Lacking health insurance when he was diagnosed with cancer, Shawn Speakman asked friends in the science fiction and fantasy writing community to donate short stories he could use to counter mounting medical debt. The result was Unfettered, an anthology offering tales from some of the best authors working today.
Now, in Unfettered III from Grim Oak Press, Speakman continues to pay forward the aid he received, raising money to combat medical debt for SF&F artists and authors. He has gathered together a great mix of new and favorite writers―free to write what they like―the result a powerful new anthology perfect for all readers.
Tor.com is excited to offer an excerpt from “A Fire Within the Ways,” a deleted novella (!!) from The Wheel of Time, and a fascinating look into the process of A Memory of Light, the final volume in Jordan’s epic, came together.
A Note From Brandon Sanderson
During the editing of every novel, you realize that certain scenes just aren’t working. There are a variety of reasons this happens, and while removing those scenes is always one of the most difficult parts of the creation process, it functions like the proverbial pruning of a tree—providing room for other scenes to grow. In the end, the book is better off.
That said, I’m always looking for places to show off scenes like these. They not only expose something I find very interesting about the process, but they often have gems in them that I am eager to share. (The scene with Gaul and the bridge in this excerpt is a good example.)
The following sequence was pruned from A Memory of Light, the final book of the Wheel of Time. Fair warning up front, it includes a lot of characters in the middle of their arcs, so without a background in the Wheel of Time, you might be a little lost. I’ve done what I can to make it work on its own, but it can’t—by nature of its origins—ever truly be a standalone.
It also is not canon to the Wheel of Time. Though I’m very fond of how the sequence plays out, our eventual decision to delete it necessitated revisions to A Memory of Light, which grew to include some elements of this piece. The final book has no room for these scenes in its chronology; characters would literally have to be in two places at once. In addition, a few arcs of side characters play out differently here, contradicting the published narrative.
This shouldn’t be seen as a replacement for those scenes. More, this is a chance for me to present something that never quite made it to publication. Imagine it as a glimpse of where the story could have gone, but ultimately did not.
The setup is simple: the enemy has been using an alternate dimension known as the Ways to move troops in secret and attack cities unexpectedly. Caemlyn—the capital of the nation of Andor, and one of the most important cities in the series—has recently been invaded using the Ways.
Our characters have decided that it’s vital to interrupt the enemy’s ability to use the Ways. They can’t allow continued resupply and reinforcement of armies behind their front lines, and so a desperate plan is hatched. Perrin, with a team of elite troops and channelers (users of arcane power in the Wheel of Time), will travel through the Ways and destroy some of the paths the enemy is using.
Hopefully you will enjoy this for the fun bit of behind-the-scenes material that it is!
A Fire Within the Ways
Chapter 1: The Gate
Perrin stepped through the gateway into Cairhien, gripping his hammer, and looked right and then left down the narrow, cobbled alley. It was night, and the alley was dark—though lantern light shining through the gateway painted the cobbles golden at his feet.
The city was rank with the smells of men: smoke from nearby chimneys, the lingering aroma of powders and perfumes, even the scent of paint on the wooden boards of the alley—long dried and gone stale. Missing was the scent of rotting food so commonly associated with cities. Not even the smallest scraps were left to rot in Cairhien these days.
Part of him fixated on the smoke first, then tucked its presence into the back of his mind. Fire was the simplest and often the first way for a wolf to know that men were near.
Perrin prowled down the empty alley, waving for his group to follow. The still air was strange—for wolves, noise was the other sign of humankind. People were often oblivious to how much noise they made. A man in the woods was usually a thunderous, crunching, snorting, grumbling affair. That cacophony should have been magnified many times, here in the city.
And yet, it was still. Unnaturally still. Cairhien should not have been a quiet place, even at night.
Perrin reached the mouth of the alley and scouted the larger thoroughfare that it intersected, his eyes piercing the darkness. To his left, across the street, a building flew the Lion of Andor beside the Rising Sun of Cairhien. A few people passed by out here, smelling of wine and unwashed bodies.
