Note: Many thanks to my new Beta reader, Wifflenut, for being so quick in getting this chapter back to me! Knowing she will beta for me has gotten me excited about getting this story moving again. Hope you all enjoy it!
What Is Not Revealed
"We sent some servants to ready the rooms like you requested," Vinchova said, finally concluding his lengthy report. "They should be done by now. And the guard is now operating as you ordered..." The boy's lips curled up into a wide smile as he added, "M'Hael."
Logain smiled, but shook his head. "I thought on the matter, and I'll not have Taim's title sullying my leadership. The man serves the Shadow, whether or not he has sworn oaths, and that alone is reason enough to abandon the idea of adopting the title of M'Hael. I mean for the Black Tower to be strong, for the Asha'man to have a place in this world once Tarmon Gai'don is done. When people hear the word Asha'man, I want them to feel respect and adoration, not fear. And not mistrust."
"That's what we all want," Vinchova said softly, nodding in agreement. "But you need a title, Logain. It's just not proper for us to speak to you as though you're one of us." His mouth twisted thoughtfully. "Father?"
Logain grimaced. "And have people seeing me as the male counterpart to the Amyrlin? Light, no." Though Vinchova was right—as leader of the Asha'man, Logain needed a title that represented his position—now was not the time to dwell on it. First, things had to be set right with the Asha'man and the Tower. So, crossing the room, Logain gestured toward the partially melted stone wall out in the hallway. "What of the repairs?" Of the repairs that had to be done at the Tower—even in the Palace itself—that wall was the least of their problems.
"They'll begin tomorrow. We discussed hiring some masons from Caemlyn, but the men are convinced they can do it quicker themselves." Again, the boy grinned. "After you announced that all Asha'man, Dedicated, and Soldiers were welcome in the Palace—save for those who had been bonded by Aes Sedai—many eagerly volunteered to help with the repairs around the Tower grounds. I think a lot of them want rooms here, though the men with families will probably stay where they are. There will be even more room for them now."
Logain nodded. "That's the point. Everyone here should be comfortable. But, as I said earlier, no Aes Sedai will be allowed to live in the Palace with the Lord Dragon for now. They must be housed elsewhere." His own Aes Sedai Warders were not excluded from that rule, and their displeasure over it was pulsing through his bonds to them. "I thought..." A bell rang, seemingly out of nowhere, just before a bright flash of light to the side, a gateway, drew his attention. The green-shawled Sister he had seen in Tar Valon stepped through first, followed closely by Rand. Another moment passed before Elnore came through as well, though the sight of her made Logain's eyes widen.
Next to Elnore was the Red sister, Lemai, though it would have been more accurately described as Elnore guiding the woman through the gateway. The tall Red sister was sobbing softly, one of her arms wrapped around Elnore's shoulders. It was an odd scene. Elnore did not seem the type to comfort an Aes Sedai, and an Aes Sedai, especially a Red, would not cry unless someone had ripped her hair out by the roots. Perhaps, not even then.
As the gateway winked out, his gaze drifted to Rand before settling on Elnore again. The closer she got, the more apparent it was that she was exhausted. The dark circles under her eyes were pronounced now, making her skin appear even paler. Rand did not look much better. "Taim?"
"Wasn't there," Elnore answered in a strained tone. "Evin, will you please escort Lemai and Chloe to a room where they can rest tonight?"
The boy nodded, then looked to Logain almost as an afterthought. When he saw no objections, he nodded again. "Come with me," he told the two women, gesturing them to follow. The Green started after him without pause, but the Red clung to Elnore until the girl said something to her that Logain could not hear. After hugging Elnore tightly, and dabbing at her eyes with a lace handkerchief, Lemai stiffened her spine and left the room.
Once Vinchova had pulled the door closed behind him, Logain shot a questioning look to Elnore. "They want to stay so they swore fealty to Rand. Lemai's bond was snapped, by her choice. Thankfully, it didn't throw her into a murderous rage, but…well, it wasn't pleasant for her." She let out a long breath, and though she was clearly doing her best to hide it, she was swaying. "How are things here?"
