Apr 26 2012 12:59pm
A Memory of Light: Prologue (Excerpt)
This year’s JordanCon brought a great deal of information on A Memory of Light to the eyes of the public. Tor Books and Harriet McDougal revealed Darrell K. Sweet’s final cover sketch for the book, and Harriet herself read a passage from the prologue of A Memory of Light, the final book in the Wheel of Time series.
Now, we present that passage in full. Join Bayrd, an Andoran soldier on the wrong side of history, as his tiny corner of the world prepares for the end of all things.
Bayrd pressed the coin between his thumb and forefinger. It was thoroughly unnerving to feel the metal squish.
He removed his thumb. The hard copper now clearly bore its print, reflecting the uncertain torchlight. He felt chilled, as if he’d spent an entire night in a cold cellar.
His stomach growled. Again.
The north wind picked up, making torches sputter. Bayrd sat with his back to a large rock near the center of the warcamp. Hungry men muttered as they warmed their hands around fire pits; the rations had spoiled long ago. Other soldiers nearby began laying out all of their metal—swords, armor clasps, mail—on the ground, like linen to be dried. Perhaps they hoped that when the sun rose, it would change the material back to normal.
Bayrd rolled the once-coin into a ball between his fingers. Light preserve us, he thought. Light... He dropped the ball to the grass, then reached over and picked up the stones he’d been working with.
“I want to know what happened here, Karam,” Lord Jarid snapped at his advisor. Jarid stood nearby, in front of a table draped with maps. “I want to know where they are and how they drew so close, and I want that bloody, Darkfriend Aes Sedai queen’s head!” Jarid slammed his fist down on the table. Once, his eyes hadn’t displayed such a crazed fervor. The pressure of it all—the lost rations, the strange things in the nights—was changing him.
Behind Jarid, the command tent lay in a heap. Jarid’s dark hair—grown long during their exile—blew free, face bathed in ragged torchlight. Bits of dead grass still clung to his coat from when he’d crawled out of the tent.
Baffled servants picked at the iron tent spikes, which—like all metal in the camp—had become soft to the touch. The mounting rings on the tent had stretched and snapped like warm wax.
The night smelled wrong. Of staleness, of rooms that hadn’t been entered in years. The air of a forest clearing should not smell like ancient dust. Bayrd’s stomach growled again. Light, but he’d have liked to take the edge off of that with something. Instead, he set his attention on his work, slapping one of his stones down against another.
He held the stones as his old pappil had taught him as a boy, though it had been years since he’d done this. The feeling of stone striking stone helped push away the hunger and coldness. At least something was still solid in this world.
Lord Jarid glanced at him, scowling. Bayrd was one of ten men Jarid had insisted guard him this night. “I will have Elayne’s head, Karam,” Jarid said, turning back to his captains. “This unnatural night is the work of her witches.”
“Her head?” Eri’s skeptical voice came from the side. “And how, precisely, is someone going to bring you her head?”
Lord Jarid turned, as did the others around the torchlit table. Eri stared at the sky; on his shoulder, he wore the mark of the golden boar charging before a red spear. It was the mark of Lord Jarid’s personal guard, but Eri’s voice bore little respect. “What’s he going to use to cut that head free, Jarid? His teeth?”
The camp stilled at the horribly insubordinate line. Bayrd stopped his stones, hesitating. Yes, there had been talk about how unhinged Lord Jarid had become. But this?
Jarid’s face grew red with rage. “You dare use such a tone with me? One of my own guards?”
Eri continued inspecting the sky.
“You’re docked two months’ pay,” Jarid snapped, but his voice trembled. “Stripped of rank and put on latrine duty until further notice. If you speak back to me again, I’ll cut out your tongue.”
Bayrd shivered in the cold wind. Eri was the best they had in what was left of their rebel army. The other guards shuffled, looking down.
Eri looked over toward the lord and didn’t say a word, but somehow, he didn’t have to. He just smiled. Cut out his tongue? Every scrap of metal in the camp had gone soft as lard. Jarid’s own knife lay on the table, twisted and warped—it had stretched thin as he pulled it from its sheath. Jarid’s coat flapped, open; it had had silver buttons.
“Jarid...” Karam said. A young lord of a minor house loyal to Sarand, he had a lean face and large lips. “Do you really think... Really think this was the work of Aes Sedai? All of the metal in the camp?”
“Of course,” Jarid barked. “What else would it be? Don’t tell me you believe those campfire tales. The Last Battle? Phaw.” He looked back at the table. Unrolled there, with pebbles weighting the corners, was a map of Andor.
Bayrd turned back to his stones. Snap, snap, snap. Slate and granite. It had taken work to find suitable sections of each, but Pappil had taught Bayrd to recognize all kinds of stone. The old man had felt betrayed when Bayrd’s father had gone off and become a butcher in the city, instead of keeping to the family trade.
