“…and that, my friends, is the origin of the word ‘accident’. From the Old Tongue word dentis, meaning ‘teeth’, and acci, meaning ‘axie’. Literally, an axe in the teeth.”
Chucky finished with a flourish. Masema forgot himself momentarily and burst into spontaneous applause, then caught Uno’s eye and scowled. Uno was determined to be unimpressed, but he seemed to be the only one. Ingtar was grinning openly, admiration shining in his eyes.
“Yoru,” he said with genuine affection. “What a guy.”
“Tell us another one,” Hurin said, so caught up in the tale that he had not sniffed at their trail for almost an hour. “Tell us the one about how he lost and then avenged Yuo, the Shepherdess Queen.”
“Ahh, but that would be an epic worthy of a much larger crowd than just us here,” Chucky gestured companionably to the small group of riders in the vanguard.
Uno casually produced a whetstone and reached behind his back. His great, well-notched sword made a steely rasp as it slid from its scabbard. Chucky watched in fascination as the one-eyed Borderlander began to sharpen the already razor-sharp weapon.
“Is that supposed to be threatening?” the gleeman asked. “I’ve always wanted to know. I mean, you’ve had that sword on your back the whole time, and I’ve already seen you kill a couple of bandits with it, and I already know it’s sharp because you use it to shave with, and whenever I hear about somebody breaking down in tears of horror whenever somebody sharpens a sword, I always wonder if they’re … you know, soft in the head.”
Uno scowled, but now the rest of the Sheinarans were looking at him with intense curiosity. He put the sword away.
“I just reckon he’s making fun of us,” the warrior snapped. “Like we’re not good enough to hear his bloody story.”
“On the contrary,” Chucky insisted. “I would just prefer to tell it to the whole team, once we’re camped tonight. You wouldn’t want anybody to accuse you of being elitist, now would you?” he glanced sideways at Ingtar. “Anyway, it was the Horn you wanted to know about.”
“Yes yes, the Horn,” Ingtar said distractedly. “We must find the … tell me, gleeman – did Yoru ever find the Serpent Prince who was responsible for the unlawful exile of the friendly Hamster-Jews?”
“Oh, that would be telling,” Chucky said, peering anxiously at Ingtar now. “You really don’t care about the Horn at all, do you?”
“A few days ago, it was the only thing in my mind,” Ingtar admitted. “I would have sold my mother for a chance to be the one to take the Horn of Valere to Tarwin’s Gap. It seemed like it was worth any cost, even the most unspeakable … but now, I am not sure. It seems I have seen a taste of true glory,” he smiled sheepishly. “I am a Borderlander, gleeman, and I know honour. I know my quest is sure. And I know we must bring the Horn back to Fal Dara.”
“Once we bloody fix the place,” Uno muttered.
“But now, it is as if a great shadow has fallen over my determination,” Ingtar continued. “If a man as great as Yoru can be forgotten, what hope do we have?”
“There’s a story about that,” Chucky said hastily. Then Hurin cleared his throat nervously.
“The trail turns northeast again here,” he said.
“Damn this trail all the way to Shayol Ghul!” Ingtar roared. “Very well, we shall turn northeast.”
Hurin dropped back unhappily.
“What’s happening up the van?” Mister C of 9 asked the sniffer cheerfully. “Are they still talking about Yoru?”
“I fear so.”
“How’s Boromir? He falling apart yet?”
Hurin bit his lip. “I think Ingtar is a Darkfriend.”
“Worse. I believe he is a halfman.”
“No,” Hurin drew himself straighter in his saddle. “I can smell Shadowspawn, and I can smell one very close to us right now, as we speak, you and I. And I believe it is Ingtar. I first began to suspect when I took a sniff at that gate, just before we left Fal Dara. Somebody opened the gate and let Shadowspawn into the city. It could only have been Ingtar, opening the way for more of his kind. And then, when I saw you do your myrddraal impersonation, I thought to myself, I thought, it’s so easy for a regular man like Mister See to look like a guy without eyes … how easy would it be for a man without eyes to look like a man with eyes? And you know what else?”
