The Dragon Reborn

Chapter 56

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(Novels9) Chapter 56
(Serpent and Wheel)
People of the Dragon
Throughout the city of Tear people woke with the dawn, speaking of the dreams they had had, dreams of the Dragon battling Ba'alzamon in the Heart of the Stone, and when their eyes rose to the great fortress of the Stone, they beheld a banner waving from its greatest height. Across a field of white flowed a sinuous form like a great serpent scaled in scarlet and gold, but with a golden lion's mane and four legs, each tipped with five golden claws. Men came, stunned and frightened, from the Stone to speak in hushed tones of what had happened in the night, and men and women thronged the streets, weeping as they shouted the fulfillment of Prophecy.
"The Dragon!" they shouted. "Al'Thor! The Dragon! Al'Thor!"
Peering through an arrowslit high on the side of the Stone, Mat shook his head as he listened to the chorus rising out of the city in waves. Well, maybe he is. He was still having a hard enough time coming to grips with Rand really being there.
Everyone in the Stone seemed to agree with the people below, or if they did not, they were not letting on. He had seen Rand just once since the night before, striding along a hall with Callandor in his hand, surrounded by a dozen veiled Aiel and trailing a cloud of Tairens, a knot of Defenders of the Stone and most of the few surviving High Lords. The High Lords, at least, seemed to think Rand would need them to help him rule the world; the Aiel kept everyone back with sharp looks, though, and spears if need be. They surely believed Rand was the Dragon, though they called him He Who Comes With the Dawn. There were nearly two hundred Aiel in the Stone. They had lost a third of their numbers in the fight, but they had killed or captured ten times as many Defenders.
As he turned from the arrowslit, his eyes brushed across Rhuarc. There was a tall stand at one end of the room, carved and polished upright wheels of some pale, darkstriped wood with shelves slung between them so all of the shelves would stay flat as the wheels were revolved. Each shelf held a large book, bound in gold, covers set with sparkling gems. The Aiel had one of the books open and was reading. Some sort of essays, Mat thought. Who would have thought an Aiel would read books? Who'd have thought an Aiel could bloody read?
Rhuarc glanced in his direction, all cold blue eyes and level stare. Mat looked away hastily, before the Aiel could read his thoughts on his face. At least he is not veiled, thank the Light! Burn me, that Aviendha nearly took my head off when I asked her if she could do any dances without spears. Bain and Chiad presented another problem. They were certainly pretty and more than friendly, but he could not manage to talk to one without the other. The male Aiel seemed to think his efforts to get one of them alone were funny, and for that matter, so did Bain and Chiad. Women are odd, but Aiel women make odd seem normal!
The great table in the middle of the room, ornately carved and gilded on edges and thick legs, had been meant for gatherings of the High Lords. Moiraine sat in one of the thronelike chairs, with the Crescent Banner of Tear worked into its towering back in gilt and polished carnelian and pearlshell. Egwene, Nynaeve, and Elayne sat close by her.
"I still cannot believe Perrin is here in Tear," Nynaeve was saying. "Are you sure he is all right?"
Mat shook his head. He would have expected Perrin to have been up in the Stone last night; the blacksmith had always been braver than anyone with good sense.
"He was well when I left him." Moiraine's voice was serene. "Whether he still is, I do not know. His... companion is in some considerable danger, and he may have put himself into it, also."
"His companion?" Egwene said sharply. "Wha -? Who is Perrin's companion?"
"What sort of danger?" Nynaeve demanded.
"Nothing that need concern you," the Aes Sedai said calmly. "I will go and see to her as I may, shortly. I have delayed only to show you this, which I found among the ter'angreal and other things of the Power the High Lords collected over the years." She took something from her pouch and laid it on the table before her. It was a disc the size of a man's hand, seemingly made of two teardrops fitted together, one black as pitch, the other white as snow.
o remember seeing others like it. Ancient, like this one, but broken, where this was whole. Three of them, he had seen; not all together, but all in pieces. But that could not be; he remembered that they were made of cuendillar, unbreakable by any

