“It’s a nice enough place, if you just ignore the evil.”
Mister C of 9 had been agonisingly cheerful ever since they had entered Shadar Logoth. Halfmen were supposed to be deadly afraid of the dark, forgotten city – indeed, when the Shadowspawn from Baerlon had continued to chase them, and was reinforced by five fists of trollocs from God-knew-where, they had scuttled into Shadar Logoth to hide. But Mister C, in spite of his undeniable myrddraality, was totally unaffected.
“Just look at those hanging baskets. They’re pretty.”
Chucky looked at the skeletal ornaments and their fossilised plants. They weren’t very pretty at all.
“The sooner we get out of here, the better,” he said. “I tried to tell them not to go in here, but they wouldn’t listen to me.”
“They learned their lesson, after listening to you in Baerlon.”
“Shut up, Nynaeve.”
Nynaeve had joined them in the escape from Baerlon. In fact, she hadn’t had much choice – she had just been sneaking into the town after following their trail, when the wagon almost ran her down. There hadn’t been time for explanations, and so Nynaeve had joined their party as if she had always been there. Moiraine had sworn a lot about it later, but had set about trying to teach Nynaeve how to control her use of the One Power, just as she was doing for the terrible Egwene. It had caused some exciting catfights, but they always found common ground in their opinion of Chucky and his bagpipes.
The Wisdom of Emond’s Field sniffed and crossed her arms under her breasts, losing her grip on the wagon-seat and almost falling off as she did so. The roads in Shadar Logoth weren’t the best. “We’re quite safe here, as long as you don’t touch those things,” she pointed to the spidery tartan shape beside Chucky. They hadn’t even dared to try and destroy them, ever since Lan had stamped on them one night and attracted the attention of a flock of draghkar. “Moiraine can set wards. I can set them myself, actually, without her help. We’ll protect you.”
“Nobody wander off on your own,” Moiraine said, calling a halt. “None of you. That means you too, Mister See. Don’t think for a fucking minute I didn’t notice you looking into that empty building back there.”
“It had some simply lovely wall-hangings.”
“Now you’re just trying to creep me out,” the Aes Sedai snapped. “Cunting well stop it.”
They made camp and Moiraine set wards around the group. Mat, Rand and Perrin immediately wandered off on their own. Chucky sat down by the fire and waited glumly for food while everybody else dealt with the horse and the wagon and the campsite. Some time passed and no food was in evidence. He glanced at Mister C of 9, who was peering around with a benign smile on his face.
“Your cloak’s showing,” he warned the halfman. Mister C glanced down and tucked the heavy black cloth back into the bundle around his waist. Then he picked up a twig and poked at the fire. Chucky watched him enviously. Everybody seemed to know this was an evil and haunted city, and Mister C himself had compared it – and the circumstances leading up to their entry – to the underground nation of Moria in Lord of the Rings. So why had he been the only one who objected to their coming this way? It made no sense, and he knew what was going to happen before too much longer.
On top of all that, he was worried that he was starting to look and smell like a native – it had been days since he’d bathed. Weeks, maybe. The thought made him nervous, and he sniffed under his armpits hesitantly. He grimaced.
“I smell like Mat,” he said mournfully.
“What?” Mat stepped up to the fire. He looked wild-eyed and frightened. One hand was hidden inside his shirt.
“Nothing. I notice you guys managed to escape helping set up camp – again.”
“Do you have any stories for us tonight?” Perrin asked from the other side of the fire. He sat down heavily and warmed his hands. “Did Druss ever come to Shadar Logoth?”
“Maybe after I’ve eaten,” Chucky suddenly remembered something. His armpits had reminded him. “Rand, did you meet Min in Baerlon?”
Rand was also excited and out of breath. Chucky guessed it was the run-in with Mordeth that had gotten them all in this state, but decided in a moment of hungry spite not to mention the misadventure to anybody. “Who?” the red-haired farmboy looked around guiltily.
“Min. She was at the Stag and Lion, I think. You were supposed to meet her. Moiraine, did you speak with Min?”
