A Memory of Light Page 150

Instead, the men raised weapons to her. Drawn swords, pikes lifted, then thumped back against the ground. The Aiel did give some whoops, but the Andorans looked at her with solemn eyes. She had not inspired them to excitement, but to determination. That seemed the more honest emotion. They ignored the darkness in the sky and turned eyes on the goal.

Birgitte walked up beside her horse. "That was quite good, Elayne. When did you change it?"

Elayne blushed, thinking of the carefully prepared speech she’d memorized last night while repeating it half a dozen times to Birgitte. It had been a work of beauty, with allusions to the sayings of queens through the ages.

She’d forgotten every word of it once that darkness had come. This one had spurted out instead.

"Come on", Elayne said, looking over her shoulder. The Trolloc army was arriving opposite hers. "I need to move into position".

"Into position?" Birgitte asked. "You mean that you need to go back to the command tent".

"I’m not going there", Elayne said, turning Moonshadow.

"Blood and bloody ashes, you aren’t! I—"

"Birgitte", Elayne snapped. "I am in command, and you are my soldier. You will obey".

Birgitte recoiled as if slapped.

"Bashere has the command tent", Elayne said. "I’m one of the few channelers of any strength this army has, and I’ll be drawn and quartered before I let myself sit out the fight. I’m easily worth a thousand soldiers on this battlefield".

"The babes—"

"Even if Min hadn’t had that viewing, I’d still insist on fighting. You think the babes of these soldiers aren’t at risk? Many of them line the walls of that city! If we fail here, they will be slaughtered. No, I will not keep myself out of danger, and no, I will not sit back and wait. If you think it’s your duty as my Warder to stop me, then I will bloody sever this bond right here and now and send you to someone else! I’m not going to spend the Last Battle lounging on a chaise and drinking goat’s milk!"

Birgitte fell silent, and Elayne could feel her shock through the bond. "Light", the woman finally said. "I won’t stop you. But will you at least agree to back away for the initial arrow volleys? You can do more good helping the lines where they’re weakened".

She allowed Birgitte and her guards to lead the way back to a hillside near Aludra’s dragons. Talmanes, Aludra and their crews waited with more anxiety and eagerness than the regular troops. They were tired, too, but they’d also seen little use during the forest battles and the retreat. Today was their chance to shine.

Bashere’s battle plan was as complex as any that Elayne had been a part of. The bulk of the army positioned itself almost a mile north of the city, beyond the Foregate ruins outside the city walls. The army’s lines ran east from the Alguenya, across a hillside that sloped down across an approach road to the Jangai Gates on the flats, all the way to the ruins of the Illuminators’ chapter house.

Ranks of foot soldiers—mostly Andorans and Cairhienin, but some Ghealdanin and Whitecloaks as well—bowed out like a half-moon across the front of Elayne’s forces. Six squadrons of dragons rolled up atop the hill behind the foot.

The Trollocs would not reach the city without defeating this army. Estean had the Band’s cavalry on one flank while the Mayener Winged Guards covered the other. The rest of the cavalry was held in reserve.

Elayne waited with patience, watching the Trolloc army prepare. Her biggest worry was that they’d just sit there, waiting for their fellow Trollocs to arrive from the south and attack Elayne simultaneously. Fortunately, that didn’t happen—they had apparently been commanded to take the city, and they were planning to do it.

Bashere’s scout reports indicated that the second army was a little over a day’s march away, and could arrive late on the morrow if they marched hard. Elayne had until then to defeat this northern force.

Come on, Elayne thought. Move.

The Trollocs finally began to surge forward. Bashere and Elayne were counting on them to employ their usual tactic: Overwhelming numbers and sheer force. Indeed, today, the Trollocs crashed forward in a large mass. Their goal would be to overwhelm the defenders, shattering their lines.

Her troops stood firm, knowing what was coming next. The dragons began to bellow, each like innumerable hammers falling at exactly the same moment. Elayne was now a good hundred paces from them, and still she had the urge to cover her ears. Rolling clouds of white smoke began to fill the sky above the dragons as they fired.

The first few shots fell short, but Aludra and her men used the shots to adjust range. After that, the eggs fell among Trollocs, ripping through their ranks, tossing them into the air. Thousands of body parts fell to the crimson-splattered ground. For the first time, Elayne was frightened of the weapons.

Light, Birgitte has been right all along, Elayne thought, imagining what it would be like to charge a fortified position equipped with dragons. Normally, in war, at least a man could depend on one thing: that his skill would be placed against that of his foe. Sword against sword. Trollocs were bad enough. What would it be like for men to have to face this kind of power?

We’ll make sure it doesn’t happen, she told herself. Rand had been right to force that peace upon them.

The dragoners had trained well, and their reloading speeds were impressive. Each set off three volleys before the Trollocs hit the front lines. Elayne hadn’t watched the exchange of arrows—she’d been too focused on the dragons—but she did see that some of her lines were struck with black-fletched arrows, and men were down and bleeding.

The Trollocs crashed into her front ranks of crossbowmen and pikemen, who were already fading back to make way for halberdiers. Nobody used swords and maces against Trollocs, at least not while on foot, if they could help it.

"Let’s go", Elayne said, moving Moonshadow forward.

Birgitte followed; Elayne could sense the woman’s reluctant resignation. They moved down off the hill through some reserve units and entered the battle.

Rodel Ituralde had almost forgotten what it was like to have adequate resources at his command.

It had been some time since he had commanded legions of men and full banners of archers. For once, his men weren’t half-starved, and Healers, fletchers and good smiths stood ready to repair his troops and equipment nightly. What a wonder it was to be able to ask for something—no matter how unusual—and have it located and brought to hi

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