“What?” Mister C said mildly. For all he knew, Ingtar was a halfman.
Hurin snuffled. “And I’ve lost the trail,” he whispered.
“Yes. It thinned out and stretched and faded and then it was suddenly gone.”
“So what are we following now?”
Hurin actually sobbed. “Trollocs,” he said. “You know that little village on the Erinin River? The abandoned one, where we thought all the people might have been taken by Shadowspawn for food?”
“Oh yeah. They’d left their underpants lying around, and Uno went a little bit silly. Said he saw a woman in white running around, with her bosoms out.”
“That’s the place. Well, I picked up the scent of a halfman there, along with the trollocs, and I’ve been following that ever since. The worst thing is, half the time I don’t know whether I’m sniffing the myrddraal, or Ingtar!”
“It’s alright,” Mister C reached out and patted Hurin on the shoulder. His black cloak hung down perfectly still in the cool breeze. “It’ll just be our little secret,” he grinned. “Let them jabber on about Yoru all they want. They’ll be gawping on the other sides of their faces when they find out they’ve daydreamed us right into a dead end.”
Hurin cheered up. “Kinda tough to be a Yoru when you don’t have a Horn, isn’t it?”
“You’re damn right,” Mister C nodded. “You’re damn right.”
It was a weary, footsore and wholly cranky group of travellers who stumbled into Illian that evening. Some hours before, mounting tension among the comrades had caused a highly unpleasant annoyance feedback-loop in the a’dam, leading Debs and Janica to grow exponentially more aggressive and short-tempered as the ter’angreal fed their own annoyance back at them over and over again. The whole situation had only been defused by complementary back-rubs from Frendli (he had sung a pair of very effective massage-knuckledusters from a nearby pine tree) and an unconditional promise from Puddin Taim not to tell them any more anecdotes.
“I’ll keep quiet, then,” Vamps said, his face full of injured innocence. “I’ll only tell you what flavour Cindi was if you really want to know. Which of course you don’t.”
“I do,” Hoarni protested.
“Outvoted,” said Wyse, who had found even his endless patience strained by the loudmouthed newcomer.
Puddin Taim was, as far as outward appearances were concerned, a Far Madding man. He had the characteristic long braid, neat clothes, and unconsciously quiet, unassuming manner. He spoke about his mother in his sleep, and had abiding respect for the women in the party. But this character was all-too-frequently over-written by that of Muffin Vamps, a far less savoury person. None of the Ogier knew where this mythical “Merry-car” was that Muffin Vamps claimed to come from, but it sounded like a decadent and ghastly place. And he talked about himself all the time. And when he wasn’t talking about himself, he was talking about sex. And most of the time, he contrived to talk about both. Despite the fact that in doing so he managed to make it pretty obvious he barely knew what sex was, outside of anime shows.
By the end of their first hour together, only Hoarni liked Muffin Vamps more than Puddin Taim.
Once she had calmed down a little bit, and managed to set her formidable mind on the matter, Janica decided it was quite obvious what had happened. Vamps had been sent into the Wheel of Time Experience as part of their contest, and had been grafted into a pre-existing, though completely minor character – Mazrim Taim’s brother. Like Mazrim, he could channel, but unlike Mazrim, he had never escaped from the apron-strings of Mother Taim. Vamps’ – for want of a better word – personality was trying to assert itself through the thick fluffy layers of Puddin, but a Far Madding upbringing was a tough crafter of character, and Puddin was not going quietly into the night.
The Ogier, of course, had a different theory.
PuddinTaim was a male channeler, and he was going insane.
Illian was a seething throng of people, most of whom did not make room even for the towering Ogier. Debs spotted several merchants in the crowd, and saw with a sinking feeling in her cavernous stomach that at least three of them were dressed up as Ogier as well. Of course nobody would pay them any respect. One or two people did congratulate them on their wonderful costumes, however.
“What’s going on here?” Janica asked one merry-looking fellow. “Why is everybody out in the fecking rood, I mean the road?”
