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Robert Jordan was born in 1948 in Charleston. He was a graduate of the Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina, with a degree in physics, and served 2 tours in Vietnam. His hobbies inc. hunting, fishing, sailing, poker, chess, pool and pipe collecting. He died in September 2007.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Time to Be Gone
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 in the Rhannon Hills. 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.
Born among the groves and vineyards that covered much of the rugged hills, the olive trees in evergreen rows, the ordered vines leafless till spring, the cold wind blew west and north across the prosperous farms dotting the land between the hills and the great harbor of Ebou Dar. The land lay winter fallow still, but men and women were already oiling plowshares and tending harnesses, preparing for the planting to come. They paid little mind to the trains of heavily laden wagons moving east along the dirt roads carrying people who wore odd clothes and spoke with odd accents. Many of the strangers seemed to be farmers themselves, familiar implements lashed to their wagon boxes, and in their wagons unfamiliar saplings with roots balled in rough cloth, but they were heading on toward more distant land. Nothing to do with life here and now. The Seanchan hand lay lightly on those who did not contest Seanchan rule, and the farmers of the Rhannon Hills had seen no changes in their lives. For them, rain or the lack of it had always been the true ruler.
West and north the wind blew, across the broad blue-green expanse of the harbor, where hundreds of huge ships sat rocking at anchor on choppy swells, some bluff-bowed and rigged with ribbed sails, others long and sharp-prowed, with men laboring to match their sails and rigging to those of the wider vessels. Not nearly so many ships still floated there as had only a few days before, though. Many now lay in the shallows, charred wrecks heeled over on their sides, and burned frames settling in the deep gray mud like blackened skeletons. Smaller craft skittered about the harbor, slanting under triangular sails or crawling on oars like many-legged waterbugs, most carrying workers and supplies to the ships that still floated. Other small vessels and barges rode tethered to what appeared to be tree trunks shorn of branches, rising out of the blue-green water, and from those men dove holding stones to carry them down swiftly to sunken ships below, where they tied ropes to whatever could be hauled up for salvage. Six nights ago death had walked across the water here, the One Power killing men and women and ships in darkness split by silver lightnings and hurtling balls of fires. Now the rough rolling harbor, filled with furious activity, seemed at peace by comparison, the chop giving up spray to the wind that blew north and west across the mouth of the River Eldar, where it widened into the harbor, north and west and inland.
Sitting cross-legged atop a boulder covered with brown moss, on the reed-fringed bank of the river, Mat hunched his shoulders against the wind and cursed silently. There was no gold to be found here, no women or dancing, no fun. Plenty of discomfort, though. In short, it was the last sort of place he would choose, normally. The sun stood barely its own height above the horizon, the sky overhead was pale slate gray, and thick purple clouds moving in from the sea threatened rain. Winter hardly seemed winter without snow--he had yet to see a single flake in Ebou Dar--but a cold damp morning wind off the water could serve as well as snow to chill a man to the bone. Six nights since he had ridden out of the city in a storm, yet his throbbing hip seemed to think he was still soaked to the skin and clinging to a saddle. This was no weather or time of day for a man to be out by his own choice. He wished he had thought to bring a cloak. He wished he had stayed in bed.
Ripples in the land hid Ebou Dar, just over a mile to the south, and hid him from the city, as well, but there was not a tree or anything more than scrub brush in sight. Being in the open this way made him feel as though ants were crawling under his skin. He should be safe, though. His plain brown woolen coat and cap were nothing like the clothes he was known by in the city. Instead of black silk, a drab woolen scarf hid the scar around his neck, and the collar of his coat was turned up to hide that, as well. Not a bit of lace or a thread of embroidery. Dull enough for a farmer milking cows. No one he needed to avoid would know him to recognize if they saw him. Not unless they were close. Just the same, he tugged the cap a bit lower.
"You intend to stay out here much longer, Mat?" Noal's tattered dark blue coat had seen better days, but then so had he. Stooped and white-haired, the broken-nosed old fellow was squatting on his heels below the boulder, fishing off the riverbank with a bamboo pole. Most of his teeth were missing, and sometimes he felt at a gap with his tongue as though surprised to find the empty space. "It's cold, in case you haven't noticed. Everybody always thinks it's warm in Ebou Dar, but winter is cold everywhere, even places that make Ebou Dar feel like Shienar. My bones crave a fire. Or a blanket, anyway. A man can be snug with a blanket, if he's out of the wind. Are you going to do anything but stare downriver?"
