Legends 3

Legends 3

Legends 3 5

  Stopping behind Larelle, Cadsuane laid a hand on her shoulder. “What do you know of this child?”

  Every girl in Larelle’s classes had thought her the perfect sister and been intimidated by that cool consideration. They all had been afraid of her, and wanted to be her. “Moiraine was studious and a quick learner,” she said thoughtfully. “She and Siuan Sanche were two of the quickest the Tower has ever seen. But you must know that. Let me see. She was rather too free with her opinions, and her temper, until we settled her down. As much as we did settle her. She and the Sanche girl had a continuing fondness for pranks. But they both passed for Accepted on the first try, and for the shawl. She needs seasoning, of course, yet she may make something of herself.”

  Cadsuane moved behind Merean, asking the same question, adding, “A fondness for … pranks, Larelle said. A troublesome child?”

  Merean shook her head with a smile. None of the girls had wanted to be Merean, but everyone knew where to go for a shoulder to cry on or advice when you could not ask your closest friend. Many more girls visited her on their own than had been sent for chastisement. “Not troublesome, really,” she said. “High-spirited. None of the tricks Moiraine played were mean, but they were plentiful. Novice and Accepted, she was sent to my study more often than any three other girls. Except for her pillow-friend Siuan. Of course, pillow-friends frequently get into tangles together, but with those two, one was never sent to me without the other. The last time the very night after passing for the shawl.” Her smile faded into a frown very much like the one she had worn that night. Not angry, but rather disbelieving of the mischief young women could get up to. And a touch amused by it. “Instead of spending the night in contemplation, they tried to sneak mice into a sister’s bed—Elaida a’Roihan—and were caught. I doubt any other women have been raised Aes Sedai while still too tender to sit from their last visit to the Mistress of Novices. Once the Three Oaths tightened on them, they needed cushions a week.”

  Moiraine kept her face smooth, kept her hands from knotting into fists, but she could do nothing about burning cheeks. That ruefully amused frown, as if she were still Accepted. She needed seasoning, did she? Well, perhaps she did, some, but still. And spreading out all these intimacies!

  “I think you know all of me that you need to know,” she told Cadsuane stiffly. How close she and Siuan had been was no one’s business but theirs. And their punishments, details of their punishments. Elaida had been hateful, always pressing, demanding perfection whenever she visited the Tower. “If you are quite satisfied, I must pack my things. I am departing for Chachin.”

  She swallowed a groan before it could form. She still let her tongue go too free when her temper was up. If Merean or Larelle was part of the search, they must have at least part of the list in her little book. Including Jurine Najima here, the Lady Ines Demain in Chachin, and Avene Sahera, who lived in “a village on the high road between Chachin and Canluum.” To strengthen suspicion, all she need do now was say she intended to spend time in Arafel and Shienar next.

  Cadsuane smiled, not at all pleasantly. “You’ll leave when I say, child. Be silent till you’re spoken to. That pitcher should hold spiced wine. Pour for us.”

  Moiraine quivered. Child! She was no longer a novice. The woman could not order her coming and going. Or her tongue. But she did not protest. She walked to the hearth—stalked, really—and picked up the long-necked silver pitcher.

  “You seem very interested in this young woman, Cadsuane,” Merean said, turning slightly to watch Moiraine pour. “Is there something about her we should know?”

  Larelle’s smile held a touch of mockery. Only a touch, with Cadsuane. “Has someone Foretold she’ll be Amyrlin one day? I can’t say that I see it in her, but then, I don’t have the Foretelling.”

  “I might live another thirty years,” Cadsuane said, putting out a hand for the cup Moiraine offered, “or only three. Who can say?”

  Moiraine’s eyes went wide, and she slopped hot wine over her own wrist. Merean gasped, and Larelle looked as though she had been struck in the forehead with a stone. Any Aes Sedai would spit on the table before referring to another sister’s age or her own. Except that Cadsuane was not any Aes Sedai.

  “A little more care with the other cups,” she said, unperturbed by all the gaping. “Child?” Moiraine returned to the hearth still staring, and Cadsuane went on, “Meilyn is considerably older. When she and I are gone, that leaves Kerene the strongest.” Larelle flinched. “Am I disturbing you?” Cadsuane’s solicitous tone could not have been more false, and she did not wait for an answer. “Holding our silence about age doesn’t keep people from knowing we live longer than they. Phaaw! From Kerene, it’s a sharp drop to the next five. Five once this child and the Sanche girl reach their potential. And one of those is as old as I am and in retirement to boot.”

