Mat rode at the head of his Band, the Horn of Valere tied to his saddle, accompanied by Thom and Moiraine and of course Talmanes. Miyasi rode close behind, no matter what he told her, she insisted on remaining nearby. He could feel the dice rolling in his head, rolling like never before. Then, this was the Last Battle. He would have to trust his luck to see him through one more time, just this once. He wished he could be with Rand now, but he couldn't channel, he could not help with the actual re-sealing of the Bore. His task, and that of the Band, was to keep the forces of the Dark One from coming at Rand and his circle of channelers. He was surprised they had not yet encountered any large forces, or any enemy at all for that matter. They wouldn't let Rand open and re-seal the Bore without even challenging him, would they? He was sure Rand would be there by now, was already doing whatever it was he was doing exactly.
He looked around, far behind them he could see the Aiel troops, and ahead of them was Perrin's army, or what he still thought of as Perrin's army, even now Perrin himself was no longer there to lead it. That worried him. He had never read as many books and prophesies as Rand had, but he had always known that the three of them would be needed here, to confront the Dark One on this final day. And now Perrin was dead, killed in some bold attack in Tar Valon. Rand had gone forward with his plans, had assigned the army that was mostly Two Rivers men and a company of Berelain's Mayeners to his father, Tam, and said that all should go forward no matter what. Of course, he could not do anything different. What other options had there been, give up? Then all would be lost just the same.
Mat shifted the spear he held in his right hand, and let his left hand in which he held Pip's reins drop a little so his hand rested on the Horn. That was his one hope, that Perrin had done enough to be bound to the Horn. The one way in which they could all three be here. But the Horn could only be sounded in great need. Now, even though he knew Rand must be about to strike at Shayol Ghul, there was no immediate threat.
Or was there? From off to his left, on the outside of the circle they patrolled, a cloud of dust started to rise. Closer than he had thought possible; had the Dark One's army lain in waiting, or had they used gateways to get there? Trollocs couldn't go through a gateway, but human Darkfriends could. He strained to see with his one eye, and loosened the strap which held the Horn to his saddle. He alerted Talmanes and the others, but they spoke up at the same time, every man had been alert for any change. All men drew their weapons and Mat turned to face their enemy head on. He booted Pips in the flanks to once again get to the head of the column.
Suddenly, Pips' forelegs sank deep into the ground and the horse fell. Mat was pitched over its head and before he could roll, he hit the ground head-on. He yelled out in pain as his jaw hit a large, jagged rock and another rock caught him in the chest.
Pain lanced through him as he pushed himself up even a little, and tried to feel how badly he was hurt. He knew his jaw was broken, he had felt and heard the bone crack, and as he carefully tried to work his mouth, he spat out a tooth. And his chest hurt, a stabbing pain, which puzzled him because the rocks, though quite hard, looked well-weathered rather than jagged and sharp. He sank back down, avoiding his chest and falling on his side.
Hopefully Moiraine would be able to Heal him, for some reason he couldn't put his finger on, he did not trust Miyasi. Even now, both Aes Sedai, as well as Thom and Talmanes, had dismounted and were kneeling next to him.
"I must take off your medallion," Moiraine said, even as she reached for his shirt, and Mat nodded consent. However much he hated having anyone channel at him, he had to get back up to face the Trollocs. What had happened to his bloody luck?
Moiraine turned him over on his back, and pulled his shirt aside. Then she hissed.
"What is it?" Mat asked in a thick voice. He ignored the pain in his jaw and lifted up his head far enough to see the wolfhead medallion lodged in his chest, right next to his heart. What _had_ happened to his bloody luck?
Miyasi cursed as she saw the ter'angreal, so did the two men.
"That is a problem," Miyasi said.
"Can't you just pull it out?" Mat asked, or tried to, what came out sounded more like "Cant ou ush puw ih ouh?" but the others understood.
"It is lodged into your chest quite deeply," Moiraine replied. "It may even have hit the heart, when we pull it out we may have only seconds to Delve and Heal."
"Then do it. Quick." (Ehn oh ih. Wick.)
"I want to try and see how deep it went, first," Miyasi stalled. He was sure she was stalling, damnit, couldn't Aes Sedai Heal in a flash? How could he possibly bleed to death with two Aes Sedai next to him, even if it were lodged in his heart. Or she was being overtly careful, and there was no time for that.
"Ow cwose are eh eh-e-ee?"
"They are approaching fast," Talmanes said. "We should not allow a gap to fall in the circle of defense."
"Ou 'ead em," Mat said. "I ill 'ome as wick as I 'an."
Talmanes pushed himself up even as he nodded. He gestured and yelled to the rest of the Band to continue their approach.
Mat once again tried to push himself up and look around. Now he saw Pips, still down on the ground as well. The gelding was laying on its side, breathing hard, both forelegs twisted and clearly broken. No one had an eye for the poor beast, but at least it did not wear a bloody ter'angreal and the two Aes Sedai should have it back on its feet once they were done with him.
The two Aes Sedai who were still taking their time, he saw, even as the Band passed them on both sides, on their way to the battle. And then he heard it, another rumble, coming from the direction of Shayol Ghul. Well, at least he should be able to sound the bloody Horn now.
The same moment he opened his mouth to ask Thom to get the Horn from wherever it had fallen, he realized the difficulty. He could barely speak, how for Light's sake was he going blow a horn? Light, his _luck_!
"Ohm, ive ee eh 'orn," he managed anyway. "And ou 'woo, lease 'urry!"
Thom got up from beside him and walked over to Pips, then moments later let out a terrible curse.
"Blood and bloody ashes," Thom exclaimed, using the curse Mat himself favored. "We are doomed."
Mat heard the alarm in the older man's voice and pushed himself up on his elbow, ignoring the two Aes Sedai who weren't doing much of anything anyway. "Aht is 'ong?"
Thom bend down, then straightened, holding the Horn aloft. The mouth piece was twisted, even with his jaw Healed he probably wouldn't be able to get any sound out of it.
"Pips must have fallen on it," Thom stated.
Mat's curse was lost in another rumble as something, unseen but clearly felt, passed high in the sky to the right of them. The rumble grew until it was ear shattering loud, rocks shifted, rolled, and the Aes Sedai lost their footing.
"Light help us, he must have broken free," Thom exclaimed, even as the rumble faded and the ground stopped shaking.
"Ohm! Cahn ou re'air iiht?" Mat asked. "Ou oo, do oht give up."
Thom took another look at the Horn, then took up a rock and sat down, carefully hammering at the mouth piece. The two sisters picked themselves up and now sat on their both their knees rather than on one, for the rumbling in the distance continued, far off, sometimes unheard but always returning, and they all feared it would come closer again.
Thom hammered and the two sisters carefully prodded the ter'angreal, all was taking much too long. Mat had no idea what was happening, but he knew it couldn't be good. Then, the rumble increased quickly to a great noise, and all braced themselves.
It was worse this time around. Off to their left now, the quake caused the earth to buckle under them, but forewarned, no one fell. The sound and the something passed them, this time in the direction of Shayol Ghul, then all got quiet. And even as they looked in the direction of the single, terrible mountain, they saw lightning and fire arch into the sky. This time, Miyasi and Moiraine gasped loudest of all. Had they seen more than Mat himself could?
The lightning and fire did not last long. Very soon it too ceased and nothing happened at all for some time, or at least nothing he could see, the Aes Sedai kept looking at Shayol Ghul with an air of concentration.
Mat had given up trying to get the two to help him. He had felt the dice stop the moment the lightning had ceased, and he knew that even if he were Healed right now, it would not make a difference anymore.
