Moiraine had to admit that the peddlar’s wagon had been a good idea. Not only did it allow them all to travel light – all of them with the exception of Padan Fain’s unpleasant, odourous horse, about whom nobody really cared – but it gave their party a sort of legitimacy it would otherwise lack. They attracted little notice on the road to Baerlon. Especially considering the fact that they had a myrddraal in their party.
It was about three days into their journey when Moiraine finally gave up on her Shadowspawn detector in absolute disgust. She stared at the wagon, then at Mister C who was standing alongside watching Lan patrol the camp perimeter, then at Chucky, then at the horse. Then she released the Source and flung her staff to the ground.
“It’s ridiculous,” she snapped. “According to my senses, everything is a Shadowspawn. He’s one, the horse is one, even the wagon is one. You’re not one,” she pointed at Chucky, “but you’re the most disreputable-looking gleeman I’ve ever seen. What’s with that fucking hair of yours? As for your apprentice – I can believe him as a Darkfriend, but the fucking horse?”
“I told you,” Chucky said tiredly, climbing back onto the wagon and spreading his cloth-sample bed out. “Padan Fain the peddlar was the worst of the worst – it probably rubbed off on his horse, even on his wagon. It might have rubbed off on Mister See as well – he bought his gleeshirt from Fain.”
‘Mister See’ grinned winningly. He considered the false name a stroke of genius, especially considering his special eye-lenses (an aid to concentration and skill, according to glee-lore that only Chucky and See seemed to know) and his eyesight, that even Lan admitted was amazing. Sometimes Mister See saw things that weren’t even there. The natives would have been even more amazed at See’s eyesight if they ever found out that he had no eyes at all. “It was the last one he had in stock,” he told them. “Imported all the way from Mamboland.”
“Shut up, See.”
“I’ve never heard of Mamboland.”
“It’s out past Shara.”
“Nice one, Chuck.”
Aside from making Moiraine’s life miserable by being blatantly evil but being able to cover it with sunglasses, Mister C was quite a decent travelling companion. He helped Chucky tell his endless Druss stories (Druss versus the Alien, Druss versus the Predator, Druss versus George W. Bush, Druss and Elric and Dave Lister versus the Dark One – that one earned a round of cheers not just from the three farmboys and the skanky farmgirl, but Lan and Moiraine as well), and he was handy in a fight.
“Is that sword Stormbringer?” Rand asked once, staring in awe at Mister C’s gleaming black weapon.
“Yes,” C decided on the spur of the moment. “Stormbringer Snaga.”
They finally arrived at the Stag and Lion in Baerlon, and Chucky and Mister C left the others to unload the wagon while they went in and checked out the bar.
“I don’t like it,” C said, casting mysterious looks back and forth across the common room from the empty space behind his sunglasses. Several huge, reeking customers shuddered and stared into their ales.
“Look, no place is likely to have Coke,” Chucky said patiently. They had been over this many times. “So this is as good as any other inn. What’s the problem?”
“This is the Prancing Pony, right? And that would be Butterbur.”
Chucky glanced at the jolly man wiping mugs behind the bar. “His name is Fitch. I think you’re taking this whole thing a bit too far.”
“Is he or is he not a hard-working and friendly soul, worked a little too hard and tending towards forgetfulness, who may be responsible for some sort of accident or trouble, which will set our progress back and put us in danger, due to a forgivable but annoying oversight, for example a spy in his inn, or the proximity of bad guys about whom he has neglected to tell us, or a note that he was supposed to give to us but didn’t remember in time, which will lead us to wish he was dead, but in such a way as we can’t actually do it, because he was such a nice and well-meaning and earnest fellow?”
Chucky scratched his head and tried to remember the sequence in the books. “I do recall something about a Whitecloak spy…”
“…And a myrddraal in the kitchen…”
“But that could be you!”
“Everybody had to leave in the night in a big hurry, and it might have been that the inn burned to the – hey, are those bagpipes?”
Master Fitch, who had been trying not to stare at the gleeman and the other one, followed Chucky’s pointing finger up to the complicated device hanging on the wall above the bar. He shrugged and gave his guest an apologetic smile.
“I don’t know what it is,” he admitted. “Swapped it for the price of a room and two meals with this drifting sea-captain by the name of Domon. He said he collected strange things from all over the world, but had no use for this particular treasure. Apparently it came from a crazy old merchant, who claimed to have gotten it in an exotic land beyond the Aryth Ocean. Say, you’re a gleeman, are you?”
“That I am – one of the best. And I believe I can play those.”
“Ought to be a laugh,” Fitch said lazily, and pulled the contraption down. Chucky grabbed it confidently and turned it back and forth a bit. Then he grinned, nodded at the innkeeper, and slung the pipes onto his shoulder.
