When the patrol rode into the Whitecloak camp bearing two unconscious bodies over their saddles, Forsaken_1 could barely hold back a shout of relief. It had been days, and finally the plot was moving forwards again, and had come back to him. If he had been forced to sit in Bornhald’s tent much longer, listening to him talk about his early days in the Whitecloak Cadets, and about his innumerable family members (Neofram Bornhald the smith, Diafram Bornhald the alchemist, Gain Bornhald the shoemaker, Nain Bornhald the crockery cleaner, Jain Bornhald the historical novel re-enactor…), he would have gone completely insane. Finally, Perrin and Egwene had been captured in a scuffle not far from here, and were going to be put to death in the Fortress of the Light after they had been through Caemlyn. Or something. He hadn’t read the books in a long time, but he knew Perrin was starting to become a wolfbrother, and Elyas Machera had vanished into the wilderness just before the fight.
“Was there anybody else with them?” he asked Jaret Byar, intercepting the zealous young officer before he could become bogged down in a conversation with old Slow-Talk Bornhald.
“Only the wolves,” Byar said respectfully. “We have nine men dead, twenty-three injured and thirty horses killed. There were wolves everywhere – the work of the Dark One for certain.”
“That is for the Hand of the Light to decide,” Forsaken_1 said.
“Begging your pardon, Child Foreskin,” Byar replied quite sharply, “But I do not believe you have that sort of authority-”
“So sure, are you?” Forsaken_1 was getting better at talking to these guys. He smoothed his white robes and made sure the crimson shepherd’s crook was clearly visible. “If you’re so sure, you won’t mind telling me how you know wolves are the agents of the Dark One. Or how you’re sure that it was these ones who summoned them,” he gestured to the limp bodies. “Hmmm?”
Byar turned white. “I am sure the Hand of the Light knows best in matters of the spirit,” he said hastily, “and a full enquiry will be made once we reach the Fortress.”
“I’m sure. Now, put them in my tent.”
He was obeyed quite satisfactorily, and sat down in a comfortable chair to await the prisoners’ awakening. It was a remarkably well-furnished tent, considering that the whole troop were meant to be making their way with all possible speed towards Caemlyn and the false Dragon going through there. Soon enough, Perrin blinked and dazedly sat up. He stared distrustfully at Forsaken_1.
“I haven’t done anything wrong,” he said, spitting blood onto the carpet. “Why have I been captured?”
Forsaken_1 spread his hands. “I don’t know – it was nothing to do with me. But you’re safe here – I’m in charge, and I won’t let anybody do anything to you. Child Byar is just a little bit enthusiastic,” he hesitated. “Say,” he went on, “was there a Tinker with you? Young guy, always smiling, laughs a lot. He was meant to come along with you, become friends with you … or something. Did you meet him?” he tried to sound idly curious, wondering if Contro had somehow managed to forget he was supposed to go along with these two, or if he had been mistaken for a very merry, colourful wolf in the attack and killed by a careless Whitecloak.
Perrin’s face darkened in recognition. “Oh, we met him,” he said, struggling into a straighter sitting position. “Yes, we met him, and he certainly made friends with Egwene. I heard him that night … ‘ha ha ha! Oi! Ha ha ha! Yay! Ha ha ha! Yay! Oi!’,” Perrin grunted. “They were very friendly. But he stayed in the camp. I owe it to…” he paused, still looking distrustful. “To a friend of mine, who is betrothed to her … he can never know about this.”
“You mean Rand.”
“How did you know that?”
“I told you – I’m a friend. And Contro is too, sort of. But I guess it’ll be easier to leave him with the Tinkers for now. See, I know what’s going on. I know you came from the Two Rivers with a group of people, and got separated. I also know that you’re going to get rescued from here before too much longer, by some of those friends, and I need to come along with you,” Forsaken_1 stepped over to the bound figures. “In fact, I’ll untie you now, to make it a bit faster. Just promise not to hit my beautiful face.”
Perrin agreed confusedly. Sure enough, a few hours later Lan slipped silently into the camp, and went straight to Forsaken_1’s tent. Perrin and Egwene were standing in the middle of the floor, dressed and equipped with all of their belongings, and Forsaken_1 was sitting in a nearby chair. He stood up.
“Hi!” he said. “You must be Lan. I thought it was you and Moiraine who were coming to rescue them, but I couldn’t quite remember.”
Lan unsheathed his sword.
“Whoa there, big fella,” Forsaken_1 grinned and raised his hands. “I’m a friend.”
“It’s true,” Perrin said. Over the past few hours, he had become absolutely convinced the Whitecloak was his best buddy. “He untied us, and gave us food, and told ‘yo momma’ jokes to us. And he’s going to make sure the rest of the Whitecloaks don’t follow us.”