"One of the seven seals Lews Therin Kinslayer and the Hundred Companions put on the Dark One's prison when they resealed it," Elayne said, nodding as if confirming her own memory.
"More precisely," Moiraine told her, "a focus point for one of the seals. But in essence, you are correct. During the Breaking of the World they were scattered and hidden for safety; since the Trolloc Wars they have been lost in truth." She sniffed. "I begin to sound like Verin."
Egwene shook her head. "I suppose I should have expected to find that here. Twice before Rand faced Ba'alzamon, and both times at least one of the seals was present."
"And this time unbroken," Nynaeve said. "For the first time, the seal is unbroken. As if that mattered, now."
"You think it does not?" Moiraine's voice was dangerous in its quiet, and the other women frowned at her.
Mat rolled his eyes. They kept talking about unimportant things. He did not much like standing not twenty feet from that disc now that he knew what it was, no matter the value of cuendillar, but... "Your pardon?" he said.
They all turned to stare at him as if he were interrupting something important. Burn me! Break them out of a prison cell, save their lives half a dozen times between them before the night is done, and they glower as hard as the bloody Aes Sedai! Well, they did not thank me then, either, did they? You'd have thought I was sticking my nose in where it wasn't wanted then, too, instead of keeping some bloody Defender from putting a sword through one of them. Aloud, he said mildly, "You do not mind if I ask a question, do you? You have all been talking this Aes Sedai... uh... business, and no one has bothered to tell me anything."
"Mat?" Nynaeve said warningly, tugging her braid, but Moiraine said, in a calm only just touched with impatience, "What is it that you wish to know?"
"I want to know how all of this can be." He meant to keep his tone soft, but despite himself he picked up intensity as he went along. "The Stone of Tear has fallen! The Prophecies said that would never happen till the People of the Dragon came. Does that mean we are the bloody People of the Dragon? You, me, Lan, and a few hundred bloody Aiel?" He had seen the Warder during the night; there had not seemed to be much edge between Lan and the Aiel as to who was the more deadly. As Rhuarc straightened to stare at him, he hastily added, "Uh, sorry, Rhuarc. Slip of the tongue."
"Perhaps," Moiraine said slowly. "I came to stop Be'lal from killing Rand. I did not expect to see the Stone of Tear fall. Perhaps we are. Prophecies are fulfilled as they are meant to be, not as we think they should be."
Be'lal. Mat shivered. He had heard that name last night, and he did not like it any more in daylight. If he had known one of the Forsaken was loose - and inside the Stone - he would never have gone near the place. He glanced at Egwene, and Nynaeve, and Elayne. Well, I'd have come in like a bloody mouse, anyway, not thumping people left and right! Sandar had gone scurrying out of the Stone at daybreak; to take the news to Mother Guenna, he claimed, but Mat thought it was just to escape those stares from the three women, who looked as if they had not yet quite decided what to do about him.
Rhuarc cleared his throat. "When a man wishes to become a clan chief, he must go to Rhuidean, in the lands of the Jenn Aiel, the clan that is not." He spoke slowly and frowned often at the redfringed silk carpet under his soft boots, a man trying to explain what he did not want to explain at all. "Women who wish to become Wise Ones also make this journey, but their marking, if they are marked, is kept secret among themselves. The men who are chosen at Rhuidean, those who survive, return marked on the left arm. So."
He pushed back the sleeves of his coat and shirt together to reveal his left forearm, the skin much paler than that of his hands and face. Etched into the skin as if part of it, wrapped twice around, marched the same goldandscarlet form as rippled on the banner above the Stone.
The Aiel let his sleeve fall with a sigh. "It is a name not spoken except among the clan chiefs and the Wise Ones. We are..." He cleared his throat again, unable to say it here.
"The Aiel are the People of the Dragon." Moiraine spoke quietly, but she sounded as close to startlement as Mat could remember ever hearing her. "That I did not know."
"Then it really is all done," Mat said, "just as the Prophecies said. We can all go on our way with no more worries." The Amyrlin won't need me to blow that bloody Horn now!
"How can you say that?" Egwene demanded. "Don't you understand the Forsaken are loose?"
"Not to mention the Black Ajah," Nynaeve added grimly. "We took only Amico and Joiya here. Eleven escaped - and I would like to know how! - and the Light alone knows how many others there are we do not know."
"Yes," Elayne said in a tone just as hard. "I may not be up to facing one of the Forsaken, but I mean to take pieces out of Liandrin's hide!"
"Of course," Mat said smoothly. "Of course." Are they crazy? They want to chase after the Black Ajah and the Forsaken? "I only meant the hardest part is done. The Stone has fallen to the People of the Dragon, Rand has Callandor, and Shai'tan is dead." Moiraine's stare was so hard that he thought the Stone shook for a moment.
"Be quiet, you fool!" the Aes Sedai said in a voice like a knife. "Do you want to call his attention to you, naming the Dark One?"
"But he's dead!" Mat protested. "Rand killed him. I saw the body!" And a fine stink that was, too. I never thought anything could rot that fast.
"You saw 'the body,' " Moiraine said with a twist to her mouth. "A man's body. Not the Dark One, Mat."
Egwene and the other two women; they appeared as confused as he. Rhuarc looked to be thinking of a battle he had thought was won and now learned had not even been fought. "Then who was it?" Mat demanded. "Moiraine, my memory has holes big enough for a wagon and team, but I remember Ba'alzamon being in my dreams. I remember! Burn me, I do not see how I can ever forget! And I recognized what was left of that face."
"You recognized Ba'alzamon," Moiraine said. "Or rather, the man who called himself Ba'alzamon. The Dark One yet lives, imprisoned at Shayol Ghul, and the Shadow yet lies

