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Towers of midnight
  • Текст добавлен: 15 октября 2016, 06:27

Текст книги "Towers of midnight"

Автор книги: Robert Jordan

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Текущая страница: 64 (всего у книги 65 страниц)


And after Graendal hurriedly gathered what she needed from her new palace. From her desk, she took a small angreal Mesaana had traded her in exchange for information. It was in the shape of a small, carved ivory knife; she'd lost her gold ring in al'Thor's attack.

Graendal tossed it in her pack, then snatched a sheaf of papers from her bed. Names of contacts, eyes-and-ears—everything she'd managed to remember from what had been destroyed at Natrin's Barrow.

Waves surged against the rocks outside. It was still dark. Only moments had passed since her last tool had failed her, Aybara surviving the battlefield. That was supposed to have worked!

She was in her elegant manor house a few leagues from Ebou Dar. Now that Semirhage was gone, Graendal had begun placing some strings around their new, childlike Empress. She'd have to abandon those schemes now.

Perrin Aybara had escaped. She felt stunned. Plan after perfect plan had fallen in place. And then… he'd escaped. How? The prophecy… it had said…

That fool ham, Graendal thought, stuffing the papers in her pack. And that idiot Whitecloak! She was sweating. She shouldn't be sweating.

She tossed a few ter'angreal from her desk into the pack, then rifled her closet for changes of clothing. He could find her anywhere in the world.

But perhaps one of the mirror realms of the Portal Stones. Yes. There, his connections were not– She turned, arms full of silk, and froze. A figure stood in the room. Tall, like a pillar dressed in black robes. Eyeless. Smiling lips the color of death.

Graendal dropped to her knees, throwing aside the clothing. Sweat ran down her temple onto her cheek.

"Graendal," said the tall Myrddraal. His voice was terrible, like the last whispers of a dying man. "You have failed, Graendal."

Shaidar Haran. Very bad. "I…" she said, licking her dry lips. How to twist this to a victory? "It is according to plan. It is merely a—"

"I know your heart, Graendal. I can taste your terror."

She squeezed her eyes shut.

"Mesaana has fallen," Shaidar Haran whispered. "Three Chosen, destroyed by your actions. The design builds, a lattice of failure, a framework of incompetence."

"I had nothing to do with Mesaana's fall!"

"Nothing? Graendal, the dreamspike was there. Those who fought with Mesaana said that they tried to move, to draw the Aes Sedai to a location where their trap could be sprung. They were not meant to fight in the White Tower. They could not leave. Because of you."


"A tool given you. The failure is yours, Graendal."

She licked her lips again. Her entire mouth had gone dry. There had to be a way out. "I have a better plan, more bold. You will be impressed. Al'Thor thinks I am dead, and so I can—"

"No." Such a quiet voice, but so horrible. Graendal found she could not speak. Something had taken her voice. "No," Shaidar Haran continued. "This opportunity has been given to another. But Graendal, you shall not be forgotten."

She looked up, feeling a surge of hope. Those dead lips were smiling widely, that eyeless gaze fixed on her. She felt a horrible sinking feeling.

"No," Shaidar Haran said, "I shall not forget you, and you shall not forget that which comes next."

She opened her eyes wide, then howled as he reached for her.

The sky rumbled; the grass around Perrin shivered. That grass was spotted black, just as in the real world. Even the wolf dream was dying.

The air was full of scents that did not belong. A fire burning. Blood drying. The dead flesh of a beast he didn't recognize. Eggs rotting.

No, he thought. No it will not be.

He gathered his will. Those scents would vanish. They did, replaced with the scents of summer. Grass, hedgehogs, beetles, moss, mice, blue-winged doves, purple finches. They appeared, bursting to life in a circle around him.

He gritted his teeth. The reality spread from him like a wave, blackness fading from the plants. Above him, the clouds undulated, then parted. Sunlight streamed down. The thunder calmed.

