A Memory of Light Page 169

"Let’s assume", Lan said softly, carefully, "that one were in a position to sabotage the entire army. Let’s assume that one wanted to do so, but do it with great subtlety, as to not be suspected. What would you do?"

"Put our back to the river", Baldhere said slowly. "Claim a position for the high ground, but leave us in danger of being surrounded. Commit us to a deadly fight, then expose an opening in our defenses and let us be split. Make each step seem rational".

"And your next step?" Lan said.

Baldhere considered, looking troubled. "You’d need to pull the archers off the hills to the east. The land is rough over there, and so Shadowspawn could come around our scouts—particularly with everyone’s eyes up toward the front lines—and draw close.

"Archers would see them and raise the alarm, perhaps be able to hold the Trollocs back long enough for the other reserves to arrive. But if the archers were moved, and the eastern reserves committed, and the enemy could swing around our eastern flank and attack our back lines . . . our whole army would be pinned back against the river. From there, it would be only a matter of time".

"Lord Mandragoran", Prince Kaisel said, nudging his horse forward. He looked about, as if ashamed. "I cant believe I'm hearing this. Surely you don’t suspect Lord Agelmar of betraying us!"

"We can’t afford to leave anyone above suspicion", Lan said grimly. "A caution I should have listened to with a keener ear. Perhaps it is nothing. Perhaps".

"We’re going to have enough difficulty getting out of this position as it is", Andere said, frowning. "If we get pinned against the river . . ".

"The plan originally was to use the reserve light cavalry to cover the retreat", Lan said. "The infantry could retreat first, crossing the river on foot, then we could bring the heavy cavalry through gateways. The river is not swift, and the horses of the light cavalry could ford it, while Trollocs wouldn’t dare. Not until they were forced. It was a good enough plan". Unless they got pressed too hard for the foot to disengage. Everything would fall apart then. And if they were surrounded, there was no way Lan would get his army out. They didn’t have enough channelers to move the entire army. The only way out would be to leave the foot, abandoning half of his army to the slaughter. No, he’d die before he let that happen.

"Everything Lord Agelmar has been doing lately is a good enough plan", Baldhere said intensely. "Good enough to avoid suspicion, but not good enough to win. Lan . . . something is wrong with him. I’ve known him for years. Please. I still believe that he’s merely tired, but he is making mistakes. I’m right, I know I am".

Lan nodded. He left Lord Baldhere at his post and rode, with his guard, toward the back lines and the command tent.

The sense of dread that Lan felt was like a stone stuck in his throat. Those clouds seemed lower than before. They rumbled. The drums of the Dark One, come to claim the lives of men.

By the time Lan reached the command tent, he had a hundred good men at his back. As he drew near, Lan spotted a young Shienaran messenger—unarmored, topknot streaming behind him as he ran—making for his horse.

At Lan’s wave, Andere dashed over and caught the man’s reins, holding them tight. The messenger frowned. "Dai Shan?" he asked, saluting as Lan rode up.

"You are delivering orders for Lord Agelmar?" Lan asked, dismounting. "Yes, my Lord".

"What orders?"

"The eastern Kandori archers", the messenger said. "Their hill is too far from the main part of the battlefield, and Lord Agelmar feels they would serve better coming forward and launching volleys at those Dreadlords".

The archers probably thought that the Saldaean light cavalry were still back there; the Saldaeans thought the archers would stay; the reserves thought that both would hold after they’d been deployed.

It could still be a coincidence. Agelmar was being worked too hard, or had some greater plan that was beyond the eyes of other generals. Never accuse a man of a killing offense unless you were ready to kill him yourself, right then, with your own sword.

"Belay that order", Lan said, cold. "Instead, send the Saldaean scouts out roving through those eastern hills. Tell them to watch for signs of a force of Shadowspawn sneaking in to strike at us. Warn the archers to prepare to shoot, then return here and bring me word. Be quick about it, but tell nobody but the scouts and archers themselves that you are doing it".

The man looked confused, but he saluted. Agelmar was commanding general of this army, but Lan—as Dai Shan—had final word on all orders, and the only authority greater than his in this battle was that of Elayne.

Lan nodded to a pair of men from the High Guard. Washim and Geral were Malkieri whom he’d grown to respect a great deal during their weeks fighting together.

Light, has it only been weeks? It feels like months . . .

He pushed the thought away as the two Malkieri followed the messenger to make certain he did as told. Lan would consider the ramifications of what was happening only after he knew all of the facts.

Only then.

Loial did not know much about warfare. One did not need to know much to realize that Elayne’s side was losing.

He and the other Ogier fought, facing a horde of thousands upon thousands of Trollocs—the second army that had come up to crush from the south, skirting the city. Crossbowmen from the Legion of the Dragon flanked the Ogier, launching volleys of quarrels, having withdrawn from the front as the Trollocs hit their lines. The enemy had dispersed the Legion’s heavy cavalry, exhausted as they had been. Companies of pikemen held desperately against the tide, and the Wolf Guard clung to a disintegrating line on the other hill.

He’d heard fragments of what was happening on other parts of the battlefield. Elayne’s armies had crushed the northern force of Trollocs, finishing them off, and as the Ogier fought, guarding the dragons that fired from the hill above them, more and more soldiers came to join the new front. They came bloodied, exhausted and weak.

This new force of Trollocs would crush them.

The Ogier sang a song of mourning. It was the dirge they sang for forests that had to be leveled or for great trees that died in a storm. It was a song of loss, of regret, of inevitability. He joined in the final refrain.

"All rivers run dry,

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