The Farce of Heaven, Part 13

Mission Headquarters was in a real state.

Or, to be completely fair, it was not in a real state, because it did not, technically, even exist at all. This was a precarious state for a Mission Headquarters to be in, or not to be in, especially so shortly after the discovery that the enemy is very powerful, very numerous, very well-organised and distressingly clever. A certain amount of running around and declaring oneself to be a teapot seemed to be in order, and Debs and Janica had decided to let more capable hands take care of that while they thought things through.

“We need to get out of this simulation and back to the real world somehow,” Janica muttered, pacing back and forth as best she could with the a’dam restricting her movement. Debs, doing her best to facilitate, was moving her arm slowly from side to side like some sort of abandoned animatronic from an ill-conceived Disney ride. “Or at least find some way of communicating.”

“Ye danna thenk tha’ we c’n breng guns an’ stuff through?” Debs asked.

“No,” Janica said after a thoughtful pause. “No, we should work within the framework of this universe if possible. What we really need from the real world is information.”

“Some scunner already brought a gun,” Debs pointed out. “Remember Rand?”

Janica nodded. “If Shadow Monkey turns up with more guns, we’ll think about it. But something tells me he didn’t bring that one with him. He might have found it in a stasis box or something. The problem is, we have to figure out who this guy is.”

“Probably Angus,” Debs grunted, “Ah remember thenken’, when we first arreeved, that it meet be Angus.”

“It meet,” Janica agreed. “If we can find a way to communicate between Chaggabaggawoggaland and the real world, we can find a way around some of these problems. We can find oot what’s been happening in the books. We can get more information from nerds,” she grinned. “Plus, if we can get back to the real world, we might be able to figure out how this whole thing was done, and then maybe we can make some changes. Cheat on an even bigger scale than Shadow Monkey is.”

“Ah reckon,” Debs rumbled, “that we jes’ oughta go an’ meet hem.”

Janica stopped suddenly, and Debs’s arm didn’t stop swinging.

“What do you mean?” Janica asked, picking herself up.

“Go an’ meet hem,” Debs repeated. “Shadae Monkey. Eff he’s en charge, we c’n gae talk tae hem. He will’nae kell us.”

“We canna be sure of that,” Janica warned. “He might be playing for keeps, and he’d want us non-narrative characters out of the way. Anyway, he knows there’s probably nae harm. If he kills us, we’ll just end up back … there’s a thought.”

“Wha’?”

“Well, if one of us dies, we’ll end up back in the real world.”

“We danna knae tha’,” Debs said warningly. “There meet’ve been a feck up. An’ anywee, eff we dae end up back en th’real world, there’s nae wee we c’n send a message back here.”

“It’s a work in progress,” Janica claimed, giving her leash a little yank. “Come on, let’s go an’ see how the others are doing.”

They’d regrouped, as best they could, in the foothills – to a small town, in fact, that had been apparently cleared out by Shadow Monkey’s minions. Far enough from Cairhien to avoid unwanted culture clashes, but not so far as to necessitate a general uprooting and retreat in shambles. Even considering their losses, the Car’a’carn had somehow managed to bring a huge army of Aiel across the Spine of the World, and moving them was a logistical nightmare. For that matter, feeding them was as well, but the unharnessed magic of narrative convenience seemed to be taking care of that, along with the five hundred tons of raw sewage the mobilised Aiel nation ought technically to be producing twice a day. It was possible that the not-eating and the not-pooping were cancelling each other out.

The power of poorly-detailed narrative was another weapon Janica was hoping someday to harness.

For the moment they seemed to be safe, and the awful denizens of New Thakan’dar seemed content to leave them alone. The self-designated Brains Trust of Lightfearing Chaggabaggawoggaland were now torn between the merits of sitting and communicating, which it seemed the narrative characters willfully resisted doing wherever possible, and sitting around arguing and not achieving anything at all, which the narrative characters seemed, paradoxically, to do all the time.

The Car’a’carn and the group who were beginning to think of themselves as his wranglers had taken over the local inn, which was in fairly good condition except for one corner which had collapsed after a gateway had sliced through its load-bearing timbers.

