling, Siuan muttered something about doubling a wrong making it three times as bad. Lan still had not slowed. Two grasshoppers whirred up from the leaves behind him, and he spun, sword flicking them out of the air without a pause.

“Are your efforts succeeding? Is he any better? How long have you had him, exactly?”

“Only two weeks,” Myrelle replied. “Today is the twentieth. Mother, it could require months, and there is no guarantee.”

“Perhaps it is time to try something different,” Egwene said, more to herself than anyone else. More to convince herself than for any other reason. In his circumstances, Lan was hardly an easy present to hand anyone, but bond or no bond, he belonged to Nynaeve more than he ever would to Myrelle.

When she crossed the hollow to him, though, doubts sprang up strong. He whirled to face her in his dance, sword streaking toward her. Someone gasped as the blade halted abruptly only inches from her head. She was relieved that it had not been her.

Brilliant blue eyes regarded her intently from beneath lowered brows, in a face all planes and angles that might have been carved from stone. Lan lowered his sword slowly. Sweat coated him, yet he was not even breathing hard. “So you are the Amyrlin now. Myrelle told me they had raised one, but not who. It seems you and I have a good deal in common.” His smile was as cold as his voice, as cold as his eyes.

Egwene stopped herself from adjusting her stole, reminding herself that she was Amyrlin and Aes Sedai. She wanted to embrace saidar. Until this moment, she had not realized exactly how dangerous he was. “Nynaeve is Aes Sedai now, too, Lan. She’s in need of a good Warder.” One of the other women made a noise, but Egwene held her gaze on him.

“I hope she finds a hero out of legend.” He barked a laugh. “She’ll need the hero just to face her temper.”

The laugh convinced her, icy hard as it was. “Nynaeve is in Ebou Dar, Lan. You know what a dangerous city that is. She is searching for something we need desperately. If the Black Ajah learns of it, they’ll kill her to get it. If the Forsaken find out. . . .” She had thought his face bleak before, but the pain that tightened his eyes at Nynaeve’s danger confirmed her plan. Nynaeve, not Myrelle, had the right. “I am sending you to her, to act as her Warder.”

“Mother,” Myrelle said urgently behind her.

Egwene flung out a hand to silence her. “Nynaeve’s safety will be in your hands, Lan.”

He did not hesitate. Or even glance at Myrelle. “It will take at least a month to reach Ebou Dar. Areina, saddle Mandarb!” On the point of turning away, he paused, lifting his free hand as if to touch her stole. “I apologize for ever helping you leave the Two Rivers. You, or Nynaeve.” Striding away, he vanished into the tent he had come out of earlier, but before he had gone two steps, Myrelle and Nisao and Siuan were all clustered around her.

“Mother, you don’t understand what you are proposing,” Myrelle said breathlessly. “You might as well give a child a lighted lantern to play with in a haybarn. I began readying Nynaeve as soon as I felt his bond pass to me. I thought I had time. But she was raised to the shawl in a blink. She isn’t ready to handle him, Mother. Not him, not the way he is.”

With an effort Egwene made herself be patient. They still did not understand. “Myrelle, even if Nynaeve could not channel a lick . . .” She could not, actually, unless she was angry. “. . . that would make no difference, and you know it. Not in whether she can handle him. There’s one thing you haven’t been able to do. Give him a task so important that he has to stay alive to carry it out.” That was the final element. Supposedly it worked better than the rest. “To him, Nynaeve’s safety is that important. He loves her, Myrelle, and she loves him.”

“That explains . . .” Myrelle began softly, but Nisao burst out incredulously atop her.

“Oh, surely not. Not him. She might love him, I suppose, or think she does, but women have been chasing Lan since he was a beardless boy. And catching him, for a day or a month. He was quite a beautiful boy, however hard that might be to believe now. Still, he does appear to have his attractions.” She glanced sideways at Myrelle, who frowned slightly, tiny spots of color blooming in her cheeks. She did not react any further, but that was more than enough. “No, Mother. Any woman who thinks she has leashed Lan Mandragoran will find she has