“What’s it to you, gleeman?” Moiraine hardly looked up from her wards. She hadn’t for the last half an hour or more. Chucky reflected that she was probably still trying to figure out how to make a warding spell that kept halfmen out of their camp when there was already one sitting by the fire, asking if anybody knew what a marshmallow was.
“She had visions about this adventure. About you, and Rand, and the others … did you guys talk to her?”
“I talked to her,” Moiraine said. “I think we left too quickly for Rand to meet her, though. For some reason.”
“Oh,” Chucky went back to watching his colleague poke the coals, unsure as to whether or not this was bad news. “Never mind. There’ll be other chances.”
“For what?” Rand wanted to know.
Finally, they ate, and settled down for the night. Mister C of 9 patted Stormbringer Snaga affectionately and then rested his head on his bundled-up fade-cloak. The dying fire glinted off his dark glasses.
“So what happens next, Chuck?” he asked disinterestedly. “Balrog?”
“Trollocs and fades,” Chucky replied.
“They’re getting boring.”
“Oh, right. There’s also Mashadar the death mist – a sort of manifestation of evil, but different to the Dark One’s evil. It kills everything it touches.”
“Sounds like your curry.”
“That’s what I thought. When can we expect this to all happen?”
Chucky was sitting up and gathering his gleeman’s cloak, his gleestaff and his bagpipes. “As soon as Lan gets back from scouting.”
Lan got back from scouting. “There’s trollocs and halfmen in the city,” he said. Chucky was already walking over to the wagon and beginning to load it up. “I don’t know how they’ve been driven in here, but they’re on our tail. We should get … oh. You’re ready. Good.”
“Gee up,” Chucky said, hitting Fain’s horse with a stick. “Gee up, you bastard.”
The camp sprang to life and panic, everybody grabbed their belongings and headed off into the night. Rand and Mat had the presence of mind to jump in the wagon with Mister C, but Perrin, Egwene, Nynaeve, Moiraine and Lan stormed away with yells and jeers into the gathering gloom. Chucky shook his head and whacked the horse again.
“Knew that’d happen,” he said, and they trundled away. Behind them, the glowing mist rose. “We’ll head for the river.”
“What river?” Mat demanded wildly.
“Dunno,” Chucky said, “But there’s a river over here somewhere.”
“Trollocs!” Rand screamed. A dozen snarling monsters leapt from the sides of the road and attacked the wagon.
“Mister See, if you would?” Chucky shouted, hitting the horse some more. The horse seemed to enjoy it. Mister C of 9 grinned and climbed to his feet in the wagon bed, pulled out his robe and draped it over himself. Then he drew his sword and whipped off his sunglasses. Rand howled and fainted. Mat stared in disbelief at the sudden myrddraal in front of him. Chucky glanced back and noticed Mat’s hand was again tucked into his shirt. He looked like a gap-toothed hick Napoleon.
“Gnyar!” C shouted, and waved his sword. “Back off, trolly, these ones’re mine!”
The trollocs blanched and backed away – right into the embrace of the mist. There were squeals and wet sucking noises.
“Very much like my curry,” Mister C admitted, putting his sunglasses on.
“He’s a fade!” Mat screamed, trying to leap off the wagon. He tripped and banged his head. “Ow!”
“Don’t worry, it was all an act,” Chucky insisted. “It’s the one he’s best at, the old halfman thing. See, it even fooled the trollocs.”
“Certainly fooled Rand,” Mister C remarked, leaning over the shepherd and lifting one flaccid eyelid. “He’s out cold.”
Then the wagon came to the edge of the city, and rolled straight off a sheer bluff, straight into the river.
Rand’s dream-light winked on, signifying that he was asleep. Angamael grinned and floated down into the dream. As he did, he drew the dream into himself, bringing it into Tel’aran’rhiod and making it that much more real. Good for everybody involved, he thought with a crazed titter.
