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Towers of midnight
  • Текст добавлен: 15 октября 2016, 06:27

Текст книги "Towers of midnight"

Автор книги: Robert Jordan

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Текущая страница: 28 (всего у книги 65 страниц)

Birgitte took off her cloak and shook it free of rainwater. "This is your intruder, I assume?"

"Why, yes," the sergeant said. "How did you hear about that?"

She eyed the intruder. "He tried to sneak onto the palace grounds, and now you're dicing with him?"

The sergeant and the other men looked sheepish. "Well, my Lady—"

"I'm no lady." Not this time at least. "I work for a living."

"Er, yes," Macer continued. "Well, he gave up his sword readily, and he doesn't seem that dangerous. Just another beggar wanting scraps from the kitchens. Right nice fellow. Thought we'd get him warm before sending him out into that weather again."

"A beggar," she said. "With a sword?"

Sergeant Macer scratched his head. "I guess that is kind of odd."

"You could charm the helmet off a general on a battlefield, couldn't you, Mat?" she said.

"Mat?" the man asked in a familiar voice. "I don't know what you mean, my good woman. My name is Garard, a simple beggar who has a quite interesting past, if you care to listen to it—"

She eyed him with a firm gaze.

"Oh, bloody ashes, Birgitte," he complained, taking off the scarf "I only wanted to get warm for a spell."

"And win the coin off my men."

"A friendly game never hurt a man," Mat said.

"Unless it was against you. Look, why are you sneaking into the palace?"

"It took too much bloody work to get in last time," Mat said, sitting back in his chair. "Thought I might pass that up this time."

Sergeant Macer glanced at Birgitte. "You know this man?"

"Unfortunately," she said. "You can release him to my custody, Sergeant. I'll see that Master Cauthon is properly taken care of."

"Master Cauthon?" one of the men said. "You mean the Raven Prince?"

"Oh, for bloody…" Mat said, as he stood and picked up his walking staff. "Thanks," he said dryly to Birgitte, throwing on his coat.

She put her cloak back on, then pushed open the door as one of the Guards handed Mat his sword, belt still attached. Since when had Mat carried a shorts word? Probably a decoy away from the quarterstaff.

The two stepped out into the rain as Mat tied on the belt. "Raven Prince?" she asked.

"I don't want to talk about it."

"Why not?"

"Because I'm getting too bloody famous for my own good, that's why."

"Wait until it tracks you across generations," she said, glancing up at the sky, blinking as a raindrop hit her square in the eye.

"Come on, let's go grab a drink," Mat said, walking toward the gate.

"Wait," she said. "Don't you want to go see Elayne?"

"Elayne?" Mat said. "Blood and ashes, Birgitte, I'm here to talk to you. Why do you think I let those Guards catch me? You want a drink or not?"

She hesitated, then shrugged. By putting Kaila on duty in her place, Birgitte had officially gone on break. She knew a fairly decent tavern only two streets from the Palace.

"All right," she said, waving to the Guards and leading Mat onto the rainy street. "But I'll need to have milk or tea instead of ale. We aren't sure if her Warder drinking would be bad for the babies or not." She smiled, thinking of a drunk Elayne trying to talk to her allies after the play. "Though if I make her tipsy, it might be good revenge for some of the things she's done to me."

"I don't know why you let her bond you in the first place," Mat said. The street was nearly empty around them, though the tavern up ahead looked inviting, its yellow light spilling into the street.

"I didn't have a say in the matter," she said. "But I don't regret it. Did you really sneak into the palace to meet with me?"

Mat shrugged. "I have some questions."

"About what?"

He replaced that ridiculous scarf, which she noticed had a rip in the middle. "You know," he said. "Things."

Mat was one of the few who knew who she really was. He couldn't mean… "No," she said, turning, "I don't want to talk about it."

"Bloody ashes, Birgitte! I need your information. Come on, for an old friend."

"We agreed to keep each other's secrets."

"And I'm not out blabbing yours," Mat said quickly. "But, see, there's this issue."

"What issue?"

"The Tower of Ghenjei."

"That's not an issue," she said. "You stay away from it."

"I can't."

"Of course you can. It's a flaming building, Mat. It can't exactly chase you down."

"Very amusing. Look, will you at least hear me out, over a mug? Of, er, milk. I'll buy."

She stopped for a moment. Then she sighed. "Bloody right, you'll buy," she muttered, waving him onward. They entered the inn, known as The Grand Hike, which was crowded beyond usual because of the rain. The innkeeper was a friend of Birgitte's, however, and he had the bouncer toss out a drunkard sleeping in one of the booths to make room for her.

