Winter's Heart Page 139

He smiled at her. She could still make him smile. “I never heard of a fate worse than death, but I think that fits.”

Someone knocked at the door, and Min froze. In a silent question, she mouthed Alanna’s name. Rand nodded, and to his amazement, Min pushed him over onto the pillows and flung herself on his chest. Squirming around, she raised her head, and he realized she was trying to see herself in the washstand mirror. Finally she found a position she liked, lying half on top of him with one hand behind his neck and the other beside her face on his chest. “Come in,” she called.

Cadsuane stepped into the room and stopped, frowning at the knife stuck in the door. In a dress of fine dark green wool and a fur-lined cloak held by a silver brooch at the neck, she might have passed for a successful merchant or a banker, though the golden birds and fish, stars and moons dangling from the iron-gray bun atop her head would have been ostentatious for either. She was not wearing her Great Serpent ring, so it seemed she was making some effort to avoid too much notice. “Have you children been arguing?” she asked mildly.

Rand could almost feel Lews Therin go still, like a ridge cat crouching in the shadows. Lews Therin was almost as wary of this woman as he was himself.

Red-faced, Min scrambled to her feet smoothing furiously at her dress. “You said it was her!” she said accusingly, just as Alanna entered. Cadsuane closed the door.

Alanna glanced once at Min and dismissed her, focusing on Rand. Without taking her dark eyes from him, she swept her cloak off and flung it over one of the room’s two chairs. Her hands settled on her dark gray skirts, gripping them hard. She was not wearing her golden Aes Sedai ring, either. From the moment her eyes fell on him, joy bloomed along the bond. All the rest was still there, the nervousness, the fury, but he had never expected her to feel joy!

Not changing how he lay, he picked up the flute and toyed with it. “Should I be surprised to see you, Cadsuane? You pop up when I don’t want to see you too often to suit. Who taught you to Travel?” It had to have been that. One moment Alanna had been a vague awareness on the edge of thought, and the next she sprang to life full strength in his head. At first, he had thought she herself had learned Traveling somehow, but seeing Cadsuane, he knew better.

Alanna’s mouth tightened, and even Min looked disapproving. The emotions flowing along the Warder bond from one jumped and skittered; from the other, there was just anger mingled with delight, now. Why did Alanna feel joy?

“Still no more manners than a goat, I see,” Cadsuane said dryly. “Boy, I hardly think I need your permission to visit my birthplace. As for Traveling, it is none of your business where or when I learned anything.” Unpinning her cloak, she stuck the brooch on her belt, ready to hand, and folded the cloak over one arm as though making it neat were much more important than he was. Her voice took on an edge of irritation. “You’ve lumbered me with a lot of traveling companions, one way and another. Alanna was so frantic to see you again, only a heart of stone could have refused to bring her, and Sorilea said some of the others who pledged themselves to you would be good for nothing until they were allowed to go with Alanna, so I’ve ended up bringing Nesune, Sarene, Erian, Beldeine and Elza, too. Not to mention Harine, plus her sister and that Swordmaster of hers. She didn’t know whether to faint, scream or bite someone when she found out Alanna was going off to find you. And then there are those three black-coated friends of yours. I don’t know how eager they are to see you, but they’re here, as well. Well, now that we’ve located you, I can send the Sea Folk and the sisters to you and let you deal with them.”

Rand sprang to his feet with a muttered oath. “No! Keep them away from me!”

Cadsuane’s dark eyes narrowed. “I’ve warned you before about your language; I will not warn you again.” She frowned at him a moment longer, then nodded as though she thought he had taken the lesson to heart. “Now, what makes you think you can tell me what to do, boy?”

Rand struggled with himself. He could not issue orders here. He had never been able to order Cadsuane anywhere. Min said he needed the woman, that she would teach him something he needed to learn, but if anything, that only made him more uneasy about her. “I want to finish my business here and leave quietly,” he said at last. “If you tell them, at least make sure they see I can’t afford to have them come anywhere near me, not until I’m ready to leave.” The woman raised an eyebrow at him, waiting, and he took a deep breath. Why did she always need to make everything difficult? “I would appreciate it very much if you didn’t tell any of them where I am.” Reluctantly, very reluctantly, he added, “Please.” Min exhaled as though she had been holding her breath.

“Good,” Cadsuane said after a moment. “You can show manners when you try, even if it does make you look as though your teeth ached. I suppose I can keep your secret for you, for the time being. Not all of them even know you are in the city. Oh, yes. I should tell you, Merise has bonded Narishma, Corele has Damer, and young Hopwil is Daigian’s.” She said that as though it were just a casual bit of information that might easily have slipped her mind.

He did not bother to mutter his oath this time, and Cadsuane’s full-armed slap almost unhinged his jaw. Black spots shimmered in front of his eyes. One of the other women gasped.

“I did tell you,” Cadsuane said placidly. “No more warnings.”

Min took a step toward him, and he shook his head slightly. It helped to clear the spots. He wanted to rub his jaw, but he kept his hands at his sides. He had to make himself loosen his grip on the flute. For Cadsuane’s part, the slap might never had occurred.

“Why would Flinn and the others accept being bonded?” he demanded.

“Ask them when you see them,” she replied. “Min, I suspect Alanna wants to be alone with him awhile.” Turning toward the door without waiting for Min’s reply, she added, “Alanna, I will be waiting below, in the Women’s Room. Don’t be too long. I want to get back to the Heights. Min?”

Min glared at Alanna. She glared at Rand. Then she flung up her hands and stalked out after Cadsuane, muttering under her breath. She slammed the door behind her.

“I liked you better with your own hair.” Alanna folded her arms beneath her breasts and studied him. Anger and joy warred with one another in the bond. “I had hoped that being close to you would be better, but you are still like a stone in my head. Even standing here, I can hardly tell whether you’re upset or not. Even so, being here is better. I dislike being parted fro

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