The Queen’s Blessing was fairly quiet, compared to the growing riot outside. Apparently, several merchants had decided the Ogier costume was a clever Cairhienin idea, and were adopting the ploy to market their own stock. The streets of Caemlyn were filling up with a throng of actors and merchants’ guardsmen dressed in Ogier costumes of varying quality.
Chucky, Mister C of 9 and Forsaken_1 were sitting at the bar. Set before the gleeman was a dirty, foaming mug of ale which had given Chucky a very powerful Foretelling. He had Foretold he was going to throw up. Forsaken_1 had asked for a mineral water, and had been given a glass of water with a stone in it. Mister C of 9 had asked for a coke, and was sitting on his stool with a sour, thirsty expression on his sunglassed face and nothing in front of him.
“You’ve checked every room?” Forsaken_1 asked for the tenth time.
“Every single one,” Chucky replied. A cockroach scuttled towards his beer, then curled up and died when it encountered a spilled puddle of the same substance. “We even checked some of the rooms twice.”
“One of them five times,” Mister C of 9 supplied, cheering up slightly. “It’s a funny thing – in such a backwards world, where the technology of nylon and elastic has yet to be invented, just how alluring woolen underwear can be.”
“Shut up, Mister See. Moiraine will kill you if she ever finds out you raided her panty-chest.”
“She’ll never find out, because if she does, Lan will find out where his codpiece went.”
Chucky almost knocked over his ale. “I never touched his codpiece!”
“He doesn’t need to know that.”
“Maybe Rand and Mat got a room in another Inn,” Forsaken_1 said hastily. “Are you sure you told them to come here?”
“I’m sure. And they should have been here before us, because they weren’t … inconvenienced in Whitebridge the way we were.”
“Ah well. I’m sure Moiraine and Lan will find them. They’ve been wandering in the city for hours.”
There was a scream from the nearby common room. “Trolloc!”
“Perrin’s found Loial,” Chucky said, getting up and leaving his ale behind. “Maybe we should go and defuse the situation.”
Mister C of 9 joined the gleeman. “You forgot this,” he said, handing Chucky his ale.
Chucky sighed. “Thanks, See.”
Perrin was pale-faced and staring when the others joined him in the common room. Loial was sitting in a huge armchair near the fire, one thick finger holding the place in his book, an expression of patient suffering on his face. He lumbered to his feet when he saw the gleeman, the apprentice and the Questioner step into the room.
“I’m not a trolloc,” he said, sounding mildly offended. “And I’m not selling clothes and bedding. And I am not interested in taking off my pants. I am in fact a real Ogier, from a real stedding, in spite of what you might have heard on the streets.”
Chucky remembered the strange spectacle outside and the sudden craze that had followed it. “I believe you, Loial,” he said, raising a hand. “I recognise a real Ogier when I see one. It’s an honour.”
“How did you know my name? Even though you are saying it wrong – it is in fact pronounced ‘Loial’.”
“Loyal?” Chucky frowned. “It’s not pronounced that way in the back of the book.”
“I’m in a book?”
“No. Anyway, it’s nice to meet you. I am Chucky, this is my apprentice Mister See, and this is Child Foreskin, Hand of the Light.”
Loial looked faintly apprehensive. “I am not a trolloc.”
“I believe you,” Forsaken_1 said.
“At ease, Peregrin,” Mister C of 9 said, patting the giant blacksmith on the shoulder. “He’s just an Ogre.”
“Perrin,” Perrin corrected.
“Ogier,” Chucky said at the same time.
“Whatever,” Mister C shrugged.
“Say, Loial,” Forsaken_1 said, surprised by yet another blast of inspiration, “have you seen anybody around here who might be Rand and Mat?”
“Skinny guy with a big hat, and a tall guy who looks like an Aielman,” Chucky supplied.
“Oh yes!” Loial brightened. “Him. Them. They were here. They shouted at me as well. But then they went for a walk around the city. They both said their names were Druss.”
“That’s them,” Mister C nodded.
“Moiraine and Lan will find them,” Chucky looked around the common room. “Now, what about Nynaeve and Egwene? If we can just keep track of all these idi-”
“There they are,” Forsaken_1 pointed.
Debs and Janica were wandering through the streets of Caemlyn aimlessly. They were accosted numerous times by men in Ogier costumes, alternatively selling household products or seeking sexual liaisons. Debs was forced to admit that not interfering with the narrative had sounded a lot easier than it really was. She was thankful for small mercies, however – at least, when that last ‘Ogier’ had approached them, the nearsighted Janica had assumed he was selling toffee apples, and had let him off with a polite “No thank you, a bit too sticky for my taste.” If the damane had actually seen what was being wielded in front of her face, the One Power might have been employed.
