His stomach heaved and twisted. Trying to brush black streaks of ash from his clothes, he lurched away from the remains of the Forsaken. His hands flapped feebly, not making much headway. He tried to use both hands and fell forward. A sheer drop loomed under his face, a smooth rock wall spinning in his eyes, depth pulling him. His head swam, and he vomited over the edge of the cliff.
Trembling, he crawled backwards on his belly until there was solid stone under his eyes, then flopped over onto his back, panting for breath. With an effort he fumbled his sword from its scabbard. Only a few ashes remained from the red cloth. His hands shook when he held it up in front of his face; it took both hands. It was a heronmark blade — Heronmark? Yes. Tam. My father — but only steel for that. He needed three wavering tries to sheathe it again. It had been something else. Or there was another sword.
“My name,” he said after a while, “is Rand al'Thor.” More memory crashed back into his head like a lead ball, and he groaned. “The Dark One,” he whispered to himself. “The Dark One is dead.” There was no more need for caution. “Shai'tan is dead.” The world seemed to lurch. He shook in silent mirth until tears poured from his eyes. “Shai'tan is dead!” He laughed at the sky. Other memories. “Egwene!” That name meant something important.
Painfully he got to his feet, wavering like a willow in a high wind, and staggered past Aginor's ashes without looking at them. Not important anymore. He fell more than climbed down that first, steep part of the slope, tumbling and sliding from bush to bush. By the time he reached more level ground, his bruises ached twice as much, but he found strength enough to stand, barely. Egwene. He broke into a shambling run. Leaves and flower petals showered around him as he blundered through the undergrowth. Have to find her. Who is she?
His arms and legs seemed to flail about more like long blades of grass than go as he wanted them to. Tottering, he fell against a tree, slamming against the trunk so hard that he grunted. Foliage rained on his head while he pressed his face to the rough bark, clutching to keep from falling. Egwene. He pushed himself away from the tree and hurried on. Almost immediately he tilted again, falling, but he forced his legs to work faster, to run into the fall so that he was staggering along at a good clip, all the while one step from falling flat on his face. Moving made his legs begin to obey him more. Slowly, he found himself running upright, arms pumping, long legs pulling him down the slope in leaps. He bounded into the clearing, halffilled now by the great oak marking the Green Man's grave. There was the white stone arch marked with the ancient symbol of the Aes Sedai, and the blackened, gaping pit where fire and wind had tried to trap Aginor and failed.
“Egwene! Egwene, where are you?” A pretty girl looked up with big eyes from where she knelt beneath the spreading branches, flowers in her hair, and brown oak leaves. She was slender and young, and frightened. Yes, that's who she is. Of course. “Egwene, thank the Light you're all right.”
There were two other women with her, one with haunted eyes and a long braid, still decorated with a few white morningstars. The other lay outstretched, her head pillowed on folded cloaks, her own skyblue cloak not quite hiding her tattered dress. Charred spots and tears in the rich cloth showed, and her face was pale, but her eyes were open. Moiraine. Yes, the Aes Sedai. And the Wisdom, Nynaeve. All three women looked at him, unblinking and intent.
“You are all right, aren't you? Egwene? He didn't harm you.” He could walk without stumbling, now — the sight of her made him feel like dancing, bruises and all — but it still felt good to drop down crosslegged beside them.
“I never even saw him after you pushed — ” Her eyes were uncertain on his face. “What about you, Rand?”
“I'm fine.” He laughed. He touched her cheek, and wondered if he had imagined a slight pulling away. “A little rest, and I'll be new made. Nynaeve? Moiraine Sedai?” The names felt new in his mouth.
The Wisdom's eyes were old, ancient in her young face, but she shook her head. “A little bruised,” she said, still watching him. “Moiraine is the only ... the only one of us who was really hurt.”
“I suffered more injury to my pride than anything else,” the Aes Sedai said irritably, plucking at her cloak blanket. She looked as if she had been a long time ill, or hard used, but despite the dark circles under them her eyes were sharp and full of power. “Aginor was surprised and angry that I held him as long as I did, but fortunately, he had no time to spare for me. I am surprised myself that I held him so long. In the Age of Legends, Aginor was close behind the Kinslayer and Ishamael in power.”