Debs and Janica met Forsaken_1 and Moiraine in the hall outside the Wise Ones’ designated slumber room. Forsaken_1 looked pleased with himself for stumbling onto a clever plan, and Moiraine looked shat off for a multitude of reasons that she was probably assembling in alphabetical order in her head. Together, the four who were, strangely, two, stepped through into the chamber.

The Aiel Dreamwalkers sat and lounged around the room in various states of crashout. Debs leaned over close to Sorilea’s ear, grabbed her shoulder, and gave her a shake.

“Wakey wakey, hoo’s et goin’?”

“Huh? Gwaah?” Sorilea blinked dazedly. “Half a pound of cheese, you useless piled-up lump of congealed vagisnot,” it took a moment for the sleep-befuddled Wise One to catch up with current events. “Oh, it’s the fat slurry. What do you want, fat slurry?”

“Ah seed, hoo’s et goin’?”

“We’re mostly in place. We had the very cunt of a time getting the wolves to follow our instructions, but now we’re just waiting for the OSW. It shouldn’t be long.”

“What’s an OSW?” Moiraine demanded, eyes narrowed.

Sorilea looked at the Aes Sedai coolly. “Optimal Somnambulistic Window. That’s the time when most of the helpless Aes Sedai slaves in Tar Valon are asleep,” she replied. Moiraine bristled. “We want as many of them as possible to be caught under this. Not much point if there’s only a few of them. They’d be caught again as soon as they woke up. But in a couple of hours, I reckon there’ll be enough. And even down there in the city of the Treekillers, there will be lots of weary little Aes Sedai slaves going to bed early tonight, after all the murderous channeling they did this afternoon on behalf of their master, Sightblinder.”

“I’ve just about had a gutful-”

“We might not have two hours,” Janica overrode Moiraine’s angry outburst, “if the Seanchan and Shadowspawn attack…”

“Aes Sedai are not helpless slaves to the powers of-”

“I don’t think they’re going to push an attack with so many of their pet channelers asleep,” Sorilea interrupted. “They didn’t move any closer when we got away from their trap. They might still be shaken after whatever that big fuck-arse explosion was. They’ll wait until their saidar-whores are all rested up, and that includes their stockpile of shawled gai’shain in Tar Valon.”

“Alreet,” Debs said while Moiraine fumed, “let us knae when ye’re ready tae go. We’ll get the rest o’ ’em prepeered.”

“Didn’t really follow a word of that, but I’ll do my job,” Sorilea said sourly. “Although personally I think it’s the worst idea since the chili tampon.”

“We had to change the plan when we saw what had happened over here,” Janica pointed out as patiently as she could. Nearby, another Wise One began to snore loudly. Forsaken_1 tiptoed over and tried to roll her onto her side, but Moiraine kicked him as soon as his hands adopted the well-known warrior form Warder Cops A Sneaky Feel. “This was the best plan we could come up with.”

Sorilea muttered something, not quite daring to be audible.

“If this foolishness in Tel’aran’rhiod works,” Moiraine suggested, “it might cause enough chaos down in Cairhien that we can slip past unnoticed and head on towards Tar Valon.”

“What, all of us?” Sorilea frowned. “An entire mobile Aiel civilisation sneaking past the city of the Treekillers that just happens to also now be full of Darkfriends and Shadowspawn, without attracting any attention at all?”

Moiraine glared. “Would you rather leave Tar Valon to the Forsaken?”

Forsaken_1 blinked, his wandering mind returned momentarily to the matter at hand, and he opened his mouth. Debs elbowed him, and the bodily contact left him momentarily winded and semi-orgasmic.

“We’ll stick to the plan,” Janica said firmly. “You said it yourself, it took forever to explain it to the wolves. We didn’t come all this way for nothing. The team over near Tar Valon can infiltrate and do their best to keep the converts safe, and maybe make a few more. We strike at Cairhien, try to fix as much of this mess as possible,” she did her best not to think about the possibility that this plan might succeed in eradicating the entire Aiel nation, the Dragon Reborn, and anybody with the slightest clue about what was going on. It would also put a tidy little collection of angreal, sa’angreal and ter’angreal in the hands of the Forsaken, and Shadow Monkey. Including the male and female Choedan Kal statuettes. And still leave Cairhien in its current state of damnation.

