Sep 24 2012 3:35pm
Tor.com is pleased to offer “Eastward the Wind Blew,” the first chapter of A Memory of Light, the final book in the Wheel of Time series.
In one Age, called the Third Age by some, an Age yet to come, an Age long past, a wind rose in the Mountains of Mist. The wind was not the beginning. There are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But it was a beginning.
“Eastward the Wind Blew” contains spoilers for the A Memory of Light prologue, “By Grace and Banners Fallen.”The spoiler and speculation thread for the Prologue itself is here.
Eastward the Wind Blew
The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again. In one Age, called the Third Age by some, an Age yet to come, an Age long past, a wind rose in the Mountains of Mist. The wind was not the beginning. There are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But it was a beginning.
Eastward the wind blew, descending from lofty mountains and coursing over desolate hills. It passed into the place known as the Westwood, an area that had once flourished with pine and leatherleaf. Here, the wind found little more than tangled underbrush, thick save around an occasional towering oak. Those looked stricken by disease, bark peeling free, branches drooping. Elsewhere needles had fallen from pines, draping the ground in a brown blanket. None of the skeletal branches of the Westwood put forth buds.
North and eastward the wind blew, across underbrush that crunched and cracked as it shook. It was night, and scrawny foxes picked over the rotting ground, searching in vain for prey or carrion. No spring birds had come to call, and—most telling—the howls of wolves had gone silent across the land.
The wind blew out of the forest and across Taren Ferry. What was left of it. The town had been a fine one, by local standards. Dark buildings, tall above their redstone foundations, a cobbled street, built at the mouth of the land known as the Two Rivers.
The smoke had long since stopped rising from burned buildings, but there was little left of the town to rebuild. Feral dogs hunted through the rubble for meat. They looked up as the wind passed, their eyes hungry.
The wind crossed the river eastward. Here, clusters of refugees carrying torches walked the long road from Baerlon to Whitebridge despite the late hour. They were sorry groups, with heads bowed, shoulders huddled. Some bore the coppery skin of Domani, their worn clothing displaying the hardships of crossing the mountains with little in the way of supplies. Others came from farther off. Taraboners with haunted eyes above dirty veils. Farmers and their wives from northern Ghealdan. All had heard rumors that in Andor, there was food. In Andor, there was hope.
So far, they had yet to find either.
Eastward the wind blew, along the river that wove between farms without crops. Grasslands without grass. Orchards without fruit.
Abandoned villages. Trees like bones with the flesh picked free. Ravens often clustered in their branches; starveling rabbits and sometimes larger game picked through the dead grass underneath. Above it all, the omnipresent clouds pressed down upon the land. Sometimes, that cloud cover made it impossible to tell if it was day or night.
As the wind approached the grand city of Caemlyn, it turned northward, away from the burning city—orange, red and violent, spewing black smoke toward the hungry clouds above. War had come to Andor in the still of night. The approaching refugees would soon discover that they’d been marching toward danger. It was not surprising. Danger was in all directions. The only way to avoid walking toward it would be to stand still.
As the wind blew northward, it passed people sitting beside roads, alone or in small groups, staring with the eyes of the hopeless. Some lay as they hungered, looking up at those rumbling, boiling clouds. Other people trudged onward, though toward what, they knew not. The Last Battle, to the north, whatever that meant. The Last Battle was not hope. The Last Battle was death. But it was a place to be, a place to go.
In the evening dimness, the wind reached a large gathering far to the north of Caemlyn. This wide field broke the forest-patched landscape, but it was overgrown with tents like fungi on a decaying log. Tens of thousands of soldiers waited beside campfires that were quickly denuding the area of timber.
The wind blew among them, whipping smoke from fires into the faces of soldiers. The people here didn’t display the same sense of hopelessness as the refugees, but there was a dread to them. They could see the sickened land. They could feel the clouds above. They knew.
The world was dying. The soldiers stared at the flames, watching the wood be consumed. Ember by ember, what had once been alive instead turned to dust.
A company of men inspected armor that had begun to rust despite being well oiled. A group of white-robed Aiel collected water—former warriors who refused to take up weapons again, despite their toh having been served. A cluster of frightened servants, sure that tomorrow would bring war between the White Tower and the Dragon Reborn, organized stores inside tents shaken by the wind.
Men and women whispered the truth into the night. The end has come. The end has come. All will fall. The end has come.
Laughter broke the air.
Warm light spilled from a large tent at the center of the camp, bursting around the tent flap and from beneath the sides.
Inside that tent, Rand al’Thor—the Dragon Reborn—laughed, head thrown back.
“So what did she do?” Rand asked when his laughter subsided. He poured himself a cup of red wine, then one for Perrin, who blushed at the question.
He’s become harder, Rand thought, but somehow he hasn’t lost that innocence of his. Not completely. To Rand, that seemed a marvelous thing. A wonder, like a pearl discovered in a trout. Perrin was strong, but his strength hadn’t broken him.
“Well,” Perrin said, “you know how Marin is. She somehow manages to look at even Cenn as if he were a child in need of mothering. Finding Faile and me lying there on the floor like two fool youths . . . well, I think she was torn between laughing at us and sending us into the kitchen to scrub dishes. Separately, to keep us out of trouble.”
