Normally, we avoid dropping our readers into the middle of an established series, but we're making an exception for A Memory of Light, the final volume in one of the most epic, sprawling works of fantasy ever written — Robert Jordan's "Wheel of Time." In progress since 1990, it now stretches to 14 volumes. Jordan himself, tragically, did not live to finish the series; his widow, Harriet, chose fantasy author Brandon Sanderson to complete the last few books after Jordan's death in 2007.
The Wheel of Time books combine the influence of J.R.R. Tolkien with Jordan's background as a military historian and fantasy writer. They take place in a vast and minutely imagined world: Multiple Ages, continents and countries are detailed in these pages, each with their own histories, languages, customs, sayings, food, clothing, ethnic groups, military tactics and more. There is also an extensively developed magic system, with male Asha'man and female Aes Sedai both wielding gendered halves of a force called the Source, or the One Power.
As A Memory of Light opens, we join a sprawling cast of characters as they prepare for the climactic battle of Light against Shadow; a battle that will be fought both magically by the hero Rand, called the Dragon Reborn, and on the battlefield by the armies that have gathered to support him. In this excerpt, a schism has occurred within the Black Tower, Rand's school for male magic users. Androl, a member of the Black Tower, plots to rescue his leader Logain (once a pretender to Rand's position as the Dragon) from the influence of Tower commander Mazrim Taim — who may or may not be up to no good. Nonfans may be a bit lost at this point — but Wheel of Time devotees are in for a treat. A Memory of Light will be published Jan. 8.
A Dangerous Place
"Lord Logain and Taim have indeed patched up their differences," Welyn said, sitting inside the common room of The Great Gathering. He wore bells in his dark braids, and he smiled widely. He always had smiled too much. "Both were worried about the division we've been suffering and agree it isn't good for morale. We need to be focused on the Last Battle. This isn't a time for squabbling."
Androl stood just inside the door, Pevara beside him. It was surprising, how quickly this building—a former warehouse—had been transformed into a tavern. Lind had done her work well. There were a respectable bar and stools, and though the tables and chairs spread through the room didn't match yet, the place could seat dozens. She also had a library with a considerable number of books, although she was very particular about who she allowed to use it. On the second floor, she planned private dining chambers and sleeping rooms for visitors to the Black Tower. Assuming Taim started letting visitors in again.
The room was quite packed, and the crowd included a large number of newer recruits, men who didn't yet fall on either side of the growing dispute—either with Taim and his men, or with those loyal to Logain.
Androl listened to Welyn, feeling chilled. Welyn's Aes Sedai, Jenare, sat beside him, hand resting fondly on his arm. Androl didn't know her well, but he did know Welyn. And this thing with Welyn's face and voice was not the same man.
"We met with the Lord Dragon," Welyn continued." Surveying the Borderlands, preparing for humankind's assault against the Shadow. He has rallied the armies of all nations to his banner. There are none who do not support him, other than the Seanchan, of course—but they have been driven back.
"This is the time, and we will soon be called upon to strike. We need to focus one last time on our skills. The Sword and Dragon will be awarded liberally in the next two weeks. Work hard, and we will be the weapons that break the Dark One's hold upon this land."
"You say Logain is coming," a voice demanded. "Why isn't he back yet?"
Androl turned. Jonneth Dowtry stood near Welyn's table. With his arms folded, glowering at Welyn, Jonneth was an intimidating sight. The Two Rivers man often had a friendly way about him, and it was easy to forget that he stood a head taller than you and had arms like those of a bear. He wore his black Asha'man coat, though it had no pins on the high collar—despite the fact that he was as strong in the One Power as any Dedicated.
"Why isn't he here?" Jonneth demanded. "You said that you returned with him, that he and Taim have spoken. Well, where is he?"
Don't push, lad, Androl thought. Let him think we believe his lies!
"He took the M'Hael to visit the Lord Dragon," Welyn said. "Both should be back on the morrow, the day after at the latest."
"Why did Taim need Logain to show him the way?" Jonneth said stubbornly. "He could have gone on his own."
"That boy is a fool," Pevara hissed.
"He's honest," Androl replied quietly, "and he wants honest answers." These Two Rivers lads were a good lot—straightforward and loyal. They weren't particularly practiced in subterfuge, however.
Pevara fell silent, but Androl could feel her as she considered channeling and hushing Jonneth with some bindings of Air. They weren't serious thoughts, just idle fancies, but Androl could sense them. Light! What had they done to one another?
She's in my head, he thought. There's an Aes Sedai, inside my head.
Pevara froze, then glanced at him.
Androl sought the void, that old soldier's trick to help him seek clarity before a battle. Saidin was there, too, of course. He didn't reach for it.