He tried to piece together what had happened, the Dark One had broken free, had raced across the world, but had been chased by the Creator. The rumble and quake had been made by two entities, he was sure, the first one's passing doing far more damage but something unseen in hot pursuit. Then one had been forced back to the Bore, back in the prison. Had perhaps struggled again briefly, before the calm spell. Had the Creator forced the Dark One back into the Bore? It didn't feel right to Mat, and he feared Rand had failed, feared it was the other way around. But then what was happening now? Someone was still channeling, and now he too could see the distant mountain that was Shayol Ghul shift and settle, as a physical seal on top of what must have been woven with the One Power. Few people could manage a feat like that, even leading a full circle. So maybe it was Rand, sealing the prison?
As the mountain settled, Miyasi tore her eyes off the distant scene and let out a deep breath, as in relief. She nodded to Moiraine, who pulled the wolfhead out of his chest without further hesitation, and Mat had barely time to gasp from the pain before the tingle of Healing passed through his body, and he felt the flesh and bone grow back together. So they had been stalling!
"What's going on, what are you two playing at, and what happened to my bloody luck, why did it leave me when I needed it most?" Mat demanded angrily, even as he pushed himself to a seated position, his eyes level with the two sisters as he looked from one to another.
"Your luck did not leave you, Mat," Moiraine said. "It was never something of the Light or the Dark, it protected you, as a person. Miyasi and I were under orders to keep you from sounding the horn at any cost, we might have had to do worse if you hadn't taken that fall. Or if we hadn't been able to keep you from sounding it, two more fists of Trollocs and a hundred Fades would have united to stop those who answered its call from reaching Shayol Ghul."
Mat looked at the two sisters. Even if he hadn't trusted Miyasi, or any Aes Sedai, that was because he suspected they had their own agenda. At least for Moiraine, and Miyasi, hadn't Egwene purged the Black Ajah from the Tower? Moiraine's admission stunned him. She couldn't be a Darkfriend.
He tried to say it was impossible, ask her why she hadn't captured or killed them long ago when she came to the Two Rivers, it just did not make sense. But before he found the words, Thom did.
"No!" he called out. Mat saw he had gone pastry white in the face, and his voice was heartbreaking. "No, Moiraine!"
Miyasi had gotten up and was seeing to Pips, and Mat felt for one of his knives. He could stab the Black sister, or at least try to, for she had not turned her back on him completely, but he hesitated.
Somehow, he didn't think it would make a difference anymore. The Dark One was free, and the Creator sealed away in the Bore. By Rand? If Moiraine was a Darkfriend, then everything was possible. No, he could not believe that.
Moiraine, in the meantime, had gotten up from beside him and stood face to face with Thom. The tall man held her by her arms, his knuckles as white as his face, but she seemed calm as ever.
"I am sorry, Thom. It was not by choice but I serve the Great Lord now," she told him. "Anyone who can channel can be taken and turned to serve the Great Lord, remember the night after we returned to the Band's camp, and you woke with a slight headache? Miyasi knocked you out as she took me. And no, don't you turn on her, I wouldn't have stopped you from doing so then but I certainly will now, with the Great Lord ruling the world. Thom, I hope you will come to accept what can not be undone."
"Accept?" Thom exclaimed. "Moiraine, whatever it is, I am sure it can be undone."
Moiraine just shook her head slowly.
Mat felt numb, everything he had fought for now gone. He still sat on the rocky ground, watching the others as in a dream. Miyasi walked up to him, leading Pips. The gelding's lower legs were bloodied, but there was no trace of a limp.
"Your horse," the Black sister said.
"You Healed me, and now you are giving me my horse," Mat said, "And yet you serve the Dark One. Shouldn't you be killing me instead?"
"The time for that is past," Miyasi replied. "Call back your men and tell them to stand down. Any further fight serves no cause, only more loss of life. I can use compulsion to make you call them back but it will be more convincing if you do so of your own accord."
"A Black sister who is concerned about loss of life. Now I have seen it all," Mat remarked. She didn't think he would fall for that, did she? Although she had Healed Pips. And had Healed him. He glanced at Thom, who was having his own discussion with Moiraine, on a more personal level. He was of no help right this moment.
"The fact is, you have seen very little, and you assume you have seen everything," Miyasi told him. "I do not know what will happen to all of the world, some are... more like you think we all are. But Mesaana's orders are to stop the fighting if possible, and it would seem to be of benefit to both sides to do so. The Last Battle is over, Mat, don't make it last longer than it has to."
Mat pushed himself up from the ground, then mounted Pips, and Miyasi didn't stop him. He did not believe one bit of what the Aes Sedai told him, and if Moiraine had been made to follow the Dark One, he could not believe her either. Even about Thom he wasn't sure, until Moiraine's admission he would have bet his remaining eye on the man's dedication to the Light, but he had sounded torn speaking to her just now. Love was a crazy thing.
Oh bloody ashes, Tuon. Was she even alive? No, he could not allow himself to be distracted. His Band, his men, were battling Trollocs and Darkfriends and he had a chance to stop it. Would they be called back only to be attacked from behind? Standing in the stirrups, he tried to get a look at the battle in the distance. Judging from what he could see, there was no need for subterfuge, the Dark One's forces were great in number and he saw more than a few flashes of lightning and fire, attacks with the One Power for which his Band had no defenses. He wished he had the dice telling him what to do, but he did not feel them, had the nagging suspicion he may never feel them again.
"If I call them back, will we be free to go where we want? I will not have my men used to further your plans."
"I do not know," Miyasi answered. "I do not think even Mesaana really knew what to expect after the Battle was fought."
Mat squinted. For all that she might be a Black sister, she sounded sincere. And there was the old saying, one who lived could always fight another day. He made up his mind. "I will call them back, but I will promise nothing beyond that. And the truce holds until the first Trolloc or Darkfriend raises a blade against any man of mine. If you expect me to call them back, I assume you have your forces under at least as much control."
Miyasi nodded. "Fair enough, Mat Cauthon."
Mat booted Pips forward, fervently hoping he was doing the right thing.
Marris stood on the balcony with Tuon, Torianna, the new so'jhin, Melitene and Jinjin. Tremors still shook the palace, but it wasn't as bad as it had been moments earlier, when a deep rumble had come closer, closer, and then the palace had bucked like a horse under their feet.
Marris had thrown up a shield of Air to protect them from small debris, and she had feared the building would collapse, holding the weaves for a gateway ready as tapestries fell off the walls and plaster and small chunks of stone rained down all around them.
But the palace had stood, and as soon as the worst was over, they had come out here to look. The palace stood taller than most other buildings, and this balcony of the upper story allowed them to overlook the city and the harbor.
Even at first glance it was clear many other buildings had not withstood the quake. Clouds of dust rose from below, where houses, shops and sheds alike were reduced to rubble. And more than dust rose up to them: screams and shouts came from the panicked crowd. People ran both ways, some fleeing the buildings that were merely damaged, no doubt in fear of further collapse, while others rushed towards the piles of rubble, desperate to save some loved one whom was thought to have been inside. As they stared at the scene, Karede and Hartha joined them, but apart from gasps and muttered curses, they were struck silent by the destruction below.
"Where's the water?" Melitene suddenly exclaimed.
Marris looked toward the harbor, and saw Melitene was right. The ships listed to the side, some completely tipped over in the wet sand, some hanging by their moorings from the quay. The sea was gone. Or, gone, as she looked further out she saw the grayish line far in the distance, a thin line now but growing thicker as she watched.
"Oh no," she gasped.
"Look, it's all good, it's coming back already," Torianna said in a relieved voice, as she too spotted the line of water.
But Marris knew better. She had read about these monster waves, rare as they were, when first the water would pull back, only to return in a huge rush, destroying everything on the shore and sometimes far inland. Somehow she knew this one was going to be bigger, stronger and faster than any she had read about.
"It's coming back alright," she said, "But it won't be good. The city will be flooded."
