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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: 8 (всего у книги 65 страниц)



Gawyn hastened down the hallways of the White Tower, booted feet thumping on a deep blue rug atop crimson and white floor tiles. Mirrored stand-lamps reflected light, each like a sentry along the way.

Sleete walked quickly beside him. Despite the lamps' illumination, Sleete's face seemed half-shrouded in shadow. Perhaps it was the two-day stubble on his jaw—an oddity for a Warder—or the long hair, clean but unshorn. Or maybe it was his features. Uneven, like an unfinished drawing, with sharp lines, a cleft in his chin, a hook to his once-broken nose, cheekbones that jutted out.

He had the lithe motions of a Warder, but with a more primal feel than most. Rather than the huntsman moving through the woods, he was the silent, shadow-bound predator that prey never saw until the teeth were flashing.

They reached an intersection where several of Chubain's guards stood watch down one of the halls. They had swords at their sides and wore white tabards emblazoned with the Flame of Tar Valon. One held up a hand.

"I'm allowed in," Gawyn said. "The Amyrlin—"

"The sisters aren't done yet," the guard replied, hostile.

Gawyn ground his teeth, but there was nothing to be done about it. He and Sleete stepped back and waited until—finally—three Aes Sedai walked out of a guarded room. They looked troubled. They strode away, followed by a pair of soldiers carrying something wrapped in a white cloth. The body.

Finally, the two guards reluctantly stepped aside and let Gawyn and Sleete pass. They hurried down the hallway and entered a small reading room. Gawyn hesitated beside the door, glancing back down the hallway. He could see some Accepted peeking around a corner, whispering.

This murder made four sisters killed. Egwene had her hands full trying to keep the Ajahs from turning back to their mistrust of one another. She'd warned everyone to be alert, and told sisters not to go about alone. The Black Ajah knew the White Tower well, their members having lived here for years. With gateways, they could slip into the hallways and commit murder.

At least, that was the official explanation for the deaths. Gawyn wasn't so certain. He ducked into the room, Sleete following.

Chubain himself was there. The handsome man glanced at Gawyn, lips turning down. "Lord Trakand."

"Captain," Gawyn replied, surveying the room. It was about three paces square, with a single desk set against the far wall and an unlit coal-burning brazier. A bronze stand-lamp burned in the corner, and a circular rug nearly filled nearly the entire floor. That rug was stained with a dark liquid beneath the desk.

"Do you really think you'll find anything the sisters did not, Trakand?" Chubain asked, folding his arms.

"I'm looking for different things," Gawyn said, going forward. He knelt down to inspect the rug.

Chubain sniffed, then walked into the hallway. The Tower Guard would watch over the area until servants had come to clean it. Gawyn had a few minutes.

Sleete stepped up to one of the guards just inside the doorway. They weren't as antagonistic toward him as they tended to be toward Gawyn. He still hadn't figured out why they were like that with him.

"She was alone?" Sleete asked the man in his gravelly voice.

"Yes," the guard said, shaking his head. "Shouldn't have ignored the Amyrlin's advice."

"Who was she?"

"Kateri Nepvue, of the White Ajah. A sister for twenty years."

Gawyn grunted as he continued to crawl across the floor, inspecting the rug. Four sisters from four different Ajahs. Two had supported Egwene, one had supported Elaida, and one had been neutral, only recently returned. All had been killed on different levels of the Tower during different times of day.

It certainly did seem like the work of the Black Ajah. They weren't looking for specific targets, just convenient ones. But it felt wrong to him. Why not Travel into the sisters' quarters at night and kill them in their sleep? Why did nobody sense channeling from the places where the women were killed?

Sleete inspected the door and lock with a careful eye. When Egwene had told Gawyn he could visit the scenes of the murders if he wished, he'd asked if he could bring Sleete with him. In Gawyn's previous interactions with the Warder, Sleete had proven himself to be not only meticulous, but discreet.

Gawyn continued looking. Egwene was nervous about something, he was certain. She wasn't being completely forthcoming about these murders. He found no slits in the carpet or tiles, no cuts in the furniture of the cramped room.

Egwene claimed the murderers were coming in by gateway, but he'd found no evidence of that. True, he didn't know much about gateways yet, and people could reportedly make them hang above the ground so they didn't cut anything. But why would the Black Ajah care about that? Besides, this room was so tiny, it seemed to him it would have been very hard to get in without leaving some trace.

"Gawyn, come here," Sleete said. The shorter man was still kneeling beside the doorway.