On the plus side, it might rid them of Vamps.

Over in the far corner, a big doughy shape grunted, flopped, and muttered, “kill all you bastards…”

“I see you have Nancy Sidesaddle earning her daily gruel for once,” Forsaken_1 noted. “Kudos.”

“I’m not sure if she has the discipline to become a proper Dreamwalker,” Sorilea said, making herself comfortable, “but she’s worse than useless as an eye in the Car’a’carn’s chambers, and her effect on the Pattern might prove useful. As long as she doesn’t cause us to all simultaneously die in our sleep.”

“Moiraine,” Janica said as they stepped out of the room, “you’ll have to go to the Aiel and ask them to take up arms to save the Aes Sedai.”

Forsaken_1 reeled under the deluge of indignation that roared through his bond.

“What?”

“You’re Aes Sedai,” Janica explained patiently. “These Aiel believe they owe a debt to the Aes Sedai, or at least they used to believe that. They’ll fight for Puddin Taim, but they won’t feel right about fighting channelers, let alone marching on Tar Valon if we get through this, unless you ask them to do it, for the sake of your sisters,” she sighed, knowing this was futile. “We don’t want the Aes Sedai in Cairhien to be killed. You’ll have to ask the Aiel-”

“Ask for help? Never!” Moiraine glowered. “I am Aes Sedai! We do not ask for help! My sisters would rather languish in-”

Janica triangulated, drew back her arm and fetched Moiraine a ringing slap to the side of the head. With varying degrees of psychological connectivity, Debs wrung her hand and Forsaken_1 grasped his cheek.

“Just fucking ask the fucking Aiel for fucking help, you saidar-challenged fucking pain in the ass,” Janica snapped.

“Okay,” Moiraine said, and hurried off.

Janica watched her go. “I’ve wanted to do that for weeks,” she said.

“Me too,” said Debs and Forsaken_1.

 


 

“So,” Angamael laced his fingers together and leaned forwards, “what was it?”

The Chosen were ill-at-ease in spite of themselves. As pleasant and airy as the Amyrlin Seat’s chambers at the top of the White Tower were, and as nice as the evening was shaping up to look from this high up, they were chambers devoted to the Nae’blis, and this was an emergency council. The Chosen had gotten here as quickly as possible, using a variety of methods other than Traveling, and now they were wondering what was in store for them.

The unexpected had happened, and Ishamael had believed the entire universe was running on a loop. Therefore, the unexpected really upset him.

They’d been assured of fair treatment and a cessation of random burnings, and yet as soon as something catastrophic happened and they were called in front of the Nae’blis, the old fear came creeping up on them. Aginor began dry-washing his hands, then stopped himself forcefully. Not only was it a readily-recognisable characteristic that all his colleagues knew about, it also played havoc with his crispy, gnarled old cuticles. So far, his best efforts had been insufficient to reverse the age-blasting he’d received in Shayol Ghul. There were only so many babies you could render down into skin-cream. That is to say, literally, there were so many. But it didn’t seem to help.

The nervousness of the Chosen was exacerbated by the fact that the more time Angamael spent looking through his mysterious books and papers, the less insane he seemed to become. It was supposed to be the other way around. They’d all known where they stood with a man who called himself Ba’alzamon and had a penchant for pest control.

“It wasn’t my fault,” Be’lal said in spite of himself, then looked a bit embarrassed. “Sorry. Reflex.”

Angamael waved this away. “Did it happen because the gateway was too big? Did the trainees we put in charge somehow get it wrong? Something to do with unravelling, perhaps? This is very bad for morale, you know, and it is scarcely balanced out by the fact that they all volunteered to try it.”

“I have seen it before,” Lanfear ventured. “In a controlled burn environment in the Sharom,” she looked intently into her gestation canister, and channeled a tiny flow of Water through one of its complicated little interfaces. “Beidomon wanted to know what happened, you see, if you placed heartstone in the path of an opening gateway. He wondered if it was possible to cut heartstone this way. It proved … impossible.”