Torianna looked puzzled, but Karede cursed and she felt the sinking feeling from Tuon through the a'dam before she even turned and saw the woman had gone white in the face. The Seanchan were a seafaring people, at least some of them would know the signs. Not that it was likely to help them, the line of water was coming closer at an alarming rate. Should she warn the people below? She could use the Power to raise her voice above even the clamor coming from the city, but then what. The wave looked far, far greater than even the palace could withstand, she doubted any of the dwellings below stood a chance. And the hills were too far off to reach on foot or even on horseback. She wasn't sure if a horse could outrun the water on a track but it certainly could not in the cities streets, with the panicked crowds and rubble.
"Will the palace stand?" Tuon asked her.
"I don't know," Marris answered truthfully. The way it had withstood the quake meant it was very well-built, but there had been damage. Glancing at the walls to either side of them, she could see cracks in the stone.
"Melitene, warn the people," Tuon ordered. "Tell them to get to higher ground if they can, or up to the roof of the strongest buildings. Most buildings will collapse, but.. certainly some will stand."
She spoke authoritively, but her brief pause betrayed the lack of confidence in the last part of her statement. The water was coming closer and now a deep rumble could be heard in the distance.
Melitene nodded in acknowledgment and told Jinjin to use the power to amplify the sul'dam's voice.
"People of Ebou Dar, there is a monster wave headed for the city. Get to higher ground or to the roof if your dwelling stands, immediately. Get to higher ground or to the roof if your dwelling stands, immediately."
As Melitene repeated her warning, the din below changed to one of even more panic, some running in other directions, others just digging more frantically, as if they stood any chance at all to reached those who were pinned and outrun the water after that. From the balcony, they watched the wall of water come closer.
At first it didn't seem so high, just a line of grey and white foam where the sea always was, and the quay was built high enough to stand the terrible winter storms. But then it lifted the stranded ships, including the huge Seanchan war ships and the rakers, and tossed them up as if they were mere toy boats. Moments later, the water reached the shore and vessels that had been moored rose up, their ropes snapping as mere threads as they were lifted up above the quay and were slammed into the warehouses that lined the shorefront.
"We're getting out of here," Marris decided. She pulled on Tuon's leash and gestured to Torianna, even as she started to weave the flows for the gateway.
"Take them too," Tuon pleaded, indicating Karede, Hartha and Melitene.
"If you can control them," Marris told her. She watched them carefully even now, readying flows of Air as well in case they would figure out what was happening. But between the quake and the monstrous wave, even the otherwise quick Karede seemed confused as to what was going on, although he and Hartha were eyeing her strangely.
"Give me Jinjin's leash," Tuon ordered.
Melitene blinked, not quite comprehending.
"Quick, do as I say."
Used to following orders of her Empress, Melitene stammered an apology at her delay, and unclasped the leash from her wrist. Tuon took it and slapped it around her own, next to the one she already wore.
Far below them, the water had reached Mol Hara Square in front of the palace, it rushed foaming over the cobbles, while on the shorefront the first buildings were crumbling under the onslaught.
Tuon looked back over her shoulder, at the door leading to her rooms in the palace.
"The others? They will obey me."
"No," Marris replied, very definite. The screams of the people below were heartbreaking, and debris was crashing into the palace wall as the water in the square below was rising fast. Hundreds, thousands would die in the city alone, but she wanted to make it out alive, and without a real leash around her neck. She had seen the loyalty of the sul'dam and the guards, and no matter what Tuon claimed, they would risk their lives trying to free their Empress if they discovered she was held and controlled by the White Tower.
Karede and Hartha had a hand on their swords even now, and Marris bands of Air, pinning their arms against their body, then did the same to Melitene. The woman carried only a belt knife and had passed Tuon the leash as ordered, but even a belt knife could be used to kill or maim.
With the last flow of Air tied, she opened a gateway to Tar Valon. Not directly into the city, she was not sure what shape it would be in, but just across the river, where the rebels' camp had been.
The three shackled Seanchan had started and called out for help when she had woven the flows, but the door leading on to the balcony was closed, and those inside likely had their own problems, if they even heard the orders over the screams from below. They started even worse when they saw the gateway.
"She can slice the air?" Melitene exclaimed, while Karede and Hartha cursed and struggled against the bonds.
Marris pulled Tuon through the gateway, after Torianna, who had not waited for her signal but leaped through the moment it opened. Jinjin naturally followed Tuon without being told, but Tuon had to order the others. Even then, Marris wasn't sure they came because of her order or because they hoped to struggle free and rescue their Empress. They might have been momentarily distracted by the Breaking, they certainly knew who was in charge now.
As Marris saw all had stepped through and she let the gateway close, she looked up and gasped at the sight of a jagged mountain where none had been before, so nearby. For a moment she was disoriented and thought it had crushed all of Tar Valon, then she sighed in relief as she saw the city itself, the Tower standing although it sported new cracks in the walls and one huge boulder, at least six stories high, was laying right next to it.
Her eyes flicked to the North and indeed, Dragonmount was gone. She shivered. There had to be a lot of damage and casualties in the city after an entire mountain had been thrown at it, even if somehow it had fallen short. Even from here, she could see one or two other boulders, not as big as the one laying up against the Tower, but each large enough to crush several houses beneath them. No doubt smaller debris had rained on the city as well.
But the Tower stood and everything else was of later concern. Even though they must know by now they could not break free of the flows of Air, Karede and Hartha had not stopped their struggle, and they were making angry protests.
"What's going on," Hartha rumbled in between muttered curses.
"Who are you really, why isn't the a'dam working?" Karede wanted to know.
"Tell them," Marris told Tuon.
"The leash is working al right," Tuon said with a sigh. "But it works the other way around. They leashed me the night they kidnapped me, and Marris returned with me as my sul'dam. And... they did something to my mind, something involving Myrddraal and the One Power, to make me loyal to the Dark Lord. I didn't know it could be done, but I am glad he is free."
All, Friends of the Dark and those who stood in the Light alike, had known what the Breaking meant, and the screams from the Tarasin crowd had included shouts about the Dark One being freed, but none of their party had so far voiced it. Now, the two men and Melitene could not be more stunned.
"What? Impossible!" Karede exclaimed, incredulously.
"We knew something was wrong, knew the Tar Valon witches had more of a hold on you than just the thread of more fiery raids, terrible as they were," Hartha said in and angry voice. "But you had her leashed. There are no leashes that work the other way around."
He strained against the bonds as he glared hard at Melitene, who seemed for the moment glad he was bound like she was. No one liked having an Ogier angry at them!
"They can't. None of those we collared here knew how to make an a'dam, or any other object of the Power, I swear," she stammered.
"Just like they can't slice the air, I'm sure," Karede said bitterly.
"And you, don't think I didn't notice she didn't bind you, are you in league with her?" Melitene shot at Torianna, who looked back with a smug smile.
"Save your bickering for later," Marris ordered. "You will come along with us, like it or not. If Tuon can convince you to remain loyal to her, it will be useful in controlling the Seanchan army. If not, I'm sure replacements can be found. For now I will take you to the Tower cells. Tuon, you've shown some sense during our last sessions together, keep it up and you will be back with your people when it is safe."
She didn't address Melitene, the turning would take care of her loyalty.
She was about to Travel to the Tower, now she had seen that it stood, or at least as close as she could come outside the Dreamspike's influence, when she noticed Jinjin's expression. She had paid even less attention to the damane, safely leashed, than she had to the sul'dam, but she had expected shock and fear. Instead, the woman was smiling widely and looked at Tar Valon with as much anticipation as Torianna.
As the damane noticed Marris' gaze upon her, she burst out, "Aes Sedai, is it true Jinjin will be set free?"
"Eh?" Marris looked at her questioningly.
"When Jinjin was just leashed, Aise told us when the Dark One would be freed, we would no longer be held. She was punished severely of course when the sul'dam heard it, we all got a lashing and were told to forget, but Jinjin always remembered and kept hoping she was right."
Marris smiled at the damane. She knew that even now the Great Lord had been released, there would be resistance from people who would not accept the rule of those they'd always thought of as evil. She also knew there were more who had secretly supported the Great Lord than those who walked in the Light knew, and it was good to see one such here.