"Under control." He frowned. "Both of you need to go to bed before you fall on your faces. A few of the rooms were damaged in the battle, but the servants have readied the rest. I've seen to it that all three of our rooms are clustered together." He looked to Rand. "I assume you have nothing else planned for tonight."
Rand nodded wearily. "It has been a long day for us all. I, personally, am not eager to run off on another adventure at this time, and despite Elnore's look of defiance she wouldn't make it twenty paces before her legs gave way. I assume you have taken the necessary precautions to ensure our safety should Taim be fool enough to return tonight."
"Rand needs a proper guard," Elnore said quickly, her expression slightly sour. It was hardly a surprise after Rand pointed out how exhausted she looked; women always got snippy after being told truths they disliked. "And his rooms need to be warded. He needs some Maidens to guard his door, but he also needs at least two Asha'man."
Why did the bloody woman not insist on an entire army to guard the man's rooms as well? Logain's smile was tight, but more than a little indulgent. "I've already assigned Canler and Karldin to guard the Lord Dragon's rooms. And I sent for the Maidens as well." His gaze drifted to Rand. "They made it here a short while ago and are a bit…displeased…that you left without them." He paused a moment. "As for security, the Palace is locked down tightly. The grounds themselves are nearly as secure. I've increased the guard and, tomorrow, pairs of Soldiers will be scouting the grounds just outside of the Tower. For now, it is the best that can be done, and better than we would have elsewhere."
"I still need to go get Mat," Elnore said softly, unsuccessfully fighting a yawn. "And Fath…er..Lan."
Had she just called Lan 'father'? Before Logain could ask, she swayed badly. He reached out to steady her, looking down into her eyes. He half expected her to shrug him off, but instead, she leaned against him, if only momentarily.
"We can send Vinchova back tomorrow morning to get them, if need be," Logain said quietly, ready to catch her if she fell. From what he could tell, she was not too far from it.
She nodded weakly before turning her gaze to Rand for his decision. "Rand?"
"Red and black," Rand muttered, staring at the floor tiles and seemingly unaware that Logain and Elnore were still in the throne room with him. "They were his favorite colors."
"Whose?" Elnore and Logain both asked at once, but Logain quickly added, "Taim had this place decorated to suit him."
Slowly, almost reluctantly, Rand turned his gaze toward Logain and shook his head. "Not Taim." The other man's pregnant pause caused Logain to exchange a questioning look with Elnore. Had the bloody Dragon Reborn sustained a head injury on their quest for Taim? "Do you have a count for how many of his men chose to join me?"
Logain swallowed the urge to snap at the other man and merely shook his head. "Since I returned, I've had men gathering the dead, tending to the wounded, and surveying the grounds for damage. I—"
"I want those men!" Rand bellowed, snatching a black and red tapestry from the wall and ripping it in the process. "All of them! I want them questioned about Taim, about who he was working for!" His hands clenched into tight fists at his sides. Had it not been for the silence in the room, Logain would have never heard Rand whispering frantically, "Shut up! He's dead…dead…dead…" The man seemed on the edge of losing his mind, but before Logain could decide how to handle the situation, Rand stopped, dropped the torn tapestry and growled, "Ishamael is dead."
For a moment, Logain simply stared at the other man. The Creator help them, their salvation rested on the shoulders of a man who was not in his right mind! Had the taint gotten to him before saidin had been cleansed? Or was it something more? "Of course he's dead, Rand," Logain agreed calmly, "everyone saw you kill him."
"Ishamael?" Elnore questioned.
"One of the Forsaken," Logain said, giving her an incredulous look. "You can't tell me you don't know. Light, woman, everyone and his brother have seen the paintings of Rand battling him in the sky that night. Didn't—"
"Yes," she interrupted, clearly trying to fight a grimace. "Ishamael. The betrayer. I remember. I just…" She seemed to be struggling with something, though the only sign of it was her concerned frown. "You used balefire to kill him, right, Rand?"
Any other time, Rand's loud gasp would have drawn Logain's attention. Instead, he looked to Elnore. "Balefire? What difference does it make how he killed him? Dead is dead."