“Where is everyone?” Arganda asked, slipping up beside him, holding a shielded lantern. First Captain of Alliandre’s guard in Ghealdan, Arganda was a compact man, like a lean and powerful jackrabbit. He was a good one to have along on a hunt.
“Elayne has pressed most of them into one military division or another,” Perrin said softly.
“Farmboys with kitchen knives and hay rakes,” Gallenne said, coming up on Perrin’s other side in his well-polished breastplate and helmet with three plumes, his single eye peering down the street. He could be a useful man too, if he could be kept in check. “They’ll be cut to pieces by the first Trolloc they see.”
“I think you’ll find, Gallenne,” Arganda said, “that some farmboys can be dangerous. Particularly if cornered.”
“Quiet, you two,” Perrin growled.
“I mean no offense, Arganda,” Gallenne whispered. “This is not a matter of class, but of training. A well-trained soldier is of equal value to me in battle, farmboy or lord, but pressed armies have no training at all. Queen Elayne should not rely upon them.”
“I don’t think she’s going to,” Perrin said. “But what would you have them do, Gallenne? Sit and hide in their houses? This is the Last Battle. The Shadow will hurl everything it has at us. Better that the people should be armed and ready, if the soldiers fail.”
The man quieted as, behind, the rest of Perrin’s force moved through the gateway. Perrin wished he could still the clanking of armor and the fall of boots; if the Dark One discovered what they were up to, they’d find a force of Trollocs waiting for them in the Ways. And yet, to go without at least some troops would have been foolhardy.
It was a careful balance. Enough men to take care of trouble, if encountered, but not so many as to draw their own trouble. He’d settled on fifty. Was that the right number? He’d stayed up nights, carefully going over this plan a hundred times, and was confident in it—but this mission still had him constantly second-guessing his decisions.
The Ways were no careless jaunt through the forest. He suspected he knew that better than anyone.
Last through the gateway, crowding the alleyway, were six pack mules laden with supplies. In addition, each soldier carried a kit with extra water and food. Gallenne had questioned the need for so many supplies, but Perrin had been firm. Yes, the pathway they’d planned looked like it would take only a few days, but he was taking no chances. While he couldn’t plan for everything, he’d not have the mission fail because of something as simple as supply problems.
That said, other than the pack animals, he’d brought no horses. Bridges in the Ways could be narrow, particularly when broken or worn. It was better to rely on feet.
That suited the Aiel just fine. Perrin had brought ten of them, including Sulin and Gaul. Ten Ghealdanin including Arganda, ten Mayeners including Gallenne, ten Whitecloaks including Galad, and ten Two Rivers men including Tam put him at exactly fifty soldiers. On top of that, he’d added Grady, Neald, Saerin, Edarra, and Seonid and her two Warders.
Five channelers. Light send he wouldn’t need to rely on them much.
“Do you sense anything, Goldeneyes?” Seonid asked. Fair-skinned and dark-haired, the Cairhienin woman reminded him of Moiraine—but she was more severe. Though… he’d thought of Moiraine as severe too, when he’d traveled with her. Odd that he’d look back now and imagine her smelling of fondness when she spoke to him. Perhaps he was just remembering the past as he wanted to, like old Cenn Buie claiming the pies at Bel Tine had tasted better when he was young.
Either way, of the Aes Sedai who had traveled with him in the south, Perrin trusted Seonid most. At least she hadn’t gone to meet with Masema behind his back.
Perrin peered at the street, smelling scents on the air and listening for anything out of place. Finally, he shook his head in answer to Seonid’s question. He placed two men as scouts at the mouth of the street and alleyway, then joined Seonid to walk back through the alley, her two Warders following.
Their goal wasn’t the street, but the dead end of the alley where it intersected a large wall surrounding what had once been the palace of Lord Barthanes Damodred—a Darkfriend, and coincidentally a cousin to Moiraine.
His palace was now Rand’s school. Perrin had never been there, but he found the back gate into the grounds just where it had been described. He knocked softly, and a stocky gray-haired woman pulled the gate open.
“Idrien Tarsin?” Perrin asked.
The woman nodded, smelling of worry as she ushered them in. She was headmistress of the school, and had been told to expect their arrival. Perrin waited as the others entered, counting off his men and women—one more time, for good measure.
