There was a momentary panic when they rode into the Wayman’s Forge and the innkeeper, one Gainor Furlan, grinned broadly and said, “Well, if it isn’t more Ogier.”
Loial went immediately wild-eyed, and demanded that they go and sleep elsewhere.
“Not a bad idea,” Furlan grunted. “If the Hunter sees you, I’ll not be held responsible for what she does.”
“Hunter?” Perrin asked suspiciously.
“Oh no,” Chucky sighed, remembering. “Ahh, crap. No, not her.”
“Who?” Perrin asked.
The innkeeper swept his dubious glance across the large crowd of men and women and miscellaneous, the stragglers of which were still wandering into the common room. “A gleeman, eh?”
“Ask him about Yoru,” Masema said enthusiastically. “Just don’t let him blow those things he has over his shoulder.”
“You’re all funny,” Chucky grunted, and walked away from the bar. Furlan assured Loial that the other Ogier had left already, and that he had beds free for him and all his friends. There had apparently been some sort of disturbance involving Ogier a day or so ago, and a Hunter of the Horn named Bashere – whether Mandarb Bashere or Faile Bashere or Zarine Bashere, nobody could quite decide, but she’d been inconvenienced and had spent the time since locked in her room, opening the door only long enough to scream at the innkeeper every now and then. Frankly, Chucky wasn’t interested. He’d been hoping against hope that he wouldn’t get caught up in this part of the plot, but it seemed as if fate had had different ideas.
Fain and Domon were conferring quietly in the entry of the inn as Chucky went past, getting their fair share of strange looks from the other patrons. Fain was twitching, and Domon was snuffling – but then, so were Satters and Perrin and, to a lesser degree, Egwene and Elayne, so that tended to take away some of the strangeness.
“It don’t be here, so it don’t,” Domon was saying. “It did go south from here, on the water. If I did have my ship-”
“Well, we don’t,” Fain said, settling smoothly into the plummy tones and overbearing manner of … well, one or another of his blended personalities, probably the one from Shadar Logoth that thought it was a great Lord of some kind. Ordeith, or Mordeth, or whoever. “We will have to make do with what we have … and the help of these unexpected allies. Ah, gleeman,” he went on, turning to Chucky with a smile. Domon snarled silently. “I see you are stepping outside. Have you caught any germs yet? You must show them to me sometime.”
Chucky had never quite gotten used to the conditions in the towns and cities, the filth and dirt and the unnecessary ugliness, and Remen was no exception. It was made even worse by being built along a river, which offered strange, terrible water-borne diseases, an unhygienic sewage outlet, masses of rats, mud and algae, and other things that Chucky couldn’t guess at but knew were just waiting to surprise him. He thought it was unfair that Fain and the others refused to acknowledge the simple fact that they were putting their lives at risk by breathing. He’d tried to explain to them about germs, but Satters had ruined it by saying something breathtakingly ignorant, and now they all thought germs were like ticks and fleas, and that Chucky collected them.
He went on past the two weird men without comment, and passed Verin and Liandrin, who stopped their own whispered conversation and cast him coolly respectful glances. The innkeeper had seen them already, but he must not have realised they were Aes Sedai, because he hadn’t paid them any more attention than the rest of the bizarre gathering. Maybe he thought they were mimes, Chucky thought, looking at their makeup.
“The Horn is not here,” Verin said. “We think-”
“-it went south, on the river,” Chucky said. “On a boat, I’m guessing.”
Liandrin gasped. “How did you know? Have you communed with the Darkhounds, and sent them on ahead, scouting our trail and sniffing out our quarry, and do they then report back to you as their highest authority?”
Chucky tapped his nose, and hurried away.
“Don’t wander far,” Verin called after him. “I think we will be moving on as quickly as we can, once the horses are rested and we are all fed. We have to catch up with those who have eluded us.”
The bedraggled gleeman wandered over to the town square, where one great stone had been lifted out of the paving to make way for a creaking gibbet. The cadin’sor-clad man inside was squatting awkwardly, his arms wrapped around his knees and his shoufa wrapped around his head. Some kids had been throwing stones at him, but had stopped and run away when the Borderlanders rode into the town.
