Of course, the more they tried to make her lose interest, the more suspicious Faile became of the entire group. She refused to leave them alone, until finally Janica and Debs gave up in disgust.
“Alreet, I’ll level wi’ ye’,” Debs said. “We’ve got the Horn o’ Valere, it’s reet here in this box.”
“I don’t believe you!” Faile screeched. “You’re lying!”
“No, we’re really not,” Janica said, fumbling with the golden chest on Frendli’s lap. “See? There it is.”
“It’s a fake!” the Saldaean shrieked. All four of the Ogier, and Vamps, cringed in their chairs. “I hate it! It’s ugly! It’s an ugly fake, and you’re lying!”
“Reminds me of my girlfriend,” Mister C of 9 muttered, casting a furtive look around to make sure she wasn’t around, and hadn’t heard.
“Mine too – my two, I mean. Two, plural. Girlfriends,” Vamps said, and gave his own version of the furtive look, which was in effect a room-encompassing leer and person-by-person check to see who had heard him and if anybody had missed the remark and perhaps if he should repeat it louder. He made it as far as Nynaeve, who clenched her fist expressively. “I mean, I have no girlfriends, only Nynaeve.”
“And women I fuck arg, my balls.”
Janica sat holding the Horn of Valere, staring at the misty blur of the Hunter in mute disbelief. “You don’t actually care about the Horn, do you?” she said. “You’re just trying to get yourself into an adventure.”
“I still want to know how you knew my name! I demand to know! I demand to know right now, tell me, now!”
“Please,” Wyse said plaintively, “can you stop shouting so loudly? We have very sensitive ears…”
“I’m not shouting!”
“Luke,” Debs said reasonably, “we’re nae innerestin’ people. We’re jes’ merchants from Cairhien, there’s nae adventure tae be had here. We’re waitin’ fer a contact of ours, a fella named … ah…”
“Falcon,” Janica said quickly. “Padan Falcon. He’s a peddler from Lugard. We call him Faile because that’s the Old Tongue word for ‘falcon’, you see.”
“But you said this Faile person was a chick!”
“That’s a figure of speech,” Janica replied. “You know, because he’s a young peddler, a young falcon, therefore just a chick, it’s a little teasing sort of thing we do to him. Padan Faile,” she added forcefully, nudging Debs through the a’dam.
“Reet,” Debs said. “Padan Faile. Peddler. Named after a falcon.”
“I just changed my name to Faile for the same reason,” Faile said. “I used to call myself Mandarb, but there were some guys in here a few nights ago, and they mocked me about my name. Well, I showed them who was a horse!” her voice rose inexorably to its usual squealing, harridanesque pitch. “The Whitecloaks chased them out of town, and Orban fought some of them single-handed! There was a terrible giant with them, and a pack of wolves, and a fierce blood-drinking-”
“Do you think Perrin and the others could have gotten back ahead of us?” Janica whispered under cover of the gale-force screeching. “That giant could be Loial, and the wolves would be tagging along with Perrin, right?”
“Aye, but hoo’re we gonna feend oot?”
“…and then there were Aielmen everywhere, and Orban managed to kill twelve and capture one, who screamed and surrendered saying he was too young to die at the hands of a jock. But I did my share. I took the oath with the others in the Square of Tammaz in Illian! Orban and Gann think the Horn is in the Forest of Shadows, but I think it’s in the Mountains of Mist-”
“You sure it’s not in the Swamp of Despair or the Chasm of Helplessness?” Mister C muttered snidely.
“Where are those?” Faile demanded, slamming a fist on the tabletop.
“Listen,” Logain said pleasantly, “we’re really not interesting people. You wouldn’t get in adventures with us, you’d just get bored. It would be much better for everybody if you just-”
“You’re a pretty man,” Faile said, “and even if you weren’t part of this very odd little crowd, I’d travel along with you just to make sure no harm came to that face of yours.”
“What about my face?” Vamps asked nonchalantly.
“But the truth is, you are part of an odd crowd, and I know you’re up to something, so I’ll just come right along with you and your well-filled breeches, thank you so very much.”
