Tallanvor reached for Rand's sword, but Elayne moved to cut him off. “He is my guest, and by custom and law, guests of the royal family may go armed even in Mother's presence. Or will you deny my word that he is my guest?”

Tallanvor hesitated, locking eyes with her, then nodded. “Very well, my Lady.” She smiled at Rand as Tallanvor stepped back, but it lasted only a moment. “First rank to accompany me,” Tallanvor commanded. “Announce the Lady Elayne and the Lord Gawyn to Her Majesty,” he told the doorkeepers. “Also GuardsmanLieutenant Tallanvor, at Her Majesty's command, with the intruder under guard.”


Elayne scowled at Tallanvor, but the doors were already swinging open. A sonorous voice sounded, announcing those who came.

Grandly Elayne swept through the doors, spoiling her regal entrance only a little by motioning for Rand to keep close behind her. Gawyn squared his shoulders and strode in flanking her, one measured pace to her rear. Rand followed, uncertainly keeping level with Gawyn on her other side. Tallanvor stayed close to Rand, and ten soldiers came with him. The doors closed silently behind them.

Suddenly Elayne dropped into a deep curtsy, simultaneously bowing from the waist, and stayed there, holding her skirt wide. Rand gave a start, then hastily emulated Gawyn and the other men, shifting awkwardly until he had it right. Down on his right knee, head bowed, bending forward to press the knuckles of his right hand against the marble tiles, his left hand resting on the end of his sword hilt. Gawyn, without a sword, put his hand on his dagger the same way.

Rand was just congratulating himself on getting it right when he noticed Tallanvor, his head still bent, glaring sideways at him from behind his faceguard. Was I supposed to do something else? He was suddenly angry that Tallanvor expected him to know what to do when no one had told him. And angry over being afraid of the guards. He had done nothing to be fearful for. He knew his fear was not Tallanvor's fault, but he was angry at him anyway.

Everyone held their positions, frozen as if waiting for the spring thaw. He did not know what they were waiting for, but he took the opportunity to study the place to which he had been brought. He kept his head down, just turning it enough to see. Tallanvor's scowl deepened, but he ignored it.

The square chamber was about the size of the common room at The Queen's Blessing, its walls presenting hunting scenes carved in relief in stone of the purest white. The tapestries between the carvings were gentle images of bright flowers and brilliantly plumaged hummingbirds, except for the two at the far end of the room, where the White Lion of Andor stood taller than a man on scarlet fields. Those two hangings flanked a dais, and on the dais a carved and gilded throne where sat the Queen.

A bluff, blocky man stood bareheaded by the Queen's right hand in the red of the Queen's Guards, with four golden knots on the shoulder of his cloak and wide golden bands breaking the white of his cuffs. His temples were heavy with gray, but he looked as strong and immovable as a rock. That had to be the CaptainGeneral, Gareth Bryne. Behind the throne and to the other side a woman in deep green silk sat on a low stool, knitting something out of dark, almost black, wool. At first the knitting made Rand think she was old, but at second glance he could not put an age to her at all. Young, old, he did not know. Her attention seemed to be entirely on her needles and yarn, just as if there were not a Queen within arm's reach of her. She was a handsome woman, outwardly placid, yet there was something terrible in her concentration. There was no sound in the room except for the click of her needles.

He tried to look at everything, yet his eyes kept going back to the woman with the gleaming wreath of finely wrought roses on her brow, the Rose Crown of Andor. A long red stole, the Lion of Andor marching along its length, hung over her silken dress of red and white pleats, and when she touched the CaptainGeneral's arm with her left hand, a ring in the shape of the Great Serpent, eating its own tail, glittered. Yet it was not the grandeur of clothes or jewelry or even crown that drew Rand's eyes again and again: it was the woman who wore them.

Morgase had her daughter's beauty, matured and ripened. Her face and figure, her presence, filled the room like a light that dimmed the other two with her. If she had been a widow in Emond's Field, she would have had a line of suitors outside her door even if she was the worst cook and most slovenly housekeeper in the Two Rivers. He saw her studying him and ducked his head, afraid she might be able to tell his thoughts from his face. Light, thinking about the Queen like she was a village woman! You fool!

-- Advertisement --

“You may rise,” Morgase said in a rich, warm voice that held Elayne's assurance of obedience a hundred times over.

