Try as they might, Debs and Janica just couldn’t get the High Lords and the Defenders of the Stone to listen.
“Grain barges and wagons of supplies would really come in handy for us,” one of the completely interchangable, foppish Lords said, holding a scented bag of salts and flowers up to his nose. “We have plenty of food, but the servants who prepare our meals and make up our delightful banquet settings need to eat as well. You see, we are in touch with the common man. These bags of plain food you mention would be very useful in feeding those common men. That way, we wouldn’t have to share our actual food with them.”
“They wouldn’t appreciate it anyway,” a second Lord said. “Egads, and you want us to do what with the barges?”
“Burn them,” Janica said, fingering her leash in frustration. They’d been arguing about this ever since they had settled the last of the fighting and gotten down to the serious business of arranging policy changes and areas of authority for the new master of the Stone. “They contain trollocs and halfmen. You have to burn them and let them sink. And throw the wagons in on top of them.”
“Or at least steck beg speeks through the baigs,” Debs added. The High Lords looked at one another. Two or three more of them raised frilly sleeves to their noses.
“Or at least stick big spikes through the sacks of provisions,” Janica translated. “That would be a good way of making sure that the barges contained food and not Shadowspawn. Then none of the food would go to waste. But think about it – who would send us food anyway? This is the capital city. If there was any sort of mass shipment of feed on wagons and barges, you’d have heard about it. It doesn’t seem likely that any of your neighbours would send it to you, and it doesn’t seem likely that the farmers on nearby properties would just put it together out of the kindness of their hearts. It’s not as if you ever did anything for them.”
High Lord Whoever drew himself up and looked at Janica imperiously. “My dear lady, you forget yourself.”
Debs was just about ready to show these stuck-up Tairen knobs just how much self-control Janica had really had during the course of these arguments, when the doors at the end of the hall swung open and Logain appeared, resplendent in clothing that warranted a half-page description but ‘resplendent’ would have to do in this case. The sight of it was enough to make the hefty sul’dam coo, and Janica rolled her eyes expressively as the a’dam conveyed in no uncertain terms who had just made an entrance.
“At least he might make them listen,” she muttered so only Debs could hear.
“Wha’?” Debs looked down at the grey-clad damane dreamily. “Did ye say summat?”
Logain, carrying Callandor casually in the crook of one arm, glared at the High Lords fiercely. His gaze lingered perhaps over-long on one particularly youthful, glossy-haired nobleman, and the silence became unnecessarily strained. Then he tore his eyes away from the young man’s down-turned boots and tight hose, and went back to his fierce glaring. Behind him, Vamps and Loial sidled into the hall looking, for all of their superficial physical differences, almost identical in their wretchedness. Loial was clutching a pair of books and looked prepared to use them in defence of his life, and Vamps was bravely clutching his side and blinking away tears. Following along with them was another figure, a blur that was not quite so familiar to Janica as the shapes of the Ogier and the Far Maddingite American. Debs looked over at the newcomer and murmured, “Mat,” to her near-sighted companion.
“Not Uncle Travelling?” Janica hissed in disbelief. “He’s here too?”
“Nae nae. Mat from the Tae Rivers,” Debs had a think about that. Back in Illian, when they had been accosted by Padan Fain and his followers, she could have sworn she’d picked up a very familiar sort of vibe from one or two of the hangers-on. One of them might have been Dr. Nick. It was difficult to say for sure, because the guy’s head had been all wrapped up in blindfolds and gags. “It’s nae Uncle Travellin’.”
“Any incoming food shipments will be checked as possible sneak attacks,” Logain said firmly. “All efforts will be made to ensure that this city remains safe, and the citizens cared for. Shadowspawn and Darkfriends will be drawn to this place now, and you must be more aware of it than ever before. This land is now ruled by the Dragon Reborn, and his word is law,” he paused thoughtfully, and looked at the younger Lordling again. Debs wondered if maybe Logain suspected this good-looking young fellow of enemy conspiracy, and whether the Dragon might thank her for delivering his head on a silver platter. Well, maybe later. “I will also be grooming a select few of you to act as my … personal go-betweens,” he went on in a strangely thick voice, and Debs realised he was still staring at the nobleman. “You will be liaisons between myself and the soldiery, and you will be privileged to remain … almost permanently … in my company.”
Logain’s eyes seemed a little out-of-focus and dreamy, but Debs didn’t notice. She knew how he felt sometimes. It must be nice to always be able to look at oneself in a mirror and see somebody like Logain, she thought. She didn’t even notice when Janica gave a low growl and prodded her in the belly with an extremely pointy elbow. The little damane picked herself up off the floor and glowered. Some of the High Lords looked a bit nervous – particularly the glossy-haired one, who had realised the Lord Dragon was staring at him.
“But the barges,” Janica said, getting the conversation back on-track.
“Yes, the barges,” Logain said, suddenly businesslike again. Debs wondered with a motherly pang of concern if the pressures of rule, or perhaps the taint itself, were having an effect on their chosen champion. “If any barges are sent to Tear – and I doubt there will be many – they are to be thoroughly searched. End of story.”
