The Dragon Reforged, Part 6

They met the first Whitecloaks almost as soon as they crossed the bridge and rode into Darein. The Children of the Light were all but laying siege to the Shining Walls. Forsaken_1 tugged on his white garments and climbed up onto the wagon to make himself conspicuous. Lan grudgingly made room for him on the driver’s plank. The former Warder was unshaven and bleary-eyed.

“Hi,” Forsaken_1 said with neighbourly good cheer. “Sleep well? I know I sure did.”

“I woke up with the horrors in the middle of the night,” Lan reported.

“Oh. I slept like a baby,” Forsaken_1 hoped the report would make Lan feel a bit better, in some misguided way. “You know that sleep you have sometimes when you wake up feeling like you’ve slept for a whole month, and feel energised and ready for anything?”

“No.”

“Oh.”

Before too long, they were approached by a group of Whitecloaks. The tidy young men snapped to attention and saluted crisply when they saw the emblems on Forsaken_1’s white robe. Cow trudged to a stop and urinated on the ground with vicious concentration. The leader of the patrol stepped forward with an incredulous expression on his face.

“Child Foreskin?” he asked. “Hand of the Light?”

Forsaken_1 panicked. This man was absolutely, completely unfamiliar to him. He’d seen the face before, but he couldn’t remember names of people who really existed, let alone guys out of books he’d read once and then forgotten. “Ah,” he said with reckless confidence. “Child Mrrmmrmmrm. What a pleasant surprise.”

The Whitecloak cleared his throat. “Child Foreskin, I see you are heading from Tar Valon,” he said. “How did you get here, and what is your purpose in this place?”

“I’ll ask the questions, Child Mmmmrmrm,” Forsaken_1 said sternly. “As for my purpose, it is the purpose of all good Children of the Light. I bring the Light to dark places. And Tar Valon is the darkest of places. I am working the work of the Light, shedding Light. Light.”

The unknown Child straightened, his eyes cold and filled with anger – not at anybody in particular, Forsaken_1 suspected, just a sort of all-consuming bitterness. “Have you been pursuing Perrin Aybara?” he asked quickly, and a little tickle of recognition began to puddle up in Forsaken_1’s head. He ignored it. In his experience, going with gut instinct was a good way to get shot by a bastard.

“I said I was asking the questions, Child Mrmmrrm. Now, tell me – how many of you are there here?”

“I’m not the one you should be talking to,” the Whitecloak said. “Dain Bornhald is in charge of this operation.”

“Oh no,” Forsaken_1 groaned softly. “Not a Bornhald!” squaring his shoulders, he raised his voice and addressed the Whitecloak patrol. “You’d better take me to him, Child Mmrm,” he said. “I have important news.”

As they rode together, Forsaken_1 finally discovered that the Whitecloak who seemed so familiar to him was in fact Child Byar, one of the Children who had been stationed with Geofram Bornhald at the encampment that Forsaken_1 had first encountered after escaping from the clutches of Jaichim Carridin. He was still trying to get to Perrin Aybara, but he’d been sent to Tar Valon to deliver word of the fighting at Toman Head, in which old Slow-Talker Bornhald, Dain’s father, had met his death. Byar had only just arrived, after riding hard for several days. The Children of the Light were camped outside Tar Valon, trying to arrest witches as they were coming and going. So far, they had arrested twenty merchant women, twelve farm wives, seven prostitutes and two Cairhienin dressed as two halves of a trolloc.

It was all indescribably boring to Forsaken_1. He really only listened because there was nothing else to do. And he only listened with half an ear anyway. He looked around at the passing, and amazingly tedious, countryside, looking for any sign of the Green Man. He was leaving Tar Valon through the waste channels, but they hadn’t been able to meet back up with him. Now, he could be anywhere. It was amazing how a twenty-foot-tall dude made of shrubbery could just blend in with the vegetation.

Child Byar, as well as having lots of questions about Perrin Aybara, wanted to know more about the Aes Sedai.

“There were Aes Sedai at Falme,” he told Forsaken_1 confidentially. “They used the One Power as a weapon,” he looked at Moiraine and Min suspiciously. “Have you arrested some of the murderers?”

“What? Um, no. No. These aren’t Aes Sedai. Look at their faces,” Forsaken_1 babbled desperately. He recalled something about Aes Sedai faces, but didn’t know what it was, and banked that Child Byar didn’t either. “Those aren’t, um, Aes Sedai faces. Look at, um, their noses,” somewhere in his muddled mental directory, he had equated Aes Sedai with Jews for no discernible or politically correct reason.

