Contro thought it was an absolutely splendid day. It was very hot and clammy and there were a lot of flies, but there was a lot of sunshine and people seemed happy, except for the ones who were grumpy.
Contro pondered briefly about the word ‘clammy’, and decided that it was a funny old word. It sounded as if there were a lot of clams around or something. That would certainly explain the flies, though, so in a way Contro supposed it made sense.
According to the Green Man, they were riding southwards, along a river called Erinin, and they were halfway to Tear. Contro didn’t know whether that was true, but nobody seemed to want to discuss it with him. He also didn’t know why they were heading towards Tear, but nobody else seemed to know either – or if they did know, they wouldn’t tell him. His motto for the journey – “It will all end in Tear” – was very funny, but nobody laughed at it anymore.
They’d been on the road for eleven days.
Dr. Nick Riviera and Matrim Cauthon – for some reason Contro wanted to think of them as “the two Mats”, but he didn’t know why – were riding along on one side of the wagon, prudently out of reach of Cow’s famed spasm-kicks, talking about girls. Contro found this rather tasteless and ungentlemanly, and so refused to join in. For some reason, though, they talked about girls every time it was their turn to ride alongside him, which was impolite to say the least.
“Another thing I’ve found enjoyable,” Mat was saying, “is the way Melindhra will sometimes…” he trailed off. “I wonder what’s got Vanin in such a hurry.”
Chel Vanin, named head scout even though he never seemed to find any heads and nobody would listen to Contro’s objections on that score for some reason, rode up to the wagon and reined in. Contro wondered why they were called ‘reins’, and missed the first bit of what Vanin and Mat were talking about. They seemed to be looking over in his direction, so he did his best to pay attention, and hoped they weren’t still talking about ladies.
“It’s not pleasant,” Vanin was saying in a warning tone.
“I agree!” Contro said, delighted to hear that Vanin, despite being a cattle rustler and general doer of no good, apparently held the same views on the discussion of private relationship matters as Contro himself. “And I don’t think they’d like it if they knew you were talking about it either, since it’s such a private thing.”
Vanin, Mat and Dr. Nick exchanged a careful look.
“Alrighty then,” Dr. Nick said. “Maybe you should take us to the spot, Vanin, and tell us exactly what happened.”
“He wouldn’t!” Contro exclaimed, shocked to his core. “He’s a gentleman!”
The pause that followed was awkward to everybody except Contro, who thought it was pleasant, and Cow, who took the opportunity to bite Vanin’s horse’s ear. The horse screamed and reared, and the tubby thief had to struggle to stay in the saddle.
“That fucking psychotic horse,” he growled. Contro laughed. “Does he have to come along?”
“It might be a good idea,” Mat said, “if there were Tinkers involved.”
“I really don’t think that means Contro is going to be of any use to us,” Dr. Nick objected, “maybe he should stay here with Olver.”
“Maybe if there are other Tinkers around, we can palm him off onto them,” Mat suggested.
“Maybe if whoever is responsible for the last lot is still around, we can get them to knock Contro off as part of a group deal,” Vanin said in a low voice.
“Good point. Come on, Contro. But leave the wagon here. We don’t want Bela and Cow … eating anything.”
A short distance from the riverbanks, they came across the remains of a camp. It was a frightful shambles, but Contro recognised the colourful material and bright-painted shards of wood as Tinker-style. Of course, there was rather more red than he would personally have used, and it wasn’t even a particularly jolly red, more a sort of dark, crusty red covered in flies. Contro wondered if the flies were around because the Tinker camp was clammy. He laughed.
“Clams!! Hullo!! What happened here????”
“It chills my blood,” Vanin muttered, flashing some sort of funny finger-signal in Contro’s direction. Contro laughed and flashed it back at him, but the scout had already turned his horse away.