“I never heard of this,” Demandred said, carefully keeping his voice civil. The Chosen had learned the hard way that sniping verbally at each other and getting in counter-productive fights was no longer a worthy pastime for the lieutenants of the Great Lord of the Dark. Nowadays, they were expected to pull together to conquer the forces of the Light, and if they refused to do so there was always a space available on the Sofa of Unhappiness.

“It was covered up,” Lanfear said, also keeping her voice neutral and studiously not pointing out that the things Demandred didn’t need to know, and therefore hadn’t been told, could fill a World of If. “Like balefire, this was one quirk of the One Power that we could use for a weapon, but couldn’t afford to use at the same time. Unlike balefire, this one we managed to keep quiet.”

“So if cuendillar is placed in the path of a gateway, there’s this fuckamighty explosion and fifty trainees get severed?”

“It depended on the gateway,” Lanfear did her best to remember details of an experiment brushed under the rug several thousand years ago. “It was theorised that the force of the opening gateway would push the cuendillar aside, but the fact is, a gateway for Traveling does not open with great force. It doesn’t need to, because it can cut through anything.”

“Is this going to descend into technobabble?” Angamael asked. “If so, I might have to respectfully ask you to give me a summary, replacing all complex terminology with the word ‘goggles’.”

Lanfear took a deep breath. Several of the more testosterone-laden Chosen leaned forward in their chairs as she did so.

“A gateway for Traveling has more … goggles … than a gateway for, let us say, Skimming. A Skimming gateway will open with such force that it will push aside the cuendillar in its path, even if it is held in place with … goggles. A Traveling gateway opens with less force so it can be blocked open by certain weaves, and also by goggles and another sort of goggles. These don’t cause a feedback explosion, though, the way cuendillar does, because of the reaction on the goggles level caused by the interaction of goggles goggles. Only heartstone disrupts the goggles process so catastrophically.”

“I see,” Angamael said.

“Skimming is different,” Lanfear went on, warming to her subject. “There are several materials with goggles characteristics, that a Skimming gateway can’t cut through. A lot of Power-wrought items, for example, can theoretically disrupt the goggles-reaction in a Skimming weave. So it opens with more force, to ensure it can’t be blocked. I don’t think there’s a man or a device that could hold a cuendillar object firmly enough to thwart a Skimming gateway,” she hesitated. “Beidomon wanted to see what would happen if we tried to create a Skimming weave in the middle of a heartstone ring, but he was unable to proceed once I had damaged his goggles.”

The aforementioned testosterone-laden members of the team winced.

“If the heartstone effect came into regular use by both sides of the conflict, nobody would ever be able to Travel anywhere,” Lanfear concluded. “We’d be reduced to Skimming. Or riding horses,” she added sourly.

“This is interesting,” Angamael mused. “It might be too difficult to block our mini-gateway attacks that way, but it’s still not a risk I’m willing to take. And they can easily block our larger gateways, and cause a lot of damage in the process. Is there time, between the gateway being blocked and the explosion, to release the weave and stop the gateway from opening?”

Lanfear shook her head. “By the time the gateway is jammed, the weave is already complete. Once it’s woven, the gateway has to open.”

“I want you to look into solutions for this,” the Nae’blis said. “If we have to worry about people standing around with pieces of heartstone every time we want to Travel somewhere, we’ll never get anything done. Isn’t there some way you can make a little ‘ding’ sound before a gateway opens?”

“Yes, it’s a small courtesy for-”

“Start with that. There must be some way of checking for cuendillar before the weave is ready, the same way you can make a ‘ding’ sound happen. Is the explosion always that big, or was it just so bad because of the size of the circle and the gateway?”

“The gateway we made in the Sharom was only about the size of a microbe,” Lanfear said, looking a little flustered, “and I don’t think the explosion was as big. It’s difficult to say, because the whole thing took place within a … goggles-free environment. The explosion was conceptual, and took place in goggles goggles goggles. Goggles.”

Angamael was looking thoughtful when the door opened and a random minion stepped into the room. He was a Cairhienin man, and he had been identified as a reasonably powerful potential channeler before he could be tied down to one of Aginor’s vivisection benches. His family, as a matter of morale, had also been spared, and had in fact been given rather nice apartments back in Cairhien and all the modern conveniences the Nae’blis had decided to bestow upon his up-coming Dreadlords and their families. Aside from that, the minion was completely unimportant.

