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A Memory of Light
By Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson
Tom Doherty Associates Copyright © 2013 The Bandersnatch Group, Inc.
All rights reserved.
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 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 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 the 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." (Continues...)
Excerpted from A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson. Copyright © 2013 The Bandersnatch Group, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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