Contro wasn’t entirely sure he was still headed for Tar Valon. And he wasn’t sure Aram knew where he was going either. The mountain that apparently stood right next to the city had turned out to be a lot of mountains, and he’d driven his little wagon along beside them for a lot of days. Cow didn’t seem to be getting tired, and there was plenty of stuff to eat, which was good. Aram wasn’t eating, but he didn’t seem to be upset by that. In fact, even though he wasn’t eating, his tummy was swelling up as if he was eating and eating all the time. It was funny to watch. Aram’s tummy had swelled up so much it had pulled his coat open, and was straining the stitches and buttons of his shirt. At the same time, his hands and face seemed to be getting thinner, and his eyes and mouth were all funny.
Contro would have laughed at that – he remembered speaking to a guy once who had a much funnier mouth and eyes – but Aram smelled so bad now, it was difficult to laugh about it. And Aram’s mouth and eyes weren’t all flames, they were just sort of empty and funny-looking. That’s what you got for being a lazybones, of course. Aram just lay around all day while Cow pulled them along the side of the mountains.
A few days after Contro had calculated they should have been at Tar Valon, he heard a funny noise away among the rocks. He asked Cow to stop, climbed out of the wagon, and scampered off into the hilly land on the side of the trail. The rocks were tumbled in a very funny way, and once he was out of the wagon and in the fresh air, Contro could laugh about them. It was as if they had fallen down off the mountains, rolled over the smaller mountains, and landed here, in the little foothills. It was a mess, sure enough, and there was no way he could bring the wagon up this way. He hoped they’d reach Tar Valon soon – maybe the Tinkers at the big convention could do something about Aram’s gas.
The noise had been very familiar, Contro seemed to recall hearing something a lot like it before. Had he been in another place, with cars and buses and computers, and then been sent here for some reason? But wagons, they were sort of like cars, weren’t they? He might have dreamed the other place. That was a confusing thought, because once he thought that, he thought maybe he was still dreaming, one of those long dreams that made no sense … and if he was still dreaming, then the bit that went before might not have been a dream, and it was all too confusing.
Now the booming, bleeping, garbly sound had stopped, and had been replaced by something else. It sounded like … yes, it sounded like a dog whimpering! Contro laughed. It was funny how he could tell what the noise was, even though he hadn’t heard a dog whimper in such a long time, and maybe only in dreams. He seemed to recall that he’d had a dog once. Its name had been “Fuck” in Swedish, or something like that. It was a funny name for a dog, but not as funny as “Cow”. He stopped laughing for a little while, and went looking for the source of the whimpering noise.
Sure enough, it was a dog – a big browny grey silvery dog with a long bushy tail and enormous teeth. It was sitting on the ground with its head under its paws, as if it had heard a terrible noise, and was trying to block it out. Of course! The bleeping booming noise! Had he actually heard that? It looked as if the dog had, that was for sure!
“Hello boy! Ha ha ha!!” Contro laughed. “How funny! I don’t know if you’re a boy or a girl! Hello dog!”
The dog looked up sharply. It really did have big teeth. It growled, deep down in its chest. It sounded a bit like the noises Aram made sometimes.
“Ha ha ha! You don’t need to growl at me! I’m a friend! Ha ha ha!! Honestly! I am! Are you a good doggie?”
The big dog sat up and tipped its head on one side. When it sat up, it was almost as tall as Contro’s shoulders. It made a funny grumbling whimpery noise, and tilted its head the other way.
“I think you’re trying to tell me something!” Contro exclaimed, remembering a film he’d seen once about a dog who tried to tell people things. Was it Lassie, or Benji? Or Cassie? He laughed. No, Cassie was a person! “Do you want something? Are you hungry? Thirsty? I have some things to eat in my wagon, and a lot of water! There’s a river right near the path, and there’s water in the river! Ha ha ha!! Funny that! If there was rocks in it, I guess it wouldn’t be a river! Unless there were rocks and water!”
The dog stood up and wagged its tail. Contro laughed.
“Alright! Deal!! You come with me, and I’ll feed you! Ha ha ha!!”
Contro went back to the wagon, and the doggie followed him. It was like no dog Contro had ever seen … but there were lots of dogs like that. Those little ones with no hair, they were really funny, not like real dogs at all. He climbed up into the wagon, and the dog jumped in after him. Its mouth was watering, so Contro guessed it must be really hungry. Or it smelled something good. That was really funny, because the only thing Contro could smell was Aram’s terrible break-winds.
He pulled out a pile of chopped vegetables, and a little bit of fish from the day before. “There you go!” he laughed. “A dog eating salad! Ha ha ha!! Trust you!”
Cyberwollf waited until Contro had gone out the front of the wagon and clucked his horse into action again, and then she began to gnaw on the dead Tinker.