  “Is there some point to this?” Merean asked, sounding a little sick. Larelle pressed her hands against her middle, her face gray. They barely glanced at the wine Moiraine offered before gesturing it away, and she kept the cup, though she did not think she could swallow a mouthful.

  Cadsuane scowled, a fearsome sight. “No one has come to the Tower in a thousand years who could match me. No one to match Meilyn or Kerene in almost six hundred. A thousand years ago, there would have been fifty sisters or more who stood higher than this child. In another hundred years, though, she’ll stand in the first rank. Oh, someone stronger may be found in that time, but there won’t be fifty, and there may be none. We dwindle.”

  “I don’t understand,” Larelle said sharply. She seemed to have gathered herself, and to be angry for her previous weakness. “We are all aware of the problem, but what does Moiraine have to do with it? Do you think she can somehow make more girls come to the Tower, girls with stronger potential?” Her snort said what she thought of that.

  “I would regret her being wasted before she knows up from. down. The Tower can’t afford to lose her out of her own ignorance. Look at her. A pretty little doll of a Cairhienin noble.” Cadsuane put a finger under Moiraine’s chin, tilting it up. “Before you find a Warder like that, child, a brigand who wants to see what’s in your purse will put an arrow through your heart. A footpad who’d faint at the sight of a sister in her sleep will crack your head, and you’ll wake at the back of an alley minus your gold and maybe more. I suspect you’ll want to take as much care choosing your first man as you do your first Warder.”

  Moiraine jerked back, spluttered with indignation. First her and Siuan, now this. There were things one talked about, and things one did not!

  Cadsuane ignored her outrage. Calmly sipping her wine, she turned back to the others. “Until she does find a Warder to guard her back, it might be best to protect her from her own enthusiasm. You two are going to Chachin, I believe. She’ll travel with you, then. I expect you not to let her out of your sight.”

  Moiraine found her tongue, but her protests did as much good as her indignation had. Merean and Larelle objected, too, just as vociferously. Aes Sedai did not need “looking after,” no matter how new. They had interests of their own to look after. They did not make clear what those were—few sisters would have—but they plainly wanted no company. Cadsuane paid no attention to anything she did not want to hear, assumed they would do as she wished, pressed wherever they offered an opening. Soon the pair were twisting on their chairs and reduced to saying that they had only encountered each other the day before and were not sure they would be traveling on together. In any event, both meant to spend two or three days in Canluum, while Moiraine wanted to leave today.

  “The child will stay until you leave,” Cadsuane said briskly. “Good; that’s done, then. I’m sure you two want to see to whatever brought you to Canluum. I won’t keep you.”

  Larelle shifted her shawl irritably at the abrupt dismissal, then stalked out muttering that Moiraine would regret it if she got underfoot or slowed her reaching Chachin. Merean took it better, even saying she would look a
fter Moiraine like a daughter, though her smile hardly looked pleased.

  When they were gone, Moiraine stared at Cadsuane incredulously. She had never seen anything like it. Except an avalanche, once. The thing to do now was keep silent until she had a chance to leave without Cadsuane or the others seeing. Much the wisest thing. “I agreed to nothing,” she said coolly. Very coolly. “What if I have affairs in Chachin that will not wait? What if I do not choose to wait here two or three days?” Perhaps she did need to learn to school her tongue a little more.

  Cadsuane had been looking thoughtfully at the door that had closed behind Merean and Larelle, but she turned a piercing gaze on Moiraine. “You’ve worn the shawl five months, and you have affairs that cannot wait? Phaaw! You still haven’t learned the first real lesson, that the shawl means you are ready to truly begin learning. The second lesson is caution. I know very well how hard that is to find when you’re young and have saidar at your fingertips and the world at your feet. As you think.” Moiraine tried to fit a word in, but she might as well have stood in front of that avalanche. “You will take great risks in your life, if you live long enough. You already take more than you know. Heed carefully what I say. And do as I say. I will check your bed tonight, and if you are not in it, I will find you and make you weep as you did for those mice. You can dry your tears afterward on that shawl you believe makes you invincible. It does not.”

