They rode out of Fal Dara in a disorganised jumble, a hundred leaders and no followers. Half of the pack, composed mainly of women and Forsaken_1, opted to head straight for Tar Valon. Most of the women, of course, were Aes Sedai so that checked out. They rode south and west, hoping to meet up with the Amyrlin Seat and her party as it headed towards the Borderlands. Moiraine rather gloomily predicted that they couldn’t be far away, since they’d been due to arrive that morning.
Forsaken_1 had been glad of the riotous confusion that the bagpipes had caused. Much as he hated to separate from Mister C and Chucky – he could just see them going and doing something stupid without him there to keep them on the straight and narrow – he just couldn’t bring himself to leave the femmes to their own devices. That simply wouldn’t be the gallant thing to do.
His chances of doing anything to help, and of his efforts being appreciated, were somewhat narrowed by Moiraine and her acidic tongue … but Forsaken_1 liked a challenge, and he considered himself well worthy of a handicap in this department.
The others, including Mister C of 9, Mat, Perrin, Loial, Chucky, Ingtar and assorted others, headed directly south, chasing the Horn of Valere. Somehow, Ingtar had gotten it into his head that the Horn had been stolen from right under their noses at some point, and had passed very close to Fal Dara and was now just ahead of them somewhere. Chucky and Mister See exchanged a glance and nodded. It was classic Ring obsession.
“Hey Chucky,” Mat said suddenly. Chucky looked across at the farmboy, and almost came off his horse as he did so. His riding was getting better – but not much better. He thanked the Gods of fat bastards that at least he had an ass to pad out the journey with. Mister C of 9 was in much worse shape.
“What do you want?”
“Tell us a story. You haven’t told us any stories for a long time.”
“I told you one last night.”
“We were all drunk,” Perrin said. The shaggy-haired blacksmith had ridden up on Chucky’s other side. The gleeman was effectively buttonholed. “Can’t you tell us one now?”
“Alright,” Chucky sighed. “I can tell you the one about how Druss-”
“No stories about Druss,” Mat snapped. “Rand died because of those stupid stories.”
“Rand died because he tried to fight a man with a shotgun, not because of Chuck’s dumb plagiarised stories,” Mister C of 9 offered his unique brand of support from the sidelines.
“Shut up, Mister See. Rand died believing he was Druss,” Perrin said. “I don’t want to hear about Druss anymore. I hate him.”
“You didn’t let me finish,” Chucky said, thinking quickly. “I was going to tell the story of how Druss finally met his agonising, humiliating, lingering doom. This is a story about the mighty Yoru.”
“You cunt,” Mister C said distinctly.
“Yoru was a great and powerful man, born on the Great Steppes. He was almost, um, two spans tall when he was eleven years old, and he’d killed twenty men by that stage.”
“Why did he kill them?” Mat asked.
“Well, lots of reasons. One of them killed his father, another one killed his mother, and a whole lot of them just looked at him the wrong way. But those are all other stories. May I continue?”
“What steps was he born on?” Perrin wanted to know. “Were they the steps of some sort of temple? They have big steps. Or maybe a palace somewhere. Did Yoru have royal blood?”
“Maybe he was born on the steps of Chucky’s Big House of Bullshit,” Mister C of 9 muttered. “That’s got mighty big steps.”
“Partial credit,” Chucky inclined his head to his apprentice, “but you’re all way off. Yoru was in fact born on the Great Steppes … er, Steps … the foothills of the Spine of the World itself. On the edge of the Aiel Waste.”
“Oooooh,” Mat and Perrin cooed.
Uno and Masema had ridden up, and were listening as well. Chucky glanced uneasily at Masema, wondering how he would change now that Rand was dead. It couldn’t possibly be worse than the way he’d gone in the books, but Chucky was still wary. The pair of them were gruff, potty-mouthed and had no time for gleemen.
“Tell us the one about how Fal Dara was torched,” Uno grinned. The evil red eyeball painted on his eye-patch stared at Chucky accusingly.