Rand was lying in a huge room full of pillows, with a wide range of pretty young women arrayed before him. They were ungainly and of poor hygiene, but they were quite exceptional by the standards of this world. Rand grinned and began doing his patented and rather gross pelvic-thrust dance. Angamael sat down, unseen and intangible, and watched the ensuing action.
He had dispensed with the threats, the dark robes, the rat-killings and even the fiery eyes to a certain extent. He knew they didn’t work – Rand wouldn’t turn to the Dark One, even if the dreams were super-real. So he settled on the pillows, put his pack behind him, and watched as Rand made himself at home. He didn’t even bother to talk to Rand anymore, or even make himself visible to the shepherd. That was all a waste of effort.
He waited a few minutes, and then pulled out a small bronze bell. It was one item he had conjured out of thin air some time ago, which Satters had not thought to put in his bag of tricks. Indeed, there had been no real reason for him to do so. Angamael held up the bell, made sure Rand was completely distracted – and the cries of, “Mint! Oh, mint!” seemed to suggest he was – and then gave the bell a light, merry jingle.
Rand stopped what he was doing and spun around with a curse. His current girl fell back onto the pillows with a sheep-like bleating noise, and flickered in and out of solidity. Rand peered intently at the place he had heard the bell-noise, but couldn’t see anything. Angamael knew he couldn’t see anything. The gangly redhead climbed to his feet and staggered around for a few minutes, turning over pillows and swearing. The room and its contents flickered wildly.
Angamael grinned. The Dragon was completely distracted, so much so that he couldn’t even hold his dream together. A bit at a time, the room vanished and floated away into scattered nothingness, leaving Rand standing alone in darkness. All because of a tiny little bell.
Conditioned-response mechanisms were a wonderful thing.
Angamael laughed quietly, and let himself fade out of the dream and back into his own special reality. His work for that night was done.
Chucky opened his eyes. He closed them again shortly afterwards.
I didn’t see that, he said to himself. It was too horrible.
He opened his eyes again. Bayle Domon was still leaning over him. The massive, hairy man was chewing on something – probably some awful form of tobacco – and was festooned with sores and patches of sick, dead skin. He was a walking disease, doubtless put together over the course of many years and many, many sleazy portside brothels.
“Everybody was so clean in the books,” he whimpered to himself.
“Okay, so who be you?” Domon growled. “And how did your wagon come to be lying in the middle of my deck?”
“We’re … I’m a gleeman,” Chucky mumbled, “my friends are from the Two Rivers … travelling somewhere … where’s Mister C? I mean Mister See? My apprentice.”
“Be he one of those two?” Domon pointed to Rand and Mat, who were sitting to one side of the ruined wagon. Rand was casually picking over the body of Fain’s horse, which had been crushed to leather, mince and jerky by the tumbling wagon, and Mat was curled up with his hand inside his shirt, staring at people suspiciously. “Long streaks of nothin’ they be, the two of them. There was a halfman threatening them, so there was, but we managed to stick some swords in it and knock it over the side, so we did.”
Chucky sighed. “Okay. We were lost, we wandered into Shadar Logoth, and were attacked by trollocs…”
“You were indeed. Attacked my boat too. Did a lot of damage, but not as much as your wagon here. It done killed three of my men, so it done. Okay, so one of them was that useless Gelb, but the others did be good men, hard workers. I ought to throw you into the water after the fade, so I ought.”
“Right. Only we need to get to, um, Whitebridge. Think you can do that?”
“That’ll cost you.”
“I understand you’re interested in strange and mysterious artifacts,” Chucky said, suddenly inspired. “I spoke to an inkeeper in Baerlon, who gave me these bagpipes. Apparently you traded them to him, Master Domon.”
“That I did,” Domon replied, narrow-eyed, looking at the bagpipes that lay, miraculously untouched, in the splintered wagon bed. “But how do you know who I be?”
“Master Fitch told me you would be sailing down this way, I guess we just got lucky. Listen, I know what you’re after, and we can pay our way and then some. Mat has a jewelled dagger he stole from Shadar Logoth,” Chucky pointed at Mat, who had gone white. “It’s not his, and you’re welcome to it.”