Rand smiled, trying to picture it. Perrin—burly, solid Perrin—so weak he could barely walk. It was an incongruous image. Rand wanted to assume his friend was exaggerating, but Perrin didn’t have a dishonest hair on his head. Strange, how much about a man could change while his core remained exactly the same.
“Anyway,” Perrin said after taking a drink of wine, “Faile picked me up off the floor and set me on my horse, and the two of us pranced about looking important. I didn’t do much. The fighting was accomplished by the others—I’d have had trouble lifting a cup to my lips.” He stopped, his golden eyes growing distant. “You should be proud of them, Rand. Without Dannil, your father and Mat’s father, without all of them, I’d wouldn’t have managed half what I did. No, not a tenth.”
“I believe it.” Rand regarded his wine. Lews Therin had loved wine. A part of Rand—that distant part, the memories of a man he had been—was displeased by the vintage. Few wines in the current world could match the favored vintages of the Age of Legends. Not the ones he had sampled, at least.
He took a small drink, then set the wine aside. Min still slumbered in another part of the tent, sectioned off with a curtain. Events in Rand’s dreams had awakened him. He had been glad for Perrin’s arrival to take his mind off what he had seen.
Mierin . . . No. He would not let that woman distract him. That was probably the point of what he had seen.
“Walk with me,” Rand said. “I need to check on some things for tomorrow.”
They went out into the night. Several Maidens fell into step behind them as Rand walked toward Sebban Balwer, whose services Perrin had loaned to Rand. Which was fine with Balwer, who was prone to gravitate toward those holding the greatest power.
“Rand?” Perrin asked, walking beside him with a hand on Mah’alleinir. “I’ve told you about all of this before, the siege of the Two Rivers, the fighting . . . Why ask after it again?”
“I asked about the events before, Perrin. I asked after what happened, but I did not ask after the people it happened to.” He looked at Perrin, making a globe of light for them to see by as they walked in the night. “I need to remember the people. Not doing so is a mistake I have made too often in the past.”
The stirring wind carried the scent of campfires from Perrin’s nearby camp and the sounds of smiths working on weapons. Rand had heard the stories: Power-wrought weapons discovered again. Perrin’s men were working overtime, running his two Asha’man ragged, to make as many as possible.
Rand had lent him as many more Asha’man as he could spare, if only because—as soon as they’d heard—he’d had dozens of Maidens presenting themselves and demanding Power-wrought spearheads. It only makes sense, Rand al’Thor, Beralna had explained. His smiths can make four spearheads for every sword. She’d grimaced saying the word “sword,” as if it tasted like seawater.
Rand had never tasted seawater. Lews Therin had. Knowing facts like that had greatly discomforted him once. Now he had learned to accept that part of him.
“Can you believe what has happened to us?” Perrin asked. “Light, sometimes I wonder when the man who owns all these fancy clothes is going to walk in on me and start yelling, then send me out to muck the stables for being too bigheaded for my collar.”
“The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills, Perrin. We’ve become what we needed to become.”
Perrin nodded as they walked on the path between tents, lit by the glow of the light above Rand’s hand.
“How does it . . . feel?” Perrin asked. “Those memories you’ve gained?”
“Have you ever had a dream that, upon waking, you remembered in stark clarity? Not one that faded quickly, but one that stayed with you through the day?”
“Yes,” Perrin said, sounding oddly reserved. “Yes, I can say that I have.”
“It’s like that,” Rand said. “I can remember being Lews Therin, can remember doing what he did, as one remembers actions in a dream. It was me doing them, but I don’t necessarily like them—or think I’d take those actions if I were in my waking mind. That doesn’t change the fact that, in the dream, they seemed like the right actions.”
“He’s me,” Rand said. “And I’m him. But at the same time, I’m not.”
“Well, you still seem like yourself,” Perrin said, though Rand caught a slight hesitation on the word “seem.” Had Perrin been about to say “smell” instead? “You haven’t changed that much.”
Rand doubted he could explain it to Perrin without sounding mad. The person he became when he wore the mantle of the Dragon Reborn . . . that wasn’t simply an act, wasn’t simply a mask.
It was who he was. He had not changed, he had not transformed. He had merely accepted.
That didn’t mean he had all of the answers. Despite four hundred years of memories nestled in his brain, he still worried about what he had to do. Lews Therin hadn’t known how to seal the Bore. His attempt had led to disaster. The taint, the Breaking, all for an imperfect prison with seals that were now brittle.
One answer kept coming to Rand. A dangerous answer. One that Lews Therin hadn’t considered.
What if the answer wasn’t to seal the Dark One away again? What if the answer, the final answer, was something else? Something more permanent.
Yes, Rand thought to himself for the hundredth time. But is it possible?
They arrived at the tent where Rand’s clerks worked, the Maidens fanning out behind them, Rand and Perrin entering. The clerks were up late, of course, and they didn’t look surprised to see Rand enter.
“My Lord Dragon,” Balwer said, bowing stiffly from where he stood beside a table of maps and stacks of paper. The dried-up little man sorted his papers nervously, one knobby elbow protruding from a hole in his oversized brown coat.
“Report,” Rand said.
