Logain strode out of the audience chamber, massaging his bleeding hand and grinding his teeth. Yet another meeting with yet another silly group of nobles. Some of them had been very good-looking young nobles, and he was considering an announcement of a new fashion – what he called the bare-cheeked look – by way of a test of his authority. After all, these people had been conquered by the Dragon, and seemed intent on imitating and fawning as best they could. There must be some way he could take advantage of it all. After all, wasn’t that why he had become a False Dragon in the first place? To take advantage of hicks and pick up cute boys?
He wondered where Foreskin was. Was he still undergoing his endearing little personality crises, skipping like a dandelion seed from Warder to Whitecloak? What would he be tomorrow? A captain of the guard, a dashing sailor, perhaps even a pirate? Yes, that sounded like Logain’s mashiara. But Foreskin, at this moment, was the least of his concerns. Even his urge to take advantage and live well on his play-acting, his desire to fleece the gullible and laugh at the stupid, took a back seat in the priority wagon in relation to his most driving urge at this very moment.
Right now, the Great Lord was on the move. And He needed Logain’s help. If not his help, then at least his service. He may not realise it right now, but somewhere along the way He would be in need of Logain’s honest, hard-working diligence, his unwavering loyalty, and his immense skills in the art of ducking responsibility and shirking duty in favour of a bit of lazy, wasteful fun. Logain got the impression that his Great Lord was an even more skilled artist in this field than he was – that was, after all, why He was the Great Lord – but He would still need Logain’s service.
With a diffident crackling, Someshta the Nym formed up alongside Logain and accompanied him along the corridor.
“How did it go?” the Green Man asked quietly. “I heard shouting.”
“Oh, that was mostly me,” Logain said. “I told them about the trollocs in the feed wagons, and they wouldn’t listen. I had to take the report and a couple of still-twitching fade-heads in there to show them that I’d been right, and I expected them not to ignore my commands – or the suggestions of Debs and Janica – any more,” Logain hadn’t much liked the idea of handling the not-quite-dead pieces of myrddraal he’d recovered from the failed attack down at the docks. But when he thought about halfmen as taking his Great Lord’s form in vain, and brazenly imitating His Magnificence, well, that made it okay to chop them up, didn’t it?
“And did you fulfill the piece of the Prophesy we were talking about?” Someshta asked.
“I tried,” Logain grunted, holding up his hand. “When I tried to thrust Callandor into the Heart of the Stone, the damn thing broke. This leaves me in a bit of a dilemma.”
“Indeed,” the Green Man said, his walnutty old face wrinkled with concern or perhaps just with ordinary walnuttiness. “You are the Dragon Reborn, and yet you require The Sword Which Is Not A Sword in order to fulfill your manifest destiny.”
“What? No. I require Healing on my hand, but I can’t go to Debs and Janica because they’ll find out I broke Callandor and Janica will say something withering to me. That’s my dilemma.”
“Oh,” Someshta clumped along for a time without saying anything, then reached into his shrubbery. “Here,” he said in a conspiratorial rustle. “I have two. They’re fake, but there’s no reason for them to know, is there?” The huge, ancient being gave a sombre wink.
Logain took the gleaming crystal length, and hefted it in his hand. It was completely indistinguishable from the apparent sa’angreal – ‘apparent’ because Debs and Janica hadn’t let him actually use it yet – he had just smashed very embarrassingly on the floor in front of thirty Lords and Ladies of Tear. “Thanks,” he said in surprise. “You know, I thought you were just set to watch me, by one or another of the Aes Sedai factions who wanted to control my destiny. But … after this, I really feel I can trust you.”
“I think I have a different perspective than most people,” Someshta said expansively. “Once you’ve seen the Prophesies of the Dragon get turned inside-out and used to beat out a scrub-fire, you don’t really care what happens next. I just hope the entire Pattern doesn’t get rolled up like a rug,” they had arrived back at Logain’s rooms, which were in a state of typical shambles as the preparations went ahead for the approaching trip. Boxes and crates lay around, with clothes haphazardly stacked everywhere. “Where is everybody, anyway?”