“It’s the Feast of Teven!” the man cried, then looked at the group a second time. “You mean you didn’t know? The Great Hunt for the Horn was called, and will begin for real in a few days! Where have you been hiding?” he evaluated the tiny woman, and hazarded, “Cairhien?”
“You have a problem with Cairhienin women?” Janica drew herself up needlessly.
“Well, not really…”
“Would ye like one?” Debs rumbled from behind the little damane.
The man stared. “You’re not Cairhienin!”
“I am soo.”
“Come on,” Wyse said soothingly, gesturing Frendli forward with the massage instruments. “Let us find an inn for the night, and we can all relax…”
“We’ll never get an inn with all this goin’ on,” Debs snapped. “Besides, we’ve got tae keep movin’. We have tae get north again, tae Tar Valon an’ rescue Logain before it’s tae late. We’ll go tae the docks, and hire a boot.”
“You already have two,” Vamps pointed out.
“I mean a boot.”
“A boot we can sail in.”
Janica pointed down the street. “I think I can see a pair of masts down that way, it could be the port.”
“Um, that’s just me,” Coarshus waved his hands. Janica sighed. “But the port is down that way anyway,” the Ogier went on, hoping to head off any more anger. Ogier were peaceful and sensible creatures at the best of times, and keeping peace between two rogue Aes Sedai and a mad male channeler was pretty much all in a day’s work. “We should go and find a bed on board one of the boats.”
“What are we going to pay with?” Frendli asked.
“Why not give them this box?” Wyse suggested, hefting the heavy gold chest in his arms again. “You’ve taken out what was inside it, and we don’t need it anymore – it’s a nice box, and those puzzle locks are a lot of fun, but it’s heavy.”
“That was my thought,” Janica confirmed with just a hint of gratitude. “I think I know somebody who would love to have a box like that to add to his collection.”
“Bayle Domon?” Debs frowned. “Is he in Illian?”
Janica shrugged. “I can’t really remember,” she admitted quietly. “He was somewhere around here at the beginning of the second book, because I remember he had a point-of-view scene where he found out that the King of Cairhien wanted him dead, and revealed that he had one of the seals … things like that.”
“Why did the King of Cairhien want him dead?”
“No idea. Now let’s just hope he’s down here.”
Luckily enough, Bayle Domon wasn’t difficult to find. After asking a few carefully-crafted questions, they discovered that his entire crew was carousing in one of the filthy waterfront tavern/whorehouses. Debs and Janica were lucky to get into the place with only three of their adherents. Puddin Taim had claimed piously that it was immoral for a man to let any woman go into such a place of ill repute without accompanying them to ensure no insult was done to their person, and Wyse and Frendli had insisted on coming along as well. Coarshus had stayed outside, holding Hoarni in a patient headlock.
As they approached the throbbing temple of booze, Muffin Vamps took the opportunity to speak up.
“Man, the stories I could tell you about these sorts of places … but won’t. But could. Boy howdy.”
“Thanks so much,” Janica said coolly.
They located one of Domon’s crewmembers easily enough. He was lying on the bar, with a funnel in one hand and a fistful of gold in the other. People were gleefully pouring drinks, emptying ashtrays, and urinating into his funnel, and he was drinking until the slops ran down his chin.
Janica decided something was wrong.
“Where’s your Captain?” she asked as soon as she could find somebody who could talk. “Where’s Bayle Domon?”
“That fuck-all!” the crewman roared, and then laughed. “Good-for-nothing fool paid us all off and told us to leave. Bayle Domon has no crew now, he’s a-finished in these waters! And good riddance to him! Evil, suspicious little man he is. He wasn’t always so, but these past few months, he’s become a different man. We’re all glad to be shot of the bloated carcass that yet walks.”
“Uh huh…” Janica nodded. “Can you tell us where to find him?”
They followed the sailor’s slurred directions down to the maze of creaking wooden piers, and out to where the Spray sat, wallowing in its own little pool of darkness.
“Fuck orff,” a rusty voice said from the stern. “You can’t have it, so you can’t. It’s mine, so it is. So it is, it is.”
Debs and Janica exchanged a glance.