Ignoring cries of outrage from Melitene, she told the damane, "Freedom is relative. One who comes to the Tower will have to start as a novice, and must obey the sisters teaching her. Even I have to obey the Chosen, the Amyrlin, and the Hall of the Tower. But we do not use leashes, except in rare cases like this." She touched the leash holding Tuon. "Will you come to the Tower of your own free will and obey me and the other Aes Sedai?"
The damane nodded eagerly. "Jinjin will do that, Marris Sedai."
Marris reached out and released the collar. She felt a flash of irritation from Tuon, but the young woman said not a word about the breach of etiquette. Good, it had been a test of the other woman's obedience as well.
"Then you are free. And stop talking about yourself in the third person."
"Yes, Marris Sedai. J.. I will." Long habit almost made her slip even as she promised.
The glow of Saidar sprang up around her, and she channeled. First a thin braid of fire, forming a cautious ball of light, then Marris watched as the woman readied more and thicker flows. For a fraction of a second, she thought to tell the woman to stop. She hadn't told her not to attack the sul'dam, but there hadn't been anger or spite in the Seanchan's voice. She decided not to interfere.
Then Jinjin directed the flows at the sky, shooting a sparkling flower of Fire in the air, before releasing the Source.
"That was the first time J.. I ever channeled without the a'dam," she said. Her eyes shone like those of a novice who had for the first time felt Saidar.
Marris smiled. Then she took the regular a'dam Jinjin had worn and exchanged it with the one with which she held Tuon. As most Browns, she didn't care much for appearances, but however well it worked, having a collar around her neck was decidedly less pleasant than wearing a bracelet. She hung the other one on her belt.
"Now we must go," she said. She had picked this spot carefully, outside the city to see what she was getting into, and to make sure she had the Seanchan well under control, but close enough that she could Travel further into the city rather than having to walk. Still without the key to the Dreamspike -she checked, but her flows unraveled when she tried to go directly to the Tower grounds- she Traveled to the receiving grounds.
In spite of what she'd seen from afar, she was still shocked by the extend of the damage. Almost all dwellings had cracks in the walls, sagging roofs, and broken windows, even where no debris from the mountain had hit. The displacement of the mountain must have caused a great quake here as well. But the chaos was less severe than it had been in Ebou Dar. At one fully collapsed building what looked like a coordinated rescue effort was taking place, led by two members of the Tower guard, and two townsmen carried a litter with an injured man in the direction of the Tower itself.
With a gesture, Marris set her group in motion and they followed the citizens through the ravaged city.
Verin and Graendal had watched the battle from the cottage's small front porch. Despite being shielded, they could still see the flows aimed at Shayol Ghul, those woven from Saidar at least, and Verin gasped as she saw and felt the Dark One break free, big chunks of the mountain crumbling in his wake.
Beside her, Graendal was smiling broadly. Even now, the former Forsaken was still a fervent supporter of the Dark One. Verin wondered if she expected to be able to redeem herself, once the Dark Lord was free. Verin didn't think it likely, but the rules were different for the Forsaken.
They watched in silence as they both knew it wasn't over yet. And indeed, soon Verin felt the other powerful presence in the sky above them. For a moment, she felt hope, but it quickly became clear the Creator was no match for the Dark One, now that he was free. She felt the Creator flee as they passed overhead, the force of his passing causing a powerful quake that almost knocked her off her feet. There was no use to seeking shelter, Shaidar Haran had shielded his dwelling as he had left, and if anything broke through the shield, she suspected the little protection the physical walls would provide would make little difference.
With pain in her heart, Verin listened to the distant rumble, felt the tremors shake the ground underfoot. So the Dark One was breaking the world as the prophesies had foretold would happen if the Dragon were to lose. She felt the tears run down her cheeks, and she cared nothing if Graendal sneered at her loss of control. And she held on, hardly daring to breathe as she scanned the skies. As long as they were both free, there was a little hope, a small chance the Creator would be able to defeat the Dark One and lock him into his prison again. The Breaking could not be undone, but at least the Creator could reforge the world in his image.
After what seemed like an eternity, the two forces came hurtling through the skies again, and this time Verin knew it was all over. She felt the presence of the Dark One, stronger than ever, as the other presence faded.
Even as Graendal had cheered, the lighting had burst into the air above Shayol Ghul. Graendal had fallen silent, and Verin had merely looked on, stunned at what she saw. Neither one of them had known what was happening, could only see the flows arch into the sky for a short while before they broke off. Whatever it had been, it had not succeeded. The Bore was sealed, the mountain reformed on top of it.
"He is free, the Great Lord is free and the Creator locked in the Bore!" Graendal finally burst out. She gloated at Verin, her eyes shining.
Verin did not allow herself to be drawn out. Graendal had finally learned who she was, even before the visit of Mesaana and Sheriam, when Shaidar Haran had told her how the two were taking over the Tower and she had not been able to hide her dismay. The former Forsaken had ever since gloated over each victory of the Shadow over the Light, but the one time Graendal had tried to attack her physically, Shaidar Haran had called her back, lashing her as he made it clear he was the only one meting out punishments in this place.
She turned and went into the cottage, where she resumed her work of dusting, cleaning and cooking. Graendal came in after her, in great spirits. The former Forsaken even started to hum as she started on the dishes, but Verin continued to ignore her.
Verin hadn't been completely sure Shaidar Haran would return, hadn't the Dark One needed the Fade to speak for him when he was sealed within the Bore? That would no longer be needed now. But he came back. Night had fallen, Verin and Graendal had finally gone to bed, and it was already well into the next day before the tall Myrddraal returned to the cottage.
Neither one of them knew exactly what to expect, but Graendal was clearly full of hope.
"My congratulations, Great One," she said even as she knelt. Verin knelt too, but remained silent. She was not going to offer congratulations unless ordered to.
"Ah yes, my faithful servant," Shaidar Haran said to Graendal. "And you."
Verin felt his gaze on her as the Myrddraal turned towards her.
"It might be interesting to know that the destruction wrought to the world was not the Great Lord's doing, but rather the Creator trying to escape his fate. And that Mesaana has the Aes Sedai and Asha'man help and Heal her people in Tar Valon and elsewhere, for as far as anyone can still help them."
Verin glanced up at him. She wasn't sure whether to believe him or not, but what reason would he have to lie to her? He did not need her obedience, he held that by other means.
"I knew it," Graendal said triumphantly.
"Of course you would have done the same, unlike your cities that were attacked in the War of Power which you simply abandoned, or even leveled further rather than dealing with the refugees" Shaidar Haran remarked scornfully. "Not that it matters. The Great Lord no longer requires me to speak for him, but I am now to rule the Myrddraal and Trollocs. I will still require servants, both of you will remain in my service, and your opinion of the Great Lord's rule will make little difference. Now, serve my dinner. I haven't had time to eat since yesterday."
It was clear Graendal was disappointed, had hoped for a reward for her show of faith. Verin was left with more confusion, she dared not ask for clarification of the little he had told, but she held a little hope that perhaps not all the world was lost, even as she rose and, with another deep curtsy, went into the kitchen to do as she was ordered.
Sheriam took report after report, from the servants who did courier duty for Nyein, Zemaille and Aiden, from Pevara, Mestra and Notori, and from others who came in from various places. The Black Tower had been under attack as well, but with no mountain at hand, the Creator had thrown debris from Caemlyn at it, as well as great scoops of earth and forest, and fire and lightning had been slung at the town.
The shields of those who had remained to defend it had stopped a good lot, and Jahar came in soon with the offer of help from the majority of his men wherever it was needed. And a good thing too, for the reports from elsewhere were shocking.
Not all major cities had suffered a direct hit, apart from the attacks on the two Towers, most of the damage seemed random, done by the Creator as he and the Great Lord passed closely overhead. Sometimes there had been cities and towns in their path, sometimes not. Chachin had been hit, and Lugard, and obviously what was left of Caemlyn, but most other larger cities inland had survived pretty much in whatever shape they had been in when the battle had started.