Soft, smooth slate. Granite, with bumps and ridges. Yes, some things in the world were still solid. Some few things. These days, you couldn’t rely on much. Once immovable lords were now soft as...well, soft as metal. The sky churned with blackness, and brave men—men Bayrd had long looked up to—trembled and whimpered in the night, whispering of things they’d seen.
“I’m worried, Jarid,” Davies said. An older man, Lord Davies was as close as anyone was to being Jarid’s confidant. “We haven’t seen anyone in days. Not farmer, not queen’s soldier. Something is happening. Something wrong.”
“She cleared the people out,” Jarid snarled. “She’s preparing to pounce.”
“I think she’s ignoring us, Jarid,” Karam said, looking at the sky. Clouds still churned there. It seemed like months since Bayrd had seen a clear sky. “Why would she bother? Our men are starving. The food continues to spoil. The signs—”
“She’s trying to squeeze us,” Jarid said, peering at his map, eyes wide with fervor. “This is the work of the Aes Sedai.”
Stillness came suddenly to the camp. Silence, save for Bayrd’s stones. He’d never felt right as a butcher, but he’d found a home in his lord’s guard. Cutting up cows or cutting up men, the two were strikingly similar. It bothered him how easily he’d shifted from one to the other.
Snap, snap, snap.
Eri turned. Jarid eyed the guard suspiciously. He seemed ready to pounce, ready to scream out harsher punishment.
He wasn’t always this bad, was he? Bayrd thought. He wanted the throne for his wife, but what lord wouldn’t want that, given the chance? It was hard to look past the name. Bayrd’s family had followed the Sarand family with reverence for generations.
Eri strode away from the command post. Out into the dark, toward the winds from the north.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Jarid snarled.
Eri reached to his shoulder and ripped free the badge of the Sarand house guard. He tossed it aside and left the torchlight, heading into the night.
Most men in the camp hadn’t gone to sleep. They sat around fire pits, wanting to be near warmth and light. A few tried boiling cuts of grass, leaves, or even strips of leather as something, anything, to eat.
They stood up to watch Eri go.
“Deserter,” Jarid spat. “After all we’ve been through, now he leaves. Just because things are difficult.”
“The men are starving, Jarid,” Davies repeated.
“I’m aware. Thank you so much for telling me about the problems with every bloody breath you have.” Jarid wiped his brow with his trembling palm, then slammed it on his map, staring down. “We’ll have to strike one of the cities; there’s no running from her, not now that she knows where we are. Whitebridge. We’ll take it and resupply. Her Aes Sedai must be weakened after the stunt they pulled tonight, otherwise she’d have attacked.”
Bayrd squinted into the darkness. Other men were standing, lifting quarterstaffs or cudgels. Some went without weapons. They gathered sleeping rolls, hoisted packages to shoulders—the very last of the rations.
They began to trail out of the camp, their passage silent, like the movement of ghosts. No rattling of chainmail or buckles on armor. The metal was all quiet as if the soul had been stripped from it.
“Elayne doesn’t dare move against us in strength,” Jarid said, perhaps convincing himself. “There must be strife in Caemlyn. All of those mercenaries you reported, Shiv. Riots, maybe. Elenia will be working against Elayne, of course, preparing the others to accept her as queen instead. Whitebridge. Yes, Whitebridge will be perfect.
“We hold it, you see, and cut the kingdom in half. We recruit there, press the men in western Andor to our banner. Go to...what’s the place called? The Two Rivers. We should find some able hands there, quick to obey when a firm voice commands.” Jarid sniffed. “I hear they haven’t seen a lord for decades. Give me four months, and I’ll have an army to be reckoned with. Enough that she won’t dare strike at us with her witches...”
Bayrd held his stone up to the torchlight. The trick to creating a good spearhead was to start outward and work your way in. He’d drawn the proper shape with a bit of chalk on the slate, then had worked toward the center to finish the shape. From there, you turned from hitting to tapping, shaving off smaller bits.
He’d finished one side earlier; this second half was almost done. He could almost hear his pappil whispering to him as he worked. We’re of the stone, Bayrd. No matter what your father says. Deep down, we’re of the stone.
More soldiers left the camp. Strange, how few of them spoke. Jarid finally noticed, standing up straight and grabbing one of the torches, holding it high. “What are they doing?” he asked. “Hunting? We’ve seen no game in weeks. Setting snares, perhaps?”
“Maybe they’ve seen something,” Jarid muttered. “Or maybe they think they have. I’ll stand no more talk of spirits or other foolery; the witches are creating apparitions to unnerve us. That’s...that’s what it has to be.”
Rustling came from nearby. Karam was digging in his fallen tent. He came up with a small bundle.
“Karam?” Jarid said.
Karam glanced at Lord Jarid, then lowered his eyes and began to tie a coin pouch at his waist. Halfway through, he stopped and laughed, then emptied it. The gold coins inside had melted into a single lump, like pig’s ears in a jar. Karam pocketed this, probably in case it transformed back eventually, though no man would take it as it was. He fished in the pouch and brought out a ring. The blood-red gemstone at the center was still good. “Probably won’t be enough to buy an apple, these days,” he muttered.
