Sheriam landed near the Tower, and deposited Chucky carelessly on the ground.
“What are we doing here, exactly?” he asked, hefting his bagpipes and turning to look once again at the thing that had carried him through the World of Dreams, or World of Nightmares, or whatever World it had been. He’d looked before, but had somehow convinced himself that he hadn’t seen anything. He spun back around very quickly, and stared determinedly at the Tower of Ghenjei. “Remind me never to look at you again, okay?”
Sheriam, from the sounds Chucky couldn’t quite tune out, was preening.
“Do you find me distasteful to look at?” she asked. In another universe, from another entity, the words might have been, “does this miasma make me look fat?”
“Um, not exactly,” Chucky admitted, and caught himself before turning to look again. It was an overwhelming compulsion, like picking a mental scab. It wasn’t something he ever wanted to see again, but at the same time his brain was telling him it couldn’t possibly have been that bad. “What are we doing here?” he changed the subject. “And what was that … orange stuff under your … tail?” he changed the subject back just as quickly.
“Roe,” Sheriam said simply, “and you are here to play, when the time comes.”
“Anything in particular? Funeral stuff? Party stuff? Did you say ‘roe’?”
“You mean, like, eggs?” Chucky wondered why he was still on this topic.
“Um,” Chucky floundered for something else to talk about. “What are we going in here for do you mean you’re going to mate or something?”
“I am looking for answers,” Sheriam said simply. “We shall enter the Tower now.”
“I’m not sure if I can. I already went into both of these worlds, through the red doorways.”
Chucky stepped forward, and suddenly there was a flurry of activity. There was a swishy noise, and then some noises that he immediately erased from his mind. He was dimly aware of something striking him from behind, something hairy, and had time to register relief that it was hairy, because no part of Sheriam that he had seen had been hairy, and that meant it was something else. He felt teeth clamping on the back of his neck, and registered relief again. Maybe he was going to die. That might make it a bit more difficult for Sheriam to catch him.
Then the hairy thing lifted off him, and the teeth eased. Chucky looked out of the corners of his eyes, and saw a wolf. It was staring at him with wide golden eyes and a fluffy, amazed look on its face. He looked out of his eyes’ other corners, and saw another wolf. This one was sniffing his bagpipes. There were a few other wolves behind her, panting. Her? Yes, it was a female.
He switched back to the original corners, and Perrin was sitting there, wiping his mouth.
“Chucky?” he said, astonished. “What are you doing here?”
“What are you doing here?” Chucky shot back reflexively.
“Hey!” the gleeman turned his head and saw one of the other wolves was glaring and bristling. It also looked like it was trying to change to human form – there were occasional flickers of opposable thumbs and the ears vacillated wildly – but it remained lupine. “Don’t be using my lines now, bi-otch.”
He looked at the other wolves. The female sat back, blurred, and became Berelain the First of Mayene, sitting on the grass looking smug. The other, a white-muzzled male, shifted into a grizzled-looking old man with long hair and a pair of rabbit-skin pants. The rest of the wolves went on watching, or circling, but didn’t seem to be changing shape at all.
“What are you all doing here?” he demanded. “And how did Berelain get to be a wolfbrother, um, wolfsister?”
“Perrin bit me,” the First of Mayene shifted elegantly back to her wolf-form.
“We’re Dreaming,” Perrin replied. “Berelain and I are near the Two Rivers, Satsujinkinoam is somewhere in the Jangai Pass, and Elyas won’t tell us where he is. We were getting together in the Wolf Dream, having a little pack-meet. It was Cyberwollf’s idea, but she left a while ago. We caught the trail of some strange interloper, and followed it here. It attacked the nightmare that was menacing you, and the two of them disappeared,” he paused uneasily. “The question is, Chucky my old Gentleman’s Club Colleague, what are you doing here? In the flesh?”
“It wasn’t my idea,” Chucky said miserably. “I was just minding my own business, when Sheriam hijacked me.”
“That thing was Sheriam?” Satters went completely wolf, but his voice somehow translated itself to Chucky’s ears. “I can’t believe I ate my food next to her.”
