Winter's Heart Page 20

“Cadsuane Sedai is in and out of the Sun Palace as if it were her own,” Dobraine said judiciously, “but how could she have taken them out unseen? And why? Ailil is Toram’s sister, yet his claim to the Sun Throne is dust now, if it was ever more. She is unimportant even as a counter, now. As for holding an Atha’an Miere of high rank . . . To what purpose?”

Rand made his voice light, uncaring. “Why is she keeping Lady Caraline and High Lord Darlin as ‘guests,’ Dobraine? Why do Aes Sedai do anything? You’ll find them where I said. If she lets you in to look.” Why was not a foolish question. He just did not have the answer. Of course, Caraline Damodred and Ailil Riatin did represent the last two Houses to hold the Sun Throne. And Darlin Sisnera led the nobles in Tear who wanted him thrown out of their precious Stone, out of Tear.

Rand frowned. He had been sure Cadsuane was focused on him despite her pretense otherwise, but what if it was not pretense? A relief, if so. Of course it was. The last thing he needed was an Aes Sedai who though she could meddle in his affairs. The very last. Perhaps Cadsuane was directing her meddling elsewhere. Min had seen Sisnera wearing a strange crown; Rand had thought a great deal on that viewing of hers. He did not want to think of other things she had seen, concerning himself and the Green sister. Could it be as simple as Cadsuane thinking she could decide who would rule both Tear and Cairhien?

Simple? He almost laughed. But that was how Aes Sedai behaved. And Shalon, the Windfinder? Possessing her might give Cadsuane leverage with Harine, the Wavemistress, but he suspected she had just been scooped up with Ailil, to try hiding who took the noblewoman. Cadsuane would have to be disabused. Who would rule in Tear and Cairhien had already been decided. He would point that out to her. Later. It stood far down his list of priorities.

“Before I go, Dobraine, I need to give you — ” Words froze on his tongue.

In the stableyard, the capless man had pulled a lever on the wagon, and one end of a long horizontal beam suddenly rose, then sank, driving a shorter beam down through a hole cut in the wagon bed. And, vibrating till it seemed ready to shake apart, trailing smoke from the chimney, the wagon lurched ahead, the beam rising and falling, slowly at first, then faster. It moved, without horses!

He did not realize he had spoken aloud until the Headmistress answered him.

“Oh, that! That’s Mervin Poel’s steamwagon, as he calls it, my Lord Dragon.” Disapproval freighted her high, startling youthful voice. “Claims he can pull a hundred wagons with the contraption. Not unless he can make it go further than fifty paces without bits breaking or freezing up. It has only done that far once, that I know.”

Indeed, the — steamwagon? — shuddered to a halt not twenty paces from where it first stood. Shuddered indeed; it seemed to be shaking harder by the heartbeat. Most of the men swarmed over it again, one of them frantically twisting at something with a cloth wrapped around his hand. Abruptly steam shot into the air from a pipe, and the shuddering slowed, stopped.

Rand shook his head. He remembered seeing this fellow Mervin, with a device that quivered on a tabletop and did nothing. And this marvel had come from that? He had thought it was meant to make music. That must be Mervin leaping about and shaking his fists and the others. What other odd things, what marvels, were people building here at the Academy?

When he asked, still watching the men in the courtyard work on the wagon, Idrien sniffed loudly. Respect for the Dragon Reborn held only a thin edge in her voice as she began, and quickly lost ground to disgust. “Bad enough I must give space to philosophers and historians and arithmatists and the like, but you said take in anyone who wanted to make anything new and let them stay if they showed progress. I suppose you hoped for weapons, but now I have dozens of dreamers and wastrels on my hands, every one with an old book or manuscript or six, all of which date back to the Compact of the Ten Nations, mind, if not the Age of Legends itself, or so they say, and they are all trying to make sense of drawings and sketches and descriptions of things they’ve never seen and maybe nobody ever did see. I have seen old manuscripts that talk about people with their eyes in their bellies, and animals ten feet tall with tusks longer than a man, and cities where — ”

“But what are they making, Headmistress Tarsin?” Rand demanded. The men working on the thing below moved with an air of purpose, not as if they saw failure. And it had moved.

She sniffed louder this time. “Foolishness, my Lord Dragon, that is what they make. Kin Tovere constructed his big looking glass. You can see the moon through it plain as your hand, and what he claims are other worlds, but what is the good of that? He wants to build a bigger, now. Maryl Harke makes huge kites she calls gliders, and come spring, she will be throwing herself off hills again. Puts your heart in your mouth to see her sailing downhill on the things; she will break more than her arm next time one folds up on her, I warrant. Jander Parentakis believes he can move riverboats with waterwheels off a mill, or near enough, but when he put enough men into the boat to turn the cranks, there was no room for cargo, and any craft with sails could outrun it. Ryn Anhara traps lightning in big jars — I doubt even he knows why — Niko Tokama is just as silly with her — ”

Rand spun around so fast that she stepped back, and even Dobraine shifted on his feet, a swordman’s move. No, they were not sure of him at all. “He traps lightning?” he asked quietly.

Comprehension flooded her blunt face, and she waved her hands in front of her. “No, no! Not like . . . like that!” Not like you, she had almost said. “It is a thing of wires and wheels and big clay jars and the Light knows what. He calls it lightning, and I saw a rat jump down on one of the jars once, on the metal rods sticking out of the top. It certainly looked struck by lightning.” A hopeful tone entered her voice. “I can make him stop, if you wish.”

He tried to picture someone riding on a kite, but the image was ludicrous. Catching lightning in jars was beyond his ability to imagine. And yet . . . “Let them go on as before, Headmistress. Who knows? Maybe one of these inventions will turn out to be important. If any work as claimed, give the inventor a reward.”

Dobraine’s leathery, sun-darkened face looked dubious, though he almost managed to conceal it. Idrien bowed her head in sullen assent, and even curtsied, but plainly she thought he was asking to let pigs fly if they could.

Rand was not certain he disagreed. Then again, maybe one of the pigs would grow wings. The wagon had moved. He wanted very badly to leave something behind, something to help the world survive the new Breaking the Prophecies said he would bring. The trouble was, he had no idea what that might be, save for the schools themselves. Who knew what a marvel could do? Light, he wanted to build

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