Gawyn joined him. Sleete threw the deadbolt a few times in its lock. "This door might have been forced," he said softly. "See the scrape here on the deadbolt? You can pop open this kind of lock by sliding a thin pick in and pushing it on the deadbolt, then putting pressure on the handle. It can be done very quietly."

"Why would the Black Ajah need to force a door?" Gawyn asked.

"Maybe they Traveled into the hallway, then walked until they saw light under a doorway," Sleete said.

"Why not then make a gateway to the other side?"

"Channeling could have alerted the woman inside," Sleete said.

"That's true," Gawyn said. He looked toward the bloody patch. The desk was set so that the occupant's back would be to the doorway. That arrangement made Gawyn's shoulder blades itch. Who would put a desk like that? An Aes Sedai who thought she was completely safe, and who wanted to be sitting away from the distractions outside. Aes Sedai, for all of their cunning, sometimes seemed to have remarkably underdeveloped senses of self-preservation.

Or maybe they just didn't think like soldiers. Their Warders dealt with that sort of thought. "Did she have a Warder?"

"No," Sleete said. "I've met her before. She didn't have one." He hesitated. "None of the sisters murdered had Warders."

Gawyn gave Sleete a raised eyebrow.

"Makes sense," Sleete said. "Whoever is doing the killing didn't want to alert Warders."

"But why kill with a knife?" Gawyn said. All four had been killed that way. "The Black Ajah doesn't have to obey the Three Oaths. They could have used the Power to kill. Much more direct, much easier."

"But that would also risk alerting the victim or those around," Sleete noted.

Another good point. But still, something about these killings didn't seem to add up.

Or maybe he was just stretching at nothing, struggling to find something he could do to help. A part of him thought that if he could aid Egwene with this, maybe she would soften toward him. Perhaps forgive him for rescuing her from the Tower during the Seanchan attack.

Chubain entered a moment later. "I trust Your Lordship has had sufficient time," he said stiffly. "The staff is here to clean."

Insufferable man! Gawyn thought. Does he have to be so dismissive toward me? I should– No. Gawyn forced himself to keep his temper. Once, that hadn't been nearly so hard.

Why was Chubain so hostile toward him? Gawyn found himself wondering how his mother would have handled such a man as this. Gawyn didn't often think of her, as doing so brought his mind back to al'Thor. That murderer had been allowed to walk away from the White Tower itself! Egwene had held him in her hand, and had released him.

True, al'Thor was the Dragon Reborn. But in his heart, Gawyn wanted to meet al'Thor with sword in hand and ram steel through him, Dragon Reborn or not.

Al'Thor would rip you apart with the One Power, he told himself. You're being foolish, Gawyn Trakand. His hatred of al'Thor continued to smolder anyway.

One of Chubain's guards came up, speaking, pointing at the door. Chubain looked annoyed they hadn't found the forced lock. The Tower Guard was not a policing force—the sisters had no need of that, and were more effective at this kind ot investigation anyway. But Gawyn could tell that Chubain wished he could stop the murders. Protecting the Tower, and its occupants, was part of his duty.

So he and Gawyn worked for the same cause. But Chubain acted as if this were a personal contest between them. Though his side did, essentially, meet defeat by Bryne's side in the Tower division, Gawyn thought. And as far as he knows, I'm one of Bryne's favored men.

Gawyn wasn't a Warder, yet he was a friend of the Amyrlin. He dined with Bryne. How would that look to Chubain, particularly now that Gawyn had been given power to look in on the murders?

Light! Gawyn thought as Chubain shot him a hostile glance. He thinks I'm trying to take his position. He thinks I want to be High Captain of the Tower Guard!

The concept was laughable. Gawyn could have been First Prince of the Sword—should have been First Prince of the Sword—leader of Andor's armies and protector of the Queen. He was son to Morgase Trakand, one of the most influential and powerful rulers Andor had ever known. He had no desire for this man's position.

That wouldn't be how it looked to Chubain. Disgraced by the destructive Seanchan attack, he must feel that his position was in danger.

"Captain," Gawyn said, "may I speak with you in private?"

Chubain looked at Gawyn suspiciously, then nodded toward the hallway. The two of them retreated. Nervous Tower servants waited outside, ready to clean the blood away.

Chubain folded his arms and inspected Gawyn. "What is it you wish of me, my Lord?"