“I left them just after my earlier meeting with the High Lords,” Logain said, “and that wasn’t long ago. When word came to me about this trolloc attack, I thought they’d be all over it with the ‘I-told-ye-sae’s, but I didn’t hear from them.”
“Probably down in the Great Holding,” Someshta said. “That’s where they go, you know. When they’re not trying to bother you, they’re down in the Great Holding saying ‘ooh, look at this one,’ ‘ooh, what does this do?’ and ‘ooh, let me try this one.’. It’s silly, but I suppose they find objects of the One Power fascinating.”
“I suppose they do,” Logain had snuck down to the Great Holding himself, looking for angreal. But he hadn’t found anything remotely useful – it looked like the best stuff had already been nicked. Still, if they were going to be down in the Holding for a while longer, maybe there was an opportunity … he just had to get away from the comforting but nevertheless awkward presence of the gigantic Nym. “Say, Someshta, I don’t suppose you could do me another favour?”
“I need to get a message to…” what had her name been? She’d been bothering him for a while now. “Moiraine. I think she’s down in the Great Holding too. If you see her, or Debs, you could give them this message … see, I think it would be better for me to stay here in my apartments, out of harm’s way. I promise I won’t let anybody in.”
“Well, alright,” Someshta said doubtfully. “What was the message?”
Dreaming up something suitably convincing and using all of his gleeman-level skills to make it seem of world-shaking importance, Logain sent the Green Man lumbering off as only animated lumber can. When the echoes had died away, he was alone in the luxurious rooms.
Alone, and free to muddle through the confusing imperatives in his head.
Chucky, cradling his bagpipes, examined his new surroundings without much enthusiasm. The twisty spiral columns were an ugly mustard-yellow colour, the room’s dimensions seemed not to match up, and the windows he could see from where he stood did not look out on the same planes of reality. All in all, it was hardly the dwelling-place of a successful instrument-repairman. For such work, you generally needed to have an eye for detail and a certain amount of skill with measurements and construction. Whoever had built this place had had no idea. Chucky shuddered to think of the non-euclidean bagpipes these cretins might make. Shaking his head, he turned to leave.
Standing right behind him, looming in the most sinister, creepy, scoutmasterish way, were a bunch of guys who made Mister C look positively rotund. They were wearing just incredibly stupid-looking clothes, their pupils were slitted like those of cats, and one of them … yes, it was moulting. Thick, greasy layers of translucent skin were flaking off its face and hands, and the soft, mushy skin underneath smelled absolutely rank, even at a distance. At least the gaunt, elongated freak had the decency to look a bit embarrassed about it. The others – in fact, all of them – just looked like hippies in Halloween costumes.
“Blurble,” said one of the snake-men. “Blurble gurble burble plorble. Yerble?”
“Fuck’s sake,” Chucky sighed, resorting to Moirainity in his momentary distress. He had a vague recollection, in the books, of these things talking in the Old Tongue. Mat had been the point-of-view character at the time, and he’d been able to understand the Old Tongue without knowing it. It didn’t seem fair that Chucky was expected to talk the Old Tongue. And this didn’t even sound remotely like the Old Tongue. He’d heard a few phrases in the Old Tongue, and this wasn’t it. This sounded like an Irish Teletubby. “I can’t understand you. You’ll have to speak English, or very very slow Finnish. You’re ‘finns, you must be able to speak Finnish. Sorry, just a little joke there.”
“Marble,” Chucky said helpfully. “Gurgle.”
The skinny things turned in a swish of bad clothes and worse body-odour, and Chucky followed them through a badly-designed set of corridors to the huge, dark audience-chamber which he remembered with equal vagueness from his long-ago reading of the books. There were three columns in the middle of the room, each with a snake-hippie on the top of it.
“I hope you guys speak English,” Chucky said, “because otherwise this is just going to be stupid.”
There was a hasty blorbling and florbling, and finally a loud crunch. Like some sort of carnival game, a fourth column chunked up out of the floor and ascended abruptly to the same elevation as the others. Perched precariously on top of this fourth column was another skinny, skanky snake-hippie person with unpleasant dress-sense and a dogeared paperback book in one hand.
