Winter's Heart Page 179

But when she asked what Cadsuane planned to do to free the men, the only answer the woman would give was “Much more than I want to, girl, if I can do anything at all. But I made the boy promises, and I keep my promises. I hope he remembers that.” Delivered in a voice like ice, it was not a reply to inspire confidence.

Rand woke in darkness and pain, lying on his back. His gloves were gone, and he could feel a rough pallet beneath him. They had taken his boots, too. His gloves were gone. They knew who he was. Carefully, he sat up. His face felt bruised and every muscle in his body hurt as if he had been beaten, but nothing seemed to be broken.

Standing slowly, he felt his way along the stone wall beside the pallet, reaching a corner almost immediately, and then a door covered with rough iron straps. In the darkness his fingers traced a small flap, but he could not push it open. No hint of light seeped in around its edges. Inside his head, Lews Therin began to pant. Rand moved on, feeling his way, the floorstones cold beneath his bare feet. The next corner came almost immediately, and then a third, where his toes struck something that rattled on the stone floor. Keeping one hand on the wall, he bent and found a wooden bucket. He left it there and made himself complete the circuit, all the way back to the iron door. All the way. He was inside a black box three paces long and just over two paces wide. Raising one hand, he found the stone ceiling less than a foot above his head.

Closed in, Lews Therin panted hoarsely. It’s the box again. When those women put us in the box. We have to get out! he howled. We have to get out!

Ignoring the screaming voice in his head, Rand backed away from the door until he thought he was in the center of the cell, then lowered himself to sit cross-legged on the floor. He was as far from the walls as he could put himself, and in the dark he tried to imagine them farther away, but it seemed that if he reached out, he would not have to straighten his arm fully to touch stone. He could feel himself trembling, as if it were someone else’s body shaking uncontrollably. The walls seemed just beside him, the ceiling right over his head. He had to fight this, or he would be as mad as Lews Therin by the time anyone came to let him out. They would have to let him out eventually, if only to hand him over to whoever Elaida sent. How many months for a message to reach Tar Valon and Elaida’s emissaries to return? If there were sisters loyal to Elaida closer than Tar Valon, it might happen sooner. Horror added to his shudders as he realized that he was hoping those sisters were closer, were in the city already, so they could take him out of this box.

“I will not surrender!” he shouted. “I will be as hard as I need to be!” In that confined space, his voice boomed like thunder.

Moiraine had died because he was not hard enough to do what had to be done. Her name always headed the list engraved on his brain, the women who had died because of him. Moiraine Damodred. Every name on that list brought anguish that made him forget the pains of his body, forget the stone walls just beyond his fingertips. Colavaere Saighan, who died because he had stripped her of everything she valued. Liah, Maiden of the Spear, of the Cosaida Chareen, who died at his own hands because she followed him to Shadar Logoth. Jendhilin, a Maiden of the Cold Peak Miagoma who died because she wanted the honor of guarding his door. He had to be hard! One by one he summoned up the names on that long list, patiently forging his soul in the fires of pain.

Preparation took longer than Cadsuane had hoped, largely be cause she had to impress on various people that a grand rescue in the best traditions of gleemen’s tales was out of the question, so it was night before she found herself walking along the lamplit corridors of the Hall of the Counsels. Walking sedately, not hurrying. Hurry, and people assumed that you were anxious, that they had the upper hand. If ever in her life she had needed to keep the upper hand from the start, it was tonight.

The corridors should have been empty at this hour, but to day’s events had changed the normal course of things. Blue-coated clerks were scurrying everywhere, sometimes pausing to gape at her companions. Quite possibly, they had never seen four Aes Sedai at once — she was not willing to allow Nynaeve that title until she took the Three Oaths — and today’s commotion would have added to their confusion at the sight. The three men bringing up the rear earned almost as many stares, though. The clerks might not know the meaning of their black coats or the pins on their high collars, but it was very unlikely any of those clerks had ever seen three men wearing swords in these hallways. In any case, with a little luck, no one would go running to inform Aleis who was coming to break in on the Counsels sitting in closed session. It was a pity she could not have brought the men by themselves, but even Daigian had displayed backbone at the suggestion. A great pity that all of her companions were not displaying the composure showed by Merise and the other two sisters.

“This will never work,” Nynaeve grumbled, for perhaps the tenth time since leaving the Heights. “We should strike hard from the start!”

“We should have moved faster,” Min muttered darkly. “I can feel him changing. If he was a stone before, he’s iron, now! Light, what are they doing to him?” Along only because she was a link to the boy, she had been unceasing with her reports, each bleaker than the last. Cadsuane had not told her what the cells were like, not when the girl had broken down just telling her what the sisters who kidnapped the boy had done to him.

Cadsuane sighed. A ragtag army she had assembled, but even a makeshift army needed discipline. Especially with the battle just ahead. It would have been worse had she not forced the Sea Folk women to remain behind. “I can do this without either of you, if need be,” she said firmly. “No; don’t say anything, Nynaeve. Merise or Corele can wear that belt as well as you. So if you children do not stop whining, I will have Alivia take you back to the Heights and give you something to whine about.” That was the only reason she had brought the strange wilder. Alivia had a tendency to become very mild-mannered around those she could not stare down, but she stared very fiercely at those two chattering magpies.

Their heads swiveled toward the golden-haired woman as one, and the magpies fell blessedly silent. Silent, yet hardly accepting. Min could grind her teeth all she wanted, but Nynaeve’s sullen glower irritated Cadsuane. The girl had good material in her, but her training had been cut far too short. Her ability with Healing was little short of miraculous, her ability with almost anything else dismal. And she had not been put through the lessons that what must be endured, could be endured. In truth, Cadsuane sympathized with her. Somewhat. It was a lesson not everyone could learn in the Tower. She herself, full of pride in her new shawl and her own strength, had been taught by a near toothless wilder at a farm in the heart of the Black Hills. Oh, it was a very ragtag little army she had gathered to try standin

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