She tossed him a coin in thanks, and he nodded his ugly head to her—he was missing several teeth, one eye, and most of his hair. Best looking man in the place. Birgitte held up two fingers to order drinks—he knew that she took milk these days—and she waved Mat to the booth.

"I don't rightly think I've ever seen an uglier man than that innkeeper," Mat said as they sat.

"You haven't been alive long enough," she said, leaning back against the wall and putting her booted feet up on the table. There was just room enough for her to do so, sitting on the bench of the booth lengthwise. "If Old Snert were a few years younger, and if someone thought to break his nose in a few places, I might consider him. He's got a fine chest, nice and full of curly hair to get your fingers in."

Mat grinned. "Have I ever mentioned how odd it is to go drinking with a woman who talks about men like that?"

She shrugged. "Ghenjei. Why in the name of Normad's Ears are you wanting to go there?"

"Whose ears?" Mat asked.

"Answer me."

Mat sighed, then absently accepted his mug as the serving girl delivered it. Uncharacteristically, he didn't slap her backside, though he did give her a good leer as she walked away. "The bloody snakes and foxes have a friend of mine," he said, lowering his scarf and taking a pull on his drink.

"Leave him. You can't save him, Mat. If he was foolish enough to go into their realm, he deserves what he got."

"It's a woman," Mat said.

Ah. Birgitte thought. Bloody fool. Heroic, but still a fool.

"I can't leave her," Mat continued. "I owe her. Besides, a good friend of mine is going in whether I want him to or not. I have to help."

"Then they'll have all three of you," Birgitte said. "Look, if you go in through the portals, then you're locked into the treaties. They protect you to an extent, but they also restrict you. You'll never get anywhere useful after entering by one of the archways."

"And if you go in the other way?" Mat asked. "You told Olver how to open the Tower."

"Because I was telling him a bedtime story! Light, I never thought one of you sap-for-brains would actually try to get in!"

"But if we go in that way, can we find her?"

"Mayaybe," Birgitte said, "but you won't. The treaties won't be in effect, so the Aelfinn and Eelfinn can draw blood. Normally, you only have to worry about tricks with pits or ropes, since they can't…" She trailed off, glancing at him. "How did you get hanged, anyway?"

He flushed, looking down into his drink. "They should post a flaming explanation on those archways. 'Step through here and they can bloody hang you. And they will. Idiot.'"

Birgitte snorted. They'd talked about the memories he had. She should have put it together. "If you go in the other way, they'll probably try that as well. Shedding blood in their kingdom can have strange effects. They'll try to break your bones with a fall or drug you to sleep. And they will win, Mat. It's their world."

"And if we cheat?" Mat asked. "Iron, music, fire."

"That's not cheating. That's being smart. Everyone with half a wit who enters through the tower carries those things. But only one out of a thousand makes it back out, Mat."

He hesitated, then fished a small handful of coins out of his pocket. "What do you think the odds are that if I toss these into the air, they will all come up heads? One in a thousand?"


He tossed them above the table. They came down in a spray, hitting the tabletop. Not a single one of them bounced or rolled from the table onto the floor.

Mat didn't look down at the coins. He met her eyes as they all rolled and vibrated to a stop. She glanced at them. Two dozen coins. Each had landed face up.

"One in a thousand is good odds," he said. "For me."

"Bloody ashes. You're as bad as Elayne! Don't you see? All it takes is one wrong throw. Even you miss once in a while."

"I'll take the chance. Burn me, Birgitte, I know it's stupid, but I'm doing it. How do you know so much about the Tower anyway? You've been into it, haven't you?"

"I have," she admitted.

Mat looked smug. "Well you got back out! How'd you manage it?"

She hesitated, then finally took up her mug of milk. "That legend didn't survive, I'm assuming?"

"I don't know it," Mat said.

"I went in to ask them to save the life of my love," she said. "It came after the battle of Lahpoint Hills, where we led the Buchaner rebellion. Gaidal was wounded horribly; a blow to the head that made him unable to think straight. He forgot who I was, some of the time. It tore my heart, so I took him to the Tower to be Healed."

"And how'd you get out?" Mat asked. "How'd you fool them?"

"I didn't," Birgitte said softly. Mat froze. "The Eelfinn never Healed him," she continued. "They killed us both I didn't survive, Mat. That is the end of that particular legend."

He fell silent. "Oh," he finally said. "Well, that's kind of a sad story, then."

