A Memory of Light Page 111

They had taken Malkier from him twice now. They would never be able to taste his sense of defeat, his sense of loss, at leaving his homeland again, this time by choice. But by the Light, he could bring them close to it. His sword through their chests would do that best.

The battle descended into chaos, as so many did. The Trollocs fell into frenzy; his army had spent the last four days not engaging the beasts at all. They had only retreated, finally having gained some control over their withdrawal, enough to avoid clashes, at least, which their fires had made possible.

Four days without a conflict, now this all-out attack. That was the first piece of the plan.

"Dai Shan!" someone called. Prince Kaisel. He pointed to where the Trollocs had managed to divide Lan’s guard. His banner was tipping.

Andere. The man’s horse fell, pulled down as Lan urged Mandarb between two Trollocs. Prince Kaisel and a handful of other soldiers joined him.

Lan couldn’t continue on horseback, lest he accidentally trample his friend. He threw himself from the saddle, hit the ground and crouched beneath a Trolloc swing. Kaisel took that beast’s leg off at the knee.

Lan dashed past the falling Trolloc. He saw his banner and a body beside it. Alive or dead, Lan did not know, but there was a Myrddraal raising a dark blade.

Lan arrived in a rush of wind and spinning steel. He blocked the Thakan’dar blade with a swing of his own, trampling his own banner as he fought. Within the void, there was no time for thought. There was only instinct and action. There was—

There was a second Myrddraal, rising up from behind Andere’s fallen horse. So, a trap. Take down the banner, draw Lan’s attention.

The two Fades attacked, one from each side. The void did not shake. A sword could not feel fear, and for that moment, Lan was the sword. The Heron Spreads Its Wings. Slashing all around him, blocking their blades with his own, back and forth. The Myrddraal were like water, flowing, but Lan was the wind itself. He spun between their blades, knocking back the attack to the right, then the one to the left.

The Fades began cursing in fury. The one to his left rushed Lan, a sneer on its pale lips. Lan stepped to the side, then parried the creature’s thrust and lopped its arm off at the elbow. He continued in a fluid stroke, his swing continuing to where he knew the other Fade would be attacking, and took its hand off at the wrist.

Both Thakan’dar blades clanged to the ground. The Fades froze, stupefied for a second. Lan cut the head of one from its neck, then twisted and drove his sword through the neck of the other. Black Pebbles on Snow. He stepped back and swiped his sword to the side to spray some of the deadly blood free of the blade. Both Fades fell, thrashing, flailing at one another, mindless, dark blood staining the ground.

A good hundred and fifty Trollocs nearby fell writhing to the ground. They’d been linked to the Fades. Lan stepped over to haul Andere out of the mud. The man looked dazed, blinking, and his arm hung at a strange angle. Lan tossed Andere over his shoulder, and kicked his banner by its staff up into his free hand.

He ran back toward Mandarb—the area around him now clear of Trollocs—and handed the banner to one of Prince Kaisel’s men. "See that cleaned, then raise it". He slung Andere across the front of his saddle, mounted, and wiped his sword on his saddle blanket. The man didn’t look mortally wounded.

He faintly heard Prince Kaisel behind. "By my fathers!" the man said. "I’d heard he was good, but . . . but Light!"

"This will do", Lan said, surveying the battlefield, releasing the void. "Send the signal, Deepe".

The Asha’man complied, sending a red streak of light into the air. Lan turned Mandarb and pointed his sword back toward the camp. His forces rallied around him. Their attack had always been meant to be a hit and retreat. They hadn’t maintained a solid battle line. That was difficult with a cavalry charge.

His troops pulled back, and the Saldaeans and Arafellin arrived, riding in quick waves to break up the Trolloc lines and protect the retreat. Mandarb was wet with sweat; carrying two armored men was a difficult order for the horse, following a charge. Lan slowed the pace, now that they were out of direct harm.

"Deepe", Lan asked as they reached the back lines. "How is Andere?"

"He has a few broken ribs, a broken arm, and a head injury", Deepe said. "I’d be surprised if he could count to ten on his own right now, but I’ve seen worse. I’ll Heal the head wound; the rest can wait".

Lan nodded, reining in. One of his guards—a surly man named Benish who wore a Taraboner veil, though he wore a hadori above it—helped take Andere off Mandarb; they held him up beside Deepe’s horse. The one-legged Asha’man leaned down from the arrangement of straps that supported him in the saddle, placing his hand on Andere’s head and concentrating.

The dazed look left Andere’s eyes, and awareness took over. Then he started swearing.

He’ll be fine, Lan thought, looking at the battlefield. The Shadowspawn were now falling back. It was near dusk.

Prince Kaisel cantered up beside Lan. "That Saldaean flag bears the red stripe of the Queen", he said. "She’s riding with them again, Lan".

"She is their queen. She can do as she wishes".

"You should talk to her", Kaisel said, shaking his head. "Its not right, Lan. Other women from the Saldaean army are starting to ride with them as well".

"I’ve seen Saldaean women spar", Lan said, still watching the battlefield. "If I were to place a bet on a contest between one of them and a man from any army in the South, I’d bet on the Saldaean any day".

"But . . ".

"This war is everything or nothing. If I could round up each woman in the Borderlands and put a sword in her hands, I would. For now, I’ll settle for not doing something stupid—like forbidding some trained and passionate soldiers from fighting. If you, however, decide not to exercise that prudence, you are free to tell them what you think. I promise to give you a good burial once they let me take your head down off the pole".

"I . . . Yes, Lord Mandragoran", Kaisel said.

Lan took out his spyglass and surveyed the field.

"Lord Mandragoran?" Kaisel said. "Do you really think this plan will work?"

"There are too many Trollocs", Lan said. "The leaders of the Dark One’s armies have been breeding them for years, growing them like weeds. Trollocs eat a lot; each one requires more food tha

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