Winter's Heart Page 88

“I hope you will continue to watch them all closely,” Cadsuane said. “Especially these last four.” She was sure they would keep that ridiculous oath, if not always in ways the boy would like, but there was always the possibility that one or two might be Black Ajah. Once she had thought herself on the point of rooting out the Black only to watch her quarry slip through her fingers like smoke, her bitterest failure except possibly for failing to learn what Caraline Damodred’s cousin had been up to in the Borderlands until the knowledge was years too late to do any good. Now, even the Black Ajah seemed a diversion from what was truly important.

“Apprentices are always watched closely,” the weathered woman replied. “I think I must remind these others to be grateful for being allowed to loll about like clan chiefs.”

The remaining four sisters in front of the fireplace rose with alacrity at her approach, made deep curtsies, and listened carefully to what she told them in a low voice with much finger shaking. Sorilea might think she had much to teach them, but they had already learned that an Aes Sedai shawl offered no protection to a Wise One’s apprentice. Toh seemed a great deal like penance to Cadsuane.

“She is . . . formidable,” Verin murmured. “I am very glad she is on our side. If she is.”

Cadsuane gave her a sharp look. “You have the appearance of a woman with something to say that you don’t want to. About Sorilea?” That alliance was very vaguely defined. Friendship or no friendship, she and the Wise One still might turn out to be aiming at different goals.

“Not that,” the stout little woman sighed. Despite a square face, tilting her head to one side made her look like a very plump sparrow. “I know it was not my business, Cadsuane, but Bera and Kiruna were getting nowhere with our guests, so I had a little talk alone with Shalon. After a little gentle questioning, she spilled out the whole story, and Ailil confirmed everything once she realized I already knew. Soon after the Sea Folk first arrived here, Ailil approached Shalon hoping to learn what they wanted with young al’Thor. For her part, Shalon wanted to learn whatever she could about him, and about the situation here. That led to meetings, which led to friendship, which led to them becoming pillow friends. As much from loneliness as anything else, I suspect. In any case, that was what they were hiding more than their mutual snooping.”

“They put up with days under the question to hide that?” Cadsuane said incredulously. Bera and Kiruna had had the pair howling!

Verin’s eyes twinkled with suppressed mirth. “Cairhienin are prim and prudish, Cadsuane, in public at least. They might carry on like rabbits when the curtains are drawn, but they wouldn’t admit to touching their own husbands if anyone might overhear! And the Sea Folk are almost as straitlaced. At least, Shalon is married to a man with duties elsewhere, and breaking marriage vows is a very serious crime. A breach of proper discipline, it seems. If her sister found out, Shalon would be — ‘Windfinder on a rowboat,’ I think her exact words were.”

Cadsuane was aware of her hair ornaments swaying as she shook her head. When the two women had been discovered right after the attack on the Palace, bound and gagged and stuffed under Ailil’s bed, she had suspected they knew more of the attack than they were admitting. Once they refused to say why they had been meeting in secret, she was sure. Perhaps even that they were involved in some way, though the attack apparently was the work of renegade Asha’man. Supposedly renegade, at least. All that time and effort wasted on nothing. Or perhaps not quite nothing, if they were so desperate to keep things hidden.

“Return the Lady Ailil to her apartments with apologies for her treatment, Verin. Give her very . . . tenuous . . . assurances that her confidences will be kept. Be sure she is aware just how tenuous. And suggest strongly that she might wish to keep me abreast of anything she hears concerning her brother.” Blackmail was a tool she disliked using, but she had already used it on the three Asha’man, and Toram Riatin might still cause trouble even if his rebellion did seem to have evaporated. In truth, she cared little who sat on the Sun Throne, yet the plots and schemes of those who considered thrones important often had a way of interfering with more significant matters.

Verin smiled, her bun bobbing as she nodded. “Oh, yes, I think that will work very nicely. Especially since she dislikes her brother intensely. The same for Shalon, I suppose? Except that you will want to hear of events among the Atha’an Miere? I’m not certain how far she will betray Marine, no matter the consequences to herself.”

“She will betray what I require her to betray,” Cadsuane said grimly. “Keep her until tomorrow, late.” Harine must not be allowed to think for a moment that her demands were being met. The Sea Folk were another tool to be used on the boy, no more. Everyone and everything had to be viewed in that light.

Beyond Verin, Corele slipped into the sunroom and shut the door carefully behind her as if hoping not to disturb anyone. That was not her way. Boyishly slim, with thick black eyebrows and a mass of glossy black hair flowing down her back that gave her a wild appearance no matter how neat her clothes were, the Yellow was much more likely to sweep into a room laughing. Rubbing the end of her upturned nose, she looked at Cadsuane hesitantly, with none of the usual sparkle in her blue eyes.

Cadsuane made a peremptory gesture at her, and Corele drew a breath and glided across the carpets gripping her yellow-slashed blue skirts with both hands. Eyeing the sisters clustered around Sorilea at the far end of the room, and Daigian playing cat’s cradle with Eben at the other end, she spoke in a soft voice that carried the lilting accents of Murandy.

“I have the most wonderful news, Cadsuane.” By the sound other, she was not all certain how wonderful it was. “I know you said I should keep Damer busy here in the Palace, but he insisted on looking at the sisters still in the Aiel camp. Mild-tempered as he is, he’s very insistent when he wants to be, and sure as the sun there’s nothing can’t be Healed. And, well, the fact of it is, he’s gone and Healed Irgain. Cadsuane, it’s as if she’d never been . . .” She trailed off, unable to say the word. It hung in the air even so. Stilled.

“Wonderful news,” Cadsuane said flatly. It was. Every sister carried the fear somewhere deep inside that she might be cut off from the Power. And now a way to Heal what could not be Healed had been discovered. By a man. There would be tears and recriminations before this was done with. In any case, while every sister who heard would consider it a world-shaking discovery — in more ways than one; a man! — it was a storm in a teacup compared to Rand al’Thor. “I suppose she is offering herself up to be beat

Prev Next