“Ach, keep yer mitts an’ yer peepers orff his breeches!” Debs growled. Janica stiffened in her seat as she felt saidar wrenching through her, and an impromptu face-rearranging weave arranged itself at Debs’ angry command. “Ye jes’ bloody well keep yer-”
“What’s it to you, fatty?” Faile screeched. Suddenly a knife materialised in her hand. “As if you have a chance with him! I may just come along to prove you wrong! Just because you’re three times my weight, doesn’t mean you’re three times the woman! Why, I…”
Janica, divorcing herself from the proceedings as she was getting increasingly accustomed to doing, suddenly noticed that the four Ogier were humming and pom-pomming in a strangely inappropriate musical warmup. They sounded, during the lulls in screech and bellow, like a gigantic barber-shop quartet preparing to sing So Long My Coney Island Baby.
“She’ll stay right here…” “You have no fear…”
“She’ll stay right here…” “Just have a beer…”
“She’ll stay right here…” “So be a dear…”
“She’ll stay right here…” “Lend me your ear…”
“And if you think you’ve got a chance of stopping me from coming along, you’re as stupid as you are hefty, woman! Would you damn Ogier shut up?!”
“Let’s go,” Wyse said, standing up with a furtive expression on his wide, honest face.
“The quicker the better,” Coarshus agreed. Suddenly all the Ogier were on their feet.
Debs, Janica, Vamps, Nynaeve, Logain and Mister C exchanged a glance, and shrugged. These sudden bouts of claustrophobia and panic were becoming frequently common, and they had learned the hard way that when the Ogier wanted to leave, it was best to leave before the crying, pant-wetting, or Horn-blowing began. A few nights ago, Coarshus had decided he didn’t like the site they’d chosen for their camping ground, and the debacle had ended with a stony-faced Artur Hawkwing telling him a bedtime story about the little Ogier who, with some muttering and obvious misgivings, lived happily ever after in spite of being very, very irritating.
“Right, I’m all packed, I’m coming with you!” Faile screamed, and tried to stand up.
The Ogier looked smug.
“Let me up! I’m stuck to the chair! And the table!” Faile shrieked, a crystal-shattering note of outrage. Sure enough, thick cords and roots of wood and bark had grown out of her chair and out of the table, pinning her arms and hips and legs in a dozen places. Leaves and new branches were still slowly curling out of the legs of the furniture, and the other patrons in the bar were beginning to gather around and stare in amazement. “Let me UUUUUUUUUUUUUUUP!”
Mister C of 9 reached out, plucked an apple from the new growth, and jammed it delicately into Faile’s mouth.
“The silent minority,” Wyse said sagely.
“Down with the oppressive forces of the matriarchy,” Frendli pumped a giant fist sedately in the air.
“You’re damn right,” Mister C grinned. “Now, shall we go?”
They ran out of the Wayman’s Forge and down the street. As they passed the gibbet in the town square, Debs called up to the Aielman within.
“Don’t worry, Gaul! Somebody’ll be along tae peck ye up before tae much longer!”
“…the fuck you say?”
Then they were charging on, towards the docks. The towering Ogier and their bags and boxes of valuables thumped and whumped on the wooden pier as they hurried across to the single solitary boat that floated on the scummy, reeking river surface. It was a filty little vessel with the ludicrously inappropriate name Snow Goose. Without pausing, the Ogier vaulted on board, bowling over several hapless sailors. One of them fell into the water and didn’t come back to the surface.
“Let me help you, ladies,” Logain said, straddling the gap between the dock and the Goose, and offering his hand.
“Ach, what a gennleman,” Debs crooned, and they clambered on board.
“Oh, uh, yeah, let me help you, or whatever,” Vamps said, catching Nynaeve’s glare and feeling it bring Puddin Taim out into the open. “I’ll just, yeah, I’ll carry you, I’m that buff. Arg, my back, I think I slipped a disk! Nynaeve, carry me!”
“Blood and bloody flaming ashes,” Nynaeve growled, and hauled the weeping man on board.
Mister C stood on the pier.
“Let me help you, Mister C,” he said. “Oh, no, I couldn’t possibly impose, no no, I insist, well, okay, what a nice fellow you are.”
