Barely half an hour later, Vamps was lounging idly on the stairs at the foot of the Lion Throne, listening to yet one more group of frightened nobles. He’d wanted to sit on the throne, but Elayne and her three creepy Warders had told him there wasn’t a chance in Ghul of that happening. He’d wanted Elayne to take the throne and then sleep with him, but she’d said that ascending the Lion Throne was something she would only do with the people’s support, and her Warders had growled at him over the latter suggestion. He’d wanted to explode their lungs with flows of Water, but Jasin Natael had shielded him. He was never allowed to do stuff he wanted to.
The only remotely interesting newcomer was the Saldaean, Davram Bashere. He’d appeared out of the woodwork with the declared intention of hunting down and killing a false Dragon by the name of Mazrim Taim, a dangerous male channeler who had been ravaging the Borderlands for a long time, unhindered by any of the usual people who were supposed, in Bashere’s parlance, to give a flying fuck in situations like these.
The revelation had rather surprised Vamps, mainly because of the reaction it dragged from his unsettling alter ego, the Far Maddingite named Puddin. Vamps was beginning to suspect that Puddin was insane.
“I wish I could help you with this, general Bashere,” he said, feeling the hateful presence of Puddin asserting itself irresistibly, “but I’m afraid I can not allow you to have Maizecake. I mean Mazrim. He is my brother,” there were several gasps of surprise from various sides of the throne room, which Vamps found very satisfactory. Debs and Janica didn’t seem surprised, but he’d long since despaired of ever impressing those two. Elayne, on the other hand … he had vague, Taint-addled memories of the story he was apparently the hero of, and she featured quite heavily. Plus, her female Warder was a bit of a hottie, if he could just get rid of the muscular dude with the knives. Then he could get Nynaeve back at his side where she belonged, and they could…
“Vamps,” Janica said, her eyes sympathetic behind her shiny new spectacles, “you’re talking out loud.”
Vamps cleared his throat and looked around embarrassedly. Elayne rolled her eyes, and Gaidal Smith glowered over the top of her head and fingered his hilts threateningly. Birgitte Jones, on the other hand, seemed to be laughing, so maybe he was in with a chance there. Any woman who laughed like that was gagging for…
“You’re still talking out loud, milord Dragon,” Bashere said. “And I’m sorry that this rabid dog is your brother, but if the Aes Sedai won’t do anything about him-”
“I am calling an amnesty on men who can channel,” Vamps said, glancing at Janica and waiting for her nod of approval. “From now on, any man who can channel, and any man who wants to learn to channel, will be given a place of safety where he may do so, right here under the Dragon’s protection,” there were more gasps, these ones a lot more impressive than previous efforts. “I’m hoping that Maize … Mazrim will be among those to hear my call. There shall be a place for male channelers in the world again.”
“What, you mean another one?” Bashere raised his eyebrows, fearless in his skepticism. “Only I heard Tar Valon has done the same thing. They disbanded the Red Ajah and called an amnesty in the White Tower itself.”
Vamps blinked. “Really?”
“That’s what I’ve heard. And they’re giving male channelers breeding rights with the youngest and most powerful Aes Sedai, in order to boost the population … can you offer anything to compete with that? I’ve already lost about five hundred men to the auditions, and even though most of them couldn’t channel they were still given good jobs as soldiers and trainee Warders. Tar Valon has deep treasuries,” the charismatic little man leaned forward, his hooked nose looking more like a beak than ever. “I hear they even have dental coverage.”
Gasps and exclamations rang out through the throne room, but Vamps waved them all to silence. It was annoying when people gasped at revelations unrelated to him.
“Now hear this,” he intoned, and was interrupted by Janica.
“There you are.”
Vamps turned to see a tubby man in a ragged gleeman’s cloak, Guinness shirt and tracksuit pants standing shamefacedly on the edge of the crowd. He had a familiar-looking set of bagpipes over his shoulder – familiar in the sense that Vamps had only ever seen one set, and that had been in Rhuidean, trying to suffocate this very same gleeman.
“Chucky,” he said, trying to sound imperious. “The amnesty extends to you too.”
“Court dismissed,” Janica said briskly, dragging Debs away by the arm. “Chucky and I have things to discuss.”
“It’s no good,” Janica sighed, “it’s not going to come off.”
Chucky fiddled with the silvery links a little more, and sighed.
“This is going to make the whole argument and make-up sex thing very socially awkward,” he complained.
“Ye’re nae kedden,” Debs grunted sourly.
“Can you maybe channel at it?” Janica suggested, hesitantly.
“Oh come on. I can’t channel.”
“But Min said-”
“Min wouldn’t know her a-hole from her ear-hole. We came here riding on Mister C’s shadow thing. I told them I was doing it, with saidin, because they would have freaked out even more if they found out Mister C really was a halfman.”
Chucky looked at the collar again. Then he jingled the chain.
“What about the bracelet?”
“What about it?” Janica frowned.
“Have you tried taking the bracelet off?”
Debs and Janica exchanged a glance.
“Aye,” they said simultaneously, and Janica added, “but maybe you’ll have better luck.”
Chucky examined Debs’s wrist for a short time. “Ah,” he concluded, “I see. Yeah, there’s a little button sort of thing here, it should…” he pressed the clasp, and the bracelet sprung open. “There we go.”
“Right,” Janica said, bending down to pick up the bracelet and grimacing as the a’dam denied her the capacity to move it. “Debs, if you would be so kind as to escort us somewhere a bit more private, and dangle this thing somewhere … I guess you can go ahead and have a bit of time to yourself for a change.”
“Feckin’ reet,” Debs said, with great relish. “All the stuff ye would’nae let me dae. First stop, the kitchen. A poond or two o’ steek, a block o’ chocolate if thee’ve got some, a feckin’ big roll-up, an’ mebbe a damn good shag.”
And the Glory of the Light did shine upon him.
And the Peace of the Light did he give men.
Binding nations to him. Making one of many.
Yet the shards of hearts did give wounds.
And what was once did come again
– in fire and in storm
splitting all in twain.
For his peace…
– for his peace…
…was the peace…
…was the peace…
…of the sword.
And the Glory of the Light did shine upon him.
– from “Wanky Artsy Artwank”
composed by Ilya bab Popovich, the Fourth Age
of the Fifth Book of
The Steal of Time
Whistling cheerfully to himself and plucking on his lute, Asmodean wandered through the servant areas of the royal palace. In a weird, renaissance fair roleplaying sort of way, he was having a good time. Sure, the damane and her huge attendant scared the piss out of him, and sooner or later he would be caught by his former comrades and turned into a squealing pain-kebab by Semirhage – if he was lucky! – but for now, he was doing okay.
“Now if I can just find a bottle of wine,” he murmured to himself, and picked out a merry little ditty on the charmingly antiquated musical instrument. “Oh, it sure would be fine … if it could be mine … alone while I dine … just a bottle of wine … a bottle or nine…”
He pulled open a small door, intending to find his way to the pantry. There should be some decent wine. One step, and he stopped, the blood draining from his face.
The word still hung in the air when Debs took him.