“We want to hire your services,” Janica said. “We shall pay you richly.”
“Got no crew,” the hulking shape moved unpleasantly, and the entire boat seemed to shrink away from it. “Crew were all thieves. Got rid of them, so I did.”
“Will four Ogier be enough to man the riggin’?” Debs asked.
“Aye,” Domon replied after a long pause. “But I’m done on the high seas. Darkfriends after me. Thieves all around. Can’t trust the open water.”
“We want you to take us up the river,” Janica explained. “As far as Tar Valon.”
“Aye,” the voice muttered grudgingly. “And what’s in it for me? You’ll rob me, so you shall. Not taking passengers, so I’m not.”
“Will this be enough?” Janica gestured to Wyse, who stepped forward and hefted the golden chest. “It is empty, but the box itself is worth ten times the voyage. And it is a trick lock – very valuable. We don’t know how old it is, or where it came from. But there are strange stories behind it, and some say the Horn of Valere once lay within it.”
There was a long silence.
“Aye, alright,” Domon said. “Come on and get aboard.”
“I don’t like this,” Vamps said.
“I don’t like you,” Debs replied succinctly. “An’ the quicker we get tae Tar Valon, the quicker we can swap ye for – ach! Ye’re illbooin’ me! Yer pointy wee illboos! Ach!”
“The sooner we get to Tar Valon, the sooner we can get some sort of help for you,” Janica, who had braced herself for the inevitable a’dam backlash and nudged Debs as surreptitiously but firmly as she could, amended smoothly as the sul’dam subsided with a heavy grumble. “I’m sure you weren’t supposed to be made into a channeler, and there’s probably something we can do about it.”
Vamps nodded to himself. As Puddin Taim, he was quite sure that being gentled in Tar Valon was the best course of action all round, and the wise women in the White Tower would do the right thing. He was obliged to listen well to Debs and Janica, because women were clearly the more sensible sex.
As Muffin Vamps, he was convinced that being a male channeler was a dashing and sexy thing to do, and the prime objective of any woman in his near vicinity was, whether she knew it or not, to get into his breeches. This left him regretfully torn between two courses of action.
Bayle Domon kept twenty feet of deck between himself and his passengers/crew at all times, and ushered them into their cabins with a lingering, suspicious glare.
“Maps down the back there, so they are,” he intoned as a parting shot, and vanished deep into the bilges.
“I don’t like this at all,” Puddin Taim repeated.
“Blow the Horn!”
“Shut the feck up aboot the Horn! We’re goin’ tae Tar Valon.”
It wasn’t being a Warder, Forsaken_1 thought. It wasn’t being linked, body and soul, with a woman who swore like a sailor and treated men as though they were two-legged pack horses. It wasn’t having to wear the silly colour-changing coat, which was an absolute asshole to find and put on early in the morning. It wasn’t the chance of violence or death, or the fact that he was responsible for more than his own life. It wasn’t any of that.
It was the initiation ritual.
“Rise, Foreskinator,” the round-faced Warder intoned. Forsaken_1 had been given his ‘Secret Name’, although it wasn’t much of a secret. The other Warders had told him, as they were stripping him naked and tying him to a tree for the first half of the initiation, that Lan’s Secret Name had been ‘Lan the Man’. The round-faced Warder who was the Master of the Ritual was named Sir Chugsalot. “You have performed the tasks we have set you, and you have recited the sacred words. Now all that remains is for you to … drink what’s in this cup!”
“In this cup,” the other Warders intoned. They were standing around Forsaken_1 in a circle, dressed in nothing but their colour-shifting cloaks. “In this cup.”
The Foreskinator looked down into the cup, and sighed. It was foamy, grey-green, and looked like mud. It didn’t smell like mud, but that wasn’t a good thing. He rolled his eyes and swallowed it all down. The thick, awful mixture crawled into the bottom of his bowels and lay there, proclaiming dire things for his early-morning toilet trip. The Warders cheered.