And Hopper lives, Perrin thought. He does! I can smell his coat, hear him loping in the grass.

A wolf appeared before him, forming as if from mist. Silvery gray, grizzled from years of life. Perrin thrilled in his power. It was real.

And then he saw the wolf's eyes. Lifeless.

The scent turned stale and wrong.

Perrin was sweating from the strain of concentrating so hard. Something within him became disjointed. He was coming into the wolf dream too strongly; to try to control this place absolutely was like trying to contain a wolf in a box.

He cried out, falling to his knees. The misty not-Hopper vanished in a puff and the clouds crashed back into place. Lightning exploded above him and the black spots flooded the grass. The wrong scents returned.

Perrin knelt, sweat dripping from his brow, one hand on the prickly brown and black grass. Too stiff.

Perrin thought of Faile in their tent back in the Field of Merrilor. She was his home. There was much to do. Rand had come, as promised. Tomorrow, he would face Egwene. Thought of the real world grounded Perrin, keeping him from entering the wolf dream too strongly.

Perrin stood. He could do many things in this place, but there were limits. There were always limits.

Seek Boundless. He will explain.

Hopper's last sending to him. What did it mean? Hopper had said that Perrin had found the answer. And yet, Boundless would explain that answer? The sending had been awash with pain, loss, satisfaction at seeing Perrin accept the wolf within him. One final image of a wolf leaping proudly into the darkness, coat shining, scent determined.

Perrin sent himself to the Jehannah Road. Boundless was often there, with the remnants of the pack. Perrin reached out and found him: a youthful male with brown fur and a lean build. Boundless teased him sending the image of Perrin as a bull trampling a stag. The others had left that image alone, but Boundless continued to remember.

Boundless, Perrin sent. Hopper told me I needed you.

The wolf vanished.

Perrin started, then jumped to the place the wolf had been—a cliff top several leagues from the road. He caught the faintest scent of the wolf's destination, and then went there. An open field with a distant barn, looking rotted.

Boundless? Perrin sent. The wolf crouched in a pile of brush nearby.

No. No. Boundless sent fright and anger.

What did I do?

The wolf streaked away, leaving a blur. Perrin growled, and went down on all fours, becoming a wolf. Young Bull followed, wind roaring in his ears. He forced it to part before him, increasing his speed further.

Boundless tried to vanish, but Young Bull followed, appearing in the middle of the ocean. He hit the waves, water firm beneath his paws, and continued after Boundless without breaking stride.

Boundless's sendings flashed with images. Forests. Cities. Fields. An image of Perrin, looking down at him, standing outside a cage.

Perrin froze, becoming human again. He stood upon the surging waves, rising slowly into the air. What? That sending had been of a younger Perrin. And Moiraine had been with him. How could Boundless have…

And suddenly, Perrin knew. Boundless was always found in Ghealdan in the wolf dream.

Noam, he sent to the wolf, now distant.

There was a start of surprise, and then the mind vanished. Perrin moved to where Boundless had been, and there smelled a small village. A barn. A cage.

Perrin appeared there. Boundless lay on the ground between two houses, looking up at Perrin. Boundless was indistinguishable from the other wolves, for all that Perrin now suspected the truth. This was not a wolf. He was a man.

"Boundless," Perrin said, kneeling down on one knee to look the wolf in the eyes. "Noam. Do you remember me?"

Of course. You are Young Bull.

"I mean, do you remember me from before, when we met in the waking world? You sent an image of it."

Noam opened his jaws, and a bone appeared in them. A large femur with some meat still on it. He lay on his side, chewing the bone. You are Young Bull, he sent, stubborn.

"Do you remember the cage, Noam?" Perrin asked softly, sending the image. The image of a man, his filthy clothing half ripped off, locked in a makeshift wooden cell by his family.

Noam froze, and his image wavered momentarily, becoming that of a man. The wolf image retuned immediately, and he growled a low, dangerous growl.