The girl shook her head slowly, nervously twisting the leopard ring she wore on the third finger of her left hand. For a brief moment, before she looked away from him to Rand, it was almost as though they were alone in the room. "Not with the Forsaken." Letting out an almost defeated sounding breath, she rubbed her temples for a moment before looking to Rand. "Rand, look, I don't know much about the Forsaken. Only a few knew the things they had done in the Third Age…" She stumbled over the words, but that was not the only sign of her discomfort. Why was she yet again talking about the present as though it had already occurred? She glanced at Logain then, almost as though she had read his mind and, with a grimace, she turned her gaze back to Rand and continued, "The only records about them were sealed. You…all of you…were tight-lipped about them, for some reason. Basically what I know of them is from tales written by authors who had no clue what had really happened, so it was mostly fiction. Embellished truth, at best, with only a hint of the real facts."
She drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly. The sound echoed eerily in the room, but Logain never took his gaze from her. She, in turn, never turned her blue eyes from Rand. Was the girl mad? How could she possibly know such things? And why did she speak so…strangely? "But there is one thing you taught me, one thing you said you wished you had known sooner. The only way to truly kill one of the Forsaken, the only way to ensure those sworn to the Dark One don't return, is to balefire them."
"Balefire affects the very Pattern itself, Elnore," Logain said softly, doing his best not to sound as though he were talking to a dim-witted child. "That is one thing the Aes Sedai have right. If you run around burning threads from—"
"I know that." Her tone was impatient, but when she looked at him her gaze reflected something else entirely. Something he could not quite name. She seemed almost reluctant to turn her gaze from him to Rand. "But the Aes Sedai don't know everything, and they're not always right. Unless a Forsaken is killed with balefire, the Dark One can capture his—or her—soul and put it in a different body. When someone dies by balefire, the Dark One doesn't have time to get the soul because the thread is burned from the Pattern. Even the Dark One can't turn back time." She paused. "Some prices are worth paying."
The girl took a step toward Rand, but Logain grabbed her arm to stop her. There was too much rage in Rand's gray eyes, too much tension in his body. It was almost as though he was fighting some sort of internal battle.
With the voices. The thought came unbidden to Logain, bringing memories to the fore he wished to forget. He had had it, too…the ranting voices in his skull, speaking within his mind as though they shared his body. Separate men with separate memories, going on about things Logain himself had no way of knowing. He had ignored them as best he could, though he had used their knowledge to learn to control the raging river that was saidin. Only after he had been severed had the voices disappeared. They had not returned when Nynaeve Healed his connection to the True Source—thank the Creator—though the memories from them remained. He had no complaints, even though other problems had remained.
"Not dead…not dead…the Light blind me, he's not dead…"
Logain's grip on Elnore's arm tightened when Rand began whispering to himself just barely loud enough for Logain to catch the words, but somehow the girl managed to slip free. "Elnore—"
"Who isn't dead, Rand?" she interrupted, stopping in front of Rand and reaching out to touch his arm. "Ishamael?"
The touch seemed to calm the man, at least enough to snap him out of his whispered tirade. When he spoke, though, his voice sounded raw. Pained. "Ishamael is alive. Others are as well. I was foolish to believe otherwise." His expression softened, if only a bit, when he reached out and squeezed her shoulder. "I know now what I must do when I face that monster again." To Logain, he added sternly, "My orders stand. I want a list of the men who died here today. I want a list of the men who once followed Taim but swore they would follow me now. And I want a list of those who were his known accomplices. I want them tomorrow! I mean to find him, Logain. You wished to lead the Black Tower. Prove you can do the job."
As Rand strode from the room, Elnore started to follow him but Logain stopped her with a word. "Wait."
The girl froze where she stood, remaining motionless for several moments before finally turning to face him. She looked…almost afraid. Only almost. Odd that running into battle could not produce such a reaction from her but such a simple request could. "I need to talk to Rand," she said evenly.
"He needs sleep. As do you." Both statements held so much truth that he nearly felt guilty for what he said next. "But first, you and I need to talk."