“Don’t worry, Gaul,” Chucky said, looking up at the miserable figure and feeling suddenly better about his own situation. “Perrin Aybara is here, and he’ll be coming over to rescue you before too much longer. Then you can get in a fight with some Whitecloaks and be back on your way before nightfall.”
“I wish you dicks’d stop saying that,” Gaul muttered. “I’m not Gaul. And what are you guys all meant to be, some sort of freakshow? It’s Chucky, isn’t it? Nice cloak, you look like you’re off to Mardi Gras. And it goes really well with the Guinness shirt and the sweat pants by the way.”
“Sweat pants? What are sweat pants? These are tracky-dacks. Anyway, did you say you’re not Gaul?” Chucky frowned. There was something familiar about that voice, and the whole confusion with the clothing was somehow familiar. “Who are you, then?” the Aielman reached up and pulled away his veil. “Nick! What are you doing here?”
“I won the contest, same as you. Second round. I turned up in the Aiel Waste with Shannon, and we were captured by, whaddaya know it, Aiel. Only I was an Aiel to start with, and they made me a gai’shain. Then we sort of got to travelling over the mountains, and Gaul was with us, but he sort of wandered off when the Green Man told him the truth about the Aiel. And then we came in here, and one of our companions … attracted attention, and I was captured.”
“The Green Man?” Chucky demanded. “What’s he doing telling the Aiel story? Oh wait, he survived the climactic ending of the first book, didn’t he? So now he’s still wandering around…”
“I kinda thought it was weird, too,” Dr. Nick said, “but then, he was hanging around with Contro and this wolf…”
“Contro,” Chucky groaned. “He’s not here, is he?”
“He ran off with Moiraine and the others,” Dr. Nick muttered. “Bastards. Kill them all. Lousy damn … that Moiraine, I bet she did it all on purpose.”
“Potty mouth, isn’t she?”
“Tell me about it,” Dr. Nick rolled his skinny shoulders, and winced at the crackling noise. “Look, how about you get me out of here?”
“I don’t know…” Chucky said doubtfully. “The narrative says that Perrin…”
“Perrin rescues Gaul, not Doctor Nick Riviera!” Dr. Nick snapped. “I could be stuck here until the day I die, which might be tomorrow! I haven’t eaten anything in almost two days. I haven’t had a drink since one of the townswomen emptied a chamber-pot on me.”
“Two days? You should be dehydrated.”
“I’m Aiel,” Dr. Nick said, his voice filled with gentle pride and quiet dignity. “Anyway, according to Someshta, I can store water in my earlobes.”
“I believe you,” Chucky grinned. “Look, I’ll go and tell Perrin you’re here, and then we can do this properly.”
“You cunt. You’re no better than that little skinny chick and the fat one with the funky accent.”
Dr. Nick examined his fingernails. “Oh, nobody. Nothing.”
“Come on, tell me who you saw. It was this group that was just in town a day or two ago, wasn’t it? The one all the people at the inn are talking about.”
“Was it? I can’t think straight, in this cage.”
“Aw, Nick, you know who it was. We were separated when we were brought here, and I ended up stuck with Mister C. I’ve been worried about her – come on, tell me what happened to them.”
“Alright,” Chucky growled. “You win. I’ll get you down, and you tell me about these two women.”
Chucky was clambering up the splintery wooden pole to the lock holding the gibbet aloft, then there was a jingling of harnesses and a clopping of hooves and a patrol of Whitecloaks rode into Remen.
The boat was called the Blue Crane, the captain’s name was Chin Ellisor, and he could honestly say that he had never hauled stranger cargo in his long and checkered career. He’d been surprised to find them all standing on the bank of the river, arguing and shouting back and forth, but had taken them all on board without hesitation. They were all too interesting to pass up.
“Once,” he said to Lan and Contro, who were the only people who would listen to his anecdotes, “I helped a friend of mine carry some strange artworks. It wasn’t really smuggling, mind you, because these artworks didn’t belong to anybody. My friend was a bit of a collector of strange things, he’s gone all over the place looking for the weird and the wonderful. These artworks were odd, they glowed and made the strangest noises…” he trailed off, thoughtfully. “That Domon was a strange one,” he said. “But I don’t think he ever carried anything as strange as you and your friends.”
“Ha ha ha!” Contro said merrily.