The High Lords stumbled over one another in their haste to agree, saying it was a marvellous and sensible plan. Logain turned on his heel and strode back out of the hall, declaring that he would be in his rooms if anybody – particularly any hopeful young liaisons – wanted to speak to him. Debs and Janica joined Loial, Vamps and Mat in the corridor.
“What’s going on?” Janica asked. “Has there been any attack by Shadowspawn at all? We’re going to look pretty stupid if this doesn’t happen. It seems to me like the Darkfriends and the Forsaken all left very suddenly. There was stuff going on that didn’t happen in the books. They might not try again in the same way. The changes might be too complete.”
“It prolly will’nae come fer a few more days,” Debs said. “We’re only jes’ gettin’ o’er the last attack. Give it a wee while.”
“Heh heh. Wee,” said Mat. He nudged Loial, who chuckled. “Speaking of wee, has there been an official article of re-establishment for the Gentlemen’s Club yet? I was sure that since we were all in the area…”
“I don’t know,” Loial said, pocketing his books and looking a little mournful at the prospect of being crammed back into a human-sized smoking jacket. “I hadn’t heard any rumours of-”
“We should ask Chucky. He’d be happy to chair an emergency meeting. I bet this place has its own monogrammed stuff, too. We could open a Tear branch of the Club, right here in the Stone.”
“Did you say Chucky?” Janica snapped. “He’s here?”
“Oh ayuh,” Mat said, grinning cheerfully from under his straw hat. “He’s around. I saw him just today actually. Seems like everybody’s here.”
“I saw him a little while ago, he was wandering around looking for a blacksmith or a panelbeater or something that sounded like ‘panelbeater’, and don’t shake me so much, ma’am, I had a big breakfast down in the Defenders’ canteen this morning…”
“Where was he exactly?”
“Oh, I don’t know, he looked to be heading for the Great Holding last time I saw him, but we were both lost and the floors are all caved in around there and he was in a hurry…”
Janica dropped Mat and spun around. “Let’s go,” she said.
Debs, Loial and Vamps, astounded at the display of antlike super-strength from the little woman, stood and stared. She tugged on her leash angrily, and Debs was jostled into action.
“Alreet, alreet, nae need tae git carried awee,” the sul’dam murmured placidly, and Mat chuckled again.
They hurried down the corridor, and suddenly bumped into Berelain and, standing very very close behind her, Perrin. The First of Mayene and the huge redneck looked dishevelled and embarrassed, and were both covered by a disarrayed collection of blankets and bearskins. Mat stared at his friend in growing delight.
“Perrin!” he cried. “Well done! She’s a ten!”
Perrin looked even more acutely embarrassed. “Thank the Light we found you,” he said. “I don’t know what I would have done … I can’t explain … this is so horrible…”
“Ow! Don’t jostle like that!” Berelain snapped, but didn’t look entirely displeased.
“What’s going on?” Janica asked.
Red in the face, Perrin explained. Everybody gasped except for Janica, who nodded.
“Perfectly natural,” she said. “You should have realised it yourself, what with your eyes changing and your increasing contact with wolves. You have been having dreams about wolves and talking with the pack and things, haven’t you?” she asked.
“Well … not so much recently, in the cities they seem to fade away…” Perrin admitted. Mat and Berelain stared at him as if they were seeing a terrifying monster. Well … Mat stared at him. Berelain tilted her head to one side and tried to stare at him out of the corner of her eye, but couldn’t quite manage to turn around far enough. Loial seemed excited.
“A Wolfbrother!” he said. “There hasn’t been one of your kind since-”
“Elyas Machera,” Janica said dryly.
“But how did you know?” Berelain asked her new mentor. It seemed she had come to terms with her awkward position, and wasn’t going to let it humiliate her any further. Janica sort of respected that. “Has this kind of thing happened to you?”
“To me? No!” Janica snapped. “Animal Planet. I saw it on Animal Planet. This happens to wolves after they have sex. It’s to aid insemination and stop other males from … why are you all looking at me like that?”
“You said ‘insemination’,” Vamps whimpered.
“How extraordinarily interesting!” Loial exclaimed.
“I don’t believe you,” Mat said. “Show me. Is it the size of my arm, or what?”
“Come on,” Janica tugged on the a’dam again. “We’re wasting time.”
Shannon gave a happy sigh, lay back, and prepared for his first real snooze since Dr. Bloody Nick had awakened the cheerful, mindlessly aggressive Cooper Two. He didn’t care that it was already well into the middle of the morning and that there were things to do. He just didn’t care. He was bone-weary, and the disadvantages of living in a society that had yet to invent the bra were … to coin a phrase, weighing on him. It would be nice to take the load off for a while, and the guestrooms in the Stone were pretty nice. After all the nights he had spent shivering in the battered merchant wagon, it was paradise. And after he’d swept up the dismembered pieces of whatever Lord had been living in the room until the arrival of the Aiel, or the Borderlanders, or Coop … well, it was quite nice. Good enough for him to sleep in, anyway.
