Growling at the injustice of it all, and patting down his even-more-ruined bagpipes, Chucky picked himself up and straightened his fluttery gleeman’s cloak. The Great Holding was as dusty and quiet and empty as it had been when he had wandered in. So it had been a disastrous waste of time – at least it had been a nice, quiet, spectatorless waste of time.
“Ghul-damned bloody cunting scaly motherfuckers.”
Chucky spun to see the small, angry blue form of Moiraine step out of nowhere between the uprights of the twisty-door, shuffling through parchments and leather-bound tomes and not looking where she was going.
“What does Lanfear have to do with anything? And that-”
“Hi,” Chucky said, and had the nerve-racking satisfaction of watching Moiraine leap a foot in the air and come down throwing half-candlepower fireballs. He closed his eyes patiently while the little flames puffed and flashed around his head, momentarily dazzling his dark-acustomed eyes but utterly failing to reduce him to a patch-cloaked cinder.
“You,” Moiraine muttered. “Don’t tell me you were fucking around in here. This is Aes Sedai business, gleeman. You have no place among these objects.”
Chucky was glad to hear it. “So did you understand anything they said?”
“No,” the woman growled in frustration. “It was all blorble blorble blorble, Rhuidean blorble bloody blorble.”
“Oh, they told you to go to Rhuidean too, did they?”
“Ye – wait, did they tell you the same thing?”
“Yeah. I think they tell it to everybody. It might be the only phrase they know. It’s a wonder Rhuidean’s deserted at all.”
“How do you know about Rhuidean?”
“You’re antsier than usual today,” Chucky noted in amusement. “I’m a gleeman, I had to study up on old myths and legends when I sat my glee exams.”
Moiraine looked at Chucky as if seeing him for the first time. “You didn’t take those through with you,” she added, pointing at the bagpipes. “Tell me you didn’t.”
“Oh come on,” Chucky smiled winningly. “Of course I didn’t. I’m not completely stupid, I know the old rhyme about iron to bind and light to blind and stuff. What would have happened if I did?”
“You might have given them a road to travel back…” Moiraine paused and looked around. “Somebody’s coming!”
“Friend or foe?”
Moiraine had already executed a disturbingly militant shoulder-roll and vanished, leaving Chucky alone with the camouflage artist’s two greatest enemies. Chucky pulled the first of these more tightly around his shoulders, hefted the second under his arm, and ducked away into the shadowy recesses of the storage hall just as the intruders turned a corner and approached the twisted redstone ter’angreal.
“Begorrah, there’s nobody there,” a stout female voice said in the thickest, most awful Scottish accent Chucky had ever heard. He peered over the top of a crate, but couldn’t make out anything except shadows moving behind the … well, the little globe of light that was bobbing along in front of the new arrivals. Channelers of some sort, he thought. Weird Scottish channelers. In the deeper shadow behind the floating lightball, he could vaguely see a large bulky figure and a smaller one in front, but nothing more. “We’re leet.”
“Or early,” said another voice, one that Chucky found strangely familiar. It had a hint of the same Scottish accent as the ‘bigger’ voice, but … his eyes widened as he took the voice and transcribed it into the phrases he was more accustomed to hearing it utter – usually demands for tea, back-rubs, chocolate or complete silence. Oh yes, rinse away that weird slurred accent, and that was his wife’s voice. He grinned and started to stand up. Then he faltered. From his new viewpoint, he could see a little more. Yes, that was definitely Janica in the front, with another woman … but what was that…?
“Luke, there’s futeprints aroond the doorway,” the second woman said, and Chucky looked around for Luke before realising it was more inexplicable accent. “Somebody was jes’ here. I think we’re leet.”
“Maybe if we go back to the stairs, we can head them off and see who it was,” Janica said, spinning around. There was a flash of silver in the bobbing light, and Chucky gasped. She was wearing an a’dam! It all became suddenly clear. She’d been thrown into the story as a channeler, and she’d been taken damane by the Seanchan. Quivering with highly-unaccustomed fury, Chucky tightened his grip on his sword-hilt before realising he didn’t have a sword, and was in fact grasping the end of his outside tenor drone. Well, it would do – after all, he didn’t want to kill the sul’dam, just knock her unconscious. And once that was done, Janica would fall unconscious too – regrettable but necessary. Then he could let her out of the a’dam and make her a nice pot of tea.
