Galad frowned at his Whitecloak column. They were too few, far too few for the task that lay ahead. The three oaths stipulated that an Aes Sedai could not use the Power as a weapon, unless under attack. Yet that was precisely what he was about to do. And the Accepted and Novices haven't yet taken the oath yet, he reflected. How many of his men would die before the day was out? Salidar may well turn out to be his final resting place as well, he mused.
When his scouts had reported, two weeks ago, that they had found a nest of Aes Sedai within striking range, he knew what he had to do. Just as he had always known what had to be done. Gawyn always tried to make things too complicated, but for Galad, things were blessedly simple. There were things that were right, and things that were wrong. And according to his new oaths, channeling the One Power was wrong, and punishable by death. Elayne, where are you? My life, at your service. Oh Light, Egwene…
Raising a fist, he watched in satisfaction as the column stopped still, hands on swords, eyes alert. They were well-trained, and if he took the day, it would be due to his Gaidin training that had taught him how to instruct men in the art of battle. How ironic, using Gaidin training to crush Aes Sedai. He could smell wood smoke close by, and he marveled that none of the Gaidin who surely ringed the village had heard him. They must be off their guard, after so many months without an attack. He was never off his guard. The price of failure was too high. If I could see her once more before I die…But which her? His oaths bound him to his sister, but…
"My Lord, shall we move into position?" Galad glanced at the man at his side. "Wait, Child Morovin. I will scout ahead first myself." He would scout ahead himself, as he had done before every other engagement that he had led his men into. He would not ask them to combat odds that he had not already assessed. Handing the man his reins, Galad dismounted. "If I don't return, Child Joraman takes command. He knows what I would wish him to do." He slipped his white cloak off; the color would betray him from a hundred paces, if not more, in this forest. Glancing once more at his men to make sure that they held position, he vanished into the trees.
Egwene stalked out of her chambers, her eyes furious. If the Sitters didn't see the wisdom in her plan, they would simply have to follow it without agreeing. It was rare for the Amyrlin to act without the consent of the hall; she was usually adept enough at maneuvering them into agreeing with her, but this time she would do what was necessary. Despite what Siuan thinks, despite what they all think…Her quick strides took her past a circle of novices seated around a standing Accepted, and she gave them a brief nod as she passed them. A few stray Gaidin acknowledged her presence, but she barely noted them as she hurried past the houses at the edge of the village. To be alone, even for a second…How long since she had last been alone?
Egwene breathed a sigh of relief as trees masked the last of the houses from sight. Stopping briefly, she tugged the stole from her shoulders and looped it around an arm. To be a normal woman, even if for just a moment. She continued a few paced, breathing slowly. She must be patient. Siuan was right. The Sitters would see reason, if she didn't rush them into it. After all, what she was proposing was unheard of. Unheard of, but necessary, if are all to…
Her train of thought broke off abruptly as the point of a sword snaked from behind her to nestle at her throat. Strong hands pinioned her arms. "In the name of the Light, be silent," a voice behind her ear warned. Indignantly, Egwene reached for Saidar. Thick weaves of air snatched the sword from her neck and from the hand of its bearer, and another weave freed her arms, in turn pinioning her captor. Whirling to face him, she missed a step.
"Galad?" It was he, if slightly changed. He was in Whitecloak attire, although without the cloak. Elayne had told her that he had become a Whitecloak during one of their meetings in TelAran'Rhiod, but somehow she had never let it sink in. Not with the Wise Ones running me ragged, and then overnight becoming the bloody Amyrlin seat. But here he was, and his presence could only mean one thing.
"Galad, how many men are here with you?" He had to have brought a patrol; that he knew of her presence was impossible, so he must have been sent to destroy the Aes Sedai of Salidar. His head jerked fitfully, and she remembered the flows of air gagging his mouth. Releasing them, she repeated her question.
"Egwene," he murmured. "You are alive." His smile was radiant, he was so beautiful…His voice grew stern. "Egwene, what are you doing here? These Aes Sedai are rebels! Light knows my quarrel extends to all Aes Sedai, but these are considered outlaw in any nation. I thought you were with Al'Thor." His voice hardened at the last part.
Settling her stole firmly around her shoulders, Egwene drew herself up. "Galad, these Aes Sedai are not rebels; they are the whole and complete White Tower, even if in hiding." She stopped his mouth with another flow of air to silence his protests. "Galad, they have chosen me as their Amyrlin. They thought that they were getting a girl-child, a puppet, strong in the power, but easily maneuvered." Her face tightened. "They are wrong. They follow me now, and I will lead them back to the White Tower, or see us all burned!" She flushed at her last words, then continued. "But your presence means that we have been detected, and don't have much time. How many men, Galad?" She unstopped his mouth, and waited.
