A Memory of Light Page 9

The Warder led them to a tent near the center of the camp. "You are fortunate; her light is on". There were no guards at the tent entrance, so he called in and received permission to enter. He pulled back the flap with one arm and nodded to them, yet his other hand was on his sword, and he stood in fighting posture.

She hated putting that sword to her back, but she entered as ordered. The tent was lit by one of those unnatural globes of light, and a familiar woman in a green dress sat at a writing desk, working on a letter. Nynaeve al’Meara was what, back in Seanchan, one would call a telarti—a woman with fire in her soul. Leilwin had come to understand that Aes Sedai were supposed to be calm as placid waters. Well, this woman might be that on occasion-but she was the kind of placid water found one bend away from a furious waterfall.

Nynaeve continued to write as they entered. She no longer wore braids; her hair was loose around the top of her shoulders. It was a sight as strange as a ship with no mast.

"I'll be with you in a moment, Sleete", Nynaeve said. "Honestly, the way you lot have been hovering over me lately makes me think of a mother bird who has lost an egg. Don’t your Aes Sedai have work for you to do?"

"Lan is important to many of us, Nynaeve Sedai", the Warder-Sleete—said in a calm, gravelly voice.

"Oh, and he’s not important to me? Honestly, I wonder if we should send you out to chop wood or something. If one more Warder comes to see if I need—"

She glanced up, finally seeing Leilwin. Nynaeve’s face immediately grew impassive. Cold. Burningly cold. Leilwin found herself sweating. This woman held her life in her hands. Why couldn’t it have been Elayne that Sleete had brought them to? Perhaps they shouldn’t have mentioned Nynaeve.

"These two demanded to see you", Sleete said. His sword was out of its sheath. Leilwin hadn’t seen that. Domon muttered softly to himself. "They claim that you promised to pay them money, and they have come for it. They did not identify themselves in the Tower, however, and found a way to slip through one of the gateways. The man is from Illian. The woman, somewhere else. She’s disguising her accent".

Well, perhaps she wasn’t as good with the accent as she’d assumed. Leilwin glanced at his sword. If she rolled to the side, he’d probably miss a strike, assuming he went for the chest or neck. She could pull the cudgel and—

She was facing an Aes Sedai. She’d never stand up from that roll. She’d be caught in a weave of the One Power, or worse.

"I know them, Sleete", Nynaeve said, voice cool. "You did well in bringing them to me. Thank you".

His sword was sheathed at once, and Leilwin felt cool air on her neck as he slipped out of the tent, quiet as a whisper.

"If you’ve come to beg forgiveness", Nynaeve said, "you’ve come to the wrong person. I’ve half a mind to give you over to the Warders to question. Maybe they can bleed something useful about your people from that treacherous mind of yours".

"It is good to see you again too, Nynaeve", Leilwin said coolly.

"So what happened?" Nynaeve demanded.

What happened? What was the woman talking about?

"I did try", Bayle suddenly said, regretfully. "I did fight them, but I was taken easily. They could have fired my ship, sunk us all, killed my men".

"Better that you and all aboard should have died, Illianer", Nynaeve said. "The ter’angreal ended up in the hands of one of the Forsaken; Semirhage was hiding among the Seanchan, pretending to be some kind of judge. A Truthspeaker? Is that the word?"

"Yes", Leilwin said softly. She understood now. "I regret breaking my oath, but—"

"You regret it, Egeanin?" Nynaeve said, standing, knocking her chair back. " ‘Regret’ is not a word I would use for endangering the world itself, bringing us to the brink of darkness and all but shoving us over the edge! She had copies of that device made, woman. One ended up around the neck of the Dragon Reborn. The Dragon Reborn himself, controlled by one of the Forsaken!"

Nynaeve flung her hands into the air. "Light! We were heartbeats from the end, because of you. The end of everything. No more Pattern, no more world, nothing. Millions of lives could have winked out because of your carelessness".

"I . . Leilwin’s failures seemed monumental, suddenly. Her life, lost. Her very name, lost. Her ship, stripped from her by the Daughter of the Nine Moons herself. All were immaterial in light of this.

"I did fight", Bayle said more firmly. "I did fight with what I could give".

"I should have joined you, it appears", Leilwin said.

"I did try to explain that", Bayle said grimly. "Many times now, burn me, but I did".

"Bah", Nynaeve said, raising a hand to her forehead. "What are you doing here, Egeanin? I had hoped you were dead. If you had died trying to keep your oath, then I could not have blamed you".

I handed it to Suroth myself Leilwin thought. A price paid for my life, the only way out.

"Well?" Nynaeve glared at her. "Out with it, Egeanin".

"I no longer bear that name". Leilwin went down on her knees. "I have had all stripped from me, including my honor, it now appears. I give myself to you as payment".

Nynaeve snorted. "We don’t keep people as if they were animals, unlike you Seanchan".

Leilwin continued kneeling. Bayle rested a hand on her shoulder, but did not try to pull her to her feet. He understood well enough now why she had to do as she had. He was quite nearly civilized.

"On your feet", Nynaeve snapped. "Light, Egeanin. I remember you being so strong you could chew rocks and spit out sand".

"It is my strength that compels me", she said, lowering her eyes. Did Nynaeve not understand how difficult this was? It would be easier to slit her own throat, only she had not the honor left to demand such an easy end.

"Stand!"

Leilwin did as told.

Nynaeve grabbed her cloak off the bed and threw it on. "Come. We’ll take you to the Amyrlin. Maybe she’ll know what to do with you".

Nynaeve barged out into the night, and Leilwin followed. Her decision had been made. There was only one path that made sense, one way to preserve a shred of honor, and perhaps to help her people survive the lies they had been telling them

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