Mister C of 9 was delighted to find some more Ogier to preach to. He tried to talk to the raken boys, but the language barrier was simply insurmountable.
Janica’s own intent, insistent questioning was not helping his case.
“And it is only through constant rejection of the repetitive fascist hegemony-”
“Did you think back to where you last saw him?”
“Yes, I told you already! He was down in that market square, near a barrel of apples, or maybe pears. Some sort of fruit. Then he ran off somewhere. I turned my back for a minute and he was gone, okay?”
“Was he wearing clean pants?”
“Well, clean as you could expect. We’ve been here for a few weeks. May I continue?”
“He hasn’t changed them?”
“What do you mean? We arrived here as we are. What are you talking about, did you bring changes of clothes?”
“Well, no … but this is a fantasy story. You don’t have to change, as long as you sort of accept that the opportunity will come up, it does. There’s always spare clothes, you can always stay clean … have you been to the toilet since you arrived here?”
Mister C paused, and frowned. “No.”
“Stupid, isn’t it?”
“You mean, if I-”
“No, don’t think about it. If you think about it, it doesn’t work. Are you saying Chucky hasn’t changed his pants since he arrived?”
“Look, I wasn’t really watching.”
“Has he at least washed his hair?”
“Ach, drink up, ye beg skenny blooze!”
“What did he say?”
“He said finish your drink, you big skinny blouse. I don’t know what it means. They want to pour another round and you’re holding them back,” Janica cast a myopic, accusing glare at Debs and the Ogier, who formed a vast varicoloured blur in the darkness. “I think it’s time we got going anyway, but I’m just a little damane, and couldn’t hope to tell my sul’dam what to do.”
“T’at’s reet,” Debs said happily, raising her mug. “Come on, Mester See, finish ye’re drenk!”
“Is her accent always that bad?”
“It gets worse when we drink.”
“What do you mean, ‘we’? I haven’t seen you touch a drop.”
Janica slapped the a’dam angrily. “I don’t have to! This bastard thing fecks me at every turn! And the worst thing is, everything the sul’dam feels is visited on the damane tenfold!”
“You’re holding it very well,” Mister C of 9 said admiringly. “She’s had, like, eight of those pints of whiskey.”
“Wait until tomorrow morning,” Janica whispered violently. Mister C winced.
“So, tell me,” Coarshus said politely. “Would you compare the arrival of American films on the Independent Film circuit as comparable to the Breaking of the World, in terms of natural disaster?”
“Lord no!” Mister C of 9 exclaimed. “The Breaking of the World was nothing!” he poured his drink artfully over his shoulder, where it vanished without a trace into the occult, eldritch shadow cast by his halfman cloak. He’d been doing it for the past hour, and his shadow showed no signs of filling up. It was like an episode of The X-Files he would never admit to having watched. “Let me tell you something about the Independent Film tradition, before the homogenised bastardy of the American market. There were classic-”
“How did he look? Was he well-fed?”
Mister C sighed aggressively. “Have you ever known Chucky to not be well-fed?”
“I can’t believe you lost him. Do you think it was the trollocs you ran into in Shadar Logoth?”
“I don’t think so. There weren’t any trollocs. Just Seanchan and Whitecloaks and Heroes of some sort of Horn. You know, the eternal champions meets the Undying Lands, the Númenorians coming from across the sea…”
“Alreet!” Debs lurched to her feet, drained her tankard and dragged Janica up by the neck. “Are ye ready tae keck some Darkfriend arrrrse?”
“Aye!” the raken boys roared lustily. It was well-past midnight, and they had been drinking steadily since finding the sul’dam and her Deathwatch friends that afternoon.
“We’ll continue our seminar on the way over to the hills,” Mister C of 9 said to the trembling Ogier.
“I’m afraid of heights,” Frendli confessed. “Once I climbed to the top of one of the stedding‘s biggest trees, and I almost died of fright.”
“You can’t die of fright,” Mister C assured the towering shaggy fellow. “Not unless you look at a myrddraal in the mirror and forget how to breathe. I speak from experience. Trust me – you can’t die of fright.”
“You can if you have a thrashing panic attack in a three-hundred-span-high tree,” Coarshus said. “He was just lucky his cummerbund got snagged on a branch.”
“Why were you wearing a cummerbund?” Janica frowned, almost swooning as her iron self-discipline wavered for a brief moment. The assault of intoxication down the a’dam link was relentless. She had to ask questions to keep her concentration up and to keep herself from dissolving completely in the grip of sul’dam drunkenness.
“It was a wedding,” Wyse said unwillingly, after a bit too long of a pause.
“Oh, that’s nice,” Janica smiled. “Who got married?” she looked blearily at the towering Ogier, all of whom had clammed up. “Whose wedding was it?”
“Hoarni’s,” Coarshus said eventually. “He was required to marry the girl out of propriety.”
“She was in a family way,” Wyse added delicately.
“She was hot. Pregnant women are hot,” Hoarni offered.
