Stilled. The word seemed to quiver in the air, almost visible. When it was done to a man who could channel the Power, who must be stopped before madness drove him to the destruction of all around him, it was called gentling, but for Aes Sedai it was stilling. Stilled. No longer able to channel the flow of the One Power. Able to sense saidar, the female half of the True Source, but no longer having the ability to touch it. Remembering what was gone forever. So seldom had it been done that every novice was required to learn the name of each Aes Sedai since the Breaking of the World who had been stilled, and her crime, but none could think of it without a shudder. Women bore being stilled no better than men did being gentled.
Moiraine had known the risk from the first, and she knew it was necessary. That did not mean it was pleasant to dwell on. Her eyes narrowed, and only the gleam in them showed her anger, and her worry. “Leane would follow you to the slopes of Shayol Ghul, Siuan, and into the Pit of Doom. You cannot think she would betray you.”
“No. But then, would she think it betrayal? Is it betrayal to betray a traitor? Do you never think of that?”
“Never. What we do, Siuan, is what must be done. We have both known it for nearly twenty years. The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills, and you and I were chosen for this by the Pattern. We are a part of the Prophecies, and the Prophecies must be fulfilled. Must!”
“The Prophecies must be fulfilled. We were taught that they will be, and must be, and yet that fulfillment is treason to everything else we were taught. Some would say to everything we stand for.” Rubbing her arms, the Amyrlin Seat walked over to peer through the narrow arrowslit at the garden below. She touched the curtains. “Here in the women’s apartments they hang draperies to soften the rooms, and they plant beautiful gardens, but there is no part of this place not purpose-made for battle, death, and killing.” She continued in the same pensive tone. “Only twice since the Breaking of the World has the Amyrlin Seat been stripped of stole and staff.”
“Tetsuan, who betrayed Manetheren for jealousy of Elisande’s powers, and Bonwhin, who tried to use Artur Hawkwing for a puppet to control the world and so nearly destroyed Tar Valon.”
The Amyrlin continued her study of the garden. “Both of the Red, and both replaced by Amyrlin from the Blue. The reason there has not been an Amyrlin chosen from the Red since Bonwhin, and the reason the Red Ajah will take any pretext to pull down an Amyrlin from the Blue, all wrapped neatly together. I have no wish to be the third to lose the stole and the staff, Moiraine. For you, of course, it would mean being stilled and put outside the Shining Walls.”
“Elaida, for one, would never let me off so easily.” Moiraine watched her friend’s back intently. Light, what has come over her? She has never been like this before. Where is her strength, her fire? “But it will not come to that, Siuan.”
The other woman went on as if she had not spoken. “For me, it would be different. Even stilled, an Amyrlin who has been pulled down cannot be allowed to wander about loose; she might be seen as a martyr, become a rallying point for opposition. Tetsuan and Bonwhin were kept in the White Tower as servants. Scullery maids, who could be pointed to as cautions as to what can happen to the mightiest. No one can rally around a woman who must scrub floors and pots all day. Pity her, yes, but not rally to her.”
Eyes blazing, Moiraine leaned her fists on the table. “Look at me, Siuan. Look at me! Are you saying that you want to give up, after all these years, after all we have done? Give up, and let the world go? And all for fear of a switching for not getting the pots clean enough!” She put into it all the scorn she could summon, and was relieved when her friend spun to face her. The strength was still there, strained but still there. Those clear blue eyes were as hot with anger as her own.
“I remember which of the two of us squealed the loudest when we were switched as novices. You had lived a soft life in Cairhien, Moiraine. Not like working a fishing boat.” Abruptly Siuan slapped the table with a loud crack. “No, I am not suggesting giving up, but neither do I propose to watch everything slide out of our hands while I can do nothing! Most of my troubles with the Hall stem from you. Even the Greens wonder why I haven’t called you to the Tower and taught you a little discipline. Half the sisters with me think you should be handed over to the Reds, and if that happens, you will wish you were a novice again, with nothing worse to look forward to than a switching. Light! If any of them remember we were friends as novices, I’d be there beside you.
“We had a plan! A plan, Moiraine! Locate the boy and bring him to Tar Valon, where we could hide him, keep him safe and guide him. Since you left the Tower, I have had only two messages from you. Two! I feel as if I’m trying to sail the Fingers of the Dragon in the dark. One message to say you were entering the Two Rivers, going to this village, this Emond’s Field. Soon, I thought. He’s found, and she’ll have him in hand soon. Then word from Caemlyn to say you were coming to Shienar, to Fal Dara, not Tar Valon. Fal Dara, with the Blight almost close enough to touch. Fal Dara, where Trollocs raid and Myrddraal ride as near every day as makes no difference. Nearly twenty years of planning and searching, and you toss all our plans practically in the Dark One’s face. Are you mad?”