He often emphasized the rank. Calm, Gawyn thought. He still felt the shame of how he'd bullied his way into Bryne's camp. He was better than that. Living with the Younglings, enduring the confusion and then the shame of the events surrounding the Tower's breaking, had changed him. He couldn't continue down that path.

"Captain," Gawyn said, "I appreciate you letting me inspect the room."

"I didn't have much choice."

"I realize that. But you have my thanks nonetheless. It's important to me that the Amyrlin see me helping. If I find something the sisters miss, it could mean a great deal for me."

"Yes," Chubain said, eyes narrowing. "I suspect it could."

"Maybe she'll finally have me as her Warder."

Chubain blinked. "Her… Warder?"

"Yes. Once, it seemed certain that she would take me, but now… well, if I can help you with this investigation, perhaps it will cool her anger at me." He raised a hand, gripping Chubain's shoulder. "I will remember your aid. You call me Lord, but my title is all but meaningless to me now. All I want is to be Egwene's Warder, to protect her."

Chubain wrinkled his brow. Then he nodded and seemed to relax. "I heard you talking. You're looking for marks of gateways. Why?"

"I don't think this is the work of the Black Ajah," Gawyn said. "I think it might be a Gray Man, or some other kind of assassin. A Darkfriend among the palace staff, perhaps? I mean, look at how the women are killed. Knives."

Chubain nodded. "There were some signs of a struggle too. The sisters doing the investigation mentioned that. The books swept from the table. They thought it was done by the woman flailing as she died."

"Curious," Gawyn said. "If I were a Black sister, I'd use the One Power, regardless of the fact that others might sense it. Women channel all the time in the Tower; this wouldn't be suspicious. I'd immobilize my victim with weaves, kill her with the Power, then escape before anyone thought oddly of it. No struggle."

"Perhaps," Chubain said. "But the Amyrlin seems confident that this is the work of Black sisters."

"I'll talk to her and see why," Gawyn said. "For now, perhaps you should suggest to those doing the investigation that it would be wise to interview the palace servants? Give this reasoning?"

"Yes… I think I might do that." The man nodded, seeming less threatened.

The two stepped aside, Chubain waving the servants to enter for their cleaning. Sleete came out, looking thoughtful. He held something up, pinched between his fingers. "Black silk," he said. "There's no way of knowing if it came from the attacker."

Chubain took the fibers. "Odd."

"A Black sister wouldn't seem likely to proclaim herself by wearing black," Gawyn said. "A more ordinary assassin, though, might need the dark colors to hide."

Chubain wrapped the fibers in a handkerchief and pocketed them. "I'll take these to Seaine Sedai." He looked impressed.

Gawyn nodded to Sleete, and the two of them retreated.

"The White Tower is abuzz these days with returning sisters and new Warders," Sleete said softly. "How would anyone—no matter how stealthy—travel the upper levels wearing black without drawing attention?"

"Gray Men are supposed to be able to avoid notice," Gawyn said. "I think this is more proof. I mean, it seems odd that nobody has actually seen these Black sisters. We're making a lot of assumptions."

Sleete nodded, eyeing a trio of novices who had gathered to gawk at the guards. They saw Sleete looking and chittered to one another before scampering away.

"Egwene knows more than she's saying," Gawyn said. "I'll talk to her."

"Assuming she'll see you," Sleete said.

Gawyn grunted irritably. They walked down a series of ramps to the level of the Amyrlin's study. Sleete remained with him—his Aes Sedai, a Green named Hattori, rarely had duties for him. She still had her eyes on Gawyn for a Warder; Egwene was being so infuriating, Gawyn had half a mind to let Hattori bond him.

No. No, not really. He loved Egwene, though he was frustrated with her. It had not been easy to decide to give up Andor—not to mention the Younglings—for her. Yet she still refused to bond him.

He reached her study, and approached Silviana. The woman sat at her neat, orderly Keeper's desk in the antechamber before Egwene's study. The woman inspected Gawyn, her eyes unreadable behind her Aes Sedai mask. He suspected that she didn't like him.

"The Amyrlin is composing a letter of some import," Silviana said. "You may wait."

Gawyn opened his mouth.

"She asked not to be interrupted," Silviana said, turning back to the paper she had been reading. "You may wait."

Gawyn sighed, but nodded. As he did so, Sleete caught his eye and gestured that he was going. Why had he accompanied Gawyn down here in the first place? He was an odd man. Gawyn waved farewell, and Sleete vanished into the hallway.

