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Towers of midnight
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Текст книги "Towers of midnight"

Автор книги: Robert Jordan

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Текущая страница: 53 (всего у книги 65 страниц)

Androl shrugged.

"How did you know what a Retashen Dazer was? I consider myself quite educated in these matters, yet I'd heard not a word of it."

"I had one once," Androl said. "Drank it on a bet."

"Yes, but where?"

"Retash, of course."

"But that's leagues off shore, in a cluster of islands not even the Sea Folk often visit!"

Androl shrugged again. He glanced over at Taim's lackeys. A village boy had brought them a basket of food from Taim, though the M'Hael claimed not to play favorites. If Androl asked, he'd find that a boy was supposed to have been sent with food for the others, too. But that lad would have become lost, or had forgotten, or made some other innocent mistake. Taim would have someone whipped, and nothing would change.

"This division is troubling, my friend," Emarin said softly. "How can we fight for the Lord Dragon if we cannot make peace among ourselves?"

Androl shook his head.

Emarin continued. "They say that no man favored of Logain has had the Dragon pin in weeks. There are many, like Nalaam there, who should have had the sword pin long ago—but are denied repeatedly by the M'Hael. A House whose members squabble for authority will never present a threat to other Houses."

"Wise words," Androl said. "But what should we do? What can we do? Taim is M'Hael, and Logain hasn't returned yet."

"Perhaps we could send someone for him," Emarin said. "Or maybe you could calm the others. I fear that some of them are near to snapping, and if a fight breaks out, I have little doubt who would see the rough side of Taim's punishments."

Androl frowned. "True. But why me? You're far better with words than I am, Emarin."

Emarin chuckled. "Yes, but Logain trusts you, Androl. The other men look to you."

They shouldn't, Androl thought. "I'll see what I can think of." Nalaam was winding up for another story, but before he could begin, Androl gestured to Jonneth, holding up the armguard. "I saw your old one had cracked. Try this."

Jonneth's face brightened as he took the armguard. "You're amazing, Androl! I didn't think anyone had noticed. It's a silly thing, I know, but…" His smile broadened and he hurried to a nearby tree, beside which sat some of the men's equipment, including Jonneth's bow. These Two Rivers men liked to have them handy.

Jonneth returned, stringing the bow. He put on the armguard. "Fits like a dream!" he said, and Androl felt himself smiling. Small things. They could mean so much.

Jonneth took aim and launched an arrow, the shaft streaking into the air, bowstring snapping against the armguard. The arrow soared far, striking a tree on a hill better than two hundred paces away.

Canler whistled. "Ain't ever seen anything like those bows of yours, Jonneth. Never in my life." They were fellow Andorans, though Canler had come from a town much closer to Caemlyn.

Jonneth looked at his shot critically, then drew again—fletching to cheek—and loosed. The shaft fell true and hit the very same tree. Androl would guess that the shafts were less than two handspans apart.

Canler whistled again.

"My father trained on one of those," Nalaam noted. "Learned the art from a Two Rivers man whom he rescued from drowning in Illian. Has the bowstring as a memento."

Canler raised an eyebrow, but he seemed taken with the tale at the same time. Androl just chuckled, shaking his head. "Mind if I have a go, Jonneth? I'm a pretty dead shot with a Tairen bow, and they're a little longer than most."

"Surely," the lanky man said, unstrapping the armguard and handing over the bow.

Androl donned the armguard and lifted the bow. It was of black yew, and there wasn't as much spring to the string as he was used to. Jonneth handed him an arrow and Androl mimicked the man's pull, drawing to his cheek.

"Light!" he said at the weight of the pull. "Those arms of yours are deceptively small, Jonneth. How do you manage to aim? I can barely keep it steady!"

Jonneth laughed as Androl's arms trembled, and he finally loosed, unable to keep the bow drawn for a breath longer. The arrow hit the ground far off target. He handed the bow to Jonneth.

"That was fairly good, Androl," Jonneth said. "A lot of men can't even get the string back. Give me ten years, and I could have you shooting like one born in the Two Rivers!"

"I'll stick to shortbows for now," Androl said. "You'd never be able to shoot a monster like that from horseback."

"I wouldn't need to!" Jonneth said.

"What if you were being chased?"

"If there were fewer than five of them," Jonneth said, "I'd take them all down with this before they got to me. If there were more than five, then what am I doing shooting at them? I should be running like the Dark One himself was after me."

The other men chuckled, though Androl caught Emarin eyeing him.