Now that she had stirred life in the other woman, Moiraine returned to outward calm, herself. Calm, but firm insistence, too. “The Pattern pays no heed to human plans, Siuan. With all our scheming, we forgot what we were dealing with. Ta’veren. Elaida is wrong. Artur Paendrag Tanreall was never this strongly ta’veren. The Wheel will weave the Pattern around this young man as it wills, whatever our plans.”
The anger left Amyrlin’s face, replaced by white-faced shock. “It sounds as if you are saying we might as well give up. Do you now suggest standing aside and watching the world burn?”
“No, Siuan. Never standing aside.” Yet the world will burn, Siuan, one way or another, whatever we do. You could never see that. “But we must now realize that our plans are precarious things. We have even less control than we thought. Perhaps only a fingernail’s grip. The winds of destiny are blowing, Siuan, and we must ride them where they take us.”
The Amyrlin shivered as if she felt those winds icy on the back of her neck. Her hands went to the flattened cube of gold, blunt, capable fingers finding precise points in the complex designs. Cunningly balanced, the top lifted back to reveal a curled, golden horn nestled within a space designed to hold it. She lifted the instrument and traced the flowing silver script, in the Old Tongue, inlaid around the flaring mouth.
“‘The grave is no bar to my call,'” she translated, so softly she seemed to be speaking to herself. “The Horn of Valere, made to call dead heroes back from the grave. And prophecy said it would only be found just in time for the Last Battle.” Abruptly she thrust the Horn back into its niche and closed the lid as if she could no longer bear the sight of it. “Agelmar pushed it into my hands as soon as the Welcome was done. He said he was afraid to go into his own strongroom any longer, with it there. The temptation was too great, he said. To sound the Horn himself and lead the host that answered its call north through the Blight to level Shayol Ghul itself and put an end to the Dark One. He burned with the ecstasy of glory, and it was that, he said, that told him it was not to be him, must not be him. He could not wait to be rid of it, yet he wanted it still.”
Moiraine nodded. Agelmar was familiar with the Prophecy of the Horn; most who fought the Dark One were. “‘Let whosoever sounds me think not of glory, but only of salvation. ‘”
“Salvation.” The Amyrlin laughed bitterly. “From the look in Agelmar’s eyes, he didn’t know whether he was giving away salvation or rejecting the condemnation of his own soul. He only knew he had to be rid of it before it burned him up. He has tried to keep it secret, but he says there are rumors in the keep already. I do not feel his temptation, yet the Horn still makes my skin crawl. He will have to take it back into his strongroom until I leave. I could not sleep with it even in the next room.” She rubbed frown lines from her forehead and sighed. “And it was not to be found until just before the Last Battle. Can it be that close? I thought, hoped, we would have more time.”
“The Karaethon Cycle.”
“Yes, Moiraine. You do not have to remind me. I’ve lived with the Prophecies of the Dragon as long as you.” The Amyrlin shook her head. “Never more than one false Dragon in a generation since the Breaking, and now three loose in the world at one time, and three more in the past two years. The Pattern demands a Dragon because the Pattern weaves toward Tarmon Gai’don. Sometimes doubt fills me, Moiraine.” She said it musingly, as if wondering at it, and went on in the same tone. “What if Logain was the one? He could channel, before the Reds brought him to the White Tower, and we gentled him. So can Mazrim Taim, the man in Saldaea. What if it is him? There are sisters in Saldaea already; he may be taken by now. What if we have been wrong since the start? What happens if the Dragon Reborn is gentled before the Last Battle even begins? Even prophecy can fail if the one prophesied is slain or gentled. And then we face the Dark One naked to the storm.”
“Neither of them is the one, Siuan. The Pattern does not demand a Dragon, but the one true Dragon. Until he proclaims himself, the Pattern will continue to throw up false Dragons, but after that there will be no others. If Logain or the other were the one, there would be no others.”
“‘For he shall come like the breaking dawn, and shatter the world again with his coming, and make it anew.’ Either we go naked in the storm, or cling to a protection that will scourge us. The Light help us all.” The Amyrlin shook herself as if to throw off her own words. Her face was set, as though bracing for a blow. “You could never hide what you were thinking from me as you do from everyone else, Moiraine. You have more to tell me, and nothing good.”
For answer Moiraine took the leather pouch from her belt and upended it, spilling the contents on the table. It appeared to be only a heap of fragmented pottery, shiny black and white.
The Amyrlin Seat touched one bit curiously, and her breath caught. “Cuendillar.”