For the briefest of moments, she had the look of a cornered animal, wild and determined to escape capture in whatever manner necessary. But, letting out a resigned sigh, she nodded. "Here?"
Logain shook his head as he crossed the room. "Best we do this where we won't be interrupted," he said, taking her arm. "I'll show you to your rooms." Had she not followed along so meekly, he would not have stopped to look down at her; had he not stopped to look down at her, forcing her to return his gaze, he never would have noticed that she looked like a woman on her way to meet the headsman. As he opened his mouth to ask what bothered her, though, she gave a slight shake of her head. Reluctantly, he put a hand on her back and guided her from the room. Whatever her troubles, he would soon learn of them, right after he learned just who in the name of the Creator she really was.
"It is agreed, then?" Adelorna asked, her gaze falling on each of the Sitters in the room. After hearing Alarra's declarations regarding Elaida's machinations, the Sitters had had many questions. Even after their questions had been addressed, they had wanted more discussion on the matter. They realized, as did all of the Ajah heads, that deposing yet another Amyrlin, while the tower was split, no less, was a risky move. If it was not handled correctly, the rebels could attack. Blood could be spilled on Tower grounds, and that was not acceptable to any of them.
Granted, now that the rebels' so-called Amyrlin was stilled and imprisoned, they were in a similar predicament. But did they know yet that the child had been stilled? It was doubtful they knew more than the fact that the child was missing and had been since the night before. That did not mean, however, that they would not choose to quickly elect a new Amyrlin. Adelorna's eyes and ears reported that both Lelaine and Romanda wanted the position. Their failed attempts at controlling the child had left them both bitter. Fools.
Each of the Sitters nodded, but Yukiri stood. The woman was even shorter than Adelorna herself, but had always carried herself as though she were a queen. "What of the Reds? If they refuse to go along with this—"
"Without the Blues," Seaine interrupted, "the greater consensus can be met without them." The woman snorted. "In essence, Elaida took part in her own demise when she outlawed the Blue Ajah."
"The Reds will vote to depose Elaida," Adelorna told them quietly. "So there will be no problem." That declaration caused every one of the Sitters to eye her suspiciously.
"We have all agreed that Elaida must be deposed," Seaine began hesitantly, "but we must immediately select a new Amyrlin. If we do not do so, then the Tower will be too weak."
Doesine nodded vehemently, tugging on her yellow shawl. "And the woman we choose must be willing to send word to the rebels. The Tower needs to be united."
"Yes, and using the same reasoning, we can also elect a new Amyrlin without having to worry over the Blues," Ferane pointed out bluntly. "Once the new Amyrlin is in place, she can reestablish the Blue Ajah as her first official act. We have already discussed this. We know what must be done. It will take a firm hand to bring order back to the Tower."
Shevan laughed softly. "Why do I get the feeling you all have already chosen that hand?"
The other Ajah heads exchanged looks, their gazes pointedly avoiding Adelorna, before Ferane finally answered, "Because we have." Her pause was a bit too dramatic for any White. But Ferane had always had a flair for the dramatic. "You will all support Adelorna Bastine as our next Amyrlin."
"This is not open for discussion," Jesse declared, her gaze falling on the Brown Sitters.
"A Green to lead us to Tarmon Gai'don," Andaya, a Gray, said pensively. "I think it is quite fitting."
There were murmurs as the Sitters discussed it amongst themselves, but it was obvious how things would proceed. The Sitters would vote the way the Ajah heads ordered. But Adelorna would have to work with these women; they could easily make things difficult for her. "I realize this is not the best of circumstances," she told them honestly, "but sometimes you must work with what you are given. I cannot guarantee I will never upset you, but I can guarantee you that I have the Tower's best interests at heart. I can promise you that, whatever happens, my goal is to make the Tower whole and strong. I have disapproved of Elaida's tyrannical ways, and from what I have heard of the child, Egwene, she has proven to be nearly as dangerous as Elaida." Spies in the rebel's camp had confirmed that the girl had used trickery, blackmail, and manipulation to get absolute power over the Hall, which was bad enough. Adelorna was convinced there was more.