  Staring as the door closed behind Cadsuane, Moiraine suddenly realized she still held the cup of wine and gulped it dry. The woman was … formidable. Custom forbade physical violence against another sister, but Cadsuane had not sidestepped a hair in her threat. She had said it right out, so by the Three Oaths she meant it exactly. Incredible. Was it happenstance that she had mentioned Meilyn Arganya and Kerene Nagashi? They were two of Tamra’s searchers. Could Cadsuane be another? Either way, she had very neatly cut Moiraine out of the hunt for the next week or more. If she actually went with Merean and Larelle, at least. But why only a week? If the woman was part of the search.… If Cadsuane knew about her and Siuan.… If.… Standing there fiddling with an empty winecup was getting her nowhere. She snatched up her cloak.

  A number of people looked around at her when she came out into the common room, some with sympathy in their eyes. Doubtless they were imagining what it must be like to be the focus of attention for three Aes Sedai, and they could not imagine any good in it. There was no commiseration on any sister’s face. Felaana wore a pleased smile; she probably thought the Lady Alys’ name as good as written in the novice book. Cadsuane was nowhere in sight, nor the other two.

  Picking her way through the tables, Moiraine felt shaken. There were too many questions, and not an answer to be found. She wished Siuan were there; Siuan was very good at puzzles, and nothing shook her.

  A young woman looked in at the door from the street, then jerked out of sight, and Moiraine missed a step. Wish for something hard enough, and you could think you saw it. The woman peeked in again, the hood of her cloak fallen atop the bundle on her back, and it really was Siuan, sturdy and handsome, in a plain blue dress that showed signs of hard travel. This time she saw Moiraine, but instead of rushing to greet her, Siuan nodded up the street and vanished again.

  Heart climbing into her throat, Moiraine swept her cloak around her and went out. Down the street, Siuan was slipping through the traffic, glancing back at every third step. Moiraine followed quickly, worry growing.

  Siuan was supposed to be six hundred miles away in Tar Valon, working for Cetalia Delarme, who ran the Blue Ajah’s network of eyes-and-ears. She had let that secret slip while bemoaning her fate. The whole time they were novice and Accepted together Siuan had talked of getting out into the world, seeing the world, but Cetalia had taken her aside the day they received the shawl, and by that evening Siuan was sorting reports from men and women scattered through the nations. She had a mind that saw patterns others missed. Cetalia equaled Merean in the Power, and it would be another three or four years before Siuan gained enough strength to tell Cetalia she was leaving the job. There would be snow at Sunday before Cetalia let her go short of that. And the only other possibility for her being in Canluum.… Moiraine groaned, and when a big-eared fellow selling pins from a tray gave her a concerned look, she glared so hard that he started back.

  It would be just like Sierin to send Siuan to bring her back, so their worry could feed on each other during the long ride. Sierin was a hard woman, without an ounce of mercy. An Amyrlin was supposed to grant indulgences and relief from penances on the day she was raised; Sierin had ordered two sisters birched and exiled three from the Tower for a year. She might well have told Siuan the penance she intended to impose. Moiraine shivered. Likely, Sierin would manage to combine Labor, Deprivation, Mortification of the Flesh, and Mortification of the Spirit.

  A hundred paces from the inn, Siuan looked back once more, paused till she was sure that Moiraine saw her, then darted into an alley. Moiraine quickened her stride and followed.

  Her friend was pacing beneath the still-unlit oil lamps that lined even this narrow, dusty passage. Nothing frightened Siuan Sanche, a fisherman’s daughter from the toughest quarter in Tear, but fear glittered in those sharp blue eyes now. Moiraine opened her mouth to confirm her own fears about Sierin, but the taller woman spoke first.

  “Tell me you’ve found him, Moiraine. Tell me the Najima boy’s the one, and we can hand him to the Tower with a hundred sisters watching, and it’s done.”

  A hundred sisters? “No, Siuan.” This did not sound like Sierin. “What is the matter?”