"What did you do?" Pevara whispered. "I can feel you there, but sensing your thoughts is harder."
Well, that was something at least.
"Jonneth," Lind called across the common room, interrupting the lad's next question to Welyn. "Didn't you hear the man saying how much traveling he's been doing? He's exhausted. Let him drink his ale and rest a spell before you pry stories out of him."
Jonneth glanced at her, looking hurt. Welyn smiled deeply as the lad withdrew, pushing his way out of the common room. Welyn continued talking about how well the Lord Dragon was doing, and about how much each of them would be needed.
Androl released the void, feeling more relaxed. He looked around the room, trying to judge who in here he could rely upon. He liked many of these men, and many weren't completely for Taim, yet he still couldn't trust them. Taim had complete control of the Tower now, and private lessons with him and his chosen were coveted by the newcomers. Only the Two Rivers lads could be counted on to give any sort of support to Androl's cause—and most of them other than Jonneth were too unpracticed to be of use.
Evin had joined Nalaam on the other side of the room, and Androl nodded his head to him, sending him out to follow Jonneth into the storm. Nobody was to be alone. That done, Androl listened to Welyn's boasting, and noticed Lind picking her way through the crowd toward him.
Lind Taglien was a short, dark-haired woman; her dress was covered in lovely embroidery. She had always seemed to him a model of what the Black Tower could be. Civilized. Educated. Important.
Men made way for her; they knew not to spill their drinks or start fights in her inn. Lind's anger was not something a wise man ever wanted to know. It was a good thing she ran the place so tightly. In a city full of male channelers, a simple tavern brawl could potentially go very, very wrong.
"Does this bother you as much as it does me?" Lind asked softly as she stepped up beside him. "Wasn't he the one who, just a few weeks back, was talking about how Taim should be tried and executed for some of the things he'd done?"
Androl didn't reply. What could he say? That he suspected that the man they'd known as Welyn was dead? That the entire Black Tower would soon be nothing but these monsters with the wrong eyes, the false smiles, the dead souls?
"I don't believe him about Logain," Lind said. "Something's going on here, Androl. I'm going to have Frask follow him to night, see where he—"
"No," Androl said. "No. Don't." Frask was her husband, a man who had been hired to help Henre Haslin teach swordsmanship in the Black Tower. Taim thought that swordfighting was useless for Asha'man, but the Lord Dragon had insisted that the men be taught.
She eyed him. "You're not saying you believe—"
"I'm saying that we're in great danger right now, Lind, and I don't want Frask making it worse. Do me a favor. Take note of what else Welyn says tonight. Maybe some of it will be useful for me to know."
"All right," she said, sounding skeptical.
Androl nodded toward Nalaam and Canler, who rose and headed over. Rain beat against the rooftop and the porch outside. Welyn kept right on talking, and the men were listening. Yes, it was incredible that he'd swapped sides so quickly, and that would make some suspicious. But many people respected him, and the way he was off just slightly wasn't noticeable unless you knew him.
"Lind," Androl said as she started to walk away.
She glanced back at him.
"You . . . lock this place up tightly to night. Then maybe you and Frask should find your way into the cellar with some supplies, all right? You have a sturdy cellar door?"
"Yes," she said. "For all the good it will do." It wouldn't matter how thick a door was if someone with the One Power came looking.
Nalaam and Canler reached them, and Androl turned to go, only to run directly into a man standing in the doorway behind him, someone he hadn't heard approach. Rain dripped from his Asha'man coat, with the Sword and the Dragon on the high collar. Atal Mishraile had been one of Taim's from the start. He didn't have the hollow eyes; his evil was all his own. Tall, with long golden hair, he had a smile that never seemed to reach his eyes.
Pevara jumped when she saw him, and Nalaam cursed, seizing the One Power.
"Now, now," a voice said. "No need for strife." Mezar stepped in from the rain beside Mishraile. The short Domani man had graying hair and an air of wisdom to him, despite his transformation.
Androl met Mezar's eyes, and it was like looking into a deep cavern. A place where light had never shone.
"Hello, Androl," Mezar said, putting a hand on Mishraile's shoulder, as if the two had been friends for a long time. "Why is it that Goodwoman Lind would need to fear, and shut herself in her cellar? Surely the Black Tower is as safe a place as there is?"
"I don't trust a dark night full of storms," Androl said.
"Perhaps that is wise," Mezar replied. "Yet you go out into it. Why not stay where it is warm? Nalaam, I should like to hear one of your stories. Perhaps you could tell me of the time your father and you visited Shara?"
"It's not that good a story," Nalaam said. "I don't know if I remember it that well."
Mezar laughed, and Androl heard Welyn stand up behind him. "Ah, there you are! I was telling them you'd talk about defenses in Arafel."