The antechamber was a grand room with a deep red rug and wood trim on the stone walls. He knew from experience that none of the chairs were comfortable, but there was a single window. Gawyn stepped up to it for some air and rested his arm on the recessed stone, staring out over the white Tower grounds. This high up, the air felt crisper, newer.

Below, he could see the new Warder practice grounds. The old ones were dug up where Elaida had begun building her palace. Nobody was sure what Egwene would end up doing with the construction.

The practice grounds were busy, a bustle of figures sparring, running, fencing. With the influx of refugees, soldiers and sell-swords, there were many who presumed themselves Warder material. Egwene had opened the grounds to any who wanted to train and try to prove themselves, as she intended to push for as many women as were ready to be raised over the next few weeks.

Gawyn had spent a few days training, but the ghosts of men he had killed seemed more present down there. The grounds were a part of his past life, a time before everything had gone wrong. Other Younglings had easily—and happily—returned to that life. Already Jisao, Rajar, Durrent and most of his other officers had been chosen as Warders. Before long, nothing would remain of his band. Except for Gawyn himself.

The inner door clicked, followed by hushed voices. Gawyn turned to find Egwene, dressed in green and yellow, walking over to speak with Silviana. The Keeper glanced at him, and he thought he caught a trace of a frown on her face.

Egwene saw him. She kept her face Aes Sedai serene—she'd grown good at that so quickly—and he found himself feeling awkward.

"There was another death this morning," he said quietly, walking up to her.

"Technically," Egwene said, "it was last night."

"I need to talk to you," Gawyn blurted.

Egwene and Silviana shared a look. "Very well," Egwene said, gliding back into her study.

Gawyn followed, not looking at the Keeper. The Amyrlin's study was one of the grandest rooms in the Tower. The walls were paneled with a pale striped wood, carved to show fanciful scenes, marvelously detailed. The hearth was marble, the floor made of deep red stone cut into diamond blocks. Egwene's large, carved desk was set with two lamps. They were in the shape of two women raising their hands to the air, flames burning between each set of palms.

One wall had bookcases filled with books arranged—it seemed—by color and size rather than by subject. They were ornamental, brought in to trim the Amyrlin's study until Egwene could make her own selections.

"What is it you find so necessary to discuss?" Egwene said, sitting down at her desk.

"The murders," Gawyn said.

"What about them?"

Gawyn shut the door. "Burn me, Egwene. Do you have to show me the Amyrlin every time we speak? Once in a while, can't I see Egwene?"

"I show you the Amyrlin," Egwene said, "because you refuse to accept her. Once you do so, perhaps we can move beyond that."

"Light! You've learned to talk like one of them."

"That's because I am one of them," she said. "Your choice of words betrays you. The Amyrlin cannot be served by those who refuse to see her authority."

"I accept you," Gawyn said. "I do, Egwene. But isn't it important to have people who know you for yourself and not the title?"

"So long as they know that there is a place for obedience." Her face softened. "You aren't ready yet, Gawyn. I'm sorry."

He set his jaw. Don't overreact, he told himself. "Very well. Then, about the assassinations. We've realized that none of the women killed had Warders."

"Yes, I was given a report on that," Egwene said.

"Regardless," he said, "it brings my thoughts to a larger issue. We don't have enough Warders."

Egwene frowned.

"We're preparing for the Last Battle, Egwene," Gawyn said. "And yet there are sisters without Warders. A lot of sisters. Some had one, but never took another after he died. Others never wanted one in the first place. I don't think you can afford this."

"What would you have me do?" she said, folding her arms. "Command the women to take Warders?"


She laughed. "Gawyn, the Amyrlin doesn't have that kind of power."

"Then get the Hall to do it."

"You don't know what you're saying. The choosing and keeping of a Warder is a very personal and intimate decision. No woman should be forced to it."

"Well," Gawyn said, refusing to be intimidated, "the choice to go to war is very 'personal' and 'intimate' as well—yet all across the land, men are called into it. Sometimes, feelings aren't as important as survival.

"Warders keep sisters alive, and every Aes Sedai is going to be of vital importance soon. There will be legions upon legions of Trollocs. Every sister on the field will be more valuable than a hundred soldiers, and every sister Healing will be able to save dozens of lives. The Aes Sedai are assets that belong to humanity. You cannot afford to let them go about unprotected."

Egwene drew back, perhaps at the fervor of his words. Then, unexpectedly, she nodded. "Perhaps there is… wisdom in those words, Gawyn."

"Bring it before the Hall," Gawyn said. "At its core, Egwene, a sister not bonding a Warder is an act of selfishness. That bond makes a man a better soldier, and we'll need every edge we can find. This will also help prevent the murders."

