Not only had they failed dramatically to make him any better-looking, but the vicious bites Cow had inflicted on Olver’s face and scalp had begun to fester with astonishing swiftness. Fortunately, the Ogier Heroes had settled in for an extremely un-hasty stay, and one of them turned out to have been a gifted healer of some sort.
The specifics of the healing had overloaded Dr. Nick’s bullshit detector, leaving him flailing around in ankle-deep metaphorical spare parts, but it had been something along the lines of the soothing qualities of ginseng, and the antiseptic properties of the wub-wub tree, and the revitalising effects of mashed bungo fibres. But the results spoke for themselves. Olver was no longer ugly, smelly and stricken with fatally-infected lacerations. He was just ugly and smelly. And even the smell was a little better than it used to be – instead of raw sewage and unwashed urchin, he now smelled like bungo fibres.
It wasn’t much better, but it would do. And it was better than that awful guano stuff Dr. Nick had been exposed to on the Sea Folk ship.
Mat and Olver were now sitting rather self-consciously in the middle of a double-circle of rapt prehistoric Ogier, playing the Snakes and Foxes game. Dr. Nick and Cyberwollf were sitting off to one side, listening.
“Courage to strengthen, fire to blind, music to dazzle, iron to bind,” Olver piped, his recitation accompanied, as always, by a low rumble of laughter from the audience.
“It’s funny because it’s true,” one Ogier whispered in a voice clearly audible across the camp.
“Florble blorble,” another said, and there was more laughter.
“I have heard it said,” mused Muldorn the Thoughtful, “that it is impossible to win this game, unless you cheat.”
“I disagree,” Barell, son of Gyrbyn, son of Harmin said diffidently. “I have spotted three ways in which one might win without breaking the rules of engagement.”
“Five ways,” added Agarat the Pedant.
“Oh, I was not aware that those pieces could be moved in such a way-”
“I studied the rules,” Agarat confirmed. “Of course, there are numerous interpretations of what it might mean when one says ‘move’ in various contexts…”
The stripper, wearing nothing but pink woolen leg-warmers, had skipped three times around Dr. Nick’s bedding, shimmying to the tune of Big In Japan by Alphaville, before the Aielman realised he’d fallen asleep from sheer boredom. He sat up, looked around, and wondered if there was any way to tell if he was in Tel’aran’rhiod, or just dreaming.
“My, what big ears you have.”
“All the better to…” Dr. Nick frowned. “Nynaeve. What are you doing here?”
The stripper, the campsite, everything had faded away into darkness, and an unimpressed-looking Nynaeve was facing him across the nicely-decorated interior of some sort of tent.
“I followed your fat friend Nancy Sidesaddle here,” Nynaeve replied, “she was ordered to get in contact with everybody, but she’s having a little difficulty maintaining her concentration right now, for some reason,” she paused, and looked impatiently into the middle-distance. “Here she comes again.”
Shannon faded into view with a barrage of cussing. “This goldurn stupid Tel’aran’rhiod-conferencin’. Danged if I can git to sleep, leastwise not with this skinny biotch pukin’ up her toenails right next to me.”
Dr. Nick winced. “Nynaeve is sick?”
“No, I’m talkin’ ’bout … oh, somebody else. Y’all don’t want to know. Plus, I can’t jus’ sleep like that, not in the mornin’. It feels like I’ve done bin lyin’ aroun’ sleepin’ for the past six goldurn months.”
“From the look of your hips, you’ve been lying around eating Twinkies for the past six goldurn months,” Dr. Nick hooted. “Gaul would take one look at you and have you digging holes before you could say ‘now there’s a thing’.”
“Yeah yeah,” Shannon muttered. “Look, y’all’re goin’ to have to change direction and head for Salidar,” he looked at Nynaeve with a hunted, suspicious expression on his face. “Somethin’s done come up.”
“Oh yeah?” Dr. Nick sighed. For a minute there, he’d really thought he was going to get away from the annoying, sniffing, arm-folding women. Shannon’s rampant ta’verenosity was apparently not going to let that be an option. “How are we going to get there? We’re, like, halfway to Tear and there’s all this paranoia about gateways.”