"I do not bring up bad times to make you angry, Noam," Perrin said. "I… Well, I'm like you."

I am a wolf.

"Yes," Perrin said. "But not always."


"No," Perrin said firmly. "Once you were like me. Thinking it differently doesn't make it so."

Here it does, Young Bull, Noam sent. Here it does.

That was true. Why was Perrin pressing this issue? Hopper had sent him here, though. Why should Boundless have the answer? Seeing him, knowing who he was, brought back all of Perrin's fears. He'd made peace with himself, yet here was a man who had lost himself completely to the wolf.

This was what Perrin had been terrified of. This was what had driven the wedge between him and the wolves. Now that he'd overcome that, why would Hopper send him here? Boundless scented his confusion. The bone vanished and Boundless set his head on his paws, looking up at Perrin.

Noam—his mind almost gone—had thought only of breaking free and of killing; he'd been a danger to everyone around him. There was none of that now. Boundless seemed at peace. When they'd freed Noam, Perrin had worried that the man would die quickly, but he seemed alive and well. Alive, at least—Perrin couldn't judge much about his wellness from how the man looked in the wolf dream.

Still, Boundless's mind was far better now. Perrin frowned to himself. Moiraine had said there was nothing left of the man Noam in the mind of the creature.

"Boundless," Perrin said. "What do you think of the world of men?"

Perrin was immediately hit with a rapid succession of images. Pain. Sadness. Dying crops. Pain. A large, stout man, half-drunk, beating a pretty woman. Pain. A fire. Fear, sorrow. Vain.

Perrin stumbled back. Boundless kept sending the images. One after another. A grave. A smaller grave beside it, as if for a child. The fire getting larger. A man—Noam's brother, Perrin recognized him, though the man had not seemed dangerous at the time—enraged.

It was a flood, too much. Perrin howled. A lament for the life that Noam had led, a dirge of sorrow and pain. No wonder this man preferred the life of a wolf.

The images stopped, and Boundless turned his head away. Perrin found himself gasping for breath.

A gift, Boundless sent.

"By the Light," Perrin whispered. "This was a choice, wasn't it? You picked the wolf intentionally."

Boundless closed his eyes.

"I always thought it would take me, if I weren't careful," Perrin said.

The wolf is peace, Boundless sent.

"Yes," Perrin said, laying a hand on the wolf's head. "I understand."

This was the balance for Boundless. Different from the balance for Elyas. And different from what Perrin had found. He understood. This did not mean that the way he let himself lose control was not a danger. But it was the final piece he needed to understand. The final piece of himself.

Thank you, Perrin sent. The image of Young Bull the wolf and Perrin the man standing beside one another, atop a hill, their scents the same. He sent that image outward, as powerfully as he could. To Boundless, to the wolves nearby. To any who would listen.

Thank you.

"Dovie'andi se tovya sagain," Olver said, throwing the dice. They rolled across the canvas floor of the tent. Olver smiled as they came up. All black dots, no wavy lines or triangles. A lucky roll indeed.

Olver moved his piece along the cloth board of the Snakes and Foxes game his father had made for him. Seeing that board made Olver hurt every time. It reminded him of his father. But he kept his lip stiff and did not let anyone know. Warriors did not cry. And besides, someday he would find that Shaido who had killed his father. Then Olver would get his vengeance.

That was the sort of thing a man did, when he was a warrior. He figured Mat would help, once he was done with all of this business at the Last Battle. He would owe Olver by then, and not just for all the time Olver had spent being Mat's personal messenger. For the information he had given him about the snakes and the foxes.

Talmanes sat in a chair beside Olver. The stoic man was reading a book, only paying mild attention to the game. He was not nearly as good to play with as Noal or Thom. But then, Talmanes had not been sent to play with Olver so much as watch over him.