He bowed low.

Nae’blis,” he intoned, “I have something that belongs to you.”

With shaking hands, he raised the slightly tarnished but still clearly-recognisable shape of the Horn of Valere.

Angamael smiled, stood, and crossed to the cowering man. “Where did you get this?” he asked, plucking the instrument from his unresisting fingers.

“Liandrin, my Lord Nae’blis. It was found among the belongings of a crazed … myrddraal,” the hapless flunky was still only knee-deep in Shadow, and saying the word made him shiver, “the one that went to Shayol Ghul to destroy one of the seals. Liandrin took it. She was travelling, at the time, under the influence of Padan Fain’s corruption. There was an intervention on your orders, Nae’blis, Liandrin was recovered and the myrddraal allowed to continue on its way.”

“So why has it taken so long for the Horn of Valere to find its way back into my hands?” Angamael asked, with neither menace in his voice nor flames in his eyes. The flunky, in spite of himself, quailed just a little and then looked a bit embarrassed about it.

“Well, Nae’blis, it was not discovered for a long time that Liandrin was carrying the Horn concealed…” the flunky looked even more acutely embarrassed, “on her person. It then took some time, and some experimental treatments, to rid her of the poison of Shadar Logoth.”

“We are not sure, Nae’blis, if these treatments have been entirely successful,” Graendal put in. As a fallen psychiatrist, she had been placed in charge of a number of innovative new undertakings that were keeping her entertained as well as productive. “She is still … deeply disturbed.”

“Ah,” the Nae’blis nodded, and turned back to his kneeling minion. “And she had hidden the Horn somewhere … clever?”

“Clever, Nae’blis,” the minion quavered. “Yes.”

“That’s probably why there is a clump of short, dark hair blocking the mouthpiece,” the henchman swayed on his knees, close to losing consciousness entirely. Angamael chuckled. “Well, no matter. It’s not as if we have to blow it yet anyway. I once thought that this Horn was a fake, but I have had time to reconsider. It will not work for anybody else while the current Hornsounder is alive, and the current Hornsounder is an Ogier. Maybe it doesn’t work for them. It certainly didn’t last time. We need to find the Ogier that blew it, and if we can’t find some way of extracting the connection between the two of them – I mean, it must be some sort of ter’angreal, right?” he looked around, and saw a lot of polite expressions. “I mean, that’s what all magical things are in this … world, right? Or are some just magical with no system to back them up? Well anyway. I suppose we can kill him and then substitute a Hornsounder of our own. And then we’ll see what happens,” he grinned. “We just need to know where that lousy Ogier is.”

“I shall have the raken riders combing the countryside,” Rahvin declared, even though he had little or nothing to do with the Seanchan armed forces. For the first time he could remember in a Nae’blis briefing situation, he actually wanted to be noticed.

“Good man. Oh, and Aginor,” Angamael turned to the wizened geneticist, “it looks like we’re going to need more de-regionalised forgers.”

Aginor beamed.

 


 

A distressingly short distance from the shining walls – in fact, so close that the Betrayer of Hope could have looked out of the Amyrlin’s window and seen them, probably without even the benefit of saidin – a bedraggled group of individuals were arguing their way inexorably forwards.

Cyberwollf, Nynaeve, Elayne, Min, Wyse, Coarshus, Frendli, Hoarni, Birgitte, Gaidal Cain, Stifler and an extremely unhappy Dr. Nick Riviera were the spearhead, apparently, of a scheme to liberate Tar Valon from the clutches of the Forsaken. A plan, as Stifler was only too happy to point out, devised almost entirely by wolves.

“Now don’t get me wrong, I like wolves,” PluckyComicRelief – who had been renamed Stifler as soon as the Tel’aran’rhiod semen had been washed off his face in one of the few moves initiated by Dr. Nick that had ever been unanimously accepted – said from the back of the wagon. “Some of my best friends are wolves. I even went to my senior prom with a wolf … okay, she was a dog, but close enough, am I right?” Cybes growled menacingly. “Okay, not close, not even in the ball park,” Stifler went on, and nudged Dr. Nick. “Must be her time of the month, huh?” he nudged Dr. Nick again. “Maybe that’s why they howl at the moon all the time, huh?” he nudged the Aielman again, and Dr. Nick finally overbalanced, fell on his left ear, and dropped a bolt of purple silk on his foot.