“We’ll work something out,” Nynaeve put in. “But you should get here as quickly as possible. We need you to pass on information to the wolves as well. The Dream-zapping worked well, but we need to clear out Salidar again, and that means a lot of tickle tums.”
“Cybes will be pleased,” Dr. Nick admitted. “And so will Contro. It’s sort of the only thing he can’t seem to fuck up.”
Contro had been delighted to see all the new Ogier, and for a little while they’d been delighted to see him too, thinking he would be able to help them with their inquiries about the ravaged Tinker camp. However, barely a day later Someshta had had to stop two of the Heroes from sneaking the laughing Brit into the Band’s communal cookpot.
“We also need to git word of this to t’other groups,” Shannon went on. He paused, looked at Nynaeve again, and sighed. “The Aes Sedai over here want to raise a new Amyrlin Seat to stand against Elaida, or whoever’s in charge at that thar White Tower these days.”
“Oh, right. Well, last I heard, Egwene was in Cairhien with the others, arguing about whether or not to make this peace treaty with-”
“No, not her,” Shannon said.
Cyberwollf winked into existence. “There you are, Two Sails,” she said, “I mean Nick. I was wondering if you’d just dropped off to sleep, or if you were going to be here somewhere,” she sniffed the ground. “I’m getting better at tracking you guys. I think there’s a certain smell a geeky American fanboy makes when he dreams. It’s like desperation and ammonia. Hi, Nancy.”
“What’s going on?”
“Shannon was just saying that we need to change course and get to Salidar as soon as possible,” Dr. Nick quickly filled Cyberwollf in on the situation. “They’re going to name a new Amyrlin Seat and try to clear out all the Darkfriends. Consolidate our position and stuff.”
“Ooh, who’s it going to be?” Cybes sat down and wagged excitedly. “It can’t be Egwene. We finally got her away from Contro and got her channeling, but she’s way out of the loop. She’s just not the same character anymore.”
“We need somebody who will do the things Egwene did in the story,” Dr. Nick said. “Not that she did all that much.”
“There were rumours that she was a ta’veren,” Cyberwollf mused, “but that might have just been shoddy storytelling.”
“We won’t need to worry about that,” Dr. Nick grinned at Shannon, “as long as Nancy hangs around her. That’s all the ta’veren we need right there,” his grin increased in size. “Hey, why don’t you become Amyrlin?”
“Let us worry about who will be Amyrlin,” Nynaeve said patiently. “You just have to worry about how to get here as soon as possible.”
“I’m sure the Ogier will be able to help,” Cyberwollf said confidently. “With some sort of ancient, useful wisdom of much convenience.”
“Oh, we’ve got a hundred or so of them hanging around our camp. Heroes of the Horn, apparently. They were summoned to solve the mystery of the dead Tinkers, and they’re damn well not going anywhere in a hurry until that’s all settled. I’m sure we can get them to make a side-trip to Salidar, if that’s what we need to do.”
“Yeah, they’ll work something out with Someshta, no problem,” Dr. Nick yawned. “Well, I’m going to go get some actual sleep now. See you in a while, Sidesaddle.”
“Go on an’ fuck yourself.”
“…with due consideration for the fact that a possible statute of limitations on war crimes might well apply to atrocities performed over two thousand years ago, although said limitation would have to vary depending on the degree and frequency of the aforementioned atrocities, nevertheless it could be said in the interests of mutual understanding and harmonious future relations, that a strict undertaking not to dwell upon long-past ills…”
Angamael stifled a groan and shifted over onto his left buttock, which was beginning to get a little bit of sensation back into it. He’d known all along, of course, that inviting the other side to a peace negotiation might lead to something like this. Some of those Monkeys were unhealthily clever.
“…given the habitual distrust inherent between followers of the Dark One and followers of the Creator – exemplified, perhaps, in the very concepts of ‘the Light’ and ‘the Shadow’ – it is our obligation to establish a line of dialogue, a common ground on which accord may be stably built, and with that undertaking in mind it must be agreed that neutral territory, to be sure, much like that ground on which we now stand, but indeed the world is full of neutral territory, if you but look for it…”
They were still, after several days, debating the change of venue. This wasn’t what Angamael had had in mind at all. He’d been hoping to get things rolling, maybe wring a few concessions out of the other side, settle the Pattern back on its rails again nicely, and leave – preferably with a bit more information, and having planted a few seeds of doubt and panic in the minds of the enemy. If escape from the bargaining table proved impossible, he’d happily ship in a half-dozen Ogier Gardeners from his Seanchan delegation, and leave the whole lot of them talking their asses off for the next two hundred years.