“Roedran will come,” Balwer said, his voice thin and precise. “The Queen of Andor has sent for him, promising him gateways made by those Kinswomen of hers. Our eyes in his court say he is angry that he needs her help to attend, but is insistent that he needs to be at this meeting—if only so he doesn’t look left out.”
“Excellent,” Rand said. “Elayne knows nothing of your spies?”
“My Lord!” Balwer said, sounding indignant.
“Have you determined who is spying for her among our clerks?” Rand asked.
Balwer sputtered. “Nobody—”
“She’ll have someone, Balwer,” Rand said with a smile. “She all but taught me how to do this, after all. No matter. After tomorrow, my intentions will be manifest for all. Secrets won’t be needed.”
None save the ones I keep closest to my own heart.
“That means everyone will be here for the meeting, right?” Perrin asked. “Every major ruler? Tear and Illian?”
“The Amyrlin persuaded them to attend,” Balwer said. “I have copies of their exchanges here, if you wish to see them, my Lords.”
“I would,” Rand said. “Send them to my tent. I will look them over tonight.”
The shaking of the ground came suddenly. Clerks grabbed stacks of papers, holding them down and crying out as furniture crashed to the ground around them. Outside, men shouted, barely audible over the sound of trees breaking, metal clanging. The land groaned, a distant rumble.
Rand felt it like a painful muscle spasm.
Thunder shook the sky, distant, like a promise of things to come. The shaking subsided. The clerks remained holding their stacks of paper, as if afraid to let go and risk them toppling.
It’s really here, Rand thought. I’m not ready—we’re not ready—but it’s here anyway.
He had spent many months fearing this day. Ever since Trollocs had come in the night, ever since Lan and Moiraine had dragged him from the Two Rivers, he had feared what was to come.
The Last Battle. The end. He found himself unafraid now that it had come. Worried, but not afraid.
I’m coming for you, Rand thought.
“Tell the people,” Rand said to his clerks. “Post warnings. Earthquakes will continue. Storms. Real ones, terrible ones. There will be a Breaking, and we cannot avoid it. The Dark One will try to grind this world to dust.”
The clerks nodded, shooting concerned glances at one another by lamplight. Perrin looked contemplative, but nodded faintly, as if to himself.
“Any other news?” Rand asked.
“The Queen of Andor may be up to something tonight, my Lord,” Balwer said.
“ ‘Something’ is not a very descriptive word, Balwer,” Rand said.
Balwer grimaced. “I’m sorry, my Lord. I don’t have more for you yet; I only just received this note. Queen Elayne was awakened by some of her advisors a short time ago. I don’t have anyone close enough to know why.”
Rand frowned, resting his hand on Laman’s sword at his waist. “It could just be plans for tomorrow,” Perrin said.
“True,” Rand said. “Let me know if you discover anything, Balwer. Thank you. You do well here.”
The man stood taller. In these last days—days so dark—every man looked for something useful to do. Balwer was the best at what he did, and was confident in his own abilities. Still, it did no harm to be reminded of the fact by one who employed him, particularly if his employer was none other than the Dragon Reborn.
Rand left the tent, Perrin following.
“You’re worried about it,” Perrin said. “Whatever it was that awoke Elayne.”
“They would not awaken her without good cause,” Rand said softly. “Considering her state.”
Pregnant. Pregnant with his children. Light! He had only just learned of it. Why hadn’t she been the one to tell him?
The answer was simple. Elayne could feel Rand’s emotions as he felt hers. She would have been able to feel how he had been, recently. Before Dragonmount. Back when . . .
Well, she wouldn’t have wanted to confront him with a pregnancy when he’d been in such a state. Beyond that, he hadn’t exactly made himself easy to find.
Still, it was a shock.
I’m going to be a father, he thought, not for the first time. Yes, Lews Therin had had children, and Rand could remember them and his love for them. It wasn’t the same.
He, Rand al’Thor, would be a father. Assuming he won the Last Battle.
“They wouldn’t have awakened Elayne without good reason,” he continued, returning to task. “I’m worried, not because of what might have happened, but because of the potential distraction. Tomorrow will be an important day. If the Shadow has any inkling of tomorrow’s importance, it will try whatever it can to keep us from meeting, from unifying.”
Perrin scratched at his beard. “I have people close to Elayne. People who keep watch on things for me.”
Rand raised his hand. “Let’s go talk to them. I have a great deal to do tonight, but . . . Yes, I can’t let this slip.”
The two turned toward Perrin’s camp nearby, picking up their pace, Rand’s bodyguards following like shadows with veils and spears.
The night felt too quiet. Egwene, in her tent, worked on a letter to Rand. She was not certain if she would send it. Sending it was not important. Writing it was about organizing her thoughts, determining what she wished to say to him.
Gawyn pushed his way into the tent again, hand on his sword, Warder cloak rustling.
“Are you going to stay in this time?” Egwene asked, dipping her pen, “or are you going to go right back out?”
“I don’t like this night, Egwene.” He looked over his shoulder. “Something feels wrong about it.”
“The world holds its breath, Gawyn, waiting upon the events of the morrow. Did you send to Elayne, as I requested?”
“Yes. She won’t be awake. It’s too late for her.”
“We shall see.”
