The silvery mist had already formed by the time Dr. Nick, Mat and the others returned to the main body of the Band of the Red Hand. Wyse, Coarshus, Frendli and Hoarni were standing in awe, staring at the larger-than-life figures as they strode out of the realms of fable and magnificently entered reality.
‘Larger-than-life’ turned out to be an understatement.
“Who are you?” Hoarni demanded, in the tones of an outraged customer returning a hairbrush with half his daughter’s scalp still attached. “Where’s Artur Hawkwing?”
“Is that … are you who I think you are?” Coarshus, by contrast, sounded the way one might expect the clerk at the offending store to sound, faced with the aforementioned customer.
“It is! It is!” Wyse squealed, sounding like the scalped girl in this somewhat over-worked analogy. “Hoarni, what have you done?”
“What’s going on?” Dr. Nick demanded, “and who are all these Ogier?”
Frendli made reverent hushing-gestures to the little humans, and crouched down to explain.
“That is Muldorn the Thoughtful,” he said, pointing to an elderly, rather tubby Ogier with vast white mutton-chop sideburns. “It is said that he spent seven years considering the ramifications of having dinner with the family of Lotho, son of Gundorak, son of Kotus, rather than with the family of Welis, son of Harban, son of Thesley, and in the end he decided not to eat with either of them, for in their haste they ate without him. He is the most careful and deliberate of all Elders. That,” he went on in an even more hushed tone, “is Adel, daughter of Mysha, daughter of Gelita, known as Adel the Gardener. She’s the composer of some of the greatest songs ever sung, and foremost Treesinger of our people. A personal icon of mine. Those two over there are Urmin, son of Gyrbyn, son of Harmin, and his brother Barell, son of Gyrbyn, son of Harmin. They invented the concept of the Stump. Before the Sons of Gyrbyn, Ogier would spend more time discussing the form any given discussion ought to take than they would actually discussing the point at hand. Some say that this was responsible for making us more hasty than is entirely proper, but another school of thought-”
“Alright, I get it,” Dr. Nick said, “the Horn summoned up a bunch of Ogier Heroes instead of the human ones. That’s not what usually happens, though, is it?”
“No!” Hoarni said, obviously on the verge of a hysterical breakdown. “No, it never happened this way before, it was always the hasty human Heroes who would arrive, and do as they were bid,” he shuffled forward, his ears drooping and the tufts on the end quivering in embarrassment. “I’m so sorry to have disturbed your rest, venerable Elders,” he mumbled in a barely-audible-across-on-the-far-side-of-the-camp-bumblebee voice. “If I had known … I never would have wasted your valuable time … an accident … my most humble … so very regrettable…”
“So let me get this straight,” Mat strode over and glared up at the four cowering non-Hero Ogier. “It’s okay to blow the Horn and waste the time of the human Heroes of the Horn, but it’s quite another thing to do it to the Ogier ones.”
Wyse, Coarshus, Frendli and Hoarni looked momentarily shocked.
“Of course,” Wyse replied.
“They’re Ogier,” Frendli explained
“How could this have happened?” Hoarni wailed, sinking to his knees like some sort of mighty redwood in a funny T-shirt. “Up until now, the Horn only ever summoned hasty, helpful humans! How is this possible?”
“Rogosh and I looked into the spirit of the Horn of Valere,” one of the Ogier Heroes said, stepping up and pulling a book from the pocket of his olde-worlde-style coat. He plucked a slightly bubbly-looking magnifying glass from another pocket, and smiled. “We found that, technically, the Horn of Valere is not specifically stated as being not species-specific. Therefore, it was feasibly possible that an Ogier blowing the Horn would summon Ogier Heroes, while the human Heroes would only need to appear for the benefit of a human Horn-sounder. In fact, the more we looked into the fine print, the more sense it made to us. The human Heroes were very pleased.”
“You’re…” Wyse cleared his throat, “you’re … you’re…”
“Agarat, son of Peete, son of Eogan,” the Ogier smiled. “Known as Agarat the Pedant, I believe, in the folklore of my people.”