Probably wondering how Androl knew to shoot a bow from horseback. He was a keen one, that nobleman. Androl would have to watch himself.

"And what is this?" a voice asked. "You do be trying to learn to shoot a bow, pageboy? Is this so you can actually defend yourself?"

Androl gritted his teeth, turning as Coteren sauntered up. He was a bulky man, his black, oily hair kept long and loose. It hung around a blunt face with pudgy cheeks. His eyes were focused, dangerous. He smiled. The smile of a cat that had found a rodent to play with.

Androl quietly undid the armguard, handing it to Jonneth. Coteren was full Asha'man, a personal friend of the M'Hael. He outranked everyone here by a long stride.

"The M'Hael will hear of this," Coteren said. "You do be ignoring your lessons. You have no need for arrows or bows—not when you can kill with the Power!"

"We aren't ignoring anything," Nalaam said stubbornly.

"Quiet, lad," Androl said. "Mind your tongue."

Coteren laughed. "Listen to the pageboy, you lot. The M'Hael will hear of your impudence also." He focused on Androl. "Seize the Source."

Androl obliged reluctantly. The sweetness of saidin flowed into him, and he glanced nervously to the side. There was no sign of the shadows.

"So pathetic," Coteren said. "Destroy that stone over there."

It was far too large for him. But he'd dealt with bullies before, and Coteren was a bully of the most dangerous type—one with power and authority. The best thing to do was to mind. Embarrassment was a small punishment. That was something few bullies seemed to understand.

Androl wove the requisite weave of Fire and Earth, striking at the large stone. The thin weave held almost all of the Power he could manage, but it only flaked a few chips off the large stone.

Coteren laughed heartily, as did the group of Dedicated eating beneath the nearby tree. "Bloody ashes, but you're useless!" Coteren said. "Forget what I said earlier, pageboy! You need that bow!"

Androl released the One Power. Coteren had had his laugh; he would be satisfied. Unfortunately, Androl felt men seize the Source behind him. Jonneth, Canler and Nalaam stepped up beside Androl, each of them filled with the One Power and bristling with anger.

The men who had been eating stood up, each holding the Source as well. There were twice as many of them as there were of Androl's friends. Coteren smirked.

Androl eyed Canler and the others. "Now lads," he said, raising a hand, "Asha'man Coteren was just doing what the M'Hael ordered him. He's trying to make me mad so I'll push myself."

The two groups hesitated. The intensity of their locked gazes rivaled that of the Power within them. Then Jonneth released the Source. This caused Nalaam to do likewise, and finally gruff Canler turned away. Coteren laughed.

"I don't like this," Canler muttered as the group of them walked off. He shot a glance over his shoulder. "Don't like it at all. Why'd you stop us, Androl?"

"Because they'd have made rubble of us faster than you can curse, Canler," Androl snapped. "Light, man! I can barely channel worth a bean, and Emarin hasn't been here a month yet. Jonneth's learning fast, but we all know he's never actually fought with the Power before, and half of Coteren's men saw battle beneath the Lord Dragon! You really think you and Nalaam could handle ten men, virtually on your own?"

Canler continued to bristle, muttering, but let the argument drop.

"Makashak Na famalashten morkase," Nalaam mumbled, "delf takaksaki mere!" He laughed to himself, eyes wild. It wasn't a language Androl knew—it wasn't the Old Tongue, that was for certain. It probably wasn't even a language at all.

None of the others said anything. Nalaam occasionally cackled to himself in gibberish. If asked about it, he'd claim he'd spoken in plain ordinary words. The outburst seemed to discomfit Emarin and Jonneth a great deal. They hadn't ever seen friends go mad and kill those around them. Light send that they'd never have to see it, now. Whatever else Androl thought of the Lord Dragon for leaving them alone, the cleansing earned al'Thor redemption. Channeling was safe now.

Or, at least, it was safer. Channeling would never be safe, particularly now with Taim pushing them.

"More and more people are taking those burning personal lessons from Taim," Nalaam muttered as they walked to the shade of the trees. "Nensen's success has the men eager. We've lost a good dozen to Taim's side in the last tew weeks. Soon there won't be anyone left besides us here. I'm afraid to talk to half the men I used to trust."

"Norley is trustworthy," Canler said. "Evin Hardlin, too."

"That's a small list," Nalaam said. "Too small."

"The Two Rivers men are with us," Jonneth said. "To a man."

"Still a small list," Nalaam said. "And not a full Asha'man among us."

They all looked to Androl. He glanced back at Taim's lackeys, laughing among themselves again.

