Contro was having a very vivid dream about being in a wagon. Which was funny, because he was in a wagon. He laughed when he realised he was awake. But he had been dreaming about being in a wagon as well. Only, it hadn’t been his nice colourful good old wagon pulled along by cheerful good old Cow and crowded with friendly good old Egwene who liked hugs and other things which were more confusing. It had been a different wagon, which was funny.
“Ha ha ha!” he said, sleepily. “What’s going on?”
There was a polite rustle at the back of the wagon, and the Green Man stuck his huge knotty head into the dim space.
“Sorry to intrude,” he said, “but we’re going to be left behind. Debs and Janica are driving everybody to Alcair Dal, and they’re not waiting for us. Did you just have a dream?”
“Yes! I mean, it was the same stuff as when I’m awake, but I was asleep, and it was sort of a dream but not really, ha ha ha! Honestly! You know what I mean!”
“You were lucky to get out before the de-repression cascade triggered,” Someshta said seriously.
“What’s that?” Egwene asked. She seemed almost as interested in the World of Dreams as Nancy the merchant woman was, and she was far less sarcastic about it. Since she’d stowed away secretly to accompany Contro on his adventure, she had proven to be an apt pupil. Someshta was happy to teach Egwene and Nancy everything he knew. He mainly wanted to air his theories in front of Contro, who was, he once said, a great achiever in the unseen worlds. This was mainly because Contro spent an unusual amount of time, both waking and sleeping, in the World of Dreams or, as the Green Man dubbed it, the World of Contro.
“Oh, it’s just something that happens when unaccustomed minds enter the wrong part of Tel’aran’rhiod,” he answered Egwene. “Wolves and humans and several other species tend to share an area, but Ogier have a different subconscious.”
“Ha ha ha!! Conshus!”
“Yes. And when they mingle, there is a certain amount of distortion.”
“Sometimes,” Someshta nodded.
“How did you know about the cascade thing?” Egwene asked while Contro examined the wall of his wagon. He hadn’t realised how colourful it was before. “Were you dreaming too?”
“It’s a plant thing,” Someshta explained. “Plants spend their time in a state of half-sleep, almost all the time, and they dream, in a sense. They are an anchoring point between this world and Tel’aran’rhiod,” he glanced at Contro. “Some people do the same thing, sometimes.”
“Plants dream?” Egwene marvelled.
“In a way,” the Green Man turned to the smiling Tinker again. “What was your-”
“What do they dream about?” Egwene demanded.
“Oh, it depends on the plant,” Someshta said vaguely. “The main ones are things like eating catterpillars, cutting up lumberjacks with axes, pissing on dogs, hugging hippies … Contro, did you dream about anything important?”
“Ha ha ha! Crikey!!! Talk about putting me on the spot!! I was in a wagon…”
“There’s dust all over everything,” Angamael growled, thumping a pillow until thick grey billows filled the room.
“Well, you know how it is, Nae’blis,” Asmodean said nervously. “You dust and mop for hours in the waking world, but Tel’aran’rhiod just remembers the dust. Ah, see, there it goes. And there it comes straight back again. That’s what the World of Dreams is like.”
“We are perfectly well aware of what the World of Dreams is like,” Angamael snapped. “But your wagon must have been filthy at some stage if this dust is here,” he turned to Moghedien. “Right, Lanfear?”
“Absolutely, Nae’blis,” Moghedien smiled.
“One of Fain’s disgusting henchmen tried to kill me,” Asmodean said. “I stopped him from trying again.”
“You mean you actually killed somebody?” Angamael raised one eyebrow. There was a puff of flame. “Well. Anyway, how go your plans?”
“They go well. The man we were grooming for the position of Aiel agitator, a Shaido fool named Couladin, was unexpectedly killed by a falling flowerpot, but we have located a replacement and all should go as planned, barring any more stupidity from Fain and his degenerates. We will be at Alcair Dal in a day or two, and are well-ahead of the other Aiel and their own Dragon Reborn.”
“Good. Now I – what’s that noise?”
“It sounds like a de-repression cascade,” Moghedien said. “We should get out of here.”
“…and then the purple dog and I had some beans, and tea, though the tea wasn’t with the beans, it was with milk and the beans were on a plate, but you know what I mean, and the butterfly flew back and forth and turned into a lime or maybe an underripe lemon, and then Rogosh Eagle-Eye said there was trouble down in ol’ Tanchico whatever that meant, and…”
“Alright, I get the idea,” Someshta said with just a hint of impatience. Contro had been talking about his dream for almost an entire day, and even Egwene’s smile was starting to look strained. “We have been left far behind by the others, you realise.”
“Where did they go???!” Contro asked. “Did they take their tents and everything?”
“And all the Aiel????”
“Yes,” the Green Man made a creaking noise that might have been his teeth grinding into sawdust. “But it does not matter. Debs and Janica were doing their best to catch up with the peddlers, and might have even tried to use the One Power to do so. But there is a way for us to catch them.”
“Cow can run!!”
“Even better, perhaps,” Someshta said, and withdrew his head from the wagon. “I can run.”