Finally, when all were accounted for, he pulled the gate closed behind him, then hurried along the line of soldiers to the front. Here Idrien hissed at them to be quiet, then glanced at the sky and pulled open the back door to the school proper.
Perrin stepped through it and into a place full of odd scents. Something acrid he couldn’t place mixed with the aroma of flowers that had been crushed. Odd scents that he associated with baking—the sodas and yeasts—but none of the comfortable smells, like those of baking bread, that should accompany them.
As the others of his group entered, he stepped forward, sniffing at a room that reeked of a tannery. What was happening in this strange place, and why did he smell old bones from that room across the hall?
He would have expected the scholars to be sleeping, but as the headmistress led them down the broad hall, Perrin passed several rooms with lights burning. In one, an extremely tall man with long hair and fingers worked beside a… well, a contraption of some sort. It had wires and coils and pieces growing out of the floor like some kind of metal tree. Lights burned on the table in front of the scholar, inside of little glass globes. They were steady lights that didn’t flicker at all.
“Is that an Asha’man?” Galad asked, stepping up beside Perrin.
“I see no weaves,” Grady whispered, joining them as Arganda moved his troops through the hall behind.
“Then… he’s figured out how to harness the One Power using only metal and coils?” Galad asked, smelling troubled. He seemed to consider the idea to be very disturbing.
Perrin shook his head and ushered the other two forward, worried about drawing the scholar’s attention. The man didn’t even look up, however, as if oblivious to the footfalls and hushed conversations in the hall.
Perrin hurried onward, passing underneath a model hanging from the ceiling—it looked like a wooden man with wings attached to his arms, as if they were intended to make him fly. Another room smelled of old dust and was filled entirely with bones—but from no animal Perrin recognized.
Eventually, Idrien led them through a very small door—perhaps a servants’ door—out into the mansion’s gardens. Perrin knew what to expect, as Loial had explained—at length, of course—about his trip here with Rand. The Waygate was in its own walled enclosure within the gardens. Sitting on the ground there was a balding fellow with a heap of star charts, staring up at the sky. What he expected to see through the cloud cover was beyond Perrin.
“I thought you were told to keep everyone away,” Perrin said, hurrying up to the headmistress.
“Oh, don’t mind Gavil,” she said. She had a musical voice. “He’s not right in the head. He… well, we let him study the Ways, you see…”
“You let someone in?” Perrin demanded.
“We are here to study and learn,” she replied, voice hardening. “He knew the risks. And he… well, he only stuck his head in for a brief moment. That was enough. When we pulled him back out, he was staring and mumbling. Now he rants about a sky with no stars and draws star charts all day. But they’re nonsense—at least, he charts a sky that I’ve never seen.”
She glanced at Perrin, then—smelling of shame—looked away. “We’ve never opened it again, not since that Ogier showed up and chastised us for what we’d done. Of course, we couldn’t have opened it on our own anyway, as he took the key with him when he left.”
Perrin said nothing. He led his group into the small enclosure, and there was the Waygate, a portal of stone worked with incredibly intricate vine and leaf patterns. Perrin hadn’t done much work in stone—the closest had been a fanciful attempt at molds for casting silver, at which Master Luhhan had laughed. As if there would ever be enough silver in the Two Rivers to waste on an apprentice’s practice molds.
Still, the masterwork sculpting on the Waygates had always struck Perrin. The creators had made this stonework look almost as if it were alive.
“Thank you, Mistress Tarsin,” Perrin said. “This will get me to the Two Rivers quietly, without anyone knowing where we’ve gone.”
Perrin glanced at Galad—who blessedly didn’t say anything. The man could be perniciously honest at times, and hadn’t liked the idea of lying about their destination. But Perrin figured he should do anything he could to point the Shadow in the wrong direction—even starting deliberately false rumors.
“You may go,” Perrin told the headmistress. “But forbid anyone from even entering this garden—barricade the doors. And don’t worry about us. Remember the warning you got earlier. The Shadow might very well be planning to send troops here through this portal. It might feel quiet in this city, but you’re actually sitting right on the front lines of the war.”