“I demand to know what you are doing. Is this your doing?” Jarid waved toward the departing soldiers. “You’re staging a mutiny, is that it?”
“This isn’t my doing,” Karam said, looking ashamed. “And it’s not really yours, either. I’m...I’m sorry.”
Karam walked away from the torchlight. Bayrd found himself surprised. Lord Karam and Lord Jarid had been friends from childhood.
Lord Davies went next, running after Karam. Was he going to try to hold the younger man back? Instead he fell into step beside him. They vanished into the darkness.
“I’ll have you hunted down for this!” Jarid yelled after them, voice shrill. Frantic. “I will be consort to the queen, you realize! No man will give you, or any member of your houses, shelter or succor for ten generations!”
Bayrd looked back at the stone in his hand. Only one step left, the smoothing. A good spearhead needed some smoothing to be dangerous. He brought out another piece of granite he’d picked up for the purpose and carefully began scraping it along the side of the slate.
Seems I remember this better than I’d expected, he thought to himself as Lord Jarid continued to rant.
There was something powerful about crafting the spearhead. The simple act seemed to push back the gloom. There had been a shadow on Bayrd, and the rest of the camp, lately. As if...as if he couldn’t stand in the light no matter how he tried. The darkness was always there, weighing him down. He woke each morning feeling as if someone he’d loved had died the day before.
It could crush you, that despair. Why would making a spearhead change that? You’re being a fool, Bayrd. It just seemed to him that the mere act of creating something—anything—fought back. That was one way to challenge...him. The one none of them spoke of. The one that they all knew was behind it, no matter what Lord Jarid said.
Bayrd stood up. He’d want to do more smoothing later, but the spearhead actually looked pretty good. He raised his wooden spear haft—the metal blade had fallen free when evil had struck the camp—and lashed the new spearhead in place, just as his pappil had taught him all those years ago.
The other guards were looking at him. “We’ll need more of those,” Morear said. “If you’re willing.”
Bayrd nodded. “On our way out, we can stop by the hillside where I found the slate.”
Jarid finally stopped yelling, his eyes wide in the torchlight. “No. You are my personal guard. You will not defy me!”
Jarid jumped for Bayrd, murder in his eyes, but Morear and Rosse caught the lord from behind. Rosse looked aghast at his own mutinous act, panic on his wide face. He didn’t let go, though.
Bayrd fished a few things out from beside his bedroll. After that, he nodded to the others, and they joined him—eight men of Lord Jarid’s personal guard, dragging the sputtering lord himself through the remnants of camp. They passed smoldering fires and fallen tents, abandoned by men who were trailing out into the darkness in greater numbers now, heading north. Into the wind.
At the edge of camp, Bayrd selected a nice, stout tree. He waved to the others, and they took the rope he’d fetched and tied Lord Jarid to the tree. The man sputtered until Morear gagged him with a handkerchief.
Bayrd stepped in close. He tucked a waterskin into the crook of Jarid’s arm. “Don’t struggle too much or you’ll drop that, my lord. You should be able to push the gag off—it doesn’t look too tight—and angle the waterskin up to drink. Here, I’ll take off the cap.”
Jarid stared thunder at Bayrd.
“It’s not about you, my Lord,” Bayrd said. “You always treated my family well. But, here, we can’t have you following along and making life difficult. There’s just something that we need to do, and you’re stopping everyone from doing it. That isn’t right; I guess this isn’t either. Maybe someone should have said something earlier. Well, that’s done. Sometimes, you let the meat hang too long, and the entire haunch has to go. It’s just the way of things.”
He nodded to the others, who ran off to gather things. He pointed Rosse toward the slate outcropping, which was nearby, and told him what to look for in good spearhead stone.
He turned back to the struggling Lord Jarid. “This isn’t witches, my Lord. This isn’t Elayne...I suppose I should call her the queen. Funny, thinking of a pretty young thing like that as queen. I’d rather have bounced her on my knee at an inn than bow to her, but Andor will need a ruler to follow to the Last Battle, and it isn’t your wife. We can’t fight anymore. I’m sorry.”
Jarid sagged in his bonds, the anger seeming to bleed from him. He was weeping now. Odd thing to see, that.
“I’ll tell people we pass—if we pass any—where you are,” Bayrd promised, “and that you probably have some jewels on you. They might come for you. They might.” He hesitated. “You shouldn’t have stood in the way. Everyone seems to know what is coming but you. The Dragon is reborn, old bonds are broken, old oaths done away with...and I’ll be hanged before I let Andor march to the Last Battle without me.”
Bayrd left, walking into the night, raising his new spear onto his shoulder. I have an oath older than the one to your family, anyway. An oath the Dragon himself couldn’t undo. It was an oath to the land. The stones were in his blood, and his blood in the stones of this Andor.
Bayrd gathered the others and they left for the north. Behind them in the night, their lord whimpered, alone, as the ghosts began to move through camp.
A Memory of Light copyright © 2012 by The Bandersnatch Group, Inc.