Chapter One: Tears from Steel
The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again. In one Age, called the Third Age by some, an Age yet to come, an Age long past, a wind rose around the alabaster spire known as the White Tower. The wind was not the beginning. There are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But it was a beginning.
The wind twisted around the magniﬁcent Tower, brushing perfectly ﬁtted stones and ﬂapping majestic banners. The structure was somehow both graceful and powerful at the same time; a metaphor, perhaps, for those who had inhabited it for over three thousand years. Few looking upon the Tower would guess that at its heart, it had been both broken and corrupted. Separately.
The wind blew, passing through a city that seemed more a work of art than a workaday capital. Each building was a marvel; even the simple granite shopfronts had been crafted by meticulous Ogier hands to evoke wonder and beauty. Here a dome hinted at the form of a rising sun. There a fountain sprang from the top of a building itself, cresting what appeared to be two waves crashing together. On one cobbled street, a pair of steep three-story buildings stood opposite one another, each crafted into the form of a maiden. The marble creations—half-statue, half-dwelling—reached with stone hands toward one another as if in greeting, hair billowing behind, immobile, yet carved with such delicacy that every strand seemed to undulate in the wind’s passing.
The streets themselves were far less grand. Oh, they had been laid out with care, radiating from the White Tower like streaks of sunlight. Yet that sunlight was dimmed by refuse and clutter, hints at the crowding the siege had caused. And perhaps the crowding wasn’t the only reason for the disrepair. The storefront signs and awnings hadn’t seen wash or polish in far too long. Rotting garbage piled where it had been dumped in alleys, drawing ﬂies and rats but driving away all others. Dangerous toughs lounged on the street corners. Once, they’d never have dared do that, and certainly not with such arrogance.
Where was the White Tower, the law? Young fools laughed, saying that the city’s troubles were the fault of the siege, and that things would settle down once the rebels were quelled. Older men shook their gray-streaked heads and muttered that things had never been this bad, even when the savage Aiel had besieged Tar Valon some twenty years previously.
Merchants ignored both young and old. They had their own problems, mainly on Southharbor, where trade into the city by way of the river had nearly come to a halt. Thick-chested workers toiled beneath the eyes of an Aes Sedai wearing a red-fringed shawl; she used the One Power to remove wards and weaken the stone, while the workmen broke the rock apart and hauled it away.
The workmen had sleeves rolled up, exposing curls of dark hair along burly arms, as they swung pick or hammer, pounding at the ancient stones. They dripped sweat onto rock or into the water below as they dug at the roots of the chain that blocked passage into the city by river. Half of that chain was now indestructible cuendillar, called heartstone by some. The effort to tear it free and allow passage into the city was an exhausting one; the harbor stoneworks—magniﬁcent and strong, shaped by the Power itself—were only one of the more visible casualties of the silent war between the rebel Aes Sedai and those who held the Tower.
The wind blew through the harbor, where idling porters stood watching the workers chip the stones away, one by one, sending ﬂakes of gray-white dust to ﬂoat on the water. Those with too much sense—or perhaps too little—whispered that such portents could mean only one thing. Tarmon Gai’don, the Last Battle, must quickly be approaching.
The wind danced away from the docks, passing over the tall white bulwarks known as the Shining Walls. Here, at least, one could ﬁnd clean lines and attention in the Tower Guard who stood watch, holding bows. Clean-shaven, wearing white tabards free from stain or wear, the archers watched over their barricades with the dangerous readiness of snakes prepared to strike. These soldiers had no intention of letting Tar Valon fall while they were on duty. Tar Valon had repelled every enemy. Trollocs had breached the walls, but been defeated in the city. Artur Hawkwing had failed to take Tar Valon. Even the black-veiled Aiel, who had ravaged the land during the Aiel War, had never taken the city. Many claimed this as a great victory. Others wondered what would have happened if the Aiel had actually wanted to cross into the city.