“It’s the best plan we have,” Elayne said weakly. She, and her other two warders, were taking up most of the room in the wagon, which was why the majority of the merchandise was draped over the Ogier. Birgitte and Gaidal Cain seemed to be more seriously affected by their forced removal from the World of Dreams than their cheerful associate, and were lying semi-conscious with Elayne between them, dabbing their heads with cool wads of cloth and occasionally trying to channel at them. Every time she did, however, Cain half-opened one baleful eye and told her to fuck off.

Stifler, by contrast, had bounced almost immediately to full strength, even though his full strength wasn’t much in comparison to your more classical Heroes of the Horn.

“You don’t need strength in order to be the plucky comic relief,” he’d explained cheerfully. “You just need stamina and a huge penis. And I’m sure my stamina will improve as I grow into my penis.”

And, Dr. Nick reflected, somebody to nudge while you made bawdy remarks. It appeared that he fit the bill for this requirement, since apparently he was an Aielman just like Stifler remembered from the good old days, and that meant he followed the Way of the Leaf and was far less likely to kick him in the cods for being annoying, unlike any of the other humanoids present. When Dr. Nick suggested he go and elbow the Ogier, Stifler chuckled and said, “yeah, right, elbow an Ogier. Nice one. Friend of mine tried that once. Twisty al’Pretzel, we called him.”

Since they were considering making a daring sneak attack on Tar Valon, Dr. Nick would have preferred it if Stifler was maybe asleep, and Birgitte and Gaidal were awake. But no such luck. And besides, he had decided that Stifler was less annoying than any other human being he had met in a long time, even with the nudging. There was something soothingly familiar about him.

“It may be the best plan we have,” Stifler quipped in reply to Elayne, “but that’s not saying a lot. I mean, that was probably the best face they had left when she got to the front of the line,” he gestured at Min, “but it doesn’t change the fact that before she hit The Ugly Stick with it, it used to just be called The Stick. Whoa,” he ducked as Min threw a lump of sand at him. “What did I say?”

“We’re waiting until full nightfall,” Nynaeve declared, wrapping her fingers purposefully around her braid, “and then we will step into Tel’aran’rhiod and meet up with the rest of the Aiel Wise Ones and the wolves, and we will apply a mass-shock to the dreams of the enslaved Aes Sedai using … the belly-rubbing technique.”

“I’m a big fan of the belly-rubbing technique,” Stifler claimed, “but it doesn’t usually involve wolves.”

“Fine, we’ll do it your way, as usual,” Dr. Nick said, piling up the remaining pieces of merchandise to hide the hidden passengers a bit more. “One thing’s been bothering me for a while, though.”

“Only one thing?” Stifler grinned and nudged him. “Wanna borrow some of mine?”

“Well, with all this coordinating Cybes and Perrin and the others are doing, talking with Dreamwalkers and stuff, it seems like humans and wolves are both pretty close to each other in the World of Dreams.”

“Of course we are, you great woolhead,” Min said, puzzled. “Why, in Tel’aran’rhiod, Cyber can talk to me as if she is a person.”

“Only, I was wondering why…” Dr. Nick blinked. “What? She talks to you?”

“Of course she does.”

“What, not just one bark for yes, growl-growl-wag sort of talking?”

“She probably only does that with you, because you are a great Aiel lummox.”

Dr. Nick had always fancied himself a little too scrawny to qualify as a ‘lummox’, so chose to take Min’s default slurs as a compliment. He was still, however, outraged about Cyberwollf’s betrayal. “You mean all those times she made me guess what she meant, and bit me when I guessed wrong … she could have just talked?”

“Is this still the original thing you were worried about?” Stifler asked, “or is this more like a sub-thing?”