“You found the Seanchan Loophole!” Coarshus exclaimed.
“The what?” Dr. Nick demanded.
“Apologies. We do not speak of it outside of the stedding.”
“So, from now on,” Agarat the Pedant concluded, “in your hour of need, you can sound the Horn of Valere and summon us from our rest, to aid you in any way we can.”
“Oh, I’m sure that won’t be necessary,” Frendli stammered, and gave his brother the dirtiest look Dr. Nick had ever seen. Only a face that large could possibly fit that much dirty on it without overflowing.
“I don’t know,” Mat said respectfully, “it might be useful to know we have access to so much wisdom and everything. Right guys?”
“Yeah,” Dr. Nick said, “and they might be able to occasionally kick ass and take names as well.”
“The Horn of Valere is not a toy,” Wyse scolded.
“True,” Dr. Nick agreed, “but the Last Battle is coming, and the Horn has to be sounded. And if these are the only Heroes who are going to come, they’ll have to give us our money’s worth.”
“He’s right,” Mat said, glancing at the ever-present Melindhra. “The human Heroes of the Horn would have been an invincible fighting force against the Dark One. Imagine if the Darkfriends found out that the Horn was only going to summon peaceful Ogier scholars and singers,” Melindhra smirked. “We might turn out to be at a bit of a disadvantage.”
“Let’s not be hasty,” said Muldorn the Thoughtful. “Like the human Heroes of the Horn, we come when summoned and leave when the need for us is gone. Unlike the human Heroes, however, we do not just rush in and swing our axes and then leave when a handful of enemies are dead. We shall call a Grand Stump, and discuss the matter, until we are satisfied that the problem has been solved,” he turned and smiled at Hoarni. “So, why have we been summoned?”
The contemporary Ogier mumbled and shuffled their colossal feet.
“A group of Tinkers were killed near here,” Dr. Nick explained, “and one of them had left a message in his own blood: tell the Dragon Reborn.”
“What is a Tinker?” asked Urmin, son of Gyrbyn.
“Sort of like an Aielman,” the Green Man stepped out of a nearby thicket and left it somewhat smaller than it had been earlier, “except they wear much brighter colours and no longer serve the Aes Sedai.”
“Someshta!” Urmin’s brother hurried forward with a huge grin. “You have scarcely changed a bit!”
“I still have your initials carved on my backside, Barell,” the Green Man said in a good-natured grumble. “The point is, the Tinkers follow the Way of the Leaf, just as the Aiel of old. Nobody would ever need to kill them.”
There was a general hooming and homming from the Ogier Heroes.
“This sounds like a task for Dayal the Sleuth, son of Tyronis the Sly, son of Probably Mongo,” Muldorn the Thoughtful said.
“Yeah, that sounds like a…” Dr. Nick frowned. “Probably Mongo?”
“We do not speak of it outside of the stedding.”
If there was one thing more annoying than having to conduct conferences while sleeping, Shannon didn’t know what it was.
“So we sent Elder Haman, and Covril and Erith, through to Shadar Logoth to invite Angus and his followers to a peace negotiation at stedding Tsofu,” Janica concluded. “There are certain … agreements we need to make, about how to proceed with this whole thing. Too many more deviations, and the Pattern might just reset itself.”
“I could tell you about deviations,” Vamps said, tossing his Tel’aran’rhiod ter’angreal from hand to hand with a lazy grin. He fumbled it, dropped it on the floor, and winked out of existence. A couple of seconds later he reappeared, gave the group what on a more intelligent man would be a sheepish smile, and continued tossing the ter’angreal back and forth, a lot more slowly and carefully. “I was also upset,” he went on in a recognisable Puddin voice, “that the Ogier ladies were going into danger. But there didn’t seem to be much I could do about it.”