“Heartstone,” Moiraine agreed. The making of cuendillar had been lost at the Breaking of the World, but what had been made of heartstone had survived the cataclysm. Even those objects swallowed by the earth or sunk in the sea had survived; they must have. No known force could break cuendillar once it was complete; even the One Power directed against heartstone only made it stronger. Except that some power had broken this.
The Amyrlin hastily assembled the pieces. What they formed was a disk the size of a man’s hand, half blacker than pitch and half whiter than snow, the colors meeting along a sinuous line, unfaded by age. The ancient symbol of Aes Sedai, before the world was broken, when men and women wielded the Power together. Half of it was now called the Flame of Tar Valon; the other half was scrawled on doors, the Dragon’s Fang, to accuse those within of evil. Only seven like it had been made; everything ever made of heartstone was recorded in the White Tower, and those seven were remembered above all. Siuan Sanche stared at it as she would have at a viper on her pillow.
“One of the seals on the Dark One’s prison,” she said finally, reluctantly. It was those seven seals over which the Amyrlin Seat was supposed to be Watcher. The secret hidden from the world, if the world ever thought of it, was that no Amyrlin Seat had known where any of the seals were since the Trolloc Wars.
“We know the Dark One is stirring, Siuan. We know his prison cannot stay sealed forever. Human work can never match the Creator’s. We knew he has touched the world again, even if, thank the Light, only indirectly. Darkfriends multiply, and what we called evil but ten years ago seems almost caprice compared with what now is done every day.”
“If the seals are already breaking … We may have no time at all.”
“Little enough. But that little may be enough. It will have to be.”
The Amyrlin touched the fractured seal, and her voice grew tight, as if she were forcing herself to speak. “I saw the boy, you know, in the courtyard during the Welcome. It is one of my Talents, seeing ta’veren. A rare Talent these days, even more rare than ta’veren, and certainly not of much use. A tall boy, a fairly handsome young man. Not much different from any young man you might see in any town.” She paused to draw breath. “Moiraine, he blazed like the sun. I’ve seldom been afraid in my life, but the sight of him made me afraid right down to my toes. I wanted to cower, to howl. I could barely speak. Agelmar thought I was angry with him, I said so little. That young man … he’s the one we have sought these twenty years.”
There was a hint of question in her voice. Moiraine answered it. “He is.”
“Are you certain? Can he …? Can he … channel the One Power?”
Her mouth strained around the words, and Moiraine felt the tension, too, a twisting inside, a cold clutching at her heart. She kept her face smooth, though. “He can.” A man wielding the One Power. That was a thing no Aes Sedai could contemplate without fear. It was a thing the whole world feared. And I will loose it on the world. “Rand al’Thor will stand before the world as the Dragon Reborn.”
The Amyrlin shuddered. “Rand al’Thor. It does not sound like a name to inspire fear and set the world on fire.” She gave another shiver and rubbed her arms briskly, but her eyes suddenly shone with a purposeful light. “If he is the one, then we truly may have time enough. But is he safe here? I have two Red sisters with me, and I can no longer answer for Green or Yellow, either. The Light consume me, I can’t answer for any of them, not with this. Even Verin and Serafelle would leap on him the way they would a scarlet adder in a nursery.”
“He is safe, for the moment.”
The Amyrlin waited for her to say more. The silence stretched, until it was plain she would not. Finally the Amyrlin said, “You say our old plan is useless. What do you suggest now?”
“I have purposely let him think I no longer have any interest in him, that he may go where he pleases for all of me.” She raised her hands as the Amyrlin opened her mouth. “It was necessary, Siuan. Rand al’Thor was raised in the Two Rivers, where Manetheren’s stubborn blood flows in every vein, and his own blood is like rock beside clay compared to Manetheren’s. He must be handled gently, or he will bolt in any direction but the one we want.”
“Then we’ll handle him like a newborn babe. We’ll wrap him in swaddling clothes and play with his toes, if that’s what you think we need. But to what immediate purpose?”
“His two friends, Matrim Cauthon and Perrin Aybara, are ripe to see the world before they sink back into the obscurity of the Two Rivers. If they can sink back; they are ta’veren, too, if lesser than he. I will induce them to carry the Horn of Valere to Illian.” She hesitated, frowning. “There is … a problem with Mat. He carries a dagger from Shadar Logoth.”
“Shadar Logoth! Light, why did you ever let them get near that place. Every stone of it is tainted. There isn’t a pebble safe to carry away. Light help us, if Mordeth touched the boy …” The Amyrlin sounded as though she were strangling. “If that happened, the world would be doomed.”
