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


A fan of bricks and stone spread across the way from what might have been a small palace; half its front missing, the rest of the columned façade leaned drunkenly toward the street. He stopped in the middle of the street, just short of the fan, waiting, feeling for another to use saidin. Clinging to the sides of the street was not a good idea, and not simply because any building might fall at any time. A thousand unseen eyes seemed to watch from windows like gouged eye sockets, to watch with a nearly palpable sense of anticipation. Distantly he felt the new wound in his side throbbing, a slash of flame, echoing the evil that clung to the very dust of Shadar Logoth. The old scar clenched like a fist. The pain of his foot seemed very distant indeed. Closer, the Void itself pulsated around him, the Dark One’s taint on saidin beating in time with the knife slash across his ribs. A dangerous place by daylight, Shadar Logoth. By night. . . .

Down the street, beyond a spired monument miraculously standing straight, something moved, a shadowed shape darting across the way in the darkness. Rand almost channeled, but he could not believe Sammael would go scuddling that way. When he first stepped into the city, when Sammael tried to destroy everything around his gateway, he had heard horrible screams. They had barely registered, then. Nothing lived in Shadar Logoth, not even rats. Sammael must have brought henchmen, fellows he did not mind killing in an attempt to reach Rand. Maybe one of them could lead Rand to Sammael. He hurried forward as fast as he could, as soundlessly as he could. Shattered pavement crunched under his boots with a sound like bones snapping. He hoped it was loud only to his saidin-enhanced ears.

Stopping at the base of the spire, a thick stone needle covered with flowing script, he peered ahead. Whoever had moved was gone; only fools or the madly brave went inside in Shadar Logoth at night. The evil that stained Shadar Logoth, the evil that had murdered Aridhol, had not died with Aridhol. Farther along the street, a tendril of silver-gray fog wavered out of a window, creeping toward another that came to meet it from a wide gap in a high stone wall. The depths of that gap shone as though a full moon lay inside. With the night, Mashadar roamed its city prison, a vast presence that could appear in a dozen places at once, a hundred. Mashadar’s touch was not a pleasant way to die. Inside Rand, the taint on saidin beat harder; the distant fire in his side flickered like ten thousand lightnings, one on top of the last. Even the ground seemed to pound beneath his boots.

He turned, half-thinking to leave now. Very likely, Sammael had gone, now that Mashadar was out. Very likely the man had lured him here in the hope he would search the ruins until Mashadar killed him. He turned, and stopped, crouching against the spire. Two Trollocs were creeping down that street, bulky shapes in black mail, half again as tall as he, or more. Spikes stood out on the shoulders and elbows of their armor, and they carried spears with long black points and wicked hooks. To his saidin-filled eyes, their faces stood out clearly, one distorted by an eagle’s beak where mouth and nose should have been, the other by a boar’s tusked snout. Every line of their creeping shouted fear; Trollocs loved killing, loved blood, but Shadar Logoth terrified them. There would be Myrddraal about; no Trolloc would have entered this city without Myrddraal to drive it. No Myrddraal would have entered without Sammael driving. All of which meant Sammael must still be here, or these Trollocs would be running for the gates, not hunting. And they were hunting. That boar’s snout was snuffling the air for a scent.

Abruptly a figure in rags leaped from a window above the Trollocs, falling on them with spear already stabbing. An Aiel, a woman, shoufa wrapped around her head but veil hanging. The eagle-beaked Trolloc shrieked as her spearpoint stabbed deep into its side, stabbed again. As its companion fell, kicking, boar-snout spun with snarl, thrusting viciously, but she ducked low under the black hooked point and stabbed up into the creature’s stomach, and it went down in a thrashing heap with the other.

Rand was on his feet and running before he thought. “Liah!” he shouted. He had thought her dead, abandoned here by him, dead for him. Liah, of the Cosaida Chareen; that name blazed on the list in his head.

She whirled to confront him, spear ready in one hand, round bull-hide buckler in the other. The face he remembered as pretty despite scars on both cheeks was contorted with rage. “Mine!” she hissed threateningly through her teeth. “Mine! No one may come here! No one!”

He stopped in his tracks. That spear waited, eager to seek his ribs too. “Liah, you know me,” he said softly. “You know me. I’ll take you back to the Maidens, back to your spear-sisters.” He held out his hand.

Her rage melted into a twisted frown. She tilted her head to one side. “Rand al’Thor?” she said slowly. Her eyes widened, falling to the dead Trollocs, and a look of horror spread across her face. “Rand al’Thor,” she whispered, fumbling the black veil into place across her face with the hand that held her spear. “The Car’a’carn!” she wailed. And fled.

He hobbled after her, scrambling over piles of rubble spread across the street, falling, ripping his coat, falling again and nearly ripping it off, rolling and picking himself up on the run. The weakness of his body was distant, and the pain of it, but even floating deep in the Void, he could only push that body so hard. Liah vanished into the night. Around the next black-shadowed corner, he thought.

He limped around that as fast as he could. And nearly ran into four black-mailed Trollocs and a Myrddraal, inky cloak hanging unnaturally still down its back as the Fade moved. The Trollocs snarled in surprise, yet shock lasted less than a heartbeat. Hooked spears and scythe-curved swords rose; the Myrddraal’s dead-black blade was in its fist, a blade that gave wounds almost as deadly as Fain’s dagger.

Rand did not even try to draw the heron-mark sword at his side. Death in a tattered red coat, he channeled, and a sword of fire was in his hands, pulsing darkly with the throb of saidin, sweeping an eyeless head from its shoulders. Simpler to have destroyed them all the way he had seen the Asha’man kill at Dumai’s Wells, but changing the weaves now, trying to change, might take a fatal moment. Those swords could kill even him. He danced the forms in a darkness lit by the flame in his hands, shadows flying across faces above him, faces with wolves’ muzzles and goats’, faces contorted in screams as his fiery blade sliced through black mail and the flesh beneath as if they were water. Trollocs depended on numbers and overwhelming ferocity; facing him, and that sword of the Power, they might as well have s