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A Memory of Light (Page 177)

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Three steps away, he found his hat. He grinned, snatched it up and set it on his head, then began whistling as he rested the ashandarei on his shoulder and strolled away. The dice had stopped rolling in Mat’s head.

Behind, the dagger, ruby and all, melted away into the mess that had been Padan Fain.

*

Perrin walked wearily into the camp they had set up at the base of Shayol Ghul after the fighting had ceased. He dropped his coat. The air felt good on his bare chest. He tucked Mah’alleinir away in its place at his belt. A good smith never neglected his tools, for all that sometimes, carrying them felt as if they would bear him down to the grave itself.

He thought that he could sleep a hundred days straight. But not yet. Not yet.

Faile.

No. Deep down, he knew he had to face something horrible about her. But not yet. For the moment, he shoved that worry—that terror—away.

The last spirits of the wolves faded back into the wolf dream.

Farewell, Young Bull.

Find what you seek, Young Bull.

The hunt ends, but we will hunt again, Young Bull.

Perrin plodded among rows of wounded men and Aiel celebrating the defeat of the Shadowspawn. Some tents were filled with moans, others with yells of victory. People of all stripes ran through the now-blooming valley of Thakan’dar, some hunting for the wounded, others crying in joy and whooping as they met with friends who had survived the last, dark moments.

Aiel called to Perrin, "Ho, blacksmith, join us!" But he did not enter their celebrations. He looked for the guards. Someone around here had to be levelheaded enough to worry about a rogue Myrddraal or Draghkar taking the opportunity to try for a little revenge. Sure enough, he found a ring of defenders at the center of camp guarding a large tent. What of Rand?

No colors swirled in his vision. No image of Rand. Perrin felt no more tugging, pulling him in any direction.

Those seemed like very bad signs.

He pushed through the guards, numb, and entered the tent. Where had they found a tent this large on this battlefield? Everything had been trampled, blown away or burned.

The inside smelled of herbs, and was partitioned with several hanging cloths.

"I’ve tried everything", a voice whispered. Damer Flinn’s voice. "Nothing changes what is happening. He—"

Perrin pushed in on Nynaeve and Flinn standing beside a pallet behind one of the partitions. Rand, cleaned and dressed, lay there, eyes closed. Moiraine knelt beside him, her hand on his face, whispering so softly none but he could hear. "You did well, Rand. You did well".

"He lives?" Perrin asked, wiping the sweat from his face with his hand.

"Perrin!" Nynaeve said. "Oh, Light. You look horrible. Sit down, you lummox! You’re going to fall over. I don’t want two of you to tend".

Her eyes were red. "He’s dying anyway, isn’t he?" Perrin asked. "You got him out alive, but he’s still going to die".

"Sit", Nynaeve commanded, pointing to a stool.

"Dogs obey that command, Nynaeve", Perrin said, "not wolves". He knelt down, resting a hand on Rand’s shoulder.

I couldn’t feel your tugging, or see the visions, Perrin thought. You’re no longer ta’veren. I suspect neither am I. "Have you sent for the three?" Perrin asked. "Min, Elayne, Aviendha. They need to visit him a last time".

"That’s all you can say?" Nynaeve snapped.

He looked up at her. The way she folded her arms made her look as if she were holding herself together. Wrapping her arms about herself to stop from crying.

"Who else died?" Perrin asked, bracing himself. It was obvious from her expression. She had lost one already.

"Egwene".

Perrin closed his eyes, breathing out. Egwene. Light.

No masterwork comes without a price, he thought. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth forging Still . . . Egwene?

"It’s not your fault, Nynaeve", he said, opening his eyes.

"Of course it’s not. I know it’s not, you numb-brained fool". She turned away.

He stood up, embracing her and patting her back with his smith’s hands. "I’m sorry".

"I left . . . to save you", Nynaeve whispered. "I only came along to protect you".

"You did, Nynaeve. You protected Rand so he could do what he had to do".

She shook, and he let her weep. Light. He shed a few tears himself. Nynaeve pulled away sharply after a moment, then barreled out of the tent.

"I tried", Flinn said desperately, looking at Rand. "Nynaeve did, too. Together, we tried, with Moiraine Sedai’s angreal. Nothing worked. Nobody knows how to save him".

"You did what you could", Perrin said, peeking around the next partition. Another man lay on the pallet there. "What is he doing here?"

"We found them together", Flinn said. "Rand must have carried him out of the pit. We don’t know why the Lord Dragon would save one of the Forsaken, but it doesn’t matter. We can’t Heal him either. They’re dying. Both of them".

"Send for Min, Elayne and Aviendha", Perrin said again. He hesitated. "Did they all survive?"

"The Aiel girl took a beating", Flinn said. "She came stumbling into camp, half-carried by a horrid-looking Aes Sedai who had made a gateway for her. She’ll live, though I don’t know how well she’ll walk in years to come".

"Let them know. All of them".

Flinn nodded, and Perrin stepped out after Nynaeve. He found what he’d hoped to see, the reason why she’d left so quickly. Just outside the tent, Lan held her tightly. The man looked as bloodied and tired as Perrin felt. Their eyes met, and they nodded to one another.

