They were in the dungeon guardroom, now. The severed heads and the pieces of the guards had been removed, though there were still red smears on the table and damp patches in the straw to show where they had been. Two Aes Sedai were there, placid-looking women with brown-fringed shawls, studying the words scrawled on the walls, careless of what their skirts dragged through in the straw. Each had an inkpot in a writing-case hung at her belt and was making notes in a small book with a pen. They never even glanced at the men trooping through.
“Look here, Verin,” one of them said, pointing to a section of stone covered with lines of Trolloc script. “This looks interesting.”
The other hurried over, picking up reddish stains on her skirt. “Yes, I see. A much better hand than the rest. Not a Trolloc. Very interesting.” She began writing in her book, looking up every so often to read the angular letters on the wall.
Rand hurried out. Even if they had not been Aes Sedai, he would not have wanted to remain in the same room with anyone who thought reading Trolloc script written in human blood was “interesting.”
Ingtar and his men stalked on ahead, intent on their duties. Rand dawdled, wondering where he could go now. Getting back into the women’s apartments would not be easy without Egwene to help. Light, let her be all right. Moiraine said she’d be all right.
Lan found him before he reached the first stairs leading up. “You can go back to your room, if you want, sheepherder. Moiraine had your things fetched from Egwene’s room and taken to yours.”
“How did she know . . . ?”
“Moiraine knows a great many things, sheepherder. You should understand that by now. You had better watch yourself. The women are all talking about you running through the halls, waving a sword. Staring down the Amyrlin, so they say.”
“Light! I am sorry they’re angry, Lan, but I was invited in. And when I heard the alarm . . . burn me, Egwene was down here!”
Lan pursed his lips thoughtfully; it was the only expression on his face. “Oh, they’re not angry, exactly. Though most of them think you need a strong hand to settle you down some. Fascinated is more like it. Even the Lady Amalisa can’t stop asking questions about you. Some of them are starting to believe the servants’ tales. They think you’re a prince in disguise, sheepherder. Not a bad thing. There is an old saying here in the Borderlands: ‘Better to have one woman on your side than ten men.’ The way they are talking among themselves, they’re trying to decide whose daughter is strong enough to handle you. If you don’t watch your step, sheepherder, you will find yourself married into a Shienaran House before you realize what has happened.” Suddenly he burst out laughing; it looked odd, like a rock laughing. “Running through the halls of the women’s apartments in the middle of the night, wearing a laborer’s jerkin and waving a sword. If they don’t have you flogged, at the very least they’ll talk about you for years. They have never seen a male as peculiar as you. Whatever wife they chose for you, she’d probably have you the head of your own House in ten years, and have you thinking you had done it yourself, besides. It is too bad you have to leave.”
Rand had been gaping at the Warder, but now he growled, “I have been trying. The gates are guarded, and no one can leave. I tried while it was still daylight. I couldn’t even take Red out of the stable.”
“No matter, now. Moiraine sent me to tell you. You can leave anytime you want to. Even right now. Moiraine had Agelmar exempt you from the order.”
“Why now, and not earlier? Why couldn’t I leave before? Was she the one who had the gates barred then? Ingtar said he knew nothing about any order to keep people in before tonight.”
Rand thought the Warder looked troubled, but all he said was, “When someone gives you a horse, sheepherder, don’t complain that it isn’t as fast as you’d like.”
“What about Egwene? And Mat? Are they really all right? I can’t leave until I know they’re all right.”
“The girl is fine. She’ll wake in the morning, and probably not even remember what happened. Blows to the head are like that.”
“What about Mat?”
“The choice is up to you, sheepherder. You can leave now, or tomorrow, or next week. It’s up to you.” He walked away, leaving Rand standing there in the corridor deep under Fal Dara keep.
Blood Calls Blood
As the litter carrying Mat left the Amyrlin Seat’s chambers, Moiraine carefully rewrapped the angreal—a small, age-darkened ivory carving of a woman in flowing robes—in a square of silk and put it back into her pouch. Working together with other Aes Sedai, merging their abilities, channeling the flow of the One Power to a single task, was tiring work under the best conditions, even with the aid of an angreal, and working through the night without sleep was not the best conditions. And the work they had done on the boy had not been easy.
Leane directed the litter bearers out with sharp gestures and a few crisp words. The two men kept ducking their heads, nervous at being around so many Aes Sedai at once, and one of them the Amyrlin herself, never mind that the Aes Sedai had been using the Power. They had waited in the corridor, squatting against the wall while the work was done, and they were anxious to be gone from the women’s apartments. Mat lay with his eyes closed and his face pale, but his chest rose and fell in the even rhythm of a deep sleep.
How will this affect matters? Moiraine wondered. He is not necessary with the Horn gone, and yet. . . .
The door closed behind Leane and the litter bearers, and the Amyrlin drew an unsteady breath. “A nasty business that. Nasty.” Her face was smooth, but she rubbed her hands together as if she wanted to wash them.
“But quite interesting,” Verin said. She had been the fourth Aes Sedai the Amyrlin had chosen for the work. “It is too bad we do not have the dagger so the Healing could be complete. For all we did tonight, he will not live long. Months, perhaps, at best.” The three Aes Sedai were alone in the Amyrlin’s chambers. Beyond the arrowslits dawn pearled the sky.
“But he will have those months, now,” Moiraine said sharply. “And if it can be retrieved, the link can still be broken.” If it can be retrieved. Yes, of course.
“It can still be broken,” Verin agreed. She was a plump, square-faced woman, and even with the Aes Sedai gift of agelessness, there was a touch of gray in her brown hair. That was her only sign of age, but for an Aes Sedai it meant she was very old indeed. Her voice held steady, though, matching her smooth cheeks. “He has been linked to the dagger a long time, however, as a thing like that must be reckoned. And he will be linked longer yet, whether it is found or not. He may already be changed beyond the reach of full Healing, even if no longer enough to contaminate others. Such a small thing, that dagger,” she mused, “but it will corrupt whoever carries it long enough. He who carries it will in turn corrupt those who come in contact with him, and they will corrupt still others, and the hatred an
d suspicion that destroyed Shadar Logoth, every man and woman’s hand turned against every other, will be loose in the world again. I wonder how many people it can taint in, say, a year. It should be possible to calculate a reasonable approximation.”
Moiraine gave the Brown sister a wry look. Another danger confronts us, and she sounds as if it is a puzzle in a book. Light, the Browns truly are not aware of the world at all. “Then we must find the dagger, Sister. Agelmar is sending men to hunt those who took the Horn and slew his oathmen, the same who took the dagger. If one is found, the other will be.”