The Shadow Rising Page 49

“Did you want him to ask you to stay? You know what your answer would have been. You do, don't you?”

Elayne compressed her lips. “Of course I do. But he did not have to look happy about it.” She had not meant to say that.

Nynaeve gave her an understanding look. “Men are difficult at the best.”

“I still cannot believe he would be so... so...” Egwene began in an angry mutter. Elayne never learned what she meant to say, for at that moment the door crashed open so hard that it bounced off the wall.

Elayne embraced saidar before she had stopped flinching, then felt a moment of embarrassment when the rebounding door slapped hard against Lan's outstretched hand. A moment more, and she decided to hold on to the Source a while longer. The Warder filled the doorway with his broad shoulders, his face a thunderhead; if his blue eyes could really have given off the thunderbolts they threatened, they would have blasted Nynaeve. The glow of saidar surrounded Egwene, too, and did not fade.

Lan did not appear to see anyone but Nynaeve. “You let me believe you were returning to Tar Valon,” he rasped at her.

“You may have believed it,” she said calmly, “but I never said it.”

“Never said it? Never said it! You spoke of leaving today, and always linked your leaving with those Darkfriends being sent to Tar Valon. Always! What did you mean me to think?”

“But I never said —”

“Light, woman!” he roared. “Do not bandy words with me!”

Elayne exchanged worried looks with Egwene. This man had an iron selfcontrol, but he was at a breaking point now. Nynaeve was one who often let her emotions rage, yet she faced him coolly, head high and eyes serene, hands still on her green silk skirts.

Lan took hold of himself with an obvious effort. He appeared as stonefaced as ever, as much in control of himself — and Elayne was sure it was all on the surface. “I'd not have known where you were off to if I had not heard that you had ordered a carriage. To take you to a ship bound for Tanchico. I do not know why the Amyrlin allowed you to leave the Tower in the first place, or why Moiraine involved you in questioning Black sisters, but you three are Accepted. Accepted, not Aes Sedai. Tanchico now is no place for anyone except a full Aes Sedai with a Warder to watch her back. I'll not let you go into that!”

“So,” Nynaeve said lightly. “You question Moiraine's decisions, and those of the Amyrlin Seat as well. Perhaps I've misunderstood Warders all along. I thought you swore to accept and obey, among other things. Lan, I do understand your concern, and I am grateful — more than grateful — but we all have tasks to perform. We are going; you must resign yourself to the fact.”

“Why? For the love of the Light, at least tell me why! Tanchico!”

“If Moiraine has not told you,” Nynaeve said gently, “perhaps she has her reasons. We must do our tasks, as you must do yours.”

Lan trembled — actually trembled! — and clamped his jaw shut angrily. When he spoke, he was strangely hesitant. “You will need someone to help you in Tanchico. Someone to keep a Taraboner street thief from slipping a knife into your back for your purse. Tanchico was that sort of city before the war began, and everything I've heard says it is worse now. I could... I could protect you, Nynaeve.”

Elayne's eyebrows shot up. He could not be suggesting... He just could not be.

Nynaeve gave no sign that he had said anything out of the ordinary. “Your place is with Moiraine.”

“Moiraine.” Sweat beaded on the Warder's hard face, and he struggled with the words. “I can... I must. . . Nynaeve, I... I...”

“You will remain with Moiraine,” Nynaeve said sharply, “until she releases you from your bond. You will do as I say.” Pulling a carefully folded paper from her pouch, she thrust it into his hands. He frowned, read, then blinked and read again.

Elayne knew what it said.

What the bearer does is done at my order and by my authority. Obey, and keep silent, at my command.

Siuan Sanche

Watcher of the Seals

Flame of Tar Valon

The Amyrlin Seat

The other like it rested in Egwene's pouch, though none of them were sure what good it would do where she was going.

“But this allows you to do anything you please,” Lan protested. “You can speak in the Amyrlin's name. Why would she give this to an Accepted?”

“Ask no questions I cannot answer,” Nynaeve said, then added with a hint of a grin, “Just count yourself lucky I do not tell you to dance for me.”

Elayne suppressed a smile of her own. Egwene made a choking sound of swallowed laughter. It was what Nynaeve had said when the Amyrlin first handed them the letters. With this I could make a Warder dance. Neither of them had had any doubt which Warder she had meant.

“Do you not? You dispose of me very neatly. My bond, and my oaths. This letter.” Lan had a dangerous gleam in his eye, which Nynaeve seemed not to notice as she took back the letter and replaced it in thepouch on her belt.

“You are very full of yourself, al'Lan Mandragoran. We do as we must, as you will.”

“Full of myself, Nynaeve al'Meara? I am full of myself?” Lan moved so quickly toward Nynaeve that Elayne very nearly wrapped him in flows of Air before she could think. One moment Nynaeve was standing there, with just time to gape at the tall man sweeping toward her; the next her shoes were dangling a foot off the floor and she was being quite thoroughly kissed. At first she kicked his shins and hammered him with her fists and made sounds of frantic, furious protest, but her kicks slowed and stopped, and then she was holding on to his shoulders and not protesting at all.