“Well … true enough,” Byar said, glowering. “Still, I was at Falme, and I know that Darkfriends like Perrin Aybara – GAH! Blood and bloody-!” Byar bit off the un-Childish curse and looked penitent, rubbing his snowy-cloaked shoulder. “Forgive my hasty words, Child Foreskin. But I would thank you to keep your insane Tinker away from me.”

“Ha ha ha!!! I got him a beauty! Ha ha ha!!!!!! Crazy!”

Forsaken_1 turned to Contro, who was hanging over the side of the wagon with his index finger extended in the direction of Byar and his horse. The smiling Tinker had wolf-hair all over his arms and in his eyebrows. “Stop doing that. Next time, I won’t be responsible for what happens.”

“Ha ha ha!! Funny that! What do you mean??!”

“Nothing. Just … don’t do it again,” he turned back to Byar. “Sorry about that. As you know, he’s insane, and we’ve had great trouble ridding ourselves of him. But he has been very good for our cover. Nobody in Tar Valon looks twice at a Tinker wagon.”

Child Byar was still rubbing his arm. “And the wolf? Why do you have a wolf? Perrin Aybara has been known to commune with wolves.”

“Oh, that,” Forsaken_1 said, his eyes going wide again. “That. Well, that is something best left for your superiors to discuss, isn’t it? Anyway,” he leaned towards Byar’s horse and lowered his voice as inspiration returned to him with reinforcements. “We feel that a trained wolf will prove instrumental in bringing Perrin Aybara to us. We can, like, track him, or something.”

“An excellent notion, Hand of the Light,” Byar said respectfully. “Ah, here we are at the – GAH!”

“Ha ha ha!!!”

Forsaken_1 spun around. “I just said not to do that again, ten seconds ago!” he exclaimed. “I specifically said ‘don’t do it again’, and you did it! Didn’t you hear me?”

“Well, yes,” Contro sat back in the wagon with a wide, innocent smile. “But I could have sworn, just as I was about to do it again, that you really told me to do it!!! Ha ha ha!! I know what it sounded like, but you know how I always hear things wrong!! I just thought maybe I could solve that problem by doing what I thought you told me not to do, since I had obviously heard you wrong and you’d probably shout at me for not doing it because you told me not to but I heard wrong!! Ha! Can’t argue with that logic!!!!”

“Shut up.”

“Ha ha ha! Sorry!!!!!!!”

They rode into the Whitecloak encampment.

 


 

“Do you want the last piece of dried meat?”

“Hey, thanks. This is good shit.”

Chucky watched as Satters took the strip of meat between his teeth and shook it savagely from side to side, growling good-naturedly.

“You know, you just talked to me pretty nicely,” he ventured. “You said ‘thanks’ and stuff.”

Satters ignored the gleeman. Chucky quit while he was ahead. Satters, or Noam, or whoever he was, was just too confusing to deal with on a daily basis. He was a minefield of directionless anger, irrational hatred, unexpected reactions, and fleas.

As if on cue, the yellow-eyed young man collapsed into a knot in the middle of the road and began scratching himself with his left foot. In the middle of the exercise, the trailing leather strips that formed his medieval shoelaces started to annoy him by flicking into his eyes as he scratched, so he stopped scratching and started snapping and growling at the laces. When he turned to chase them, his feet kicked out behind him and the tantalising leather straps vanished, leaving him sitting in the road with a bewildered expression that snapped into white-hot rage when he saw Chucky watching.

“Cunt!” he howled, little flecks of foam and bubbles of blood splashing on his lips. “Cunt!!”

Padan Fain turned around in his saddle. “Noam? Come along, Noam.”

Domon stopped what he was doing and turned around as well. Chucky didn’t like to watch Domon, so he wasn’t sure what the ghastly sailor had been doing. Two days before, he had seen the giant, noxious man branding his initials on his horse’s neck with a twig from the fire, and the gleeman hadn’t looked at him closely ever since. Now, Domon looked back and laughed through the layers of hair, filth, fungus and stink.

Satters sat in the path and glowered. He didn’t have a horse. There had only been two horses with the band of highwaymen they’d encountered on their third foray into the foothills of the Mountains of Mist. Chucky was still riding the battered little pony, but Satters claimed to hate horses and ponies and also everything, so seemed content to walk and complain. And they had been doing a lot of walking.

