The Path of Daggers


Chapter 25


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(Novels9) Chapter 25
(Female Silhouettes)
An Unwelcome Return
Seated behind her gilded writing table, Elaida fingered an agedark ivory carving of a strange bird with a beak as long as its body and listened with some amusement to the six women standing on the other side on the table. Each a Sitter for her Ajah, they frowned sideways at one another, shifted velvet slippers on the brightly patterned carpet that covered most of the russet floor tiles, twitched at vineworked shawls so the colored fringes danced, and generally looked and sounded like a gaggle of peevish serving girls wishing they had the nerve to go for each others' throats in front of their mistress. Frost coated the glassed casements fitted into the windows so that it was hardly possible to see the snow swirling outside, though sometimes the winds howled with an icy rage. Elaida felt quite warm, and not just for the thick logs blazing in the white marble fireplace. Whether these women knew it or not - well, Duhara knew, certainly, and perhaps the others did - she was their mistress. The elaborate goldcovered case clock that Cemaile had commissioned ticked away. Cemaile's vanished dream would come true; The Tower returned to its glory. And firmly in the capable hands of Elaida do Avriny a'Roihan.
"No ter'angreal has ever been found that can 'control' a woman's channeling," Velina was saying in a voice cool and precise but almost girlishly highpitched, a voice at strong odds with her eagle's beak of a nose and her sharp, tilted eyes. She sat for the White, and was the very model of a White sister, in all but her fierce appearance. Her plain, snowy dress seemed stark and cold. "Very few have ever been found that perform the same function. Therefore, logically, if such a ter'angreal were found, or more than one, improbable as that must be, there could not be sufficient of them to control more than two or three women at most. It follows that the reports of these socalled Seanchan are exaggerated wildly. If women on 'leashes' exist, they cannot channel. Plainly not. I do not deny these people hold Ebou Dar, and Amador, and perhaps more, but clearly they are but a creation of Rand al'Thor, perhaps to frighten people into flocking to him. Like this Prophet of his. It is simple logic."
"I am very glad you don't deny Amador and Ebou Dar at least, Velina," Shevan said drily. And she could be very dry indeed. As tall as most men, and bonily thin with it, the Brown Sitter had an angular face and a long chin, not improved by a cap of curls. With spidery fingers she rearranged her shawl and smoothed skirts of dark golden silk, and her voice took on pointed amusement. "I'm uncomfortable saying what can and can't be. For example, not long gone, everyone 'knew' only a shield woven by a sister could stop a woman channeling. Then comes a simple herb, forkroot, and anyone at all can feed you a tea that leaves you unable as a stone to channel for hours. Useful with unruly wilders or the like, I suppose, but a nasty little surprise for those who think they knew everything, eh? Maybe next, someone will learn to make ter'angreal again."
Elaida's mouth tightened. She did not concern herself with impossibilities, and if no sister had managed to rediscover the making of ter'angreal in three thousand years, one never would and that was that. It was knowledge slipping through her fingers when she wanted it held close that curled Elaida's tongue. In spite of all her efforts, every last initiate in the Tower had learned of forkroot, now. No one liked knowing in the least. No one liked suddenly being vulnerable to anyone with a knowledge of herbs and a little hot water. That knowledge was worse than poison, as the Sitters here made clear.
At mention of the herb, Duhara's big, dark eyes grew uneasy in her coppery face, and she held herself more stiffly than usual, hands clutching skirts so red they seemed nearly black. Sedore actually swallowed, and her fingers tightened on the worked leather folder Elaida had handed her, though the roundfaced Yellow usually carried herself with a frosty elegance. Andaya shivered! She actually wrapped her grayfringed shawl around her convulsively.
Elaida wondered what they would do if they learned the Asha'man had rediscovered Traveling. As it was, they were barely able to make themselves speak of them. At least she had managed to hold that knowledge to a handful.
"I think we might better concern ourselves with what we know to be true, yes?" Andaya said firmly, back in control of herself. Her light brown hair, brushed till it gleamed, hung flowing down her back, and her silverslashed blue dress was cut in the style of Andor, but Tarabon still rested strongly on her tongue. Though neither particularly small nor particularly slim, she somehow always reminded Elaida of a sparrow about to hop on a branch. A most unlikelyappearing negotiator, though her reputation had been earned. She smiled at the others, not very pleasantly, and that seemed sparrowlike, too. Perhaps it was how she held her head. "Idle speculation, it wastes precious time. The world hangs by a thread, and myself, I do not wish to fritter away valuable hours prattling about supposed logic or chattering over what every fool and novice knows. Does anyone have anything useful to say?" For a sparrow, she could put acid on her words. Velina's face went red, and Shevan's darkened.
Rubinde twisted her lips at the Gray. Perhaps they were meant to make a smile, but they merely seemed to writhe. With ravenblack hair and eyes like sapphires, the Mayener usually looked as if she intended to walk through a stone wall, and planting her fists on her hips now, she seemed ready to walk through two. "We've dealt with what we can for the time being, Andaya. Most of it, anyway. The rebels are caught by the snows in Murandy, and we'll make winter hot enough for them that in the spring they'll come crawling back to apologize and beg penance. Tear will be taken care of as soon as we find where the High Lord Darlin has vanished to, and Cairhien once we root Caraline Damodred and Toram Riatin out of their hiding places. Al'Thor has the crown of Illian for the moment, but that's in work. So, unless you have a scheme for snaffling the man into the Tower or making these socalled 'Asha'man' vanish, I have the business of my Ajah to be about."
Andaya drew herself up, her feathers well and truly ruffled. For that matter, Duhara's eyes narrowed; mention of men who could channel always lit fires in her head. Shevan clicked her tongue as if at children squabbling - though she looked pleased to see it - and Velina frowned, for some reason sure Shevan had aimed at her. This was amusing, but getting out of hand.
"The business of the Ajahs is important, daughters." Elaida did not raise her voice, but every head swiveled toward her. She replaced the ivory carving with the rest of her collection in the large box covered with roses and golden scrolls, carefully adjusted the positions of her writing case and correspondence box so the three lacquered boxes lined up just so on the table, and once their silence was perfect she went on. "The business of the Tower is more important, though. I trust you will effect my decrees promptly. I see too much sloth in the Tower. I fear Silviana may find herself very busy if matters do not come right soon." She did not voice any further

"As you command, Mother," murmured six