"I will see what can be done," Egwene said.

"Could you let me see the reports the sisters are giving?" Gawyn said, "About the murders, I mean?"

"Gawyn," she said, "I've allowed you to be a part of the investigation because I thought it might be good to have a different set of eyes looking things over. Giving you their reports would just influence you to draw the same conclusions as they do."

"At least tell me this," he said. "Have the sisters raised the worry that this might not be the work of the Black Ajah? That the assassin might be a Gray Man or a Darkfriend?"

"No, they have not," Egwene said, "because we know that the assassin is not one of those two."

"But the door last night, it was forced. And the women are killed with knives, not the One Power. There are no signs of gateways or—"

"The killer has access to the One Power," Egwene said, speaking very carefully. "And perhaps they are not using gateways."

Gawyn narrowed his eyes. Those sounded like the words of a woman stepping around her oath not to lie. "You're keeping secrets," he said. "Not just from me. From the entire Tower."

"Secrets are needed sometimes, Gawyn."

"Can't you trust me with them?" He hesitated. "I'm worried that the assassin will come for you, Egwene. You don't have a Warder."

"Undoubtedly she will come for me, eventually." She toyed with something on her desk. It looked like a worn leather strap, the type used to punish a criminal. Odd.

She? "Please, Egwene," he said. "What's going on?"

She studied him, then she sighed. "Very well. I've told this to the women doing the investigation. Perhaps I should tell you too. One of the Forsaken is in the White Tower."

He lowered his hand to his sword. "What? Where! You have her captive?"

"No," Egwene said. "She's the assassin."

"You know this?"

"I know Mesaana is here; I've dreamed that it is true. She hides among us. Now, four Aes Sedai, dead? It's her, Gawyn. It's the only thing that makes sense."

He bit off questions. He knew very little of Dreaming, but knew she had the Talent. It was said to be like Foretelling.

"I haven't told the entire Tower," Egwene continued. "I worry that if they knew one of the sisters around them is secretly one of the Forsaken, it would divide us all again, as under Elaida. We'd all be suspicious of one another.

"It's bad enough now, with them thinking Black sisters are Traveling in to commit murders, but at least that doesn't make them suspicious of one another. And maybe Mesaana will think that I'm not aware it is her. But there, that's the secret you begged to know. It's not a Black sister we hunt, but one of the Forsaken."

It was daunting to consider—but no more so than the Dragon Reborn walking the land. Light, a Forsaken in the Tower seemed more plausible than Egwene being the Amyrlin Seat! "We'll deal with it," he said, sounding far more confident than he felt.

"I have sisters searching the histories of everyone in the Tower," Egwene said. "And others are watching for suspicious words or actions. We'll find her. But I don't see how we can make the women any more secure without inciting an even more dangerous panic."

"Warders," Gawyn said firmly.

"I will think on it, Gawyn. For now, there is something I need of you."

"If it is within my power, Egwene." He took a step toward her. "You know that."

"Is that so?" she asked dryly. "Very well. I want you to stop guarding my door at night."

"What? Egwene, no!"

She shook her head. "You see? Your first reaction is to challenge me."

"It is the duty of a Warder to offer challenge, in private, where his Aes Sedai is concerned!" Hammar had taught him that.

"You are not my Warder, Gawyn."

That brought him up short.

"Besides," Egwene said, "you could do little to stop one of the Forsaken. This battle will be fought by sisters, and I am being very careful with the wards I set. I want my quarters to look inviting. If she tries to attack me, perhaps I can surprise her with an ambush."

"Use yourself as bait?" Gawyn was barely able to get the words out. "Egwene, this is madness!"

"No. It's desperation. Gawyn, women I am responsible for are dying. Murdered in the night, in a time when you yourself said we will need every woman."

For the first time, fatigue showed through her mask, a weariness of tone and a slight slump to her back. She folded her hands in front of her, suddenly seeming worn.

"I have sisters researching everything we can find about Mesaana," Egwene continued. "She's not a warrior, Gawyn. She's an administrator, a planner. If I can confront her, I can defeat her. But we must find her first. Exposing myself is only one of my plans—and you are right, it is dangerous. But my precautions have been extensive."

"I don't like it at all."

"Your approval is not required." She eyed him. "You will have to trust me."

"I do trust you," he said.

"All I ask is that you show it for once."