“But it did not, Siuan. We do what we must from necessity, and it was necessary. I have done enough so that Mat will not infect others, but he had the dagger too long before I knew. The link is still there. I had thought I must take him to Tar Valon to cure it, but with so many sisters present, it might be done here. So long as there are a few you can trust not to see Darkfriends where there are none. You and I and two others will suffice, using my angreal.”
“Leane will do for one, and I can find another.” Suddenly the Amyrlin Seat gave a wry grin. “The Hall wants that angreal back, Moiraine. There are not very many of them left, and you are now considered … unreliable.”
Moiraine smiled, but it did not touch her eyes. “They will think worse of me before I am done. Mat will leap at the chance to be so big a part of the legend of the Horn, and Perrin should not be hard to convince. He needs something to take his mind off his own troubles. Rand knows what he is — some of it, at least; a little — and he is afraid of it, naturally. He wants to go off somewhere alone, where he cannot hurt anyone. He says he will never wield the Power again, but he fears not being able to stop it.”
“As well he might. Easier to give up drinking water.”
“Exactly. And he wants to be free from Aes Sedai.” Moiraine gave a small, mirthless smile. “Offered the chance to leave Aes Sedai behind and still stay with his friends a while longer, he should be as eager as Mat.”
“But how is he leaving Aes Sedai behind? Surely you must travel with him. We can’t lose him now, Moiraine.”
“I cannot travel with him.” It is a long way from Fal Dara to Illian, but he has traveled almost as far already. “He must be let off the leash for a time. There is no help for it. I have had all of their old clothes burned. There has been too much opportunity for some shred of what they were wearing to have fallen into the wrong hands. I will cleanse them before they leave; they will not even realize it has been done. There will be no chance they can be tracked that way, and the only other threat of that kind is locked away here in the dungeon.” The Amyrlin, midway in nodding approval, gave her a questioning look, but she did not pause. “They will travel as safely as I can manage, Siuan. And when Rand needs me in Illian, I will be there, and I will see that it is he who presents the Horn to the Council of Nine and the Assemblage. I will see to everything in Illian. Siuan, the Illianers would follow the Dragon, or Ba’alzamon himself, if he came bearing the Horn of Valere, and so will the greater part of those gathered for the Hunt. The true Dragon Reborn will not need to gather a following before nations move against him. He will begin with a nation around him and an army at his back.”
The Amyrlin dropped back into her chair, but immediately leaned forward. She seemed caught between weariness and hope. “But will he proclaim himself? If he’s afraid … The Light knows he should be, Moiraine, but men who name themselves as the Dragon want the power. If he does not…”
“I have the means to see him named Dragon whether he wills it or not. And even if I somehow fail, the Pattern itself will see him named Dragon whether he wills it or not. Remember, he is ta’veren, Siuan. He has no more control over his fate than a candle wick has over the flame.”
The Amyrlin sighed. “It’s risky, Moiraine. Risky. But my father used to say, ‘Girl, if you won’t take a chance, you’ll never win a copper.’ We have plans to make. Sit down; this won’t be done quickly. I will send for wine and cheese.”
Moiraine shook her head. “We have been closeted alone too long already. If any did try listening and found your Warding, they will be wondering already. It is not worth the risk. We can contrive another meeting tomorrow.” Besides, my dearest friend, I cannot tell you everything, and I cannot risk letting you know I am holding anything back.
“I suppose you are right. But first thing in the morning. There’s so much I have to know.”
“The morning,” Moiraine agreed. The Amyrlin rose, and they hugged again. “In the morning I will tell you everything you need to know.”
Leane gave Moiraine a sharp look when she came out into the anteroom, then darted into the Amyrlin’s chamber. Moiraine tried to put on a chastened face, as if she had endured one of the Amyrlin’s infamous upbraidings — most women, however strong-willed, returned from those big-eyed and weak-kneed — but the expression was foreign to her. She looked more angry than anything else, which served much the same purpose. She was only vaguely aware of the other women in the outer room; she thought some had gone and others come since she went in, but she barely looked at them. The hour was growing late, and there was much to be done before the morning came. Much, before she spoke to the Amyrlin Seat again.
Quickening her step, she moved deeper into the keep.
The column would have made an impressive sight under the waxing moon, moving through the Tarabon night to the jangle of harness, had there been anyone to see it. A full two thousand Children of the Light, well mounted, in white tabards and cloaks, armor burnished, with their train of supply wagons, and farriers, and grooms with the strings of remounts. There were villages in this sparsely forested country, but they had left roads behind, and stayed clear of even farmers’ crofts. They were to meet … someone … at a flyspeck village near the northern border of Tarabon, at the edge of Almoth Plain.