From that moment on, Forsaken_1 was accepted as a real Warder, and there was no more trouble with any of his fellows. By the time they rode into Tar Valon, he was even getting used to the new outfit. There was a simple trick to getting changed into the invisible cloaks, once you’d done it a few times – you just made sure you remembered where you’d thrown it the night before, and pulled it on neck-first. Sometimes Sir Chugsalot and the other Warders hazed him in various ways – throwing pebbles at him while he practiced his sword-forms, moving his cloak while he was asleep, balancing eggs above his tent-flaps … but he got used to that as well.
Tar Valon was one of the cleanest places Forsaken_1 had been since arriving in the Wheel of Time world. The streets were meticulous, the pavements were clear, and you could have eaten your dinner out of the gutter if it wasn’t a hanging offense. Moiraine explained a little of the politics of the great city to her new Warder as they rode towards the massive, gleaming White Tower. The immense architecture made Forsaken_1 feel quite inadequate, and he had to wonder why the most powerful women in the world lived in such an obvious phallic symbol. The top of the White Tower even had a knob on it.
“Siuan Sanche is the Amyrlin Seat, the head of the Aes Sedai ever since the Age of Legends and before,” Moiraine was saying in that tone of voice people use when they’re speaking about something they like so much, they just can’t conceive of anybody else finding it boring as bugshit. “The Amyrlin Seat is elected by the Hall of the Tower, and there are Sitters for each Ajah…”
“Is the Amyrlin Seat actually a seat?” Forsaken_1 asked. “I mean, like, a chair?”
“A throne,” Moiraine answered patiently. She had been amazed and impressed at her new Warder. He didn’t drink or smoke or gamble, his habits were largely clean and any smutty remarks or panty-sniffing he did was kept strictly private. He was a hundred times better than Lan, except at the fighting – and who needed a Warder who could fight? And another thing he lacked was emotional baggage. Lan was always on about Malkier-this and Fallen Towers-that, and it drove Moiraine crazy. Child Foreskin had, as far as she knew, nothing untoward in his past at all. Except for the torture. “It is a chair, yes. But it is much more than that. The office has a sacred responsibility…”
Forsaken_1 tuned out, and went back to watching the motion of the large palanquin at the front of the party. That was where the Amyrlin Seat was actually sitting right then and there, practically unattended. Of course, she had all those guards and things, but it was still a crying shame to see a woman go unattended. All the other Aes Sedai with Siuan Sanche had gone on ahead, on the advice of Liandrin – Pouty – who had seemed quite eager to be back in civilisation. He’d have gone to offer his own protection to the Amyrlin, of course, but he had to protect the Beast of the Blue Ajah. It wasn’t entirely unfortunate. From what he had been told, Siuan Sanche was even worse than Moiraine.
Things were about as he had expected in the White Tower. The Aes Sedai climbed from their horses serenely, and it was left to the Warders to take care of the formalities. The women themselves headed into the mysterious building, while the men led the horses into the stables, rubbed them down, and hung up their saddles. As they worked, they sang the traditional Warder anthem.
“White Tower Ladies, sing dat song,
Doo dah, doo dah,
White Tower race-track’s five miles lawng,
Oh, doo dah day…”
When Forsaken_1 finally did get into the Tower grounds, Moiraine was nowhere to be seen. He asked around, and discovered that she had been summoned to the Amyrlin’s office. He sighed – another one of those interminable scene-setting dialogues. They were so boring. And honestly, Moiraine and Siuan had talked their way around every facet of the Rand-dead situation, and still ended up right back there at ‘we’re fucked’.
He sighed again when he found out where the Amyrlin’s office was.
No less than fifty flights of steep, narrow stairs later, what little strength the Warder bond had put into Forsaken_1’s flabby American body had long since drained away. He was exhausted, and wouldn’t have turned down a good dose of Healing. He almost stumbled into the huge office.
“Warder!” somebody snapped.
“No, give him to me!”