Nancy Sidesaddle wondered, foggily, what had happened to those Borderlanders. They had been a nasty-looking bunch, even though he had sort of expected nastiness. There had been Whitecloaks with them and everything – or at least some guys who had been Whitecloaks until they had turned their backs on the concept of bathing. Chucky said they had all been under the influence of Padan Fain and his evil Shadar Logoth powers, and that they had all gone off somewhere else to plot evil schemes and hatch evil evils. But Chucky was full of shit.
The tubby gleeman had headed downstairs to look for some woodworkers or blacksmiths or field surgeons who might be able to help him with his bagpipe problems, and Dr. Nick was off seeing the sights with Cybes and Min. Knowing the hopeless little engineer, he was busily trying to get into Min’s pants, although Shannon couldn’t think of a damper, hairier, more disease-ridden place to be. They had agreed, in spite of their extreme reservations about each other, to meet up later on and try to stick together. None of them were very sure about what was going to happen next, and so far they had all been denied access to any facts, let alone the little gang that was apparently fluttering around the Dragon, guiding his decisions and movements. The Dragon Reborn was off-limits. Shannon grinned as he thought about how crazy that must be making Moiraine.
“Ahhhh,” he said, and settled back even further in the pillows. He waited, thinking that this was the moment when somebody would crash in through the ceiling and drag him off on another pointless adventure. “Ahh,” he added, uncertainly. Was that Cooper Two pouring himself underneath the door, coming to haul him off on another mission? He looked. No. Just a shadow. “Ah,” he waited for the inevitable ta’veren swirling that would land the struggle between the Light and the Dark firmly on his petticoats.
He closed his eyes. He was asleep in three seconds.
He was asleep for three seconds.
Looking around, he found himself right back where he had started from. The merchant’s wagon stood on his left, and the burning sands extended in every direction to the purplish horizon. There was no sun in the sky, but there seemed to be a clear, sourceless illumination filling the atmosphere with a sort of bright twilight. In the distance, mesas and buttes sweltered in the shimmering heat-haze. He was in the Aiel Waste.
Just in front of him, across the high spoked wheels of the wagon, a young Aiel woman was hunting a big spiny animal of some sort. A pig, Shannon’s mostly-dormant hick genes tentatively identified the creature. That was when he realised where he was. This was the World of Dreams. He was looking at Amys, Wise One of the Nine Valleys sept of the Taardad Aiel. How he knew this, he couldn’t say. But he had a sudden, horrible vertigo-feeling of utter despair.
The boar charged at him. He closed his eyes, and when he opened them he was in Tanchico. He’d never been there before, but that was where he was. He was in the museum in Tanchico where all those stupid skeletons and Mercedes Benz hood ornaments had needlessly complicated the narrative universe. He looked around, and nodded to himself. Giraffe. Ter’angreal. Was that a Sega Megadrive? Yes. Yes it was.
“Aw man,” he said. He turned around and was back in the Waste. “No!” he cried. “I ain’t the one y’all should be doin’ this with! It’s not me, y’hear! I cain’t channel! I ain’t not even hardly a woman at all!”
“You could have fooled me, Wetlander,” the Aiel said, shouldering her spears and looking at Nancy directly. Shannon realised he wasn’t wearing any clothes. He quickly imagined a nice pair of shitkickers and some denim dungarees, and was promptly and properly dressed. “Such unusual clothing.”
“Yeah, well listen here,” Shannon growled, and approached the Wise One. “I ain’t the one y’all’re after. I ain’t no Dreamwalker or whatever. It’s Egwene. So I’ll just go on back to sleep, an’ stay away from Tanchico an’ the Waste and all. You can wait for Egwene, I’m sure she’ll be toddlin’ right along,” even as he said it, he wondered if it was true. Would Egwene be hunting the Black Ajah with a Tel’aran’rhiod ter’angreal? Would she be interested in becoming an apprentice Wise One? Would she be called upon to become Amyrlin Seat of the Salidar Aes Sedai? Would the Salidar Aes Sedai even happen?
Did he really care?
No. In fact, following the whole thing through that way only made him sure of one thing. He did not want to be here. He turned towards the wagon, and saw out of the corner of his eye a tall, statuesque woman with a silver bow and a baffled look on her face. He resolutely closed his eyes and refused to take part in the whole unfolding stupidity. When he opened his eyes again, he found himself back in Tanchico.
“Fuck’s sake y’all,” he said. “How’s I s’posed’ta wake up? This is nuts.”
“You are walking the Dream, Wetlander,” the Aiel woman said. “I am Amys-”
“I know, I know, Amys of the Nine Valleys sept of the Taardad Aiel,” Shannon sighed. “Y’all want me t’ come be an apprentice with you down at the Two Dogs Hold.”
“Right,” Shannon gave up. “Right, Cold Rocks.”
“Good,” Amys folded her arms. “I was worried I’d have to lose my temper.”