Mat did not want Olver to know that he had gone to the Tower of Ghenjei, leaving Olver behind. Well, Olver was not a fool, and he knew what was going on. He was not mad, not really. Noal was a good one to take, and if Mat could only take three, well… Noal could fight better than Olver. So it made sense for him to go.

But next time, Olver would do the choosing. And then Mat had better be nice, or he would be left behind.

"Your roll, Talmanes," Olver said.

Talmanes mumbled something, reaching over and tossing the handful of dice without losing his place in the book. He was an all-right fellow, though a little stiff. Olver would not choose to have a man like him on a good night of drinking and hunting serving girls. As soon as Olver was old enough to go drinking and hunting serving girls. He figured he would be ready in another year or so.

Olver moved the snakes and foxes, then picked up the dice for his next throw. He had figured it all out. There were a lot of Shaido out there, and he had no idea how to find the one who had killed his parents. But the Aelfinn, they could answer questions. He had heard Mat talking about it. So Olver would go get his answers, then track the man down. Easy as riding a horse. He just had to train with the Band beforehand, so he could fight well enough to see done what needed to be done.

He threw his dice. Another full run. Olver smiled, moving his piece back toward the center of the board, half lost in thought and dreaming of the day when he would finally get his revenge, like was proper.

He moved his piece across one more line, then froze.

His piece was on the center spot.

"I won!" he exclaimed.

Talmanes looked up, pipe lowering in his lips. He cocked his head, staring at the board. "Burn me," he muttered. "We must have counted wrong, or…"

"Counted wrong?"

"I mean…" Talmanes looked stunned. "You can't win. The game can't be won. It just can't."

That was nonsense. Why would Olver play if it could not be won? He smiled, looking over the board. The snakes and the foxes were within one toss of getting to his piece and making him lose. But this time, he'd gotten all the way to the outside ring and back. He had won.

Good thing, too. He had started to think he would never manage it!

Olver stood up, stretching his legs. Talmanes climbed off his chair, squatting down beside the game board and scratching his head, smoke idly curling from the end of his pipe.

"I hope Mat will be back soon," Olver said.

"I'm sure he will be," Talmanes said. "His task for Her Majesty shouldn't take much longer." That was the lie they had told Olver—that Mat, Thom and Noal had gone off on some secret errand for the Queen. Well, that was just another reason that Mat would owe him. Honestly, Mat could be so prim sometimes, acting as if Olver could not take care of himself.

Olver shook his head, strolling over to the side of the tent, where a stack of Mat's papers sat waiting his return. There, peeking from between two of them, Olver noticed something interesting. A bit of red, like blood. He reached up, sliding a worn letter from between two of the sheets. It was sealed closed with a dollop of wax.

Olver frowned, turning the small letter over. He had seen Mat carrying it about. Why had he not opened it? That was downright rude. Setalle had worked hard to explain propriety to Olver, and while most of what she said made no sense—he just nodded his head so she would let him snuggle up to her—he was sure you were supposed to open letters people sent you, then respond kindly.

He turned the letter over again, then shrugged and broke the seal. Olver was Mat's personal messenger, all official and everything. It was no wonder Mat sometimes forgot things, but it was Olver's job to take care of him. Now that Lopin was gone, Mat would need extra taking care of. It was one of the reasons Olver stayed with the Band. He was not sure what Mat would do without him.

He unfolded the letter and removed a small, stiff piece of paper inside. He frowned, trying to make out the words. He was getting pretty good with reading, mostly because of Setalle, but some words gave him trouble. He scratched his head. "Talmanes," he said. "You should probably read this."

"What's that?" the man looked up from the game. "Here, now! Olver, what are you doing? That wasn't to be opened!" The man rose, striding over to snatch the paper from Olver's fingers.

"But—" Olver began.

"Lord Mat didn't open it," Talmanes said. "He knew that it would get us tied up in White Tower politics. He waited all those weeks! Now look what you've done. I wonder if we can stuff it back inside…"

"Talmanes," Olver said insistently. "I think it's important."