“She changed somehow, and…” Chucky trailed off. “You seem very … collected right now,” he commented. “I haven’t seen you dribble any foam at all.”
“You should have seen him when we were on the chase,” Machera said dryly.
“Being around his own kind tends to calm him,” Perrin added. “Now, we have to get you out of here. If you come back with us to where our bodies are sleeping, we’ll see if there’s some way of pulling you free,” he climbed to his feet, and somewhere in the middle of the movement he blended back into the heavy, shaggy form of Young Bull. “Do you think you can follow us, two-legs?”
“Do you have to talk like a racist cartoon Injun just because you’re in wolf-form? My name’s Chucky.”
“It is the way of things, two-legs,” Berelain said primly.
“Yeah, okay,” Chucky muttered. “Lead the way, six-boobs.”
The rest of the wolves were separating, flashing away on their separate paths, to other parts of the Dream or to their waking bodies. Chucky fell in between Perrin and Berelain, slinging his pipes once again over his shoulder, and together they began to accelerate in effortless bounds, crossing hill and forest and river.
“Did you say you were chasing something?” Chucky said to pass the time.
“Yes,” Perrin replied.
“Was it Slayer? Did he attack Sheriam?”
“Slayer?” Berelain exclaimed, her hackles rising. “Who told you about him?”
“I learned it in gleeman school,” Chucky said quickly. “So if it wasn’t him, who was it you were chasing?”
“It was a thing,” Perrin said, and suddenly grinned. “It’ll make a great story for our next Club meeting. Elyas and Hopper think it was some sort of remnant from the Primal Howl that recently tore through the Wolf Dream.”
“The Primal what?”
“Oh, it’s something that happens when a lot of repressed memories come churning up through the Dream,” Perrin explained. “It brings dead wolves with it, and all sorts of nasty things. We don’t know what caused this one. Anyway, it was a giant flying penis, so it had to be some sort of repressed emotion.”
“A giant flying penis.”
“Yeah,” Perrin laughed. “It even had a mouth.”
“It was puerile,” Berelain declared.
“And it … attacked … Sheriam,” Chucky was hating his brain for the dots it was currently joining together, wholly uninvited, on the inside of his skull. He was trying to watch where he was going, so as not to bound off in the wrong direction and lose his little animal guides, but his eyes were seeing thick, glistening orange clumps of Sheriam-roe.
“Well, not so much attacked,” Young Bull clarified. “It more sort of … I don’t know, rammed her. And then they sort of rolled away together, squelching.”
Chucky remained silent for several more of the mile-devouring Dream-leaps.
“I’d like to get out of here now,” he said.
“So, here we are.”
Chucky looked around. The little group had finally stopped in their leaping charge, and they were now standing in the awfully familiar setting of Emond’s Field. It was still the strange flickering twilight of Tel’aran’rhiod, but the town was easily recognisable. Occasionally, limp banners would appear and vanish over the inn and a couple of the houses. Wolf’s head and eagle, and a big one with Perrin’s face on it, which Chucky couldn’t remember from the story. Being in the World of Dreams in the flesh was slowly beginning to lose its appeal, and Chucky was beginning to feel decidedly uneasy. He wanted to get out of the place before Slayer turned up – or, worse, Sheriam.
“Any idea how you’re going to do this?” he asked the two wolves politely. The rest of the dream-pack had scattered, leaving just Perrin and Berelain to escort the gleeman to the Two Rivers. “Have you ever taken a person out of Tel’aran’rhiod before?”
“Nope,” Perrin admitted, switching to human form, “but how difficult can it be?”
“Was that a rhetorical question?”
“How can I tell if it’s a rhetorical question if I don’t know what ‘rhetorical’ means?”
“Not now,” Berelain said, shifting to human form and talking in a swift, no-nonsense tone. “I was thinking that maybe it took a channeler to bring a person whole into the Dream, but it doesn’t necessarily take the One Power. None of us can channel,” she looked at Chucky. “Can we?”
“For fuck’s sake, no, okay? How many times?” Chucky sighed. “So, what are we going to do?”
“We will use need,” Berelain said, “except instead of using it to move us from one place to another, we will use it to open a doorway through which you can walk. We will all concentrate on the same place at the same time, and think the same thing as strongly as we can,” she pointed. “We’ll put the doorway there.”