She nodded, though she didn’t smell as concerned as she probably should have. Well, perhaps she was just good at controlling her fear of the Waygates—they’d long known that the Shadow was using them, and Rand had stationed guards here during most of the school’s existence.
A few guards wouldn’t do much more than a locked door, unfortunately. This Waygate needed channelers who could Travel watching it permanently—whom Rand would send once he could spare them.
Or… well, if he could spare them.
Mistress Tarsin retreated out the door, locking it behind her. Not that a lock would do much to stop Trollocs—indeed, far stronger precautions had proven useless. The Waygate in Caemlyn had been locked tight like this one, behind the wall of stone that protected the entrance.
Perrin moved his soldiers back, leaving only the channelers and his attendants near the Waygate itself. Then he nodded to Grady. “All right, Grady,” he said. “Bring it down.”
Saerin folded her arms, and Perrin braced himself for another objection. The Aes Sedai—and Saerin in particular—hadn’t liked this part of the plan. The fierce Brown sister had objected to the destruction of such an ancient relic.
Fortunately, she said nothing as Grady stepped up and adopted a look of concentration. Apparently Perrin’s explanations had satisfied her: The barrier had meant nothing to the enemy in Caemlyn. It might as well not have existed, for all the good it had done the people there.
Right now, the only chance this city—and Caemlyn itself—had was for Perrin to find a method of shutting these Waygates permanently, from the inside.
“All right, my Lord,” Grady said. “Brace yourself.”
With that, the Asha’man blasted open the Waygate’s stone covering.
The explosion ripped the barrier into several pieces, though the resulting pop was muted, as if it had come from many paces away. The chunks, rather than spraying chips of stone across the soldiers, hung in the air, then floated down and settled onto the path right in front of the Waygate.
Perrin felt a pang at the destruction, more so because he had ordered it. But no smith could be so attached to a piece that he couldn’t see the need to melt it down when its time came.
Now that the stone covering was gone, Perrin’s breath caught, and he took one of the lanterns and raised it high.
The opening exposed a glassy surface like a mirror—but one that reflected poorly. A shadowy version of Perrin, holding aloft the lantern, confronted him. Loial had said that once, the Way-gates had shone like bright mirrors—back when they’d had light of their own within.
The ancient portal rested peacefully as Grady dusted off his hands. Perrin stepped up, listening, looking. The last time Rand had tried to use this Waygate, something had been waiting for him on the other side. The Black Wind.
Today, however, Perrin heard no calls for blood or death, felt no assault on his mind. He saw nothing but the shadowy version of himself, golden eyes seeming to glow in the lantern light as he searched for hints of danger. He could spot none. It seemed that Machin Shin was not lurking in wait for them this time.
He released his held breath as, behind him, Seonid spoke thoughtfully to Grady. “That was well done, with the explosion, Asha’man. Did you use Air to muffle the sound somehow?”
Grady nodded, wiping his brow with a handkerchief. “Been practicing how to do that, lately. Explosions can be handy, but we can’t be shattering everyone’s eardrums with each one, now can we?”
“The noise of the channeling is the one we must fear more,” Saerin said briskly. “We should be quick, just in case.”
“Agreed,” Perrin said. He turned back to the troops, who had watched the display with stoic faces. This lot was as used to channeling as common men ever could be, he supposed. “Arganda and Gallenne?”
“Yes, Lord Goldeneyes?” Gallenne said, alongside a simple “Yes?” from Arganda. Both smelled eager.
“You may enter. Together.”
They didn’t seem to like that, but both stepped up to the dull glassy surface, as if approaching versions of themselves from the shadowy realm beyond. With the entire rock face removed, the opening was wide enough for two men, barely. Arganda reached up and tapped the surface, his finger seeming to meld with that of his dim reflection. He shuddered visibly as his finger stuck into it, rather than meeting something solid. He looked at Gallenne, and the other man nodded, his slotted helmet under his arm.
Together they stepped forward, their faces meeting those of their mirror images as they merged with the reflective surface, stepping into the Ways. A moment later, Arganda turned back, his torso breaking from the surface—causing no ripples—and leaning out.