Janica’s own worries were somewhat more abstract. She found herself thinking about the changes that might have taken place thanks to the interference wreaked by real-worlders.
“Rand hasn’t met Elayne,” she muttered to herself. “And he hasn’t met the Queen, he hasn’t met Galad and Gawyn, he wasn’t seen by Elaida … he wasn’t seen by Elaida!”
“Wha’?” Debs was still thinking about Logain and his toffee apple.
“Rand was supposed to go into the palace and be brought before Elaida. She had a Foretelling about him. And then they got back to the inn and there were Red Sisters looking for him, and that’s why they had to escape into the Ways.”
“Aye! She sid that after all the things that happened, they had tae goo an’ see the Green Man.”
“Will they do that now?” Janica pondered. “They don’t know the Red Ajah is after them…”
“Wha’ aboot the Weetclooks?” Debs stopped in the street, and the crowds washed around her. “Weren’t the Weetclooks after ’em?”
“That could be,” Janica said, thinking furiously. “But I don’t think that will force them into the Ways. They really took the Ways so they could get to the Blight, and the Green Man. I don’t think the Whitecloaks cause much of a problem,” she stared blindly into the crowd for a moment, fingering her a’dam. “We have to tip off Elaida.”
“We have to tell Elaida about Rand, and get her to meet him. Then Moiraine will see the importance of getting to the Green Man…”
“Are ye sure aboot this?”
Janica gestured to the looming, wobbling Ogier impersonators. “We’ve already messed with the narrative enough,” she said, “This is the only way we can make sure it’s not screwed up entirely – I’ve thought it through. We can do this, and make sure the characters aren’t aware they’re being manipulated.”
“Alreet. Hoo’re we goin’ tae get intae the palace?”
Janica pointed back over her shoulder. “Why not the same way Rand did?”
Debs’ shoulders slumped.
The Tinkers were on the move again, and had drawn close to Caemlyn when the small group of newcomers arrived at their wagons. Contro was on the welcoming committee – truth be told, he was the welcoming committee. He had been placed on the outskirts of the camp, in a little tent of his own, with instructions to meet people as they came in, and ask them about the Song. Raen the Mahdi had told him it would be better for everybody if he stopped asking the other Tinkers about the Song, and stuck to asking visitors.
Contro’s tent was set up on the far side of the camp, on the opposite side to Raen and the little groups of city-folk who entered the camp to get their pots and wagons mended. In fact, the side of the camp on which Contro was set up received next to no visitors at all, since it was the side of the camp that faced away from the city, and there was nobody out there at all. Contro guessed he was so good at Searching for the Song, this was a sort of handicap for him.
When the visitors did arrive, however, Contro was happy to do his job.
“Hello! Ha ha ha!! You look funny! Aww, but I’m sure you don’t look funny really! I just thought you did!! I hope I didn’t upset you!”
“Not at all, my young friend,” one of the four newcomers said in a soft voice. “I must apologise for our appearance. We had to walk in disguise while in the city, to avoid attention.”
“It worked, too,” the second remarked from behind a crude mask that Contro wondered whether it should be described as ‘crude’, or perhaps as something else. It was a very nice mask, at least some people might have thought so. Contro couldn’t say, because he didn’t know much about masks. “With all the people in there dressed up as Ogier, we didn’t cause much disturbance. It was a nice plan, I have to say.”
“They’re really good! You look like a very big man! Ha ha ha!! And I like your cloak! What’s it made of? It looks like leather!! Ha ha ha!”
The four strangers exchanged a glance.
“Are you a Tinker?” the one Contro thought of as the Main Speaking One asked.
“I sure am! And I like your mask too!!” Contro added to one of the others. “And the rest! Ha ha ha! Look at that! You look like one of those sex guys, not that I know what a sex guy looks like!!! Ha ha ha!! Oh yes, I’m a Tinker, I have to ask you if you’ve found the Song lately.”
“Not lately, I’m afraid,” the first fellow said gravely. He really was very tall. Contro wondered if he was wearing stilts as part of his costume, or if he was really that tall. “Actually, we didn’t mean to come to this camp at all. We were in the city, and decided to leave once we had … found what we needed.”