"The White Tower cannot survive another Amyrlin interested only in her own glory," Jesse added. "Worse, the world cannot survive it. We are the only true force that stands against the Shadow, yet all we have done is bicker amongst ourselves like children. It is pathetic."
"And embarrassing," Adelorna added. "I mean to unite the White Tower immediately, one way or another. This split must end. Now."
Silence reigned for several minutes, everyone seemingly considering the weight of Adelorna's words. "Then the sooner we get this done," Seaine began softly, "the sooner we can repair what has been broken."
Ferane nodded. "Yes, it is best we get this done now, while the Tower sleeps. In the morning, when everyone wakes, we will have a new Amyrlin."
Logain sat across from Elnore, watching her closely. He had listened to her tale without comment, though it had taken effort to hold his tongue. Her claims were inconceivable, and most would have dismissed them as madness. But he had watched her as she had spoken, seen the pain in her eyes as she had explained how she had been torn from her home—the future—and dropped into this time and place. She was not lying, that much he knew with certainty. There was one thing that bothered him, though, and that was how she had managed to share her experience without ever mentioning the future she had left behind. What was she trying to hide?
Silence fell between them when she finished. He watched her as she looked around the room with a disgruntled expression. The sitting room was decorated in a gaudy fashion, with tapestries of beheaded and bloodied men covering the smooth stone walls. It was hardly appropriate for a woman, and he was willing to bet the bedchamber was just as bad or worse. He would see to it that the room was decorated more to her tastes later, though. There were more important matters at hand, not the least of which was their conversation. If he did not break the silence, he feared she would sit there, wordlessly, until she passed out from exhaustion.
"You knew me before," he reasoned, fully intending to steer the subject to the black leopard signet ring she wore on the third finger of her left hand. "Well, you know me from…where you came from. That's how you knew my name." A stiff nod was the only confirmation she offered. Why was she so reluctant to discuss this? "Were we close? Even with the slowing, you can't be more than seventeen. Maybe eighteen? I'd be—"
"I'll soon be twenty-two," she interrupted petulantly, frowning. "And we didn't know each other very well until I was older. Eventually we…got along…fine."
That was enough of an opening for Logain. "Apparently so, since you're wearing my great grandmother's signet ring." His words made her look as though she had been punched in the gut. But he was not done yet. "How exactly did you end up with it?"
Drawing in a shaky breath, she looked down at the ring and touched it gently. Her pained expression tore at him—as much he wished to know the truth of how she had come into possession of the ring, he did not care to cause her grief. "I…" She got no more than that one word out before her face twisted and she began chewing her lower lip. Though the signs differed with each woman, Logain recognized it all too well—the look of a woman trying very hard not to cry. Light, but he hated to see women cry!
"Do you know who the ring originally belonged to?" he asked, hoping the slight change in subject might help her to regain her composure.
This time her nod was slower. Less curt. "Your grandfather's mother. Loirane." The corners of her lips curled up, if only slightly. "She was the Queen of Ghealdan, one of the strongest ever. And the youngest. She was fourteen when she took the throne, after her father was murdered by a jealous noble who intended to seize the throne for herself. Loirane rallied the nobles behind her, though, forced the information from her father's killer and, once she had the crown, she had the woman executed for all of Jehannah to see."
Logain said nothing; in fact, he made an effort to close his mouth when he realized it was hanging open. Very few people knew the tale Elnore was telling. Over the years, the story had been altered by others and his family had lost influence in Ghealdan. Only those of House Ablar knew its real history, they and a select few others who found it more convenient to ignore the truth.
"Doing that earned her the respect of Ghealdan's people," Elnore continued, seeming to enjoy telling the story. "They started calling her a leopard, saying she was as fearless, as intelligent, and as powerful. It became her insignia after that. The man she later married, your grandfather's father, had this ring made for her." She smiled then, a real smile that caused her blue eyes to light up. It was that, as much as some inexplicable desire to hear the story from her lips, that kept him silent. "He was more than twice her age, almost as much older as her father was than her, but neither cared. He courted her for nearly a year. Then, the day before her sixteenth name day, he asked her to wed him."