Dr. Nick had been working himself up to ask a deep, philosophical question about the nature of humanity, a question that would shut the unshaven wonders up for a good long time, a question about why wolves and humans could share a dream-plane, but when Ogier stepped into it, the whole thing went kablooie. But the wind left his sails, he sighed, and shook his head. Stifler took a step back to allow him to do so.

“Nothing, forget it,” he said. “Let’s just get this over with.”

 


 

“So, let me get this straight,” Chucky sat back against the bar and held Mister C’s shoulders while Lord Luc deftly tied him back up against the supporting pole. “You and the forger were sent by the Nae’blis to find and destroy the Green Man, but you decided there wasn’t any particular hurry and … Smith … started to feel queasy the further he went, so you decided to establish a presence in Emond’s Field and then Smith received an update patch and started feeling better, but you still decided it was somehow better to stay here, for a variety of strange reasons.”

“Basically,” Slayer, or Luc, or whatever the semi-cohesive entity was, gave Mister C a bracing slap on the arm and picked up a half-filled pint mug. “To tell you the truth, I think this Goldeneyes fellow is ta’veren, as well as a wolf-botherer.”

“That explains why you’ve been dragged into his narrative thread,” Chucky agreed.

“Plus, his wife is hot.”

“If you say so,” Chucky made the mistake of sniffing his own mug, and put it back on the bar. “I’ve seen her naked, on all fours, with her tongue hanging out, and frankly I can’t see the attraction.”

“Can I go to the Undying Lands yet?” Mister C asked plaintively.

“You should have gone to bio-reclamation a long time ago,” Lord Luc declared. “You’re the most worbled-up myrddraal I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a few,” he finished his pint and grinned. “Did I tell you about the time I had to bring in a group of faulty fetches, because they were running around killing trollocs?”

“Is that the one where you killed a whole bunch of guys, and brought the halfmen in, and everybody said you were great, and then you killed some more guys?”

Slayer looked momentarily crestfallen. “I guess I did tell you that one,” he cheered up. “Still, it was fun. A merry chase, that’s what they led me. You know myrddraal can step into shadows and disappear? They can ride them like horses. It’s like Traveling, but we still don’t know how they do it.”

Chucky glanced at Mister C sidelong. “Can you do that?”

“I’ve done it before,” Mister C growled, “but there aren’t enough shadows in here, or I’d’ve done it already. In addition, I’d just like to point out that you are a giant poo.”

“Your fade has a bit of a potty-mouth,” Luc pointed out in amusement.

“Yeah, he’s been like that for as long as I can remember,” Chucky mourned. “Not even cutting bits off him has fixed his problem.”

“You should take him to the new refinery at Cairhien,” the now-sepia-toned Darkfriend suggested. “They’re starting to bring out some really interesting new myrddraal over there, according to the newsletter. If they can’t fix him up as good as new, they’ll give you a new one.”

“Cairhien?” Chucky frowned. “Newsletter?”

“Haven’t you received your newsletter? The Nae’blis keeps us all very well-informed these days.”

“I’ve been out of touch. What happened to Cairhien? You … we … invaded the place, did we?”

“Oh yeah, you wouldn’t recognise it anymore. It was a flawless takeover. Most of the government officials were locked up and the channelers were weeded out and the rest were turned over to Aginor. A whole bunch of Aiel were brought in as well.”

“Aiel?” Chucky gasped. “What, Aiel from down out of the mountains nearby?”

“Yeah.”

“I don’t suppose the newsletter mentioned any women in weird clothes with a collar and leash sort of arrangement?” the gleeman demanded, grabbing the beer mug and taking a drink before even thinking.

“Oh yeah. Only they’re on our side now, don’t worry. Och aye, matey, hoots mon begorrah! And all that.”

“On our side…” Chucky murmured. “Turned by force, I suppose. The channelers.”

“Yep.”

There was a polite cough from the ruined front door, and Perrin Lord Goldeneyes Aybara stepped into the Winespring.

“If there’s not going to be a stomping, we should get on with the wedding,” he said. “The Lady Berelain and I have to get to bed early. There are … things … we have to get done tonight.”

“I’m sure your next-door neighbours will be pleased to hear that,” Slayer said, “again.”