“You bastard!” Mat tugged out the dagger, which glinted in the morning sun with a dangerous life of its own. “You’ll have to take it off me, you thieves!” he swung the knife wildly. A huge, furry sailor nearby produced a great wooden belaying pin, and swung it not-so-wildly. Mat collapsed bonelessly to the deck, and Domon scooped up the knife.
“This be a fine piece of work,” he said. “Alright, it pays your fare. And I’ll see to it that my men leave you alone at night … it gets cold and lonesome on these river voyages.”
“Too kind,” Chucky murmured.
“It doesn’t pay for your food, or for clearing away this Creator-awful mess,” the captain went on.
“I can earn those with my stories,” Chucky said confidently. “There’s one about that knife, since I know you’re interested in the things you collect and see. It’s filled with a powerful sort of evil, that slowly possesses the person who owns it. It’s different to the Dark One’s power, but still dark and dangerous. If you give me a minute, I might remember the story about Shadar Logoth…”
“Never mind. I’ll keep it safe. I’m used to keeping prying hands away from my collection.”
“Mat might try and get it back. It has a sort of pull.”
“I’ll protect it. Precious it be.”
Chucky was suddenly glad Mister C was missing. He could still see the smug smirk in his head. “Yes yes, precious. Right. Anyway, I’ll pay for our meals with stories, and we can throw this mess into the river right here.”
“Do you know any about ship captains?”
“Plenty,” Chucky grinned. “Kirk, Picard, Sisko or Janeway?”
The journey downriver went quietly and uneventfully. Surprisingly enough, Mat didn’t go crazy and try to steal back the dagger, and he didn’t try to kill Chucky either. The knock on the head seemed to have lent him a bit of sense – or the effects of Shadar Logoth hadn’t had time to take hold. He actually thanked Chucky, awkwardly and from the depths of his skanky old hat, for freeing him from the hold of the evil power. Chucky said shucks.
Bayle Domon, meanwhile, began showing classic signs of Shadar Logothification almost straight away. He hadn’t been very clean or friendly-looking to start with, and Chucky was quite sure he killed and partially ate at least two more crewmen before they reached Whitebridge. It was quite a relief when the huge, ancient structure came into view. Not only was Domon becoming creepy, but Rand and Mat were growing increasingly irritating. Chucky made a mental resolution to lose them as soon as he could.
The unknown substance of which the indestructible bridge was made posed exactly zero mystery to Chucky, who knew spackle when he saw it. He breathed a sigh of relief when the boat pulled up on the wharf. With any sort of luck, they wouldn’t be seeing Bayle Domon again for a while. Bidding the captain farewell – he didn’t reply, being too busy staring suspiciously at the rest of his crew, none of whom planned to return from shore leave – Chucky, Rand and Mat disembarked and headed into the filthy little town.
If possible, the people in Whitebridge were even more dirty and diseased than the ones in Emond’s Field, and only slightly cleaner than the sailors on board the Spray. Rand and Mat didn’t seem to notice. Rand insisted that everything in the town was ‘mint’ and that the town itself was ‘minter than anything’. When the halfman lurched out of the shadows of a nearby alleyway, it was something of a relief.
The myrddraal stumbled fluidly into the street and hurried towards them, making indistinct hissing noises as it came. Its eyeless gaze transfixed the three travellers, and its robe hung about its narrow shoulders like a fabric shadow. Chucky stared in disbelief, then turned to the others.
“I’ll hold it off,” he said, “you two – run!”
Rand and Mat stood, terrified, watching the halfman approach. Chucky gave them a swift shove.
“Run! I’ll see you in Caemlyn!” Then, in a moment of inspiration, he added, “Fly, you fools!”
Aware that he was falling straight into the narrative’s hands, but knowing it was his last chance to get away from the tedious farmboys, Chucky charged up the street towards the myrddraal. Rand and Mat stood in horror for a moment longer, then ran.