"They can't all end in victory. Gaidal and I don't deal well with happy endings anyway. Better for us to burn out in glory." She grimaced, remembering one incarnation when she and he had been forced to grow old together, peacefully. Most boring life she'd ever known, though at the time—ignorant of her grander part in the Pattern—she'd been happy with it.

"Well I'm still going," Mat said.

She sighed. "I can't go with you, Mat. Not and leave Elayne. She has a death wish the size of your pride, and I mean to see she survives."

"I don't expect you to go," Mat said quickly. "Burn me, that's not what I'm asking. And…" He frowned. "A death what the size of my what?"

"Never mind," she said, drinking her milk. She had a soft spot for milk, though she didn't tell people of it. Of course, she'd be happy when she could drink again; she missed Old Snert's yeasty drinks. She liked ugly beer as much as she liked ugly men.

"I came to you because I need help," Mat said.

"What more is there to say? You're taking iron, fire, and music. Iron will hurt them, ward them, and hold them. Fire will scare them and kill them. Music will entrance them. But you'll find that both fire and music grow less and less effective the longer you use them.

"The tower isn't a place, it's a portal. A kind of gate to the crossroads between their realms. You'll find both of them there, Aelfinn snakes and Eelfinn foxes. Assuming they're working together currently. They have a strange relationship."

"But what do they want?" Mat asked. "From us, I mean. Why do they care?"

"Emotion," Birgitte said. "That's why they built portals into our world, that's why they entice us in. They feed off what we feel. They like Aes Sedai in particular, for some reason. Perhaps those with the One Power taste like a strong ale."

Mat shivered visibly.

"The inside will be confusing," Birgitte said. "Getting anywhere specific in there is difficult. Going in through the tower instead of the archways put me in danger, but I knew that if I could reach that grand hall, I'd be able to make a deal. You don't get anything free if you go in the tower, by the way. They'll ask for something, something dear to you.

"Anyway, I figured out a method to find the grand hall. Iron dust, left behind me in the intersections where I'd passed so that I knew which ways I'd gone before. They couldn't touch it, you see, and… are you sure you've never heard this story?"

Mat shook his head. "It used to be popular around these parts," she said, frowning. "A hundred years ago or so."

"You sound offended."

"It was a good story," she said.

"If I survive, I'll have Thom compose a bloody ballad about it, Birgitte. Tell me about the dust. Did your plan work?" She shook her head. "I still got lost. I don't know if they blew away the dust somehow, or if the place is so huge that I never repeated myself. I ended up cornered, my fire going out, my lyre broken, my bowstring snapped, Gaidal unconscious behind me. He could walk some of the days in there, but was too dizzy on others, so I pulled him on the litter I'd brought."

"Some of the days?" Mat said. "How long were you in there?"

"I had provisions for two months," Birgitte said, grimacing. "Don't know how long we lasted after those ran out."

"Bloody ashes!" Mat said, then took a long swig of his ale.

"I told you not to go in," Birgitte said. "Assuming you do reach your friend, you'll never get back out. You can wander for weeks in that place and never turn right or left, keep going straight, passing hallway after hallway. All the same. The grand hall could be minutes away, if you knew which direction to take. But you'll keep missing it."

Mat stared into his mug, perhaps wishing he'd ordered something more potent.

"You reconsidering?" she asked.

"No," he said. "But when we get out, Moiraine better bloody appreciate this! Two months?" He frowned. "Wait. If you both died in there, how did the story get out?"

She shrugged. "Never did find out. Perhaps one of the Aes Sedai used their questions to ask. Everyone knew I'd gone in. I was called Jethari Moondancer then. You're sure you've never heard the story?" He shook his head again. She sighed, settling back. Well, not every one of the tales about her could live on forever, but she'd thought that one would stand for a few more generations. She raised her mug to drink the last of her milk. The mug never got there. She froze when she felt a jolt of emotion from Elayne. Anger, fury, pain.

Birgitte slammed the mug down on the table, then threw coins down and stood up, cursing.

"What?" Mat said, on his feet in an eyeblink. "Elayne. In trouble. Again. She's hurt."

"Bloody ashes," Mat snapped, grabbing his coat and staff as they ran for the exit.



Elayne turned the strange medallion around in her fingers, tracing the fox's head worked into the front. As with many ter'angreal, it was difficult to tell exactly what kind of metal had been used to create it originally. She suspected silver, with the senses of her Talent. However, the medallion was no longer silver. It was something else, something new.

