A Memory of Light Page 11

He noticed Ladwin and Mar hurrying down from above. "There are Trollocs up there!" Mar said, hastening up to Talmanes. "A hundred strong at least, hunkered down in the street".

"Form ranks, men!" Talmanes shouted. "We push for the Palace!"

The sweat tent fell completely still.

Aviendha had anticipated incredulity, perhaps, at her tale. Questions, certainly. Not this painful silence.

Though she had not expected it, she did understand it. She had felt it herself after seeing her vision of the Aiel slowly losing ji’e’toh in the future. She had witnessed the death, dishonor and ruination of her people. At least now she had someone with whom to share that burden.

The heated stones in the kettle hissed softly. Someone should pour more water, but none of the room’s six occupants moved to tend it. The other five were all Wise Ones, naked—as was Aviendha—after the manner of sweat tents. Sorilea, Amys, Bair, Melaine and Kymer of the To-manelle Aiel. All stared straight ahead, each alone for the moment with her thoughts.

One by one, they straightened their backs and sat up, as if accepting a new burden. That comforted Aviendha; not that she’d expected the news to break them. It was still good to see them set their faces toward the danger instead of away from it.

"Sightblinder is too close to the world now", said Melaine. "The Pattern has been twisted somehow. In the dream we still see many things that may or may not happen, but there are too many possibilities; we cannot tell one from another. The fate of our people is unclear to the dreamwalkers, as is the fate of the Car’a’carn once he spits in Sightblinder’s eye on the Last Day. We do not know the truth of what Aviendha saw".

"We must test this", Sorilea said, eyes like stone. "We must know. Is each woman now shown this vision instead of the other, or was the experience unique?"

"Elenar of the Daryne", Amys said. "Her training is nearly complete; she will be the next to visit Rhuidean. We could ask Hayde and Shanni to encourage her".

Aviendha suppressed a shudder. She understood too well how "encouraging" the Wise Ones could be.

"That would be well", Bair said, leaning forward. "Perhaps this is what happens whenever someone goes through the glass columns a second time? Maybe that is why it is forbidden".

None of them looked at Aviendha, but she could feel them considering her. What she had done was forbidden. Speaking of what happened in Rhuidean was also taboo.

There would be no reprimand. Rhuidean had not killed her; this was what the Wheel had spun. Bair continued to stare into the distance. Sweat trickled down the sides of Aviendha’s face and her br**sts.

I do not miss taking baths, she told herself. She was no soft wetlander. Still, a sweat tent wasn’t truly necessary on this side of the mountains. There was no bitter cold at night, so the heat of the tent felt stifling, not comforting. And if water was plentiful enough for bathing . . .

No. She set her jaw. "May I speak?"

"Don’t be foolish, girl", Melaine said. The woman was round in the belly, nearly to term. "You’re one of us now. No need to ask permission". Girl? It would take time for them to see her truly as one of them, but they did make an effort. Nobody ordered her to make tea or to throw water on the kettle. With no apprentice around and no gai’shain handy, they took turns doing these tasks.

"I am less concerned with whether the vision repeats", Aviendha said, "than with what I was shown. Will it happen? Can we stop it?"

"Rhuidean shows two types of vision", Kymer said. She was a younger woman, perhaps less than a decade Aviendha’s senior, with deep red hair and a long, tanned face. "The first visit is what could be, the second, to the columns, what has happened".

"This third vision could be either", Amys said. "The columns always show the past accurately; why would they not show the future with equal accuracy?"

Aviendha’s heart lurched.

"But why", Bair said softly, "would the columns show a despair that cannot change? No. I refuse to believe it. Rhuidean has always shown us what we needed to see. To help us, not destroy us. This vision must have a purpose as well. To encourage us toward greater honor?"

"Its unimportant", Sorilea said curtly.

"But—" Aviendha began.

"It’s unimportant", Sorilea repeated. "If this vision were unchangeable, if our destiny is to . . . fall . . . as you have spoken, would any of us stop fighting to change it?"

The room grew still. Aviendha shook her head.

"We must treat it as if it can be changed", Sorilea said. "Best not to dwell on your question, Aviendha. We must decide what course to take". Aviendha found herself nodding. "I . . . Yes, yes, you are correct, Wise One".

"But what do we do?" Kymer asked. "What do we change? For now, the Last Battle must be won".

"Almost", Amys said, "I wish for the vision to be unchangeable, for at least it proves we win this fight".

"It proves nothing", Sorilea said. "Sightblinder’s victory would break the Pattern, and so no vision of the future can be sure or trusted. Even with prophecies of what might happen in Ages to come, if Sightblinder wins this battle, all will become nothing".

"This vision I saw has to do with whatever Rand is planning", Aviendha said.

They turned to her.

"Tomorrow", she said. "From what you’ve told me, he’s preparing for an important revelation".

"The Car’a’carn has a . . . fondness for dramatic presentations", Bair said, her tone itself fond. "He’s like a crockobur who has toiled all night making a nest so that he can sing of it in the morning to all who will listen".

Aviendha had been surprised to discover the gathering at Merrilor; she had found it only by using her bond to Rand al’Thor to determine where he was. Arriving here to find so many together, the wet lander forces collected, she wondered if this was part of what she’d seen. Was this gathering the start of what would become her vision?

"I feel as if I know more than I should". She spoke almost to herself. "You have had a deep glimpse of what the future may hold", Kymer said. "It will change you, Aviendha".

"Tomorrow is key", Aviendha said. "His plan".

"From what you said", Kymer replied, "it sounds as if he intends to ignore the Aiel, his own people. Why would he give boons to everyone else, but not to those who are most deserving? Does he

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