The Shadow Rising Page 174

“It is no joke, Loial,” Perrin murmured as he rode along the lines of men, trying not to listen to their cheers. “You are a hero whether you want to be or not.” The Ogier gave him a tight, widemouthed grin before setting his eyes back on the cleared ground beyond the hedge. Whitestriped sticks marked hundredpace intervals out to five hundred; beyond that lay quilted fields, tabac and barley, most trampled in earlier attacks, and hedges and low stone fences, and copses of leatherleaf, pine and oak.

So many faces Perrin knew in those waiting ranks of men. Stout Eward Candwin and lanternjawed Paet al'Caar with spears. Whitehaired Buel Dowtry, the fletcher, stood with the bowmen, of course. There was stocky, grayhaired Jac al'Seen and his bald cousin Wit, and gnarled Flann Lewin, a lanky beanpole like all of his male kin. Jaim Torfinn and Hu Marwin, among the first to ride after him; they had felt too uncomfortable to join the Companions, as if missing the ambush in the Waterwood had opened some gap between them and the others. Elam Dowtry, and Dav Ayellin, and Ewin Finngar. Hari Coplin and his brother Darl, and old Bili Congar. Berin Thane, the miller's brother, and fat Athan Dearn, and Kevrim al'Azar, whose grandsons had grown sons, and Tuck Padwhin, the carpenter, and...

Making himself stop counting them, Perrin rode to where Verin stood beside one of the catapults under the watchful eye of Tomas on his gray. The plump, brownclad Aes Sedai studied Aram a moment before turning her birdlike gaze up to Perrin, one eyebrow raised as if to question why he was bothering her.

“I am a little surprised to see you and Alanna still here,” he told her. “Hunting girls who can learn to channel can't be worth getting killed. Or keeping a string tied to a ta'veren, either.”

“Is that what we are doing?” Folding her hands at her waist, she tilted her head to one side thoughtfully. “No,” she said at last, “I do not think we could go quite yet. You are a very interesting study, as much as Rand, in your own way. And young Mat. Could I only split myself into three, I would latch one onto each of you and follow you every moment of the day and night even if I had to marry you.”

“I already have a wife.” It felt odd, saying that. Odd, and good. He had a wife, and she was safe.

She shattered his moment of reverie. “Yes, you do. But you do not know what marrying Zarine Bashere means, do you?” She reached up to turn his axe in its loop on his belt, studying it. “When are you going to give this up for the hammer?”

Staring at the Aes Sedai, he reined Stepper back a pace, pulling the axe out of her hands, before he knew it. What marrying Faile meant? Give up the axe? What did she mean? What did she know?

“ISAM!” The guttural roar rose like thunder, and Trollocs appeared, each half again as tall as a man and twice as wide, trotting into the fields to halt beyond bowshot, a hulking, blackmailed mass, deep and stretching the length of the village. Thousands of them packed together, huge faces distorted by beaks and snouts, heads with horns or feathered crests, spikes at elbows and shoulders, scythecurved swords and spiked axes, hooked spears and barbed tridents, a seemingly endless sea of cruel weapons. Behind them, Myrddraal galloped up and down on midnight horses, ravenblack cloaks hanging undisturbed as they whirled their mounts.

“ISAM!”

“Interesting,” Verin murmured.

Perrin would not have thought that was the word. This was the first time the Trollocs had shouted anything understandable. Not that he had any idea what it meant.

Smoothing his marriage ribbon, he forced himself to ride calmly to the center of the Two Rivers line. The Companions formed behind him, the breeze lifting the banner with its red wolfhead. Aram had his sword out in both hands. “Be ready!” Perrin called. His voice was steady; he could not believe it.

“ISAM!” And the black tide rolled forward, howling wordlessly.

Faile was safe. Nothing else mattered. He would not let himself see the faces of the men stretched out to either side of him. He heard the same howls drifting from the south. Both sides at once. They had never tried that before. Faile was safe. “At four hundred paces... !” All along the ranks, bows rose together. Closer the howling mass came, long thick legs eating ground. Closer. “Loose!”

The snap of bowstrings was lost in the Trolloc roar, but a goosefletched hail streaked the sky as it arced out, plunged down into the blackmailed horde. Stones from the catapults erupted in fiery balls and sharp splinters in those seething ranks. Trollocs fell. Perrin saw them go down, trampled beneath boots and hooves. Even some Myrddraal fell. Yet the tidal wave rushed on, closing holes and gaps, apparently undiminished.

There was no need to order another volley. A second followed the first as quickly as men could nock arrows, a second rain of broadhead points rising before the first dropped, the third following behind, the fourth, the fifth. Fire exploded among the Trollocs as fast as the catapult arms could be winched down, Verin galloping from catapult to catapult to lean down from her saddle. And the huge bellowing forms came on, crying in no language Perrin understood, but crying for blood, human blood and flesh. Men crouching behind the stakes readied themselves, hefting their weapons.

Perrin felt cold inside. He could see the ground behind the Trolloc charge already littered with their dead and dying, yet it hardly seemed they were fewer. Stepper pranced nervously, but he could not hear the dun's whicker for the rolling howls of Trollocs. The axe came into his hand smoothly, long halfmoon blade and thick spike catching the sunlight. Not midday yet. My heart is yours forever, Faile. This time, he did not think the stakes would...

