A Crown of Swords (The Wheel of Time #7)


A shout rippled down the great column behind him. “The Lord Dragon!”

Seizing the Source, Rand made a gateway between the posts, four paces by four, and ran through as he tied off the weave, filled with saidin and the Asha’man on his heels, into a great open square surrounded by huge white columns, each topped with a marble wreath of olive branches. At the two ends of the square stood nearly identical purple-roofed palaces of columned walks and high balconies and slender spires. Those were the King’s Palace and the slightly smaller Great Hall of the Council, and this was the Square of Tammaz, in the heart of Illian.

A skinny man in a blue coat, with a beard that left his upper lip bare, stood gaping at the sight of Rand and the black-coated Asha’man leaping out of a hole in midair, and a stout woman, in a green dress cut high enough to show green slippers and her ankles in green stockings, pressed both hands to her face and stood rooted right in front of them, her dark eyes popping. All the people were stopping to stare, hawkers with their trays, carters halting their oxen, men and women and children with their mouths hanging open.

Rand thrust his hands high and channeled. “I am the Dragon Reborn!” The words boomed across the square, amplified by Air and Fire, and flames shot up from his hands a hundred feet. Behind him, the Asha’man filled the sky with balls of fire streaking in every direction. All save Dashiva, who made blue lightnings crackle in a jagged web above the square.

No more was needed. A shrieking flood of humanity fled in all directions, away from the Square of Tammaz. They fled just in time. Rand and the Asha’man darted aside from the gateway, and Davram Bashere led his wildly screaming Saldaeans into Illian, a flood of horsemen waving their swords as they poured out. Straight ahead Bashere led the center line of the column, just as they had planned what seemed so long ago, while the other two lines peeled off to either side. They streamed away from the gateway, breaking apart into smaller groups, galloping into the streets leading out of the square.

Rand did not wait to see the last of the horsemen exit. With well under a third out of the gateway, he immediately wove another, smaller opening. You did not need to know a place at all to Travel if you only intended to go a very short distance. Around him he felt Dashiva and the rest weaving their gateways, but he was already stepping through his own, letting it close behind him atop one of the slender towers of the King’s Palace. Absently he wondered whether Mattin Stepaneos den Balgar, the King of Illian, was somewhere below him at that moment.

The top of the spire stretched no more than five paces across, surrounded by a wall of red stone not quite chest-high on him. At fifty paces, it was the highest point in all of the city. From there he could see across rooftops glittering beneath the afternoon sun, red and green and every color, to the long earthen causeways that cut through the vast tall-grass marsh surrounding city and harbor. A sharp tang of salt hung in the air. Illian had no need of walls, with that all-enveloping marsh to stop an attacker. Any attacker who could not make holes in the air. But then, walls would have done no good either.

It was a pretty city, the buildings mainly of pale dressed stone, a city crisscrossed by as many canals as streets, like traceries of blue-green from this height, but he did not stop to admire it. Low across the roofs of taverns and shops and spired palaces he directed flows of Air and Water, Fire and Earth and Spirit, turning as he did so. He did not try to weave the flows, simply swept them out over the city and a good mile out over the marsh. From five other towers came flows sweeping low, and where they touched one another uncontrolled, light flashed and sparks flared and clouds of colored steam burst, a display any Illuminator might have envied. A better way to frighten people under their beds and out of the way of Bashere’s soldiers, he could not imagine, though that was not the reason for it.

Long ago he had decided that Sammael must have wards woven throughout the city, set to give an alarm should anyone channel saidin. Wards inverted so no one except Sammael himself could find them, wards that would tell Sammael exactly where that man was channeling so he could be destroyed on the instant. With luck, every one of those wards was being triggered now. Lews Therin had been sure Sammael would sense them wherever he was, even at a distance. That was why the wardings should be useless now; that sort had to be remade once triggered. Sammael would come. Never in his life had he relinquished anything he considered his, however shaky his claim, not without a fight. All that from Lews Therin. If he was real. He had to be. Those memories had too much detail. But could not a madman dream his fancies in detail, too?

Lews Therin! he called silently. The wind blowing across Illian answered.

Below, the Square of Tammaz stood deserted and silent, empty except for a few abandoned carts. Edge-on, the gateway was invisible except for the weaves.

Reaching down to those weaves, Rand untied the knot and, as the gateway winked from existence, reluctantly released saidin. All the flows vanished from the sky. Maybe some of the Asha’man still held on to the Source, but he had told them not to. He had told them that any man he felt channeling in Illian once he himself stopped, he intended to kill without warning. He did not want to find out afterward that the channeler had been one of them. He leaned on the wall, waiting, wishing he could sit. His legs ached and his side burned however he stood, yet he might need to see as well as feel a weave.

The city was not entirely quiet. From several directions he could hear distant shouts, the faint clash of metal. Even moving so many men to the border, Sammael had not left Illian entirely unprotected. Rand turned, trying to watch in every direction. He thought Sammael would come to the King’s Palace or that other at the far end of the square, but he could not be certain. Down one street he saw a band of Saldaeans clashing with an equal number of mounted men in shining breastplates; more Saldaeans suddenly galloped in from one side, and the fight vanished from his sight behind buildings. In another direction he spotted some of the Legion of the Dragon, marching across a canal’s low bridge. An officer marked by a tall red plume on his helmet strode ahead of some twenty men carrying wide shields as tall as their shoulders, followed by perhaps two hundred more with heavy crossbows. How would they fight? Shouts and steel ringing on steel in the distance, the faint screams of dying men.

The sun slid downward, and shadows lengthened across the city. Twilight, and the sun a low crimson dome in the west. A few stars appeared. Had he been wrong? Would Sammael simply go elsewhere, find another land to master? Had he been listening to anything other t