The wagon bounced and crashed over stones and tree roots as it raced out of the main gate and away from the town of Baerlon, never to return. Flames from behind lit the underside of the clouds as the travellers took turns thrashing Padan Fain’s horse, clinging desperately to the sides of the wagon in between times so as not to be left behind to the scant mercy of the townsfolk. The roaring of the mob followed them out of Baerlon – a mob composed of vengeful Baerlonites, furious trollocs and fades, and a large contingent of confused but righteously indignant Whitecloaks. The seething multi-cultural mass was only lost when Moiraine aimed her staff back towards the burning inn and cast a web of complicated illusion across their path. Then she turned back and fixed Chucky with a terrible stare. Chucky sat in the wagon-bed miserably, cradling the bagpipes in his arms.
“Play those again,” she said softly, “and I’ll fucking end you.”
Forsaken_1 had to use all the authority invested in him by his phony Questioner robes to stop the squadron of reinforcements from gutting Contro and leaving him on the side of the road for the carrion.
“You have magpies here?!” Contro asked chirpily while they were discussing it. “You have to let me salute them if you do – it’s good luck you know!! Ha ha ha!”
There was much dark muttering.
“You will not be responsible for the death of this, uh, innocent Tinker!” Forsaken_1 declared. “That would surely … um … be an evil act, and I would have to, er, put you to the Question as Darkfriends.”
It came as something of a relief when they finally met up with the main party of Whitecloaks under the command of Geofram Bornhald.
“This is a dark time,” the commander said, regarding Contro’s smiling face with heavy preoccupation. “False Dragons rising everywhere. My son, Dain Bornhald, was in Baerlon just a few days ago and Aes Sedai witches were responsible for almost destroying the entire town. They might have had a male channeler with them. Dain could not say.”
“That’s interesting,” Forsaken_1 said. “Now, this Tinker…”
“Yes, I have heard,” Bornhald went on. “Carridin sent me a messenger pigeon.”
“Do you know of any groups of Tinkers around here?”
“There is one group that we have been watching,” the commander said. “We suspect that one of the women of the band is a sympathiser with…”
“Man, how slowly do you talk?” Forsaken_1 interrupted. “I’ve never heard anybody talk so slowly.”
“Those pay-by-the-minute information hotlines!” Contro interjected from the carriage. He was still finishing off his individually-packaged roadline meal, and had spilled his little packet of milk all over himself as always. “Ha ha ha!! I hate these little packets! You know those hotlines, where you pay by the minute!! Ha ha ha! They always speak slowly!! I don’t know if they speak this slowly though!”
“But we’re not paying for this, though! Ha ha ha!”
“Yes, shut up.”
“Wouldn’t it be funny if we were!! Imagine how long we’d have to stand here with the phone in our hand, waiting for him to tell us, you know, the cheat codes to Final Fantasy 3!!!! Ha ha ha!!”
“Yes, shut up now.”
Bornhald was staring at the two of them. “What is the meaning of this?” he demanded. Slowly.
“Ah … just a demonstration,” Forsaken_1 explained. He was getting rather proud of his explanations. “This Tinker is quite insane, and I had to be sure you knew that. We have to return him to his family.”
“His family is in this group of Tinkers we are watching, is it?”
“Well that’s the thing. We don’t know. Maybe they are, but he won’t remember, and we can expect them to deny it even if they are related to him.”
“I can understand that.”
“Yeah. Only, it’s best he stays with his own kind. They’ll take him in, and they’ll find his family without our involvement.”
“One never knows, with Tinkers. Very well,” Bornhald went on, raising his hand to signal the expanded troop to start riding. “We shall take you to the last known campsite of the Travelling People. When we get there, however, it will be up to you to take this … this one back and leave him there.”
“Understood, sheesh,” Forsaken climbed back into his carriage. “I hope we ride faster than he talks.”
“Ha ha ha!!”
They arrived at a stand of thick, bushy trees a few hours later, inside which the Tinkers apparently had their camp. Bornhald signalled a halt. Before he could begin a long-winded repetition of instructions, Forsaken_1 and Contro climbed out of the carriage and half-ran towards the trees. As they entered the shady cover, Forsaken_1 began to peel off his white robes.
Contro stared at him in wide-eyed amazement. “What are you doing?!! Ha ha ha!! Your clothes are coming off! Ha ha ha! Trust you!! Always thinking with your pee-pee!!!”
“I’m just taking off my uniform,” Forsaken_1 said, relieved to find that he had relatively normal jeans and T-shirt on underneath. “The Tinkers might not accept me as a Questioner, and never say ‘pee-pee’ again.”