The songmistress of the Lucky Man's Theater Troop continued her song. It was beautiful, pure and high. Elayne sat on a cushioned chair on the right side of the hall, which had been repurposed with a raised area at the front for the players. A pair of Birgitte's Guards stood behind her.

The room was dim, lit only by a line of small flickering lamps set behind blue glass in alcoves on the walls. The blue light was overwhelmed by the burning yellow lanterns set around the front of the platform.

Elayne was barely paying attention. She had often listened to "The Death of Princess Walishen" as a ballad, and didn't really see the point of adding words to it and different players, instead of just having one bard do the entire thing. But it was Ellorien's favorite ballad, and the favorable news out of Cairhien about these players—which nobles there had recently discovered—had many of the nobles in Andor buzzing. Hence this evening. Ellorien had come at Elayne's invitation; likely she was intrigued. Why had Elayne been so audacious as to invite her? Soon, Elayne would take advantage of having Ellorien here. But not quite yet. Let the woman enjoy the production first. She'd be expecting a political ambush.

She'd wait for Elayne to walk over and sit in one the seats near her, or perhaps send a servant with an offer. Elayne did neither, instead sitting and regarding the foxhead ter'angreal, It was a complex work of art, despite being only a single, solid piece of metal. She could feel the weaves that had been used to create it. Its intricacy was far beyond the simplicity of the twisted dream rings. She was doing something wrong in trying to reproduce the medallion. She carried in her pouch one of her failed attempts. She'd had copies cast for her, as precise in detail as her silversmiths could create, though she suspected the form was not important. The amount of silver seemed to be, for some reason, but not the shape that silver took.

She'd gotten close. The copy in her pouch didn't work perfectly. Less powerful weaves slid off anyone holding it, but very powerful ones could not be deflected for some reason. And, more problematic, it was impossible to channel while touching the copy.

She could channel while holding the original. Indeed, she'd been giddy when she'd discovered that holding the medallion didn't interfere with her weaves at all. Being pregnant did—that was still a source of frustration to her—but it was possible to hold the foxhead and channel.

But not the copy. She hadn't gotten it quite right. And, unfortunately, her time was slim. Mat would need his medallion back soon.

She took out the fake and set it on the seat beside her, then embraced the Source and wove Spirit. Several of the Kin, a group of whom were watching the production some seats to the side, glanced up at her as she did so. Most were too distracted by the song.

Elayne reached over and touched the medallion. Immediately, her weaves unraveled and the source winked away from her. Much as if a shield had been placed over her.

She sighed as the song reached its heights. The copy was so close, yet so frustrating at the same time. She'd never wear something that prevented her from touching the Source, not even for the protection it offered.

Still, it was not completely useless. She could give a copy to Birgitte, perhaps, and a few of the Guardsmen captains. It wouldn't do for her to create too many of these. Not when they could be used so effectively against Aes Sedai.

Could she, perhaps, give one of the copies to Mat? He'd never know, since he couldn't channel himself…

No, she thought, squashing that temptation before it could fly too high.

She had promised to return Mat's medallion, and she would. Not some copy that didn't work as well. She tucked both medallions into her dress pocked. Now that she knew she could get Mat to part with his medallion, perhaps she could bully him into giving her more time. Though the presence of the gholam did worry her. How to deal with the thing? Perhaps copies of the medallion for all her guards wouldn't be a bad idea after all.

The song finished, the final, high-pitched note dwindling like a candle running out of wick. The end of the play came shortly afterward, men in white masks jumping out of the darkness. A brilliant light flashed, something thrown into one of the lanterns, and when it faded again, Walishen lay dead on the stage, the bell of her red dress splayed around her like spilled blood.

The audience stood to clap. Most of them were Kin, though not a few were attendants of the other High Seats who had been invited. All of those were supporters of hers. Dyelin, of course, and young Conail Northan and the equally young—but twice as proud—Catalyn Haevin.

The final noble here was Sylvase Caeren. What to make of her? Elayne shook her head, slipping the fake foxhead into her pouch and lending a demure clap to the other accolades. The players would be focused only on her. If she didn't give some sign of approval, they'd fret the entire night.

That done, Elayne made her way out to a nearby sitting room, which was furnished with padded, thick-armed chairs for relaxed conversation. There was a bar at the side, manned by a serving man in a crisp red and white uniform. He stood with hands behind his back, waiting respectfully as people ambled in. Ellorien wasn't there, of course—it was basic courtesy for a guest to wait for the host to withdraw first. Though Ellorien and Elayne weren't on the best of terms, it wouldn't do to show poor manners.