It seemed to Chucky that the rag-tag little group of schizophrenics was incapable of deciding where they were going, and as a result they had been meandering across Ghealdean and Amadicia for what seemed like weeks. Fain insisted he was receiving new instructions from the Great Lord of the Dark in his dreams, instructions to do with the Green Man and renegade Aes Sedai near Tar Valon, but he was also driven to kill the Dragon Reborn. Since the Dragon Reborn was dead, Fain wanted to kill anybody claiming to be the Dragon Reborn or anyone affiliated with him. Bayle Domon, on the other hand, wanted his dagger. He was cowed by Fain, most of the time, but he grew distressed every time they moved away from the Mountains, where his precious waited for him. If he was kept from his precious for too long, Domon asserted thickly, he would die.

And then there was Noam, or Satters, who just wanted to go and run with the pack, or ‘do something cool’ if he couldn’t do that. And nothing any of the other members of the group wanted to do was cool. He reminded Chucky of Mister C for some strange reason, and it wasn’t just the mange.

Chucky was beginning to wonder why the three insane semi-humans were keeping him around. It had been days and days since they had been able to set foot in a village, let alone an inn. The psycho triplets were just too weird. Chucky and his wobbly falsetto voice and girly skipping-dance had long since stopped being of any use in getting food and shelter for themselves, even though it was still amusing to his captors, who made him perform it every evening before they curled up into their assorted sleeping positions. Fain always just laughed his weird hollow laugh and assured him that his usefulness wasn’t quite depleted.

As for food and shelter, that had been partly solved with the attack of the highwaymen. Chucky and Fain had shared out the provisions the violent criminals had been carrying when they met their screaming, pleading deaths. Essentially, Chucky had ended up with a nice bag of turnips and some strips of dried meat, and Fain had lived on a grossly expensive silk-lined hamper full of preserved pheasants’ tongues and jellied lamb brains, doubtless lifted from an earlier victim of the now-very-dead highwaymen. Satters and Domon, of course, had eaten the highwaymen themselves, except for a raggedly-severed leg and a head that Satters had hurried away with and buried for the next time they wandered through the narrow, tree-lined valley. And the shelter problem was in the process of being solved. While he rode, and in between deafening rants about the pulling in his head and the horrors of being distilled and remalted by the Dark One like a common liquor, Padan Fain was working on sewing together a large, funny-shaped tent of pale leather.

One little flappy part of the tent, that Fain insisted proudly was part of the door – or it would be once he had tanned it a bit more and put some sticks through it to form a frame – was marked with the proud logo MOM, with a little black mark above it that Chucky guessed had been a Dragon’s Fang, before Fain had begun his cross-stitching.

Just this morning, it seemed that a clear signal had finally gotten through to whatever brains were operating in the psycho triplets’ irrational little collective, and they had changed direction and headed back into the Mountains with no discussion, no yelling and a bare minimum of tantrums from Noamsujinki.

“Come on, Noam,” Fain said encouragingly. “With every hour, the Dragon gets further out of our reach, and all he has stolen from us gets harder to recover. We can’t sit around having fun.”

“Fuck you!!”

“Come on, Foamy Noamy,” Fain wheedled. “I’ve got a nice stick for you.”

Satters perked up in spite of himself. “A stick?” he said suspiciously. “How fucking lame.”

“Yes, I guess it is lame,” Fain produced a stick from his saddlebag and threw it lazily into the bushes ahead of them. “Lame old stick, who’d want something like that?”

Satters emerged from the undergrowth with twigs in his hair and the stick between his jagged teeth. Chucky hadn’t even seen him move.

“Ung unk ngnngung,” the wolf brother said with feeling.

“Yes, we are, aren’t we,” Fain said merrily, turning back to his terrible sewing. “Complete and total ones. Come along now, gleeman. Long way to go before sundown.”

 


 

The sounds of battle rose to meet them as they circled in the clouds above.

Well … not battle, precisely.

Hoarni, for once in his life, seemed to have been jolted back to real, here-and-now reality.

“Can we go higher?” he asked in a little voice. “I think I can still hear the splattery noise.”

“There’s no more splattery noises,” Janica said positively. Her hearing was enhanced by several factors, compensation for poor eyesight and a splitting headache from the a’dam chief among them. “They finished falling a few hours ago, except for a couple with gliders and that one guy with the rocket pack.”