  Siuan began to weep. Siuan, who had a lion’s heart and had never let a tear fall until after they left Merean’s study. Throwing her arms around Moiraine, she squeezed hard. She was trembling. “They’re all dead,” she mumbled. “Aisha and Kerene, Valera and Ludice and Meilyn. They say Aisha and her Warder were killed by bandits in Murandy. Kerene supposedly fell off a ship in the Alguenya during a storm and drowned. And Meilyn … Meilyn…”

  Moiraine hugged her, making soothing sounds. And staring past Siuan’s shoulder in consternation. They had learned five of the women Tamra had selected, and all five were dead. “Meilyn was … hardly young,” she said slowly. She was not sure she could have said it at all if Cadsuane had not spoken so openly. Siuan gave a startled jerk, and she made herself go on. “Neither were any of the others, even Kerene.” Close to two hundred was not young even for Aes Sedai. “And accidents do happen. Bandits. Storms.” She was having a hard time making herself believe. All of them?

  Siuan pushed herself away. “You don’t understand. Meilyn!” Grimacing, she scrubbed at her eyes. “Fish guts! I’m not making this clear. Get hold of yourself, you bloody fool!” That last was growled to herself. Merean and others had gone to a great deal of trouble to clean up Siuan’s language, but she had reverted the moment the shawl was on her shoulders. Guiding Moiraine to an upended cask with no bung, she sat her down. “You won’t want to be standing when you hear what I have to say. For that matter, I bloody well don’t want to be standing myself.”

  Dragging a crate with broken slats from further up the alley, she settled on it, fussing with her skirts, peering toward the street, muttering about people looking in as they passed. Her reluctance did little to soothe Moiraine’s stomach. It seemed to do little for Siuan’s, either. When she started up again, she kept pausing to swallow, like a woman who wanted to sick up.

  “Meilyn returned to the Tower almost a month ago. I don’t know why. She didn’t say where she had been, or where she was going, but she only meant to stay a few nights. I … I’d heard about Kerene the morning Meilyn came, and the others before that. So I decided to speak to her. Don’t look at me that way! I know how to be cautious!” “Cautious” was a word Moiraine had never thought to apply to Siuan. “Anyway, I sneaked into her rooms and hid under the bed. So the servants wouldn’t see me when they turned down her sheets.” Siuan grunted sourly. “I fell asleep under there. Sunrise woke me, and her be
d hadn’t been slept in. So I sneaked out and went down to the second sitting of breakfast. And while I was spooning my porridge, Chesmal Emry came in to … She … She announced that Meilyn had been found in her bed, that she’d died during the night.” She finished in a rush and sagged, staring at Moiraine.

  Moiraine was very glad to be sitting. Her knees would not have supported a feather. She had grown up amid Daes Dae’mar, the scheming and plotting that dominated Cairhienin life, the shades of meaning in every word, every action. There was too much here for shadings. Murder had been done. “The Red Ajah?” she suggested finally. A Red might kill a sister she thought intended to protect a man who could channel.

  Siuan snorted. “Meilyn didn’t have a mark on her, and Chesmal would have detected poison, or smothering, or … That means the Power, Moiraine. Could even a Red do that?” Her voice was fierce, but she pulled the bundle around from her back, clutching it on her lap. She seemed to be hiding behind it. Still, there was less fear on her face than anger, now. “Think, Moiraine. Tamra supposedly died in her sleep, too. Only we know Meilyn didn’t, no matter where she was found. First Tamra, then the others started dying. The only thing that makes sense is that someone noticed her calling sisters in and wanted to know why badly enough that they bloody risked putting the Amyrlin Seat herself to the question. They had to have something to hide to do that, something they’d risk anything to keep hidden. They killed her to hide it, to hide what they’d done, and then they set out to kill the rest. Which means they don’t want the boy found, not alive. They don’t want the Dragon Reborn at the Last Battle. Any other way to look at it is tossing the slop bucket into the wind and hoping for the best.”

  Unconsciously, Moiraine peered toward the mouth of the alley. A few people walking by glanced in, but none more than once. No one paused at seeing them seated there. Some things were easier to speak of when you were not too specific. “The Amyrlin” had been put to the question; “she” had been killed. Not Tamra, not a name that brought up the familiar, determined face. “Someone” had murdered her. “They” did not want the Dragon Reborn found. Murder with the Power certainly violated the Three Oaths, even for … for those Moiraine did not want to name any more than Siuan did.