“I are, um, I is, horble gorble, interpreter,” the fourth weirdo said, shuffling through the pages and looking very nervous. It pushed a pair of little round John Lennon spectacles up on its scaly nose with an audible rasp. “I will be translorble what you sorble to the others. Orble.”
“Right,” Chucky rolled his eyes. “I ask questions and you answer them, and no, that wasn’t a question.”
The interpreter looked at its colleagues from the corner of its eye and leafed through the book. “Um, yes,” it said finally. “Yes, sounds good. You ask quorble now.”
Chucky held up his bagpipes. “Can you fix these?”
There was a bit of sniffling and snuffling and unsavoury mouth-breathing, and the snake-hippies looked at the empty space above Chucky’s head. Then one of them spoke at length to the interpreter, who licked its lips with a thin, forked tongue and shuffled through the book for a very, very long time. It glanced across at its associates nervously, and they looked back with obviously mounting irritation. Chucky noticed with a detached sort of hilarity that, under the weird trousers of one of the individuals, a nasty phallic lump had risen and was shaking back and forth with a distinctive rattling noise. This seemed to upset the interpreter even more.
“Um, um um um, um,” it said, then leapt to its feet. “You must go to Rhuidean!” it exclaimed.
“Are there bagpipe repair-men in Rhuidean?” Chucky asked skeptically. “And no, wait, no! That wasn’t my second question, start over.”
There was more quiet, faintly-digestive conversation above. The interpreter, however, seemed to be on a roll. It cast down the little phrase-book and pointed a long finger at the gleeman. “If you do not go to Rhuidean you will die!”
“I doubt it, and anyway, that wasn’t my second question, didn’t you hear me? And no, that wasn’t my third, ahh fuck you all.”
The interpreter jumped up and down. “You will have sidestepped the thread of fate, blorble, left your fate to drift on the winds of time, horble, and you will be killed by those who do not want that fate fulfilled! To marry the Daughter of the Nine Morbles! To die and live again, and live once more a part of what was! Flor, flor, florble! To give up half the light of the world to save the world! Go to Rhuidean, Chuckster! Go, bagpiper! Go! Blorble!”
Chucky was grabbed from behind by a sudden throng of smelly snake-hippies, bundled back along the corridor and thrown through the twisted redstone doorway into the dusty darkness of the Great Holding.
In the excitement of Cooper Two’s increasingly-silly attempts to get past Someshta and kill the Dragon Reborn, Mister C of 9 had slipped away. It really hadn’t been that difficult, all things considered. He’d just stepped into a shadow and then he’d been gone.
Now, at the main entrance of the Stone of Tear, he stood looking back regretfully. He knew, now, what he must do. Although it would be hard, and thankless, it was his duty and his destiny.
The fingers of his remaining hand tightened around the circular lump underneath his thick black robes. His face, pale and worn beneath the sunglasses, set in determination. Taking a deep breath, he set off down the street, through the bustling crowds of peasants and beggars.
“Mister See! Mister See, wait!”
Mister C didn’t look back as he heard the plaintive voice of Logain, his sworn protector and servant, rising up behind him in protest.
“No, Sam,” he murmured to himself.
“Mister See! Wait for me!” Logain launched himself into the crowd, and floundered bravely out after his Master. He flailed, struggled, and his head went under. Once. Twice.
“Sam, you can’t mosey!” Mister C cried in sudden panic. “You have to move with the crowd!”
Logain vanished into the busy street. Mister C sighed and turned back, knowing he was a helpless pawn of narrative drive. He reached into the crowd, and pulled Logain free. The well-dressed man spluttered and coughed, and wiped peasant-muck from his lapels.
“I made a promise, Great Lord,” he said tearfully. “A promise for my salvation and hope of rebirth. ‘Don’t you leave him, Logain Ablar.’ Well I don’t mean to, Mister See. I don’t mean to.”
Mister C blubbered out of his nose. He had to, because he had no eyes.
Together, they slipped away into the busy marketplaces of Tear.