It wasn’t long before a messenger arrived from Elayne’s camp, bearing a small folded letter. Egwene read it, then smiled. “Come,” she said to Gawyn, rising and gathering a few things. She waved a hand, and a gateway split the air.
“We’re Traveling there?” Gawyn asked. “It’s only a short walk.”
“A short walk would require the Amyrlin to call upon the Queen of Andor,” Egwene said as Gawyn stepped through the gateway first and checked the other side. “Sometimes, I don’t want to take an action that starts people asking questions.”
Siuan would have killed for this ability, Egwene thought as she stepped through the gateway. How many more plots could that woman have spun if she’d been able to visit others as quickly, quietly and easily as this?
On the other side, Elayne stood beside a warm brazier. The Queen wore a pale green dress, her belly increasingly swollen from the babes within. She hastened over to Egwene and kissed her ring. Birgitte stood to one side of the tent flaps, arms folded, wearing her short red jacket and wide, sky-blue trousers, her golden braid down over her shoulder.
Gawyn cocked an eyebrow at his sister. “I’m surprised you are awake.”
“I’m waiting for a report,” Elayne said, gesturing for Egwene to join her in a pair of cushioned chairs beside the brazier.
“Something important?” Egwene asked.
Elayne frowned. “Jesamyn forgot to check in again from Caemlyn. I left the woman strict orders to send to me every two hours, and yet she dallies. Light, it’s probably nothing. Still, I asked Serinia to go to the Traveling grounds to check on things for me. I hope you don’t mind.”
“You need rest,” Gawyn said, folding his arms.
“Thank you very much for the advice,” Elayne said, “which I will ignore, as I ignored Birgitte when she said the same thing. Mother, what is it you wished to discuss?”
Egwene handed over the letter she had been working on.
“To Rand?” Elayne asked.
“You have a different perspective on him than I. Tell me what you think of this letter. I might not send it to him. I haven’t decided yet.”
“The tone is . . . forceful,” Elayne noted.
“He doesn’t seem to respond to anything else.”
After a moment of reading Elayne lowered the letter. “Perhaps we should simply let him do as he wishes.”
“Break the seals?” Egwene asked. “Release the Dark One?”
“It has to happen, doesn’t it?” Elayne asked. “I mean, the Dark One’s going to escape. He’s practically free already.”
Egwene rubbed her temples. “There is a difference between touching the world and being free. During the War of Power, the Dark One was never truly released into the world. The Bore let him touch it, but that was resealed before he could escape. If the Dark One had entered the world, the Wheel itself would have been broken. Here, I brought this to show you.”
Egwene retrieved a stack of notes from her satchel. The sheets had been hastily gathered by the librarians of the Thirteenth Depository. “I’m not saying that we shouldn’t break the seals,” Egwene said. “I’m saying that we can’t afford to risk one of Rand’s crackbrained schemes with this.”
Elayne smiled fondly. Light, but she was smitten. I can rely on her, can’t I? It was hard to tell with Elayne these days. The woman’s ploy with the Kinswomen. . . .
“We have unfortunately found nothing pertinent in your library ter’angreal.” The statue of the smiling bearded man had nearly caused a riot in the Tower; every sister had wanted to read the thousands of books that it held. “All of the books seem to have been written before the Bore was opened. They will keep searching, but these notes contain everything we could gather on the seals, the prison and the Dark One. If we break the seals at the wrong time, I fear it would mean an end to all things. Here, read this.” She handed a page to Elayne.
“The Karaethon Cycle?” Elayne asked, curious. “ ‘And light shall fail, and dawn shall not come, and still the captive rails.’ The captive is the Dark One?”
“I think so,” Egwene said. “The Prophecies are never clear. Rand intends to enter the Last Battle and break the seals immediately, but that is a dreadful idea. We have an extended war ahead of us. Freeing the Dark One now will strengthen the forces of the Shadow and weaken us.
“If it is to be done—and I still don’t know that it has to be—we should wait until the last possible moment. At the very least, we need to discuss it. Rand has been right about many things, but he has been wrong, too. This is not a decision he should be allowed to make alone.”
Elayne shuffled through the sheets of paper, then stopped on one of them. “ ‘His blood shall give us the Light . . .’ ” She rubbed the page with her thumb, as if lost in thought. “ ‘Wait upon the Light.’ Who added this note?”
“That is Doniella Alievin’s copy of the Termendal translation of The Karaethon Cycle,” Egwene said. “Doniella made her own notes, and they have been the subject of nearly as much discussion among scholars as the Prophecies themselves. She was a Dreamer, you know. The only Amyrlin that we know of to have been one. Before me, anyway.”
“Yes,” Elayne said.
“The sisters who gathered these for me came to the same conclusion that I have,” Egwene said. “There may be a time to break the seals, but that time is not at the start of the Last Battle, whatever Rand thinks. We must wait for the right moment, and as the Watcher of the Seals, it is my duty to choose that moment. I won’t risk the world on one of Rand’s overly dramatic stratagems.”
“He has a fair bit of gleeman in him,” Elayne said, again fondly. “Your argument is a good one, Egwene. Make it to him. He will listen to you. He does have a good mind, and can be persuaded.”
“We shall see. For now, I—”
Egwene suddenly sensed a spike of alarm from Gawyn. She glanced over to see him turning. Hoofbeats outside. His ears weren’t any better than Egwene’s, but it was his job to listen for things like this.