Rand stood with the rest.

“Mother — ” Elayne began, but Morgase cut her off.

“You have been climbing trees, it seems, daughter.” Elayne plucked a stray fragment of bark from her dress and, finding there was no place to put it, held it clenched in her hand. “In fact,” Morgase went on calmly, “it would seem that despite my orders to the contrary you have contrived to take your look at this Logain. Gawyn, I have thought better of you. You must learn not only to obey your sister, but at the same time to be counterweight for her against disaster.” The Queen's eyes swung to the blocky man beside her, then quickly away again. Bryne remained impassive, as if he had not noticed, but Rand thought those eyes noticed everything. “That, Gawyn, is as much the duty of the First Prince as is leading the armies of Andor. Perhaps if your training is intensified, you will find less time for letting your sister lead you into trouble. I will ask the CaptainGeneral to see that you do not lack for things to do on the journey north.”

Gawyn shifted his feet as if about to protest, then bowed his head instead. “As you command, mother.”

Elayne grimaced. “Mother, Gawyn cannot keep me out of trouble if he is not with me. It was for that reason alone he left his rooms. Mother, surely there could be no harm in just looking at Logain. Almost everyone in the city was closer to him than we.”

“Everyone in the city is not the DaughterHeir.” Sharpness underlay the Queen's voice. “I have seen this fellow Logain from close, and he is dangerous, child. Caged, with Aes Sedai to guard him every minute, he is still as dangerous as a wolf. I wish he had never been brought near Caemlyn.”

“He will be dealt with in Tar Valon.” The woman on the stool did not take her eyes from her knitting as she spoke. “What is important is that the people see that the Light has once again vanquished the Dark. And that they see you are part of that victory, Morgase.”

Morgase waved a dismissive hand. “I would still rather he had never come near Caemlyn. Elayne, I know your mind.”

“Mother,” Elayne protested, “I do mean to obey you. Truly I do.”

“You do?” Morgase asked in mock surprise, then chuckled. “Yes, you do try to be a dutiful daughter. But you constantly test how far you may go. Well, I did the same with my mother. That spirit will stand you in good stead when you ascend to the throne, but you are not Queen yet, child. You have disobeyed me and had your look at Logain. Be satisfied with that. On the journey north you will not be allowed within one hundred paces of him, neither you nor Gawyn. If I did not know just how hard your lessons will be in Tar Valon, I would send Lini along to see that you obey. She, at least, seems able to make you do as you must.”

Elayne bowed her head sullenly.

The woman behind the throne seemed occupied with counting her stitches. “In one week,” she said suddenly, “you will be wanting to come home to your mother. In a month you will be wanting to run away with the Traveling People. But my sisters will keep you away from the unbeliever. That sort of thing is not for you, not yet.” Abruptly she turned on the stool to look intently at Elayne, all her placidity gone as if it had never been. “You have it in you to be the greatest Queen that Andor has ever seen, that any land has seen in more than a thousand years. It is for that we will shape you, if you have the strength for it.”

Rand stared at her. She had to be Elaida, the Aes Sedai. Suddenly he was glad he had not come to her for help, no matter what her Ajah. A sternness far beyond Moiraine's radiated from her. He had sometimes thought of Moiraine as steel covered with velvet; with Elaida the velvet was only an illusion.

“Enough, Elaida,” Morgase said, frowning uneasily. “She has heard that more than enough. The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills.” For a moment she was silent, looking at her daughter. “Now there is the problem of this young man” — she gestured to Rand without taking her eyes off Elayne's face — “and how and why he came here, and why you claimed guestright for him to your brother.”

“May I speak, mother?” When Morgase nodded her assent, Elayne told of events simply, from the time she first saw Rand climbing up the slope to the wall. He expected her to finish by proclaiming the innocence of what he had done, but instead she said, “Mother, often you tell me I must know our people, from the highest to the lowest, but whenever I meet any of them it is with a dozen attendants. How can I come to know anything real or true under such circumstances? In speaking with this young man I have already learned more about the people of the Two Rivers, what kind of people they are, than I ever could from books. It says something that he has come so far and has put on the red, when so many incomers wear the white from fear. Mother, I beg you not to misuse a loyal subject, and one who has taught me much about t

-- Advertisement --