Talmanes hesitated. He seemed torn for a moment, then held the letter so that the light shone better on it. He read it quickly, with the air of a boy stealing food from a street vendor's cart and stuffing into his mouth before he could be discovered.

Talmanes whispered a curse under his breath. He read the letter again, then cursed more loudly. He grabbed his sword from the side of the room and dashed out of the tent. He left the letter on the floor.

Olver looked it over again, sounding out the words he had not understood the first time.


If you are opening this, then I am dead. I had planned to return and release you of your oath in a single day. There are many potential complications to my next task, however, and a large chance that I will not survive. I needed to know that I'd left someone behind who could see this work done.

Fortunately, if there's one thing I believe I can rely upon, it is your curiosity. I suspect you lasted a few days before opening this letter, which is long enough for me to have returned if I were going to. Therefore, this task falls upon you.

There is a Waygate in Caemlyn. It is guarded, barricaded, and thought secure. It is not.

An enormous force of Shadowspawn moves through the Ways toward Caemlyn. I do not know when they left exactly, but there should be time to stop them. You must reach the Queen and persuade her to destroy the Waygate. It can be done; walling it up will not suffice. If you cannot destroy it, the Queen must bring all of her forces to bear upon guarding the location.

If you fail in this, I fear Caemlyn will be lost before the month is out.

Sincerely, Verin Mathwin

Olver rubbed his chin. What was a Waygate? He thought he had heard Mat and Thom talking about them. He took the letter and walked out of the tent.

Talmanes stood just outside the tent, looking eastward. Toward Caemlyn.

A reddish haze hung on the horizon, a glow over the city. One larger than had been there on other nights.

"Light preserve us," Talmanes whispered. "It's burning. The city is burning." He shook his head, as if clearing it, then raised a call. "To arms! Trollocs in Caemlyn! The city is at war! To arms, men! Burn me, we have to get into the city and salvage those dragons! If those fall into the Shadow's hands, we're all dead men!"

Olver lowered the letter in his fingers, eyes wide. Trollocs in Caemlyn? It would be like the Shaido in Cairhien, only worse.

He hurried into Mat's tent, stumbling over the rug, and threw himself to his knees beside his sleeping pallet. He hurriedly pulled at the stitchings on the side. The wool stuffed inside bulged out through the opening. He reached in, fishing about, and pulled free the large knife he had hidden there. It was wrapped in a leather sheath. He had taken it from one of the Band's quartermasters, Bergevin, when he had not been looking.

After Cairhien, Olver had sworn to himself that he would never prove himself a coward again. He gripped the large knife in two hands, knuckles white, then dashed out of the tent.

It was time to fight.

Barriga stumbled as he crawled past the stump of a fallen tree. Blood from his brow dripped onto the ground, and the dark-speckled nettles seemed to soak it in, feeding upon his life. He raised a trembling hand to his brow. The bandage was soaked through.

No time to stop. No time! He forced himself to his feet and hastily scrambled through the brown sawleaf. He tried not to look at the black spots on the plants. The Blight, he'd entered the Blight. But what else was he to do? The Trollocs rampaged to the south; the towers had all fallen. Kandor itself had fallen.

Barriga tripped and fell to the earth. He groaned, rolling over, gasping. He was in a trough between two hills north of Heeth Tower. His once fine clothing—coat and vest of rich velvet—was ragged and stained with blood. He stank of smoke, and when he closed his eyes, he saw the Trollocs. Washing over his caravan, slaughtering his servants and soldiers.

They'd all fallen. Thum, Yang… both dead. Light, they were all dead.

Barriga shuddered. How had he come to this? He was just a merchant. I should have listened to Rebek, he thought. Smoke rose from Heeth Tower behind. That was where his caravan had been going. How could this be happening?

