A Memory of Light

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The following is the opening section of Chapter 1 to A Memory of Light, the final novel in The Wheel of Time series. It was written by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson. The novel will be available beginning January 8, 2013. For more information, go here.

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 Mountains of Mist. 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.

Eastward the wind blew, descending from lofty mountains and coursing over desolate hills. It passed into the place known as the Westwood, an area that had once flourished with pine and leatherleaf. Here, the wind found little more than tangled underbrush, thick save around an occasional towering oak. Those looked stricken by disease, bark peeling free, branches drooping. Elsewhere needles had fallen from pines, draping the ground in a brown blanket. None of the skeletal branches of the Westwood put forth buds.

North and eastward the wind blew, across underbrush that crunched and cracked as it shook. It was night, and scrawny foxes picked over the rotting ground, searching in vain for prey or carrion. No spring birds had come to call, and—most telling—the howls of wolves had gone silent across the land.

The wind blew out of the forest and across Taren Ferry. What was left of it. The town had been a fine one, by local standards. Dark buildings, tall above their redstone foundations, a cobbled street, built at the mouth of the land known as the Two Rivers.

The smoke had long since stopped rising from burned buildings, but there was little left of the town to rebuild. Feral dogs hunted through the rubble for meat. They looked up as the wind passed, their eyes hungry.

The wind crossed the river eastward. Here, clusters of refugees carrying torches walked the long road from Baerlon to Whitebridge despite the late hour. They were sorry groups, with heads bowed, shoulders huddled. Some bore the coppery skin of Domani, their work clothing displaying the hardships of crossing the mountains with little in the way of supplies. Others came from farther off. Taraboners with haunted eyes above dirty veils. Farmers and their wives from northern Ghealdan. All had heard rumors that in Andor, there was food. In Andor, there was hope.

So far, they had yet to find either. Eastward the wind blew, along the river that wove between farms without crops. Grasslands without grass. Orchards without fruit.

Abandoned villages. Trees like bones with the flesh picked free. Ravens often clustered in their branches; starveling rabbits and sometimes larger game picked through the dead grass underneath. Above it all, the omnipresent clouds pressed down upon the land. Sometimes, that cloud cover made it impossible to tell if it was day or night.

As the wind approached the grand city of Caemlyn, it turned northward, away from the burning city—orange and red, violent, spewing black smoke toward the hungry clouds above. War had come to Andor in the still of night. The approaching refugees would soon discover that they’d been marching toward danger. It was not surprising. Danger was in all directions. The only way to avoid walking toward it would be to stand still.

As the wind blew northward, it passed people sitting beside roads, alone or in small groups, staring with the eyes of the hopeless. Some lay as they hungered, looking up at those rumbling, boiling clouds. Other people trudged onward, though toward what, they knew not. The Last Battle, to the north, whatever that meant. The Last Battle was not hope. The Last Battle was death. But it was a place to be, a place to go.

In the evening dimness, the wind reached a large gathering far to the north of Caemlyn. This wide field broke the forest-patched landscape, but it was overgrown with tents like fungi on a decaying log. Tens of thousands of soldiers waited beside campfires that were quickly denuding the area of timber.

The wind blew among them, whipping smoke from fires into the faces of soldiers. The people here didn’t display the same sense of hopelessness as the refugees, but there was a dread to them. They could see the sickened land. They could feel the clouds above. They knew.

The world was dying. The soldiers stared at the flames, watching the wood be consumed. Ember by ember, what had once been alive instead turned to dust.

A company of men inspected armor that had begun to rust despite being well oiled. A group of white-robed Aiel gathered water—former warriors who refused to take up weapons again, despite their toh having been served. A cluster of frightened servants, sure that tomorrow would bring war between the White Tower and the Dragon Reborn, organized stores beneath tents shaken by the wind.

Men and women whispered the truth into the night. The end has come. The end has come. All will fall. The end has come.

Laughter broke the air.

Warm light spilled from a large tent at the center of the camp, bursting around the tent flap and from beneath the sides.

Inside that tent, Rand al’Thor—the Dragon Reborn—laughed, head thrown back.

“So what did she do?” Rand asked when his laughter subsided. He poured himself a cup of red wine, then one for Perrin, who blushed at the question.

He’s become harder, Rand thought, but somehow he hasn’t lost that innocence of his. Not completely. To Rand, that seemed a marvelous thing. A wonder, like a pearl discovered in a trout. Perrin was strong, but his strength hadn’t broken him.

“Well,” Perrin said, “you know how Marin is. She somehow manages to look at even Cenn as if he were a child in need of mothering. Finding Faile and me lying there on the floor like two fool youths...well, I think she was torn between laughing at us and sending us into the kitchen to scrub dishes. Separately, to keep us out of trouble.”

Rand smiled, trying to picture it. Perrin—burly, solid Perrin—so weak he could barely walk. It was an incongruous image. Rand wanted to assume his friend was exaggerating, but Perrin didn’t have a dishonest hair on his head. Strange, how much about a man could change while his core remained exactly the same

“Anyway,” Perrin said after taking a drink of wine, “Faile picked me up off the floor and set me on my horse, and the two of us pranced about looking important. I didn’t do much, Rand. The fighting was accomplished by the others—I’d have had trouble lifting a cup to my lips.” He stopped, his golden eyes growing distant. “You should be proud of them, Rand. Without Dannil, your father and Mat’s father, without all of them, I’d wouldn’t have managed half what I did. No, not a tenth.”

“I believe it,” Rand regarding his wine. Lews Therin had loved wine. A part of Rand—that distant part, the memories of a man he had been—was displeased by the poor vintage. Few grapes in the current world could match the favored wines of the Age of Legends.

He took a small drink, then set the wine aside. Min still slumbered in another part of the tent, sectioned off with a curtain. Events in Rand’s dreams had awakened him. He had been glad for Perrin’s arrival to distract him from what he had seen.         

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