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A Memory of Light (Page 158)

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"I’m sure he has a plan", Beslan said, earnest. "You have to trust Mat. He knows what he’s doing".

"He impressed me earlier", Galgan said. "The omens seem to favor him.

"He is losing, Captain-General", Yulan said. "Losing badly. The omens for a man can change quickly, as can the fortune of a nation".

Min narrowed her eyes at the short Captain of the Air. He now wore the last two fingernails of each hand lacquered. He had been the one to lead the strike on Tar Valon, and the success of that attack had gained him great favor in Fortuona’s eyes. Symbols and omens spun around his head, like those above Galgan’s—and, indeed, Beslan’s.

Light, Min thought. Am I really starting to think of "omens" like Fortuona? I need to leave these people. They’re mad.

"I feel that the Prince views this battle too much as a game", Yulan said again. "Though his initial gambles were keen ones, he has over extended himself. How many a man has stood around the table of dactolk and looked like a genius because of his bets, when really just random chance made him seem capable? The Prince won at first, but now we see how dangerous it is to gamble as he has".

Yulan inclined his head toward the Empress. His assertions grew increasingly bold, as she gave him no reason to quiet himself. From the Empress, in this situation, that was an indication he should continue.

"I have heard . . . rumors about him ", Galgan said.

"Mat’s a gambler, yes", Beslan said. "But he’s uncannily good at it. He wins, General. Please, you need to go back and help".

Yulan shook his head emphatically. "The Empress—may she live forever—pulled us away from the battlefield for good reason. If the Prince could not protect his own command post, he is not in control of the battle".

Bolder and bolder. Galgan rubbed his chin, then looked at another person there. Min didn’t know much of Tylee. She remained quiet at these meetings. With graying hair and broad shoulders, the dark-skinned woman had an indefinable strength to her. This was a general who had led her people directly, in battle, many times. Those scars proved it.

"These mainlanders fight better than I ever assumed they would", Tylee said. "I fought alongside some of Cauthon’s soldiers. I think they will surprise you, General. I, too, humbly suggest that we return to help".

"But is it in the best interests of the Empire to do so?" Yulan asked. "Cauthon’s forces will weaken the Shadow, as will the Shadow’s march to Ebou Dar from Merrilor. We can crush the Trollocs with air attacks along the way. The long victory should be our goal. Perhaps we can send damane to fetch the Prince and bring him to safety. He has fought well, but he is obviously overmatched in this battle. We cannot save his armies, of course. They are doomed".

Min frowned, leaning forward. One of the images above Yulan’s head . . . it was so odd. A chain. Why would he have a chain above his head?

He’s a captive, she thought suddenly. Light. Someone is playing him like an instrument.

Mat feared a spy. Min felt cold.

"The Empress, may she live forever, has made her decision", Galgan said. "We return. Unless her mind, in its wisdom, has been changed . . . ?" He turned toward her, a questioning look on his face.

Our spy can channel, Min realized, inspecting Yulan. That man is under Compulsion.

A channeler. Black Ajah? Darkfriend damane? A male Dreadlord? It could be anyone. And the spy would be wearing a weave for disguise, too, in all likelihood.

So, then, how would Min ever spot this spy?

Viewings. Aes Sedai and other channelers always had viewings attached to them. Always. Could she find a clue in one of those? She knew, by instinct, that Yulan’s chain meant he was a captive of another. He wasn’t the true spy, then, but a puppet.

She started with the other nobility and generals. Of course, many of them had omens above their heads, and those types commonly did. How would she spot something out of the ordinary? Min scanned the watching crowd, and her breath caught as she noticed for the first time that one of the so’jhin, a youthful woman with freckles, carried an array of images above her head.

Min didn’t recognize the woman. Had she been serving here the whole time? Min was certain she’d have noticed earlier if the woman had come close to her; people who were not channelers, Warders or ta’veren rarely had so many images attached to them. Oversight or happenstance, though, she hadn’t thought to look specifically at the servants.

Now, the cover-up was obvious to her. Min looked away so as to not raise the servant’s suspicions, and considered her next move. Her instincts whispered that she should just attack, take out a knife and throw it. If that servant were a Dreadlord—or, Light, one of the Forsaken—striking first might be the only way to defeat her.

There was also a chance, however, that the woman was innocent. Min debated, then stood up on her chair. Several of the Blood muttered at the breach of decorum, but Min ignored them. She stepped up onto the arm rest of her chair, balancing there to put herself even with Tuon. Min leaned in.

"Mat has asked for us to return", Min said softly. "How long will you debate doing what he asked?"

Tuon eyed her. "Until I am convinced this is best for my Empire".

"He is your husband".

"One man’s life is not worth that of thousands", Tuon said, but she sounded genuinely troubled. "If the battle really does go as badly as Yulan’s scouts say . . ".

"You named me Truthspeaker", Min said. "What exactly does that mean?"