But the shock of such passage had caused much more secondary damage. The Spine of the World was shattered, the rocks spread all through the Waste, where they littered the desert which was cut through by huge, deep furrows, which were already filling with water. Fal Dara and Fal Moran were as littered with large, rocky debris as Tar Valon was, many homes crushed and more damaged due to the quakes caused by the violence.
And worst of all, along the coastal areas huge waves had hit the land. Tear, Illian, Ebou Dar, Falme, Tanchico, Bandor Eban, even Godan had been flooded, the cities mostly under water with only a few of the strongest buildings still standing. The water had come far inland, forever changing the coastal line, drowning low laying lands completely.
And Mayene was gone. Pevara had been shocked when she reported that, even though she had been to Tear before and had known thousands must lay dead. But when she had tried to Travel to Mayene, her Eye had only found water. She had checked her bearings and tried again, then asked Moradri, but the closest land they found was some miles inland from where the city had been, the road leading to the edge of a still-crumbling cliff.
Obviously there was nothing that could be done there, but Mesaana sent Jahar's men to the other coastal cities, to see what could be done.
Compared to those places, Tar Valon had fared well. But the toll had been high, even here. The lists the couriers gave Sheriam were long, and the missing numbers greater still. Sheriam had taken a look at the massive rock that had fallen just short of the Tower itself, and knew many bodies would never be recovered. Pensioners, who had served the Tower faithfully under previous Amyrlins, who had nothing to do with either side. And the horses and the grooms and the stableboys. She knew she shouldn't be bothered by mere horses when so many people lay dead, but she thought for just one moment of Wing, the grey mare that had carried her all the way from Salidar.
The only survivors of the attack had stood huddled up against the wall of the Tower itself, a stableboy of perhaps ten years old and a shaggy mare. As she asked, the boy told her he had led the horse out for a walk as it had been colicky, and the pair had escaped serious injury. Sheriam recognized Bela, now Siuan's, but previously Egwene's. What was it with the Two Rivers, that even a horse from there could be so lucky! No, it had to be coincidence.
The boy had so far been ignored by everyone else, the sisters and others rushing past on their way to help those more seriously wounded, and Sheriam sent him off to the south stables with the mare, before going back inside. It was clear there was nothing more she could do here.
There was surprisingly little resistance from the townsfolk, all through the city. They were shocked, but those who were gravely wounded, or had loved ones trapped in the rubble, were all too happy to receive aid from anyone. Some of the Black sisters had changed the color of their shawl's fringe, and Sheriam followed their example, using a small weave to make her stole appear black, and she send word out to the other Black sisters in the city to show their true colors as well. When the first shock was over, the most seriously injured Healed, and the worst of the rubble cleared, and the people of Tar Valon had time to sit and think, she wanted people to know the Black sisters had been the ones to provide aid and lead the Healing and rescue effort.
Others came in as well. Marris brought the Seanchan Empress, and Mesaana sent the pair of them out to Heal as well. She would wait for Jahar's men to report in before they decided on what action to take with the Seanchan; it was clear from their reports and Pevara's that there would be no immediate threat from them. Nor from the Seanchan mainland. Mesaana send scouts there too and the damage was as extensive as it was here. Danelle had come in, and was sent to help the searchers as she was strong in Earth.
There were more reports from the battlegrounds at Shayol Ghul and the border with the Blight.
Some of theirs had died in the shockwave as the Creator passed overhead, those who had been in his immediate path helpless against the forces that left furrows in solid rock. Asha'man and sisters alike, they had been spaced out to form a large circle of defense but even so, the death toll and missing numbered three dozen.
Mat Cauthon's Band had retreated as far as their camp at the Field of Merrilor, but they were still gathered there, armed and ready to go back to battle at a moment's notice.
What had been Aybara's troops had agreed to talk with Egwene, but she was still speaking with Tam al'Thor, Faile Aybara and Berelain of Mayene. Tam al'Thor and Faile were at least considering returning to the Two Rivers. Berelain was crushed at the news of her city and state, and none of them knew her enough to guess whether she would be more likely to lead the remaining Mayeners into battle and fight to the death, or give up and save their lives at least.
The Borderlanders had agreed far too readily to go home to their farms and families, and Lan feared they planned to re-group in secret rather than keeping their word. Borderlanders were generally honest people, but they hated the Great Lord even more than they hated to tell a lie, and Sheriam agreed with him. As she told Mesaana of her concern, Mesaana assigned Moghedien to the Borderlands. She was to ward the farms of those who returned against Shadowspawn, but also to keep an eye on any who plotted against them. Mesaana made very clear she wanted those who did not make any move against them safe, and Sheriam hoped at least some would forego their plans at rebellion if they saw Mesaana kept her promises and provided actual aid to those whose cities or towns were destroyed.
Al'Thor had his difficulties with the Aiel as well. Only four of the Clan Chiefs agreed to speak to him, Rhuarc of the Tardaad, Bael of the Goshien, Bruan of the Nakai, and Erim of the Chareen. Timolan of the Miagoma had ordered his Clan to continue their attack without even waiting for al'Thor to finish speaking, and the Trollocs and Asha'man had taken out most of them, with some losses among the men and Shadowspawn. The other clans were still holding their grounds, with the opposing armies keeping them occupied more than doing any serious damage until they got orders otherwise.
Elayne caused further trouble, for the weaves of those attempting to turn her would not take hold. It seemed her pregnancy, interfering with the channeling, blocked this particular weave as well. The sisters who held her used compulsion, and she did call back her troops to the camp at the Field of Merrilor, but she would have to be guarded for the remaining time of her pregnancy. Dagdara and Nynaeve did not dare to use Stilling on her either, unsure of how it would affect the babies she carried.
Far better news was that Elayne and Aviendha told the sisters who took them that they had found a weave to allow Min to share their Bond of al'Thor. With Elayne's trouble channeling, she could not demonstrate it, but Aviendha suggested it might be used or adapted to turn those who could not channel. That would be of great use, while it would never be possible to take everyone by force, taking more key figures among the nobles and generals would be helpful to keep the masses under control.
Those other armies might be the hardest of all to control, but they had few channelers in their midst and thus no serious threat; they could be left to their own devices for the time being. They were spread out along the border of the Blight, and the nobles leading them were independent enough even al'Thor would have difficulty convincing them to stand down. The freeing of the Great Lord and the Breaking had been felt by them too, but had not been enough to stop them from fighting, but the Shadowspawn, engaging them suffered only small losses. Al'Thor could try to deal with them after he had taken care of the Aiel, or if that took too long, Grey sisters would be sent to rein them in once the survivors were tired of fighting and more likely to give in.
Night fell, but as the rescue efforts were still going on, from buildings collapsed by the rocks and most of all in the northern part of the city where the flood of mud had gushed through the streets, the stream of injured barely lessened. Mesaana ordered half the sisters and guardsmen to retire to their rooms for part of the night, they would rise halfway through the night to resume the rescue operations.
Sheriam and Mesaana made do with only a Refreshing, with Sheriam barely needed, not with her Bond to Jahar. They gathered reports all night, but there was little they could do for the many devastated areas. There was just too much damage, too wide-spread across the continent.
Early in the morning, Sheriam was tacking more pages of names, injured and Healed and deceased, on the wall, where a group of townspeople quickly flocked around her to read if their missing family members were on any of the lists. She walked back to the temporary desk when Laras stopped her, and curtsied. "Keeper."
"Laras. You wish to see me? Please come along to the back of the room."
The large woman did not move. Instead she took a deep breath and looked Sheriam straight in the eye.
"I wish to resign."
Her request came as no surprise, not really. Sheriam had always known Laras was not a Friend of the Dark, and was independent enough not to simply go along because the Aes Sedai did. Still, she looked back calmly.