"What, Androl?" Nalaam asked. "Not going to chastise us for talking like that?"

"Like what?" Androl asked, looking back at them.

"Like it's us against them."

"I didn't want you lads to get yourselves killed or imprisoned, but that doesn't mean I don't see a problem." He glanced back at them. "Aye, there's trouble here, brewing like a storm."

"The men who take Taim's private lessons learn too quickly," Nalaam said. "Nensen was barely powerful enough to be considered for Dedicated just a short time ago. Now he's full Asha'man. Something very strange is going on. And those Aes Sedai. Why did Taim agree to let them bond us? You know he's protected all of his favorites by stopping the Aes Sedai from choosing any man with the Dragon pin. Burn me, but I don't know what I'll do if one chooses me. I'm not going to be put on some Aes Sedai's string."

There were several mutters about that.

"Taim's men spread rumors among the newcomers," Jonneth said softly. "They talk about the Lord Dragon, and how he drove good men to turn traitor. They say he's abandoned us, and that he's gone mad. The M'Hael doesn't want those rumors pointing back to him, but burn me if he isn't the source of them all."

"Maybe he's right," Canler said. The others looked at him sharply, and the leathery man scowled. "I'm not saying that I'm going to go jump into Taim's camp. But the Lord Dragon? What has he done for us? Seems like he's forgotten about this place. Maybe he is mad."

"He's not," Emarin said, shaking his head. "I met him just before I came here."

The others looked at him, surprised.

"He impressed me," Emarin said. "Young, but with a powerful will. I trust him. Light! I barely spoke with him a half-dozen times, but I trust him."

The others slowly nodded.

"Burn me," Canler said, "I suppose that's good enough for me. But I wish he'd listen! I heard Logain cursing that the Lord Dragon won't hear him when he gives warnings about Taim."

"And if we gave him evidence?" Jonneth asked. "What if we could find something that proves that Taim is up to no good?"

"Something is strange about Nensen," Nalaam repeated. "And that Kash. Where did he even come from, and how did he grow so powerful so quickly? What if, when Logain returned, we had information for him. Or if we could take it to the Lord Dragon directly…"

The group turned to Androl. Why did they look to him, the weakest of them? All he could do was create gateways. That was where Coteren's nickname for Androl had come from. Pageboy. The only thing he was good for was delivering messages, taking people places.

But the others looked to him. For one reason or another, they looked to him.

"All right," Androl said. "Let's see what we can find. Bring Evin, Hardlin and Norley into this but don't tell anyone else, not even the other Two Rivers lads. Don't rile Taim or his men… but if you do find something, bring it to me. And I'll see if I can find a way to contact Logain, or at least find where he went."

Each man nodded, somber. Light help us if we're wrong, Androl thought, looking back at Taim's favorites. And Light help us more if we're right.


A Teaching Chamber

Faile sat impatiently atop Daylight, trying to keep herself from twitching as the gateway split the air. A browning meadow lay on the other side; Gaul and the Maidens immediately slipped through to scout.

"Are you certain you don't want to come?" Perrin asked Galad, who stood nearby, watching the procession with arms clasped behind his back.

"No," Galad said. "My meal with Elayne was sufficient for us to catch up."

"Suit yourself," Perrin said. He turned to Faile and gestured to the gateway.

She kicked Daylight into motion. It was time, at long last, to face the Queen of Andor, and she had to work to contain her nervousness. Perrin passed through the gateway with her; on the other side, Caemlyn was close, the grand city topped by peaked towers and banners of red and white, palace rising in the center. Low Caemlyn, which sprawled outside the city walls, was a growing city of its own.

Perrin's procession followed them out of the gateway; it had been carefully planned to look impressive, but not hostile. Alliandre with a hundred guardsmen. A hundred Two Rivers archers with unstrung longbows carried like staves. A hundred representatives of the Wolf Guard, including a large contingent of minor Cairhien nobility, the colored slashes on their uniforms created from cloth purchased in Whitebridge. And, of course, Gaul and the Maidens.

Grady came last. The man wore a neatly pressed black coat, his Dedicated pin polished and gleaming on the high collar. He immediately looked westward, toward the Black Tower. He'd tried to make a gateway there earlier in the day, when Perrin had given him permission. It hadn't worked. Perrin was disturbed by that. He intended to investigate soon, tonight or tomorrow night at the latest.