“It was about the fifth wedding that year, and I was bored of sitting through Hoarni’s speeches,” Frendli said. “So I went to climb a tree. Hoarni’s weddings always end the same way anyway,” he cleared his throat and burst into brief, melancholy song. “This bride fair will / soon be full as a banger / thanks to my friend / my friend and his wanger / so treesinger sing / sing me a coathanger…”
“Thank you, Frendli,” Coarshus said primly.
The raken, having enjoyed a hearty meal of oats, slops, offal and well-aged Seanchan brandy, were more than ready to fly. Under the bawdily-singing weight of Debs, four Ogier and a suspiciously-heavy young man in a dead black set of robes, the raken boys took up a bunch of their spare rides for a ‘pre-dawn spin’. Before long, they were lurching their way slowly out over the foothills of the Mountains of Mist.
With the tuneful medical assistance of the Green Man, Forsaken_1 recovered quite quickly from his injuries, and was quick to allow Someshta and Moiraine to talk him out of any direct plan for revenge.
“You saw how much fucking good a direct confrontation with this evil did you,” Moiraine said with characteristic bluntness. “Best to listen to the Green Man’s plan and leave it at that. You’re just one Warder – you can’t go up against the Father of Lies.”
“Alright,” Forsaken_1 said with a shrug, then looked around. They were parked in a quiet alleyway off to one side of a marketplace, and Someshta was crouching down beside the wagon like a forest with uncharacteristically good bedside-manner. “Um, what was the Green Man’s plan again?”
“Instead of wandering around turning Aes Sedai back from the Dark One, we take more direct action,” Someshta said. “Whoever is in power at the top of the White Tower, he is on top of the turning process. He has the women reporting each other at a moment’s notice, with communication methods we can not infiltrate. They are turned back to the Dark One by the same evening, and he is also experimenting with ways of making the Aes Sedai immune to the process that Contro and our dear young wolf-sister have discovered. It was always going to be a temporary thing. So I think we should ignore the things we can do nothing about, at least for the time being.”
“That’s a good plan,” Forsaken_1 leaned back in the wagon and looked at a couple of old bones he’d found under the straw bed. One of them looked an awful lot like a finger. They were all gnawed and impossible to recognise,though. “Where are we stopping to eat tonight? I think we should go back to that place we passed last night, they did good ribs.”
“We’re not wandering through the city anymore,” Someshta said gently, putting a vast, leafy hand on Moiraine’s head to calm her frustrated response. “The White Tower was beginning to circulate messages about our little party – they were getting suspicious. So we’re leaving the city and heading out to meet some friends of yours.”
“The Fluffy Pantherettes are here?” Forsaken_1 perked up immediately.
“No. The Whitecloaks outside Tar Valon,” Someshta said. “You are a respected figure among the Children of the Light, and the little I know of their order is encouraging. Moiraine tells me they are … what was it you said, Moiraine?”
“Cunting deluded cunts, I believe,” Moiraine replied. “Or perhaps nosy butt-plunging Ghul-damned pansy-ass whiny ignorant angry little-”
“I think it was that first one,” Someshta said benignly. “I have heard many things about them, but not least is their devotion to the Light, their mistrust of Darkfriends, and their belief that the latter are everywhere.”
“Oh yeah, they certainly believe that,” Forsaken_1 agreed.
“So we are gathering ourselves, and making our way out of the city,” the Green Man said. “I will not be with you in the wagon – Moiraine is going to take care of you all. I will allow myself to float out of the refuse canals at nightfall – I will blend in with a lot of the other waste and clippings from the White Tower gardens.”
“Where’s that jabbering little plonker?” Moiraine muttered to herself.
“Contro’s over there, talking to the flower merchant,” Lan reported grimly, climbing into the wagon and seating himself in the driver’s seat. His face was grey, his clothes torn and completely without dignity. The once-stained vestments of the Whitecloak questioner were folded in his arms, pristine and white yet again after spending a night at one of the more out-of-the-way clothes-washers in Tar Valon’s streets. Lan himself was in little more than underpants. “Where’s the wolf?”
“She’s here, by my ankle,” Someshta said with infinite patience and love. “She’s just going to the little wolf’s room. She’ll be right over. Well,” he went on, rising from his place beside the wagon and towering into the cleft between the looming white buildings. “This is where we part company. I’ll see you outside the Shining Walls in the village of Darein, to the west.”
Someshta rustled away, somehow eluding notice completely. Cyberwollf trotted out to the mouth of the alley and caught Contro by the seat of the pants. He was still laughing and flapping his flowers as she pulled him back to the wagon.
“Ha ha ha! Typical! I was just asking the man what sort of flowers you put in cakes!! I was sure it was self-raising flowers, but he didn’t have any!! Ha ha ha! Isn’t it always the way???! They never have the sort of flower you want, when you go shopping. ‘Get the right sort of flower,’ your Mum says, and when you ask the man at the shop, he looks at you funny and says, ‘cakes don’t have flowers in them,’!!! Typical, that!!”