It was almost midday, the ‘battle’ having started shortly before dawn. The thing about the Heroes of the Horn was, they couldn’t be killed. If they were killed, it seemed they just came back the next time. Debs and Janica had had a good session arguing about that, Janica citing the apparent erasure of Rand al’Thor as evidence against. But they had eventually decided that, somehow, the Heroes had seen the Dragon reborn as Logain, in a moment of panic, and now Rand could no longer be summoned because the Banner and what Janica called (with baffling certainty) narrative causality were firmly on his side. The Dragon may not have been actually reborn, they decided, but he was reborn enough that the Horn did not summon him anymore.

This didn’t stop the other Heroes from being summoned, of course. And falling. And dying. And coming out of the mists again, as they were bound to do until the battle was won. A Hero could not be killed, and even if he was killed, he – or she – could simply return again. Mayhem had ensued as a self-sustaining rain of Heroes had begun, Rogoshes and Birgittes and Arturs falling out of the sky and splashing onto the Shienarans below, dying, and plummeting out of the mists that had formed around the raken, spitting curses from a broad spectrum of eras and languages. All the curses generously included Ogier, the mothers of Ogier, and farmyard animals.

Janica had experienced a crisis of conscience and tried to tell the raken boys to bring them down to a safe height so the Heroes could ride out and fight properly. Of course, she was a damane and not to be listened to, but Debs had seen the humanity in the situation and suggested the same course. Hoarni had panicked and declared that he and his straining raken weren’t going anywhere near the ground, because once he landed the enemy would be able to get him, and besides, he added, the Heroes would win. Eventually.

Eventually, they did. The falling, swearing bodies killed or otherwise scattered the Borderlanders and the Aes Sedai, and the camp of the Dragon Reborn soon fell awfully quiet. The rain of Heroes slackened and stopped, and there was nothing but an occasional scream of “My legs! I can’t feel my legs! Oh Light, he landed on my legs!” wafting up into the clouds.

The captain of the raken boys took another long drag on his hip-flask. It was empty, as it had been the past seven pulls, but it didn’t stop him from trying.

“Ach,” he said. It seemed to sum up everything.

“I guess they can take us down now,” Janica murmured to Debs, quietly enough so that the edgy Ogier and the socially-aware Seanchan could not hear her instructing the sul’dam. “We can set down just outside the camp, and see if anybody survived. I’m sure Logain came out of it okay,” she went on, wincing at the tsunami of concern rushed through the a’dam at her. “He’s a wily one.”

“Alreet,” Debs said, and raised her voice. “Ye can drop us off noo. I think we’ve seen the enemy tae their mammies.”

“Ye’re nae wrong, leashie,” the captain said in soft reverence. “Ye’re nae wrong.”

“Oh, we’re going to land, are we?” Mister C of 9 said from near the back of the squadron. He’d had a rough time of it, since his raken seemed unnecessarily jumpy and fearful, spiralling out of control and freezing in mid-stroke, as if there was something indescribably terrifying on its back that sent chills of death through it every time the sun sent its passenger’s shadow sliding across its own. “Oh, that’s too bad. I was going for an all-over body chafe. I think there was one little patch of skin near my ass that wasn’t chapped raw. Shame.”

“You don’t have an ass,” Coarshus said miserably. “Let’s just get down there and rescue the Dragon and be done with it, please.”

 


 

They rode out of the Whitecloak encampment, somewhat faster than they had ridden in.

“I didn’t realise,” Someshta panted, crashing along beside the wagon like a leafy avalanche. The wind rustled through his branches, and the expression in his acorn-and-hazelnut eyes was stricken. “From what I knew of the Children of the Light, I assumed they would be a peace-loving and responsible group, dedicated to the Light and the preservation of the ways of the Creator. I read that they were diligent and strong-willed, rooting out evil wherever they found it. I didn’t realise that they found it … everywhere.”

Forsaken_1 whipped Cow a bit more, and ignored the Green Man’s offended exclamations.

“In the absence of any visible evil, the Whitecloaks will invent one,” Moiraine shouted over the sound of drumming hooves, rattling wheels, and galloping foliage. “They usually take some poor cunt and nail his ears to the wall until he admits to being evil, and then they get Age of Legendary on his ass.”

“But … I’m the Green Man. Protector of the Eye of the World. Last bastion of goodness in the Blight. Sole survivor of the Great Nym Repossession of ’23.”

“You probably shouldn’t have walked into the camp the way you did,” Min yelled as kindly as she could. “It was bound to startle them.”

“I was as harmless and unobtrusive as I could manage to be.”