Egwene embraced the True Source, causing Elayne to do likewise. Birgitte already had the tent flaps open, hand on her sword.
A frazzled messenger leaped from horseback outside, eyes wide. She scrambled into the tent, Birgitte and Gawyn falling in beside her immediately, watching in case she came too close.
She didn’t. “Caemlyn is under attack, Your Majesty,” the woman said, gasping for breath.
“What!” Elayne leaped to her feet. “How? Did Jarid Sarand finally—”
“Trollocs,” the messenger said. “It started near dusk.”
“Impossible!” Elayne said, grabbing the messenger by the arm and hauling her out of the tent. Egwene followed hastily. “It’s been over six hours since dusk,” Elayne said to the messenger. “Why haven’t we heard anything until now? What happened to the Kinswomen?”
“I was not told, my Queen,” the messenger said. “Captain Guybon sent me to fetch you at speed. He just arrived through the gateway.”
The Traveling ground was not far from Elayne’s tent. A crowd had gathered, but men and women made way for the Amyrlin and Queen. In moments the two of them reached the front.
A group of men in bloodied clothing trudged through the open gateway, pulling carts laden with Elayne’s new weapons, the dragons. Many of the men seemed near collapse. They smelled of smoke, and their skin was blackened by soot. Not a few of them slumped unconscious as Elayne’s soldiers grabbed the carts, which were obviously meant for horses to pull, to help them.
Other gateways opened nearby as Serinia Sedai and some of the stronger of the Kinswomen—Egwene wouldn’t think of them as Elayne’s Kinswomen— created gateways. Refugees poured through like the waters of a suddenly unstopped river.
“Go,” Egwene said to Gawyn, weaving her own gateway—one to the Traveling grounds in the White Tower camp nearby. “Send for as many Aes Sedai as we can rouse. Tell Bryne to ready his soldiers, tell them to do as Elayne orders and send them through gateways to the outskirts of Caemlyn. We will show solidarity with Andor.”
Gawyn nodded, ducking through the gateway. Egwene let it vanish, then joined Elayne near the gathering of wounded, confused soldiers. Sumeko, of the Kinswomen, had taken charge of seeing that Healing was given to those in immediate danger.
The air was thick with the smell of smoke. As Egwene hurried to Elayne, she caught sight of something through one of the gateways. Caemlyn afire.
Light! She stood stunned for a moment, then hurried on. Elayne was speaking with Guybon, commander of the Queen’s Guard. The handsome man seemed barely able to remain on his feet, his clothing and arms bloodied with an alarming amount of red.
“Darkfriends killed two of the women you left to send messages, Your Majesty,” he was saying in a tired voice. “Antoher fell in the fighting. But we retrieved the dragons. Once we . . . we escaped . . .” He seemed pained by something. “Once we escaped through the hole in the city wall, we found that several mercenary bands were making their way around the city toward the gate that Lord Talmanes had left defended. By coincidence they were near enough to aid in our escape.”
“You did well,” Elayne said.
“But the city—”
“You did well,” Elayne repeated, voice firm. “You retrieved the dragons and rescued all of these people? I will see you rewarded for this, Captain.”
“Give your reward to the men of the Band, Your Majesty. It was their work. And please, if you can do anything for Lord Talmanes . . .” He gestured to the fallen man whom several members of the Band had just carried through the gateway.
Elayne knelt beside him, and Egwene joined her. At first, Egwene assumed that Talmanes was dead, with his skin darkened as if by age. Then he drew a ragged breath.
“Light,” Elayne said, Delving his prostrate form. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
“Thakan’dar blades,” Guybon said.
“This is beyond either of us,” Egwene said to Elayne, standing. “I . . .” She trailed off, hearing something over the groans of soldiers and carts creaking.
“Egwene?” Elayne asked softly.
“Do what you can for him,” Egwene said, standing and rushing away. She pushed through the confused crowd, following the voice. Was that . . . yes, there. She found an open gateway at the edge of the Traveling grounds, Aes Sedai in a variety of clothing hurrying through to see to the wounded. Gawyn had done his work well.
Nynaeve was asking, quite loudly, who was in charge of this mess. Egwene approached her from the side and grabbed her by the shoulder, surprising her.
“Mother?” Nynaeve asked. “What is this about Caemlyn burning? I—”
She cut off as she saw the wounded. She stiffened, then tried to go to them.
“There is one you need to see first,” Egwene said, leading her to where Talmanes lay.
Nynaeve drew in a sharp breath, then went to her knees and pushed Elayne gently aside. Nynaeve Delved Talmanes, then froze, eyes wide.
“Nynaeve?” Egwene said. “Can you—”
An explosion of weaves burst from Nynaeve like the sudden light of a sun coming out from behind clouds. Nynaeve wove the Five Powers together in a column of radiance, then sent it driving into Talmanes’ body.
Egwene left her to her work. Perhaps it would be enough, though he looked far gone. The Light willing, the man would live. She had been impressed with him in the past. He seemed precisely the type of man that the Band—and Mat—needed.
Elayne was near the dragons and was questioning a woman with her hair in braids. That must be Aludra, who had created the dragons. Egwene walked up to the weapons, resting her fingers on one of the long bronze tubes. She had been given reports on them, of course. Some men said they were like Aes Sedai, cast in metal and fueled by the powders from fireworks.