Geofram Bornhald, riding at the head of his men, wondered what it was all about. He remembered too well his interview with Pedron Niall, Lord Captain Commander of the Children of the Light, in Amador, but he had learned little there.
“We are alone, Geofram,” the white-haired man had said. His voice was thin and reedy with age. “I remember giving you the oath… what … thirty-six years ago, it must be, now.”
Bornhald straightened. “My Lord Captain Commander, may I ask why I was called back from Caemlyn, and with such urgency? A push, and Morgase could be toppled. There are Houses in Andor that see dealing with Tar Valon as we do, and they were ready to lay claim to the throne. I left Eamon Valda in charge, but he seemed intent on following the Daughter-Heir to Tar Valon. I would not be surprised to learn the man has kidnapped the girl, or even attacked Tar Valon.” And Dain, Bornhald’s son, had arrived just before Bornhald was recalled. Dain was full of zeal. Too much zeal, sometimes. Enough to fall in blindly with whatever Valda proposed.
“Valda walks in the Light, Geofram. But you are the best battle commander among the Children. You will assemble a full legion, the best men you can find, and take them into Tarabon, avoiding any eyes attached to a tongue that may speak. Any such tongue must be silenced, if the eyes see.”
Bornhald hesitated. Fifty Children together, or even a hundred, could enter any land without question, at least without open question, but an entire legion… “Is it war, my Lord Captain Commander? There is talk in the streets. Wild rumors, mainly, about Artur Hawkwing’s armies come back.” The old man did not speak. “The King…”
“Does not command the Children, Lord Captain Bornhald.” For the first time there was a snap in the Lord Captain Commander’s voice. “I do. Let the King sit in his palace and do what he does best. Nothing. You will be met at a village called Alcruna, and there you will receive your final orders. I expect your legion to ride in three days. Now go, Geofram. You have work to do.”
Bornhald frowned. “Pardon, my Lord Captain Commander, but who will meet me? Why am I risking war with Tarabon?”
“You will be told what you must know when you reach Alcruna.” The Lord Captain Commander suddenly looked more than his age. Absently he plucked at his white tunic, with the golden sunburst of the Children large on the chest. “There are forces at work beyond what you know, Geofram. Beyond what even you can know. Choose your men quickly. Now go. Ask me no more. And the Light ride with you.”
Now Bornhald straightened in his saddle, working a knot out of his back. I am getting old, he thought. A day and a night in the saddle, with two pauses to water the horses, and he felt every gray hair on his head. He would not even have noticed a few years ago. At least I have not killed any innocents. He could be as hard on Darkfriends as any man sworn to the Light — Darkfriends must be destroyed before they pulled the whole world under the Shadow — but he wanted to be sure they were Darkfriends first. It had been difficult avoiding Taraboner eyes with so many men, even in the backcountry, but he had managed it. No tongues had needed to be silenced.
The scouts he had sent out came riding back, and behind them came more men in white cloaks, some carrying torches to ruin the night vision of everyone at the head of the column. With a muttered curse, Bornhald ordered a halt while he studied those who came to meet him.
Their cloaks bore the same golden sunburst on the breast as his, the same as every Child of the Light, and their leader even had golden knots of rank below it equivalent to Bornhald’s. But behind their sunbursts were red shepherd’s crooks. Questioners. With hot irons and pinchers and dripping water the Questioners pulled confession and repentance from Darkfriends, but there were those who said they decided guilt before ever they began. Geofram Bornhald was one who said it.
I have been sent here to meet Questioners?
“We have been waiting for you, Lord Captain Bornhald,” the leader said in a harsh voice. He was a tall, hook-nosed man with the gleam of certainty in his eyes that every Questioner had. “You could have made better time. I am Einor Saren, second to Jaichim Carridin, who commands the Hand of the Light in Tarabon.” The Hand of the Light — the Hand that dug out truth, so they said. They did not like the name Questioners. “There is a bridge at the village. Have your men move across. We will talk in the inn. It is surprisingly comfortable.”
“I was told by the Lord Captain Commander himself to avoid all eyes.”
“The village has been … pacified. Now move your men. I command, now. I have orders with the Lord Captain Commander’s seal, if you doubt.”
Bornhald suppressed the growl that rose in his throat. Pacified. He wondered if the bodies had been piled outside the village, or if they had been thrown into the river. It would be like the Questioners, cold enough to kill an entire village for secrecy and stupid enough to throw the bodies into the river to float downstream and trumpet their deed from Alcruna to Tanchico. “What I doubt is why I am in Tarabon with two thousand men, Questioner.”
