Winter's Heart Page 83

Carefully she wove Spirit, a flow of over a hundred threads, every thread placed just so, and laid the weave on Aviendha sitting on the floor, then did the same to Min on the table’s edge. In a way, they were not two separate weaves at all. They glowed with a precise similarity, and it seemed that looking at one, she saw the other as well. These were not the weaves used in the adoption ceremony, but they used the same principles. They included; what happened to one meshed in that weave, happened to all in it. As soon as the weaves were in place, she passed the lead of the circle of two to Aviendha. The weaves already made remained, and Aviendha immediately wove identical weaves around Elayne, and around Min again, blending that one until it was indistinguishable from Elayne’s before passing control back. They did that very easily now, after a great deal of practice. Four weaves, or rather, three now, yet they all seemed the same weave.

Everything was ready. Aviendha was a rock of confidence as strong as anything Elayne had ever felt from Birgitte. Min sat gripping the edge of the table, her ankles locked together; she could not see the flows, but she gave an assured grin that was only spoiled a little when she licked her lips. Elayne breathed deeply. To her eyes, they three were surrounded and connected by a tracery of Spirit that made the finest lace seem drab. Now if only it worked as she believed it would.

From each of them, she extended the weave in narrow lines toward Rand, twisting the three lines into one, changing it into the Warder bond. That, she laid on Rand as softly as if she were laying a blanket on a baby. The spiderweb of Spirit settled around him, settled into him. He did not even blink, but it was done. She let go of saidar. Done.

He stared at them, expressionless, and slowly put his fingers to his temples.

“Oh, Light, Rand, the pain,” Min murmured in a hurt voice. “I never knew; I never imagined. How can you stand it? There are pains you don’t even seem to know, as if you’ve lived with them so long they’re part of you. Those herons on your hands; you can still feel the branding. Those things on your arms hurt! And your side. Oh, Light, your side! Why aren’t you crying, Rand? Why aren’t you crying?”

“He is the Car’a’carn,” Aviendha said, laughing, “as strong as the Three-fold Land itself!” Her face was proud — oh, so proud — but even as she laughed, tears streamed down her sun-dark cheeks. “The veins of gold. Oh, the veins of gold. You do love me, Rand.”

Elayne simply stared at him, felt him in her head. The pain of wounds and hurts he really had forgotten. The tension and disbelief; the wonder. His emotions were too rigid, though, like a knot of hardened pine sap, almost stone. Yet laced through them, golden veins pulsed and glowed whenever he looked at Min, or Aviendha. Or her. He did love her. He loved all three of them. And that made her want to laugh with joy. Other women might find doubts, but she would always know the truth of his love.

“The Light send you know what you’ve done,” he said in a low voice. “The Light send you aren’t . . .” The pine sap grew a trifle harder. He was sure they would be hurt, and was already steeling himself. “I . . . I have to go, now. At least I’ll know you are all well now; I won’t have to worry about you.” Suddenly he grinned; he might have looked almost boyish if it had reached his eyes. “Nynaeve will be frantic thinking I’ve slipped away without seeing her. Not that she doesn’t deserve a little flustering.”

“There is one more thing, Rand,” Elayne said, and stopped to swallow. Light, she had thought this would be the easy part.

“I suppose Aviendha and I have to talk while we can,” Min said hurriedly, springing off the table. “Somewhere we can be alone. If you’ll excuse us?”

Aviendha rose from the carpet gracefully, smoothing her skirts. “Yes. Min Farshaw and I must learn about one another.” She eyed Min doubtfully, adjusting her shawl, but they left arm in arm.

Rand watched them warily, as if he knew their leaving had been planned. A cornered wolf. But those veins of gold gleamed in her head.

“There is something they have had from you that I haven’t,” Elayne began, and choked, a flush scalding her face. Blood and ashes! How did other women go about this? Carefully she considered the bundle of sensations in her head that was him, and the bundle that was Birgitte. There was still no change in the second. She imagined wrapping it in a kerchief, knotting the kerchief snugly, and Birgitte was gone. There was only Rand. And those shining golden veins. Butterflies the size of wolfhounds drummed their wings in her middle. Swallowing hard, she took a long breath. “You will have to help me with my buttons,” she said unsteadily. “I cannot take this dress off by myself.”

The two Guardswomen stirred when Min came into the corridor with the Aiel woman, and jerked erect when they realized, as Min closed the door, that no one else was coming out.

“Her taste can’t be that bad,” the blocky, sleepy-eyed one muttered under her breath, hands tightening on her long cudgel. Min did not think anyone had been meant to hear.

“Too much courage, and too much innocence,” the lean, mannish one growled. “The Captain-General warned us about that.” She put a gauntleted hand on the lion-headed doorlatch.

“You go in there now, and she might skin you, too,” Min said blithely. “Have you ever seen her in a temper? She could make a bear weep!”

Aviendha disengaged her arm from Min’s and put a little distance between them. It was the Guardswomen who received her scowl, though. “You doubt my sister can handle a single man? She is Aes Sedai, and has the heart of a lion. And you are oath-sworn to follow her! You follow where she leads, not put your noses up her sleeve.”

The Guardswomen exchanged a long look. The heavier woman shrugged. The wiry one grimaced, but she took her hand from the doorlatch. “I’m oath-sworn to keep that girl alive,” she said in a hard voice, “and I mean to. Now you children go play with your dolls and let me do my job.”

Min considered producing a knife and performing one of the flashy finger-rolls Thom Merrilin had taught her. Just to show them who was a child. The lean woman was not young, but there was no gray in her hair, and she looked quite strong. And quick. Min wanted to believe some of the other woman’s bulk was fat, but she did not. She could not see any images or auras around either, but neither looked in the least afraid to do whatever she thought needed doing. Well, at least they were leaving Elayne and Rand alone. Maybe

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