“'The Dark One and all the Forsaken,'” Egwene quoted in a faint, unsteady voice, “'are bound in Shayol Ghul, bound by the Creator ... '” She drew a shuddering breath.
“Aginor and Balthamel must have been trapped near the surface.” Moiraine sounded as if she had already explained this, impatient at doing so again. “The patch on the Dark One's prison weakened enough to free them. Let us be thankful no more of the Forsaken were freed. If they had been, we would have seen them.”
“It doesn't matter,” Rand said. “Aginor and Balthamel are dead, and so is Shai'—”
“The Dark One,” the Aes Sedai cut him off. Ill or not, her voice was firm, and her dark eyes commanding. “Best we still call him the Dark One. Or Ba'alzamon, at least.”
He shrugged. “As you wish. But he's dead. The Dark One's dead. I killed him. I burned him with ...” The rest of memory flooded back then, leaving his mouth hanging open. The One Power. I wielded the One Power. No man can ... He licked lips that were suddenly dry. A gust of wind swirled fallen and falling leaves around them, but it was no colder than his heart. They were looking at him, the three of them. Watching. Not even blinking. He reached out to Egwene, and there was no imagination in her drawing back this time. “Egwene?” She turned her face
away, and he let his hand drop.
Abruptly she flung her arms around him, burying her face in his chest. “I'm sorry, Rand. I'm sorry. I don't care. Truly, I don't.” Her shoulders shook. He thought she was crying. Awkwardly patting her hair, he looked at the other two women over the top of her head.
“The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills,” Nynaeve said slowly, “but you are still Rand al'Thor of Emond's Field. But, the Light help me, the Light help us all, you are too dangerous, Rand.” He flinched from the Wisdom's eyes, sad, regretting, and already accepting loss.
“What happened?” Moiraine said. “Tell me everything!”
And with her eyes on him, compelling, he did. He wanted to turn away, to make it short, leave things out, but the Aes Sedai's eyes drew everything from him. Tears ran down his face when he came to Kari al'Thor. His mother. He emphasized that. “He had my mother. My mother!” There was sympathy and pain on Nynaeve's face, but the Aes Sedai's eyes drove him on, to the sword of Light, to severing the black cord, and the flames consuming Ba'alzamon. Egwene's arms tightened around him as if she would pull him back from what had happened. “But it wasn't me,” he finished. “The Light ... pulled me along. It wasn't really me. Doesn't that make any difference?”
“I had suspicions from the first,” Moiraine said. “Suspicions are not proof, though. After I gave you the token, the coin, and made that bonding, you should have been willing to fall in with whatever I wanted, but you resisted, questioned. That told me something, but not enough. Manetheren blood was always stubborn, and more so after Aemon died and Eldrene's heart was shattered. Then there was Bela.”
“Bela?” he said. Nothing makes any difference.
The Aes Sedai nodded. “At Watch Hill, Bela had no need of me to cleanse her of tiredness; someone had already done it. She could have outrun Mandarb, that night. I should have thought of who Bela carried. With Trollocs on our heels, a Draghkar overhead, and a Halfman the Light alone knew where, how you must have feared that Egwene would be left behind. You needed something more than you had ever needed anything before in your life, and you reached out to the one thing that could give it to you. Saidin.”
He shivered. He felt so cold his fingers hurt. “If I never do it again, if I never touch it again, I won't ...” He could not say it. Go mad. Turn the land and people around him to madness. Die, rotting while he still lived.
“Perhaps,” Moiraine said. “It would be much easier if there was someone to teach you, but it might be done, with a supreme effort of will.”
“You can teach me. Surely, you — ” He stopped when the Aes Sedai shook her head.
“Can a cat teach a dog to climb trees, Rand? Can a fish teach a bird to swim? I know saidar, but I can teach you nothing of saidin. Those who could are three thousand years dead. Perhaps you are stubborn enough, though. Perhaps your will is strong enough.”
Egwene straightened, wiping reddened eyes with the back of her hand. She looked as if she wanted to say something, but when she opened her mouth, nothing came out. At least she isn't pulling away. At least she can loo