He jumped aboard with the fluid grace of a cat’s shadow.
“And ye’re sure it’s goin’ t’ go on an’ work this time?”
Cooper Two looked up from the eroded remains of the Portal Stone and gave Shannon a long, steady glare. Standing nearby with sweat already beading on her forehead, Moiraine did the same. Shannon held his hands up in self-defence.
“Just askin’, y’all. Yeesh.”
“No reason why it wouldn’t work,” Cooper Two said curtly. “With the Power-free method, I was obviously making some navigational mistakes, due to the length of time I…” he trailed off, twitching.
“Yeah, all’a that,” Shannon said hurriedly.
“That. So, with a little bit of channeling to help keep things in control, and a bit of know-how at the helm concerning wherever we’re supposed to be going, this should work out nicely. So you’ve got that, Mwah? Just squirt some One Power into this symbol, and another little dollop or whatever into these others-”
“Don’t call them dollops, and don’t call me Mwah,” Moiraine wiped her brow and scowled at the gholam. “I can’t channel in this part,” she added. “The weaves just vanish all the time.”
Coop moved his hand. “Try it now.”
The Aes Sedai’s eyes narrowed. “Okay, now it’s working. That’s fucking weird. If I didn’t know any better-”
“Well you don’t, so make with the saidar, Servant to All.”
“What the gibbering sweaty fuck did you just say-”
Forsaken_1 began to fidget in Someshta’s shadow. “Is this going to take much longer?”
“Maybe this Portal Stone is too badly damaged to successfully transport us anywhere,” the Green Man suggested meekly. “I’ve seen Stones in the Blight that were no good for even the slightest jumps. Of course, when their internal scopes are all eaten out by acid fungus, there’s not a lot one can do-”
“Mind awfully if I can get a fucking thought in edgeways over here?” Moiraine snapped.
They stood quietly in the vague depression in the forest floor, waiting for Moiraine and Cooper Two to work their Portal Stone magic. Min and Cybes, still bedraggled and dripping from their death-defying adventure in the river, were suffering themselves to be rubbed down by a conscientious Contro and a huge, multicoloured towel.
“Ha ha ha! You’re all wet! Did you fall in some water?!!? That happens to me when I fall in water too!! Funny that! Mind you, I bet it doesn’t happen to everybody!! But it should! Fish live in water! I wonder if they get wet!! And you know what else? They’re funny!!!!! Well, it’s certainly a point!”
The continual jabber washed over Forsaken_1 and he tuned it out, dazed as he was already by the weariness and annoyance ringing into him through the Warder bond. Moiraine didn’t have the strength in the One Power to do anything very effective to the Portal Stone, and she lacked the expertise in such ancient things to make it work anyway. She was as suspicious of Coop as Forsaken_1 himself was, but so far Shannon – Nancy Sidesaddle – hadn’t told them very much about him. Only that it was wise not to talk history with him. Hailing from Los Angeles as he did, Forsaken_1 was quite easy to convince about that particular rule. He had also decided, all on his own, not to ever ask Cooper Two about his drinking habits again. Ever.
Then there was a shimmering, flickering rush of weirdness all up and down Forsaken_1’s body, and he heard Moiraine’s voice rise with weary satisfaction.
“Here we go. Now something’s beginning to…”
The world flickered.
Forsaken_1 stood at the top of the White Tower, staring in disbelief as the masked monster in front of him pulled out a shotgun and pointed it at him. He felt the familiar sinking feeling as he knew what was about to happen. Ishamael grinned, caverns of fire shimmering behind his eyes.
There was a click.
“Misfire!” Forsaken_1 gasped, and leapt forward, pressing his advantage.
“I still have the One Power, you dickhead,” Ishamael said, and killed him.