Gaul and the Maidens formed up around Perrin and Faile, and the procession moved down onto the road, Arganda and a squad of Perrin's Wolf Guards riding ahead to announce them. The rest of them moved along the road at a regal pace. Caemlyn's sprawling growth was even worse than that of Whitebridge. Several armies camped near Low Caemlyn. Probably supported by the various lords who had supported Elayne's ascent to the throne.

There was a distinct irregularity here. The clouds broke around Caemlyn. The cloud cover had been so universal elsewhere that Faile started upon seeing this. The clouds formed an open circle above the city, eerily even. Arganda and the Wolf Guards returned. "They will receive us, my Lord, my Lady," he announced.

Faile and Perrin rode in silence as the group made its way down the road. They had discussed the coming meeting dozens of times over; there wasn't anything more to say. Perrin had wisely given her the lead in the diplomatic negotiations. The world could not afford war between Andor and the Two Rivers. Not now.

As they passed through the city gates, Perrin and the Aiel grew more alert. She suffered their overprotectiveness in silence. How long would her capture by the Shaido loom over her life? At times, it seemed Perrin was loath to let her use the privy without four dozen guards.

Inside the walls, the streets teemed with people, the buildings and markets packed. Refuse was beginning to pile up, and a frightening number of urchins moved through the crowds. Criers yelled about the dangerous times, some perhaps in the employ of the merchants, encouraging people to hoard. Perrin's people had bought food here, but it was expensive; soon, Elayne would need to subsidize it, if she hadn't already. How good were the royal stores?

They passed through the New City, then entered the Inner City, climbing the hill to the Palace itself. The Queen's Guard stood at attention in their red-and-white tabards and burnished plate-and-mail outside the Palace gates in the pristine white Palace walls.

Once past the gates, they dismounted. A force of one hundred continued on with Perrin and Faile into the Palace. All of the Aiel, and a smaller honor guard from each contingent. The Palace hallways were wide but that many people still made Faile feel crowded. The path she and Perrin were led along was a different way to the throne room than she'd taken before. Why not use the direct way?

It seemed that little had changed about the Palace since Rand's time ruling it. There were no Aiel now—save for the ones Perrin had brought. The same narrow red rug ran down the middle of the hallway, the same urns at the corners, the same mirrors on the walls to give an illusion of greater size.

A structure like this could stand unaltered over the centuries, paying little attention to whose feet trod the rugs and whose backside warmed the throne. In one year's time, this palace had known Morgase, one of the Forsaken, the Dragon Reborn and finally Elayne.

In fact, Faile half-expected—as they rounded the corner to the throne room—to find Rand lounging on his Dragon Throne, that strange half-spear held in the crook of his arm, a glimmer of madness in his eyes. However, the Dragon Throne had been removed, and the Lion Throne again held its queen. Rand had set that throne aside and protected it, like a flower he intended to present to a future love.

The Queen was a younger version of her mother. True, Elayne's face had angles that were more delicate than Morgase's. But she had that same red-gold hair and that same stunning beauty. She was tall, and was showing her pregnancy at the belly and through the chest.

The throne room was suitably ornate, with gilded wood trim and narrow pillars in the corners, probably ornamental. Elayne kept the room better lit than Rand had, stand-lamps burning brightly. Morgase herself stood at the base of the throne on the right side, and eight members of the Queen's Guard stood on the left. Some lesser nobles lined the sides of the room, watching with keen attention.

Elayne leaned forward on her throne as Perrin, Faile and the others entered. Faile curtsied, of course, and Perrin bowed. Not a low bow, but a bow nonetheless. By arrangement, Alliandre curtsied deeper than Faile had. That would immediately set Elayne thinking.

The official purpose of this visit was a commendation by the Crown, a thanks to Perrin and Faile for bringing back Morgase. That was just an affectation, of course. Their real reason for meeting was to discuss the future of the Two Rivers. But that was the sort of delicate goal that neither could speak of outright, at least not at first. Merely stating the objective would reveal too much to the other side.

"Let it be known," Elayne said with a musical voice, "that the throne welcomes you, Lady Zarine ni Bashere t'Aybara. Queen Alliandre Maritha Kigaarin. Perrin Aybara." No use of title for him. "Let it be proclaimed in person our gratitude to you for returning our mother. Your diligence in this matter earns you the Crown's deepest appreciation."

"Thank you, Your Majesty," Perrin said with his usual gruffness. Faile had spoken to him at length about not trying to dispense with the formality or ceremony.

"We will declare a day of celebration for my mother's safe return," Elayne continued. "And for her… restoration to proper status."

