Raising his head from the pillow, he used both hands to lift the cloth a trifle and squinted at them with reddened eyes.
Grinning, Nynaeve made no effort at all to hide her pleasure at his wretched state. What Elayne could not understand at first was why she wanted to grin, too. Her one experience with drinking too much had left her with nothing but pity and sympathy for anyone so snared. In the back of her mind she felt Birgitte’s head throbbing still, and it came to her. Certainly she could not like Birgitte drowning herself in drink, whatever the reason, but neither could she like the thought that anyone could do anything at all better than her first Warder. A ridiculous thought. Embarrassing. But satisfying, too.
“What are you doing here?” he demanded hoarsely, then winced and lowered his voice. “It’s the middle of the night.”
“It’s morning,” Nynaeve said sharply, “Don’t you remember thanking with Birgitte?”
“Could you not be so loud?” he whispered, closing his eyes. The next instant, they popped open again. “Birgitte?” Sitting up abruptly, he swung his legs over the side of the bed. For a time he just sat there, peering at the floorboards, elbows on his knees and the medallion swinging from its thong around his neck. At last he turned his head to look at them balefully. Or perhaps his eyes just made it seem so. “What did she tell you?”
“She informed us of your demands, Master Cauthon,” Elayne said formally. This must be how it felt to stand before the head-man’s block. There was nothing for it but to keep her head high and face whatever came proudly. “I wish to thank you from my heart for rescuing me from the Stone of Tear.” There, she had begun, and it had not hurt. Not very much.
Nynaeve stood there, glowering, her lips growing tighter and tighter. The woman was not going to leave her to do this alone. Elayne embraced the Source almost before she thought, and channeled a thin flow of Air that flicked Nynaeve’s earlobe like a snapping finger. The woman clapped a hand to her ear and glowered, buy Elayne simply turned coolly back to Master Cauthon and waited.
“I thank you, too,” Nynaeve mumbled sullenly at last. “From the heart.”
Elayne rolled her eyes in spite of herself. Well, he had asked them to speak more softly. And he did seem to hear. Strangely, he shrugged with embarrassment.
“Oh, that. It was nothing. Likely thing, you’d have gotten yourself free in another tick without me.” His head sank to his hands, and he pressed the damp cloth to his eyes once more. “On your way out, would you ask Caira to bring me some wine-punch? A slender girl, pretty, with a warm eye.”
Elayne quivered. Nothing? The man demanded an apology, she humbled herself to give it, and not it was nothing? He was not deserving of sympathy or pity! She still held Saidar, and she considered thumping him with a much thicker flow than she had used on Nynaeve. Not that that would do any good so long as he wore the foxhead. Then again, it hung loose, not touching him. Did it offer the same protection when it was not …?
Nynaeve ended her speculation by lunging for him, fingers clawed. Elayne managed to put herself between them and seize the other woman by the shoulders. For a stretched moment they stood nose-to-nose except for the difference in their heights, with a grimace, Nynaeve finally relaxed, and Elayne felt it was safe to release her.
The man still had his head bowed, all unaware. Whether the medallion protected him or not, she could snatch his bowstave from the corner and beat him till he howled. She felt heat rise in her face; she had stopped Nynaeve from ruining everything, only to think of ruining it herself. Worse, by the smirky, self-satisfied little smile the other woman gave her, she knew very well what had been in her head.
“There is more, Master Cauthon,” She announced, squaring her shoulders. The smile vanished from Nynaeve’s face. “We also wish to apologize for delaying so long in giving you your much deserved thanks. And we apologize … humbly …” She stumbled a little on that “… for the way we have treated you since.”
Nynaeve stretched out a beseeching hand that she ignored. “To show the depth of our regret, we undertake the following promises.” Aviendha had said an apology was only a beginning. “We will not belittle or demean you in any way, nor shout at you for any reason, nor … nor attempt to give you orders.” Nynaeve winced. Elayne’s mouth tightened too, but she did not stop. “Recognizing your due concern for our safety, we will not leave the palace without telling you where we are going, and we will listen to your advice.” Light, she had no wish to be Aiel, no wish to do any of this, but she wanted Aviendha’s respect. “If you … if you decide that we are …” Not that she had any intention of becoming sister-wife - the very idea was indecent! but she did like her “… are putting ourselves in needless danger …” It was not Aviendha’s fault that Rand had caught both their hearts. And Min’s as well. “… we will accept bodyguards of your choosing …” Fate or Ta’veren or whatever, what was, was. She loved both women like sisters. “… and keep them with us as long as possible.” Burn the man for doing this to her! It was not Mat Cauthon she meant. “This I swear by the Lion Throne of Andor.” She breathed in as if she had run a mile. Nynaeve wore a face like a cornered badger.
His head swiveled toward them ever so slowly, and he lowered the cloth just enough to expose one red-streaked eye. “You sound like you have an iron rod down your throat, my Lady,” he said mockingly. “You have my permission to call me Mat.” Odious man! He would not know civility if it bit him on the nose! That sanguine eye slanted toward her. “What about you, Nynaeve? I have heard a lot of ‘we’ from her, but not a word from you.”
“I won’t shout at you,” Nynaeve shouted. “And all the rest, too. I promise, you … you … !” She gobbled on the edge of swallowing her tongue as she realized she could not call him one of the names he warranted without breaking the promise already. And yet, the effect of her shouted was most gratifying.
With a cry, he shuddered and dropped the cloth, clutched his head with both hands. His eyes bulged. “Flaming dice,” he whimpered, or something very like. It suddenly struck Elayne that he would be a very good source of pithy language. Stableman and the like always seemed to scrape their tongues clean the moment they saw her. Of course, she had promised herself to civilize him, to make him useful to Rand, but that need not interfere too much with his language. In fact, she realized there was a good deal she had not promised not to do. Pointing that out should settle Nynaeve considerably.
After a long moment, he spoke in a hollow voice. “Thank you, Nynaeve.” He paused to swallow hard. “I thought you two must be somebody else in disguise, there for a bit. Since I still seem to be alive,we might as well take care of the rest of it. I seem to recall that Birgitte said you wanted me to find something for you. What?”