A Memory of Light Page 153

"We stand, for now", Bryne said. "Elayne’s orders, and the Amyrlin agrees with them".

"Were outnumbered", Siuan said.

"And so is everyone else", he said, looking westward.

The Sharans had spent the last few days gathering their forces, setting up a mile or two away from Egwene’s army, which was stationed with its back to the wide river that formed the border between Kandor and Arafel.

The Shadow hadn’t committed to an all-out attack yet, instead sending an occasional raiding group through gateways as they waited for the slower Trolloc army to catch up. The Trollocs were here now, unfortunately. Egwene’s force could have retreated again through gateways, but Siuan admitted to herself that would accomplish little. They had to face this force eventually.

Bryne had selected this place at the southeastern tip of Kandor because the terrain gave them an advantage, albeit a small one. The river that ran north-south on the eastern border of Kandor was deep, but a ford lay less than a quarter-mile away from the hills that ran east to west along the southern border of Kandor. The Shadow’s army would be making for the ford to enter Arafel. By stationing his forces at the ford and on the hills overlooking it, Bryne could engage the invading army from two directions. If pressed, he could withdraw across the ford to the Arafellin side, the water barrier putting the Trollocs at a disadvantage against them. It was a small benefit, but in battle, sometimes the small things made all the difference.

On the plains west of the river, the Shadow formed up the Sharan and Trolloc armies. Both moved across the field toward the beleaguered Aes Sedai and troops under Bryne’s command.

Nearby, Egwene surveyed the camp. Light, it was a relief to know that the Amyrlin had survived. Siuan had predicted it, but still . . . Light. It was good to see Egwene’s face.

If, indeed, it was her face. This was the first time that the Amyrlin had returned to camp following her ordeal, but she had spent several quiet meetings with the Sitters in secret locations. Siuan had not yet had a chance to speak with Egwene in quiet.

"Egwene al’Vere", Siuan called after the Amyrlin. "Tell me where we first met!"

The others looked at Siuan, frowning at her temerity. Egwene, however, seemed to understand. "Fal Dara", she said. "You bound me with Air on our trip down the river from there, as part of a lesson in the Power I have never forgotten".

Siuan breathed a second, deeper sigh of relief. Nobody had been in that lesson on the ship but Egwene and Nynaeve. But Siuan had unfortunately told Sheriam, Mistress of Novices and Black Ajah, about it. Well, she still believed that this was in fact Egwene. Imitating a woman’s features was easy, but prying out her memories was another story.

Siuan made certain to look into the woman’s eyes. There had been talk, of what had happened at the Black Tower. Myrelle had spoken of it, of events shared by her new Warders. Something dark.

They said you could tell. Siuan would see the change in Egwene if it had happened to her, wouldn’t she?

If we can’t tell, Siuan thought, then we’re already doomed. She would have to trust the Amyrlin as she had so many times before.

"Gather the Aes Sedai", Egwene said. "Commander Bryne, you have your orders. We hold at this river unless the losses become so absolutely unbearable that . . ". She trailed off. "How long have those been there?"

Siuan looked up at the raken scouts passing overhead. "All morning. You have his letter".

"Bloody man", Egwene said. The Dragon Reborns message, delivered by Min Farshaw, had been brief.

The Seanchan fight the Shadow.

He’d sent Min to them, for reasons the woman wouldn’t quite state. Bryne had given her tasks immediately: She was working for the supply masters as a clerk.

"Do you trust the Dragon Reborn’s word regarding the Seanchan, Mother?" Saerin asked.

"I don’t know", Egwene said. "Form up our battle lines anyway, but keep an eye on those things up there, in case they attack".

As Rand entered the cavern, something changed in the air. The Dark One only now sensed his arrival, and was surprised by it. The dagger had done its job.

Rand led the way, Nynaeve at his left, Moiraine at his right. The cavern led downward, and climbing down it lost them all of the elevation they’d gained. The passage was familiar to him, from another’s memory, from another Age.

It was as if the cavern were swallowing them, forcing them down toward the fires below. The cavern’s ceiling, jagged with fanglike stalactites, seemed to lower as they walked. Inching down with each step. It didn’t move, and the cavern didn’t gradually narrow. It just changed, tall one moment, shorter the next.

The cavern was a set of jaws, slowly tightening on its prey. Rand’s head brushed the tip of a stalactite, and Nynaeve crouched down, looking upward and cursing softly.

"No", Rand said, stopping. "I will not come to you on my knees, Shai’tan".

The cavern rumbled. The cavern’s dark reaches seemed to press inward, pushing against Rand. He stood motionless. It was as if he were a stuck gear, and the rest of the machine strained to keep turning the hands on the clock. He held firm.

The rocks trembled, then retreated. Rand stepped forward, and released a breath as the pressure lessened. This thing he had begun could not be stopped now. Slowing strained both him and the Dark One; his adversary was caught up in this inevitability as much as he was. The Dark One didn’t exist within the Pattern, but the Pattern still affected him.

Behind Rand, where he had stopped, lay a small pool of blood.

I will need to be quick about this, he thought. I can’t bleed to death until the battle is finished.

The ground trembled again.

"That’s right", Rand whispered. "I’m coming for you. I am not a sheep being led to the slaughter, Shai’tan. Today, I am the hunter".

The trembling of the ground seemed almost like laughter. Horrible laughter. Rand ignored Moiraine’s worried look as she walked beside him.

Down they went. An odd sensation came to mind. One of the women was in trouble. Was it Elayne? Aviendha? He could not tell. The warping of this place affected the bond. He was moving through time differently than they, and he lost his sense of where they were. He could only feel that one was in pain.

Rand growled, walking faster. If the Dark One had hurt them . . . Shouldn’t it be growing lighter in here? They had to rely on the glow of Callandor as he pulled saidin through it. "Where are the fires?" Rand asked, voice echoing. "The molten stone at the

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