A Memory of Light Page 161

Fortuona eyed Egwene. "Many of our sul’dam have come to this war anticipating the chance to capture new damane from among those who serve the Shadow. These Sharans, perhaps. You would have us let them, or your sisters of the Shadow, free? To destroy, murder?"

"To be tried and executed, under the Light".

"Why not let them be put to use? Why waste their lives?"

"What you do is an abomination!" Egwene said, feeling exasperated. "Not even the Black Ajah deserves that".

"Resources should not be discarded so idly".

"Is that so?" Egwene said. "Do you realize that every one of your sul’dam, your precious trainers, is herself a marath’damane?"

Fortuona spun on her. "Do not spread such lies".

"Oh? Shall we test it, Fortuona? You said you trained them yourself. You are a sul’dam, I presume? Put the a’dam on your neck. I dare you. If I am wrong, it will do nothing to you. If I am right, you will be subject to its power, and will prove to be marath'damane".

Fortuona's eyes widened in anger. She had ignored Egwene’s barbs calling her a criminal, but this accusation seemed to dig into her . . . so Egwene made certain to twist the knife a little deeper.

"Yes", Egwene said. "Let us do it and test the real strength of your commitment. If you prove to be able to channel, will you do as you claim others should? Will you stroll up to the collar and snap it around your own neck, Fortuona? Will you obey your own laws?"

"I have obeyed them", Fortuona said coldly. "You are very ignorant. Perhaps it is true, that sul’dam can learn to channel. But this is not the same thing as being a marath'damane—any more than a man who can become a murderer is to be considered one".

"We shall see", Egwene said, "once more of your people realize the lies they’ve been told".

"I will break you myself", Fortuona said softly. "Someday, your people will turn you over to me. You will forget yourself, and your arrogance will lead you to our borders. I will be waiting".

"I plan to live centuries", Egwene hissed. "I will watch your empire crumble, Fortuona. I will watch it with joy". She raised a finger to tap the woman on the chest, but Fortuona moved with blurring speed, her hand grabbing Egwene’s by the wrist. For one so small, she certainly was quick.

Egwene embraced the Source by reflex. Damane nearby gasped, and the light of the One Power sprang up around them.

Mat pushed between Egwene and Fortuona and shoved them apart, holding one hand at each woman’s chest. Egwene wove by instinct, intending to remove his hand with a thread of Air. It fell apart, of course.

Blood and ashes, that’s inconvenient! She had forgotten he was there.

"Let’s be civil, ladies", Mat said, eyeing one of them, then the other. "Don’t make me throw the pair of you over my knee".

Egwene glared at him, and Mat met her eyes. He was trying to deflect her anger to him instead of Fortuona.

Egwene looked down at his hand, which was pressed against her chest uncomfortably close to her br**sts. Fortuona was also looking at that hand.

Mat lowered both hands, but took his sweet time at it, as if completely unconcerned. "The people of this world need you two, and they need you levelheaded, you hear me? This is bigger than any of us. When you fight each other, the Dark One wins, and that is that. So stop behaving like children".

"We will have many words about this tonight, Knotai", Fortuona said. "I love words", Mat said. "There are some deliciously pretty words out there. ‘Smile.’ That’s always sounded like a pretty word to me. Don’t you think? Or, perhaps, the words ‘I promise not to kill Egwene right now for trying to touch me, the Empress, may I live forever, because we really bloody need her for the next couple of weeks or so.’ " He eyed Fortuona pointedly. "You really married him?" Egwene said to Fortuona. "Honestly?"

"It was . . . an unusual event", Fortuona replied. She shook herself, then glared at Egwene. "He is mine and I do not intend to release him".

"You don’t seem the type to release anything, once you have your hands on it", Egwene said. "Matrim does not interest me at the moment; your army does. Will you fight, or won’t you?"

"I will fight", Fortuona said. "But my army is not subject to you. Have your general send us suggestions. We will consider them. But I can see you are going to have a difficult time defending the ford against the invader without a larger number of your marath'damane. I will send you some of my suldam and damane to protect your army. That is all I will do for now". She started walking back toward her people. "Come, Knotai".

"I don’t know how you fell into this", Egwene said under her breath to Mat. "I don’t want to know. I’ll do what I can to help free you, once we are done fighting".

"That’s kind of you, Egwene", Mat said. "But I can handle this on my own". He rushed off after Fortuona.

That was what he always said. She’d find some way to help him. She shook her head, returning to where Gawyn waited for her. Leilwin had declined to come, though Egwene would have expected her to enjoy seeing some of those from her homeland.

"We’ll need to keep them at arm’s length", Gawyn said softly.

"Agreed", Egwene said.

"You’ll still fight alongside the Seanchan, despite what they’ve done?"

"So long as they keep the Sharan channelers occupied, yes". Egwene looked toward the horizon—toward Rand, and the powerful struggle he must be embroiled in. "Our options are limited, Gawyn, and our allies dwindling. For now, whoever is willing to kill Trollocs is a friend. That is that".

The Andoran line buckled, and Trollocs ripped through, snarling beasts with stinking breath that clouded in the chill air. Elayne’s halberdiers nearby scrambled as they fell over themselves to escape. The first few Trollocs ignored them, howling and leaping over them to make room for more to pour through the opening, like dark blood from a gash in the flesh.

Elayne tried to gather what little strength she had left. She felt as if saidar would slip from her at any moment, but the men fighting and dying wouldn’t be any stronger than she at this point. They’d all been fighting for most of the day.

Somehow finding the strength to weave, she roasted the first few Trollocs with balls of fire, tripping up the flow through the wound in the human lines. Streaks of white, arrows from Birgitte’s bow, followed. Trollocs gurgled, clawing at their ne

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