“That’s right,” Forsaken_1 held up a parchment he had scribbled on. It had taken him a while to get the hang of dipping the darn pointy whatsit in the bottle of ink every seven letters, but he had eventually ended up with a list of instructions for the Children they were leaving behind. Some of it was even readable. “I’m in charge here, they’ll obey these orders.”
Lan snatched the paper. “Have released the Darkfriends, smudge, smear, following them discreetly, smear, secret Hand of the Light business,” he read doubtfully. “Recording their actions, smudge, bringing more powerful Darkfriends to justice, do not, repeat DO NOT FOLLOW, highest … orders? That’s not how you spell orders.”
“Well whatever your name is, your spelling is terrible,” Lan handed back the parchment and shrugged. “Moiraine might not like this, but you’d better come along. As long as you’re sure these ones will just let you walk away with suspected Darkfriends.”
“Of course they will,” Forsaken_1 said positively. “I walked out of the Fortress of the Light with one, I don’t see how this could be any more difficult.”
Lan looked at him for a long time, his stony face unreadable. “I can see you’re going to have a lot of explaining to do to Moiraine when we get back to camp, Sue,” he said eventually. “Let’s go.”
Debs and Janica headed across country directly with their four Ogier companions. All things considered, they got along pretty well. Wyse, Frendli and Coarshus were charming and courteous at all times – especially Frendli, who introduced himself as a “herb singer” and spent a lot of his time crooning about yellow sho-wings and calling forth various plants that he crushed and blended and smoked in his huge clay water-pipe. He promised to keep his hobby to very early mornings, however, once he became aware that the smell of fresh tobacco and allied products was driving Debs – and, via a’dam, Janica – slowly insane.
The only potentially ugly moment had inevitably come from Hoarni, who spent most of the time staring at Debs and whimpering pitifully about how much he missed the stedding and how he wished very much for something to take his mind off the bleak unhappy emptiness. After a few days, he had finally mustered up the courage and approached Debs. He’d made a sly remark about how an Ogier man and a human woman would have unique things to offer one another, and incidentally yes, Ogier were built to human proportions to a certain degree – only much bigger. Then he suggested they retire to his enormous blankets on the other side of the fire.
Debs had disarmed the situation quite deftly with a laugh and the words, “Ach, ye would’nae touch the sides, lad. I’m married to a Scotsman.”
Hoarni’s face had fallen until his eyebrows brushed his chin, and he had wandered dejectedly away. He paused and glanced at Janica, but after looking down at her for a moment, and performing a little bit of arithmetic in his head with several peeks at the front of his own pants as he did so, he evidently decided it was a lost cause. And so Hoarni, too, had promised to restrict the exercising of his hobby to the wee small hours of the morning, and the rest of the journey had gone quite nicely except the one time Janica had blundered into a puddle before Debs could pull her back.
They moved out of the mountains on foot, moving northeast through a large forest that the Ogier said was called Haddon Mirk, and across the river Iralel, heading straight towards Caemlyn.
“I don’t think there are any bad sorts on the loose aroond here,” Debs said, “so we dinnae need tae be too worried. Let’s just get tae Caemlyn as soon as we can.”
“And what do we do when we get there?” Janica asked.
“We’ll find Loial and take him back home,” Wyse said decisively. “That’s what Elder Haman wanted.”
“Nae!” Debs said. “We canna dae that.”
“Why not?” Coarshus wanted to know.
“The people Loial is with – Rand and Perrin and the others – are ta’veren,” Janica explained. “They have to go on their own way, and Loial can not come back with you – he is part of their pattern. We have to let him go.”
“But that does’nae mean we canna follow them,” Debs said, “and make sure they dinnae screw things up.”
“How will we follow them?” Coarshus asked. “We will surely be noticed. We have been lucky so far, because these are uninhabited woods-”
“Except for the monkey people,” Frendli corrected, pointing.
“There are no monkey people. Anyway, once we get to human lands, we will attract a lot of attention. Ogier always do.”
“What do you mean, there’s no monkey people? There’s one over there. There’s old Pete. And over there, there’s Repete.”
“They’re not really there. You ate something you shouldn’t have this morning, and you’re seeing things that aren’t there,” Coarshus said patiently. “Stop trying to talk to the monkey people.”
“But Pete just said-”
“Never mind that. And don’t worry about getting spotted by people – once we get to Caemlyn and find the people there, we should be able to follow them without a problem. They’re going to leave Caemlyn through the Ways, and head for the Blight, so there won’t be any people to see us,” Janica concluded.
“The Ways!” Frendli cried, snapping out of his happy daze. “We’ll be killed! We can’t go through the Ways!”
“Loial will be directing the others through, can’t you do the same for us?” Janica frowned.