“Telling them that you’d travelled all the way from the Blight just to ‘make their acquaintance’ was probably a mistake,” Lan remarked, huddling in his seat and shielding the remains of a bottle of cheap brandy he’d picked up in Tar Valon shortly before they fled. They’d driven over a pothole a couple of miles back, and he’d lost half the bottle. They’d only just managed to calm him down again. “And adding that you’d spent some time in Tar Valon and that you wanted to reunite the Aiel, that was just stupid.”

Someshta whumped alongside for a few minutes in injured silence.

“Excuse me for being out of touch,” he said finally.

“Okay, so the Green Plan didn’t work,” Forsaken_1 said. “What next? What’s Green Plan B?”

“Green Plan B,” Someshta said proudly, “is a doozy.”

“What is it?”

The broad, leafy face shifted from side to side, narrow and confidential. When he spoke, it was like wind whispering through rushes on the side of a lake.

“Callandor,” he said.

 


 

“…So, in conclusion, civilisation broke down in slow stages, prolonged by the presence of the Ogier stedding, in which the male Aes Sedai hid for as long as they could, thus containing their own destructive power. Lews Therin saw the things he had done to his family in a moment of clarity, and killed himself. But now he is reborn.”

“Fully reborn,” Dr. Nick added.

“Totally,” Shannon ended the tale with a little clap of his hands.

“Now there’s a thing,” Gaul said. He’d perched on the edge of the battered old wagon while the two Americans related the story of the Breaking of the World and the end of the Age of Legends and basically everything they remembered from the prologue of The Eye of the World, and assorted snippets from the rest of the story. “And I thought you were just an ordinary gai’shain! And you, Nancy Sidesaddle,” he turned to Shannon with a broad smile. “I knew you were no ordinary woman, when you told me you knew where the Car’a’carn lived, and could show it to me on the map! But to know all this, you are surely a Wise One. At least,” he added, looking around nervously, “you are similar to a Wise One in many ways, although no Wetlander can ever become a Wise One, and it is insulting to suggest it.”

“Yeah…” Dr. Nick said uneasily. “We, um, read it in a book. Same as the Dragon’s new reincarnation, and where he was born. I mean, where he lived.”

“He was born on Dragonmount, same place as where Lews Therin died,” Shannon clarified. “We read it in a book of, uh, prophesy.”

Unwillingly, the three humans turned to look at Cooper Two.

The gholam seemed, for about the first time, to be completely free of the effects of Gaul’s ta’veren seasickness. He stood on the slightly elevated bed of the wagon, his feet angled to compensate for the crazy tilt given to the vehicle by the splintered wheels and the poorly-repaired axles. He stood quite still with the jo’taxi call-box in one hand, the smooth disk of the activator loosely curled in the other. His eyelid was twitching.

“Coop?” Shannon said quietly. “You’re not angry, are you?”

Dr. Nick stepped forward and waved a hand gingerly in front of the gholam‘s unfocused gaze. “Dude, he’s completely-”

There was the tiny thunderclap of a hand moving at near the speed of sound, and Cooper Two’s fingers clasped around Dr. Nick’s wrist in a white-knuckled grip. The activator disk fell to the ground. Effortlessly, Coop curled his arm inwards and upwards, pulling Dr. Nick towards him until they were face-to-face.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” he asked in a thick, foggy sort of voice. “You know you could have told me. It doesn’t make any sense. Yes it does,” he suddenly contradicted himself. “It makes perfect sense. They didn’t want to compromise my mission. They were just taking the Wheel into account. Lews Therin killed himself, and the contract wasn’t cancelled. We couldn’t get close to him in this turning … you mean the last turning … yeah, in the last turning, so we were put on ice until the Ages came and went, just like the philosophers said … I should have been able to tell from the changes. And you should have been able to tell from the new Aiel and the old Aiel. Yeah, you’re right, I should have. He’s an obvious anachronism. Yeah, and the jo’taxi … so the mark hasn’t really changed, only the rules…” Cooper Two trailed off and stared into space.

“I think he’s going to be okay,” Dr. Nick hazarded, pulling his hand away from the gholam and dropping back to the ground. “I think he’s worked it all out, and he’s keeping his mission parameters to stop himself from going insane.”

“Hey, that’s great,” Shannon said cheerfully, his grin frozen on his face as if by muscle cramp. “C’mon over here.”