“Brandy,” Lan said, reaching out a shaking hand for the captain’s bottle. Ellisor had, essentially, a captive audience. Contro was listening intently because he was Contro. Lan was listening intently because Ellisor had alcohol. “My whistle. For the Creator’s sake, my whistle.”
“Of course,” Chin said, and handed over the little bottle. Lan took a long, shuddering swallow, and for a while they sailed along in silence, watching the wreckage on the Cairhienin side of the river. There was a civil war in Cairhien, apparently, the origins of which were difficult to establish. Some people said it was because a group of merchants had been killed and the nobility of Cairhien had seen it as a grave insult, or perhaps a peasant uprising. That the merchants had been carrying items for the strict use of the nobility, whatever those items may have been, was glossed over in most tellings of the tale. As was the fact that the merchants had been dressed as trollocs, and killed in a simple village panic. Not only that, but there was also war with Andor. That was pretty much standard, as far as anybody was concerned. “Ahh, it’s a good time for a riverboat captain.”
“And a Tinker!” Contro exclaimed.
“How do you mean, friend?” Ellisor asked with a smile. He hadn’t been in contact with Contro long enough to realise that his problems went beyond a little bit of over-cheerfulness.
“Well, it’s always a good time to be a Tinker!” Contro replied happily. “Ha ha ha! Can’t argue with that!”
“Indeed,” Ellisor said, and tipped Lan a knowing wink. Lan closed his eyes and took another draught of the brandy.
Forsaken_1, recovered from his multitude of injuries but still pale and haunted by his experience with the Portal Stone, stepped up to the three men hesitantly. He knew Lan’s drinking had increased since that fateful day, just as he knew Moiraine and Someshta had gotten reclusive and thoughtful, Shannon had stopped looking anybody in the eye, and Cybes had taken to washing herself daily. In fact, the only people unaffected by the adventure, as far as he could tell, were Cooper Two and Contro. And that, he thought, really said everything you needed to say about it.
Not liking to draw Contro’s attention down on himself, Forsaken_1 nevertheless felt obliged to speak up – he’d been sent on an errand, after all. He straightened his Warder cloak, cleared his throat, and said, “Moiraine Sedai is ready to negotiate passage all the way to Tear.”
“Excellent,” Ellisor said expansively, giving no hint of the pale face and shaking hands that normally accompanied a meeting with the aggressive little woman. “I’ll see her in my-”
The Blue Crane ran up on a mud bank at top speed. Ellisor was flung backwards into Lan, who swore and fumbled his bottle. Contro was thrown against the railing, where he laughed in delight. Forsaken_1 went head-over-heels off the side of the boat, landing heavily on his back in the mud.
“Fuck,” he said. The bank was sodden and runny, as if it had just risen up out of the river moments before. The boat was buried solidly in the slop, and the whole bank seemed to be vibrating gently.
“Yay!” Contro cried, finally tripping and toppling over the railing and landing on his face in the mud right next to the Warder, splattering his face and chest with thick, syrupy muck.
“Son of a bitch!” Lan grated from above, as the brandy bottle slipped through his fingers. It fell in slow-motion, glinting in the sun as it descended towards Forsaken_1’s upturned, brown-smeared face.
It landed beside him, on the other side to where Contro was cheerfully floundering, and was promptly sucked under with a greedy slurp. Forsaken_1 breathed a sigh of relief.
“Well, that could have been worse,” he said. “Contro could have landed on my genitals, and then the bottle could have smashed on my face. It could have been a lot worse.”
There was a crack, and Forsaken_1 looked up in time to see the mast begin to fall, the leafy mass of Someshta riding in the crow’s nest, walnut-eyes popping out of his head in vegetative horror. He closed his own eyes, lay back, and refused to take part in what happened next.
Some hours later, he sat shivering on the deck as Moiraine muttered and growled and swore through her third attempt at Healing him. The weaves fell apart, tangled, or simply didn’t do anything. She stopped mid-channel, and rummaged in the pile of trinkets Shannon had brought with her. Him. Her.
“Here’s another one,” she said, pulling out a necklace of what looked like little wooden fruits and dropping it around her already-laden neck. Her hands were clustered with bracelets and rings, and she was wearing what looked ludicrously like a World War 2 fighter pilot hat and goggles, except the little glass discs of the goggles themselves were black-and-white Aes Sedai symbols. “Where did you get all these fucking angreal?”