Saren’s face tightened, but his voice remained harsh and demanding. “It is simple, Lord Captain. There are towns and villages across Almoth Plain with none in authority above a mayor or a Town Council. It is past time they were brought to the Light. There will be many Darkfriends in such places.”
Bornhald’s horse stamped. “Are you saying, Saren, that I’ve brought an entire legion across most of Tarabon in secrecy to root a few Darkfriends out of some grubby villages?”
“You are here to do as you are told, Bornhald. To do the work of the Light! Or are you sliding from the Light?” Saren’s smile was a grimace. “If battle is what you seek, you may have your chance. The strangers have a great force on Toman Head, more than Tarabon and Arad Doman together may be able to hold, even if they can stop their own bickering long enough to work together. If the strangers break through, you will have all the fighting you can handle. The Taraboners claim the strangers are monsters, creatures of the Dark One. Some say they have Aes Sedai to fight for them. If they are Darkfriends, these strangers, they will have to be dealt with, too. In their turn.”
For a moment, Bornhald stopped breathing. “Then the rumors are true. Artur Hawking’s armies have returned.”
“Strangers,” Saren said flatly. He sounded as if he regretted having mentioned them. “Strangers, and probably Darkfriends, from wherever they came. That is all we know, and all you need to know. They do not concern you now. We are wasting time. Move your men across the river, Bornhald. I will give you your orders in the village.” He whirled his horse and galloped back the way he had come, his torchbearers riding at his heels.
Bornhald closed his eyes to hasten the return of his night sight. We are being used like stones on a board. “Byar!” He opened his eyes as his second appeared at his side, stiffening in his saddle before the Lord Captain. The gaunt-faced man had almost the Questioner’s light in his eyes, but he was a good soldier despite. “There is a bridge ahead. Move the legion across the river and make camp. I will join you as soon as I can.”
He gathered his reins and rode in the direction the Questioner had taken. Stones on a board. But who is moving us? And why?
Afternoon shadows gave way to evening as Liandrin made her way through the women’s apartments. Beyond the arrowslits, darkness grew and pressed on the light from the lamps in the corridor. Twilight was a troubled time for Liandrin of late, that and dawn. At dawn the day was born, just as twilight gave birth to night, but at dawn, night died, and at twilight, day. The Dark One’s power was rooted in death; he gained power from death, and at those times she thought she could feel his power stirring. Something stirred in the half dark, at least. Something she almost thought she could catch if she turned quickly enough, something she was sure she could see if she looked hard enough.
Serving women in black-and-gold curtsied as she passed, but she did not respond. She kept her eyes fixed straight ahead, and did not see them.
At the door she sought, she paused for a quick glance up and down the hall. The only women in sight were servants; there were no men, of course. She pushed open the door and went in without knocking.
The outer room of the Lady Amalisa’s chambers was brightly lit, and a blazing fire on the hearth held back the chill of the Shienaran night. Amalisa and her ladies sat about the room, in chairs and on the layered carpets, listening while one of their number, standing, read aloud to them. It was The Dance of the Hawk and the Hummingbird, by Teven Aerwin, which purported to set forth the proper conduct of men toward women and women toward men. Liandrin’s mouth tightened; she certainly had not read it, but she had heard as much as she needed about it. Amalisa and her ladies greeted each pronouncement with gales of laughter, falling against each other and drumming their heels on the carpets like girls.
The reader was the first to become aware of Liandrin’s presence. She cut off with a surprised widening of her eyes. The others turned to see what she was staring at, and silence replaced laughter. All but Amalisa scrambled to their feet, hastily smoothing hair and skirts.
The Lady Amalisa rose gracefully, with a smile. “You honor us with your presence, Liandrin. This is a most pleasant surprise. I did not expect you until tomorrow. I thought you would want to rest after your long jour—”
Liandrin cut her off sharply, addressing the air. “I will speak to the Lady Amalisa alone. All of you will leave. Now.”
There was a moment of shocked silence, then the other women made their goodbyes to Amalisa. One by one they curtsied to Liandrin, but she did not acknowledge them. She continued to stare straight ahead at nothing, but she saw them, and heard. Honorifics offered with breathy unease at the Aes Sedai’s mood. Eyes falling when she ignored them. They squeezed past her to the door, pressing back awkwardly so their skirts did not disturb hers.
As the door closed behind the last of them, Amalisa said, “Liandrin, I do not underst—”
“Do you walk in the Light, my daughter?” There would be none of that foolishness of calling her sister here. The other woman was older by some years, but the ancient forms would be observed. However long they had been forgotten, it was time they were remembered.