“They should be fine,” Chucky said with sublime self-confidence. “If Angus wants to talk, he’s not going to do anything to them. If he doesn’t want to do this in a stedding, we’ll find out how serious he is about this whole discussion thing,” he sat back, concentrated for a moment, and made a large chocolate sundae appear in his hand. A sticky moment later, he also materialised himself a bowl and spoon.
“Anything that happens to you in Tel’aran’rhiod also affects you in the real world,” Janica pointed out gently.
“It’s true. Remember Rand and the thorns?”
“No, I mean this would be good with nuts,” Chucky explained, and a smattering of honeyed peanuts fell out of nowhere onto the top of his dessert. “That’s the stuff.”
“I could have one o’ them,” Shannon said, and created himself a sundae. He concluded, grudgingly, that things weren’t all bad. “So the Ogiers’ve’all lit out to steddin’ Tsofey?”
“Aye,” Debs nodded.
“Sly Dog and Two Sails … sorry, I mean Mat and Dr. Nick have met up with a large group of Ogier as well,” Cyberwollf explained the strange events that had recently occurred with the Band of the Red Hand. “When I went to sleep, they were still sitting up and talking. Or at least, Mat was talking with the Ogier, and Dr. Nick had taken Baffy Gabbler back to his wagon.”
“Sorry, I mean Contro,” Cyberwollf grimaced, a facial expression that made several people move away from her hastily. “This wolf dream thing might be good for talking, but it’s difficult not to fall into talks-like-wolf mode.”
“You’re telling me,” the second wolf, a rather mangy black creature with broken teeth, said cheerfully. “I didn’t even realise I could talk at first, and then suddenly I was carrying on like some sort of retard.”
“Imagine that,” Chucky murmured.
“Shut up, two-by-four,” Satters growled. “Eat your sundae.”
“I believe I will.”
“What’s going on over where you are, Satters?” Janica asked as politely as she could, under the circumstances.
“Nothing much,” Satters tried to shrug, but was unable by reason of physiology. “We’re just outside Cairhien, staying with a couple of Darkfriends – Nan Belman and her son Perwyn,” Satters growled raggedly. “Perwyn is so way a butthead.”
“Is he,” Janica sighed.
“Yeah! He keeps eating all this food, and then blaming me! He’s all like, where’s all the food gone? And I’m all like, I didn’t take it, and he’s like, so why are these two plates sitting here, did the food just eat itself? And I’m all like, hey, I’ll kick your ass!” he subsided into muttering. “Butthead.”
“So, um, y’all’re still hangin’ around with Fain?” Shannon attempted to break the angry silence.
“Yeah. His knife just sort of vanished into nothing, and he was a bit wacked out for a while, but then he decided he had to chase the Dragon for a bit.”
“Yeah,” Satters said defensively. “He’s the Dark One’s Hound, you know? Anyway, he started following Vamps when you all went to Caemlyn, then he got queasy when you all went somewhere else, then Vamps got some sort of shield put on him, and Fain started getting headaches. He doesn’t even know why he’s following Vamps anyway, and half the time he’s convinced that the Dragon Reborn is somewhere in Salidar, sleeping. Or something like that.”
“Ain’t no Dragon in Salidar,” Shannon assured everybody, “unless they’s keepin’ him good an’ secret. Or unless it’s me, which woun’t surprise me nohow the way things is goin’.”
“And you don’t know whether the Aes Sedai in Salidar are Darkfriends or not?” Janica pressed.
Shannon’s boobs bounced as he shrugged. “I don’t reckon so. They’se actin’ weird, but they seem t’be on the level, and they all done split from the Tower for some reason,” he hesitated. “Plus, Nynaeve has ’em pretty good under her thumb. She’s a force of nature.”
“That sounds like my Nynaeve,” Vamps said promptly, tossing his ter’angreal ever more daringly. “Did I tell you about the time I made her-”
Janica flicked her hand. The ter’angreal spun away from Vamps’s clutching fingers, clattered momentarily on the floor, then both Dragon and ter’angreal vanished with a flicker. A few seconds later, he reappeared, scowling.
“And Nynaeve still has Moghedien under control?” Janica went on.