Egwene dropped her eyes with embarrassment, but Elayne watched interestedly. Was that how she had looked when Rand.... No! I will not think about him. She wondered if there was time to write him another letter, taking back everything she had said in the first, letting him know she was not to be trifled with. But did she want to?

After a while Lan set Nynaeve back on her feet. She swayed a bit as she straightened her dress and patted her hair furiously. “You have no right...” she began in a breathless voice, then stopped to swallow. “I will not be manhandled in that fashion for the whole world to see. I will not!”

“Not the whole world,” he replied. “But if they can see, they can hear as well. You have made a place in my heart where I thought there was no room for anything else. You have made flowers grow where I cultivated dust and stones. Remember this, on this journey you insist on making. If you die, I will not survive you long.” He gave Nynaeve one of his rare smiles. If it did not exactly soften his face, at least it made it less hard. “And remember also, I am not always so easily commanded, even with letters from the Amyrlin.” He made an elegant bow; for a moment Elayne thought he actually meant to kneel and kiss Nynaeve's Great Serpent ring. “As you command,” he murmured, “so do I obey.” It was difficult to tell whether he meant to be mocking or not.

As soon as the door closed behind him, Nynaeve sank onto the edge of her bed as if letting her knees give way at last. She stared at the door with a pensive frown.

“ 'Poke the meekest dog too often,' ” Elayne quoted, “ 'and he will bite.' Not that Lan is very meek.” She got a sharp look and a sniff from Nynaeve.

“He is insufferable,” Egwene said. “Sometimes he is. Nynaeve, why did you do that? He was ready to go with you. I know you want nothing more than to break him free of Moiraine. Do not try to deny it.”

Nynaeve did not try. Instead she fussed with her dress, and smoothed the coverlet on the bed. “Not like that,” she said finally. “I mean him to be mine. All of him. I will not have him remembering a broken oath to Moiraine. I will not have that between us. For him, as well as myself.”

“But will it be any different if you bring him to ask Moiraine to release him from his bond?” Egwene asked. “Lan is the kind of man who would see it as much the same thing. All that leaves is to somehow make her let him go of her own accord. How can you manage that?”

“I do not know.” Nynaeve firmed her voice. “Yet what must be done, can be done. There is always a way. That is for another time. Work to be done, and we sit here fretting over men. Are you sure you have everything you need for the Waste, Egwene?”

“Aviendha is readying everything,” Egwene said. “She still seems unhappy, but she says we can reach Rhuidean in little more than a month, if we are lucky. You will be in Tanchico by then.”

“Perhaps sooner,” Elayne told her, “if what they say about Sea Folk rakers is true. You will be careful, Egwene? Even with Aviendha for a guide, the Waste cannot be safe.”

“I will. You be careful. Both of you. Tanchico is not much safer than the Waste now.”

Abruptly they were all hugging one another, repeating cautions to take care, making sure they all remembered the schedule for meeting in Tel'aran'rhiod's Stone.

Elayne wiped tears from her cheeks. “As well Lan left.” She laughed tremulously. “He would think we were all being foolish.”

“No, he would not,” Nynaeve said, pulling up her skirts to settle a purse of gold into its pocket. “He may be a man, but he is not a complete dolt.”

There had to be time between here and the carriage to locate paper and pen, Elayne decided. She would find time. Nynaeve had the right of it. Men needed a firm hand. Rand would find he could not get away from her so easily. And he would not find it easy to worm his way back into her good graces.

Chapter 17

(Harp)

Deceptions

Favoring his stiff right leg, Thom bowed with a flourish of his gleeman's cloak that set the colorful patches fluttering. His eyes felt grainy, but he made himself speak lightly. “A good morning to you.” Straightening, he knuckled his long white mustaches grandly.

The blackandgoldclad servants looked surprised. The two muscular lads straightened from the goldstudded red lacquer chest, with a shattered lid, that they had been about to lift, and the three women stilled their mops in front of them. The hallway was empty along here except for them, and any excuse to break their labor was good, especially at this hour. They looked as tired as Thom felt, with slumping shoulders and dark circles under their eyes.

“A good morning to you, gleeman,” the oldest of the women said. A bit plump and plainfaced, perhaps, she had a nice smile, weary as she was. “Can we help you?”

Thom produced four colored balls from a capacious coatsleeve and began to juggle. “I am just going about trying to raise spirits. A gleeman must do what he can.” He would have used more than four, but he was fatigued enough to make even that many an exercise in concentration. How long since he had nearly dropped a fifth ball? Two hours? He stifled a yawn, turned it into a reassuring smile. “A terrible night, and spirits need lifting.”

“The Lord Dragon saved us,” one of the younger women said. She was pretty and slim, but with a predatory gleam in her dark, shadowed eyes that warned him to temper his smile. Of course, she might be useful if she was both greedy and honest, meaning that she would stay bought once he paid her. It was always good to find another set of hands to place a note, a tongue that would tell him what was heard and say what he wanted where he wanted. Old fool! You have enough hands and ears, so stop thinking of a fine bosom and remember the look in her eye! The interesting thing was that she sounded as if she meant what she said, and one of the young fellows nodd

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