“Tell us the one about the gleeman who had a soul trapped in a bag, that howled when he squeezed it,” Masema added. “And how he squeezed it in the Borderlands one day, and hundreds of women and children were left homeless.”
“You’re exaggerating,” Chucky protested. “Only one out-building was set on fire, and the gate was opened from the inside – your boss even said it was Darkfriends. It was just a coincidence. We had to get out of Fal Dara anyway.”
“I reckon you were calling the Shadowspawn with that bloody device of yours,” Uno growled. “Just so you know – we’re watching you. Every minute of every day, we’re watching you, you flaming gleeman.”
“Will you promise to look away if I piss myself with fear?” Chucky muttered.
“What are you doing back here? I was just starting to tell the tale of Yoru.”
“Ingtar wants to talk to you,” Masema said with an unpleasant smile. “Now.”
Grumbling to himself, Chucky spurred his horse forward and almost fell off as it cantered up the column. He righted himself, overcorrected, and almost fell off again. Uno and Masema followed behind with derisive sneers. Mat and Perrin dropped back to speak with Loial, and Mister C of 9 was left alone.
Ingtar was deep in conversation with Hurin when Chucky reached the front of the column.
“…like no scent I’ve ever followed,” the sniffer was saying. “I’ve scented evil at ten leagues before, and I’ve followed Darkfriends who moved like the wind, but nothing like this. It’s stretched and thin as if they’re moving faster than an arrow’s flight, and if it’s truly evil, I’ll eat my nose. I’m getting a darker scent from our own column.”
“You think there are Darkfriends among us?” Ingtar snapped.
“Not at all, that’s my point,” Hurin insisted. “There’s nothing like that, but whoever’s in front of us, they’re not Darkfriends, or doers of any wrong I can smell. I mean, in this column … we’re after the Horn of Valere, you know, and that’s bound to bring up some … strange scents.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” Ingtar roared. Hurin huddled in his saddle unhappily.
“You called for me?” Chucky interrupted.
“Ah, the gleeman with the Shayol Ghul pipes,” Ingtar said sourly. “Yes, we have need of you. I want you to tell me everything you know about the Horn of Valere.”
“Well,” Chucky reached out and grabbed Ingtar’s wineskin. “That’s thirsty work,” he took a long swallow, and grimaced. “I preferred that cheeky little vintage Agelmar put on his table.”
“Less prattle,” Ingtar growled. “Tell us about the Horn.”
“And then … and then tell us about Yoru,” Uno said, a childish expression of eagerness on his grim face.
“You’re in luck,” Chucky said, rubbing his forehead to get the bullshit glands flowing, “for I can not tell of the one thing without telling of the other…”
“Debs…? Debs, I don’t mean to keep on asking this, I’m very sorry, really … but where are we going?”
“Ach, that’s really gettin’ annoyin’,” Debs snapped. “I told ye, I danna knoo where we’re goin’. There’s nae wee tae knoo, in here.”
“She said there’s no way to know where we’re going,” Janica said gently. “This is Tel’aran’rhiod, and it is ever-changing. We can’t tell where we are right now, and we can’t tell how far we’ve travelled in the real world. We only have a vague idea.”
Frendli and Wyse crowded closer, looking fearfully into the flickering darkness with eyes that were the size of saucers at the best of times.
“I don’t like it,” Wyse said, “I don’t like it. Somebody hold me. Frendli, hold me.”
“We should leave here,” Frendli said. “My wood-singing does not work here, and I sense danger all around. We should return to the real world, I am sure we are far enough ahead of the pursuit now.”
“There might’ae been Aes Sedee with them,” Debs said. “Tha’ means they might’ae felt us as we entered here. I tole ye, we were tae cloose tae the Borderlands when we crossed oover. We were tae cloose tae those Aes Sedee.”
