Winter's Heart Page 140

Rand ignored her and the rippling joy that flowed along the bond. “She didn’t ask why I came to Far Madding,” Rand said quietly, staring at the door as if he could see Cadsuane through the wood. Surely, she had to wonder. “You told her I was here, Alanna. It had to be you. What happened to your oath?”

Alanna drew a deep breath, and a moment passed before she replied. “I am not sure Cadsuane cares two pins about you,” she snapped. “I keep that oath as well as I can, but you do make keeping it hard.” Her voice began to harden, and anger welled more strongly through the bond. “I owe fealty to a man who walks off and leaves me behind. Just how am I supposed to serve you? More importantly, what did you do?” Crossing the carpet, she stood staring up at him, fury burning in her eyes. He topped her by more than a foot, and she seemed not to notice. “You did something, I know. I was unconscious for three days! What did you do?”

“I decided if I was going to be bonded, it might as well be by someone I said could.” He barely caught her hand before it landed on his face. “I’ve been slapped enough for one day.”

She glared up at him, teeth bared as if ready to bite out his throat. The bond carried only fury and outrage, now, distilled to daggers. “You let someone else bond you?” she snarled. “How dare you! Whoever she is, I’ll see her before a court! I’ll see her birched! You are mine!”

“Because you took me, Alanna,” he said coldly. “If more sisters knew, you would be the one birched.” Min had told him once that he could trust Alanna, that she had seen the Green and four other sisters “in his hand.” He did trust her, in an odd fashion, yet he was in Alanna’s hand, too, and he did not want to be. “Release me, and I’ll deny it ever happened.” He had not even known that was possible until Lan told him about himself and Myrelle. “Release me, and I’ll set you free of your oath.”

The roiling anger flowing through the bond lessened without disappearing, but her face grew calm, and her voice was composed. “You are hurting my wrist.”

He knew he was. He could feel the pain through the bond. He let go, and she massaged her wrist far more ostentatiously than required by the hurt he felt. Still rubbing her wrist, she sat on the second chair and crossed her legs. She seemed to be thinking.

“I’ve thought of being free of you,” she said finally. “I have dreamed of it.” She gave a small, rueful laugh. “I even asked Cadsuane to let me pass the bond to her. A sign of how desperate I was, to ask such a thing. But if anyone can handle you, Cadsuane can. Only, she refused. She was furious that I suggested it without asking you, outraged, but even if you agreed, she won’t.” She spread her hands. “So you are mine.” Her face did not change, but as she said that, the joy flared anew. “However I acquired you, you are my Warder, and I have a responsibility. That is as strong in me as the oath I swore to obey you. Every bit as strong. So I will not release you to anyone unless I know she can handle you properly. Who bonded you? If she is capable, I will let her have you.”

Just the possibility that Cadsuane might have received his bond sent icicles down Rand’s spine. Alanna had never been able to control him with the bond, and he did not think any sister could, but he would never risk it with that one. Light!

“What makes you think she doesn’t care about me?” he demanded instead of answering Alanna’s question. Trust or no trust, no one would learn that answer if he could help it. What Elayne and Min and Aviendha had done might be allowed by Tower law, yet they had worse to fear than punishment from other Aes Sedai if it came out they were linked to him in this way. Sitting down on the edge of the bed, he turned the flute over in his hands. “Just because she refused my bond? Maybe she isn’t as nonchalant about the consequences as you. She came to me in Cairhien, and stayed long after there could be any reason but me. Am I really supposed to believe she just decided to visit friends while I happen to be here? She brought you to Far Madding so she could find me.”

“Rand, she wanted to know where you were every day,” Alanna said dismissively, “but I doubt there’s a shepherd in Seleisin who doesn’t wonder where you are. The whole world wants to know that. I knew you were far to the south, that you hadn’t moved for days. No more. When I found out she and Verin were coming here, I had to beg her — beg on my knees! — before she would let me come along. But I didn’t know myself that you were here until I came out of the gateway in the hills above the city. Before that, I thought I might have to Travel halfway to Tear to find you. Cadsuane taught me that, when we came here, so don’t think you can evade me so easily in the future.”

Cadsuane had taught Alanna to Travel? That still did not say who had taught Cadsuane, though. Not that it mattered, he supposed. “And Damer and the other two allowed themselves to be bonded? Or did those sisters just take them the way you took me?”

A faint flush stained her cheeks, but her voice was steady. “I heard Merise ask Jahar. It took him two days to accept, and she never pressured him that I saw. I cannot speak for the others, but as Cadsuane said, you can always ask them. Rand, you must understand, those men were afraid to go back to this ’Black Tower’ of yours.” Her mouth twisted sourly around the name. “They were afraid they would be blamed in the attack on you. If they simply ran, they would be hunted down as deserters. I understand that is your standing order? Where else could they go, except to Aes Sedai? And a good thing they did, too.” She smiled as though she had just seen something wonderful, and her voice became excited. “Rand, Damer has discovered a way to Heal being stilled! Light, I can say that word without freezing my tongue. He Healed Irgain and Ronaille and Sashalle. They’ve sworn fealty to you, too, just like all the others.”

“What do you mean, all the others?”

“I mean all the sisters the Aiel were holding. Even the Reds.” She sounded half disbelieving about that, as well she should, but disbelief melted into intensity as she put both feet on the floor and leaned toward him, her eyes fixed on his. “Every one of them has sworn and accepted the penance you put on Nesune and the others, the first five of them who swore. Cadsuane doesn’t trust them. She wouldn’t let them bring any of their Warders. I admit I was uncertain at first, but I believe you can trust them. They swore oath to you. You know what that means for a sister. We can’t break an oath, Rand. It is

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