Laras blinked. She clearly had expected a different reaction, perhaps an outright denial of her request, not this. She opened her mouth, closed it and only then opened it again to reply.
"Sheriam, I have served under Sierin and Elaida, but I can not serve under.." she broke off and her eyes flitted to Mesaana, who stood at the temporary desk.
"Or me, I suppose," Sheriam added. Her black stole hung around her shoulders, she had worn it all night, glad and proud to finally be able to show her true Ajah.
"Or you," the big woman admitted reluctantly.
This confused Laras even more. She gave a quick shake of her head and hesitated before replying.
"I may not be Aes Sedai, I have heard the stories, anyone who spoke up or even followed the Light was killed, just for their allegiance. I am probably a fool to even come here, Aeldra said I should make a run for it and disappear, but it's my stupid responsibility that would not make me do that. If this will get me killed, like those in the tales, so be it, but I can not be part of that."
Sheriam shook her head slowly. "Laras, no one is going to order your execution. If you truly want to resign, I will grand you your request, and see you off with a good pension. No, do not protest. Do not think of it as from us in particular, but from the Tower, which you have served well under seven previous Amyrlins. But first I want you to listen. Four weeks ago, when the Black sisters were caught, did you watch their execution?"
Laras nodded. "I did not like it, found it hard to believe from most of them, but yes I watched. Was relieved they were caught, to see the Black purged, as I thought."
"Why?" Sheriam asked again.
"Because they were Black Ajah, of course!" Laras said, clearly befuddled. "I was hoping the Dragon would seal the Bore, the Last Battle would be won."
Sheriam studied her for a few moments. Then she spoke. "Five of the fifteen had never been called to action, had never done anything except for swearing to the Great Lord. Eight others had broken Tower law, but nothing that would have resulted in more than a penance or perhaps a birching if it had been done by any other Ajah for any other reasons. The Warders supported them, but again no serious actual crimes have come out. Master Tanner and his wife merely provided a room for the sisters to meet those they could not meet in the Tower, they had no part in anything that was discussed there. Only Vittorina and Donnah had killed, the only capital crimes committed by any of them. Apart from their allegiance."
Laras opened her mouth as if to protest, closed it again. Sheriam did not say a word, simply waited, and then the penny dropped.
"O damn, I've been a hypocrite, have I not?" she said. "It's just that… I've read so much about the War of the Power, anyone who couldn't keep up or was even a little different was killed, children encouraged to spy on their parents and one another. Even if the Light is not free of blame, it can't have been as bad as that."
Sheriam's eye flicked to Mesaana, who had approached soundlessly from behind the cook. Laras followed her eye and turned white as a sheet.
"At ease, Laras," Mesaana said, staying her. "I understand your concerns. There are many stories going around, and I admit many of them are true. It was a hard war, much harder than the one fought in this Age, and things were done on both sides that were not pretty. However there are a few things you need to know. As for the destruction of all that was even remotely related to science, the universities or general history, that was mostly my followers' doing. I hated the Dean of the Collum Daan, the faculty director who passed me over time and again, some of my fellow teachers who had no ambitions and no greater outlook in life. My instructions were very specific, my followers a bit.. enthusiastic in executing them."
Mesaana shrugged as she continued. "I am a scientist. I had wanted to use the libraries, rebuild the universities with a staff of my choice if we had won back then, and even now much more is lost because of what was destroyed. But to call them back would have been a weakness, and I could not afford that. Now there is no such concern, I mean to rebuild the world and anyone who gets over-eager will be reined in. As for the schools, if I remember correctly you have read Alrom's reports?"
Laras nodded, numbly.
"Yes, you told me of some of your extensive reading when I was still posing as Danelle. No doubt you would have been a Brown if you had been able to channel. However, the one thing you seem to have overlooked in your self study is that history is written by the victor. Have you ever come across the name of Raymon Yaep Dannovan?"
Laras shook her head.
"I didn't think so. He too lived through my schools, some fifty years after the opening of the Bore. He had one brown eye and one blue, and he walked with a limp -a birth defect, not something that could be Healed fully even then. Yet he did well, leaving those more able bodied behind him, graduating with honors and gaining a position as governor of my territories when he was thirty. A fair governor, remember the conflict ran for far longer than it did in this Age, and unlike most of the men and Semirhage, I did not waste my resources. Then in the War he served as my best general until his leg gave out eight years later. He was retired and lived well for the two remaining years of the War, what happened after that I do not know. For unlike Alrom, he never wrote a book, or if he did it did not survive him.
"I was required to fulfill Aginor's demands for Trolloc fodder, and of course I took those who showed least promise rather than the best students. There will be no more of that, feeding humans to the Trollocs is wasteful and certainly was never my idea. They do just as well on any kind of meat, pork or sheep or cattle, as long as it is freshly killed.
"I won't deny I have killed hundreds, and thousands more were killed on my orders, but it was just the way the War was fought, and many thousands were killed by the so-called Light as well. This war, if it hadn't been for the Second Breaking, was barely a skirmish compared to the War that ended my Age. And even then, at the end there was more left in knowledge and technology than people have managed to rebuild in all the time since. I need people to rebuild and while I will not allow anyone to rebel against my rule, those who can't immediately dismiss the thoughts they've been indoctrinated by for three thousand years will not be harmed. As long as they do not act on them."
Sheriam took over again. "Laras, if you still stand by your decision, your request is granted. But you are better at organizing than Aeldra, many of your cooks and maids have suffered losses, the Tower kitchen will serve food to those Healed and to the refugees for some time. If you would remain at least until the worst of the damage is cleared, and the greatest flood of refugees have been taken care of, it would be a great help."
Laras looked around as if she saw the activities in the entrance hall for the first time. Sedore had just checked a new arrival, and two men carrying a third on a litter went by in the direction of the dining halls. The townspeople were done the new lists, a servant was leading a crying elderly man towards the western exit. Any able-bodied people who tried to hang around after checking the lists were sent on some work detail by one of Chubain's men, missing loved ones or not, but the elderly or those who had been seen by the guards' medics and maids in the first floor ball room and whose injuries were too disabling to be of use, were allowed to withdraw to a corner of the room, where another servant handed out hot cups of tea.
"You really are taking care of them," Laras said wondering. Then she curtsied. "I am sorry, High Mistress, Keeper. I should have looked with my own eyes instead of going only by what I was told, even if the stories were plentiful and old. If you will excuse me, I have work to do."
"Thank you Laras," Sheriam replied. "Yes, you are excused."
She smiled as she walked back to the rear of the room with Mesaana. Laras was a very capable woman, and respected by the cooks under her as well as most other of the Tower's residents. Her decision would help sway the others, she was sure.
The morning was very busy. First came the representatives of Aybara's army. She still thought of it as such. Egwene had spoken to them most of the previous day, and as evening fell, Tam al'Thor, Faile and Berelain had told her they would make their decision known this morning. And so they did.
Traveling to the Tower grounds, with Annoura who had been given the key to the Dreamspike as all full sisters now, the three requested to see Mesaana and Sheriam in person.
As the three walked into the entrance hall, they too looked at the activities taking place. Sheriam greeted them, then made them wait just long enough to give them time to take in the operations, without making them impatient. Then she put down her reports, made one final mark on the large world map, and gestured for them to follow her as she channeled. Even within the Tower, she did not waste time on walking its halls, instead Traveling directly to her anteroom, and from there leading them into the Amyrlin's Study, which was Mesaana's now.
The introductions were short. Sheriam knew Tam al'Thor from the time he had visited the Tower, and she had once met Berelain of Mayene, but not Faile, Aybara's wife. Mesaana knew none of them, but Sheriam and Egwene had briefed her so she knew what to expect.
"So you did kill Perrin," Faile said as soon as they had acknowledged Mesaana with barely a nod. They must by now know the forces Mesaana controlled, but they were not yet ready to bow or kneel. But at least they were talking. Another Aiel clan, the Codarra, had tried an all-out attack just after midnight and had been wiped out, but at a high cost.