The evil Seanchan slave-mistress was following along behind the little grey-clad damane, her awful buttocks wobbling in the tight red sul’dam outfit. Janica seemed to be leading the way, and not struggling at all! She had already succumbed to Stockholm Syndrome. Shifting his sweaty grip from the tenor to the longer, heavier shaft of the bass drone, Chucky rose from his hiding place.
“Eat balefire, you interfering slags!”
Moiraine did Chucky a big favour at that moment by leaping from concealment and shooting a tepid flashlight-beam of something that was meant to be balefire but, in fact, wasn’t anything at all, over the heads of the Seanchan. The hefty sul’dam stepped back and grunted in surprise, Janica spun to face away from the attack – that was when Chucky realised with a pang of sympathy that his wife had lost her glasses – and Chucky moved in quickly, swung his makeshift club, and sconned the sul’dam rather neatly. Both women dropped to the floor without further discussion.
“What are you doing?” Moiraine screamed. “I was just trying to scare them, so they’ll listen to me a bit about this False bloody Dragon of theirs. What the fuck are you doing, running in and swinging that bloody thing for?”
“You fucking idiot!”
Moiraine recovered a little bit of her composure. “Well, we might as well take their shit while we’re here,” she said. “I bet they’ve got a couple of angreal and I want to know what that thing is that joins them together. It’s like a Warder bond, imbued into metal,” she stepped over to the unconscious women and hunkered down.
She had just begun to pat the sul’dam down for pockets when, repeating his important message to himself repeatedly under his breath so as not to forget it, Someshta rounded the corner. The Green Man looked up. He saw Moiraine crouched over the sul’dam.
Chucky ducked back into his hiding place as Someshta advanced on Moiraine, and tried to be inconspicuous.
His cloak fluttered and his ruptured bagpipes gave a loud, timely wheeze.
Bitterly, Dr. Nick packed his bags. Since his belongings consisted of his cadin’sor, spears and veil, and a set of gai’shain whites he had already given away to Aviendha, it didn’t take him very long. In fact, he didn’t even have a bag. All his loot was on Contro’s wagon, and he didn’t even know where that was.
He’d known the others wouldn’t meet up with him. The same thing always happened to him. “We’ll meet up later,” they always said, “we’ll meet here, at this time, and do this and this.” And then they never did. They always took advantage of the distraction and escaped from him. The girls hadn’t really been a surprise – he was used to girls promising to meet him later and then suddenly contracting ebola – but the other guys, they were at least as daggy as he was. But Chucky had literally jumped at the chance to get away, and Shannon had pretended to be asleep. Even Cooper Two had run off somewhere, mumbling about his mission or his acquired target or something.
With another bitter sigh, Dr. Nick cast a last look around the deserted room where they had all agreed to meet and where only he had shown up at the right time, and then headed out into the corridor. It was time for him to leave Tear. Time to get away from the big city phonies and the shallow people who pretended to be his friends, away from the two-faced backstabbing and constant arguments, away from the sniffing and the sneering and the frustration…
He bumped into Nynaeve and Elayne, who stopped in the middle of their whispered conversation and stared at him levelly. Anybody would think it was a crime to walk in a corridor. Still, he tried his best smile and hoped he would get away from the irritating women without too much difficulty.
“Hi there,” he said. “How’s the Darkfriend hunting going?”
Elayne – cute chick, pity about the attitude – drew a sharp breath. “How did you find out about that?” she demanded. “Moiraine told us-” she shut up suddenly, glaring at Dr. Nick as if it was his fault. Nynaeve sniffed and looked vaguely disgusted, of all things. Elayne saw the other woman’s expression, and her own frown became a faint smile, and she folded her arms under her breasts. Nynaeve’s mouth dropped open. Elayne looked mildly constipated, and Nynaeve glared at her in rage.