Well, that pause meant Elayne was displeased to know that her mother had been treated as a servant. She had to realize that Perrin and Faile hadn't known what they were doing, but a queen could still claim indignation for such an event. It was an edge that, perhaps, she planned to use.

Perhaps Faile was reading too much into the comments, but she couldn't help it. In many ways, being a lady was much like being a merchant, and she had been trained well for both roles.

"Finally," Elayne said, "we come to the purpose of our meeting. Lady Bashere, Master Aybara. Is there a boon you would ask in return for the gift you have given to Andor?"

Perrin rested his hand on his hammer, then looked to Faile questioningly. Obviously, Elayne expected them to ask for him to be named formally a lord. Or, perhaps, to ask forbearance for impersonating one, along with a formal pardon. Either direction could be a result of this conversation.

Faile was tempted to demand the first. It would be a simple answer. But perhaps too simple; there were things Faile had to know before they could proceed. "Your Majesty," Faile said, carefully, "might we discuss this boon in a more intimate setting?"

Elayne gave that some thought—at least thirty seconds' worth, which seemed an infinity. "Very well. My sitting room is prepared."

Faile nodded, and a servant opened a small door on the left-hand wall of the throne room. Perrin walked toward it, then held up a hand to Gaul, Sulin and Arganda. "Wait here." He hesitated, glancing at Grady. "You, too."

None of them seemed to like that, but they obeyed. They'd been warned this might happen.

Faile contained her nervousness—she didn't like leaving the Asha'man, their best means of escape. Particularly since Elayne undoubtedly had spies and Guards hidden inside the sitting room, ready to spring out should matters turn dangerous. Faile would have liked a similar protection, but bringing a male channeler in to speak with the Queen… well, this was how it would have to be. They were in Elayne's domain.

Faile took a deep breath, joining Perrin, Alliandre and Morgase in the small side room. Chairs had been arranged; Elayne had foreseen this possibility. They waited for Elayne to enter before sitting. Faile couldn't see any place for Guards to be hiding.

Elayne entered and waved a hand. The Great Serpent ring on her finger glittered in the lamplight. Faile had nearly forgotten that she was Aes Sedai. Perhaps there weren't any Guardsmen lurking around to help a woman who could channel was as dangerous as a dozen soldiers.

Which of the rumors regarding the father of Elayne's child were to be believed? Surely not the ones about that fool of a man in her Guard—that was most likely obfuscation. Could it possibly be Rand himself?

Morgase entered after Elayne. She wore a subdued gown of deep red. She sat down beside her daughter, watching carefully, remaining silent.

"So," Elayne said, "explain to me why I shouldn't just execute you both as traitors."

Faile blinked in surprise. Perrin, however, snorted. "I don't think Rand would think very highly of that move."

"I'm not beholden to him," Elayne said. "You expect me to believe that he was behind you seducing my citizens and naming yourself a king?"

"You have a few of your facts backward, Your Majesty," Faile said testily. "Perrin never named himself king."

"Oh, and did he raise the flag of Manetheren, as my informants tell me he did?" Elayne asked.

"I did that," Perrin said. "But I put it away of my own choice."

"Well, that's something," Elayne replied. "You may not have called yourself a king, but holding up that banner was essentially the same thing. Oh, sit down, all of you." She waved a hand. A tray lifted off the far table and floated over to her. It bore goblets and a pitcher of wine, as well as a teapot and cups.

Fetching it with the One Power, Faile thought. It's a reminder of her strength. A rather unsubtle one.

"Still," Elayne said, "I will do the best for my realm, regardless of the cost."

"I doubt that upsetting the Two Rivers," Alliandre said hesitantly, "would be best for your realm. Executing their leader would undoubtedly throw the region into rebellion."

"So far as I'm concerned," Elayne said, pouring several cups of tea, "they're already in rebellion."

"We came to you peacefully," Faile said. "Hardly the action of rebels."

Elayne took a sip of the tea first, as was the custom, to prove it wasn't poisoned. "My envoys to the Two Rivers have been refused, and your people here gave me a message—and I quote—'The lands of Lord Perrin Goldeneyes refuse your Andoran taxes. Tai'shar Manetheren!'"

Alliandre paled. Perrin groaned softly, a sound that came out faintly like a growl. Faile took her cup and sipped her tea—mint, with cloudberries' it was good. The Two Rivers folk had pluck, that was certain.

"These are passionate times, Your Majesty," Faile said. "Surely you can see that the people might be concerned; the Two Rivers has not often been a priority for your throne."