He needed to keep moving. East. He'd make for Arafel. The other Borderlands would couldn't have fallen, could they?

He climbed up a hillside, hands pulling against short, coiling choke-vine. Like worms between his fingers. He was growing woozy. He reached the hilltop; the world was spinning. He fell there, blood seeping from his bandage.

Something moved in front of him. He blinked. Those clouds above were a tempest. In front of him, three figures wearing black and brown approached with a sleek grace. Myrddraal!

No. He blinked the tears and blood from his eyes. No, those weren't Myrddraal. They were men, wearing red veils over their faces. They walked at a crouch, scanning the terrain, short spears worn on their backs.

"Light be praised," he whispered. "Aiel." He'd been in Andor when Rand al'Thor had come. Everyone knew the Aiel followed the Dragon Reborn. He had tamed them.

I'm safe!

One of the Aiel stepped up to Barriga. Why was the man's veil red? That was unusual. The Aiel's dark eyes were glassy and hard. The Aiel man undid his veil, and revealed a smiling face.

The man's teeth had been filed to points. His smile broadened, and he slipped a knife from his belt.

Barriga stuttered, looking at that horrific maw and the glee in this man's eyes as he reached in for the kill. These weren't Aiel. They were something else.

Something terrible.

Rand al'Thor, the Dragon Reborn, sat quietly in his dream. He breathed in the cool, chill air. White clouds floated gently around him, kissing his skin with their condensation.

His throne for the night was a flat boulder on a mountain slope; he looked down through the clouds at a narrow valley. This wasn't the real location. It wasn't even the World of Dreams, that place where he'd fought Forsaken, the place he'd been told was so dangerous.

No, this was one of his own ordinary dreams. He controlled them now. They were a place he could find peace to think, protected by wards while his body slept beside Min in their new camp, surrounded by Borderlanders, set up on the Field of Merrilor. Egwene was there, with armies marshaled. He was ready for that. He'd counted on it.

On the morrow, they'd hear his demands. Not what he would demand to keep him from breaking the seals—he was going to do that, regardless of what Egwene said. No, these would be the demands he made on the monarchs of the world in exchange for going to Shayol Ghul to face the Dark One.

He wasn't certain what he'd do if they refused him. They'd find it very difficult to do so. Sometimes, it could be useful to have a reputation for being irrational.

He breathed in deeply, peaceful. Here, in his dreams, the hills grew green. As he remembered them. In that nameless valley below, sheltered in the Mountains of Mist, he'd begun a journey. Not his first, and not his last, but perhaps the most important. One of the most painful, for certain.

"And now I come back," he whispered. "I've changed again. A man is always changing."

He felt a unity in returning here, to the place where he'd first confronted the killer inside him. The place where he'd first tried to flee from those whom he should have kept near. He closed his eyes, enjoying tranquility. Calmness. Harmony.

In the distance, he heard screams of pain.

Rand opened his eyes. What had that been? He stood up, spinning. This place was created of his own mind, protected and safe. It couldn't– The scream came again. Distant. He frowned and raised a hand. The scene around him vanished, puffing away into mist. He stood in blackness.

There, he thought. He was in a long corridor of dark wood paneling. He walked down it, boots thumping. That screaming. It shook his peace. Someone was in pain. They needed him.

Rand began to run. He reached a doorway at the end of the hall. The door's russet wood was knobbed and ridged, like the thick roots of an ancient tree. Rand seized the handle—just another root—and wrenched the door open.

The vast room beyond was pure black, lightless, like a cavern deep beneath the ground. The room seemed to suck in the light and extinguish it. The screaming voice was inside. It was weak, as if it were being smothered by the darkness.

Rand entered. The darkness swallowed him. It seemed to pull the life out of him, like a hundred leeches sucking blood from his veins. He pressed onward. He couldn't distinguish the direction of the cries, so he moved along the walls; they felt like bone, smooth but occasionally cracked.