Chucky shrugged, glared at the empty patch of street, and tried to concentrate on creating a way out.
It was amazingly easy. Or perhaps not so amazing, considering that Chucky, Perrin and Berelain had all seen Sheriam quite close-up. At first the door was misty, then it flashed in and out of existence like a badly-tuned radio, but soon it solidified and gained detail. It was an actual wooden door, which Chucky supposed was a subconscious symbol, standing in the street attached to nothing, its planks rough-sawn and nailed together solidly, the knob a battered brass shape without adornment. Soon, under their combined concentration, the image stabilised and gained depth. Chucky reached for the knob.
“Hey, Chucky,” Perrin said, smiling faintly. The gleeman looked back. “You know how, when you enter Tel’aran’rhiod in the flesh, it’s said that you leave a part of yourself behind each time?”
“Yes,” Chucky said carefully. “What about it?”
“Well, do you think the part you leave behind could be your bagpipes?”
Still growling under his breath, Chucky swung open the door and stepped through into the exact same street he’d been standing in before, as if he’d just walked through a wooden archway standing in the middle of the road. But a few significant details were different.
First of all, it was broad daylight, a sunny mid-morning that looked to be shaping up as a lovely day indeed, if you like that sort of thing. Secondly, the flickering shadowy details all either vanished or resolved into solidity – the wolf’s head, the Eagle of Manetheren, and the gaudy icon of Perrin’s face with GOLDUNISE daubed underneath its bearded grin, were all fluttering proudly above the Winespring Inn. Thirdly, which was a relief, the feeling of unease and soul-drainedness that Chucky usually only felt after accidentally channel-hopping onto a daytime chat show, had faded as soon as his mortal coil had uncoiled from the mass-unconscious of Andor. Fourthly, which wasn’t so much of a relief, the thick, rustic stench of Emond’s Field (or, possibly, Emond’s Cesspit) assailed his nostrils with a vengeance.
Fifthly, he’d opened his doorway and stepped into the middle of the street just as a man pulling a litter behind him had passed through the same region of spacetime. Chucky was pitched over suddenly into the thin, pale, screaming face of a thin, pale, screaming man who had just been separated from the handles of his pallet, his sweating attendant and, perhaps most importantly, his feet.
It was cooler on this side of the Spine of the World, which wasn’t saying much. The gai’shain had already set up the tents of the Wise Ones, around which the rest of the mass would slowly begin gathering. The Dragon Reborn, his attendants and sub-Chiefs and Wise Ones and Shannon, had begun setting out a place for themselves even as the Aiel nation continued to march around them. Thousands of men and women were descending from the mountains, following the Car’a’carn, and there were bound to be difficulties in getting so large a group moving in the morning, and stopping them at night.
Janica had vowed that if anybody tried to make her part of that problem, she would quite noisily make them part of the landscape.
Whatever agency was responsible for replacing the Shaido with an equally destructive force somehow capable of using gateways – all-too-available facts still seemed to indicate Seanchan – they hadn’t stopped upon entering the Wetlands. Farms and villages and even the walled city of Selean were blackened, rent asunder by detonations of the One Power, and riddled with extraordinarily wide gateway-slashes. The latter bothered Janica more than the impaled bodies she couldn’t see and the wounded Aiel honour she couldn’t care less about. If the enemy had access to gateways, why did they seem to be making their way through the pass in some sort of pattern? Why were they burning and killing in the path of the Aiel, when they could feasibly go anywhere – and in great numbers, looking at the slice-marks? And why were they taking such apparently huge numbers of prisoners?
Somebody was sticking to the Shaido modus operandi all too closely, upsetting the Aiel a great deal, and at the same time doing entirely their own thing. Janica didn’t like it.
Janica also didn’t like the fluttering coloured patches of the gleecloak in the misty edge of her peripheral vision. Because the person cringing and smiling in an eager-to-please way inside the cloak was a thoroughly cowed Forsaken. The person cringing and smiling in an eager-to-please way inside the cloak should have been her husband.