"The Light illumine and protect us," Elayne murmured in a faint voice."I thought... I thought the Forsaken were the worst we had to worry about, now."
"Are you sure, Moiraine?" Nynaeve said. "Rand was certain - is certain - that he killed the Dark One. You seem to be saying Ba'alzamon was not the Dark One at all. I don't understand! How can you be so sure? And if he was not the Dark One, who was he?"
"I can be sure for the simplest of reasons, Nynaeve. However fast decay took it, that was a man's body. Can you believe that if the Dark One were killed he would leave a human body? The man Rand killed was a man. Perhaps he was the first of the Forsaken freed, or perhaps he was never entirely bound. We may never know which."
"I... may know who he was." Egwene paused with an uncertain frown. "At least, I may have a clue. Verin showed me a page from an old book that mentioned Ba'alzamon and Ishamael together. It was almost High Chant and very nearly incomprehensible, but I remember something about 'a name hidden behind a name.' Maybe Ba'alzamon was Ishamael."
"Perhaps," Moiraine said. "Perhaps it was Ishamael. But if it was, at least nine of the thirteen still live. Lanfear, and Sammael, and Ravhin, and... Paah! Even knowing that some of those nine at least are free is not the most important thing." She laid a hand atop the blackandwhite disc on the table. "Three of the seals are broken. Only four still hold. Only those four seals stand between the Dark One and the world, and it may be that even with those whole he can touch the world after a fashion. Whatever battle we won here - battle or skirmish - it is far from the last."
Mat watched their faces firm - Egwene's and Nynaeve's and Elayne's; slowly, reluctantly, but determinedly, too - and shook his head. Bloody women! They're all ready to go on with this, go on chasing the Black Ajah, trying to fight the Forsaken and the bloody Dark One. Well, they needn't think I am going to come pull them out of the soup pot again. They just needn't think it, that's all!
One of the tall, paired doors pushed open while he was trying to think of something to say, and a tall young woman of regal bearing entered the room, wearing a coronet with a golden hawk in flight above her brows. Her black hair swept to pale shoulders, and her dress of the finest red silk left those shoulders bare, along with a considerable expanse of what Mat noted as an admirable bosom. For a moment she studied Rhuarc interestedly with large, dark eyes; then she turned them on the women at the table, coolly imperious. Mat she appeared to ignore completely.
"I am not used to being given messages to carry," she announced, flourishing a folded parchment in one slim hand.
"And who are you, child?" Moiraine asked.
The young woman drew herself up even more, which Mat would have thought was impossible. "I am Berelain, First of Mayene." She tossed the parchment down on the table in front of Moiraine with a haughty gesture and turned back to the door.
"A moment, child," Moiraine said, unfolding the parchment. "Who gave this to you? And why did you bring it, if you are so unused to carrying messages?"
"I... do not know." Berelain stood facing the door; she sounded puzzled. "She was... impressive." She gave herself a shake and seemed to recover her opinion of herself. For a moment she studied Rhuarc with a small smile. "You are the leader of these Aielmen? Your fighting disturbed my sleep. Perhaps I will ask you to dine with me. One day quite soon." She looked over her shoulder at Moiraine. "I am told the Dragon Reborn has taken the Stone. Inform the Lord Dragon that the First of Mayene will dine with him tonight." And she marched out of the room; Mat could think of no other way to describe that stately, onewoman procession.
"I would like to have her in the Tower as novice." Egwene and Elayne said it almost like echoes, then shared a tight smile.
"Listen to this," Moiraine said."'Lews Therin was mine, he is mine, and he will be mine, forever. I give him into your charge, to keep for me until I come.' It is signed 'Lanfear.'" The Aes Sedai turned that cool gaze on Mat. "And you thought it was done? You are ta'veren, Mat, a thread more crucial to the Pattern than most, and the sounder of the Horn of Valere. Nothing is done for you, yet."
They were all looking at him. Nynaeve sadly, Egwene as though she had never seen him before, Elayne as if she expected him to change into someone else. Rhuarc had a certain respect in his eyes, though Mat would just as soon have done without it, all things considered.
"Well, of course," he told them. Burn me! "I understand." I wonder how soon Thom will be fit to travel? Time to run. Maybe Perrin will come with us. "You can count on me."
From outside, the cries still rose, unceasing. "The Dragon! Al'Thor! The Dragon! Al'Thor! The Dragon! Al'Thor! The Dragon!"
And it was written that no hand but his should wield the Sword held in the Stone, but he did draw it out, like fire in his hand, and his glory did burn the world. Thus did it begin. Thus do we sing his Rebirth. Thus do we sing the beginning.
- from Do'in Toldara te, Songs of the Last Age,
Quarto Nine: The Legend of the Dragon. Composed by
Boanne, Songmistress at Taralan, the Four

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