Winter's Heart Page 37

Perhaps that very hoarseness convinced Therava, though. People like her believed in fear as a motivation before any other. At any rate, she smiled. It was not a warm smile, just a curving of thin lips, and the only emotion it conveyed was satisfaction. “All three of you will watch and listen while you serve Sevanna. Each day a Wise One will question you, and you will repeat every word Sevanna said, and who she spoke to. If she talks in her sleep, you will repeat what she mumbles. Please me, and I will see that you are left behind.”

Faile wanted no part of this, but refusal was out of the question. If she refused, none of them would survive the night. She was certain of that. Therava would take no chances. They might not even survive until nightfall; this snow would hide three white-clad corpses quickly, and she very much doubted that anyone within sight would so much as protest if Therava decided to slit a few throats then and there. Everyone was focused on moving forward through the snow in any case. They might not even see.

“If she learns of it. . . .” Faile swallowed. The woman was asking them to walk out on a crumbling cliff. No, she was ordering them to. Did the Aiel kill spies? She had never thought to ask Chiad or Bain that. “Will you protect us, Wise One?”

The hard-faced woman caught Faile’s chin with steely fingers, pulling her to a halt, pulling her up on her toes. Therava’s eyes caught hers just as tightly. Faile’s mouth went dry. That stare promised pain. “If she learns of it, gai’shain, I will trice you up for cooking myself. So make sure she does not. Tonight you will serve in her tents. You and a hundred others, so you will not have many labors to distract you from what is important.”

A moment’s careful study of the three of them, and Therava gave a satisfied nod. She saw three soft wetlanders, too weak to do anything but obey. Without another word she released Faile and turned away, and in moments she and the other Wise Ones were swallowed by the snow.

For a time, the three women struggled on in silence. Faile did not bring up anyone escaping alone, much less give orders. She was certain that if she did, the others would balk again. Aside from anything else, complying now would make it seem Therava had changed their minds, that fear of her had. Faile knew enough of the other two women to be sure they would die before admitting that the woman frightened them. Therava certainly frightened her. And I’d swallow my tongue before admitting it aloud, she thought wryly.

“I wonder what she meant by . . . cooking,” Alliandre said finally. “Whitecloak Questioners sometimes turn prisoners over a fire on a spit, I’ve heard.” Maighdin wrapped her arms around herself, shuddering, and Alliandre freed a hand from her sleeves long enough to pat the other woman’s shoulder. “Do not worry. If Sevanna has a hundred servants, we may never get close enough to hear anything. And we can choose what we report, so it cannot be traced back to us.”

Maighdin laughed bitterly inside her white hood. “You think we still have small choices. We have none. You need to learn about having no choices. That woman didn’t pick us out because we have spirit.” She almost spat the word. “I’ll wager every one of Sevanna’s other servants has had that lecture from Therava, too. If we miss a word we should have heard, you can be sure she’ll know of it.”

“You may be right,” Alliandre allowed after a moment. “But you will not speak to me again in that fashion, Maighdin. Our circumstances are trying, to say the least, but you will remember who I am.”

“Until we escape,” Maighdin replied, “you are Sevanna’s servant. If you don’t think of yourself as a servant every minute, then you might as well climb onto that spit. And leave room for the rest of us, because you will put us on it, as well.”

Alliandre’s cowl hid her face, but her back grew stiffer with every word. She was intelligent, and knew how to do what she must, but she had a queen’s temper when she did not control it.

Faile spoke before she could erupt. “Until we manage to get away, we are all servants,” she said firmly. Light, the last thing she needed was the pair of them squabbling. “But you will apologize, Maighdin. Now!” Head averted, her serving woman mumbled something that might have been an apology. She let it pass for one, in any case. “As for you, Alliandre, I expect you to be a good servant.” Alliandre made a noise, a half-protest, that Faile ignored. “If we are to have any chance of escape, we must do as we are told, work hard, and attract as little attention as possible.” As if they had not already attracted what seemed all the attention in the world. “And we will tell Therava every time Sevanna sneezes. I don’t know what Sevanna will do if she finds out, but I think we all have a good idea of what Therava will do if we displease her.”

That was enough to settle them all back into muteness. They did all have a good idea of what Therava would do, and killing might not be the worst of it.

The snow faded away to a few scattered flakes by midday. Dark roiling clouds still hid the sun, but Faile decided it must be near enough midday, because they were fed. No one stopped moving, but hundreds of gai’shain made their way through the column with baskets and scrips full of bread and dried beef, and water bags that contained water this time, cold enough to make her teeth ache. Strangely, she felt no more hungry than hours of walking through snow would account for. Perrin had been Healed once, she knew, and he had been ravenous for two days. Perhaps it was because her injuries had been so much less than his. She noticed that Alliandre and Maighdin ate no more than she.

Healing made her think of Galina, all the same questions that boiled down to an incredulous why? Why would an Aes Sedai — she must be Aes Sedai — why would she toady for Sevanna and Therava? For anyone? An Aes Sedai might help them escape. Or she might not. She might betray them, if it suited her purposes. Aes Sedai did what they did, and you had no alternative but to accept that unless you were Rand al’Thor. But he was ta’veren, and the Dragon Reborn on top of it; she was a woman with very few resources at the moment, and a considerable danger hanging over her head. Not to mention the heads of those she was responsible for. Any help would be welcome, from anyone. The brisk breeze failed while she prodded at Galina from every angle she could think of, and the snow came again, growing heavier, until she could not see ten paces. She could not decide whether to trust the woman.

Abruptly she became aware of another white-robed woman watching her, almost hidden by the snow. Not enough snow to mask that wide, jeweled belt, though. Faile touched her companions on the arm

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