Winter's Heart Page 141

Even the Reds. He had been surprised when those first five captives offered fealty. Elaida had sent them to kidnap him, and they had. He had been sure it was him being ta’veren that had done it, but that only altered chance, made what might happen one time in a million become a certainty. It was hard to believe that a Red would swear under any circumstances to a man who could channel.

“You need us, Rand.” Rising, she shifted as if she wanted to pace, but instead she stood watching him, unblinking. Her hands smoothed her skirts as if she was unaware of what they were doing. “You need the support of Aes Sedai. Without it, you will have to conquer every nation, and you haven’t done very well at that thus far. The rebellion in Cairhien might seem finished to you, but not everyone likes Dobraine being named your Steward. A good many might go to Toram Riatin, if he reappears. The High Lord Darlin is snug in the Stone, so we hear, announced as your Steward in Tear, but the rebels there haven’t come streaming out of Haddon Mirk to support him. As for Andor, Elayne Trakand might say she will support you once she has the throne, but she has maneuvered your soldiers out of Caemlyn, and I’ll wear bells in the Blight if she lets them remain in Andor when she does succeed. Sisters can help you. Elayne will listen to us. The rebels in Cairhien and Tear will listen. The White Tower has stopped wars and ended rebellions for three thousand years. You may not like the treaty Rafela and Merana negotiated with Harine, but they got everything you asked for. Light, man, let us help you!”

Rand nodded slowly. It had seemed just a way to impress people with his power, that Aes Sedai gave him fealty. Fear that they might manipulate him to their own ends had blinded him to anything else. He did not like admitting that. He had been a fool.

A man who trusts everyone is a fool, Lews Therin said, and a man who trusts no one is a fool. We are all fools, if we live long enough. He almost sounded sane.

“Go back to Cairhien,” he said. “Tell Rafela and Merana I want them to approach the rebels in Haddon Mirk. Tell them to take Bera and Kiruna, too.” Those were the four besides Alanna whom Min said he could trust. What had she said about the five others Cadsuane had brought with her? That each would serve him in her fashion. That was not strong enough, not yet. “I want Darlin Sisnera as my Steward and the laws I made left in place. They can negotiate away anything else as long as they end the rebellion. After that . . . What’s the matter?”

Alanna’s face had fallen, and she had sagged back in her chair. “It’s just that I’ve come all this way, and you are sending me right off again. I suppose it is for the best, with that girl here,” she sighed. “You have no idea what I went through in Cairhien, masking the bond just enough to keep what the two of you were doing from keeping me awake all night. That is much harder than simply masking it completely, but I dislike losing touch with my Warders completely. Only, going back to Cairhien will be almost as bad.”

Rand cleared his throat. “That’s what I want you to do.” Women, he had learned, talked about some things much more openly than men, but it was still a shock when they did. He hoped Elayne and Aviendha masked the bond when he was making love with Min. When the two of them were together in bed, no one else existed except her, the same as it had been with Elayne. He certainly did not want to talk about it with Alanna. “I may be done here by the time you finish in Cairhien. If I haven’t . . . If I haven’t, you can return here. But you’ll have to stay away from me until I say otherwise.” Even with that restriction, the joy billowed up in her afresh.

“You aren’t going to tell me who bonded you, are you?” He shook his head, and she sighed. “I had better go.” Rising, she took up her cloak and draped it over her arm. “Cadsuane is impatient at best. Sorilea admonished her to look after us like a mother hen, and she does. After her fashion.” At the door, she paused for one last question. “Why are you here, Rand? Cadsuane may not care, but I do. I’ll keep it secret, if you wish. I have never been able to stay more than a few days in a stedding. Why would you be willing to stay here, where you can’t even feel the Source?”

“Maybe it isn’t that bad for me,” he lied. He could tell her, he realized. He did trust her to keep it secret. But she did see him as her Warder, and she was a Green. No explanation could make her let him face it alone, but in Far Madding, she was no better able to defend herself than Min, maybe less. “Go on, Alanna. I’ve wasted enough time.”

Once she was gone, he shifted himself to put his back against the wall again and sat fingering the flute. He thought instead of playing, though. Min said he needed Cadsuane, but Cadsuane was not interested in him except as a curiosity. A bad-mannered curiosity. Somehow, he had to make her interested. How in the Light was he going to do that?

With some difficulty Verin squeezed herself out of the sedan chair in the courtyard of Aleis’ palace. She was simply not constructed to fit the things, but they were the fastest way to get about in Far Madding. Coaches always bogged down in the crowds sooner or later, and they could not go some places she wanted to. The damp winds off the lake were turning colder as evening deepened into twilight, but she let the wind whip her cloak about while she dug two silver pennies from her purse and gave them to the bearers. She was not supposed to, of course, since they were Aleis’ boys, but Eadwina would not know that. They should not have accepted, but the silver vanished into their coats in a twinkling, and the younger of the pair, a handsome fellow in his middle years, even made her a flourishing bow before they picked up the chair and trotted off toward the stable, a low structure set in a corner against the front wall. Verin sighed. A boy in his middle years. It had not taken her long back in Far Madding to begin thinking as if she had never left. She had to be careful about that. It could be dangerous, not least if Aleis or the others discovered her deception. She suspected the warrants for Verin Mathwin’s exile had never been suspended. Far Madding kept quiet when an Aes Sedai fell afoul of the law, but the Counsels had no reason to fear Aes Sedai, and for its own reasons, the Tower in turn kept quiet on those rare occasions when a sister found herself strung up for a judicial flogging. She had no intention of being the latest reason for the Tower to keep silence.

Aleis’ palace was not a patch on the Sun Palace, of course, or the Royal Palace in Andor, or any of the palaces kings and queens ruled from. It was her own property, not attached to her position as First Counsel. Others, larger and smaller, marched away on either side, each surrounded by a high wall except on the end where the Heights, the only point approaching a hill on the entire island, fell away to the water in a sheer bluff. Still, it was not small, either. The Barsalla women had been dealing in trade and politics since the city was still called Fel Moreina. Tall-columned walks surrounded the Barsalla palace on both levels, and the white marble cube covered m

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