On the plus side, the Wise Ones had mostly fallen into line. They’d growled and sworn and sulked, but Janica was used to all that. They’d even threatened her physically, a problem she’d solved by the usual expedient of standing chin-to-sternum with the offending woman, glaring up at her, and asking how stupid she’d look trying to beat up somebody as small as Janica. This had appealed to their sense of decorum, if nothing else.
Only Amys had failed to take this under advisement, and she now sat glowering in the corner of the tent, her hair tied up in ribbons and her hands slowly wringing the dolly she’d been forced to make by her fellow Wise Ones. She stared unseeing into the heaped truckload of toh she’d accumulated towards Janica in the process of being drubbed by her peers. The rest of the Wise Ones, under the no-nonsense direction of Sorilea, ignored her completely.
“The Car’a’carn must stand up to the Clan Chiefs,” Sorilea was saying. “If they think he is soft, they will not follow him. And the Clans will not follow. The Car’a’carn must be-”
Janica turned and looked at the vague outline in the tent doorway, and a sustained burst of irritation from the a’dam told her it was the Warder.
“Well?” she asked.
“A shit,” Forsaken_1 said with proudly. “A very palpable shit.”
Janica sighed. “What’s the mood among the Aiel?”
The camouflage-cloaked buffoon gave a chuckle. “Apart from the ones closest to the longdrop?”
“Apart from them,” Janica said with infinite patience. “The leftover Shaido. The ones Someshta spoke to and gave a dose of the bleakness. The Maidens. What’s the mood among the Maidens of the Spear?”
“Gee,” Janica could hear his pleased grin. “Ehh, toey,” he laughed. “Get it?”
“It was bad enough when the Aiel thought members of the Shaido were out there killing people and breaking the ways of the Aiel and everything,” Janica said. “Now that they think it’s channelers of some sort, there’s no telling what they might do.”
“They accept the ways of the Wise Ones,” Sorilea replied, “and they will bear the Aes Sedai of course, but they do not know anything of these new enemies. If they are Aes Sedai, then the Aiel will not fight.”
“They’re nae Aes Sedai,” Janica assured the assembled Wise Ones. “It’s possible that they’re Darkfriends, maybe of a similar kind to … Debs and myself. But under the control of one or another of the Forsaken themselves.”
“This makes things still more difficult,” Bair declared. “If they are your kind, there will be no reason for anybody to trust you.”
“Ji’e’toh-ey. Oh come on, that was good.”
“Ye c’n trust us,” Debs growled, “but ye’re gonna have tae listen tae us aboot thengs. Leek, who’s an enemy and who is’nae one. Ye’re gonna have tae trust us, e’en if ye danna want tae.”
“I didn’t understand a fucking word she just said,” Sorilea snapped.
“We’ll deal with the Seanchan, or whoever it turns out to be, when the time comes,” Janica assured the Wise Ones. “But until the time comes, we’ll have to keep things just between us.”
Debs tied off the weave, smiled with satisfaction, and turned back to the Aiel women. Forsaken_1 flailed helplessly and – most importantly – in complete silence. “You worry aboot the Car’a’carn,” she said, “an’ leave the rest tae us.”
“Easily said,” Sorilea grumbled, “but less easily done. Our apprentice is surly and refuses to get close to the fool man,” she gestured at the silent shape of Nancy Sidesaddle, who was sitting on the far side of Jasin Natael and evidently wishing she wasn’t part of the discussion. “She hasn’t been beaten enough.”
Natael stifled a giggle and plucked innocently on his lute. “I have done my best to talk with the Car’a’carn, revered Wise Ones,” he said politely, “and it seems to me that he suffers a great deal. The rough tongue of the Sidesaddle woman, and other such underhanded methods of gaining his ear, do not seem the best way to go about it.”
“If I wanted your opinion, Wetlander, I’d have walked over to the fuckwit tree, looked upwards, and said, ‘what is your opinion, Wetlander?’,” Sorilea retorted. The Wise Ones may have decided to mind their manners where Janica and Debs were concerned, but it certainly didn’t apply to the strange flutter-cloaked dandy who was for some reason allowed a place in the company of Wise Ones and Aes Sedai. “So until then, shut the fuck up.”