“We could have stayed, and enjoyed ourselves,” said the one who was dressed up a little bit like a sex guy. “It’s been so long…”
“Shut up, Balthamel,” the leader said. He had funny eyes. They were very well done. “Anyway, now we’re here, and we might as well make use of this situation. Tell me, Tinker – do you know a man named Perrin? Perhaps a woman named Egwene?”
Those names did seem terribly familiar, but Contro was quite sure he didn’t know such people – not personally. He might have met them, and even talked with them … he even had a very vivid memory of one of them tickling him for some reason. It was funny the tricks memory could play on you. It was so funny that he laughed aloud. “Ha ha ha!! Trust you! How could I know anybody like that? I don’t know many people!! Ha ha ha! Funny that! I don’t think I’ve ever known anybody by those names!”
“Wrong group of Tinkers,” the leader muttered to himself. “Oh well, it was worth a shot. We’ll do this by the book.”
“Ha ha ha! What book would that be, then?!”
“You wouldn’t know it,” the leader swapped his shotgun over onto his other shoulder – Contro noticed its barrel was twined around with white cloth and white cord, and wondered if it was supposed to mean something. “It’s a big person’s book. And we’re late for our appointment at the Eye. Aginor, would you do the honours?”
The third fellow, who was dressed in green and hadn’t said anything much yet, nodded and raised a hand. It was all wrinkly, like he’d been in a bath for too long. Or maybe a fish tank – it looked like he’d been nibbled on a little bit, as well as wrinkling. His skin was all floppy and flaky and falling off. Contro wondered if it was special makeup. It was very convincing. The bright blue slash of light that sheared into the air like a lightsabre was also very well done, and the newcomers stepped through a hole in the air and into some sort of dark, stone chamber. Warm, flickering light illuminated the exciting-looking room, but Contro couldn’t see any details.
One of the visitors remained on Contro’s side of the doorway, glaring at Contro with eyes that looked sort of smudged to be honest. The leader stuck his head back through the door and coughed.
“Shadar, can we get on? Lots of prep to do before the goons arrive.”
The final visitor went through, and the doorway vanished. Contro was disappointed that they hadn’t talked to him more about Songs. He had been sure he’d seen a flicker of recognition in the eyes of the one who’d been dressed up like a sex guy. He laughed as he remember how funnily they had been dressed. And had one of them been carrying a shotgun? Did anybody have shotguns here? Contro didn’t think there was such things as shotguns here. He must have seen something else, and assumed it was a shotgun, because it had looked like one. In fact he didn’t actually know what a shotgun looked like, so it couldn’t have been one really.
As quickly as that, Contro convinced himself that he hadn’t seen anybody at all.
“Ah canna meek et!”
“It’s just a little further. Don’t make me lift you up with weaves of air – I might mess it up and rob you of what little dignity you have left.”
Debs clung to the wall and tried to think buoyant thoughts. All she could really think about was how well she would stand out against the pale stone, and how stupid she must look to any passers-by. Halfway up a rock face, her arm attached via a slender chain to a tiny grey-clad girl who was draped over the top of the wall, slowly choking to death.
With a final titanic effort, she hauled herself up and clasped to the top of the wall, wheezing hoarsely.
“Now, it’s just a little drop to the ground on the other side…”
“We have to – we’re sitting ducks up here,” Janica swivelled around nimbly, and prepared to jump. “You have to come with me – the chain won’t reach all the way, and I’ll be hanged for sure if you don’t drop at the same time. I’m still connected to you by the a’dam, remember?”
“I remember,” Debs said miserably. “Ye knoo all my secrets noo.”
“And if I’d known you were scared of heights, I wouldn’t have suggested this,” Janica said sympathetically. “The sooner we’re back on the ground, the better you’ll feel, right? Right,” without waiting for a response, the little damane leapt.
Debs stared at the rapidly uncoiling chain, swore to herself, and rolled off the top of the wall and into the Queen’s garden. She landed heavily on her backside. “Noo what dae we dae?”
“Noo,” Janica replied, dusting herself off, “we head for the palace. We should be able to pass ourselves off as Aes Sedai well enough to get a meeting with the Queen, and Elaida will be there.”
“And then wha’?”
“Then, we just hope Elaida is interested by our news concerning the Dragon Reborn. We’ll tell her he’s hiding at The Queen’s Blessing, and hope that Moiraine gets them all into the Wees – um, the Ways – before the Red Ajah catches him.”
“Thass a lot o’ hopin’. Wha’ if she catches him an’ gennels him?”
