Winter's Heart Page 143

“It was in the history I studied,” Elayne said quietly, glancing at the bare flagpoles. Bare for the moment. She could not feel Rand, here. Oh, he was still in her head as much as Birgitte, a rocklike knot of emotions and physical sensations that was even more difficult to interpret now that he was far away, yet here in Tel’aran’rhiod, she could not know which direction he was. She missed that knowledge, small as it was. She missed him.

Banners appeared atop the flagpoles, remaining just long enough to ripple once lazily. Long enough to make out on one a red eagle flying across a field of blue. Not a red eagle; the Red Eagle. Once, visiting this place with Nynaeve in Tel’aran’rhiod, she had thought she glimpsed it, had decided she must be mistaken. Master Norry had begun setting her straight. She loved Rand, but if someone in the place he grew up was trying to raise Manetheren from its ancient grave, she would have to take cognizance, however much it pained him. That banner and that name still carried enough power to threaten Andor.

“I heard about changes from Bode Cauthon and the other novices from home,” Egwene went on, frowning at the houses around the green, “but nothing like this.” Most of those houses were stone. A tiny inn still stood beside the sprawling stone foundation of some much larger building, with a huge oak growing up through the middle of it, but what looked to be an inn many times bigger was almost finished on the other side of the foundation, with a large sign reading THE ARCHERS already hung above the door. “I wonder whether my father is still Mayor. Is my mother well? My sisters?”

“I know you are moving the army tomorrow,” Elayne said, “if it isn’t tomorrow already, but surely you could find a few hours to visit here once you reach Tar Valon.” Traveling made such things easy. Perhaps she herself should send someone to Emond’s Field. If she knew whom to trust for the mission. If she could spare anyone she did trust.

Egwene shook her head. “Elayne, I’ve had to order women I grew up with switched because they don’t believe I am the Amyrlin Seat, or if they do, that they can break the rules because they knew me.” Suddenly the seven-striped stole hung from her shoulders. Until she noticed it with a grimace, and it vanished again. “I don’t think I can face confronting Emond’s Field as Amyrlin,” she said sadly. “Not yet.” She gave herself a shake, and her voice firmed. “The Wheel turns, Elayne, and everything changes. I must get used to it. I will get used to it.” She sounded a great deal like Siuan Sanche, as Siuan had sounded in Tar Valon before everything had changed. Stole or no stole, Egwene sounded like the Amyrlin Seat. “Are you certain I can’t send you some of Gareth Bryne’s soldiers? Enough to help secure Caemlyn, at least.”

Abruptly, they were surrounded by glistening snow, standing knee-deep in it. Snow made gleaming white mounds on the rooftops as if from a heavy fall. This was not the first time such a thing had happened, and they simply refused to let the sudden cold touch them, rather than imagining cloaks and warmer clothes.

“No one is going to move against me before spring,” Elayne said. Armies did not move in winter, at least, not unless they had the benefit of Traveling, like Egwene’s army. Snow bogged everything down, and mud whenever the snow melted. Those Borderlanders probably had begun their march south thinking winter was never coming this year. “Besides, you will need every man when you reach Tar Valon.”

Unsurprisingly, Egwene nodded acceptance without making the offer again. Even with this past month of hard recruiting behind her, Gareth Bryne still had no more than half the soldiers he had told her would be needed to take Tar Valon. According to Egwene, he was ready to begin with what he had, but clearly it troubled her. “I have hard decisions to make, Elayne. The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills, but it is still me who has to decide.”

Impulsively, Elayne waded through the snow and threw her arms around Egwene to hug her. At least, she started out wading. As she clasped the other woman to her, the snow vanished, leaving not so much as a damp spot on their dresses. The two of them staggered as if dancing with one another and almost fell.

“I know you will make the right decision,” Elayne said, laughing in spite of herself. Egwene did not join her laughter.

“I hope so,” she said gravely, “because whatever I decide, people are going to die for it.” She patted Elayne’s arm. “Well, you understand that sort of decision, don’t you. We both need to be back in our beds.” She hesitated before going on. “Elayne, if Rand comes to you again, you must let me know what he says, whether he gives you any clue what he means to do or where he means to go.”

“I will tell you whatever I can, Egwene.” Elayne felt a stab of guilt. She had told Egwene everything — almost everything — but not that she had bonded Rand with Min and Aviendha. Tower law did not prohibit what they had done. Very careful questioning of Vandene had made that much clear. But whether it would be permitted was not clear at all. Still, as she had heard an Arafellin mercenary recruited by Birgitte say, “what was not forbidden was allowed.” That sounded almost like one of Lini’s old sayings, though she doubted her nurse would ever have been so permissive. “You’re troubled by him, Egwene. More than usual, I mean. I can tell. Why?”

“I have reason to be, Elayne. The eyes-and-ears report very troubling rumors. Only rumors, I hope, but if they aren’t . . .” She was very much the Amyrlin Seat now, a short slender young woman who seemed strong as steel and tall as a mountain. Determination filled her dark eyes and set her jaw. “I know you love him. I love him, too. But I am not trying to Heal the White Tower just so he can chain Aes Sedai like damane. Sleep well and have pleasant dreams, Elayne. Pleasant dreams are more valuable than people realize.” And with that, she was gone, back to the waking world.

For a moment, Elayne stood staring at the spot where Egwene had been. What had she been talking about? Rand would never do that! If only for love of her, he would not! She prodded that rock-hard knot in the back of her head. With him so far away, the veins of gold shone only in memory. Surely he would not. Troubled in herself, she stepped out of the dream, back to her sleeping body.

She needed sleep, but no sooner was she back in her own body than sunlight fell on her eyelids. What hour was it? She had appointments to keep, duties to carry out. She wanted to sleep for months. She wrestled with duty, but duty won. She had a busy day ahead. Every day was a busy day. Her eyes popped open, feeling grainy, as if she had not slept at all. By the slant of light through the windows, it was well beyond sunrise. She could simply lie there. Duty. Aviendha shifted in her sleep, and Elayne poked her sharply in the ribs. If she had to be awake, then Aviendha wa

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