Forsaken_1’s head spun. Distantly, he heard Moiraine continuing to talk. “…happen. It’s about…”
He was in the Blight, surrounded by Warders and Aes Sedai. Together, they were hacking and slashing and burning the evil, rotting vegetation away, destroying it as if it had never been, striking an inexorable course northwards, towards Shayol Ghul. Behind them, he knew the massed armies of Andor, Illian, Tear, Altara, Murandy, and a lot of other countries he didn’t know the names of were arranged, in battle formation, waiting for the Aes Sedai and their Warders to clear the way for them, so the great assault could begin. Forsaken_1 grinned through the blood and grime and sweat, flung his colour-shifting cloak over his shoulder to free his sword-arm, and swept the head off a myrddraal in the same powerful movement. He felt alive.
To either side of him, a pair of truly sweet Green Ajah Aes Sedai had been giving him calf-eyes all afternoon. They were twin sisters, barely old enough to wear the shawl, but the White Tower had churned out a lot of raw recruits in the arms race that had led up to the Final Battle. Their Warders were all stodgy, boring older men, and they had admitted freely to the need for young blood in their little family. He’d tentatively tested the waters with Moiraine, and she’d been … receptive.
“A team that sleeps well together, fights well together,” she’d said with her usual brutal efficiency. “And we’ve got a long fucking hike to Dark One Hill.”
Forsaken_1 chuckled and kicked a trolloc in the gigantic balls, gouging its throat with his sword as it buckled over, then heaved the whole body upwards and into another charging pair of beastmen. They went down in a tangled heap, and he was upon them, his blade flashing death, before they could move.
“You’ve got the moves there, big boy,” one of the Greens said admiringly.
“Yeah,” Forsaken_1 grinned, and Sheathed the Sword.
“…fucking time. Wait a minute, something’s…”
He was a Supreme Lord High Poobah of the Hand of the Light, golden sunburst and crimson shepherd’s crook proud on his breast, heavily-armoured white warhorse between his legs, and naught but righteous purity in his heart. He was riding at the head of an inconceivable mass of Children, sweeping like a white tide across the continent towards the festering evil of Tar Valon. They’d converted Seanchan, the Aiel Waste, and worked their way east and west in a pincer movement.
With a momentary pang of regret, Forsaken_1 remembered the friends and allies and loved ones he had destroyed to get where he was. Nancy Sidesaddle, burned at the stake. Cooper Two, locked in a box and thrown into the sea for being basically weird. Someshta, chopped up for lumber. Cybes, slaughtered in the Great Wolf Cull of ’73. Moiraine, Min and Lan, early victims of the Tar Valon Witchcraft Trials. Contro…
It was a very brief pang of regret.
“The White Tower is in sight, Grand High Mighty Awesome Poobah,” Jaichim Carridin said at his elbow. “We can begin bombardment with the explosive cow-dung Illuminator cannons at your command.”
“Shoot me with a fucking shotgun, will you,” Forsaken_1 grunted, and leaned forward in his saddle. “On my command!”
He heard the noise as his neck broke.
With a shuddering gasp, Forsaken_1 bolted upright in bed, cold sweat dripping off his naked body. He’d felt Moiraine die, and had been feeling it for the past ten years. The empty, devastating hollowness that had invaded his being at the severing of their bond had driven him to the brink of insanity, before he’d found something else to fill his days and nights.
His beloved rolled over in his sleep, murmuring quietly.
“You’ve taken all the blankets again, mashiara.”
“Sorry, Logain,” Forsaken_1 whispered. He climbed out of bed, making sure not to disturb his lover’s rest any further, and made his way to the kitchen. Their cosy little farm house was everything he had ever wanted, everything he needed to forget the chilling desolation that was all he had to remember Moiraine by. He stepped into the moonlit dining room, and sliced himself a piece of pie from the batch Logain had baked that afternoon. Sighing in contentment, he turned around-
And felt the cold invasion of steel between his ribs, stealing his breath away.
“Remember me, Faggot Foreskin?” Lan snarled.
“NOOOOOOOOOOO!” Forsaken_1 screamed, and hurled himself onto the ground. Retching weakly, he heard other howls and wails from all around, screamed denials and helpless sobs. The ground spun, and he saw a crazily-tilting Portal Stone, the tops of some trees, the sky, a river, Someshta, then the cool, blessed ground.
“Okay,” Cooper Two was saying somewhere in the distance. “Alright, no more Portal Stones.”