“The Aes Sedai didn’t hear us,” Janica assured her sul’dam. “The ones leaving Fal Dara were too distracted, and the ones with the Amyrlin Seat were too far away. We might as well head sooth while we’re here, and get as much of a lead as possible. Once we hit the coast, we’ll know where we are.”
“We should leave this place,” Coarshus moaned from the back of the party, where he walked beside Hoarni. “We should go into the real world, and find a nice quiet place to wait. We can hide, and if anybody comes close we can blow the Horn.”
All things considered, Hoarni had actually been the most bearable member of the party for the duration of this leg of the journey. He had discovered quite early in the piece that he could conjure objects out of thin air, and had amused himself ever since.
“There’ll be nae blooin’ o’ that feckin’ Horn,” Debs decreed. “An’ there’ll be nae hidin’. We’ll git tae the coost and then we’ll decide what t’ dae next. We should wait fer the Seanchan. Or figure oot what tae do aboot the Dragon.”
“Hey, look at this one, it’s shaped like a mushroom.”
“I’m glad I can’t see it,” Janica sighed. In fact, she was glad she couldn’t see much of anything. That meant it was Debs’s job to get them through, and she couldn’t be blamed for leading them the wrong way. Tel’aran’rhiod had been much easier to navigate the last time they were there. When they had first stepped into the World of Dreams, a few days south of Fal Dara, they had immediately risen into the air, prepared to make some serious progress. But then they had discovered something a little bit unpleasant.
Ogier and Tel’aran’rhiod simply did not mix.
They couldn’t fly, they couldn’t bend space, and they couldn’t control their surroundings. The most sophisticated thing any of them had managed to do was make a giant penis with three glanses, and while that had a certain hilarity value, it could not help them get from point A to point B any quicker. And the more time Janica and Debs spent in close proximity to the Ogier, the more their own control over the World of Dreams faded away. And the Ogier insisted on crowding very close indeed. Tel’aran’rhiod scared them.
And no wonder. The more Janica thought about it, the more sense it made. Of course it did – the World of Dreams was a substitute reality created by the mass unconscious of human beings. Ogier, if they dreamed at all, had an entirely different set of dimensions. As far as she knew, there had never been an Ogier that entered Tel’aran’rhiod in the flesh. No Ogier had ever dreamed a human dream, and certainly not vividly enough to reach this place. She had asked all of them – except for Hoarni, of course – about their dreams, and she had reached this unscientific but undeniable conclusion.
Ogier did not belong here.
And like any living thing with foreign matter within it, Tel’aran’rhiod was rejecting them.
It took all of Debs’s concentration, and all of Janica’s focused power, to keep the landscape scrolling by under their feet at a velocity merely two or three times faster than a galloping horse – no speed at all, in other words. They could go no faster, or the land would rise up and slap at them, trees would rush up out of nowhere and topple them, and the sky itself would loom down over them and press them into the hostile ground. So they walked, and hoped their passage was making some headway in the real world. And Tel’aran’rhiod grew ever more unfriendly.
The Ogier settled down for a time, and the group made a bit of progress. Debs couldn’t make out any landforms – around the Ogier, the world was crumpled up like something out of a Moorcock book – but she seemed to see flickers of water, little flashes of towns, and there was something very familiar about them…
“Wow, this one’s got teeth!”
Hoarni’s voice was thick with lechery, but had the tiniest quaver of fear in it. Debs stopped, and turned around, and her concentration vanished. Tel’aran’rhiod solidified under their feet, the flickering of the sky settled into a dim twilight, and they were no longer moving south. She stared at the thing Hoarni had created.
“Hoarni,” she murmured, backing away slowly, “nae more makin’ things, alreet?”
The penis floated in the air like a pink torpedo, its shaft knotty and studded with bristles, a pair of massive testicles throbbing at one end, and at the other … the teeth. It was like a shark’s mouth, but eyeless and fleshy and horrible. It was like the Alien the first time it emerged from Kane’s chest, but it was about five feet long. Its lips peeled back from its long, multi-layered teeth, and thick white saliva drooled from the orifice.
