A Memory of Light Page 128

Egwene took in all of this in moments, her mind searching for any kind of origin for this strange force. She found nothing to latch on to until she sensed the channeling. The glow of saidar surrounded hundreds of women, all of them riding, wearing strange dresses made entirely of stiff black silk. The dresses were not tied at the waists, but instead pulled relatively tight around the shoulders, and flared wide toward the bottoms. Long, rectangular tassels of a multitude of colors hung from ties at the front, just below the neck. The faces of the women were all tattooed.

"Release the Power", Egwene said, letting go of saidar. "Don’t let them sense you!" She dashed to the side, Lelaine following, the glow winking out from around her.

Romanda ignored Egwene, letting out a curse. She began weaving a gateway to escape.

A dozen different weaves of fire suddenly thrashed the area where Romanda stood. The woman didn’t have a chance to scream. Egwene and the other women scrambled through the camp as weaves of the One Power destroyed tents, consumed supplies and set the entire place aflame.

Egwene reached the command tent just as Gawyn stumbled out. She grabbed him and pulled him to the ground as a ball of fire passed just overhead, then crashed into a collection of tents nearby.

"Light!" Gawyn said. "What is it?"

"Sharans". Lelaine, breathless, huddled down beside them.

"Are you certain?" Egwene whispered.

Lelaine nodded. "Accounts from the Cairienin before the Aiel War are plentiful, if not very informative. They weren't allowed to see much, but what they did see looked a lot like an army".

"Army?" Gawyn said, stretching to the side and looking between the tents toward the force marching through the unnaturally wide gateway. "Blood and bloody ashes!" he swore, ducking back. "There are thousands of them!"

"Far too many to fight", Egwene agreed, mind working furiously. "Not pinned between them and the Trollocs as we are. We have to fall back".

"I just passed the order to Byrne to disengage the troops", Gawyn said. "But . . . Egwene. Where are we going to go? Trollocs in front, that army behind! Light. We'll be crushed between them!"

Byrne would react quickly. He'd send a messenger to the line captains. Oh no . . .

Egwene grabbed Gawyn and pulled him away from the command tent just as she felt channeling within. Lelaine cried out, ducking in the other direction.

The Sharan women reacted immediately to the channeling. The ground ripped up underneath the tent, destroying it in a burst of overwhelming power. Tattered shreds of cloth flew into the air amid stones and clods of earth.

Egwene fell backward, and Gawyn pulled her toward a toppled cart that had been hit, one wheel shattered, its burden of firewood tumbling out. Gawyn pulled Egwene to the sheltered place just under the edge of the cart, beside the tumble of wood. They huddled there, though the wood flickered with flames and the ground was afire. The heat was distressing, but not unbearable.

Egwene huddled against the ground, blinking through eyes that burned with smoke, searching for signs of Lelaine. Or . . . Light! Siuan and Byrne had been inside that tent, along with Yukiri and many of their command staff.

Egwene and Gawyn hid as flames rained on the camp, tearing up the earth. The Sharans struck at any sign of movement; several women who ran were instantly immolated.

"Be ready to run", Gawyn said, "once the fire stops falling".

The flames did wane, but just as they did, riders in Sharan armor charged through the camp. They hooted and yelled, leveling bows at anyone they saw, dropping dozens with arrows to the back. After that, the Sharan troops moved through the camp in tight formations. Egwene waited tensely, trying to think of how to slip away.

She saw no opportunity. Gawyn pulled Egwene back farther, rubbed soot on her cheeks and motioned for her to stay low, then draped his Warder cloak over them both. With the smoke from the wood burning nearby, perhaps they wouldn’t be seen.

Her heart thumped urgently in her chest. Gawyn pressed something to her face, a kerchief he had soaked with his waterskin. He held another one to his face and breathed through it. She took the one he was holding to her, but barely breathed. Those soldiers were so close.

One of the soldiers turned toward the cart, peering at the woodpile, but when he glanced through the smoke toward them he didn’t seem to see anything. Egwene silently contemplated the Warder cloak. Its color-shifting nature made them nearly invisible, if they were careful not to move.

Why don’t I have one of these cloaks? she thought with annoyance. Why should they only be for Warders?

The soldiers were busy flushing out servants. Those who ran, they killed with arrows from bows that stretched extremely far. Servants who moved more slowly, they rounded up and forced to the ground.

Egwene longed to embrace the Source, to do something. To bring down fire and lightning upon these invaders. She still had Vora’s sa’angreal. She could—

She quashed that line of thinking. She was surrounded by the enemy, and the swift reaction of the channelers indicated that they were watching for Aes Sedai. If she wove for a single moment, she’d be killed before she could escape. She huddled beside Gawyn, under his cloak, hoping none of the Sharan channelers walked close enough to sense her ability. She could use a weave to hide that ability, but would have to channel first to use it. Dared she try that?

They hid for a good hour or more. If the cloud cover hadn’t been so complete, casting the land into perpetual twilight, they’d certainly have been spotted, cloak or no cloak. She almost cried out at one point when a few of the Sharan soldiers tossed some buckets of water onto the woodpile, stifling the fire and soaking both of them.

She couldn’t make out anything of her own army, though she feared the worst. The Sharan channelers and a large portion of their army moved

through the camp quickly, toward the battlefield. With Bryne and the

Amyrlin gone, and with a surprise force coming in from behind . . .

Egwene felt sick. How many were dying, dead? Gawyn caught her arm

as he felt her stir, then shook his head, mouthing a few words. Wait until night.

They’re dying! she mouthed.

You can’t help.

It was true. She let him hold her, letting his familiar scent calm her. But how could she simply wait as soldiers and Aes Sedai who depended on her were slaughtered? Light, a huge portion of the White Tower was out there! If this army fell, and

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