“Cakes don’t have flowers in them,” Forsaken_1 said. “It’s flour. It’s not made from flowers, it’s ground up wheat and stuff, it’s white stuff, and it’s spelled differently-”
“Hey, Foreskin,” Lan said nastily. “Take my damn cloak off and hide it under the straw. And put these on. You’re a Whitecloak again.”
“It’s only for a little while,” Moiraine said, misreading the look of delight on her Warder’s face. “Don’t worry, I won’t let anything happen to you. But for now, I’m not going to advertise the fact that I’m Aes Sedai, and you’re not going to advertise the fact that you’re a Warder. We’re going to pretend to be normal people, with some friends and their dog, going for a ride,” she cast a disdainful glance at Lan. “With their extremely drunk and filthy manservant.”
“And their exceedingly bad-tempered horse,” Forsaken_1 added as Cow took a bite out of the corner of the building as they trundled past, and kicked it with his back leg as he followed through. The long-suffering, possibly insane horse glared at the Questioner with flat hatred.
“Ha ha ha! He’s a nice fellow really!! Who’s a good horse? Who’s a good Cow? Ha ha ha!!!!!”
“Creator help me,” Moiraine muttered as they rode out of Tar Valon.
Things were quiet in the grand tent of the Dragon Reborn in the stillness before dawn. Vamps crept among the scattered pillows and blankets with extreme caution, wincing every time he put his booted foot down on a squishy wet spot or a similarly-squishy naked woman. Clutching the Oath Rod in one hand and saidin with his teeth, he headed for the multi-bumped shape of the master’s bed in the centre of the pavilion.
“Who’s there?” he heard Logain’s voice insinuate its way across the room. “Is that you back with the eels already, little Miss Grinwell?”
“Er, hee hee, yes, milord,” Vamps squeaked in a falsetto. He stepped closer.
Logain sat up and peered into the gloom. “My my,” he murmured. “What a big rod you have there, Grinwell.”
“All the better to, ah, have you please me with, milord Dragon,” Vamps breathed.
“And what a big eel you have in your breeches, Grinwell.”
“All the better to do whatever you wanted the eel for in the first place, milord Dragon,” Vamps quavered.
Logain leaned forward. “What buff pecs you have, Grinwell.”
“Thanks,” Vamps said in his usual baritone. “I work out.”
Vamps swung the Oath Rod. There was a soft, meaty crunch.
“Sorry, milord Dragon,” Vamps whispered.
Channeling saidin with his usual complete lack of grace, Puddin Taim channeled the One Power through the Oath Rod, removing Oath after bizarre Oath from the unconscious figure. He felt them peeling away like invisible layers of cling-wrap, and as he looked he fancied he could almost see Logain’s face shifting, loosening, his skin shifting imperceptibly … but of course, that was really only if you believed that crap about the Oath Rod. It was dark, and saidin was roaring through Vamps’ body, filling him with the strangest notions.
Then he tackled the Compulsion, wrestling the invisible weaves of saidar away from Logain’s mind more by luck than by skill. He made a mental note to praise his own skill if nobody else remembered this episode in his Wheel of Time Experience. Logain moaned and opened his eyes.
“Oh, Light,” he said. “Oh, what have I done? What did I do to those girls?”
“It’s alright,” Puddin said consolingly. He was naturally outraged by the way Logain had treated the ladies like objects, so often and with such greedy disregard, but he was torn by the idea that he would do exactly the same thing, and he wouldn’t even have Compulsion to blame. “It’s alright, you weren’t yourself.”
“I wasn’t,” Logain said positively. “I really wasn’t. Oh, Creator help me, what have I done? Foreskin, would that you never find out about this.”
In a moment of uncharacteristic swiftness of wit, Vamps frowned and said, “I think your foreskin was about the first to find out about this business, master Logain Dragon Reborn.”
“Blood and ashes,” Logain said, and stood up. “Blood and bloody ashes. I feel filthy, sullied. Kiss me.”
“Okay, just spit in my mouth.”
“I beg your pardon?” Puddin asked, concerned that Logain might have succumbed to the taint. “Is something the matter? You’re not yourself, you’re not thinking about what you’re asking.”
“You’re right,” Logain shook his head, and grinned ruefully. “Sorry. I’m confused and I feel … foul. I have to take a bath. Forget I said anything. I’ll wait for my mashiara, my lost love. Let me just fetch some cold water from the barrel…”
“We don’t have time for this,” Vamps hissed. “We’ve got to get-”
The distant, silvery sound of a trumpet rang out over the campsite. It seemed somehow familiar. Logain and Puddin exchanged a glance.
“FUUUUUUUUUUUCK AAAAAAAAALL OOOOOOOOOGIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEER!”
With a rattling detonation, Artur Hawkwing crashed onto the top of the pavilion of the Dragon Reborn from a height of almost three thousand feet.