More and more refugees poured though the gateway, many of them townspeople. “Light,” Egwene said to herself. “There are too many of them. We can’t house all of Caemlyn here at Merrilor.”
Elayne finished her conversation, leaving Aludra to inspect the wagons. It appeared that the woman wasn’t willing to rest for the night and see to them in the morning. Elayne walked toward the gateways.
“The soldiers say the area outside the city is secure,” Elayne said, passing Egwene. “I’m going through to have a look.”
“Elayne . . .” Birgitte said, coming up behind her.
“We’re going! Come on.”
Egwene left the Queen to it, stepping back to supervise the work. Romanda had taken charge of the Aes Sedai and was organizing the injured, separating them into groups depending on the urgency of their wounds.
As Egwene surveyed the chaotic mix, she noticed a pair of people standing nearby. A woman and man, Illianers by the looks of them. “What do you two want?”
The woman knelt before her. The fair-skinned, dark-haired woman had a firmness to her features, despite her tall, slender build. “I am Leilwin,” she said in an unmistakable accent. “I was accompanying Nynaeve Sedai when the call for Healing was raised. We followed her here.”
“You’re Seanchan,” Egwene said, startled.
“I have come to serve you, Amyrlin Seat.”
Seanchan. Egwene still held the One Power. Light, not every Seanchan she met was dangerous to her; still, she would not take chances. As some members of the Tower Guard came through one of the gateways, Egwene pointed to the Seanchan pair. “Take these somewhere safe and keep watch on them. I’ll deal with them later.”
The soldiers nodded. The man went reluctantly, the woman more easily. She couldn’t channel, so she wasn’t a freed damane. That didn’t mean she wasn’t a sul’dam, though.
Egwene returned to Nynaeve, who still knelt beside Talmanes. The sickness had retreated from the man’s skin, leaving it pale. “Take him somewhere to rest,” Nynaeve said tiredly to several watching members of the Band. “I’ve done what I can.”
She looked up at Egwene as the men carried him away. “Light,” Nynaeve whispered, “that took a lot out of me. Even with my angreal. I’m impressed that Moiraine managed it with Tam, all that time ago . . .” There seemed to be a note of pride in Nynaeve’s voice.
She had wanted to heal Tam, but could not—though, of course, Nynaeve had not known what she had been doing at the time. She had come a long, long way since then.
“Is it true, Mother?” Nynaeve asked, rising. “About Caemlyn?”
“This is going to be a long night,” Nynaeve said, looking at the wounded still pouring through the gateways.
“And a longer tomorrow,” Egwene said. “Here, let us link. I’ll lend you my strength.”
Nynaeve looked shocked. “Mother?”
“You are better at Healing than I.” Egwene smiled. “I may be Amyrlin, Nynaeve, but I am still Aes Sedai. Servant of all. My strength will be of use to you.”
Nynaeve nodded and they linked. The two of them joined the group of Aes Sedai that Romanda had set Healing the refugees with the worst wounds.
“Faile has been organizing my network of eyes-and-ears,” Perrin said to Rand as the two of them hurried toward Perrin’s camp. “She might be there with them tonight. I’ll warn you, I’m not certain she likes you.”
She would be a fool to like me, Rand thought. She probably knows what I’m going to require of you before this is over.
“Well,” Perrin said, “I guess that she does like that I know you. She’s cousin to a queen, after all. I think she still worries you’ll go mad and hurt me.”
“The madness has already come,” Rand said, “and I have it in my grip. As for hurting you, she’s probably right. I don’t think I can avoid hurting those around me. It was a hard lesson to learn.”
“You implied that you’re mad,” Perrin said, hand resting on his hammer again as he walked. He wore it at his side, large though it was; he’d obviously needed to construct a special sheath for it. An amazing piece of work. Rand kept intending to ask whether it was one of the Power-wrought weapons his Asha’man had been making——. “But Rand, you’re not. You don’t seem at all crazy to me.”
Rand smiled, and a thought fluttered at the edge of his mind. “I am mad, Perrin. My madness is these memories, these impulses. Lews Therin tried to take over. I was two people, fighting over control of myself. And one of them was completely insane.”
“Light,” Perrin whispered, “that sounds horrible.”
“It wasn’t pleasant. But . . . here’s the thing, Perrin. I’m increasingly certain that I needed these memories. Lews Therin was a good man. I was a good man, but things went wrong—I grew too arrogant, I assumed I could do everything myself. I needed to remember that; without the madness . . . without these memories, I might have gone charging in alone again.”
“So you are going to work with the others?” Perrin asked, looking up toward where Egwene and the other members of the White Tower were camped. “This looks an awful lot like armies gathering to fight one another.”
“I’ll make Egwene see sense,” Rand said. “I’m right, Perrin. We need to break the seals. I don’t know why she denies this.”
“She’s the Amyrlin now.” Perrin rubbed his chin. “She’s Watcher of the Seals, Rand. It’s up to her to make sure they’re cared for.”
“It is. Which is why I will persuade her that my intentions for them are correct.”
“Are you sure about breaking them, Rand?” Perrin asked. “Absolutely sure?”