Soon after Elayne arrived, Ellorien trailed in. The plump woman was chatting with one of the Kinswomen, pointedly ignoring the High Seats who walked near her. Her conversation sounded forced. She probably could have been expected to avoid the sitting room entirely, but Elayne knew that the woman would want to make certain to express that she had not changed her mind about House Trakand.

Elayne smiled, but did not approach the woman, instead turning toward Sylvase as she entered. Of medium build, the blue-eyed girl might have been pretty, save for that expressionless look on her face. Not emotionless, like an Aes Sedai. Completely expressionless. It sometimes seemed like Sylvase was a dressing dummy set up for display. But then, on other occasions, she'd show a hidden depth, a cunning deep down.

"Thank you for the invitation, Your Majesty," Sylvase said evenly, her voice a faintly eerie monotone. "It was most enlightening."

"Enlightening?" Elayne said. "I should hope that it was enjoyable."

Sylvase said nothing. She glanced at Ellorien, and here she finally showed some emotion. An icy kind of dislike, the kind that gave you a shiver. "Why invite her, Your Majesty?"

"House Caeren was at odds with Trakand once, too," Elayne said, "Of ten, those whose loyalty is most difficult to win are the most valuable once it is yours."

"She will not support you, Your Majesty," Sylvase said, her voice still too calm. "Not after what your mother did."

"When my mother took the throne years ago," Elayne said, glancing over at Ellorien, "there were some Houses it was said she'd never win over. And yet she did."

"So? You already have enough support, Your Majesty. You've had your victory."

"One of them."

She left the rest unsaid. There was a debt of honor owed to House Traemaene. Courting Ellorien's approval wasn't merely about strengthening the Lion Throne. It was about repairing rifts caused by Elayne's mother while under the influence of Gaebril. It was about recovering her House's reputation, about undoing the wrongs that could be undone.

Sylvase would not understand that. Elayne had learned about the poor girl's childhood; this one would not put much stock in the honor of a High Seat. Sylvase seemed to believe in only two things: power and vengeance. So long as she supported Elayne and could be guided, she would not be a liability. But she would never be the strength to House Trakand that someone like Dyelin was.

"How is my secretary serving your needs, Your Majesty?" Sylvase asked.

"Well enough, I suppose," Elayne said. So far, he hadn't produced anything of value, though Elayne hadn't given him leave to do anything too drastic during his questioning. She was trapped in a conundrum. She'd been hunting this group of Black Ajah for what seemed like forever. She finally had them… but what did she do with them?

Birgitte had taken the captives alive ostensibly so that they could be questioned, then tried by the White Tower. But that meant they had no reason to speak; they knew their ultimate end would be execution. So Elayne either had to be willing to bargain with them, or she had to let the questioner take extreme measures.

A queen had to be hard enough to allow these things. Or that was what her teachers and tutors had explained. There was no question as to the guilt of these women, and they had already done enough to earn themselves death a dozen times over. Elayne wasn't certain how far she herself was willing to descend, however, to pry their secrets free.

Besides, would that actually do any good? Ispan had had some kind of Compulsion or oaths binding her; these were likely to have the same. Would they be able to reveal anything useful? If only there were a way to…

She hesitated, missing Sylvase's next comment as a thought occurred to her. Birgitte wouldn't like it, of course. Birgitte didn't like anything. But Elayne had felt Birgitte move off out of the Palace somewhere, perhaps doing rounds of the guard posts outside.

"Excuse me, Sylvase," Elayne said. "I just recalled something that I absolutely must do."

"Of course, Your Majesty," the girl said in a flat, almost inhuman voice.

Elayne moved from her, then quickly greeted—and bade good evening—to the others. Conail looked bored. He'd come because it had been expected of him. Dyelin was her usual pleasant, yet careful, self. Elayne avoided Ellorien. She greeted everyone else in the room of note. Once finished, she began to walk toward the exit.

"Elayne Trakand," Ellorien called out.

Elayne paused, smiling to herself. She turned, wiping her face of anything other than calculated curiosity. "Yes, Lady Ellorien?"

"Have you invited me here only to ignore me?" the woman demanded from across the room. Other conversations grew quiet.

"Not at all," Elayne said. "I was merely under the impression that you would have a more pleasant time if I did not force you to interact with me. This evening was not intended for political purposes."

Ellorien frowned. "Well what was it for, then?"

"To enjoy a good ballad, Lady Ellorien," Elayne said. "And, perhaps, to remind you of days when you often enjoyed entertainment in the company of House Trakand." She smiled and nodded slightly, then left.