For a moment Logain held her gaze with his own, but with an almost reluctant smile, she looked down at the ring. The silence between them was not uncomfortable, yet he longed for her to finish. Though he knew his family's history as well as he knew the sun would rise in the morning, it helped to hear it from another. It helped to know that somehow—for some reason—he had shared it with someone else. "The wedding…"
Her eyes shot up to his again, leaving him feeling as though she had actually touched him. "Was different from any other." Twisting the ring on her finger, she let out a slow breath. "She wed him before all the nobles, before the people of Jehannah and any others from Ghealdan who cared to attend. Pigeons were sent across Ghealdan to tell of the impending marriage." Her smile turned almost dreamy, as though she were imagining what it had been like. "The day they wed, there were people as far as the eye could see.
"She did something never done before by any Ghealdan king or queen. By any ruler before or after her." She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Logain could have sworn he heard her heart beat. Felt it. "She announced to all gathered that he would not just be her husband, her prince consort, but that he would rule jointly with her. She wanted an equal, a king not just in name but in reality. From that day on, her husband held just as much as authority as she did." A slow smile spread on her lips. "Since Loirane had no other family, she declared that House Ablar, which had been tenth in line to the throne, merged with Loirane's house—House Bennista."
That one move on Loirane's part had raised House Ablar higher than the other houses. They had, in effect, become the ruling house. Many of the nobles had not taken well to that and wanted the order returned to what it once was. After Loirane had passed, the other nobles eventually got what they wanted. Logain was loathe to think about it now. "She would have liked you, you know," he said softly, his gaze dropping to the ring on Elnore's finger. "I can't think of another woman better suited to wearing that." Certainly not Logain's mother. Though he loved her dearly, she had never been a strong woman. "But I still want to know how it came to be in your possession."
Though she was clearly trying to hide it, Logain did not miss the panicked expression that suddenly came over her delicate features. She opened her mouth three times in a row, only to shut it almost immediately without uttering a word. Every time she did, she seemed to shrink into the chair.
"Is it that bad?" he prompted gently, leaning forward to put his hands over hers. "Was I dead or—"
"No!" The word came out as a barely controlled sob, and when she looked up at him there were tears in her eyes. She looked horrified at the thought, which made him wonder just how close he was to this girl. Was it possible…no, blood and ashes she would be half his age! "Light, no. Not that. I just…I mean…please, Logain. I can't do this. Not right now. I—"
A knock at the door spared her further groveling, and much to Logain's chagrin she scrambled up and across the room before he could stop her. His view to her visitor was, unfortunately, blocked, but whoever it was did not stay long. When Elnore turned back toward him, she was reading a note. And smiling. The woman changed moods quicker than winds changed course.
"What is it?"
Sniffling, she met his gaze and grinned. Her tears had already dried. "Rand wants me to take care of something for him first thing in the morning." When Logain frowned, she added, "Don't worry. It's nothing you need to be concerned with, just a personal errand."
A personal errand. The Light only knew what the man was sending her off to do. "You need rest," he told her firmly, getting to his feet and crossing the room to her. "The sun will be up in a few hours, which gives you little time to sleep! The bloody man should recognize that instead of treating you like his personal servant. Just because he doesn't have enough sense to—"
"He's not sending me to war, Logain," she interrupted with an amused giggle. Shaking his head, he could not help but return her smile. It was infinitely better than seeing her cry. "He's just sending me to fetch something for him. I'll be there and back before anyone even notices I'm gone."
That was doubtful. Still, had she not been looking so pleased with herself, he would likely have left after a simple wish for a good night's sleep. Instead, he put a finger under her chin. "Don't think for a second this means I'll forget about that ring. You're going to tell me how you got it, sooner or later. Preferably sooner." Under his unyielding gaze, she wrinkled her nose and shifted uncomfortably. At that moment, she reminded him of a child who had been caught stealing a pie. He found it oddly endearing. "Sleep well, Elnore sur al'Amon."