“There is a modestly sized stone field on this side as described, Lord Goldeneyes. We see no signs of the Shadow, or of this… wind you mentioned.”
“All right,” Perrin said to the others. “In you go. One at a time, and go slowly, understand. I’ll go last.”
Galad stepped up to him as the soldiers began to file through. He watched the Waygate with troubled eyes. “I’ve been trying to convince the Children that we need not walk in dark paths in order to follow the Light.”
“Sometimes you must walk a dark path,” Perrin said, “because there is no other way forward. That doesn’t mean you need to let it get inside you. That’s something the Children never seem to be able to figure out.”
“I am not a fool, Perrin,” Galad said. “I realize that distinction. But if we intend to resist the Shadow without embracing evil methods, how can we justify using this… place?”
“The Ways aren’t evil,” Perrin said. “The fact that the Shadow has corrupted them doesn’t change that they were made for a good purpose. The real corruption is Shadowspawn using it to attack us.”
Galad thought for a time, then nodded. “I will accept that argument. You have a good logic about you, Perrin Aybara.” He stepped up next and—without breaking stride or smelling the least bit worried—passed through the gate.
“Complimented by a Whitecloak,” Seonid said to Perrin, waiting as her Warders passed through. “How does that feel?”
“Odd,” Perrin admitted. “Go on in. And remember not to channel once inside.”
“You keep saying this,” Edarra said as she stepped up. The Aiel Wise One had pale yellow hair and seemed young—though of course, that was deceptive when Wise Ones were concerned. She inspected her shadowy reflection with a critical eye. “Why bring five people who can channel, then tell us not to use the One Power?”
“Never swing an axe carelessly, Edarra,” Perrin said. “The Power will be corrupted inside, almost like the taint that was upon saidin. We will probably have to use the Power to pull off this plan, but let’s not be foolhardy about it.”
Edarra finally entered, and though the Wise One didn’t bow her head or betray an anxious step, she did smell distinctly of nervousness.
Seonid, in turn, smelled of… a strange mix of emotions. Something had happened between the two Aes Sedai and the Wise Ones. Perrin didn’t know exactly what it had been, but it seemed to be over now. And strangely, Seonid seemed more respectful of the Aiel than she had of Egwene or the other senior Aes Sedai.
“Keep that Whitecloak at arm’s length, Lord Aybara,” Seonid said after Edarra passed. “His type turns on a man quickly, once he finds fault. I’ve seen it a dozen times.” She strode into the Way-gate, followed by the last of the Aiel—all save Gaul, who waited with Perrin.
“We have a saying in the Three-fold Land,” Gaul noted. “The gango lizard will happily feed on your arm while the asp bites your leg. I think that one’s advice could be applied to herself.”
“I trust them both,” Perrin said. “Seonid can be brusque, but she acts with honesty. And Galad… Galad is straightforward. If he does turn on me, I don’t doubt he’ll explain his reasons completely beforehand. I’d rather have that than a dozen attendants who tell me what I want to hear and scheme behind my back.” Perrin scratched at his beard. “Odd. Rand would always talk like that too, and he ended up with a bunch of scheming toadies anyway.”
Gaul laughed. “I would not call it odd, Perrin Aybara. Not odd at all.”
After Gaul had passed through, Perrin stepped up, as if confronting himself in the reflective surface. He had entered the Ways only twice. First, so long ago with Moiraine. Then again when he’d returned with Loial to the Two Rivers.
It felt like an eternity had passed since either of those events. Indeed, it seemed a completely different person looked back at him from inside the Waygate. A hard man, with a weathered beard—thick like the fur of a wolf whose instincts knew to anticipate a particularly harsh winter. But Perrin could look that man in his golden eyes and feel at peace with him.
Both man and reflection slid their hammers into the loops at their sides. And both knew that this time, though wary, they would not smell of fear. He stepped forward and touched the surface of the gate, which felt icy, like water washing across him. The moment stretched—indeed, Perrin almost felt as if he were stretching, like a thick piece of tar.
Finally, though, he slid through and stepped firmly on the other side, entering the infinite blackness.
Excerpted from Unfettered III: “A Fire Within the Ways”