The room was round. As if he stood inside the bowl of an enormous skull.

There! A faint light ahead, a single candle on the ground, illuminating a floor of black marble. Rand hurried toward it. Yes, there was a figure there. Huddled against the bone-white wall. It was a woman with silvery hair, wearing a thin white shift.

She was weeping now, her figure shaking and trembling. Rand knelt beside her, the candle flickering from his motion. How had this woman gotten into his dream? Was she someone real, or was this a creation of his mind? He laid a hand on her shoulder.

She glanced toward him, eyes red, face a mask of pain, tears dripping from her chin. "Please," she pled. "Please. He has me."

"Who are you?"

"You know me," she whispered, taking his hand, clinging to it. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. He has me. He flays my soul anew each eve. Oh, please! Let it stop." The tears flowed more freely.

"I don't know you," Rand said. "I…"

Those eyes. Those beautiful, terrible eyes. Rand gasped, releasing her hand. The face was different. But he did know that soul. "Mierin? You're dead. I saw you die!"

She shook her head. "I wish I were dead. I wish it. Please! He grinds my bones and snaps them like twigs, then leaves me to die before Healing me just enough to keep me alive. He—" She cut off, jerking.


Her eyes opened wide and she spun toward the wall. "No!" she screamed. "He comes! The Shadow in every man's mind, the murderer of truth. No!" She spun, reaching for Rand, but something towed her backward. The wall broke away, and she tumbled into the darkness.

Rand jumped forward, reaching for her, but he was too late. He caught a glimpse of her before she vanished into the blackness below.

Rand froze, staring into that pit. He sought calmness, but he could not find it. Instead, he felt hatred, concern, and—like a seething viper within him—desire. That had been Mierin Eronaile, a woman he had once called the Lady Selene.

A woman most people knew by the name she'd taken upon herself. Lanfear.

A cruel, dry wind blew across Lan's face as he looked down at a corrupt landscape. Tarwin's Gap was a wide pass, rocky, speckled with Blighted knifegrass. This had once been part of Malkier. He was home again. For the last time.

Masses of Trollocs clustered on the other side of the Gap. Thousands.

Tens of thousands. Probably hundreds of thousands. Easily ten times the number of men Lan had gathered during his march across the Borderlands. Normally, men held at their side of the Gap, but Lan could not do that.

He had come to attack, to ride for Malkier. Andere rode up beside him on his left, young Kaisel of Kandor on his right. He could feel something, distant, that had given him strength recently. The bond had changed. The emotions had changed.

He could still feel Nynaeve, so wonderful, caring, and passionate in the back of his mind. He should have been pained to know that now she would suffer when he died, instead of another. However, that closeness to her—a final closeness—brought him strength.

The hot wind seemed too dry; it smelled of dust and dirt, and drew the moisture from his eyes, forcing him to blink.

"It is fitting," Kaisel said.

"What?" Lan asked.

"That we should strike here."

"Yes," Lan said.

"Perhaps," Kaisel said. "But it is bold. It shows the Shadow that we will not be beaten down, that we will not cower. This is your land, Lord Mandragoran."

My land, he thought. Yes, it was. He nudged Mandarb forward.

"I am al'Lan Mandragoran," Lan bellowed. "Lord of the Seven Towers, Defender of the Wall of First Fires, Bearer of the Sword of the Thousand Lakes! I was once named Aan'allein, but I reject that title, for I am alone no more. Fear me, Shadow! Fear me and know. I have returned for what is mine. I may be a king without a land. But I am still a king!"

He roared, raising his sword. A cheer rose from behind him. He sent a final, powerful sensation of love to Nynaeve as he kicked Mandarb into a gallop.

His army charged behind him, each man mounted—a charge of Kandori, Arafellin, Shienarans, and Saldaeans. But most of all Malkieri. Lan wouldn't be surprised if he'd drawn every living man from his former kingdom who could still hold a weapon.

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