“No, nothing like that,” Perrin shuffled his feet. “But it is rather urgent. So … if we could get on. The villagers have already opened a couple of the apple brandy casks, and we haven’t even had the ceremony yet.”

“I’m afraid my apprentice is unable to go through with the wedding,” Chucky stood up to allow all of his bullshit muscles to flex to their full extremity. “He’s taken a vow of celibacy, as do all gleeprentices, and he’s sworn not to marry.”

“A vow of celibacy?” Perrin blinked slowly.

“Yes. We all swear a solemn oath to take no part in political conflicts, to hold no lands and bear no children, when we take the … multi … colours,” Chucky burbled. “You’ll notice that he’s removed his feet, that they not lead him into temptation’s path, and his hands, that they may not wander in the course of a brotherly hug, and happen upon unsuspecting boobies.”

“I thought that his feet got cut off when-”

Yes, as he is my apprentice, it is up to me to minister to his requirements and see to it that he feels capable of maintaining his celibacy,” Chucky said loudly. “It is my sad duty to do as he requests, if he feels that his will may not be strong enough.”

Perrin’s frown became quite mighty. “Mister See? Is this true? You really asked him to cut off your feet? And the rest of it all happened on purpose too, so you could remain unmarried and never score?”

“Gee, let me think,” Mister C pondered, “my memory isn’t what it once was, I might not be able to recall exactly whether or not Chucky is talking absolute shit right now…”

“Remember,” Chucky murmured under his breath, “this is the only way you’re going to get out of here.”

“By pretending I’m stupid enough to let you cut off my hands and feet?” Mister C whispered furiously, then continued in a louder voice, “hmm, I can’t exactly say, I remember something, but gosh, I’m really not sure if it all worked the way Chucky says it did, or if he’s a giant blobby liar.”

“He really needs a tune-up,” Luc said.

“I’m doing what I can here, C,” Chucky hissed. “I need a bit of help from you to get you out of this.”

“Yes,” the halfman murmured, “but you’ve wounded my ego. And my ego is a lot like my penis. Large, and in need of constant stroking.”

“And easily deflated,” Chucky muttered.

“If you blow it the wrong way.”

“Alright,” Chucky conceded, “I’m sorry I bruised your ego. But you have to admit that you’d happily have cut off your own hands and feet to get out of marrying this woman,” Mister C grumbled. “What was that? I didn’t quite hear you there,” Chucky pressed. “It sounded like, ‘you’re right’, but that can’t be what you said, because you’re you.”

“Alright, don’t push it,” Mister C snapped. “Yes,” he went on, raising his voice, “I took a vow of leprosy-”

“Celibacy,” Chucky corrected.

“-whatever, and because I couldn’t keep my hands to myself, I asked Chucky here to arrange to have them cut off. Same with my feet, because I am a silly sausage. Long story short, I can’t get married because I’m great.”

“Bran isn’t going to be pleased about this,” Perrin said.

Chucky, still so immersed in his twaddle that he’d forgotten where he was, waved a hand. “He’s just a kid, chuck him out the window and that’ll be the end of it.”

“What?”

“Nothing. I mean, I guess he’s going to have to find somebody else to marry Rosie.”

“It’s happened before,” Perrin shrugged. “We were all quite pleased that our little Rosie problem looked like being solved, but maybe next time. She’ll be happy enough back in the old Cauthon cellar. And this means I can get to bed earlier.”

“Great,” Chucky rubbed his hands together in a  businesslike manner. “So everybody’s happy. Now we have to go. Work to do in Cairhien.”

Perrin gaped. “You … what … Cairhien?” he darted a quick, suspicious look at Slayer, who was looking equally shifty but without quite so much physical definition. “You’re … part of the work there?”

“In a way,” Chucky tipped a wink at Perrin, then another one at Lord Luc, hoping that their unwillingness to reveal secrets to each other would help him bluff his way out of the situation. “Lots to do.”

“How are you going to get there?” Perrin demanded.

“Oh, there are ways,” Chucky said, winking again.

“Why are you winking at both of us?” Perrin wanted to know. Chucky cursed the former blacksmith’s budding intellect.

“He’s not winking,” Mister C said helpfully, “he’s got bullshit in his eyes.”

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