“Not through the Ways!” Coarshus seemed near tears. “We’ll never survive! We’ll be torn apart and struck mad by Machin Shin!”
“I need to go wee-wee,” Wyse said hoarsely.
Debs and Janica exchanged a cynical look.
“Pity they did’nae bring along their friends Brayve, Gutsee, Tuff and Balls,” Debs said quietly. Janica chuckled. “Ach, well never ye worry aboot the Ways,” she went on louder, reassuring the Ogier. “We’re a fair way away from Caemlyn yet, and we have to watch the others and see what they’re gonna do.”
“Anyway, we know a few tricks about the Ways that might help us to get past the evil inside,” Janica said.
“Do we?” Debs blinked.
“Of course we do. The Ways went bad because of the Taint, right?”
“And you remember how Rand cleanses the Taint,” Janica glanced at the Ogier nervously. She couldn’t see them, but from the snuffling, whimpering sounds, they were all still being frightened and hadn’t heard her informal Foretelling.
“Aye…” Debs was still looking blank.
“Well, there will be a piece of Shadar Logoth in Mat’s belt, as far as I can remember, and I’m pretty sure it will do something to Machin Shin. Padan Fain survived the encounter, remember.”
“That does’nae make much sense, lass.”
“Trust me, it’s just a feeling I have. And besides, if the evil in the Ways is after the group ahead of us, it won’t be after us, will it? Anyway, we’ll have to wait and see how badly the others have messed things up, like you said. They might not even go to the Ways at all, if Forsaken_1 or somebody else has told them not to.”
“Unless they ended up on the other side of the world, the way we did.”
Wyse ambled back to the group. He looked a lot happier. “We’ll keep going with you,” he spoke for the other Ogier, “at least as far as Caemlyn. If Loial goes into the Ways, we’ll have to go with him. And if it’s ta’veren at work, we’ll just have to go along with it.”
“We trust you,” Coarshus said, and patted Debs on the shoulder. Janica was hammered to the ground. “Sorry.”
“Let’s just get to Caemlyn,” Janica said, climbing to her feet and dusting off her grey dress. “Maybe we can find a jeweller who can get this a’dam off. I think I’d rather be completely blind than walk around with this thing on my neck, no matter how many puddles I blunder into.”
They headed on again, towards Caemlyn.
“And then this other dirty cunt pushed me in the back, and I ended up in the water.”
Chucky had managed to make Mister C of 9 put his sunglasses back on, and hide his robe around his waist once more. There were numerous holes in his Mambo shirt, a fact which Mister C moaned about far more than the long-since healed holes in his pallid hide.
“I hope you sunk their boat and danced on their deep, dark, watery graves,” Mister C went on angrily. “Did I tell you one of the swords went right through me? I saw my entire life flash before my … well, before the area just above my nose. And you know what?”
“What?” Chucky turned from his study of the street, back to his companion. They were sitting in a dark, musty tavern on the outskirts of Whitebridge.
“It was bloody horrible.”
“Was it? I didn’t think your life had been that bad.”
“Oh, it wasn’t that – my life was some good watching, Chuck. But it was over so fast, and there were commercials. And then it slowed right down when it got to the very last bit. Which was crappy.”
“You told me that.”
“So then I was tumbled along under the water, and I ended up here. Cunt of a river. I got banged up against one of the pylons of this stupid spackle bridge, and when I climbed out I was attacked again. Luckily, I still had my trusty Stormbringer Snaga,” he patted the sword at his side. “Then I hid in a warehouse and pulled all the stuff out of me. Three swords, a pair of throwing knives, eighteen arrows and a set of wooden teeth. Wooden teeth!”
“At least you know you’re pretty tough now.”
“I knew that already.”
“Yeah, but you took all those hits and you’re not even scarred.”
Mister C lifted his shirt. “Oh yeah? What do you call that? See that doozy?”
“That’s your belly button.”
“It’s bigger than it was,” Mister C said darkly. “What are we going to do next?
Chucky shrugged. “We got away from those farm guys, but there’s not much to do here. As far as I know, once Rand and Mat go through this place, it doesn’t get mentioned in the story again. In the books, they’re with Thom and he gets attacked by a myrddraal, and half the town burns down. But that didn’t seem to happen this time,” he glanced out of the window again. The streets were peaceful enough. “So we can either follow the action, which leads to Caemlyn, or we can go somewhere else.”
“I’m not sure. Wherever,” Chucky stood up and put the bagpipes on his shoulder. “You gave these a nasty whack when you ran up to me before,” he said. “Mind if I make sure they’re not broken?”
“Be my guest,” Mister C said, putting his fingers to his ears.
The mob chased them north into the Braem Wood, howling for blood while behind them, Whitebridge burned.