"It is your duty to censure me in public, if I do something wrong. However, you are untrained in the station. It would be best for you to hold yourself back until I can provide proper—"

Min turned to face the generals and the watching crowd, her heart beating frantically. "As Truthspeaker to the Empress Fortuona, I speak now the truth. She has abandoned the armies of humankind, and she withholds her strength in a time of need. Her pride will cause the destruction of all people, everywhere".

The Blood looked stunned.

"It is not so simple, young woman", General Galgan said. From the looks others gave him, it seemed he wasn’t supposed to debate a Truthspeaker. He barreled forward anyway. "This is a complex situation".

"I would be more sympathetic", Min said, "if I didn’t know there was a spy for the Shadow among us".

The freckled so’jhin looked up sharply.

I have you, Min thought, then pointed at General Yulan. "Abaldar Yulan, I denounce you! I have seen omens that prove to me you are not acting in the interests of the Empire!"

The real spy relaxed, and Min caught a hint of a smile on her lips. That was good enough. As Yulan protested loudly the accusation, Min dropped a knife into her hand and whipped it toward the woman.

It flipped end over end—but just before hitting the woman, it stopped and hung in the air.

Nearby damane and sul’dam gasped. The spy shot Min a hateful glare, then opened a gateway, throwing herself through. Weaves shot after her, but she was gone before most of the people at the meeting realized what was happening.

"I’m sorry, General Yulan", Min announced, "but you are suffering from Compulsion. Fortuona, it is obvious that the Shadow is doing whatever it can to keep us from this battle. With that in mind, will you still pursue this course of indecision?"

Min met Tuon’s eyes.

"You play these games quite well", Tuon whispered, voice cold. "And to think that I worried for your safety by bringing you into my court. I should have worried for myself, it appears". Tuon sighed, ever so softly. "I suppose you give me the opportunity . . . perhaps the mandate . . . to follow what my heart would choose, whether or not it is wise". She stood. "General Galgan, gather your troops. We will return to the Field of Merrilor".

Egwene wove Earth and destroyed the boulders behind which the Sharans had hidden. The other Aes Sedai struck immediately, hurling weaves through the crackling air. The Sharans died in fire, lightning and explosions.

This side of the Heights was so piled with rubble and scarred with trenches it looked like the remains of a city following a terrible earthquake. It was still night, and they had been fighting . . . Light, how long had it been since Gawyn died? Hours upon hours.

Egwene redoubled her efforts, refusing to let the thought of him pull her down. Over the hours, her Aes Sedai and the Sharans had fought back and forth across the western side of the Heights. Slowly, Egwene was pushing them eastward.

At times, Egwene’s side had seemed to be winning, but lately, more and more Aes Sedai fell from the effects of fatigue or the One Power.

Another group of channelers approached through the smoke, drawing on the One Power. Egwene could sense them more than see them.

"Deflect their weaves!" Egwene yelled, standing at the forefront. "I will attack, you defend!"

Other women took up the call, yelling it along their battle line. No longer did they fight in pockets alone; women of all Ajahs lined up to either side of Egwene, concentration on their ageless faces. Warders stood in front of them; using their bodies to stop weaves was the only protection they could offer.

Egwene felt Leilwin approaching from behind. The new Warder took her duties seriously. A Seanchan, fighting as her Warder in the Last Battle. Why not? The world itself was unraveling. The cracks all around Egwene’s feet proved that. Those had not faded, as earlier ones had—the darkness remained. Balefire had been used too much in this area.

Egwene launched a wave of fire like a moving wall. Corpses went up in flames as the wall passed, leaving behind smoking piles of bones. Her attack scored the ground, blackening it, and the Sharans banded together to fight back against the weave. She killed a few of them before they shattered the attack.

The other Aes Sedai deflected or destroyed their return weaves, and Egwene gathered her strength to try again. So tired . . . a piece of her whispered. Egwene, you’re so tired. This is becoming dangerous.

Leilwin stepped up, stumbling on broken rock but joining her at the front. "I bring word, Mother", she said in that Seanchan drawl. "The Asha’man have recovered the seals. Their leader carries them".

Egwene let out a relieved breath. She wove Fire and sent it forth in pillars this time, the flames illuminating the broken ground around them. Those cracks that M’Hael had caused worried her deeply. She began another weave, then stopped. Something was wrong.

She spun around as balefire—a column as wide as a man’s arm—ripped through the Aes Sedai line, vaporizing half a dozen women. Explosions all around appeared as if from nowhere, and other women went from battle to death in a heartbeat.

The balefire burned away women who had stopped weaves from killing us . . . but those women had been removed from the Pattern before they could weave those, and could no longer have stopped the Sharan attacks. Balefire burned a thread backward in the Pattern.

The chain of events was catastrophic. Sharan channelers who had been dead were now alive again, and they surged forward—men clawing across the broken ground like hounds, women walking in linked groups of four or five. Egwene sought out the source of the balefire. She had never seen such an immense bar of it, so powerful it must have burned threads a few hours back.

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