“Ayuh, but it don’t seem to be Moghedien,” Shannon reminded them. “She’s goin’ by the name o’ Selene, and if I din’t know no better, I’d say she was actually Lanfear,” he paused and added judiciously, “I don’t know better, so I’m goin’ with the whole ‘she’s Lanfear’ thing on that one.”
“That’s interesting,” Janica mused. “In the books, Nynaeve was just barely a match for Moghedien. I would have thought Lanfear was much more powerful. It’s possible that events have conspired tae make Nynaeve more powerful – she might have started channeling more often, and her power might have increased to its full potential sooner than expected, or something. Nynaeve had a block, too, that went away when she almost drowned that time…” she frowned. “I think her character’s changed way too much for us to make any guesses. She was meant to be in love with Lan, but our Lan…”
“Aw shoot, I done gone forgot,” Shannon threw his sundae on the ground in frustration. “I asked him to keep people out o’ my tent an’ wake me up at midnight, but he was lookin’ pretty durn wasted when … dude, do you gotta?”
Satters looked up from the ruins of the sundae, ice cream and hot fudge smeared over his muzzle.
“O huck urhelf,” the wolf instructed.
“There’s another possibility we should consider,” Janica went on. “Lanfear might have let herself be captured, on Angus’s instructions. If you all think she’s harmless, she could do a lot of spying…”
“Not from that tent where Nynaeve leaves her with her bracelet hung on a hook all day,” Shannon disagreed. “And they’se all pretty tough on her. I don’t know if Lanfear would put up with that sort o’ shit.”
“She might not have any choice,” Janica said. “She might not have realised what she was volunteering for. The a’dam isn’t something the Forsaken have a great deal of experience with.”
“Speaking of not knowing what they’re volunteering for,” Chucky added with a grin, “we just increased our number of hostages by a dozen or so. I don’t know if it’s Angus trying to keep the story on track, or the characters taking it on themselves to do stuff, but a bunch of Aes Sedai arrived with chests of gold for the Dragon. They’re obviously getting ready to kidnap him.”
“After accidentally bonding Mazrim Taim and getting themselves kidnapped, you’d think they would have learned their lesson,” Cyberwollf remarked. “Are these ones Darkfriends?”
“Pretty sure Galina is,” Chucky nodded, “but the rest might have been forced to convert. We’re going to try zapping them. It’ll be interesting to see if zapping a real Darkfriend like Galina will turn her back. Personally, I don’t think it will. If she was turned against her will, it might work, but I think there’s more to it if the person is actually a Darkfriend by choice.”
“We zapped Asmodean,” Janica nodded, “but it was inconclusive at best. He’s helping us because he’s scared, and even if he gets free the other Forsaken are going to kill him, but it didn’t seem like his connection to the Dark One was severed,” she gave Vamps an unfriendly look. “Of course, we couldn’t actually see his connection to the Dark One, because it was Rand who could see the black threads during his saidin-void fight scenes, and try explaining that to the Hardon Reborn here.”
“What about the heat?” Shannon asked.
“We’re no closer to getting the Bowl of the Winds,” Janica admitted, “although we went looking for it in Tel’aran’rhiod the other night, and it seemed to be in the same place. Unfortunately, when we tried to find out exactly where it was in Ebou Dar, we were sort of given the run-around. We know it’s in this Rahad neighbourhood, but we can’t get closer. I think it’s the narrative exerting itself wherever possible. I suppose our next step is to go looking for it in the real world.”
“As I recall,” Cyberwollf said, “it took a volume or two for the wondergirls to get their hands on it. Maybe you can do it faster.”
“We’ll do our best.”
“Unless there warn’t nothin’ else,” Shannon stood up and stretched, “I might go and get myself some real-”
There was a flicker, and Nynaeve suddenly appeared in the middle of the room. She looked around at the assembled people without a great deal of surprise, then turned to Shannon.
“Nancy,” she said, “you have guests.”
Then, without so much as looking at Vamps, she vanished as quickly as she had come.