Dr. Nick realised he was trying to fathom the body language of Jordan women, and stopped looking at them entirely. It came as something of a relief when the heavy, bumbling tread of Ogier came up the corridor from behind him, followed by the familiar, worried voice of Frendli.
“Hello there,” the four Ogier stopped and shuffled their feet. Hoarni looked at Nynaeve and Elayne, and then kept on looking at them. “We were looking for Loial. He’s meant to be in the Stone somewhere, but we haven’t had any luck finding him.”
“He always seems to be in the most dangerous places,” Wyse said. “I heard from a Defender that he was involved in repelling the latest trolloc attack, when they came sneaking in a bunch of supply wagons.”
“Protected a big bunch of children from being attacked, or so I heard,” Coarshus said.
“Of course, even if he is a hero, we still have to take him back to the stedding,” Wyse added, and the others nodded. All except Hoarni, of course. “Obviously, that is the place for him.”
“Did you think of going to where he was last seen?” Dr. Nick had heard something about the failed trolloc attack when he had been making desperately lonely chit-chat with one of the cleaning staff, who had divulged the information and then rushed off for an appointment somewhere. As far as he could recall, none of the trollocs had even made it into the Stone’s living areas, and certainly not this far up.
“Oh Light, no,” Coarshus laughed faintly. “Terribly dangerous, wherever he last was.”
“If you’ll excuse us,” Nynaeve said firmly, “we have somewhere to be.”
The two women swept away, and Dr. Nick breathed a sigh of relief. He looked up at the four Ogier. They were wearing tortuously-stretched button-up shirts with all the buttons popped off them, and when Hoarni turned to watch the departing girls the Aielman saw that the backs of the shirts sported the gaudy logo “Illian – One in a Billian!”. The Ogier also had hats. “I braved the Golden Bees and all I got was this stupid hat”, they said.
“You went to Illian, huh?”
“Yes,” Wyse’s ears drooped. “It was dangerous there too.”
Dr. Nick suddenly had an idea. “Hey, why don’t we just go somewhere safe? You could show me to the nearest stedding, couldn’t you? Nothing bad in a stedding, right?”
“Oh, we couldn’t do that,” Coarshus said earnestly. “Not without Loial.”
“Do you know where Loial is going?” Dr. Nick said. “Between you and me, he’s going to the Aiel Waste with Moiraine and the others. I don’t think they’ve left yet, so you might be able to grab him before they leave.”
“Oh, did you hear about Moiraine?” Frendli said excitedly.
“She’s pretty,” Hoarni remarked.
“She tried to kill Debs and Janica, and Someshta had to arrest her,” Frendli went on. “Warder Foreskin was with us when it happened, he knew something was wrong and he just ran off, and now they’re both answering questions. Seems in the confusion, the Dragon Reborn Mister Logain disappeared. They think he might have been kidnapped.”
“And speaking of male channelers,” Wyse added, “did you hear about master Taim’s brother?”
“Puddin Taim’s brother, Mazrim Taim. He was apparently captured by Aes Sedai, but he has escaped and two Aes Sedai were killed. It happened at the village of Denhuir east of the Black Hills,” Wyse delivered the news with the careful concentration of a practiced gossip. “Moiraine knew about that too. So you see, there might be a connection.”
“This is Contro talk,” Dr. Nick declared.
“Well, what do you think it means?”
“I don’t care,” Dr. Nick replied frankly. “I just want to get away from this place without getting killed by anything.”
“Me too,” Coarshus quavered.
“Let’s all get away,” Wyse agreed. “It’s too bad about Loial, but he’ll come back to the stedding eventually, because he has to. We did our best. And really, we don’t know that he’s going to the Aiel Waste, do we? It’s not as if we would be doing the wrong thing. Maybe he did … oh, say, go down to the docks and get on a boat. If we did that, then we’d be following him. And if we don’t find him, well, we can quit while we’re ahead.”
“While we have heads,” Frendli clarified.
“Let’s go before they make me blow the Horn of Valere again,” Hoarni added.
Dr. Nick suddenly had company.