“Alright,” Hoarni said, his face pale. “Alright, yeah, no more making things.”
The penis flapped its testicles lazily, sweeping forward with the liquid grace of a barracuda. It made no noise, but its mouth opened and closed slowly, casually, and its rigid, swollen body throbbed with disgusting health.
“Debs,” Janica said, “what is it?”
“Nothin’,” Debs said, and reached through the a’dam to grasp the Source. “We’re leavin’.”
Forsaken_1 was glad it was Moiraine who had made the wards of secrecy. The Aes Sedai seemed remarkably weak for some reason. The Questioner blamed her exertions in the Blight – that would be enough to leave anybody drained.
In short, however, all it really meant was that he was able to eavesdrop in on the conversation between Moiraine and Siuan Sanche.
The two parties of Aes Sedai had met up a short distance outside of Fal Dara, on the morning of their first day. They had changed direction when and ridden quite hard to the southwest once the parties were joined, but nobody had exchanged much in the way of information. The Aes Sedai from both groups were icy and uncommunicative. It made Forsaken_1 quite homesick, to tell the truth.
He rode along between a confused Egwene and a muttering Nynaeve, and they didn’t stop until the late afternoon, when the plumes of smoke from the north were a mere smudge on the horizon. They had set up camp, the assorted Warders had begun stamping the perimeter, and Child Foreskin had been left to his own devices.
When he saw Moiraine heading wearily to the Amyrlin’s pavilion, he had followed out of simple curiosity.
“You have been gone from the White Tower for too long,” one Aes Sedai, named Anaiya, was saying to Moiraine. Their words were quite audible through the wispy, tattered secrecy ward. Forsaken_1 sat down and made himself comfortable atop a bundle of his white robes.
“There are false Dragons in Saldaea, Murandy and Tear,” another Aes Sedai said. Forsaken_1 seemed to recall this one being named Liandrin, and she was certainly a pretty little thing … but he had a lousy memory for names. He decided that, from here on in, he would call her Pouty. With her long, honey-coloured braids, she looked like a pop star. Forsaken_1 began to sport something of a stiffy, even as he listened.
“There have been others in the past two years,” Moiraine said wearily. “What of Logain? Has he reached Tar Valon?”
“Yes,” the Amyrlin Seat said. “I made sure he was secure and gentled before we departed. Elayne Trakand is also safely in the White Tower where she belongs – in spite of Whitecloaks following her and Gawyn all the way from Caemlyn to the Shining Walls – and we have high hopes for her. The news is that the Great Hunt of the Horn has been called in Illian, as well – the first time in four hundred years. And just before we left, there was word of fighting in Toman Head. Tarabon and Arad Doman have been fighting over Almoth Plain for three hundred years, and they’re not likely to stop now.”
Forsaken_1 snickered under his breath. “Head.”
Siuan Sanche did not hear him. “We left Tar Valon as soon as we could, and we have made good speed here. We channeled the weather to aid us on our journey, and more, just to get us here – but it seems we were too late.”
“Too late, and yet just on time,” Moiraine agreed. “Apparently two of your party arrived in Tarwin’s Gap and helped push the Shadowspawn back, and that was no small victory. I thought it might have been Verin, and somebody else told me the other was Cadsuane.”
The Amyrlin Seat hissed through her teeth. “Cadsuane? If she did, it was not with our knowledge.”
“I thought she was dead,” Pouty pouted.
“Leave us,” Siuan Sanche said to the other Aes Sedai. They bobbed respectfully, and filed out of the pavilion. The Amyrlin Seat turned to Moiraine, and they stared at one another for a long time. Forsaken_1 began to get bored.
“Elaida came with Elayne to the White Tower,” Siuan said. Forsaken_1 pricked up his ears at the word ‘came’. “She told everybody who would listen that she’d had a Foretelling. She said you are involved in something far more dangerous than you believe. She seemed to think that you are fooling around with a ta’veren more powerful than anyone since Artur Hawkwing, though she never saw him. I think she was interpreting her Foretelling a bit too liberally.”