They approached the camp. Contro was savaged by a pair of huge dogs, and laughed and said it was quite annoying but could have been worse. After watching for a while, Forsaken_1 stopped smiling and helped calm the slavering beasts. Then the Tuatha’an were there, welcoming Contro with open arms and excessive sympathy. Contro insisted it was a mere flesh and muscle and bone wound, and that nobody should worry, and maybe if he could drip into a bucket, he could put all the blood back in later. He was bundled away to a gaudily-painted wagon with a red, green, yellow and pink cross on it.
One of the Tinkers remained to speak with Forsaken_1.
“I am Raen, the Mahdi of this band,” he said gravely. “I thank you for bringing our lost friend back to us. Do you know the Song?”
“Um,” Forsaken_1 said, and put down his bundle of white robes. “Is it the one that goes … buh buh buuuuuuh … baby take off your coat … reeeeeeeal slow…” he gyrated and lifted up the bottom of his shirt, revealing a crescent of pale, flabby belly. Raen took a step back. “Baby kick off your shoes … buh buh buh…” he paused. “I really need a chair to do this properly.”
“I do not think this is the Song we are looking for.”
“Really?” Forsaken_1 wiggled a little bit more.
“Aw. Well, that’s about the only one I have,” Forsaken_1 picked up his bundle. “Can I stay anyway?”
“Oh my, no.”
“What? I thought you guys were all hospitable and shit.”
“We are – but not to you, of course.”
Still grumbling to himself and pulling the white robes back on over his head, Forsaken_1 stomped back to the Whitecloaks.
“Ah, Child Foreskin,” Geofram Bornhald eventually finished saying. “Has the Hand of the Light done its duty?”
“Yeah,” Forsaken_1 grunted. “I guess I’ll tag along with you guys then. Where are we going?”
Debs and Janica settled lightly on a hilltop and looked around.
“Where are we?” Janica asked, peering into the distance with her conjured spectacles. There were mountains all around, but they seemed to be in a sort of lowland, a hilly basin in the midst of the cruel peaks.
“Noo idea,” Debs admitted. “I think we’re on the mainland at last.”
“You mean Chaggabaggawoggaland?”
“I thought we had an agreement.”
“We’ll never knoo unless we git intae the real world and have a wee luke,” Debs went on. “Hoo aboot we forget this World o’ Dreams and see where we really are?”
“Alreet,” Janica concentrated, and then frowned. “That’s strange.”
“I can’t reach the Source. It’s like it’s not even there.”
“Shielded, begorrah!” Debs cried. “I knew that fella we saw back there was a Forseeken or another type o’ beastie!”
“I don’t think we’re shielded,” Janica said thoughtfully. “I think we’re in a stedding. We’ll just have to find the edge of it, and cross over there. I wonder what stedding it is.”
“It’s a shite one,” Debs said loftily. “Luke – I can still flee.”
She demonstrated by floating up into the air. Janica stood on her tip-toes.
“That’s nothing to do with the One Power,” she said. “That’s Tel’aran’rhiod, you can do that anywhere – even in a stedding, if you’re in the World of Dreams. Could you come down? The leash is dragging at my neck…”
“Ach! Sorry!” Debs thumped back to the ground. “Let’s feend a wee oot o’ this place. Then, we’ll see aboot gettin’ that damn dog-collar off’a ye.”
They walked down the hill and into the shadow of some truly enormous trees. They seemed to be concentrated in the little valley, so Debs and Janica skirted around and up another hillside overlooking the cluster. Inside it, Janica could make out a small, deserted village of weird-looking houses. Of course, she reminded herself, it would be deserted in Tel’aran’rhiod. Finally, they came to the edge of the stedding, and Janica felt the One Power flood through her.
“Right,” she said, and brought the two worlds back into focus. The light drained away, and they were standing in darkness – it was night-time in reality. “I wonder how long we were in there,” she murmured.
“Never meend,” Debs said, and reached out her hands. “Let’s get you oot o’ this.”
She struggled and fiddled for some time in the cool, chirruping darkness, but couldn’t manage to figure out how the a’dam came undone. Janica, who had lost her glasses in the transition from Tel’aran’rhiod, wasn’t any help, and before too long she started to get a headache. Debs got the same sensation in her wrist, and gave up with a fruity Scottish swearword.
“Well, how about we go back into the stedding and find out if there’s Ogier here?” Janica suggested. “I thought I saw a village of some sort over in those huge trees,” she gestured blindly towards the valley. “Somewhere.”
“Good idea,” Debs agreed, and so they set off. “I wonder if Ogier have tobacco.”