As soon as the question was out of her mouth, though, Liandrin realized she had made a mistake. It was a question guaranteed to cause doubt and anxiety, coming from an Aes Sedai, but Amalisa’s back stiffened, and her face hardened.
“That is an insult, Liandrin Sedai. I am Shienaran, of a noble House and the blood of soldiers. My line has fought the Shadow since before there was a Shienar, three thousand years without fail or a day’s weakness.”
Liandrin shifted her point of attack, but she did not retreat. Striding across the room, she took the leather-bound copy of The Dance of the Hawk and the Hummingbird from the mantelpiece and hefted it without looking at it. “In Shienar above other lands, my daughter, the Light must be precious, and the Shadow feared.” Casually she threw the book into the fire. Flames leaped as if it were a log of fat-wood, thundering as they licked up the chimney. In the same instant every lamp in the room flared, hissing, so fiercely did they burn, flooding the chamber with light. “Here above all. Here, so close to the cursed Blight, where corruption waits. Here, even one who thinks he walks in the Light may still be corrupted by the Shadow.”
Beads of sweat glistened on Amalisa’s forehead. The hand she had raised in protest for her book fell slowly to her side. Her features still held firm, but Liandrin saw her swallow, and her feet shift. “I do not understand, Liandrin Sedai. Is it the book? It is only foolishness.”
There was a faint quaver in her voice. Good. Glass lamp mantles cracked as the flames leaped higher and hotter, lighting the room as bright as unsheltered noon. Amalisa stood as stiff as a post, her face tight as she tried not to squint.
“It is you who are foolish, my daughter. I care nothing for books. Here, men enter the Blight, and walk in its taint. In the very Shadow. Why wonder you that that taint may seep into them? Whether or not against their will, still it may seep. Why think you the Amyrlin Seat herself has come?”
“No.” It was a gasp.
“Of the Red am I, my daughter,” Liandrin said relentlessly. “I hunt all men corrupted.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Not only those foul ones who try the One Power. All men corrupted. High and low do I hunt.”
“I don’t …” Amalisa licked her lips unsteadily and made a visible fort to gather herself. “I do not understand, Liandrin Sedai. Please …”
“High even before low.”
“No!” As if some invisible support had vanished, Amalisa fell to her knees, and her head dropped. “Please, Liandrin Sedai, say you do not mean Agelmar. It cannot be him.”
In that moment of doubt and confusion, Liandrin struck. She did not move, but lashed out with the One Power. Amalisa gasped and gave a jerk, as if she had been pricked with a needle, and Liandrin’s petulant mouth perked in a smile.
This was her own special trick from childhood, the first learned of her abilities. It had been forbidden to her as soon as the Mistress of Novices discovered it, but to Liandrin that only meant one more thing she needed to conceal from those who were jealous of her.
She strode forward and pulled Amalisa’s chin up. The metal that had stiffened her was still there, but it was baser metal now, malleable to the right pressures. Tears trickled from the corners of Amalisa’s eyes, glistening on her cheeks. Liandrin let the fires die back to normal; there was no longer any need for such. She softened her words, but her voice was as unyielding as steel.
“Daughter, no one wants to see you and Agelmar thrown to the people as Darkfriends. I will help you, but you must help.”
“H-help you?” Amalisa put her hands to her temples; she looked confused. “Please, Liandrin Sedai, I don’t … understand. It is all so… It’s all…”
It was not a perfect ability; Liandrin could not force anyone to do what she wanted — though she had tried; oh, how she had tried. But she could open them wide to her arguments, make them want to believe her, want more than anything to be convinced of her rightness.
“Obey, daughter. Obey, and answer my questions truthfully, and I promise that no one will speak of you and Agelmar as Darkfriends. You will not be dragged naked through the streets, to be flogged from the city if the people do not tear you to pieces first. I will not let this happen. You understand?”
“Yes, Liandrin Sedai, yes. I will do as you say and answer you truly.”
Liandrin straightened, looking down at the other woman. The Lady Amalisa stayed as she was, kneeling, her face as open as a child’s, a child waiting to be comforted and helped by someone wiser and stronger. There was a rightness about it to Liandrin. She had never understood why a simple bow or curtsy was sufficient for Aes Sedai when men and women knelt to kings and queens. What queen has within her my power? Her mouth twisted angrily, and Amalisa shivered.
“Be easy in yourself, my daughter. I have come to help you, not to punish. Only those who deserve it will be punished. Truth only, speak to me.”
“I will, Liandrin Sedai. I will, I swear it by my House and honor.”
“Moiraine came to Fal Dara with a Darkfriend.”
Amalisa was too frightened to show surprise. “Oh, no, Liandrin Sedai. No. That man came later. He is in the dungeons now.”