“Found ’em here and there,” Shannon replied, rubbing his bosom. It had sustained minor bruising in the crash, but he had been lucky enough to miss the main action. “I sure hope they’re helping.”
Moiraine lowered the stupid disc-goggles over her eyes, and groped for her Warder. “They’re hardly doing fuck-all,” she admitted, channeling the frigid weaves of Healing once again, pecking and picking at the multitude of bruises and splinters of Green Man, “but they’re better than nothing. I can’t fucking believe you were up in the crow’s nest.”
“I’m sorry,” Someshta said for the fifteenth time. “The mast seemed perfectly strong, and it wasn’t until it broke open that I saw it was riddled with wood-worm. I’m sorry, Foreskin. I was keeping an eye open for mud-banks. I am sure I would have seen this one, but it rose up out of nowhere. You saw it yourself, the eruption…”
“That was rather a surprise,” Chin Ellisor agreed. “You don’t often see geysers like that, particularly not ones full of raw sewage. I guess it must have backed up from all the towns that dump into the Erinin, but I’ve never seen one blow like that. You must have flown a hundred spans in the air!” he chuckled down at Forsaken_1 in honest good cheer that really should have justified murder. “You and your extraordinary wooden friend. Why, you’re lucky you weren’t killed when you landed back on the mast stump on your testicles, and then your friend here landed on top of you.”
“And that whirlpool that came up as all the sewage started to flow away,” Someshta said. “Contro was lucky – he not only escaped unscathed, but the rushing water washed all the dung off him and deposited him safely on the bank. With Lan’s brandy bottle, completely without a scratch.”
“Amazing luck,” Lan said, taking another long, contemplative drink and looking down at Forsaken_1 without sympathy.
“I want Nancy Sidesaddle off this boat,” Forsaken_1 growled. “Right now.”
“We’re all off the boat,” Moiraine said. “Don’t worry about that. We’ll fucking walk from here. We’re going to head towards the closest town on the Cairhien side. It’s being held by Andoran soldiers at the moment, but I think we’ll be okay. We’re better off taking our chances there, than continuing along this death-trap of a Ghul-damned river. Ellisor can take his banged-up tub and stick it right up his fart shaft.”
“Charmed, Moiraine Sedai,” Ellisor stammered.
Eventually, Moiraine declared Forsaken_1 ‘Healed e-fucking-nough’ and the party disembarked, leaving Chin Ellisor and the Blue Crane to their repairs. They headed into the bracken on the Cairhien side of the Erinin, walking single-file. Cooper Two began to sing a jaunty travelling song, but trailed off into hurt mutterings when everybody except Contro and Cybes told him to pipe down.
“I’m thirsty,” the gholam said.
“Me too,” Lan replied.
“I have some cold berry juice in my canteen,” Forsaken_1 offered, limping along behind the two gripers. Knowing perfectly well in advance what both of them would say to his offer, he was not afraid to be generous to the pair that had caused him such heart, lungs, skull and spineache.
“I’d rather drink forkroot, Foreskin.”
“I’d rather drink … well, you know. Hey, why don’t we ask these so-called Aiel if they have any spears I could lick?”
“What Aiel?” Forsaken_1 said, tucking his canteen away with satisfaction. “I don’t see any-”
A pair of legs and a shoufa stepped out into the path in front of them.
“Whoa momma,” Forsaken_1 murmured.
“So this is Illian,” Janica said, looking out over the vaseline-lens blur of landscape. “It’s more or less what I was expecting.”
“Isn’t it a wonderful city?” Jaim Adarra, captain of the Snow Goose, asked enthusiastically. He made another casual-but-blatant attempt to put his arm around Debs’ hips, and she sidestepped him with agility that belied her frame. “City of romance, city of love, city of bees…”
“Bees?” Janica frowned, trying to ignore the indignant waves that cascaded through the a’dam. Her own tiny backside felt black and blue from the dozens of pokes, prods, pinches and frank double-handed ‘jellywobbles’ her sul’dam had suffered on the trip downriver. “Are there bees around, then?”
“There are these days,” Adarra said, guiding the Goose slowly and steadily into port. “Lord Brend joined the Council of Nine this winter, and he’s slowly taking over the city. That’s his house standard – the nine golden bees, you see. Very Illianish, with the nine and everything. But not many of the little people are happy with it.”