Janica patted her sul’dam on the arm. “We have to trust the Pattern.”
“Ah knew et.”
As luck would have it, they were accosted by palace guards almost immediately, and were escorted before the Queen as soon as Janica had demonstrated her Aes Sedainess. One of the guards became briefly convinced he was the Keymaster when Janica tried to open a Gateway, but he came back to his senses as soon as Janica released the Source.
“It’s dangerous for Aes Sedai in the city right now,” the captain of the guards said gruffly. “Even with the False Dragon safely bound.”
“Ach, ye’re sweet tae say so,” Debs said, “but we’ve’nae been in trouble. Lot’s o’ perverts aroond, but we knoo hoo tae deal wi’ perverts. Daen’t we, Janica?”
“Marry them?” Janica smirked. Debs roared with laughter.
They were brought before the Queen.
“Debs Sedai and Janica Sedai, of the Green Ajah,” the captain of the guards said by way of introduction. The sul’dam and damane sketched awkward little curtsies to the women at the centre of the great throne room.
“That’s never natural blonde,” Janica hissed. Debs nodded.
It wasn’t Morgase who spoke, however. Elaida, her eyes bright and fierce, stepped forward and glared at the two intruders.
“These are not Aes Sedai,” she said. “They’re wilders, perhaps not even that. This one barely has the spark, for all that she may be taught,” she gestured to Janica. “This one … well, this one is immensely powerful, but she is not Aes Sedai, nevertheless. Tell me where you came from, girls – the truth, or it will go hard for you.”
Debs and Janica exchanged a glance.
“We were accompanying Moiraine Damodred in the Two Rivers,” Janica said glibly. “She found several women who she believed could be trained – I apologise for the disrespect and presumption in impersonating Aes Sedai, but these are troubled times and our need was great.”
“Good,” Elaida said, seeming pleased by the apology. Janica had long since figured out that the best way to deal with self-important assholes was to apologise to them for no reason. They liked to be apologised to, because on a deep psychological level, they had so very much to apologise for that any sort of apology from any direction was like a pressure relief valve opening in their heads. “You shall be taken to the White Tower-”
“We have other news,” Debs said hurriedly. “Cadsuane herself told us to bring this tae yer attention.”
Elaida flinched. “Cadsuane! You lie!”
Debs shrugged massively. “Nae lees, lass. The Dragon Reborn is here in the city, Moiraine is taking him somewhere with the other girls and boys from the Two Rivers. We danna knae where.”
“They’re at an inn called The Queen’s Blessing,” Janica went on helpfully. “You can find them there, but we have to move on, there are important things Cadsuane wants us to do-”
“Nonsense,” Elaida stepped up to the two and glared at them. “You will accompany us to the White Tower with Logain’s party and that of Moiraine, and this new False Dragon of whom you speak. Then we shall have the truth.”
Debs had brightened considerably at the thought of being brought along with the Logain group, but Janica shook her head. “We can’t do that,” she addressed the empty air to Elaida’s right. “We have to go and-”
“And what is this?” Elaida pointed. “This is some sort of ter’angreal. You have stolen it from somewhere. Give it to me,” it took them a moment to realise she was talking about the a’dam. “The punishment for stealing angreal and ter’angreal is immediate-”
“We canna give it tae ye, it wil’nae come off,” Debs said, backing away.
“You lie,” Elaida said again, and grabbed hold of the chain connecting Debs to Janica. Immediately she stiffened, and her face went blank.
“It’s the Foretelling!” Morgase snapped out of her apparent NPC catatonia and spoke for the first time. “I’ve seen it before.”
Elaida spoke. “From this day Andor marches toward pain and division. The Shadow has yet to darken to its blackest, and I cannot see if the Light will come after. Where the world has wept one tear, it will weep thousands,” she trailed off, and her eyes cleared. She stared at Debs and Janica with awe and terror. When she continued, her voice had dropped to a harsh, choked whisper that only the sul’dam and her damane heard. “Pain and division come to the whole world, and these two women stand in the heart of it.”
There was a pause in the throne room. Janica felt her heart sinking through her little grey damane-shoes. Elaida backed away, hands raised up in front of her face.
“Guards …?” Morgase said hesitantly. “Elaida? What should we do with them?”
When Elaida spoke, her voice was barely a whisper.
“Let them go,” she said, “and keep the Red Ajah away from The Queen’s Blessing.”
“Ahh, feck,” Debs muttered.