The wind passed over the western fork of the River Erinin, leaving the island of Tar Valon behind, passing the Alindaer Bridge soaring high to the right, as if taunting enemies to cross it and die. Past the bridge, the wind swept into Alindaer, one of the many villages near Tar Valon. It was a village mostly depopulated, as families had ﬂed across the bridge for refuge in the city. The enemy army had appeared suddenly, without warning, as if brought by a blizzard. Few wondered at it. This rebel army was headed by Aes Sedai, and those who lived in the White Tower’s shadow rarely gambled on just what Aes Sedai could and couldn’t do.
The rebel army was poised, but uncertain. Over ﬁfty thousand strong, it camped in a massive ring of tents around the smaller camp of Aes Sedai. There was a tight perimeter between the inner camp and the outer one, a perimeter that had most recently been intended to exclude men, particularly those who could wield saidin.
Almost, one could think that this camp of rebels intended to set up permanently. It had an air of common daily life about its workings. Figures in white bustled about, some wearing formal novice dresses, many others clothed in near approximations. Looking closely, one could see that many of these were far from young. Some had already reached their graying. But they were referred to as “children,” and obedient they were as they washed clothing, beat rugs, and scrubbed tents beneath the eyes of serene-faced Aes Sedai. And if those Aes Sedai glanced with uncommon frequency at the nail-like proﬁle of the White Tower, one would be mistaken in assuming them uncomfortable or ner vous. Aes Sedai were in control. Always. Even now, when they had suffered an indelible defeat: Egwene al’Vere, the rebel Amyrlin Seat, had been captured and imprisoned within the Tower.
The wind ﬂicked a few dresses, knocked some laundry from its hangings, then continued westward in a rush. Westward, past towering Dragonmount, with its shattered and smoking apex. Over the Black Hills and across the sweeping Caralain Grass. Here, pockets of sheltered snow clung to shadows beneath craggy overhangs or beside the occasional stands of mountain blackwood. It was time for spring to arrive, time for new shoots to peek through the winter’s thatch and for buds to sprout on the thin-branched willows. Few of either had actually come. The land was still dormant, as if waiting, holding its breath. The unnatural heat of the previous autumn had stretched well into winter, pressing upon the land a drought that had baked the life from all but the most vigorous plants. When winter had ﬁnally arrived, it had come in a tempest of ice and snow, a lingering, killing frost. Now that the cold had ﬁnally retreated, the scattered farmers looked in vain for hope.
The wind swept across brown winter grass, shaking the trees’ still-barren branches. To the west, as it approached the land known as Arad Doman—cresting hills and short peaks—something suddenly slammed against it. Something unseen, something spawned by the distant darkness to the north. Something that ﬂowed against the natural tide and currents of the air. The wind was consumed by it, blown southward in a gust, across low peaks and brown foothills to a log manor house, isolated, set upon the pine-forested hills in eastern Arad Doman. The wind blew across the manor house and the tents set up in the wide, open ﬁeld before it, rattling pine needles and shaking tents.
Rand al’Thor, the Dragon Reborn, stood, hands behind his back as he looked out the open manor window. He still thought of them that way, his “hands,” though he now had only one. His left arm ended in a stump. He could feel the smooth, saidar-healed skin with the ﬁngers of his good hand. Yet he felt as if his other hand should be there to touch.
Steel, he thought. I am steel. This cannot be ﬁxed, and so I move on.
The building—a thick-logged structure of pine and cedar after a design favored by the Domani wealthy—groaned and settled in the wind. Something on that wind smelled of rotten meat. Not an uncommon scent, these days. Meat spoiled without warning, sometimes only a few minutes after butchering. Drying it or salting it didn’t help. It was the Dark One’s touch, and it grew with each passing day. How long until it was as overwhelming, as oily and nauseating, as the taint that had once coated saidin, the male half of the One Power?
Kraj prvog dela