When Mat only glanced at him, Noal shrugged and went back to peering at the tarred wooden float bobbing among the sparse reeds. Now and then he worked one gnarled hand as though his crooked fingers felt the chill particularly, but if so, it was his own fault. The old fool had gone wading in the shallows to scoop up minnows for bait with a basket that now sat half-submerged and anchored by a smooth stone at the edge of the water. Despite his complaints about the weather, Noal had come along to the river without urging or invitation. From things he had said, everyone he cared about was long years dead, and the truth of it was, he seemed almost desperate for any sort of company. Desperate, indeed, to choose Mat's company when he could be five days from Ebou Dar by now. A man could cover a lot of ground in five days if he had reason to and a good horse. Mat had thought on that very subject often enough himself.
On the far side of the Eldar, half-hidden by one of the marshy islands that dotted the river, a broad-beamed rowboat backed oars, and one of the crew stood up and fished in the reeds with a long boathook. Another oarsman helped him heave what he had caught into the boat. At this distance, it looked like a large sack. Mat winced and shifted his eyes downriver. They were still finding bodies, and he was responsible. The innocent died along with the guilty. And if you did nothing, then only the innocent died. Or as bad as died. Maybe worse than, depending on how you looked at it.
He scowled irritably. Blood and ashes, he was turning into a bloody philosopher! Taking responsibility drained all the joy out of life and dried a man to dust. What he wanted right then was a great deal of mulled wine in a snug common room full of music, and a plump, pretty serving maid on his knee, somewhere far from Ebou Dar. Very far. What he had were obligations he could not walk away from and a future he did not fancy. There seemed no help at all in being ta'veren, not if this was how the Pattern shaped itself to you. He still had his luck, anyway. At least, he was alive and not chained in a cell. Under the circumstances, that counted as luck.
From his perch, he had a fairly clear view down past the last low marshy river islands. Wind-caught spray drifted up the harbor like banks of fine mist, but not enough to hide what he needed to see. He was attempting to do sums in his head, counting ships afloat, trying to count wrecks. He kept losing his place, though, thinking he had counted vessels twice and starting over. The Sea Folk who had been recaptured intruded on his thoughts, too. He had heard that gibbets in the Rahad, across the harbor, displayed more than a hundred corpses, with placards listing "murder" and "rebellion" as their crimes. Normally, the Seanchan used the headsman's axe and the impaling stake, while the Blood got the strangling cord, but property had to settle for being hanged.
Burn me, I did what I could, he thought sourly. There was no use feeling guilty that that was all he could do. Not a bit of use, None! He had to concentrate on the people who escaped.
The Atha'an Miere who got away had taken ships in the harbor for their flight, and while they might have seized some smaller craft, anything they could board and overwhelm in the night, they had intended to carry off as many of their people as possible. With thousands of them laboring as prisoners in the Rahad, that would have meant big ships, by choice, and that meant Seanchan greatships. Many of the Sea Folk's own vessels were large enough, for certain, but they all had been stripped of their sails and rigging by that time, to be fitted out in the Seanchan fashion. If he could calculate how many greatships remained, he might have some notion of how many Atha'an Miere had actually reached freedom. Freeing the Sea Folk Windfinders had been the right thing to do, the only thing he could do, but aside from the hangings, hundreds and hundreds of bodies had been fished out of the harbor in the last five days, and the Light only knew how many had washed out to sea with the tides. The gravediggers labored from sunup to sundown, and the graveyards were filled with weeping women and children. Men, too. More than a few of those dead had been Atha'an Miere, with no one to weep while they were dumped into mass graves, and he wanted some idea of the number he had saved to balance his bleak suspicions of the number he had killed.
Estimating how many ships had made it out into the Sea of Storms was difficult, though, quite apart from losing the count. Unlike Aes Sedai, Windfinders had no strictures against using the Power as a weapon, not when the safety of their people was at stake, and they would have...
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