“Later, you say. But it is true that she speaks often with him? She is often in company with this Darkfriend? Alone?”
“S-sometimes, Liandrin Sedai. Only sometimes. She wishes to find out why he came here. Moiraine Sedai is—” Liandrin held up her hand sharply, and Amalisa swallowed whatever else she had been going to say.
“By three young men Moiraine was accompanied. This I know. Where are they? I have been to their rooms, and they are not to be found.”
“I–I do not know, Liandrin Sedai. They seem nice boys. Surely you don’t think they are Darkfriends.”
“Not Darkfriends, no. Worse. By far more dangerous than Darkfriends, my daughter. The entire world is in danger from them. They must be found. You will command your servants to search the keep, and your ladies, and yourself. Every crack and cranny. To this, you will see personally. Personally! And to no one will you speak of it, save those I name. None else may know. None. From Fal Dara in secrecy these young men must be removed, and to Tar Valon taken. In utter secrecy.”
“As you command, Liandrin Sedai. But I do not understand the need for secrecy. No one here will hinder Aes Sedai.”
“Of the Black Ajah you have heard?”
Amalisa’s eyes bulged, and she leaned back away from Liandrin, raising her hands as though to shield herself from a blow. “A v-vile rumor, Liandrin Sedai. V-vile. There are n-no Aes Sedai who s-serve the Dark One. I do not believe it. You must believe me! Under the Light, I s-swear I do not believe it. By my honor and my House, I swear …”
Coolly Liandrin let her go on, watching the last remaining strength leach out of the other woman with her own silence. Aes Sedai had been known to become angry, very angry, with those who even mentioned the Black Ajah much less those who said they believed in its hidden existence. After this, with her will already weakened by that little childhood trick, Amalisa would be as clay in her hands. After one more blow.
“The Black Ajah is real, child. Real, and here within Fal Dara’s walls.” Amalisa knelt there, her mouth hanging open. The Black Ajah. Aes Sedai who were also Darkfriends. Almost as horrible to learn the Dark One himself walked Fal Dara keep. But Liandrin would not let up now. “Any Aes Sedai in the halls you pass, a Black sister could be. This I swear. I cannot tell you which they are, but my protection you can have. If in the Light you walk and me obey.”
“I will,” Amalisa whispered hoarsely. “I will. Please, Liandrin Sedai, please say you will protect my brother, and my ladies …”
“Who deserves protection I will protect. Concern yourself with yourself, my daughter. And think only of what I have commanded of you. Only that. The fate of the world rides on this, my daughter. All else you must forget.”
“Yes, Liandrin Sedai. Yes. Yes.”
Liandrin turned and crossed the room, not looking back until she reached the door. Amalisa was still on her knees, still watching her anxiously. “Rise, my Lady Amalisa.” Liandrin made her voice pleasant, with only a hint of the mocking she felt. Sister, indeed! Not one day as a novice would she last. And power to command she has. “Rise.” Amalisa straightened in slow, stiff jerks, as if she had been bound hand and foot for hours. As she finally came upright, Liandrin said, the steel back in full strength, “And if you fail the world, if you fail me, that wretched Darkfriend in the dungeon will be your envy.”
From the look on Amalisa’s face, Liandrin did not think failure would come from any lack of effort on her part.
Pulling the door shut behind her, Liandrin suddenly felt a prickling across her skin. Breath catching, she whirled about, looking up and down the dimly lit hall. Empty. It was full night beyond the arrowslits. The hall was empty, yet she was sure there had been eyes on her. The vacant corridor, shadowy between the lamps on the walls, mocked her. She shrugged uneasily, then started down the hall determinedly. Fancies take me. Nothing more.
Full night already, and there was much to do before dawn. Her orders had been explicit.
Pitch-blackness covered the dungeons whatever the hour, unless someone brought in a lantern, but Padan Fain sat on the edge of his cot, staring into the dark with a smile on his face. He could hear the other two prisoners grumbling in their sleep, muttering in nightmares. Padan Fain was waiting for something, something he had been awaiting for a long time. For too long. But not much longer.
The door to the outer guardroom opened, spilling in a flood of light, darkly outlining a figure in the doorway.
Fain stood. “You! Not who I expected.” He stretched with a casualness he did not feel. Blood raced through his veins; he thought he could leap over the keep if he tried. “Surprises for everyone, eh? Well, come on. The night’s getting old, and I want some sleep sometime.”
As a lamp came into the cell chamber, Fain raised his head, grinning at something, unseen yet felt, beyond the dungeon’s stone ceiling. “It isn’t over yet,” he whispered.
“The battle’s never over.”