"Come listen," Mezar said. "This will be important for the Last Battle."
"Maybe I will return," Androl said, voice cool. "Once my other work is done."
The two stared at one another. To the side, Nalaam still held the One Power. He was as strong as Mezar, but would never be able to face both him and Mishraile—particularly not in a room crammed with people who would probably take the side of the two full Asha'man.
"Don't waste your time with the pageboy, Welyn," Coteren said from behind. Mishraile stepped aside to make room for this third newcomer. The bulky, beady-eyed man pressed a hand against Androl's chest and shoved him aside as he passed. "Oh, wait. You can't play pageboy anymore, can you?"
Androl entered the void and seized the Source.
Shadows immediately started moving in the room. Lengthening.
There weren't enough lights! Why didn't they light more lamps? The darkness invited those shadows in, and he could see them. These were real, each one a tendril of blackness, reaching for him. To pull him into them, to destroy him.
Oh, Light. I'm mad. I'm mad . . .
The void shattered, and the shadows—thankfully—retreated. He found himself shaking, pulling back against the wall, panting. Pevara watched him with an expressionless face, but he could feel her concern.
"Oh, by the way," Coteren said. He was one of Taim's most influential toadies. "Have you heard?"
"Heard what?" Androl managed to force out.
"You've been demoted, pageboy," Coteren said, pointing toward the sword pin. "Taim's orders. As of today. Back to soldier you go, Androl."
"Oh, yes," Welyn called from the center of the room. "I'm sorry I forgot to mention it. It has been cleared with the Lord Dragon, I'm afraid. You never should have been promoted, Androl. Sorry."
Androl reached to his neck, to the pin there. It shouldn't matter to him; what did it really mean?
But it did matter. He'd spent his entire life searching. He'd apprenticed to a dozen different professions. He'd fought in revolts, sailed two seas. All the while searching, searching for something he hadn't been able to define.
He'd found it when he'd come to the Black Tower.
He pushed through the fear. Shadows be burned! He seized saidin again, the Power flooding him. He straightened up, going eye-to-eye with Coteren.
The larger man smiled and seized the One Power as well. Mezar joined him, and in the middle of the room, Welyn stood. Nalaam was whispering to himself in worry, eyes darting back and forth. Canler seized saidin and looked resigned.
Everything Androl could hold—all of the One Power he could muster—flooded into him. It was minuscule compared to the others. He was the weakest man in the room; the newest of recruits could manage more than he could.
"Are you going to make a go of it, then?" Coteren asked softly. "I asked them to leave you, because I knew you'd try it eventually. I wanted the satisfaction, pageboy. Come on. Strike. Let's see it."
Androl reached out, trying to do the one thing he could do, form a gateway. To him, this was something beyond weaves. It was just him and the Power, something intimate, something instinctive.
Trying to make a gateway now felt like trying to scramble up a hundred-foot glass wall with only his fingernails to give him purchase. He leaped, scrambled, tried. Nothing happened. He felt so close: if he could just push a little harder, he could . . .
The shadows lengthened. The panic rose in him again. Teeth gritted, Androl reached to his collar and ripped the pin free. He dropped it on the floorboards before Coteren with a clink. Nobody in the room spoke.
Then, burying his shame under a mountain of determination, he released the One Power and pushed past Mezar into the night. Nalaam, Canler and Pevara followed with anxious steps.
The rain washed over Androl. He felt the loss of that pin as he might have felt the loss of a hand.
"Androl . . ." Nalaam said. "I'm sorry."
Thunder rumbled. They splashed through muddy puddles on the unpaved street. "It doesn't matter," Androl said.
"Maybe we should have fought," Nalaam said. "Some of the lads in there would have supported us; they're not all in his pocket. Once, Father and I, we fought down six Darkhounds—Light upon my grave, we did. If we survived that, we can deal with a few Asha'man dogs."
"We'd have been slaughtered," Androl said.
"We'd have been slaughtered!" Androl said. "We don't let them pick the battlefield, Nalaam."
"But there will be a battle?" Canler asked, catching up to Androl on the other side.
"They have Logain," Androl said. "They wouldn't make the promises they're making unless they did. Everything dies—our rebellion, our chances at a unified Black Tower—if we lose him."
"So . . ."
"So we're going to rescue him," Androl said, continuing forward. "Tonight."
Excerpted from A Memory of Light, by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson, copyright 2012 by The Bandersnatch Group, Inc. The phrases "The Wheel of Time" and "The Dragon Reborn," and the snake-wheel symbol are trademarks of The Bandersnatch Group, Inc. A Tor Book Published by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.
Audio courtesy of Macmillan Audio.