Asmodean took a deep, calming breath and smiled. A second later, Moiraine burst into the tent.
“What the fuck have you done to my Warder?” she demanded.
“Are you okay?” Chucky climbed to his hands and knees, and blinked down at the whimpering thing on the pallet. It tried to knee him in the groin, but he jumped back in time and got away with only a nasty splattering of thick, black blood over his tracksuit pants.
“Cunty fucky shit poo shit fucker fucko fuck!”
Chucky stood, wiped ineffectually at the inky discharge, and looked embarrassedly around the presently-deserted street. Behind him, a tall man with long hair and a tight leather shirt was standing with a long wooden pole in each hand and a pair of shoes surrounded by more black goo by his feet. He was staring at them in stricken astonishment.
He looked back at the thrashing apparition on the makeshift stretcher. He looked at the shirt.
Mister C of 9 stopped gurgling long enough to rock up into a sitting position, trying to stem the bloodflow from his severed ankles but failing because, Chucky suddenly realised, he had no hands.
“Jesus, man,” he said, crouching back down, “what happened to you?”
Mister C reached up with the stump of his left wrist and dashed the sunglasses off his face. The eyeless stare chilled Chucky to his bones, but the pure fury was the icing on the cake.
“Oh nothing,” the myrddraal gritted. “Nothing at all. I just saved the world and this is the thanks I get. Now take me to Sharky’s mill so I can bleed on him.”
Chucky stood up carefully, walked over to the pair of shoes, and picked them up. The leather-shirted man went on staring.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, but you need to stop this bleeding,” Chucky said. “I can’t believe you got this far without doing something about it. Not much good having a nice litter if you don’t stop the bleeding from your injuries.”
“I was perfectly alright three seconds ago!” Mister C of 9 snapped as the gleeman dug the feet out of the shoes, and peeled off the socks with a grimace. “The Great Eagles dropped us just outside of town, and Samwise was helping me back to Bag End so I could recover from the trip. And then you came dropping out of nowhere like a giant tub of shit, with that fucking gateway of yours!”
“Oh. Right, that makes a lot more sense, yeah,” Chucky crouched back down, shouldered his pipes, and tied a sock around each cleanly-severed ankle in a crude tourniquet. “Bag End, huh?”
“Never mind that now,” C growled. “Samwise, why are you just standing there?”
“You’ve harmed the Great Lord,” the leather-shirted man said. He advanced, raising the two poles threateningly. “I should kill you where you stand!” he looked questioningly at the halfman.
“No,” Mister C said, grudgingly.
“Very decent of you,” Chucky said.
“Wait until I’m better, and I’ll kill him myself,” C went on. He raised his right arm, and a little … thing wobbled in the sleeve somewhere below the elbow. “They grow back, you see. Sooner or later, they all grow back.”
“All’s well that ends well, then,” Chucky said, pleased.
“Oh yes,” Mister C said, his voice quiet and daydreamy. He leaned over, pushed back his sleeve with his left wrist, and a tiny white hand emerged from the cloth. He picked up his sunglasses, and navigated them slowly and carefully back onto his face. “Oh yes, all will be well.”
“Now, what was this about Sharky?” Chucky said. “Don’t tell me you’re still thrashing that Lord of the Rings horse.”
“Is the Shire or is the Shire not being scourged?”
Chucky looked at the banners.
“I suppose it might be,” he admitted.
“But it’s not Saruman, or Sharky, or whoever,” he went on. “I’m not sure who it is – last time I checked, Padan Fain was in the Spine of the World. It was meant to be him, and a bunch of Whitecloaks, but I don’t think that has happened now,” he thought about it for a moment, wiping his hands on his gleecloak. “It might be Lord Luc, or some other pack of Darkfriends. There might be trollocs, which means we can use you to scare them away.”
“And Wormtongue?” Mister C collapsed weakly back onto his pallet.
“I don’t know,” Chucky admitted. “Let’s go and see Perrin, and find out what’s been going on. I’ll tell him how you saved the world, if you want.”
“Do that,” C said weakly. “And tell him to find Rosie Cotton and get the Party Tree ready. Samwise wants to get married as soon as possible.”