Winter's Heart Page 68

“Former sisters, Nynaeve.” Egwene fingered the Great Serpent ring on her right hand and sighed faintly. “Even Kinswomen who earned the ring don’t wear it. So we will have to give it up, too. We will be Kinswomen, Nynaeve, not Aes Sedai any longer.” She sounded as if she could already feel that distant day, that distant loss, but she took her hand from the ring and took a deep breath. “Now. Is there anything else? I have a long night ahead of me, and I would like to get a little real sleep before I have to face the Sitters again.”

Frowning, Nynaeve had clenched her fist tight and laid her other hand over it to cover her rings, but she appeared ready to give up arguing over the Kin. For the time being. “Do your headaches still trouble you? I’d think if that woman’s massages did any good, you’d stop having them.”

“Halima’s massages work wonders, Nynaeve. I couldn’t sleep at all without her. Now, is there . . .?” She trailed off, staring toward the doors at the entrance of the throne room, and Elayne turned to look.

A man was standing there watching, a man as tall as an Aielman, with dark red hair faintly streaked with white, but his high-collared blue coat would never be worn by an Aiel. He appeared muscular, and his hard face seemed somehow familiar. When he saw them looking, he turned and ran down the corridor out of sight.

For an instant, Elayne gaped. He had not just accidentally dreamed himself into Tel’aran’rhiod, or he would have vanished by now, but she could still hear his boots, loud on the floor tiles. Either he was a dreamwalker — rare among men, so the Wise Ones said — or he had a ter’angreal of his own.

Leaping to her feet, she ran after him, but as fast as she was, Egwene was faster. One instant Egwene was behind, the next she was standing in the doorway, peering the way the man had gone. Elayne tried thinking of herself standing beside Egwene, and she was. The corridor was silent, now, and empty except for stand-lamps and chests and tapestries, all flickering and shifting.

“How did you do that?” Nynaeve demanded, running up with her skirts hoisted above her knees. Her stockings were silk, and red! Hastily letting her skirts fall when she realized Elayne had noticed her stockings, she peered down the hallway. “Where did he go? He could have heard everything! Did you recognize him? He reminded me of someone; I don’t know who.”

“Rand,” Egwene said. “He could have been Rand’s uncle.”

Of course, Elayne thought. If Rand had a mean uncle.

A metallic click echoed from the far end of the throne room. The door into the dressing rooms behind the dais, closing. Doors were open or closed or sometimes in between in Tel’aran’rhiod; they did not swing shut.

“Light!” Nynaeve muttered. “How many people have been eavesdropping on us? Not to mention who, and why?”

“Whoever they are,” Egwene replied calmly, “they apparently don’t know Tel’aran’rhiod as well as we do. Not friends, safe to say, or they wouldn’t be eavesdropping. And I think they may not be friends to one another, otherwise, why listen from opposite ends of the room? That man was wearing a Shienaran coat. There are Shienarans in my army, but you both know them all. None resemble Rand.”

Nynaeve sniffed. “Well, whoever he is, there are too many people listening at corners. That’s what I think. I want to be back in my own body, where all I have to worry about are spies and poisoned daggers.”

Shienarans, Elayne thought. Borderlanders. How could that have slipped her mind? Well, there had been the little matter of forkroot. “There is one more thing,” she said aloud, though in a careful voice she hoped would not carry, and related Dyelin’s news of Borderlanders in Braem Wood. She added Master Norry’s correspondence, too, all the while trying to watch both ways along the corridor and the throne room as well. She did not want to be caught napping by another spy. “I think those rulers are in Braem Wood,” she finished, “all four of them.”

“Rand,” Egwene breathed, sounding irritated. “Even when he can’t be found he complicates things. Do you have any idea whether they came to offer him allegiance or try to hand him over to Elaida? I can’t think of any other reasons for them to march a thousand leagues. They must be boiling shoes for soup by now! Do you have any idea how hard it is to keep an army supplied on the march?”

“I think I can find out,” Elayne said. “Why, I mean. And at the same time . . . You gave me the idea, Egwene.” She could not help smiling. Something good had come of today. “I think I might just be able to use them to secure the Lion Throne.”

Asne examined the tall embroidery frame in front of her and gave a sigh that turned into a yawn. The flickering lamps gave a poor light for this, but that was not the reason her birds all seemed lopsided. She wanted to be in her bed, and she despised embroidery. But she had to be awake, and this was the only way to avoid conversation with Chesmal. What Chesmal called conversation. The smugly arrogant Yellow was intent on her own embroidery, on the other side of the room, and she assumed that anyone who took up a needle had her own keen interest in the work. On the other hand, Asne knew, if she rose from her chair, Chesmal would soon start regaling her with tales of her own importance. In the months since Moghedien vanished, she had heard Chesmal’s part in putting Tamra Ospenya to the question at least twenty times, and how Chesmal had induced the Reds to murder Sierin Vayu before Sierin could order her arrest perhaps fifty! To hear Chesmal tell it, she had saved the Black Ajah single-handed, and she would tell it, given half a chance. That sort of talk was not only boring, it was dangerous. Even deadly, if the Supreme Council learned of it. So Asne stifled another yawn, squinted at her work, and pushed the needle through the tightly stretched linen. Perhaps if she made the redbird larger, she could even up the wings.

The click of the doorlatch brought both women’s heads up. The two servants knew not to bother them, and in any case, the woman and her husband should be fast asleep. Asne embraced saidar, readying a weave that would sear an intruder to the bone, and the glow surrounded Chesmal, too. If the wrong person stepped through that door, they would regret it until they died.

It was Eldrith, gloves in hand, with her dark cloak still hanging down her back. The plump Brown’s dress was dark, too, and unadorned. Asne hated wearing plain woolens, but they did need to avoid notice. The dr

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