Winter's Heart Page 122

She punched him under the ribs. Not hard. Just enough to make him grunt. He had to learn! She did not want to see the sights of Ebou Dar any longer. She just wanted to stay where she was, wrapped in Bayle’s arms, not needing to make decisions, stay right where they stood forever.

A sharp knock sounded at the door, and she pushed him away. At least he knew enough not to protest that. While he tugged on his coat, she shook out the pleats of her dress and attempted to smooth away the wrinkles from lying on the bed. There seemed to be a good many, despite how still she had been. This knock might be a summons from Suroth or a maid seeing whether she needed anything, but whoever it was, she was not going to let anyone see her looking as if she had been rolling about on the deck.

Giving up the useless attempt, she waited until Bayle had buttoned himself up and adopted the attitude he thought proper for a so’jhin — Like a captain on his quarterdeck ready to shout orders, she thought, sighing to herself — then barked, “Come!” The woman who opened the door was the last she expected to see.

Bethamin eyed her hesitantly before darting in and closing the door softly behind her. The sul’dam took a deep breath, then knelt, holding herself stiffly upright. Her dark blue dress with its lightning-worked red panels looked freshly cleaned and ironed. The sharp contrast to her own dishevelment irritated Egeanin. “My Lady,” Bethamin began uncertainly, then swallowed. “My Lady, I beg a word with you.” Glancing at Bayle, she licked her lips. “In private, if it pleases you, my Lady?”

The last time Egeanin had seen this woman was in a basement in Tanchico, when she removed an a’dam from Bethamin and told her to go. That would have been enough for blackmail if she were of the High Blood! Without doubt the charge would be the same as for freeing a damane. Treason. Except that Bethamin could not reveal it without condemning herself, too.

“He can hear anything you have to say, Bethamin,” she said calmly. She was in shoal waters, and that was no place for anything except calm. “What do you want?”

Bethamin shifted on her knees and wasted more time with lip licking. Then, suddenly, words came out in a rush. “A Seeker came to me and ordered me to resume our . . . our acquaintance and report on you to him.” As if to stop herself babbling, she caught her underlip in her teeth and stared at Egeanin. Her dark eyes were desperate and pleading, just as they had been in that Tanchico basement.

Egeanin met her gaze coolly. Shoal waters, and an unexpected gale. Her strange orders to Ebou Dar suddenly were explained. She did not need a description to know it must be the same man. Nor did she need to ask why Bethamin was committing treason by betraying the Seeker. If he decided his suspicions were strong enough to take her for questioning, eventually Egeanin would tell him everything she knew, including about a certain basement, and Bethamin would soon find herself once more wearing an a’dam. The woman’s only hope was to help Egeanin evade him.

“Rise,” she said. “Have a seat.” Luckily, there were two chairs, though neither appeared comfortable. “Bayle, I think there is brandy in that flask on the drawered chest.”

Bethamin was so shaky that Egeanin had to help her up and guide her to a chair. Bayle brought worked silver cups holding a little brandy and remembered to bow and present Egeanin’s first, but when he returned to the chest, she saw he had poured for himself, as well. He stood there, cup in hand, watching them as if it were the most natural thing in the world. Bethamin stared at him pop-eyed.

“You think you are poised over the impaling stake,” Egeanin said, and the sul’dam flinched, her frightened gaze jerking back to Egeanin’s face. “You are wrong, Bethamin. The only real crime I have committed was freeing you.” Not precisely true, but in the end, after all, she had placed the male a’dam in Suroth’s hands herself. And talking with Aes Sedai was not a crime. The Seeker might suspect — he had tried to listen at a door in Tanchico — but she was not a sul’dam, charged with catching marath’damane. At worst that meant a reprimand. “So long as he doesn’t learn about that, he has no reason to arrest me. If he wants to know what I say, or anything else about me, tell him. Just remember that if he does decide to arrest me, I will give him your name.” A reminder could only guard against Bethamin suddenly thinking she saw a safe way out, leaving her behind. “He won’t have to make me scream once.”

To her surprise, the sul’dam began to laugh hysterically. Until Egeanin leaned forward and slapped her, anyway.

Rubbing her cheek sullenly, Bethamin said, “He knows near enough everything except the basement, my Lady.” And she began to describe a fantastical web of treason connecting Egeanin and Bayle and Suroth and maybe even Tuon herself with Aes Sedai, and marath’damane, and damane who had been Aes Sedai.

Bethamin’s voice began to grow panicky as she darted from one incredible charge to another, and before long, Egeanin began sipping brandy. Just sips. She was calm. She was in command of herself. She was . . . This was beyond shoal waters. She was riding close on a lee shore, and Soulblinder himself rode that gale, coming to steal her eyes. After listening for a time with his own eyes growing wider and wider, Bayle drank down a brimful cup of the dark raw liquor in one go. She was relieved to see his shock, and guilty at feeling relieved. She would not believe him a murderer. Besides, he was very good using his hands but only fair at a sword; with weapons or bare-handed, the High Lord Turak would have gutted Bayle like a carp. Her only excuse for even considering it was that he had been with two Aes Sedai in Tanchico. The whole thing was nonsense. It had to be! Those two Aes Sedai had not been part of any plot, just a chance meeting. Light’s truth, they had been little more than girls, and near innocents at that, too softhearted to accept her suggestion they cut the Seeker’s throat when they had the chance. A pity, that. They had handed her the male a’dam. Ice crept down her spine. If the Seeker ever learned she had intended disposing of the a’dam the way those Aes Sedai suggested, if anyone learned, she would be judged as guilty of treason as if she had succeeded in dropping it into the ocean’s depths. Are you not? she demanded of herself. The Dark One was coming to steal her eyes.

Tears streaming down her face, Bethamin clutched her cup to her breasts as though hugging herself. If she was trying to keep from shaking, she failed miserably. Trembling, she stared at Egeanin, or perhaps at something beyond her. Something horrifying. The fire had not warmed the room very far yet, but sweat was beaded on Bethamin’s face. ” . . . and if he learns about Renna and Seta,” she babbled, “he will know for sure! He’ll come after me, and the other sul’dam! You have to stop him! If he takes me, I’ll give him your name! I will!” Abruptly she tilted lifted the cup to her mouth unsteadily and gulped the contents, choking and coughing, then thrust it out toward Bayle for more. He did not

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