"That's putting it mildly," Perrin added with a snort. "Most of us grew up not knowing we were part of Andor. You ignored us."

"That was because the area wasn't rising in rebellion." Elayne sipped her tea.

"Rebellion isn't the only reason men might need the attention of the queen who claims them," Perrin said. "I don't know if you've heard, but last year we faced Trollocs on our own, and without a whisker of help from the Crown. You'd have helped if you'd known, but the fact that there were no troops nearby—none capable of knowing our danger—says something."

Elayne hesitated.

"The Two Rivers has rediscovered its history," Faile said carefully. "It couldn't rest forever, not with Tarmon Gai'don looming. Not after sheltering the Dragon Reborn during his childhood. Part of me wonders if Manetheren had to fall, if the Two Rivers had to rise, to provide a place for Rand al'Thor to be raised. Among farmers with the blood—and obstinacy—of kings."

"Which makes it all the more important that I quiet things now," Elayne said. "I offered you a boon so that you could ask for forgiveness. I'd pardon you, and I'll be certain to send troops so that your people are protected. Accept this, and we can all go back to life the way it should be."

"That isn't going to happen," Perrin said softly. "The Two Rivers will have lords, now. I fought it for a time. You may, too, but it won't change anything."

"Perhaps," Elayne said. "But recognizing you would be to agree that a man can just claim a title within my nation, then keep it by stubbornly gathering an army. It makes for a terrible precedent, Perrin. I don't think you realize the predicament you've put me in."

"We'll muddle through," Perrin said in that stubborn tone he used when he wasn't going to budge. "I'm not stepping down."

"You're doing a poor job of persuading me you will accept my authority," Elayne snapped.

Not good, Faile thought, opening her mouth to jump in. A clash here would not serve them well.

Before she could speak, however, another voice cut in. "Daughter," Morgase said softly, drinking her tea. "If you plan to dance with ta'veren, be sure that you know the proper steps. I've traveled with this man. I've seen the world bend around him; I've seen bitter enemies become his allies. To fight the Pattern itself is to try to move a mountain with a spoon."

Elayne hesitated, looking at her mother.

"Please forgive me if I overstep myself," Morgase continued. "But Elayne, I promised these two that I would speak for them. I told you I would. Andor is strong, but I fear it could break itself against this man. He does not want your throne, I promise it, and the Two Rivers does need supervision. Would it be such a terrible thing to let them have the man they themselves have chosen?"

The small room fell silent. Elayne eyed Perrin, sizing him up. Faile held her breath.

"All right," Elayne said. "I assume you've come with demands. Let's hear them so we can discover if there's anything that can be done."

"No demands," Faile said. "An offer."

Elayne raised an eyebrow.

"Your mother is right," Faile said. "Perrin does not want your throne."

"What you two want may be irrelevant once your people get an idea in their minds."

Faile shook her head. "They love him, Your Majesty. They respect him. They'll do what he says. We can and will put down ideas of Manetheren rising again."

"And why would you do that?" Elayne asked. "I know how fast the Two Rivers is growing with those refugees coming in over the mountains. Nations could rise and fall with the coming of the Last Battle. You have no reason to give up the chance to form your own kingdom."

"Actually," Faile said, "we have good reason. Andor is a strong nation, and prosperous. The towns in the Two Rivers may be growing rapidly, but the people have barely begun to want a lord. They're still farmers at heart. They don't want glory; they want their crops to survive." Faile paused. "Perhaps you're right, perhaps there will be another Breaking, but that's only more reason to have allies. Nobody wants civil war in Andor, least of all the Two Rivers folk."

"What do you propose, then?" Elayne said.

"Nothing, really, that doesn't exist already," Faile said. "Give Perrin an official title and make him High Lord over the Two Rivers."

"And what do you mean by 'High Lord'?" Elayne asked. "He'd rank higher than other noble Houses in Andor, but beneath the Queen."

"I doubt the others would like that," Elayne said. "What of taxes?"

"The Two Rivers is exempt," Faile said. As Elayne's expression soured, she continued quickly. "Your Majesty, the throne ignored the Two Rivers for generations, not protecting them from bandits or sending workers to improve their roads, not giving them anything in the way of magistrates or justices."

"They didn't need it," Elayne said. "They governed themselves fine." She left unsaid that the Two Rivers folk would probably have tossed out tax collectors, magistrates or justices sent by the Queen—but she seemed to know it.

"Well," Faile said, "nothing needs change, then. The Two Rivers governs itself."

"You could have tariff-free trade with them," Alliandre said.

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