"Egwene, if you knew how many days I searched. But you are unharmed. Where is Elayne?" At her expression, he stopped. "Two thousand, Egwene. I know it is not enough to take Salidar, not with Aes Sedai and warders, but Niall himself commanded me to lead the party." An anguished look flashed across his face. "Egwene, can you not leave now? Take a horse, ride away, I will give you gold. Go anywhere, to the Tower, perhaps they will forgive you. To Andor, to the Two Rivers."
Egwene shook her head firmly. "Galad, my place is here. I lead these women now, and it appears that I have need to prepare them for battle." Her tone softened. "Galad, I look back on our days at the Tower with…fondness. Is there nothing left of that? Could you not report back that the village was long abandoned, that charred ruins were all that remained? We could so easily have schismed again, Niall would believe you." And he would too, Galad would never lie.
"Galad," she continued, "think how many of your men will lose their lives today. I cannot say how many sisters will die, how many Gaidin, but neither of us can afford this loss. For the sakes of both our causes, could you not command your men to withdraw?"
He was shaking his head, as she knew he must. "Having found you, to part in this way…" He shook himself. "It must be done Egwene, I cannot break an oath once sworn." His face was filled with torment, but if his oath required that he destroy the woman he loved, there would be no hesitation. A monster, Elayne used to call him. Perhaps he was. He only knew what was right, and what was wrong.
"Galad," she repeated softly, reaching out to touch his hand. "You know that I cannot let you return, not now. I cannot betray my Sisters."
He nodded. "I know. Kill me, then, for I cannot break my oath." He looked pained. "Let it be swift, and tell Elayne…tell Elyane that I am sorry."
Egwene gazed at him levelly for some moments, and then a slight slump in his position indicated that her flows of air no longer bound him. Slowly, she walked towards him, until not a pace separated them. She was so beautiful, her wide, clear, brown eyes, the touch of color in her cheeks, her pale throat. He let himself look no lower, but his heart cried out to turn heel and run. Run away from his men, and away from her. Perhaps to the Blight. He could die honorably, there.
"Galad…" she reached out a hand to touch him, and he flinched, as if struck. "Galad?" she repeated, questioningly this time. With a low cry of despair, he tossed his helmet to the ground and seized her in one motion, his lips coming down with the violence of his disgust for himself. Her lips met his, and the force of the kiss muffled his moan of despair. His hands traced her body, searching for softness, and found her trembling, yielding. If she had resisted him…
Flushed, he stepped back. Her stole was slanted, her hair in complete disarray, and her cheeks flamed. She was… "Egwene, forgive me, I had no right, I…" He broke off. "I have loved you faithfully, how I yearned..." He stopped himself with an effort. "I will leave you now. You have my word that my soldiers will not find you." His eyes were dull, and he had something of Lan's look to him. "I cannot apologize enough. I will not trouble you again." The anguish in his eyes was unbearable, and he turned to go.
Three steps forward, his feet seemed to gel as the air became solid. His head turned, forced by the cables of air that wrapped his body. "Galad," Egwene said, her voice low. "I cannot let you go like this. I owe it to Elayne to make sure that you do not go like this." And to yourself, a tiny voice reminded her. "I do not yet have a warder, you know," she said, almost conversationally.
His head jerked in surprise, perhaps in denial, but she continued. "I have seen men with the look in their eyes that is now in yours, and knowing their fate, I cannot leave you to return. What I am going to do will pain you, but you will be absolved from all guilt. Perhaps, after some time, you may even come to forgive me." Normally permission was required for this sort of thing, but then again, Egwene's short reign as Amyrlin had already broken almost every other precedent known to Aes Sedai. Gripping his immobile head with her hands, she channeled briefly, a complex weave, but one that every Aes Sedai learned. There. She could sense him, and a slight widening of his eyes told him that he could sense her, too.
How do you use the bond to compel? Egwene searched the link she had created, until she found… "Galad," she said, her voice commanding. "You will return to your men. You will tell them that Salidar is empty, a ruin. There are no Aes Sedai here. The only person there, a retainer too old to follow, told you that the 'women he served' fled more than a week ago, moving to Tear." That would send the Whitecloaks on a long chase, and leave her time to relocate her temporary tower. "Once you have told them this, you will tell your second-in-command to take the men back to Niall. You will tell them that you are remaining to search for tracks, to ensure that the Aes Sedai truly have taken the road for Tear." That would give him two days, three at most, before they realized that he had not rejoined them. Long enough. "Then you will come back here, to this same spot. I will wait."
She released him, and he stared at her for several long moments. "Go, my Gaidin," she commanded, and he went. Light, what have I done…he'll need some new garments before I take him back to the others.