"Several of the Windfinders have opened a gateway between here and Merrilor", Lan said to Perrin. "The Dark One is sealed away again. The Blasted Lands are blooming, and gateways can open here again".

"Thank you", Perrin said, passing him by. "Has anyone . . . heard anything about Faile?"

"No, blacksmith. The Hornsounder saw her last, but she left him and entered the battlefield to draw the Trollocs away from him. I’m sorry".

Perrin nodded. He’d already spoken with Mat, and Olver. It seemed to him that . . . that he’d been avoiding thinking about what must have happened.

Don’t think about it, he told himself. Don’t you dare. He steeled himself, then went to seek the gateway Lan had mentioned.

*

"Excuse me", Loial asked the Maidens sitting beside the tent. "Have you seen Matrim Cauthon?"

"Oosquai?" one of them asked, laughing, holding up the skin.

"No, no", Loial said. "I have to find Matrim Cauthon and get his account of the battle, you see. While its fresh. I need everyone to tell me what they saw and heard, so that I can write it down. There will never be a better time".

And, he admitted to himself, he wanted to see Mat and Perrin. See that they were all right. So much had happened; he wanted to talk to his friends and make certain they were well. With what was happening to Rand . . .

The Aiel woman smiled at him drunkenly. Loial sighed, then continued through the camp. The day was coming to an end. The day of the Last Battle! It was the Fourth Age now, wasn’t it? Could an age start in the middle of a day? That would be inconvenient for the calendars, wouldn’t it? But everyone agreed. Rand had sealed the Bore at noon.

Loial continued through the camp. They hadn’t moved from the base of Shayol Ghul. Nynaeve said she was too worried to move Rand. Loial kept searching, peeking into tents. In the next, he found the grizzled general Ituralde, surrounded by four Aes Sedai.

"Look", Ituralde said. "I’ve served the kings of Arad Doman all of my life. I swore oaths".

"Alsalam is dead", Saerin Sedai said from beside the chair. "Someone has to take the throne".

"There is confusion in Saldaea", Elswell Sedai added. "The succession is messy, with the ties it has to Andor now. Arad Doman cannot afford to be leaderless. You must take the throne, Rodel Ituralde. You must do it quickly.

The Merchant Council . . ".

"All dead or vanished", another Aes Sedai said.

"I swore oaths . . ".

"And what would your king have you do?" Yukiri Sedai asked. "Let the kingdom disintegrate? You must be strong, Lord Ituralde. This is not a time for Arad Doman to be without a leader".

Loial slipped away and shook his head, feeling sorry for the man. Four Aes Sedai. Ituralde would be crowned before the day was out.

Loial stopped by the main Healing tent again to check if anyone had seen Mat. He had been to this battlefield, and people said he was smiling and healthy, but . . . well, Loial wanted to see for himself. Wanted to talk to him.

Inside the tent, Loial had to slouch lest he brush his head on the ceiling. A large tent for humans was small by Ogier standards.

He peeked in on Rand. His friend looked worse than before. Lan stood by the wall. He wore a crown—it was just a simple silver band—where the hadori used to rest. That wasn’t odd, but the matching one Nynaeve wore did give Loial a start.

"It’s not fair", Nynaeve whispered. "Why should he die, when the other one gets better?"

Nynaeve seemed troubled. She still had red eyes, but before, she had chivvied anyone who mentioned them, so Loial said nothing. Humans often seemed to want him to say nothing, which was odd for people who lived lives so hastily.

She looked at Loial, and he bowed his head to her.

"Loial", she said. "How goes your search?"

"Not well", he said with a grimace. "Perrin ignored me and Mat cannot be found".

"Your stories can wait a few days, Builder", Lan said.

Loial did not argue. Lan was a king now, after all. But . . . no, the stories could not wait. They had to be fresh so his history could be accurate.

"It’s terrible", Flinn said, still looking at Rand. "But, Nynaeve Sedai . . . It’s so strange. None of the three seem to care at all. Shouldn’t they be more worried . . . ?"

Loial left them, though he did check in on Aviendha in a nearby tent. She sat while several women attended to her twisted, bleeding feet. She had lost several of her toes. She nodded her head to Loial; the Healings done so far had apparently taken away her pain, for though she seemed tired, she did not seem in agony.

"Mat?" he asked hopefully.

"I have not seen him, Loial, son of Arent son of Halan", Aviendha replied. "At least, not since you asked a short time ago".

Loial blushed, then left her. He passed Elayne and Min outside. He would get their stories—he had already asked a few questions—but the three ta’veren . . . they were most important! Why were humans always bustling around so quickly, never sitting still? Never any time to think. This was an important day.

It was odd, though. Min and Elayne. Shouldn’t they be at Rand’s side? Elayne seemed to be taking reports on casualties and refugee supplies, and Min sat looking up at Shayol Ghul, a far-off expression in her eyes. Neither went in to hold Rand’s hand as he slipped toward death.

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