A Memory of Light Page 164

"The other Aes Sedai will be tiring as well", Siuan said. "I’m not surprised that the Whites are the first to admit it. It won’t be a point of shame to them, merely another fact".

Bryne grunted, ignoring another spray of earth as it fell over them. He had to keep moving. The Shadow had too many gateways now. They’d try to strike at his command centers. That was what he’d do, if he were them. The best counter to that strategy was to not have a command center, at least not one that was easy to find.

All things considered, the battle was going according to plan. It was a surprise, sometimes, when that happened; on a battlefield, you expected to have to rebuild your tactics from the ground up at every turn—but for once, everything had gone smoothly.

Aes Sedai were pounding the Sharans from the hilltops south of the ford, augmented by a steady stream of projectiles from archers stationed just below them on the slopes. Because of that, the Shadow’s commander—Demandred himself—couldn’t devote all his troops against the defenders at the river. Nor could he bring all his troops against the Aes Sedai—they would Travel away—so committing himself fully there would expose him with very little gain. Instead, he’d split his forces, sending the Trollocs off his right flank toward the hills—they would sustain heavy losses, but he’d keep the Aes Sedai pressed—and bringing his Sharans forward to engage the bulk of the White Tower troops at the river.

The Seanchan occupied most of the enemy channelers’ attention. This did not prevent some Sharan channelers from lobbing fire at Bryne’s camp across the river. There was no use worrying about being hit. He was as safe here as he would be anywhere, other than perhaps retreating all the way to the White Tower. He couldn’t stand the idea of being safe in a room somewhere, miles from the battlefield.

Light, he thought. That’s how commanders will probably do it in the future. A secure command position accessed only by gateways. But a general needed to feel the flow of the battlefield. He couldn’t do that from miles away.

"How well are the pikemen on each of the hills doing?" he demanded.

"Very well, my Lord", said Holcom. "As well as can be expected after hours of holding off Trollocs". Bryne had placed defensive lines of pikemen halfway up each of the hills; any Trollocs that managed to get through the cordon could be picked off by archers above, without having to disturb the work of the Aes Sedai. "The pikes defending the Red Ajah on the middle hill will be needing reinforcement soon, though; they lost a fair number on the last assault".

"They’ll have to hang on a bit longer. Those Reds are nasty enough to take care of any more Trollocs that break through the pike formations". He hoped. Another explosion flattened a tent nearby. "How about the archer squadrons up there?" Bryne kicked aside a fallen halberd.

"Some are getting low on arrows, my Lord".

Well, he couldn’t do much about that. He glanced toward the ford, but it was a right mess of confusion. It rankled him to be this close to the fighting and not know how things were going for his troops.

"Does anyone have information about what’s happening at the ford?" he bellowed, turning toward his aides. "I can’t see a Light-blasted thing, just a churning of bodies and those balls of fire shooting back and forth, blinding us all!"

Holcom paled. "Those Seanchan women are channeling like they’ve got red-hot irons up . . . I mean, they’re giving the Sharans a hard time, my Lord. Our left flank just took a lot of casualties, but they seem to be fighting back admirably now".

"Didn’t I put Joni in command of the lancers there?"

"Captain Shagrin is dead, my Lord", said another messenger, stepping forward. He had a fresh cut on his scalp. "I’ve just come from there".

Burn me. Well, Joni had always wanted to fall in battle. Bryne kept his emotions in check. "Who commands now?"

"Uno Nomesta", the messenger said. "He pulled us together after Joni fell, but sends warning that they’re being hard-pressed".

"Light, Nomesta’s not even an officer!" Still, he’d been training heavy cavalry for years, and there probably wasn’t a better man in the saddle than him. "All right, get back there and tell him I’m giving him some reinforcements".

Bryne turned back to Holcom. "Get over to Captain Denhold and have him send his cavalry reserve squadron across the ford to beef up our left flank. Let’s see what those Illianers can do! We can’t lose this river!"

The messenger rushed off. I’ll have to do something to take the pressure off those Aes Sedai soon. He bellowed, "Annah, where are you?"

Two soldiers talking nearby were pushed aside as a heavyset young woman—a former merchant’s guard and now foot soldier and messenger serving General Bryne—shoved through. "My Lord?"

"Annah, go beg that Imperial monster of a Seanchan leader if she’d be ever so kind as to lend us some of her bloody cavalry".

"Shall I phrase it exactly that way?" Annah asked, saluting, a smile on her lips.

"If you do, girl, I’ll throw you off a cliff and let Yukiri Sedai test a few of her new falling weaves on you. Go!"

The messenger grinned, then dashed off toward the Traveling ground for passage.

Siuan eyed Bryne. "You’re growing grouchy".

"You’re a good influence on me", he snapped, glancing up as a shadow passed above. He reached for his sword, expecting to see another flight of Draghkar. Instead, it was only one of those Seanchan flying beasts. He relaxed.

A fireball knocked the creature from the sky. It spun, flapping burning wings. Bryne cursed, jumping back as the monstrous animal crashed into the path just ahead, where the messenger Annah was running. The animal’s corpse rolled over her and crashed through one of the supply tents, which was filled with soldiers and quartermasters. The raken's rider slapped the ground a fraction of a moment later.

Bryne recovered his wits and leaped forward, stooping beneath a fallen section of cloth and tent poles that covered the path. Two of his guards found a soldier half-pinned by the dead beast’s wing and pulled him free, Siuan kneeling and removing her angreal from her pouch to perform Healing.

Bryne moved to where Annah had fallen. He found her crushed where the fallen beast had rolled. "Burn it!" He shoved aside thought for the dead to consider what to do next. "I need someone to

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