Life pottered on as peacefully and uneventfully as ever in the Tinker camp. Contro was all fixed up and as good as new, and even though these Tinkers weren’t his family, he was vaguely aware that his real family didn’t exist in this world anyway, so that was fine. Life for Contro was a fluffy pink mist at the best of times, but he was dimly aware that these people were awfully nice, and they wore the same clothes as he did.
There was something he was supposed to be doing, but he couldn’t remember what it was. He vaguely recalled Forsaken_1, a nice American fellow, talking to him urgently about doing something, speaking to somebody or maybe following them, or maybe it was making sure he didn’t follow them. Forsaken_1 did not seem to be around now, and it was funny that he was around at all, since he was American, and not from this place at all. But then, neither was Contro, except he was wearing the same clothes. Maybe Forsaken_1 had been a daydream. Contro did that sometimes.
When the three people came to the camp and stayed for a while, something about them jogged his memory. But then he laughed at the phrase “jogged his memory”, because it was such a funny way of saying something, because people’s memories didn’t jog, at least as far as he had ever noticed. And then he went to sleep, because he was sleepy and when he woke up, it was time to eat breakfast, which he liked. And by then, he was quite sure the three people he didn’t know had been in the camp all along, and he was too polite to ask who they were, because he was sure he had been told, because something seemed familiar about them, but if they were familiar and he didn’t know them, then it was because he had forgotten, so they must have been here all along. He smiled and said good morning to them. The two men, Elyas and Perrin, seemed quite surly, but nice enough in a surly-but-nice way, although they were awfully surly. Contro laughed at the sound of the word “surly” in his head. It sounded like “curly”, which was a funny word. He thought there might be a word for words that sounded like the thing they meant, like “ting” and “plop” and he was pretty sure “curly” was one too, because it sounded curly. The idea of having a word for a word, that wasn’t the word “word”, made Contro laugh again.
“He’s a very merry boy,” Raen explained to Elyas, who was frowning at the laughing young Tinker. “He was brought here a few days ago by a Whitecloak, who said he had been wrongfully imprisoned for some time. We fear something unpleasant may have happened to him in Amadicia at the hands of the Children of the Light, and it might have made him … a little bit strange. Affected his mind in some way, and made him laugh so much as a defence against the bad memories. We know the Children of the Light can be unmerciful,” he regarded Contro with quiet sympathy. “Or, he might just be a retard.”
“I think he’s nice,” this was Egwene, the third person who Contro thought was new but probably had been around all along, because she seemed familiar. She looked a little bit like a fish. “It’s nice to hear somebody laugh, in times like this. It makes a change.”
“Ha ha ha! I agree actually!! I think it makes people feel better if you laugh, and it always makes me feel like laughing! Ha ha ha!! If you know what I mean! If you can’t laugh at things, what can you do?!!”
“Fight?” Perrin scowled.
“Yes! That’s certainly true!! Ha ha ha! Or you could yodel, I suppose! There’s always that! Ha ha ha!!”
The three people said they would stay for a little while, which Contro thought was a little bit strange as they had been around forever, but then he realised it must have been a figure of speech, and he thought it was a very funny one. The pink fog fell warmly back over him.
It lifted briefly later that evening, when they were all sitting around the fire and talking. Egwene was sitting very close to him, talking and laughing along with him. It was nice to talk and laugh with somebody again – somebody who didn’t say the word “idiot” after every time they finished laughing, like most people did. Another young Tinker came over to Egwene and asked her if she’d like to dance.
“What’s your name again?” she asked.
“Aram,” he said with a disarming smile.
“Aram, that’s right,” Egwene nodded. “Aram. Fuck off, Aram.”
Aram did, and Contro laughed. Egwene was doing funny things to his legs underneath the blanket she had spread over their laps to “keep warm” – not really to his legs, though, but the tops of his legs, sort of. It tickled, and made him laugh. It also made him want to wee, but he thought he could hold on for a little while. Then he would probably excuse himself and go somewhere else, because nobody liked to be wee’d on. Except for Egwene, who whispered that it was okay if he did it right in her hand, if he wanted to.
The pink mist descended once more.