“Whoa!” Forsaken_1 raised his arms and looked around at the crowd of angry men and women. None of them were very familiar, except for Pouty over in one corner, and Moiraine and the Amyrlin’s secretary Leane sitting against one wall. They looked happy enough, in a glazed sort of way. “I’m harmless. I just climbed all the way up here, I’m screwed. Really, I’m screwed,” he plopped himself down in a chair beside Moiraine, as if to demonstrate his screwedness. Moiraine did not turn to look at him. He began to wonder if maybe she was pissed with him for some reason.
“Leave him there,” one guy said, and walked past Forsaken_1 with a grin. “I don’t think he can do anything. Just tie him up. No, wait, I’ll do it myself.”
Cast-iron bands of invisible force smacked down over Forsaken_1’s arms and legs, pinning him to the chair. The tall, black-clad man grinned again, and fire flickered between his lips. He spun with a swirl of dark-red cloak, and carried on.
“We can do these two next,” he said conversationally. “Right, let’s begin. Assemble, people, assemble,” he clapped his hands briskly. The men and women who had been chatting among themselves now strode forward purposefully, rolling up their sleeves. Forsaken_1 noticed that there was a wide table in the middle of the room, with a great mess of papers and little boxes scattered around it. It was the Amyrlin’s desk, with all her crap flung onto the floor. The Amyrlin herself was lying on the table, with the same glazed, unsettling expression on her face as Moiraine had. “Now, talk me through it again, Lanfear?”
“It is quite simple, Nae’blis,” a saucy woman in a white dress said, not quite curtseying to the man in black. “The myrddraal here, under the direction of the Hand, form up around the … woman,” she made an elegant motion with her hands, and a giant man with no eyes stepped up. Twelve other men, all in black and all lacking peepers, arranged themselves around the Amyrlin’s desk. “Then the Chosen, and their selected assistants,” here she gestured to the rest of the crowd, a variety of disturbed-looking individuals in tacky renaissance clothing, “will channel pure Spirit…”
“Right, right, I know all this, just making sure you all do,” the red-cloaked man swept the room with a fierce glare. “And that big huge light? What’s that for, exactly?”
Forsaken_1 looked where the man was pointing. Sure enough, a huge conglomeration of candles and lanterns and mirrors and magnifying glasses was arranged in the far corner of the office.
“That is for us, Nae’blis,” said the huge man with no eyes. “To cast a shadow with.”
“Right, right, of course, let’s begin.”
The men without eyes put their hands out and fingered the edges of the desk. The other men and women stared intently into empty air. In the far corner, somebody lifted a dark cloth off the focus point of the giant lantern, and a brilliant ray of light lanced out and splashed across the black-robed guys. Their shadows sprang up on the far wall, thick and dark and threatening. As they swayed and rocked and moaned, so too did their shadows. And then Forsaken_1 realised their shadows were moving different ways. The darkness twisted, and twined, and finally peeled away from the walls in a solid wave, and began to curl towards the table in the centre of the room. As it curled, it stretched and knotted into a great, thick black cable. The halfmen moaned, and one end of the great cable slid away into the wall and vanished. The other end stretched towards the Amyrlin Seat, the pulsing end of it seeming to twist into a set of gnarled, powerful claws. As Forsaken_1 watched, the claws sunk into the Amyrlin’s chest, and the cord pulled tight. It thinned, stretched, tightened, and then it was gone.
“Done,” the big halfman said. Two of the smaller eyeless guys fell down and began to steam gently. “We need replacement parts.”
“And I need a rest,” one of the women said.
“No resting till we’re done, Moghedien,” the red-cloaked man said. “You can get relieved by one of the ones we convert. I want to make sure this worked first. Hey, you! Wake up.”
Siuan Sanche sat up and rubbed her eyes. She gazed at the red-cloaked man in awe.
“What are your orders, Nae’blis? What would you have of me?”
The Nae’blis grinned and snapped his fingers at one of the other people. “Go and get another few dozen halfmen,” he said, “and make it fast. Moghedien, you can rest after we’ve done these two, and we can show them what to do. Lanfear, I suppose you’ll want to get back to your stalking.”
Siuan was climbing off the desk, and Moiraine was getting up – rather jerkily – to take her place.
Forsaken_1 tuned out. Another typical day with the Aes Sedai.