“Well,” Mat replied, “it looks to me as if that guy was gutted with an axe, that guy was impaled on the spokes of that broken wagon wheel, that other guy had his arms cut off…” he pointed to a terrible piled-up mess near the soggy remains of the campfire, “and that guy got a sort of combination of all of the above.”
“Who would have done this?” Dr. Nick frowned. “I’m danged if I can remember. Can you?” he glanced down at Cyberwollf, who was alternately sniffing around the wreckage and spooking the horses.
“Nobody I’m aware of,” Mat said, scratching his head. “Who would bother doing something like this to Tinkers?”
“Aha! I found a clue!” Contro exclaimed, trotting across to the lopsided wreck of another wagon. He slipped in a puddle with a clump of funny tubes in the middle of it, and then got the tubes caught around his ankles. He stumbled, and laughed. “Honestly!! Who left these lying around??”
“Oh God,” Dr. Nick said, and closed his eyes. “What have you found there, Contro?”
“It’s a note!” he pointed to the sticky writing smeared over the colourful wagon-bottom. “‘Ll the Dragon eborn’,” he read. “Oh wait, there’s other letters on this part, but they don’t show up because the cloth underneath is red too! ‘Tell the Dragon Reborn’. Ha ha ha!! But this is a bit daft, there’s nothing else written underneath!!! So he wants us to tell the Dragon Reborn something, but he didn’t tell us what!” he leaned down and gave the man who had presumably written the note a quick shake. “I say, what do you want us to tell him?? And who is he anyway???”
“You mean this Tinker, or the Dragon Reborn?” Mat asked.
“We should get back to the rest of the Band,” Dr. Nick cut off Mat’s helpful reply. “Some of the other scouts might have seen this, and they’ll be telling the others, and if word gets back to the Ogier they’ll-”
A distant sound interrupted him, and he sighed aggressively.
“Ha ha ha!!! Contro exclaimed delightedly. “Somebody’s playing the trumpet!”
They’d decided to hop, for no real reason, across to Cairhien, to check on the rebuilding effort and argue further about the Nae’blis‘s offer. They had Skimmed there, still a little bit nervous about using gateways after finding out the catastrophic results of blocking a gateway with cuendillar.
“Cairhien has been cleaned out,” Janica said, allowing Asmodean to form the weave while Vamps made melodramatic hand gestures for the benefit of the few onlookers who were pretending not to be fooled. “There are barely any civilians there anymore, let alone Shadowspawn. And if Angus wants us to trust him, he will have given orders not to mess around with gateways. But even so, let’s not risk it.”
“If you can’t trust Angus McSmashie, who can you trust?” Chucky quipped.
They stepped onto the smooth grey platform and slid away into darkness.
“Why do you keep calling Ishamael ‘Angus McSmashie’?” Taim asked curiously. He’d watched as the supposed gleeman wove the gateway, nodding to himself.
“It’s sort of a nickname,” Janica explained, “like not using the Dark One’s real name,” she knew that, if they were crazy enough to accept Shadow Monkey’s offer of a peace summit, they would have to tell several key characters the truth – or as close to the truth as possible – about their origins, their situation, and their relationship with Angus. It was just one of many reasons she thought it was a bad, bad idea. At least Moiraine wasn’t around to make snide remarks anymore. “To give something a silly nickname is to negate its pooer.”
“Hey,” Chucky interrupted, “did that wacky inventors’ school ever get off the ground in Cairhien, or were you going to wait for the Pattern to just sort of make that happen as well?”
“And how do we know there isn’t a Grey Man standing right next to us, taking notes as we speak?” Vamps asked.
“We left orders that an academy be founded in Lord Barthanes’s old palace,” Janica chose to answer the first question rather than the second, “but we weren’t entirely sure if anybody was going to bother joining up, or even if they understood the orders,” she glanced at Vamps disapprovingly. “In fact, we’re not even sure if the guy giving the orders understood them.”
“Because if there is a Grey Man here,” Vamps went on threateningly, “I’ll beat him up.”
