Winter's Heart Page 56

“Stubborn woman,” Nynaeve grumbled, frowning at the re treating backs, but there was more than a hint of sympathy in her voice. “I know a dozen herbs that would help her sleep, but she won’t touch them. I’ve half a mind to slip something into her evening wine.”

A wise ruler, Elayne thought, knows when to speak and when not. Well, that was wisdom in anyone. She did not say that Nynaeve calling anyone stubborn was the rooster calling the pheasant proud. “Do you know what Reanne’s news is?” she said instead. “Good news — ‘of a sort’ — so I understand.”

“I haven’t seen her this morning,” the other woman muttered, still peering after Vandene. “I haven’t been out of my rooms.” Abruptly she gave herself a shake, and for some reason frowned suspiciously at Elayne. And then at Lan, of all things. Unperturbed, he continued to stand guard.

Nynaeve claimed her marriage was glorious — she could be shockingly frank about it with other women — but Elayne thought she must be lying to cover up disappointment. Very likely Lan was ready for an attack, ready to fight, even when asleep. It would be like lying down beside a hungry lion. Besides, that stone face was enough to chill any marriage bed. Luckily, Nynaeve had no idea what she thought. The woman actually smiled. An amused smile, oddly. Amused, and . . . could it be condescending? Of course not. Imagination.

“I know where Reanne is,” Nynaeve said, settling her shawl back down to her elbows. “Come with me. I’ll take you to her.”

Elayne knew exactly where Reanne would be, since she was not closeted with Nynaeve, but once again she schooled her tongue, and let Nynaeve lead her. A sort of penance for arguing earlier, when she should have tried to make peace. Lan followed, those cold eyes scanning the halls. The servants they passed flinched when Lan’s gaze fell on them. A youngish, pale-haired woman actually gathered her skirts and ran, bumping into a stand-lamp and setting it rocking in her flight.

That reminded Elayne to tell Nynaeve about Elenia and Naean, and about the spies. Nynaeve took it quite calmly. She agreed with Elayne that they would know soon enough who had rescued the two women, with a dismissive sniff for Sareitha’s doubts. For that matter, she expressed surprise that they had not been taken right from Aringill long since. “I couldn’t believe they were still there when we arrived in Caemlyn. Any fool could see they would be brought here sooner or later. Much easier to get them out of a small town.” A small town. Aringill would have seemed a great city to her, once. “As for spies . . .” She frowned at a lanky, gray-haired man filling a gold-worked stand-lamp with oil, and shook her head. “Of course there are spies. I knew there must be, right from the start. You just have to watch what you say, Elayne. Don’t say anything to anyone you don’t know well unless you don’t mind everyone knowing.”

When to speak and when not, Elayne thought, pursing her lips. Sometimes that could be a true penance, with Nynaeve.

Nynaeve had her own information to impart. Eighteen of the Kin who had accompanied them to Caemlyn were no longer in the Palace. They had not run away, though. Since none was strong enough to Travel, Nynaeve had woven the gateways herself, sending them deep into Altara and Amadicia and Tarabon, into the Seanchan-held lands where they would try to find any of the Kin who had not already fled and bring them back to Caemlyn.

It would have been nice if Nynaeve had thought to inform her yesterday, when they left, or better yet, when she and Reanne reached the decision to send them, but Elayne did not mention that. Instead, she said, “That’s very brave of them. Avoiding capture won’t be easy.”

“Brave, yes,” Nynaeve said, sounding irritated. Her hand crept up to her braid again. “But that isn’t why we chose them. Alise thought they were the most likely to run if we didn’t give them something to do.” Glancing over her shoulder at Lan, she snatched her hand back down. “I don’t see how Egwene means to do it,” she sighed. “All very well to say every one of the Kin will be ‘associated’ with the Tower somehow, but how? Most aren’t strong enough to earn the shawl. Many can’t even reach Accepted. And they certainly won’t stand for being novices or Accepted the rest of their lives.”

This time Elayne said nothing because she did not know what to say. The promise had to be kept; she had made it herself. In Egwene’s name, true, and at Egwene’s order, but she had spoken the words herself, and she would not break her word. Only, she did not see how to keep it unless Egwene came up with something truly wonderful.

Reanne Corly was just where Elayne had known she would be, in a small room with two narrow windows looking down on a small, fountained courtyard deep in the Palace, though the fountain was dry, this time of year, and the glass casements made the room a little stuffy. The floor was plain dark tile with no carpet, and for furnishings there were only a narrow table and two chairs. There were two people with Reanne when Elayne entered. Alise Tenjile, in simple high-necked gray, looked up from where she stood at the end of the table. Seemingly in her middle years, she was a woman of pleasant, unremarkable appearance who was quite remarkable indeed once you came to know her and could be very unpleasant indeed when it was called for. A single glance, and she returned to her study of what was going on at the table. Aes Sedai, Warders and Daughter-Heirs did not impress Alise, not any longer. Reanne herself was sitting on one side of the table, her face creased and her hair more gray than not, in a green dress more elaborate than Alise’s; she had been put out of the Tower after failing her test for Accepted, and offered a second chance, she had already adopted the colors of her preferred Ajah. Across from her sat a plump woman in plain brown wool, her face set in stubborn defiance and her dark eyes locked on Reanne, avoiding the silvery segmented a’dam lying like a snake between them on the table. Her hands stroked the edge of the tabletop, though, and Reanne wore a confident smile that deepened the fine lines at the corners of her eyes.

“Don’t tell me you have made one of them see reason,” Nynaeve said before Lan had even shut the door behind them. She scowled at the woman in brown as though she wanted to box her ears if not worse, then glanced at Alise. Elayne thought Nynaeve was a little in awe of Alise. The woman was far from strong in the Power — she would never attain the shawl — but she had a way of taking charge when she wanted to and making everyone around her accept it. Including Aes Sedai. Elayne thought she might be just a littl

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