Winter's Heart Page 173

Rand stretched his boots toward the fire. “Did Nynaeve tell you she and the others have been keeping company with Cadsuane? They’re on a ride with her right now.” On the way back from it, rather. He could feel Min drawing closer. She would not be much longer. She was still excited about something, a feeling that surged and fell as if she were trying to hold it down.

Lan smiled, a rare event without Nynaeve present. It did not reach his icy eyes, though. “She forbade me to reveal it to you, but since you already know . . . She and Min convinced Alivia that if they could catch Cadsuane’s interest themselves, they might be able to bring her closer to you. They found out where she is staying and asked her to teach them.” The smile faded, leaving a face carved from stone. “My wife has made a sacrifice for you, sheepherder,” he said quietly. “I hope you remember that. She will not say much, but I believe Cadsuane treats her as if she were still one of the Accepted, or maybe a novice. You know how hard that would be for Nynaeve to bear.”

“Cadsuane treats everyone as if they were novices,” Rand muttered. Uppity? Light, how was he to deal with the woman? And yet he had to find a way. They sat in silence, staring at the fire until steam began to rise from their out-thrust bootsoles.

The bond gave him warning, and he looked around just as Nynaeve appeared through the door to the stableyard, and then Min and Alivia, shaking the rain off their cloaks and adjusting their divided skirts and grimacing at damp spots as if they had expected to go riding in this weather without getting damp. As usual, Nynaeve was wearing her jeweled ter’angreal, belt and necklace, bracelets and rings, and the odd bracelet-and-rings angreal.

Still neatening herself, Min looked at Rand and smiled, not at all surprised to see him there, of course. Warmth flowed from her along the bond like a caress, though she was still trying to suppress her excitement. The other two women took longer to notice Lan and him, but when they did, they handed their cloaks to one of the serving men to be taken up to their rooms and joined the two men at the fireplace, holding out their hands to the warmth.

“Did you enjoy your ride in the rain with Cadsuane?” Rand asked, raising his cup to take a mouthful of the sweet wine. Min’s head jerked toward him, and a flash of guilt stabbed along the bond, but the expression on her face was purest indignation. He almost choked in swallowing. How was her meeting Cadsuane behind his back his fault? “Stop glaring at Lan, Nynaeve,” he said when he could talk. “Verin told me.” Nynaeve shifted her dark glower to him, and he shook his head. He had heard women say that it, whatever “it” was, was always a man’s fault, but sometimes women really seemed to believe it! “I apologize for whatever you’ve gone through with her on my behalf,” he continued, “but you won’t need to any longer. I asked her to be my advisor. Or rather, I asked Verin to tell her I want to ask. Tonight. With any luck, she will leave with us tomorrow.” He expected exclamations of surprised relief, but that was not what he got.

“A remarkable woman, Cadsuane,” Alivia said, patting her white-threaded golden hair into place. Her husky drawl sounded impressed. “A strict taskmistress, she can teach.”

“Sometimes you can see the forest, woolhead, if you’re led to it by the nose,” Min said, folding her arms under her breasts. The bond carried approval, but he did not think it was for deciding to give up on finding the renegades. “Remember she wants an apology for Cairhien. Think of her as your aunt, the one who won’t put up with any nonsense, and you will do all right with her.”

“Cadsuane is not as bad as she seems.” Nynaeve frowned at the other two women, and her hand twitched toward the braid drawn over her shoulder, though all they had done was look at her. “Well, she isn’t! We will work out our . . . differences . . . in time. That’s all it will take. A little time.”

Rand exchanged glances with Lan, who shrugged slightly and took another drink. Rand exhaled slowly. Nynaeve had differences with Cadsuane she could work out with time, Min saw a strict aunt in the woman, and Alivia a strict teacher. The first would cause sparks to fly until it was worked out, if he knew Nynaeve, and the last two he did not want. But he was stuck with them. He took another swallow of wine himself.

The men at the tables were not near enough to overhear unless she spoke loudly, but Nynaeve lowered her voice and leaned toward Rand. “Cadsuane showed me what two of my ter’angreal do,” she whispered, a glow of excitement in her eyes. “I’ll wager those ornaments she wears are ter’angreal, too. She recognized mine as soon as she touched them.” Smiling, Nynaeve thumbed one of the three rings on her right hand, the one with a pale green stone. “I knew this would detect someone channeling saidar as much as three miles away, if I set it, but she says it will detect saidin, too. She seemed to think it should tell me what direction they were, as well, but we could not see how.”

Turning from the fireplace, Alivia sniffed loudly, but she also lowered her voice to say, “And you were satisfied when she could not. I saw it on your face. How can you be satisfied with not knowing, with ignorance?”

“Just with her not knowing everything,” Nynaeve muttered, glowering over her shoulder at the taller woman, but an instant later her smile returned. “The most important thing, Rand, is this.” Her hands settled on the slim jeweled belt around her waist. “She called it a ‘Well.’ “ He gave a start as something brushed his face, and she giggled. Nynaeve actually giggled! “It is a well,” she laughed behind fingers pressed over her mouth, “or a barrel, anyway. And full of saidar. Not very much, but all I have to do to refill it is embrace saidar through it as if it was an angreal. Isn’t that wonderful?”

“Wonderful,” he said without much enthusiasm. So Cadsuane was walking around with ter’angreal in her hair, was she, and very likely one of these “wells” among them, or she would not have recognized it. Light, he thought no one had ever found two ter’angreal that did the same thing. Meeting her tonight would have been bad enough without knowing she would be able to channel, even here.

He was about to ask Min to come with him, when Mistress Keene bustled up, the white bun on top of her head drawn so tight it seemed she was trying to pull the skin off of her face. She cast a suspicious, disapproving look over Rand and Lan and pursed her lips as if considering what they had done wrong. He had seen her give the same look to the merchants who stayed at the inn. The men, anyway. If the accommodations had not been so comfortable and the food so good, she migh

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