A Memory of Light Page 188

Mat ignored the looks of those nearby as he tipped his chair back onto two legs, set his heels on the table and packed his pipe. Seanchan could be so touchy.

He wasn’t certain what he thought of so many Seanchan women being soldiers. A lot of them seemed like Birgitte, which wouldn’t be so bad. Mat would rather spend an evening in the tavern with her than half the men he knew.

"You will be executed", Tuon Voiced through Selucia, speaking to the soldier.

Mat nearly fell off of his chair. He grabbed the table in front of him, the chair’s front legs slamming down on the ground.

"What?" Min demanded. "No!"

"You saw the sign of the white boar", Tuon said.

"I don’t know the meaning!"

"The boar is the symbol of one Handoin, one of my rivals in Seanchan", Tuon explained patiently. "The white boar is an omen of danger, perhaps betrayal. This woman works for him, or will in the future".

"You can’t just execute her!"

Tuon blinked once, looking straight at Min. The room seemed to drop into shade, feeling colder. Mat shivered. He didn’t like it when Tuon got like this. That stare of hers . . . it seemed like the stare of another person. A person without compassion. A statue had more life to it.

Nearby, Selucia wiggled her fingers at Tuon. Tuon glanced at them, then nodded.

"You are my Truthspeaker", she said to Min, almost reluctantly. "You may correct me in public. Do you see error in my decisions?"

"Yes, I do", Min said, not missing a beat. "You do not use my skills as you should".

"And how should I?" Tuon asked. The soldier who had been given a death sentence continued lying prostrate. She didn’t object—she was not of a rank that could address the Empress. She was lowly enough that speaking to someone else in Tuon’s presence would be a breach of honor.

"What someone may do is not grounds to kill them", Min said. "I intend no disrespect, but if you are going to kill people because of what I tell you, I will not speak".

"You can be made to speak".

"Try it", Min said softly. Mat started. Bloody ashes, she looked as cold as Tuon had a moment ago. "Let us see how the Pattern treats you, Empress, if you torture the bearer of omens".

Instead, Tuon smiled. "You take to this well. Explain to me what you desire, bringer of omens".

"I will tell you my viewings", Min said, "but from now on, the interpretations—whether my own, or those you read into the images—are to be kept quiet. Between the two of us would be best. You are allowed to watch someone because of what I’ve said, but not to punish them—not unless you catch them doing something. Set this woman free".

"Let it be so", Tuon said. "You are free", she Voiced through Selucia. "Walk in loyalty to the Crystal Throne. You will be watched".

The woman bowed lower, then retreated from the room, head down. Mat caught a trickle of sweat running down the side of her face. So she wasn’t a statue.

He turned back to Tuon and Min. They were still staring at one another. No knives, but he felt as if someone had been stabbed. If only Min would learn a little respect. One of these days, he was going to have to haul her away from the Seanchan by her collar—a step in front of the headsman—he was certain of it.

A gateway suddenly split the air on the side of the room where Tuon had indicated it should go. Suddenly, it occurred to Mat why she had moved her throne. If that damane had been captured and forced to say where Tuon was sitting, an Aes Sedai could have opened a gateway where she sat, slicing her in two. It was so unlikely it was laughable—an Aes Sedai could sooner fly than kill someone who wasn’t a Darkfriend—but Tuon took no chances.

The gateway opened to reveal the Hall of the Tower seated in a tent. Behind them, Egwene sat upon a large chair. The Amyrlin Seat itself, Mat realized. Blood and ashes . . . she had them fetch it.

Egwene looked exhausted, though she was doing a good job of hiding it. The others were no better. The Aes Sedai had been strained to their limits. If she were a soldier, he’d never send her into battle. Blood and bloody ashes—if he had a soldier with that cast to his skin and that look in his eyes, Mat would send the fellow to bed rest for a week.

"We are curious to know the purpose of this meeting", Saerin said calmly.

Silviana sat in a smaller chair by Egwene’s side, and the other sisters were organized by Ajah. Some were missing, including one of the Yellows, by Mat’s best guess.

Tuon nodded to Mat. He was to lead this meeting. He tipped his hat to her, which earned him a half-raised eyebrow. Her dangerous look was gone, although she was still Empress.

"Aes Sedai", Mat said, standing up and tipping his hat to the Sitters. "The Crystal Throne appreciates you coming to your bloody senses and letting us direct the battle".

Silviana’s eyes bulged as if someone had just stepped on her foot. From the corner of his eye, Mat caught a hint of a smile on Tuon’s lips. Blood and bloody ashes, both women should know better than to encourage him so.

"You are as eloquent as ever, Mat", Egwene said dryly "Do you still have your pet fox?"

"I do", Mat said. "He’s snuggled up nice and warm".

"Take care of him", Egwene said. "I would not see you suffer Gareth Bryne’s fate".

"So it was really Compulsion?" Mat asked. Egwene had sent him word. "As near as we can tell", Saerin said. "Nynaeve Sedai can see the weaves on someone’s mind, I'm told, but none of the rest of us can".

"We have our Healers looking at Bryne", said a stocky Domani Aes Sedai. "For now, we cannot trust any battle plans that he touched, at least not until we determine how long he’s been under the Shadow’s thumb".

Mat nodded. "That sounds good. Also, we need to withdraw our forces from the ford".

"Why?" Lelaine demanded. "We have stabilized here".

"Not well enough", Mat said. "I don’t like this terrain, and we shouldn’t have to fight where we don’t want to".

"I hesitate to give an extra inch to the Shadow", Saerin said.

"A pace given up now could earn us two at the dawn", Mat replied. General Galgan murmured in agreement, and Mat realized that he

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