A Memory of Light Page 207

"Thanks", Mat called. "I owe you".

The Aiel turned as he ran, jogging backward for a second and facing Mat. "Just win this battle! I have bet a skin of oosquai upon our success".

Mat snorted. The only thing more discomforting than a stoic Aiel was a grinning one. Bet? On the outcome of this battle? What kind of bet was that? If they lost, nobody would live long enough to collect . . .

Mat frowned. Actually, that was a pretty good bet to be making. "Who did you find to take that bet?" Mat called. "Urien?" But the man was already too far away to hear.

Mat grumbled, but handed his axe to one of the people nearby, a slender Tairen woman. "Keep them in line, Cynd".

"Yes, Lord Cauthon".

"I’m no bloody lord", Mat said by habit as he picked up his ashandarei. He walked off, then turned to look at the palisade being erected and caught sight of a handful of Deathwatch Guards walking along the rows of working people. Like wolves among the sheep. Mat hurried on.

His armies did not have much time left to prepare. Using gateways had put them ahead of the Trollocs, but they had not escaped. Light, there was no escape. Mat had been given his choice of battlefields, though, and this Merrilor place would work best.

Like picking the plot for your own grave, Mat thought. Sure, I’d rather not have to choose in the first place.

The palisade was rising in front of the woods east of the field. He did not have time to section off or surround the entire area with a palisade, and doing so would not make much sense anyway. With those Sharan channelers, the Shadow could rip through walls like a sword through silk. But some palisades, with catwalks on top, would give his archers height to target Trollocs.

Mat had two rivers to work with here. The River Mora flowed in a southwest direction, running between the Heights and Dashar Knob. Its southern bank was in Shienar, the northern bank in Arafel. It joined the River Erinin, which ran directly westward at the southern edge of the field.

Those rivers would serve better than any walls, particularly now that he had the resources to defend them correctly. Well, if you could call them resources. Half his soldiers were as new as spring grass and the other half had fought near to death the week before. The Borderlanders had lost two men out of three—Light, two out of three. A lesser army would have disbanded.

Counting everyone he had, Mat would be outnumbered four to one when those Trollocs arrived, at least according to the reports from the Fists of Heaven. It was going to be messy.

Mat pulled his hat down further, then scratched at the side of the new eyepatch that Tuon had given him. Red leather. He liked it.

"Here now", he said, passing some of the new Tower Guard recruits. They were sparring with quarterstaffs—spearheads were still being forged to go on the ends. The men looked more likely to hurt themselves than the enemy.

Mat handed his ashandarei to a man, then took a quarterstaff from another as the first hastily saluted. Most of these men were not old enough to need to shave more than once a month. If the boy whose staff he had taken was a day over fifteen, Mat would eat his boots. He would not even boil them first!

"You cant cringe every time the staff hits something!" Mat said. "Close your eyes on the battlefield, and you’re dead. Didn’t you lot pay any attention last time?"

Mat held up the staff, showing them where to grip it, then put them through the blocking practice his father had shown him back when he had been young enough to think fighting might actually be fun. He worked up a sweat, hitting at each of the new recruits in turn, forcing each to block.

"Burn me, but you will figure this out", Mat said loudly to all of them. "I wouldn’t care so much, as you lot seem to have the wits of stumps, but if you get yourselves killed, your mothers will be expecting me to send them word. I won’t do it, mind you. But I might feel a little guilty between games of dice, and I hate feeling guilty, so pay attention!"

"Lord Cauthon?" said the lad who had given him the staff.

"I’m not—" He stopped. "Well, yes, what is it?"

"Can’t we just learn the sword?"

"Light!" Mat said. "What’s your name?"

"Sigmont, sir".

"Well, Sigmont, how much time do you think we have? Maybe you could wander out, talk to the Dreadlords and the Shadowspawn and ask them to give me a few more months’ time so I can train you all properly".

Sigmont blushed, and Mat handed back his staff. City boys. He sighed.

"Look here, all I want is for you lot to be able to defend yourselves. I don’t have time to make you great warriors, but I can teach you to work together, keep a formation, and not shy away when the Trollocs come. That will get you farther than any kind of fancy swordplay, trust me".

The youths nodded reluctantly.

"Get back to your practice", Mat said, wiping his brow and looking over his shoulder. Bloody ashes! The Deathwatch Guards were heading his way.

He grabbed his ashandarei and rushed off, then ducked around the side of a tent, only to stumble into a group of Aes Sedai approaching on the path.

"Mat?" Egwene asked from the middle of the group of women. "Are you well?"

"They’re bloody chasing me", he said, glancing around the side of the tent. "Who is chasing you?" Egwene said.

"Deathwatch Guards", Mat said. "I’m supposed to be back at Tuon’s tent". Egwene waved a few fingers, sending the other women off, except her two shadows—Gawyn and that Seanchan woman—who remained with her. "Mat", Egwene said in a suffering tone, "I’m glad you’ve finally decided to see reason and leave the Seanchan camp, but couldn’t you have waited until after the battle was over to defect?"

"Sorry", he said, only half-listening. "But can we walk on toward the Aes Sedai quarter of camp? They won’t follow me there". Maybe not. If all Deathwatch Guards were like Karede, maybe they would. Karede would dive after a man falling off a cliff in order to catch him.

Egwene started back, seeming displeased with Mat. How was it Aes Sedai could be so perfectly emotionless, yet still let a man know they disapproved of him? Come to think of it, an Aes Sedai would probably follow a man off a cliff, too, if only to explain to him—in detail—all the things he was doing incorrectly in the way he went about killing himself.

Mat wished so many of his thoughts lately did not involve feeling like he was the o

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