"Yes," Mesaana admitted, without hesitation, before Sheriam could even reply.
Faile sighed. "And we would have killed you if we'd had the chance. And yet here we are, talking of a truce. We walk in the Light but the Light has been sealed in the Bore and it seems senseless to keep fighting. We will return to the Two Rivers, and go back to our farms and other homes, but under two conditions. It is a temporary agreement only, for four months, we will not pledge allegiance when all this might still be some sort of a ruse. And the first time one of the Shadowspawn takes so much as a stray lamb, let alone one of the people, all agreements are off."
Mesaana nodded. "That is acceptable."
Faile was clearly surprised. So was Tam al'Thor, but it was clear Faile was the leader of the army, even if the man was much older and originally from the Two Rivers. Berelain kept back, more than Sheriam thought she would at any other time, but of course the loss of her entire homeland had been a terrible shock.
"If I do keep to my part of the agreement, as I intend to do, I want your allegiance after the four months are over," Mesaana added.
Faile nodded. "Fair enough."
Then she pursed her lips for a moment, composing herself. "Fager Neald, however, will remain here. I could not trust him again, war or no war."
Mesaana nodded. "I could assign another Asha'man to your people. More sisters and Asha'man will visit to help the crops along soon, I do not intend to have more people go hungry than necessary. Hunger creates strife."
"We will do with those we have, we have always managed to build with our hands, and we will do so now," al'Thor replied.
"I understand." Mesaana replied.
The three shook hands and took their leave, with a more respectful bow and curtsy. Sheriam channeled the gateway back to the entrance hall and saw them off, satisfied with this victory but knowing not all would be this easy to convince to a truce or better.
Egwene entered Tel'aran'rhiod in her own room this time, and she took a few deep breaths before she thought herself to Emond's Field. The village was in slightly better shape as it had been the previous time she had been here, but there was still massive damage. Those who had been with the army, Perrin's army, were back, and had cleared up the worst, had boarded over windows and repaired gaping doors. It would be far more than a full day before the rubble was cleared and the houses which had been burned were rebuilt, but at least some of the houses looked habitable again, would now shelter those who had lived their and their less fortunate neighbors. Those who had survived.
She walked to the village green, still looking a sickly brown, even though she knew the illness was gone from the plants. Sisters would help the crops along as soon as the worst injuries had been Healed, the next priority since the crops the world over were affected and it would be difficult to get enough food for everyone who had survived even with the help of the One Power live through the winter without hunger.
She walked around for a short while, now seeing signs that the people were back. A shutter or gate opened and closed, a wheelbarrow moved across the street. None of that had happened before; even those objects that could be moved were solid here in Tel'aran'rhiod when they remained in the same position for days or weeks on end.
But Perrin did not show up. She had expected him to come to her when she entered the World of Dreams, but he had not. Would she go look for him? She knew how to find other Dreamwalkers, but she had the feeling she would not find him when he did not want to be found, any more than one could find one of the Heros of the Horn at will.
The one place she might find him was the hill where she had met him last time. She did not want to go there, did not want to meet him there, out of all places, where the graves of his family were. Perhaps it was folly to even try to speak to him. Still she wandered out of the village, past the last of the houses.
"You still dare come here? Did you help put them here?" Perrin suddenly stood between her and the graves.
"No," Egwene replied truthfully. "They did not hold me yet, then."
"But they do now."
"Then why are you here?" Perrin's yellow eyes were hard, his voice harder .
"I came to apologise. I was not there when you were killed, that was one of the sisters posing as me, but the letter was mine. I had to do it, to save the Tower, almost all had been taken at that point. But I hated it, it was the hardest thing I had to do by far."
"Harder than betraying Rand and helping set the Dark One free," Perrin remarked, skeptically. "That only broke the world."
"Yes. Rand lives, he too was taken and is working hard to save those he can. And the world, the worst damage was done by the Creator as he tried to flee, Mesaana and the rest of us are helping all we can," Egwene said.
"Oh really. And I should believe that?" Perrin scoffed.
"It is true. The cost is high, terribly high, but the Breaking was not the Great Lord's doing. And the rest can be seen even here. Look at the village, Perrin, the people are back, they have started to clear the rubble. The same in the cities. Go look at Tar Valon, and the tents for the refugees around it."
"For those who serve the Dark Lord, I presume."
"For everyone, Perrin."
Perrin shook his head, looking down at his feet. "I can't believe that."
"Just look. Tam is back, my father, Mat's dad, Aes Sedai have helped the Travel home and they have started to clear the rubble. Almost everyone has returned. Faile, too."
Perrin's head shot up. "Not Faile! The others, that is hard enough to believe already, but Faile would never swear to the Dark One."
"None of them did," Egwene replied. "All they agreed to is a truce, to go home and rebuild, for four months, and to refrain from attacking any of our armies, then they will meet again with Mesaana. They did not promise anything more, did not swear allegiance. That was enough, for that alone they got help Traveling home, and they will get assistance clearing the crops of the Blight and helping the plants along to replace at least some of what was lost."
"Some of what was lost, of the crops, what about the people? It is not just my family, Egwene, but Jared Aydaer, Marv Taron, so many of our old friends and neighbors were killed by the Trollocs. No one can replace them."
Egwene swallowed. "I know, and I wish that hadn't happened. It wasn't Mesaana who razed the Two Rivers, or Caemlyn, or Cairhien. It was war, a war started long before our time and even Cyndane, Lanfear, who had a hand in opening the Bore, did not do so with the intend of causing such a conflict. Now it is over, and we can rebuild. At least give us a chance."
"I can't, Egwene," Perrin said. "I will never accept the Dark One's rule. Not even if all you say is true. It is _wrong_, Egwene, it smells wrong."
"It _smells_ wrong? Perrin, you're a man, not a wolf. Even now."
"That doesn't matter. It only means I know what a man -or a woman- might not see. Farewell Egwene, I regret it came to this." Once again, he disappeared before she could get another word in.
Egwene sighed. She walked through the village one more time, noting the small changes and repairs, but also the extensive damage and the many houses that were just piles of rubble. With mixed feelings of sadness and hope she returned to her body.
Two Asha'man soldiers Sheriam did not know came in with two Ogier and spoke briefly to one of the servants. The maid pointed at the table at the head of the room, at Mesaana and her. The men approached them and bowed deep.
"Great Mistress, Keeper," the one on the right said, a boy still but slightly older than the other one. "Ban Calder, at your service."
Sheriam and Mesaana acknowledged his bow.
"What do you have?" Sheriam asked. She thought she recognized the male Ogier, had she not seen him in Shienar at one time?
"We found these Ogier, High Mistress," the boy said. "Or better, they found us. They recognised out coats and requested assistance to Travel to al'Thor. The male said that they are the only Ogier left, the stedding are empty. We knew you wanted reports of the shape each city and state is in, so we took them to the Black Tower and sent some patrols to check on their claim."
"And indeed," he continued. "We sent out men to check and while it takes more time to check all, it seems the Ogier are gone. We used compulsion to ask these two, and the man-Ogier, Loial is his name, claims an artifact named the Book of Translation, was opened and all the Ogier that were in one of the stedding have gone to another world. Jahar had never heard of any such thing, and sent us to Mesaana."
Mesaana had only been half-listening as they started, still looking over one of the reports and knowing that if it were important enough, Sheriam would tell her. But when the artefact was named, she started.
"At what time was the Book opened?" she asked the Ogier.
"When the world shook, and the Taint of the Dark One was felt," Loial answered. It was clear he was still under compulsion.
Mesaana cursed. "Darkness within. That is a problem, or can be."
"What is this Book of Translation?" Sheriam asked.