“Tell me, Perrin. If a metal tool or weapon shatters, can you stick it back together and make it work properly?”
“Well, you can,” Perrin said. “It’s better not to. The grain of the steel . . . well, you’re almost always better off reforging it. Melting it down, starting from scratch.”
“It is the same here. The seals are broken, like a sword. We can’t just patch the pieces. It won’t work. We need to remove the shards and make something new to go in their place. Something better.”
“Rand,” Perrin said, “that’s the most reasonable thing anyone has said on this topic. Have you explained it that way to Egwene?”
“She’s not a blacksmith, my friend.” Rand smiled.
“She’s smart, Rand. Smarter than either of us. She’ll understand if you explain it the right way.”
“We shall see,” Rand said. “Tomorrow.”
Perrin stopped walking, his face lit by the glow of Rand’s Power-summoned orb. His camp, beside Rand’s, contained a force as large as any on the field. Rand still found it incredible that Perrin had gathered so many, including—of all things—the Whitecloaks. Rand’s eyes-and-ears indicated that everyone in Perrin’s camp seemed loyal to him. Even the Wise Ones and Aes Sedai with him were more inclined to do what Perrin said than not.
Sure as the wind and the sky, Perrin had become a king. A different kind of king than Rand—a king of his people, who lived among them. Rand couldn’t take that same path. Perrin could be a man. Rand had to be something more, for a little time yet. He had to be a symbol, a force that everyone could rely upon.
That was terribly tiring. Not all of it was physical fatigue, but instead something deeper. Being what people needed was wearing on him, grinding as surely as a river cut at a mountain. In the end, the river would always win.
“I’ll support you in this, Rand,” Perrin said. “But I want you to promise me that you won’t let it come to blows. I won’t fight Elayne. Going up against the Aes Sedai would be worse. We can’t afford to squabble.”
“There won’t be fighting.”
“Promise me.” Perrin’s face grew so hard, one could have broken rocks against it. “Promise me, Rand.”
“I promise it, my friend. I’ll bring us to the Last Battle united.”
“That’ll do, then.” Perrin walked into his camp, nodding to the sentries. Two Rivers men, both of them—Reed Soalen and Kert Wagoner. They saluted Perrin, then eyed Rand and bowed somewhat awkwardly.
Reed and Kert. He’d known them both—Light, he’d looked up to them, as a child—but Rand had grown accustomed to people he’d known treating him as a stranger. He felt the mantle of the Dragon Reborn harden upon him.
“My Lord Dragon,” Kert said. “Are we . . . I mean . . .” He gulped and looked at the sky, and the clouds that seemed to be—despite Rand’s presence—creeping in on them. “Things look bad, don’t they?”
“The storms are often bad, Kert,” Rand said. “But the Two Rivers survives them. Such it will do again.”
“But . . .” Kert said again. “It looks bad. Light burn me, but it does.”
“It will be as the Wheel wills,” Rand said, glancing northward. “Peace, Kert, Reed,” Rand said softly. “The Prophecies have nearly all been fulfilled. This day was seen, and our tests are known. We do not walk into them unaware.”
He hadn’t promised them they would win or that they would survive, but both men stood up straighter and nodded, smiling. People liked to know that there was a plan. The knowledge that someone was in control might be the strongest comfort that Rand could offer them.
“That’s enough bothering the Lord Dragon with your questions,” Perrin said. “Make sure you guard this post well—no dozing, Kert, and no dicing.”
Both men saluted again as Perrin and Rand passed into the camp. There was more cheer here than there was in other camps on the Field. The campfires seemed faintly brighter, the laughter faintly louder. It was as if the Two Rivers folk had managed, somehow, to bring home with them.
“You lead them well,” Rand said softly, moving quickly beside Perrin, who nodded toward those out at night.
“They shouldn’t need me to tell them what to do, and that’s that.” However, when a messenger came running into camp, Perrin was immediately in charge. He called the spindly youth by name and, seeing the boy’s flushed face and trembling legs—he was frightened of Rand—Perrin pulled him aside and spoke softly, but firmly, with him.
Perrin sent the boy off to find Lady Faile, then stepped over. “I need to talk to Rand again.”
“You’re talking to—”
“I need the real Rand, not the man who’s learned to talk like an Aes Sedai.”
Rand sighed. “It really is me, Perrin,” he protested. “I’m more me than I’ve been for ages.”
“Yes, well, I don’t like talking to you when your emotions are all masked.”
A group of Two Rivers men passed and saluted. He felt a sudden spike of cold solitude at seeing those men and knowing he could never be one of them again. It was hardest with the Two Rivers men. But he did let himself be more . . . relaxed, for Perrin’s sake.
“So, what was it?” he asked. “What did the messenger say?”
“You were right to be worried,” Perrin said. “Rand, Caemlyn has fallen. It’s overrun with Trollocs.”
Rand felt his face grow hard.
“You’re not surprised,” Perrin said. “You’re worried, but not surprised.”
“No, I’m not,” Rand admitted. “I thought it would be the south where they struck—I’ve heard word of Trolloc sightings there, and I’m half-certain that Demandred is involved. He has never been comfortable without an army. But Caemlyn . . . yes, it’s a clever strike. I told you they would try to distract us. If they can undercut Andor and draw her away, my alliance grows much shakier.”
