The fires of heaven

The First Sparks Fall

Elaida do Avriny a’Roihan absently fingered the long, seven-striped stole about her shoulders, the stole of the Amyrlin Seat, as she sat behind her wide writing table. Many would have accounted her beautiful, at first glance, but a second look made it clear that the severity of her ageless, Aes Sedai face was not a momentary matter. Today there was something more, a light of anger in her dark eyes. If anyone had noticed.

She barely listened to the women arrayed on stools before her. Their dresses were every color from white to the darkest red, in silk or wool as each woman’s taste dictated, yet all but one wore their formal shawls, embroidered White Flame of Tar Valon centered on their backs, colored fringe proclaiming their Ajahs, as though this were a meeting of the Hall of the Tower. They discussed reports and rumors of events in the world, trying to sift fact from fancy, trying to decide the Tower’s course of action, but they seldom even glanced at the woman behind the table, the woman they had sworn to obey. Elaida could not keep her full attention on them. They did not know what was really important. Or rather, they knew and feared to speak of it.

“There is apparently something happening in Shienar.” That was Danelle, slight and often seemingly lost in a dream, the only Brown sister present. Green and Yellow also had only one sister apiece, and none of the three Ajahs was pleased about that. There were no Blues. Now Danelle’s big blue eyes looked thoughtfully inward; an unnoticed ink smudge stained her cheek, and her dark gray wool dress was rumpled. “There are rumors of skirmishes. Not with Trollocs, and not Aiel, though raids through the Niamh Passes appear to have increased. Between Shienarans. Unusual for the Borderlands. They seldom fight each other.”

“If they intend to have a civil war, they have chosen the proper time for it,” Alviarin said coolly. Tall and slim and all in white silk, she was the one without a shawl. The stole of the Keeper around her shoulders was white also, to show she had been raised from the White Ajah. Not Red, Elaida’s former Ajah, as tradition held. Whites were always cool. “The Trollocs might as well have vanished. The entire Blight seems quiet enough for two farmers and a novice to guard.”

Teslyn’s bony fingers shuffled papers on her lap, though she did not look at them. One of four Red sisters there—more than any other Ajah—she ran Elaida a close second for severity, though no one had ever thought her beautiful. “Better perhaps if it did no be so quiet,” Teslyn said, her Illianer accent strong. “I did receive a message this morning that the Marshal-General of Saldaea does have an army on the move. No toward the Blight, but in the opposite direction. South and east. He would no ever have done that if the Blight did no seem to be asleep.”

“Then word of Mazrim Taim is seeping out.” Alviarin could have been discussing the weather or the price of carpets instead of a potential disaster. Much effort had gone into capturing Taim, and as much into hiding his escape. No good to the Tower if the world learned they could not hold on to a false Dragon once he was taken. “And it seems that Queen Tenobia, or Davram Bashere, or both, thinks we cannot be trusted to deal with him again.”

Dead quiet fell at the mention of Taim. The man could channel—he had been on his way to Tar Valon to be