“Don’t even think about it.”
There were indeed Ogier in the village, and the massive, friendly creatures came out in their massive, friendly nightgowns to see what all the fuss was about. There was much huffing and humming, voices like enormous bumblebees, talk of hastiness, drooping of eyebrows and stroking of tufted ears. It was almost as if, Janica thought, Jordan had used up all his mannerisms on the Ogier, and been left with nothing but sniffing and stone-facedness for anybody else.
It didn’t take long to figure out that they had ended up in stedding Tsofu. Elder Haman struck them as familiar, as did the quietly frantic lady-Ogier, Erith.
“You’re the one who’s going to marry Loial!” Janica said, pointing excitedly at a nearby tree. Debs kindly took her hand and shifted it so it pointed in the right direction.
“You know him?” Erith exclaimed in uncharacteristic haste.
“Ahh, not really. We heard about him. He’s travelling a lot. Um,” Janica went on. “You don’t need to worry about him, he’s getting along just fine,” she decided not to mention the people Loial might soon be getting mixed up with. She didn’t want three dozen frantic Ogier on her hands – not when she could barely see them.
“Where’s stedding Tsofu on the map?” Debs changed the subject. “We need tae knoo where we are.”
Janica gestured around vaguely. “From what I saw in the World of Dreams,” she said, “it’s near some mountains. I can’t remember it on the map in the books, though – maybe it wasn’t even marked. Near Cairhien, somewhere?”
Elder Haman didn’t miss a trick. “The World of Dreams, you say,” he rumbled. “We haven’t heard or seen any sign of walkers in the Dream for many years. This is most interesting. Perhaps the old times are coming back. The groves are lost, of course, but there may yet be hope.”
“And what is that thing you wear?” another Ogier asked.
“Oh this?” Debs waved the bracelet. “It’s a sort of, erm, it’s a ter’angreal, we use it tae share the One Power … she canna see so good, y’knoo,” she pointed at Janica, who nodded. “But we canna get it off noo.”
“Are you Aes Sedai? You speak very strangely, for a human,” Elder Haman frowned.
“Ach, nay, we’re no Aes Sedai. We’re, ah, Seanchan,” Debs shrugged at Janica, who didn’t see it. “From over the sea, ye’knoo.”
“Artur Hawkwing’s armies that he sent away,” Janica explained. “We travelled back here using the World of Dreams.”
There was a hubbub of humming and bumblebeeing. “Surely the old times are returning to us,” Elder Haman said. “Artur Hawkwing’s armies returning from over the sea! Soon, we shall hear the Horn of Valere sounding over the hills.”
“Aye, soon,” said Debs. Janica elbowed her, and ended up wheezing on the ground courtesy of the a’dam link. “Careful there, lassie.”
“What are you here for?” Erith asked, then bowed her head respectfully to the Elder.
“Oh. Um,” Debs said, helping Janica to her feet. “Um.”
“We’re trying to make sure things go right,” Janica explained. “The Seanchan are going to be arriving very soon, and there will be a great deal of destruction – hopefully, we can lessen that. There are other things, which the Foretelling has shown me. We have many things to do, and scarcely know where to start.”
“We could start by droppin’ doon tae Mayene,” Debs muttered, “and breakin’ the nooze o’ that Berelain strumpet.”
Janica stopped herself just before elbowing her sul’dam again. “No,” she said. “We can’t interfere too much – it would change the course of the story. Ah, the prophecy,” she glanced at where she thought Elder Haman was standing. “What we need to do is stop … other people … from interfering. Things have changed. We need to find the main players, and make sure nobody messes with the course of events.”
“But where can these main players be found?” Elder Haman seemed to understand the urgency of the quest.
“I’m nae sure,” Janica admitted, once again letting a Scottism slip into her voice. “Maybe we could try to catch up with them at Caemlyn. Or we could make straight for the Blight – they all end up there … but by then, too much interference might have taken place,” she considered for a moment. “We’ll make for Caemlyn. They meet up there, and it’s closer than anywhere else we could go.”
“And you shall not go alone,” Elder Haman said forcefully. “It may be hasty and unbecoming, but we must take a hand in events, and see to it that things work out well. And if we can find Loial at the same time, that would be splendid. You shall take four of our finest with you.”
“Aye?” Debs said inquiringly, thinking it might be useful to have some Ogier around. Elder Haman nodded and waved an enormous hand. Four tall, powerful young Ogier men stepped up.
“This is Wyse,” he said, pointing to the first. He went on, introducing the others. “Frendli, Coarshus and…” Haman hesitated, and pointed to the final Ogier, who was staring at Debs’ breasts. “…and Hoarni.”