Let her think about that, Elayne thought with satisfaction. Ellorien had no doubt heard that Gaebril had been one of the Forsaken. The woman might not believe it, but perhaps she would recall the years of respect she and Morgase had shown one another. Should a few short months be cause to forget years of friendship?

At the bottom of the steps out of the lounge, Elayne found Kaila Bent, one of Birgitte's Guardswoman captains. The lanky fire-haired woman was chatting amiably with a pair of Guardsmen, both of whom seemed quite eager to gain her favor. All three snapped to attention when they noticed Elayne.

"Where did Birgitte go?" Elayne asked.

"She went to investigate a disturbance at the gates, Your Majesty," Kaila said. "I've had word that it was nothing. That mercenary captain who came to visit you earlier tried to sneak onto the palace grounds. Captain Birgitte is questioning him."

Elayne raised an eyebrow. "You mean Matrim Cauthon?"

The woman nodded.

"She's 'questioning' him?"

"That's what I heard, Your Majesty," Kaila replied.

"That means the two of them have gone out for drinks," Elayne said with a sigh. Light, this was a bad time for it.

Or was it a good time? Birgitte couldn't object to Elayne's plan for the Black Ajah if she was out with Mat. Elayne found herself smiling. "Captain Bent, you are with me." She left the theater rooms and entered the Palace proper. The woman followed, waving for the squad of Guardswomen standing in the hallway to follow.

Smiling to herself, Elayne began giving orders. One of the Guards-women ran off to deliver them, though she looked confused at the strange list of commands. Elayne made her way to her rooms, then sat down, thinking. She would have to move quickly. Birgitte was in a surly mood; Elayne could tell that through the bond.

A servant soon arrived, carrying an enveloping black cloak. Elayne jumped up and slipped it on, then embraced the Source. It took her three tries! Bloody ashes, but being pregnant was frustrating sometimes.

She spun weaves of Fire and Air around her, using the Mirror of Mists to make herself look taller, more imposing. She fetched her jewelry chest and fished out a small ivory carving of a seated woman shrouded in her own hair. She used the angreal to pull as much of the One Power into her as she dared. To anyone watching who could channel, she'd look imposing indeed.

She glanced back at the Guardswomen. They were confused, obviously, and stood with their hands unconsciously on their swords. "Your Majesty?' Kaila asked.

"How do I look?" Elayne said, tweaking her weaves to make her voice deeper.

Kaila's eyes opened wider. "Like a thunderhead given life, Your Majesty."

"Imposing, then?" Elayne asked, jumping slightly at the dangerous, almost inhuman sound of her voice. Perfect!

"I'd say so," the lanky Guardswoman said, rubbing her chin with one hand. "Though the slippers do spoil the effect."

Elayne glanced down, cursing at the pink silk. She wove some more, making her slippered feet vanish. The weave would make it appear as if she were floating in the air, wrapped in a pulsing shroud of darkness, cloak and straps of black cloth fluttering round her. Her face was hidden completely in blackness. As an added touch, she created two faintly glowing picks of red where the eyes should be. Like coals radiating with a deep crimson light.

"Light preserve us," one of the Guards whispered. Elayne nodded to herself, her heart quickening in excitement. She wasn't worried. She'd be safe. Min's viewing promised that. She ran through her plans again. They were solid. But there would be only one way to test them for certain.

Elayne inverted her weaves and tied them off. Then she turned to the Guards. "Turn out the lights," she said to them, "and remain perfectly still. I will return shortly."

"But—" Kaila said.

"That is an order, Guardswoman," Elayne said firmly. "You had best obey it."

The woman hesitated. She likely knew that Birgitte would never let this happen. But Kaila was not Birgitte, thankfully. She reluctantly gave the order and the lights in the room were doused.

Elayne reached into her pocket and took out the foxhead medallion, the real one, and held it hidden and tucked in her hand. She took a deep breath, then created a gateway. The ribbon of light was bright in the blackened room, glowing and bathing them in a pale glow, like moonlight. It opened into a room that was similarly dark.

Elayne stepped through and found herself in the Palace dungeons, in one of the cells. A woman knelt on the far side of the cell, beside the sturdy door with a small window at the top, slotted with bars, that let in the only light in the dank cell. There was a small cot to Elayne's right and a bucket for a chamber pot to her left. The tiny room smelled of mold and human waste, and she could clearly hear the scratching of rats nearby. It still seemed too lavish quarters for the woman in front of her.

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