Perrin glanced at where Elayne’s camp was set up right beside that of Egwene. “But wouldn’t it be good for you if Elayne ran off? She’s on the other side of this confrontation.”
“There is no other side, Perrin. There is one side, with a disagreement on how that side should proceed. If Elayne isn’t here to be part of the meeting, it will undermine everything I’m trying to accomplish. She’s probably the most powerful of all the rulers.”
Rand could feel her, of course, through the bond. Her spike of alarm let him know that she’d received this information. Should he go to her? Perhaps he could send Min. She had gotten up, and was moving away from the tent where he’d left her. And—
He blinked. Aviendha. She was here, at Merrilor. She hadn’t been here moments ago, had she? Perrin glanced at him, and he didn’t bother to wipe the shock from his face.
“We can’t let Elayne leave,” Rand said.
“Not even to protect her homeland?” Perrin asked, incredulous.
“If the Trollocs have already taken Caemlyn, then it’s too late for Elayne to do anything meaningful. Elayne’s forces will focus on evacuation. She doesn’t need to be there for that, but she does need to be here. Tomorrow morning.”
How could he make certain she stayed? Elayne reacted poorly to being told what to do—all women did—but if he implied . . .
“Rand,” Perrin said, “what if we sent in the Asha’man? All of them? We could make a fight of it at Caemlyn.”
“No,” Rand said, though the word hurt. “Perrin, if the city really is overrun—I’ll send men through gateways to be certain—then it’s lost. Taking back those walls would take far too much effort, at least right now. We cannot let this coalition break apart before I have a chance to forge it together. Unity will preserve us. If each of us goes running off to put out fires in our homelands, then we will lose. That’s what this attack is about.”
“I suppose that’s possible . . .” Perrin said, fingering his hammer.
“The attack might unnerve Elayne, make her more eager to act,” Rand said, considering a dozen different lines of action. “Perhaps this will make her more vulnerable to agreeing with my plan. This could be a good thing.”
How quickly I’ve learned to use others. He had learned to laugh again. He had learned to accept his fate, and to charge toward it smiling. He had learned to be at peace with who he had been, what he had done.
That understanding would not stop him from using the tools given him. He needed them, needed them all. The difference now was that he would see the people they were, not just the tools he would use. So he told himself.
“I still think we should do something to help Andor,” Perrin said, scratching his beard. “How did they sneak in, do you think?”
“By Waygate,” Rand said absently.
Perrin grunted. “Well, you said that Trollocs can’t Travel through gateways; could they have learned how to fix that?”
“Pray to the Light they haven’t,” Rand said. “The only Shadowspawn they managed to make that could go through gateways were gholam, and Aginor wasn’t foolish enough to make more than a few of those. No, I’d bet against Mat himself that this was the Caemlyn Waygate. I thought she had that thing guarded!”
“If it was the Waygate, we can do something,” Perrin said. “We can’t have Trollocs rampaging in Andor; if they leave Caemlyn, they’ll be at our backs, and that will be a disaster. But if they’re coming in at a single point, we might be able to disrupt their invasion with an attack on that point.”
“What’s so funny?”
“At least I have an excuse for knowing and understanding things no youth from the Two Rivers should.”
Perrin snorted. “Go jump in the Winespring Water. You really think this is Demandred?”
“It’s exactly the sort of thing he’d try. Separate your foes, then crush them one at a time. It’s one of the oldest strategies in warfare.”
Demandred himself had discovered it in the old writings. They’d known nothing of war when the Bore had first opened. Oh, they’d thought they understood it, but it had been the understanding of the scholar looking back on something ancient, dusty.
Of all those to turn to the Shadow, Demandred’s betrayal seemed the most tragic. The man could have been a hero. Should have been a hero.
I’m to blame for that, too, Rand thought. If I’d offered a hand instead of a smirk, if I’d congratulated instead of competed. If I’d been the man then that I am now . . .
Never mind that. He had to send to Elayne. The proper course was to send help for evacuating the city, Asha’man and loyal Aes Sedai to make gateways and free as many people as possible—and to make certain that for now, the Trollocs remained in Caemlyn.
“Well, I guess those memories of yours are good for something, then,” Perrin said.
“Do you want to know the thing that twists my brain in knots, Perrin?” Rand said softly. “The thing that gives me shivers, like the cold breath of the Shadow itself? The taint is what made me mad and what gave me memories from my past life. They came as Lews Therin whispering to me. But that very insanity is the thing giving me the clues I need to win. Don’t you see? If I win this, it will be the taint itself that led to the Dark One’s fall.”
Perrin whistled softly.
Redemption, Rand thought. When I tried this last time, my madness destroyed us.
This time, it will save us.
“Go to your wife, Perrin,” Rand said, glancing at the sky. “This is the last night of anything resembling peace you shall know before the end. I’ll investigate and see how bad things are in Andor.” He looked back at his friend. “I will not forget my promise. Unity must come before all else. I lost last time precisely because I threw unity aside.”
Perrin nodded, then rested a hand on Rand’s shoulder. “The Light illumine you.”
“And you, my friend.”
A Memory of Light copyright © 2012 by The Bandersnatch Group, Inc.