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


A man channeled. For a moment, Rand froze, staring at the Great Hall of the Council. That had been enough of saidin for a gateway; he might not have felt a much smaller channeling, the length of the square. It had to be Sammael.

In an instant he had seized the Source, woven a gateway and leaped through with lightning ready to fly from his hands. It was a large room, lit by huge mirrored golden stand-lamps and others hanging on chains from the ceiling, with snowy marble walls carved in friezes showing battles, and ships crowding the marsh-bordered harbor of Illian itself. At the far end of the room, nine heavily carved and gilded armchairs stood like thrones atop a high stair-fronted white dais, the center chair with a back higher than any other. Before he could release the gateway behind him, the towertop where he had stood exploded. He felt the wash of Fire and Earth even as a storm of stone fragments and dust struck through the gateway, knocking him down on his face. Pain stabbed his side as he landed, a sharp red lance digging into the Void where he floated, and that as much as anything else made him release the gateway. Someone else’s pain; someone else’s weakness. He could ignore them, in the Void.

He moved, forcing another man’s muscles to work, pushed himself up and scrambled away in a lurching run toward the dais just as hundreds of red filaments burned down through the ceiling, burned through the sea-blue marble floor in a wide circle all around where the residue of his gateway was still fading. One stabbed through the heel of his boot, through his heel, and he heard himself cry out as he fell. Not his pain, in side or foot. Not his.

Rolling onto his back, he could see the remnants of those burning red wires still, fresh enough to make out Fire and Air woven in a way he had not known. Enough to make out exactly the direction they had come from. Black holes in the floor and ornately worked white plaster ceiling high overhead hissed and crackled loudly at the touch of the air.

His hands rose, and he wove balefire. Began to weave it. Someone else’s cheek stung from a remembered slap, and Cadsuane’s voice hissed and crackled in his head like the holes the red filaments had made. Never again, boy; you wilt never do that again. It seemed that he heard Lews Therin whimpering in distant fear of what he was about to loose, what had almost destroyed the world once. Every flow but Fire and Air fell away, and he wove as he had seen. A thousand fine hairs of red blossomed between his hands, fanning out slightly they shot upward. A circle of the ceiling two feet across fell in stone chips and plaster dust.

Only after he had done it did he think that there might be someone between him and Sammael. He intended to see Sammael dead this day, but if he could do it without killing anyone else. . . . The weaves vanished as he pulled himself to his feet once more and limped hurriedly to the doors in the side of the hall, tall things with every panel set with nine golden bees the size of his fist.

A small flow of Air pushed one door open before he reached it, too small to be detected at any distance. Hobbling into the corridor, he sank to one knee. That other man’s side was fire, his heel agony. Rand pulled his sword up and leaned on it, waiting. A clean-shaven fellow with plump pink cheeks peered around a corner down the way; enough of his coat showed to name him a servant. At least, a coat green on one side and yellow on the other looked like livery. The fellow saw Rand and, very slowly, as though he might not be noticed if he moved slowly enough, slid back out of sight. Sooner or later, Sammael would have to. . . .

“Illian belongs to me!” The voice boomed in the air, from every direction, and Rand cursed. That had to be the same weave he himself had used in the square, or something very like; it required so little of the Power he might not have felt the actual flows had he been within ten paces of the man. “Illian is mine! I won’t destroy what belongs to me killing you, and I won’t let you destroy it, either. You had the nerve to come after me here? Do you have the courage to follow me again?” A sly mocking tone entering that thundering voice. “Do you have the courage?” Somewhere above, a gateway opened and closed; Rand had no doubt that was what it was.

The courage? Did he have the courage? “I’m the Dragon Reborn,” he muttered, “and I’m going to kill you.” Weaving a gateway, he stepped through, to a place floors above.

It was another hallway, lined with wall hangings showing ships at sea. At the far end, the last crimson sliver of the sun shone through a colonnaded walk. The residue of Sammael’s gateway hung in the air, the dissipating flows like faintly glowing ghosts. Not so faint Rand could not make them out, though. He began to weave, then stopped. He had leaped up here without a thought of a trap. If he copied what he saw exactly, he would step out wherever Sammael had, or so close as made no difference. But with just a slight alteration; no way to be sure whether the change was fifty feet or five hundred, yet either was close enough.

The vertical silver slash began to rotate open, revealing the shadow-cloaked ruins of greatness, not quite as dark as the hallway. Seen through the gateway, the sun was a slightly thicker slice of red, half-hidden by a shattered dome. He knew that place. The last time he had gone there, he had added a name to that list of Maidens in his head; the first time, Padan Fain had followed and become more than a Darkfriend, worse than a Darkfriend. That Sammael had fled to Shadar Logoth seemed like coming full circle in more ways that one. There was no time to waste now that he was opening the way. Before the gateway stopped widening, he ran through into the ravaged city that once had been called Aridhol, ran limping, letting the weave go as he ran, boots crunching on broken paving stones and dead weeds.

The first corner he came to, he ducked around. The ground shook under his feet as roars sounded back the way he had come, light flashing atop flash in the twilight darkness; he felt the wash of Earth and Fire and Air. Shrieks and bellows rose through the thunderous crashes. Saidin pulsing inside him, he hobbled away without looking back. He ran, and with the Power filling him, even in the dark shadows he could see clearly.

All around the great city lay huge marble palaces each with four and five domes of different shapes painted crimson by the setting sun, bronze fountains and statues at every intersection, great stretches of columns running to towers that soared across the sun. They soared when intact, at least; more ended in abrupt jaggedness than not. For every dome that stood whole, ten were broken eggshells with the top hacked off or one side gone. Statues lay toppled in fragments, or stood with missing arms, or heads. Swiftly deepening darkness raced across sprawling hills of rubble, the few stunted trees clinging to their slopes twisted shapes like broke