By early the next morning, the thundering charge of the Nym had brought Contro’s wagon and – under the other arm – Cow right back into the Aiel rearguard, and then through it in a cloud of dust. The horses and wagons bearing the Dragon Reborn and his advisors, with Wise Ones all around, were in the vanguard of the expedition, but so far the best Debs and Janica had managed with the One Power was to yell “Faster!” in a super-loud amplified voice. Vamps had attempted to weave a gateway, but the taint had made him feel queasy and he had moaned and complained ruggedly about it, saying nobody understood what it was like because they hadn’t been there. Which of course they had, and they did know what it was like because Vamps had complained so much.
Still, they were within sight of Alcair Dal, and Someshta set the wagon and horse down with some relief. Cow looked up at him balefully. Literally. It was the sort of look that made you feel threatened several seconds before you even saw it being pointed at you.
Janica was doing her best to talk to Vamps, with Moiraine and the Wise Ones lingering nearby.
“And when we get there, you have to get up in front of everybody and show them your arms and declare yourself to be Car’a’carn,” she was saying. “One or another of the Shaido will probably cause trouble and claim to be the Car’a’carn as well-”
“How do you know all this, blind skinny Wetlander?” Amys demanded.
Janica ignored her. “Then there will probably be some Forsaken action, but if you’re not feeling up to it Debs and I can take care of that,” she went on. “We know who to expect it from, at least. But if you can make it rain, that would help. Shannon? I mean Nancy?”
“It’s Shannon,” Shannon snarled from Vamps’s knee. The Dragon Reborn was riding a magnificent black charger, and Shannon was walking alongside, seriously regretting not going along with Dr. Nick to Tanchico. “Shannon.”
“Right. If Vamps can’t make it rain, it’s up to you. The Car’a’carn has to fulfill the prophecies.”
“How am I supposed to make it rain?”
“Do a fatty fat dance,” Forsaken_1 suggested from the far side of Moiraine. He was aware that Shannon had been sniping at him for the entire trip, and even though he didn’t know where they were going or what was happening, he was ready to fire back with a vengeance. “Or sweat all over everybody.”
“You’d sweat too if you had to walk in this,” Shannon snapped, dabbing under his arms with a fistful of heavy skirt. Everybody except Cow shuddered and averted their eyes. Someshta cleared his throat with a soft groany crackle.
“Given the way the Aiel reacted last time I tried to tell the tale of their ancestry,” he said, “maybe I shouldn’t tell them anything right now. Is there anything you want me to do?”
“Could ye make it reen if these tae jessies danna manage et?” Debs asked.
The Green Man paused, translated, and then thought about it.
“Yes,” he said. “I can probably manage a bit of a rainstorm. Plenty of moisture trapped in the low shrubby bushes and suspended in the air.”
“Will you fool Wetlanders listen to me?” Amys fumed.
“Not until you decide to talk like a grown-up,” Janica said, glacially calm. “Debs, what can you see? Are we nearly there?”
“Aye,” Debs said, holding saidar and looking sideways at Amys, who looked as if she had never been told off in her life. “I can see the beg bool noo.”
“Let’s get up there,” Janica said, as their party began to make its way through the gathered ranks of Aiel, all of whom were staring at a small group of people standing on the lip of the giant amphitheatre. “Can you see them, Debs?”
“Is it Kadere and the gleeman and the rest?”
“And they have somebody with fake Dragons on his arms, don’t they?”
“Oh, aye,” Debs said positively.
Vamps squinted up at the impostors, and looked down at his own arms. “They look better than mine,” he said.
“Well, don’t worry,” Janica replied firmly. “Whoever it is, they’re easily taken care of. We’ll get rid of him good and qu-”
“Behold!” Padan Fain’s oddly grand voice boomed through the acoustic bowl. “Your Chief of Clan Chiefs, He Who Comes With the Dawn, the Car’a’carn, son of Shaiel, a Maiden of the Chumai Taardad and of Janduin of the Iron Mountain sept and clan chief of the Taardad … Chucky!”
“Pig’s ass you are! Chucky, you get down from there reet noo!”
Chucky, being held roughly by the scruff of the neck by Padan Fain and being prodded from behind with something that he hoped was a knife by the infinitely nasty Sheriam, nevertheless gasped and backed away.
“Janica?” he whimpered. “That wasn’t part of the deal!” he paused. “Why is she talking like a Scot?”
Then it was too late for thinking about getting away – Debs and Janica and Vamps and Shannon and the giant, rustling shape of the Green Man were there on the edge of the bowl. Padan Fain drew back, pulling Chucky with him. Chucky stumbled, tried to lower his arms to keep balance, and felt Sheriam’s poker push a little deeper into his fat-rolls. He waved his arms wildly, showing off the rub-on Dragons for all to see.
“Janica, I swear I-”
The tiny damane was advancing, eyes staring vaguely in Chucky’s direction, full of cold fury.
“Natael,” she purred.
“Oh fucking Ghul,” Asmodean quavered, turned on his heel, and ran. Janica charged after the sudden streak of brightly-coloured movement, dragging Debs’s arm with her. Debs lumbered as fast as her legs could carry her, and the three of them vanished in a slash of extremely hurried gateway-light. Chucky felt the grips and spikes withdraw from him as the ‘peddlers’ backed away from the large group of Aiel Wise Women and Someshta, who was looking mildly stampy.
“He’s the Car’a’carn,” Chucky declared, pointing at Vamps. As an afterthought, he dropped to his knees and started going “Hey-a ho-a hoo-a hey-a,” in what he hoped was a mystic sort of way.
Vamps looked constipated.
There was a crash of thunder.