He heard her breath catch when he moved away from her, another bit of information he filed in the back of his mind. It was not the first time he had noticed such a reaction. The image of her tripping into his arms flashed briefly in his mind and made him smile wolfishly. Her inability to hide her feelings just might give him the answers he wanted before he ever convinced her to answer his questions. Either way, he would get what he wanted. And, with Rand seeming to trust her, at least to some extent, she would prove a useful ally.
"Oh," he said, pausing once he had opened the door and taken a step into the hallway, "I left you one of my shirts to sleep in. I had a feeling you might have need of it." He watched her closely, not missing the way she licked her lips. "Tomorrow I'll speak to the Tower's tailor and have some clothes made for you."
Her lips shifted into a somewhat shy smile when she said, "Thank you."
Another sign, Logain was certain. This girl was no wilting flower. She spoke to Aes Sedai like they were less than vermin, faced Asha'man without blinking, and had chased Taim without pause. So why did he have such an effect on her?
Deciding to save that question for a time when neither he nor she was ready to fall down from exhaustion, he gave her a wink and a nod then pulled the door closed behind him.
"I demand you tell me what you're up to, Siuan Sanche! And I demand it right now!" Despite the vehemence in her tone, Nisao Dachen was not the least bit surprised that the only response she received from the other woman was an angry glare. When Siuan had roused her from her bed—interrupting the first peaceful sleep she had had in weeks!—the woman had pushed one of those dream ter'angreal into her hands and explained what she was to do. With little choice, Nisao had obeyed. But now that she was in Tel'aran'rhiod, sitting in the Amyrlin's office no less, she regretted having followed Siuan's orders so docilely. "Siuan, I—"
"Oh, do shut up, Nisao," Siuan interrupted sourly, crossing her arms over her breasts. "You'll learn soon enough why I brought you here."
"Soon enough?" Nisao snapped, glancing down when her blue silk dress shifted and became something vaguely resembling a potato sack. "You'll tell me now or I'll—"
"Or you'll what, daughter?"
Nisao jumped at the sound of Egwene's voice, something she had been prone to do since she had been forced to swear fealty to the girl. The curtsy she offered was cursory. "Mother. I thought you were…" Dead. Or, at the very least, captured and stilled. News from the riverbank had spread quickly, to every sister at the camp. The details remained sketchy, but it was confirmed that the Amyrlin herself had gone in secret to seal Northharbor, and her boat had been found overturned and caught in the reeds. It seemed unlikely she had survived in the swift, icy currents of the Erinin.
Some had argued that Egwene might have survived, that perhaps she had been caught or found by the Tower guard or sisters who had sided with Elaida. The Hall had yet to confirm anything. Not that they had time; they had met all day into the night, not even ceasing for meals. Egwene's Council had not been privy to the meeting, for some reason, though it hardly mattered to Nisao. Since Sheriam and the others had ousted her from their inner circle, Nisao was no longer a part of the Council.
"What happens here," Egwene began, the seven-striped stole on her shoulders seeming to grow larger, "stays between the three of us. Do not even consider wriggling your way out of it, Nisao, or I will make you rue the day your mother first allowed your father a kiss."
The threat caused Nisao to bristle, but Egwene's expression only grew harder. Light, but she was a hard woman, as unyielding as the strongest steel. It was part of the reason Nisao was so alarmed by the girl's leadership. In her experience, there were only three possible outcomes when a leader was as hard as this girl: she would sooner or later learn to accept that she could not always have her way, she would break when the pressure became too much to bear, or she would become a tyrant. The third option was the one that frightened Nisao the most, and the one that seemed most likely given the way the girl had forced or manipulated everyone into bending to her will. The Tower could not survive such a woman. Not now.
"I'm well aware of my vow of…fealty…to you, Mother." To this day, she could not stand to voice the words. Every time she thought on it, she wanted nothing more than to flee. Burn Myrelle for getting her involved in that mess with Lan! When Egwene did not respond, Nisao let out a breath. "You have my word I will speak naught of what happens here."
For a moment, Egwene merely stared at her. Sometimes Nisao thought the other woman's gaze could burn a hole through cuendillar. "I was captured, daughter. And stilled." When Nisao opened her mouth, Egwene silenced her by raising her hand. "Stilling can be Healed, as you well know."