He put his arm around Dr. Nick’s narrow shoulders and pulled him away to one side, almost smothering the engineer in his bosom. Together the gai’shain and the merchant went down the slope a little way, and Shannon initiated a huddle. He glanced back over his shoulder, but Cooper Two was standing with a thoughtful expression on his face, and Gaul was wandering off the path to stare at a large, broad-limbed tree standing nearby. “This is a seriously fucked-up sitch we got here, dude,” he said to Dr. Nick. “Y’all know that, right?”

“Seems okay to me,” Dr. Nick replied, oblivious. “Coop’s all calmed down, and there won’t be any more forced marches or skin-tearing, now that he’s got his mission.”

“His mission is to kill Rand,” Shannon gritted. “For a start, Rand is the Dragon and he done got to survive to the Last Battle. Elsewise this whole story gets fucked up right from the start. This might be the same gholam what appears in the Wheel o’ Time books, or it might not. Whatever, we can’t control it. And I don’t reckon Rand’ll be able to deal with no gholam.”

“Sure he will,” Dr. Nick dismissed the possibility. “He’s a bad-ass. Much as I like Coop, he won’t stand a chance. Rand’ll open a can of balefire on his ass.”

Shannon wondered, not for the first time, if Dr. Nick had ever read the books. “Gholam are immune to the One Power.”

“Oh,” Dr. Nick’s brain was, in some ways, exceptionally well-honed. He could calculate ratios and inertia and shit like that with one half of his head, and reconstruct deviant sexual fantasies with the other half simultaneously. In a limited, engineery sort of way, he even had a bit of an imagination. But he had parameters, just like Coop did. “Well, he’ll kick his ass anyway. Probably.”

“Maybe,” Shannon hissed. “But there’s more. Rand is the Car’a’carn of the Aiel. He Who Comes With the Dawn. The chosen one. What happens when Gaul finds out Coop is going to try and kill him?”

“I don’t have much sympathy for Gaul,” Dr. Nick lied. In fact, he had no sympathy at all for Mister let’s-run-in-deep-sand-a-bit-before-I-have-dinner-and-you-don’t. “If he finds out – and let’s face it, he should have by now, with all the explaining we’ve just been doing – he won’t be able to take Coop on anyway. Coop’d kill him. I mean, we as much as told him that Rand and Lews Therin were the same person, and he must know that Coop was trying to kill Lews Therin. I don’t think he was listening. Aiel are funny like that. Anyway,” he grinned in triumph. “You’re forgetting the seasickness. If Gaul makes Cooper Two queasy, wait until he meets Rand.”

Shannon looked across at Gaul, who was trying to climb the tree for a better view of the Wetlands. The Aielman kept falling from the same spot halfway up the trunk, flipping over and landing directly on his head every time, but apparently not hurting himself in the slightest. Nearby, a fly landed on a sun-baked boulder and the huge rock shivered and split in half, revealing a swirl of sediment in the shape of the ancient Aes Sedai yin-yang. Gaul started up the gnarled trunk for the seventh or eighth time. His hands slipped, his feet dislodged, he flipped over and landed on his head again. He got up with a chuckle.

“I don’t think Rand is as strongly ta’veren as Gaul is,” Shannon said. “And anyhow, what do y’all think’ll happen to us, whatever a-transpires? Sooner or later, Coop’s gonna run down, and we’ll be left as the only people on his side. Against all the folks who are on the Dragon’s side. That’s if Coop don’t just decide to pull us all to pieces one afternoon. Do we really want to throw our chips in with the Dark Party?”

Gaul made a final lunge at the offending tree, and it fell to the ground with a rending crash. Then there was another crash, and another. One by one, dragged by the branches or dislodged by the shaking ground, all the trees on the hillside fell down, their shattered trunks and branches forming what Shannon was sure looked like some sort of picture or symbol or wording if seen from above. Silence returned to the landscape, which was now visible to a decent distance in front of them. There was a city on the horizon.

“Well,” Gaul said, walking over to Shannon and Dr. Nick. “At least now we know where we are.”

“Oh?” Shannon inquired politely, dragging his eyes away from the impossible tumble of trees and the scenery they had revealed. The sight of the city in the distance had unnerved him for some inexplicable reason.

“Oh yes. That there is the only Wetlander city the Aiel have ever known.”

Shannon’s heart sank into his testicles.

“That’s the city of the Treekillers,” Gaul confirmed with grim satisfaction.

“Cairhien,” Shannon murmured. “We can’t go there with Aielmen and a gholam.”

Dr. Nick turned around.

“Hey,” he said. “Where did Coop go anyway?”

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