“She does that, the dizzy red-shawled bint,” Moiraine said flatly. “We didn’t even come close to seeing her in Caemlyn. None of our party did. She’s just making shit up.”
“Are you sure? I won’t have you putting holes in our net.”
“I’m telling you, Elaida knows nothing, and the things she thinks she knows are the wrong things. She doesn’t know bugger all from Bel Tine breakfast.”
“A lionfish prefers to eat tuna, but when it’s in a feeding frenzy, any old thing will do,” Siuan went on inexorably. “If she knows even the slightest part of the truth, it will be enough.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Moiraine said wearily. “Even if she knows everything about what we planned-”
“If she knows that, then we are sitting in our boats with nothing on the end of our lines but a big lump of-”
“Quit it with the Ghul-damned fish metaphors!” Moiraine exploded. “Rand al’Thor is dead!”
There was silence for a moment, and then the Amyrlin Seat spoke.
“Fuck is right,” the exhausted Aes Sedai agreed. “He was killed at the Eye of the World, the Forsaken are freed, the Eye is destroyed, the Horn of Valere is gone, and all that I managed to find in the Green Man’s garden was this,” she reached into her robe, and pulled out the shattered pieces of what even Forsaken_1 recognised as one of the Seals from the Dark One’s prison. “The Dark One stretches in His bonds, and soon He will be free. And we have no Champion.”
“We’re fucked,” Siuan said. “We’re fuckeder than fucked.”
Forsaken_1 climbed to his feet and wandered away, shaken and disinterested. All that talk had been confusing, and he really had no idea what they were supposed to be doing. He walked through the camp, passing close by where Lan was sitting with a group of Warders.
“Has Moiraine re-established your bond yet, Lanster?” he asked.
Lan cast a resentful glare at the Whitecloak. “Wha’ssh that supposed to mean?”
“You’ve been drinking,” Forsaken_1 accused mildly. “Haven’t you?”
“Yes, I’ve been drinking, mother,” Lan growled. “Wha’ssh it to you? Quesshioner? Gonna Quessssshion me?” He staggered to his feet and approached Forsaken_1 aggressively. The other Warders stepped back wisely. “Gonna Quessssssshion me? Huh?”
He shoved Forsaken_1 in the chest ineffectually, and stumbled to his knees. Forsaken_1 helped him up.
“Some Warder you are,” he said, annoyed. “No wonder Moiraine keeps cutting your bond.”
“I ssshuppose you’d do better!” Lan roared.
“I suppose I would!”
“Why doan we ssssssssshwap jobs, then!”
Forsaken_1 suddenly went as white as his cloak. “Oh no. No no no.”
But Lan had already grabbed him by the scruff of the neck, and was staggering with him towards the Amyrlin’s pavilion. “All your fault anyway,” he muttered. “I was almost dry, I was. I’d gone eight months without a drink, and then you and that fucking gleeman turned up … all your fault,” he ran straight into the secrecy ward, swore angrily, and shouldered it aside like it was a bead curtain. “Moiraine!” he bellowed.
“Oh bloody fuck,” Moiraine snapped. Siuan Sanche looked up and blinked at the two men, her face expressionless. “What do you want?”
“Foresssshkin and I are ssssshanging places,” Lan said, and grappled with Forsaken_1’s white cloak. “He can be your Warder, and I’ll be a Quessssshioner. For a few daysssh. Let him see how bloody good it is.”
Finally, Lan managed to strip Forsaken_1’s robes away, leaving him in his dirty jeans and shirt. He grunted, and thrust his colour-shifting Warder cloak into the Hands of the Light. Then he glared at Moiraine challengingly.
“This is really just a big misunderst-” Forsaken_1 started.
“If I do this, will you two fuck the Ghul off?”
“We sure will!” Lan spat.