That, she did. But if Egwene had been stilled, Lelaine and Romanda—at the very least—would take the stance that… Light, that was it! "The Hall doesn't know, do they?"
One of Egwene's brows lifted, her gaze growing even harder. Colder. "I'm certain some will see this as an opportunity to seize control, but they are sorely mistaken. I am still the Amyrlin." After a slight pause, she added, "Until death. And I am not dead yet, daughter."
"But Elaida surely means to…" Trailing off, she glanced at Siuan before looking back to Egwene. Had Elaida meant to execute Egwene, Nisao would not be here now. Siuan and Egwene knew of Elaida's intentions, and those intentions did not involve execution. "She intends to let you live. That's why you're here."
Egwene nodded. "You know the weave Nynaeve used to Heal Siuan and Leane. Use it now."
"But Mother, if you—"
"If I have to tell you again, daughter, you will still be serving a penance when this latest class of novices goes into retirement," Egwene interrupted, her tone brooking no argument.
Nisao's jaw tightened, but she opened herself to saidar and began the weave. She had intended to explain the news she had learned, how if a man Healed a woman's connection to the True Source she would be able to channel at the same strength she had channeled before being severed. Now, though, the fool woman could learn on her own. Perhaps the Tower was better off if Egwene could only channel weakly. Perhaps it was the only way she could be stopped from putting her boot on the Tower's neck and keeping it there.
A shiver went up her spine as she finished and watched the light of saidar spring up around the girl. Her eyes widened when she saw just how much of the One Power the girl was holding. Worse, Nisao could sense it. It was less than half as much as the girl could have channeled before, but it was far more than the trickle Siuan could hold!
"Light!" Siuan growled. "You…are you using Tel'aran'rhiod to—"
"No," Egwene interrupted smoothly, quickly channeling various weaves as though she were testing her ability.
Siuan spun on Nisao, her eyes blazing. "What did you do differently? You must have done something!"
Shaking her head, Nisao frowned. "It is the same weave Nynaeve used to Heal you and Leane. Perhaps the difference is that Egwene was significantly stronger than you to begin with. Perhaps…" For a moment, her concern over Egwene was forgotten and she considered the possibilities. Leane and Siuan had been close in strength before, and still were, though Siuan was still slightly—very slightly—stronger than Leane. Most in the Yellow Ajah now knew that only a man could Heal a woman's connection to the True Source if she was to be returned to full strength, but it seemed that a fixed fraction of an Aes Sedai's strength was lost when Healed by a woman. Or did the fraction decrease if the woman's original strength was higher? Unless she was allowed to practice on women who had been severed, she would likely never know the answer to that question.
Her gaze went to Egwene, who was serenely trying weave after weave. She was weaker now, for certain, but was strong enough to Travel, if only barely.
"Siuan, call a meeting of the Hall," Egwene finally said, breaking the silence. "Immediately." Her dark gaze turned on Nisao, harder than ever. It was all Nisao could do not to shiver. "Go."
Nisao curtseyed and exited the World of Dreams, not bothering to offer a farewell. Awake, she sat up and pulled the blanket around her. She felt cold, and it had nothing to do with the weather. Egwene could channel again. The Hall might not know, for certain, that she had been stilled, but they would be able to tell that she was no longer able to channel at the level she once had. That alone might cause the Hall to reject her and choose another Amyrlin, but instinct told her Egwene would get her way. She always seemed to, one way or another.
Giving up on the idea of sleep, she sat alone in the darkness and thought of all that had transpired since Egwene had been raised. So much had changed, and not necessarily for the better. The girl had pushed them into a war with the Tower so she could seize control of the Hall. Now they had no choice but to continue that war, no matter who wore the seven-striped stole. Nisao knew in her heart that Egwene would remain in power, though; she was not the type to relinquish power of any sort, and she would continue this war until she had full control of a united White Tower. Egwene al'Vere would stop at nothing to obtain that goal. Nothing. Nisao shuddered at that thought, and gripped the blanket tighter.