Debs sideskipped again. “Ach, well, we’re nae bothered with that p’litical stuff,” she said stoutly. “We’re jes’ passin’ through anywee. Sleep a bet, an’ heed orff first thing in the mornin’ fer Tear.”
Jaim looked vaguely disquieted by this stream of near-gibberish, but it didn’t bother his hands at all. The women were obliged to return to their cabin, pleading fatigue. Debs looked about as fatigued as a cement truck, but Janica could at least pass for slightly frazzled, and so they escaped the friendly captain and returned to the scant relief of Puddin, Nynaeve, Logain, Mister C of 9, and the Ogier.
“Did we sink yet?” Coarshus asked, trying to hide his eyes behind his huge, quivering ears. “Are we drowned?”
“We’re almost in port,” Janica replied, trying to keep the edge out of her voice. It had been a short trip, but not for her patience. “There were no pirates, no tidal waves, and the boat didn’t fall apart around us. I told you.”
“Where to now?” Vamps asked, jumping to his feet and trying to look purposeful. Mister C of 9 stayed where he was, perched on top of the golden chest that he was guarding from the terrified Ogier. He looked out of a porthole with extreme disinterest on his sunglasses.
“Now I guess we head east,” Janica replied. “We’ll get out of Illian as quickly as we can – apparently there’s a new Lord in charge here, and he probably won’t like to meet us. We’ll see about a boat to Tear, or we’ll just have to walk there.”
“What about pursuit?” Logain asked, giving Vamps a discouraging glance.
“Well, the … people who were after us weren’t at Remen yet when we went through,” Janica said, not needing to see the Ogier to know they were agonisingly frightened and edgy, “so I see no reason why they’d be this far ahead already. And remember, they think we’re going to Tear, and this river wasn’t the quickest way to get there. It’s not like they can track us by smell.”
“Fain could,” Vamps said helpfully.
“So could a Darkhound,” Wyse added.
“Or a draghkar,” Frendli said.
“Or a halfman with a group of sniffer trollocs,” Coarshus went on.
“Or a Dreadlord,” Hoarni whimpered. The Ogier began to make a soft, harmonic keening noise of terror.
“Or a ghargazoid.”
“Or a snern.”
“Or a krattler.”
“Oh shut up,” Janica said. “Now you’re just making shit up. Tryin’ to scare us.”
“It’s not working,” Vamps said, gripping Nynaeve with trembling, white-knuckled hands. At that moment, the Snow Goose bumped up against the pier and the Far Maddingite gave vent to a high-pitched scream, setting the Ogier off in great billows of bumblebee-sobs.
“I want my mam!” Coarshus moaned.
“I want your mam too!” Hoarni added mournfully.
“Can’t we at least blow the Horn one more time, and have the Heroes escort us across Illian and out of the gates?” Wyse asked, his voice shaky. “Maybe, once we get into the countryside, there won’t be so many people chasing us, and trying to dismember us and eat us while we’re still alive and screaming…”
Frendli covered his face with his hands and whined.
“Look,” Mister C of 9 stood up, and slapped Coarshus’ fingers as he immediately reached for the golden chest. “We don’t even know if there are Orcs or Nazgul in this city-”
“Orcs and Nazgul!” the Ogier cried.
“All we have to do is remember our mission. Maybe it would be better if we split up. Like Frodo did.”
“Who?” Nynaeve demanded.
“It’s a storrie,” Debs said, scowling at Mister C. “He’s a gleeman ‘prentice, remember?”
“This isn’t a story,” Logain said with a hint of disapproval. “But then again,” he went on, considering, “maybe it would be better if we split up. We could meet up again outside the city…”
“We’ll go with ye’,” Debs asserted.
“Us too!” Frendli squeaked.
“You’re not leaving us with him,” Nynaeve growled, standing up and pointing at Mister C of 9. “We’re coming too.”
“So we’re splitting up and basically that means I go off on my own,” Mister C grunted.
“We’re nae spletten’ up,” Debs said, and the Ogier drooped with relief. “We’ll jes’ get oot o’ the city as soon as we can.”
“And try to stay off the radar of this Lord Brend fellow,” Janica added.
“He has a radar?” Mister C perked up. “Cool.”