Gawyn gritted his teeth. Then he bowed to her and left the study, trying—and failing—to keep the door from shutting too hard when he pulled it closed. Silviana gave him a disapproving look as he passed her.

From there, he headed for the training grounds despite his discomfort with them. He needed a workout with the sword.

Egwene let out a long sigh, sitting back, closing her eyes. Why was it so hard to keep her feelings in check when dealing with Gawyn? She never felt as poor an Aes Sedai as she did when speaking with him.

So many emotions swirled within her, like different kinds of wine spilling and mixing together: rage at his stubbornness, burning desire for his arms, confusion at her own inability to place one of those before the other.

Gawyn had a way of boring through her skin and into her heart. That passion of his was entrancing. She worried that if she bonded him, it would infect her. Was that how it worked? What did it feel like to be bonded, to sense another's emotions?

She wanted that with him, the connection that others had. And it was important that she have people she could rely upon to contradict her, in private. People who knew her as Egwene, rather than the Amyrlin.

But Gawyn was too loose, too untrusting, yet.

She looked over her letter to the new King of Tear, explaining that Rand was threatening to break the seals. Her plan to stop him would depend on her gathering support from people he trusted. She had conflicting reports about Darlin Sisnera. Some said he was one of Rand's greatest supporters, while others claimed he was one of Rand's greatest detractors.

She set the letter aside for the moment, then wrote some thoughts on how to approach the Hall on the Warder issue. Gawyn made an excellent argument, though he went too far and assumed too much. Making a plea for women who had no Warders to choose one, explaining all of the advantages and pointing out how it could save lives and help defeat the Shadow that would be appropriate.

She poured herself some mint tea from the pot on the side of her desk. Oddly, it hadn't been spoiling as often lately, and this cup tasted quite good. She hadn't told Gawyn of the other reason she'd asked him to leave her door at nights. She had trouble sleeping, knowing he was out there, only a few feet away. She worried she'd slip and go to him.

Silviana's strap had never been able to break her will, but Gawyn Trakand… he was coming dangerously close to doing so.

Graendal anticipated the messenger's arrival. Even here, in her most secret of hiding places, his arrival was not unexpected. The Chosen could not hide from the Great Lord.

The hiding place was not a palace, a fine lodge or an ancient fortress. It was a cavern on an island nobody cared about, in an area of the Aryth Ocean that nobody ever visited. So far as she knew, there was nothing of note or interest anywhere near.

The accommodations were downright dreadful. Six of her lesser pets cared for the place, which was merely three chambers. She'd covered over the entrance with stone, and the only way in or out was by gateway. Fresh water came from a natural spring, food from stores she'd brought in previously, and air through cracks. It was dank, and it was lowly.

In other words, it was precisely the sort of place where nobody would expect to find her. Everyone knew that Graendal could not stand a lack of luxury. That was true. But the best part about being predictable was that it allowed you to do the unexpected.

Unfortunately, none of that applied to the Great Lord. Graendal watched the open gateway before her as she relaxed on a chaise of yellow and blue silk. The messenger was a man with flat features and deep tanned skin, wearing black and red. He didn't need to speak—his presence was the message. One of her pets—a beautiful, black-haired woman with large brown eyes who had once been a Tairen high lady—stared at the gateway. She looked frightened. Graendal felt much the same way.

She closed the wood-bound copy of Alight in the Snow in her hands and stood up, wearing a dress of thin black silk with ribbons of streith running down it. She stepped through the gateway, careful to project an air of confidence.

Moridin stood inside his black stone palace. The room had no furniture; only the hearth, with a fire burning. Great Lord! A fire, on such a warm day? She maintained her composure, and did not begin to sweat.

He turned toward her, the black flecks of saa swimming across his eyes. "You know why I have summoned you." Not a question.

"I do."

"Aran'gar is dead, lost to us—and after the Great Lord transmigrated her soul the last time. One might think you are making a habit of this sort of thing, Graendal."

"I live to serve, Nae'blis," she said. Confidence! She had to seem confident.

He hesitated just briefly. Good. "Surely you do not imply that Aran'gar had turned traitor."

"What?" Graendal said. "No, of course not."

"Then how is what you did a service?"

Graendal pasted a look of concerned confusion on her face. "Why, I was following the command I was given. Am I not here to receive an accolade?"

"Far from it," Moridin said dryly. "Your feigned confusion will not work on me, woman."

"It is not feigned," Graendal said, preparing her lie. "While I did not expect the Great Lord to be pleased to lose one of the Chosen, the gain was obviously worth the cost."

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