Not even slowing, the front rank of Trollocs ran onto the sharp stakes, faces contorted by snouts or beaks twisting with pained shrieks, howling as they were impaled, driven down by more huge shapes scrambling up over their backs, some of those falling among the stakes, replaced by more, always more. One last volley of arrows drove home at pointblank range, and then it was the spears and halberds and homemade polearms, thrusting and stabbing at towering forms in black mail, sometimes falling while the bowmen shot as best they could at the inhuman faces above their friends' heads, boys shooting down from the rooftops as well, madness and death and earsplitting roars and screams and howls. Slowly, inexorably, the Two Rivers line bulged inward at a dozen places. If it broke, anywhere...

“Fall back!” Perrin bellowed. A boarsnouted Trolloc, already bleeding, forced its way through the ranks of men, shrieking and striking with its thick, curved sword. Perrin's axe split its head to the snout. Stepper was trying to rear, screaming silently in the din. “Fall back!” Darl Coplin went down, clutching a thigh transfixed by a wristthick spear; old Bili Congar tried to drag him backward while awkwardly wielding a boar spear; Hari Coplin swung his halberd in defense of his brother, mouth wide in a seemingly soundless shout. “Fall back between the houses!”

He was not sure whether others heard and passed the order, or the mountainous weight of Trollocs simply pressed in, but slowly, one grudging step at a time, the humans moved back. Loial swung his bloodied axes like mallets, wide mouth snarling. Beside the Ogier, Bran thrust his spear grimly; he had lost his steel cap, and blood ran in his fringe of gray hair. From his stallion Tomas carved a space around Verin; hair in wild disarray, she had lost her horse; balls of fire streaked from her hands, and every Trolloc struck exploded in flames as if soaked in oil. Not enough to hold. The Two Rivers men edged back, jostling around Stepper. Gaul and Chiad fought backtoback; she had only one spear left, and he slashed and stabbed with his heavy knife. Back. To west and east men had curved out from the defenses there to keep the Trollocs from flanking them, pouring arrows in. Not enough. Back.

Suddenly a huge ramhorned shape was trying to pull Perrin out of the saddle, trying to climb up after him. Thrashing, Stepper went down under the combined weight. Leg pinned and pained near to breaking, Perrin struggled to bring his axe around, to fight hands bigger than an Ogier's away from his throat. The Trolloc screamed as Aram's sword sliced into its neck. Even as it collapsed atop Perrin, spraying blood, the Tinker spun smoothly to run another Trolloc through the middle.

Grunting with pain, Perrin kicked his way clear, aided by Stepper scrambling to his feet, but there was no time to think of remounting. He barely rolled aside as a black horse's hooves stamped where his head had been. Pale, eyeless face snarling, the Fade leaned from its saddle as he tried to rise, deadblack sword slashing, brushing his hair as he dropped. Ruthlessly he swung his axe, chopping one of the horse's legs out from under it. Horse and rider toppled together; as they fell, he buried his axe where the Halfman's eyes should have been.

He wrenched the blade free in time to see Daise Congar's pitchfork tines take a goatsnouted Trolloc in the throat. It seized the long shaft with one hand, stabbing a barbed spear at her with the other, but Marin al'Vere calmly hamstrung it with one blow of her cleaver; the leg gave way, and she just as coolly severed the Trolloc's spine at the base of its neck. Another Trolloc lifted Bode Cauthon into the air by her braid; mouth wide in a terrified scream, she sank her woodaxe into its mailed shoulder just as her sister, Eldrin, thrust her boar spear through its chest and graybraided Neysa Ayellin drove a thick butchering knife in as well.

All up and down the line, as far as Perrin could see, the women were there. Their numbers were the only reason the line still held, almost driven back against the houses. Women among the men, shoulder to shoulder; some no more than girls, but then, some of those “men” had never shaved yet. Some never would. Where were the Whitecloaks? The children! If the women were here, there was no one to get the children out. Where are the bloody Whitecloaks? If they came now, at least they might buy another few minutes. A few minutes to get the children away.

A boy, the same darkhaired runner who had come for him the night before, seized his arm as he turned to search for the Companions. The Companions had to try to cut a way out for the children. He would send them, and do what he could here. “Lord Perrin!” the boy shouted at him through the deafening din. “Lord Perrin!”

Perrin tried to shake him off, then snatched him up kicking under one arm; he belonged with the other children. Split up, in tight ranks stretching from house to house, Ban and Tell and the other Companions were shooting from their saddles, over the heads of the men and women. Wil had driven the banner's staff into the ground so he could work his bow, too. Somehow, Tell had managed to catch up Stepper; the dun's reins were tied to Tell's saddle. The boy could go on Stepper's back.

“Lord Perrin! Please listen! Master al'Thor says somebody's attacking the Trollocs! Lord Perrin!”

Perrin was halfway to Tell, hobbling on his bruised leg, when it penetrated. He stuffed the axe haft through his belt to hoist the boy up in front of his face by the shoulders. “Attacking them? Who?”

“I don't know, Lord Perrin. Master al'Thor said to tell you he thought he heard somebody shouting 'Deven Ride.' ”

Aram grabbed Perrin's arm, wordlessly pointing with his bloody sword. Perrin turned in time to see a hail of arrows plunge into the Trollocs. From the north. Another flight was already rising

Prev Next