“We did a search for a couple of well-known members of the academy whose names we remembered,” Janica went on, “like Idrien Tarsin and Herid Fel … but they were nowhere to be found. We think they must have been cleared out of Cairhien along with the majority of the population.”
Chucky blinked. “When did you have time to do any of that?”
“Oh, just before Vamps decided to go off and liberate Caemlyn,” Janica answered, as the platform slid to a halt. They stepped out into the sunshine, and also into the middle of a big group of Aiel. “Hello, what’s all this? Oh, of course,” she answered her own question, glancing around at the gathered Aiel, most of whom looked surprised, “you’re here to see the Ogier out looking for Loial. They must be around here somewhere. I hope we didn’t cut any of them in half.”
“No, we’re quite alright,” an enormous, shaggy old Ogier smiled over the top of the gateway, and then stepped around it carefully. “I am Haman, son of Dal, son of Morel,” he said, and these young ladies are Covril, daughter of Ella, daughter of Soong; and Erith, daughter of Iva, daughter of Alar.”
The Ogier women smiled and bobbed their heads. Vamps grinned slimily and opened his mouth, and Janica slipped a well-practiced gag of Air between his jaws as Asmodean let the Skimming gateway wink closed.
“Nice tae meet ye,” Debs said respectfully.
“Again,” Janica added.
“Excuse me?” Haman blinked. “Oh, of course! The young human females who came to our stedding, all those months ago. You must forgive me, you little folk all look so much alike sometimes, and we have walked a long way,” his well-meaning smile faltered. “We have indeed been looking for Loial, as well as Wyse, Frendli, Coarshus and Hoarni, who we sent out with you, as I recall.”
“Ach,” Debs said.
“Yes, well,” Janica added, “they have gone their own ways, but we are in contact with all five. As far as we know, Loial is safe in Salidar with a lot of Aes Sedai, and the others are headed for Tear with the Green Man.”
“I see,” Haman said ponderously, his eyebrows drooping. “We shall have to think about what to do next. Think about it long and carefully.”
Janica nudged Debs.
“This is the part where Rand would have asked the Ogier to show him where all the Waygates are, so he can seal them off,” she whispered, picking herself up off the ground. “It might be another advantage over Shadow Monkey, if Shadowspawn canna use gateways.”
“Did you say ‘Shadow Monkey’?” Haman asked – obviously there was nothing wrong with his hearing.
“If I recall correctly, they started with the one in Shadar Logoth,” Janica went on, in a less theatrical tone of voice, “just like Angus said in his message. But Angus wants to meet us there, either for a trap or for an actual negotiation.”
Chucky snapped his fingers. “Send these guys.”
“Send the Ogier,” Chucky repeated, warming to his idea. “Angus won’t be interested in them if it’s a trap for the rest of us. He wouldn’t kill them, they know the territory, and there’s nobody better for hammering out a long, detailed peace treaty than a bunch of Ogier,” he snapped his fingers a second time as further inspiration struck. “They could even host it. In stedding Tsofu! It’s at least as good a venue as Shadar Logoth. Nobody can channel inside a stedding, so there’s no risk of any sort of clever betrayal. If Angus really wants to talk, he can send his representatives to do it there. And knowing the Ogier, it’ll keep the enemy busy for years!” he snapped his fingers again, wondering how many times you could snap your fingers during a brilliant idea before you were pulled over and forced to walk along a straight line on the road by the Brilliant Idea Police. “In fact, stedding Tsofu might be even better than Shadar Logoth, because its very stones are not infested with an ancient chaotic evil force that exists solely to consume and destroy people regardless of their loyalties, and infect those who stay too long, turning them into infected souls capable of spreading the poison to other hapless unfortunates until the very world itself is undone. I mean, stedding Tsofu doesn’t have that whole thing at all.”
“You know,” Janica mused, “that’s not a bad idea.”
“Who are you negotiating peace with?” Elder Haman asked, looking down at the gleeman, “and who are you anyway?”