The slow-motion modum noise crashed and echoed in Vamps’ head until he could have howled with frustration. Then, slowly, it faded away into nothing, and he was … there.
He took stock of his surroundings before opening his eyes. He was lying on a soft, fluffy surface, and was wrapped in a warm blanket. A goose down pillow was plumped up under his head, and early morning sunshine was sprinkling his face through the branches of a tree that stood just outside a window. His hair was spread out underneath his head in golden-brown waves.
I must look absolutely gorgeous, he thought sleepily. All I need now is a woman.
As if in answer to his summons, a soft hand touched his shoulder, and a female voice spoke in a loving croon.
“Puddin,” she said. “Come on, Puddin, it’s sunrise and the day’s begun. It’s time for you to be up and about your business.”
“You’ll see my business,” he murmured sleepily, knowing how suave and sexy he must sound. “I’ll be about my business just as soon as can be. And it’s not Pudding, it’s Muffin.”
“Puddin,” this time the voice was not so soft or loving. “Get your lumpy haunches out of that bed.”
Vamps opened his eyes, and screamed.
It wasn’t that the woman sitting on the bed was terrifying – it was just a bit unexpected. She was plain. She was dressed in rough woolens, her hair was done up in a tight bun on top of her head, and she looked to be in her late middle-age. She was almost elderly. Vamps couldn’t foresee any situation where he would tell people about sleeping with her. Maybe if she was a millionaire heiress, or a plastic surgeon or had a very sexy bisexual daughter … Vamps sat up and looked around, and that was that for his daydream. He was in a plain, inexpensive, simple-looking house. This woman was not rich.
“Are you getting up now, Puddin?”
The words were out of his mouth before he could stop them, and he froze in horror. Where had they come from? Why had he said that? Oh God, she was going to kill him.
But the woman was smiling warmly and helplessly. “Oh Puddin’,” she said, and ruffled his hair. “You’re a dear boy. Now braid your hair and get to working.”
She’s my mother, Vamps thought in disbelief. She’s my mother.
The elderly woman, whose name Vamps did not even know, bustled out of the room and left him to rise and dress in the clothes she’d laid out on the end of the bed for him. He braided his flowing locks as best he could, tying them with some little leather straps she’d laid out as well. Then he stepped out into the kitchen.
His mother looked at him and tsked when she saw the mess his hair was.
“Oh here, Puddin, let me,” she said, and spun him around. With deft, knotty hands, she untied his messy braid and re-did it into a long, neat cord that ran almost to his waist. Then she spun him back around. “Oh Puddin,” she said in that same hopelessly fond voice. “Why don’t you run away from here? Why can’t you get away, and do something – anything? Don’t you have a dream? Don’t you want to seek your fortune? Meet a girl? Your brother, now, he’s a great general. Why couldn’t you be more like him?”
Vamps was growing more confused by the minute. When he’d filled in his Wheel of Time Adventurer form, he’d asked to be a merchant, because merchants have a lot of money and access to beautiful women. He had fantasised about giving village girls special ‘discounts’, and bored housewives flocking to his discreetly-draped wagon of love … “Brother?” he asked, still feeling sleepy. “What brother?”
“Puddin,” his mother said, now looking quite stern, “now come on. Don’t you think you’ve taken this whole ‘I have no brother’ thing far enough? Maybe he has been away from home for too long, maybe he does live in Saldaea now, and claim to have been born there … maybe he is a False Dragon, but our Mazrim is doing what he wants to do with his life. I just wish you could do the same, Puddin,” she looked sly. “You know … there’s plenty of room over in Saldaea for the two of you. Think about it, Puddin – the Borderlands! Lots of pretty girls out there.”
Vamps squirmed helplessly, and again the words just leapt out of nowhere. “Aw, mom…”
“Come on, sit down and I’ll get you your porridge. Just make sure your shirt is tucked in and you look respectable. I keep telling you, I won’t have you wandering around Far Madding all mussed up like a wild man. Go on, eat up. I’ll make your bed. Do you want the Jain Farstrider sheets today?”
“Thanks, mom,” Puddin said around a mouthful of oatmeal.
Still mystefied, disoriented and wondering just what the Hell was going on, he wandered out of the house a little while later, and began to wander the streets of Far Madding. It was all he could do – he had no idea where he was supposed to be going, and what he was supposed to do. Did he have a job? Where was it? What was happening to him? Every time he passed a woman on the street, he nodded to her respectfully and wished her a good day. Not a single lewd comment or dirty proposition passed his lips. It was as if he was being controlled by a bad puppetmaster. Finally, he could take it no more. He spotted the town gates, and ran out across the bridge.
Puddin Taim stepped out of Far Madding … and the One Power exploded inside him like an Illuminator’s party trick.