"It is an ancient Ogier artefact. Many years ago, the Ogier came here from another world. To travel between worlds is not easily done, one can only Travel that kind of distance when one knows the location on both sides intimately, which means the first trip must be made by another method, usually in a ship that can fly not only through air but through the nothingness in between different worlds. The Ogier had that technology at one time, and came here. Their own world was not doing well after some natural and some man-made, or I should say Ogier-made, disasters. They decided to stay, and over the years they lost the technology to travel in such a ship, and they became part of our world. I did not know they still had the Book, or I would have tried to track it down and destroy it. I do not know if their world has recovered from the disasters that once struck it, and if it didn't, then there is no problem. But if it did, in so many thousands of years, they might be able to travel here with many of these space-ships, and it will be next to impossible to stop that kind of force with the One Power."
Sheriam blinked. Ships that traveled through the sky between worlds, it was hard to believe. But if Mesaana said it could be done, then apparently it could be.
"What does it matter if they traveled to another world?" she asked.
"In itself, nothing. But what worries me is that if they left after the Great Lord was freed, they may decide to come here and help their allies out. Ogier may take dozens of years to decide on this, but if theirs is still a spacegoing world, then they can become a serious threat. It will take us many years longer than that to rebuild to where we can defend ourselves against that kind of technology, the One Power alone won't be enough."
That was worrisome news. But none that could be done about it, and none that was of immediate concern, for Ogier were likely to take some years about such a decision.
"Undo the compulsion," Mesaana told the young Asha'man.
As he did, and the two Ogier slowly came to their senses, Mesaana told him who she was, and what she wanted of him. Sheriam had never seen an Ogier shocked, but Loial at least seemed not as slow as most were, and while the woman, whom Loial had introduced as Erith, was more quiet, she seemed to follow her husband's lead. The Ogier looked at everything going on around him and after a short pause, very short for one of his kind, promised to lend his strength and assistance in the rescue efforts in town. Like the Two Rivers men, he did not pledge allegiance on the spot, but that was of little concern. Sheriam knew their rescue operations were genuine and effective, and she had never known an Ogier to be unfair.
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Weeks passed. Sheriam looked over the reports she had received that morning.
There were skirmishes in the Borderlands and elsewhere, but no major battles. Even the proud folk of the Borderland towns had been helpless against the waves of Trollocs who had simply marched in, doing nothing but defend themselves when attacked. Many people had fled the cities, but others had remained behind, refusing to leave even when the empty houses where taken by the invaders.
Elayne had given birth to her twins, a girl and a boy, and had subsequently been turned. She now ruled a territory from Whitebridge, in the Great Lord's name.
Only six Aiel clans survived, the others had fought, and were slaughtered. But the remaining clans had returned to what had been the Waste, now a somewhat more habitable land with the large gashes turned into turbulent rivers, bringing water where none had been before.
The worst damage of the coastal areas had been cleaned up, thousands of dead had been buried, but there was still lots to be done. It would take years, not weeks, before the cities and towns would be rebuilt completely.
The weather had been exceptional, even this late in the year, and sisters had helped the crops further along, so that some quick growing crops would be ready to harvest in a few weeks time. At least in those areas where the people had submitted to Mesaana's rule, or agreed to a truce. It would not be an easy winter, but it wouldn't be as bad as people had feared it to be.
The Seanchan had followed Tuon, who had returned to her people along with Mat Cauthon, her husband and the new general of her armies, and three sisters to teach her. Only a relatively small force had withdrawn into a widespread forested area and sometimes attacked the cities or towns. But it was a small group and Sheriam was little concerned about the long-term success it would have. The damane and sul'dam were almost all turned, and in small groups were taken to a brand-new school in Imfaral, where they were taught to do without the a'dam.
The people of Shara caused more difficulties, fighting every step of the way, even though their country had been hit as hard as the mainland and there had been no coordinated recovery efforts. Egwene led an army of channelers, Trollocs and men, but she encountered resistance from those who had nothing but rubble to defend. A stubborn people!
Sheriam put the last sheet on her desk, straightened the stack, and went down to the dining hall to eat her dinner. It was the only meal she ate alone, nowadays. In the morning, she Traveled to Jahar's manor house and they had a quiet breakfast together, away from all those who felt they had to urgently speak to either one of them. Then she returned to Tar Valon for the day's work, and in the evening, unless pressing business kept him in the Black Tower, Jahar would come to her anteroom and they would go to the dining hall together, or if it had been a long day, they would go to her rooms and have supper brought there. Sometimes they would talk for a while longer, but most often Jahar would return to the Black Tower afterwards, to do more work and to be available for those who needed him, just like she was, here. It was only when their work kept them from meeting at mealtimes, or when they were much further apart in distance, that the dulled bond became a nuisance, and they would both be on edge.
There was still no way to release the bond. Merise had released Jahar soon after the opening of the Bore, uncomfortable with how far he stood above her. But none of the men had been able to figure out how the male version could be undone. They had managed to come up with a more regular version of the bond, one that did not include compulsion, but it, too, seemed to be permanent, and it seemed one could not be re-woven into the other.
As she was almost finished, she started to feel a little uncomfortable in her stomach. She frowned, the food was good as ever and even when the chaos had been at its worst, and the weevils had been in the grain, never once had it made her sick. Perhaps she had picked something up from one of the refuges who still came into the city from the South. The new arrivals were checked for any obvious illnesses and told to report to the Tower if they showed any sign of disease, but sometimes illness could be transmitted even when little showed. And she had toured the busy farmers' market the previous day, checking the quality of the power-grown produce and also making sure that the people saw her, and knew that no matter how busy they were all over the world, the Tower still had time to mind what went on in Tar Valon itself. Her immortality would not protect her from picking up a stomach flue, it only meant she would not have to fear death from disease. If she wanted to be free of the discomfort, she'd have to use normal means. She glanced around and saw Dagdara was just finishing her own food.
She flagged the sister down, and as they walked out of the dining hall, she explained the problem.
Dagdara followed her to her anteroom, then laid her hands on her. The tingle of the Delving spread through Sheriam, and Dagdara grinned.
"You are getting your period," Dagdara said, even as she wove different flows and the discomfort faded.
Sheriam blushed as she chided herself for not recognizing the problem. She should have remembered, remembered how she'd gone to Ryma Sedai as a novice, shy to speak about such a thing but urged by her failure to concentrate on her lessons for a couple days each month at least when she didn't.
"It's returning to all of us, except for the oldest, now we are no longer bound by the Oath Rod," Dagdara continued. She showed no embarrassment, the Yellow rarely did. Then her expression grew more serious. "You should keep in mind this also means you could get pregnant."
Sheriam started. She blushed again and almost blurted out she was not a Green, but she stopped herself in time. That had been a gut reaction, many sisters had married the Asha'man they were bonded to, regardless of their Ajah. Adrielle had been the first, even before the Great Lord was freed, but Gabrelle, Jenare, Beyaelle, Akoure, Sjani, Lemai, more than a few had followed in the months after. Some of them had even been Red.
"We're far too busy for that," she said instead.
"I'm sure," Dagdara said, but she did nothing to hide her skepticism. That too had changed over the months, and they no longer had to pretend they could not speak a lie, whether in truth or as a mere manner of speech. "Just keep it in mind, it takes a lot less time to sleep with a man than to raise a child."
Dagdara knew her too well, perhaps better than she knew herself. She and Jahar had grown close, no matter how the bond had started. She still wanted to get rid of the compulsive part, for while Jahar was careful to phrase everything, no matter how minor, as a suggestion rather than an order, it was inconvenient to always be on the alert. But apart from that, she finally admitted to herself, she no longer wanted the bond to be gone at all. The thought of sharing his bed was not so far fetched after that.
"Thank you, I will," she replied.
(author's notes: I'm not 100% happy with the last few chapters, it is harder than I thought to tie up the ends for a story with so many characters, I wanted to show at least a few other reactions to the battle and the Breaking. I may revise this at some point, but I have family circumstances here and I wanted it published before the last part of the cannon series, two days from now. Hope it's at least passable!)