Frankly, at nightfall of Day Three, the onslaught of Mashadar had come as something of a relief. Nobody important had died, although the wards created by the Forsaken seemed to make the power inside Shadar Logoth even more angry than usual, and a number of the Nae’blis‘ lesser minions had vanished one by one into the city. Their bodies sometimes showed up, twisted or crushed or dismembered … but most of the time they didn’t show up again at all.
“…places where the power of Dreadlords and Aes Sedai alike may be neutralised, and the complications and conflicts cleared to make way for rational, peaceable discourse, this most vitally important of negotiations, that might possibly render Tarmon Gai’don itself-”
“This is nice, Elder Haman,” Angamael interrupted as politely as he could, “and I would be more than happy to relocate our negotiations to a stedding of your choice. It would be safer there for everybody, I’m sure. It might even be that I can spare some Seanchan Ogier to represent our side of the treaty,” he paused, trying to ascertain the old Ogier’s reactions. “Unless, of course, that would be awkward for you.”
Elder Haman’s ears twitched, but that was the Ogier equivalent of sniffing and could in fact mean anything.
“We shall have to discuss it,” the Ogier decided after much puffing and murmuring, “at great length.”
“Yes, I thought we would,” Angamael sighed. “Could we at least settle one piece of business, though, before we repair to the nearest stedding?” he tried to steer things back in the desired direction. “The fact remains that you have access to a very powerful weapon, and there is little I can do to counter it, and we must reach a solemn agreement that this weapon is out-of-bounds,” he looked out across the ruined courtyard, but Shadar Logoth didn’t seem to have any tricks up its sleeves right now. He just hoped that Aginor’s theories were right. The damn place gave him the hippie hippie shakes. “Your side, and mine, have stumbled upon the knowledge that blocking an opening gateway with cuendillar causes a destructive reaction on the initiating end. It’s meant a drastic rearrangement of the way we transport our troops.”
“Oh, surely not,” Elder Haman disagreed mildly. “I feel confident that we can agree not to take such steps in the future, since this is a weapon both sides can use to mutual devastation. We would hesitate to use gateways for fear that you might block them, and you would hesitate to use gateways for fear that we might block them. As such, an accord should be reached to guarantee that neither side will do anything so irresponsible.”
“It seems to me as if our side has more to worry about than yours,” Erith added, in the Ogier equivalent of an impulsive interruption. “You have most of the experts in the field of Traveling, straight from the Age of Legends itself. You know how to send warnings when you are going to Travel from one place to another – I read it in a book – and you have lived with the weaves for far longer. We, on the other hand, have little expertise and a great dependence on Traveling. The Ways, Portal Stones, and Skimming are alternatives, and they are unreliable in various-”
Angamael interrupted, knowing that if he didn’t, he’d be standing around for another day and a half while Erith took her turn at burbling. Much more of this and he might throw himself into the mist. “We’re as dependent on Traveling as you are.”
“For your Darkfriends, certainly,” Elder Haman agreed. “But how can you depend on Traveling when your Shadowspawn can not step through a gateway and live?”
Angamael smiled enigmatically. Fires bloomed briefly and then vanished, and he was secretly pleased to see that this still impressed Ogier, at least. “Oh, but they can.”
At a nod from the Nae’blis, Aginor wove a gateway. Before the Ogier could blink, a wide opening was revolving into view along one side of the courtyard, through which the inhospitable landscape of Thakan’dar could be seen. But only for a moment.
Bending down slightly to avoid having themselves lobotomised, five trollocs strode through the gateway and presented arms quite professionally on the Shadar Logoth side. One of them seemed to have developed a slight nervous tic in one eye, but these were some of the new breed of Aginor Bio-Weapons, and they were pretty tough. The gateway winked out, and the trollocs stood waiting for commands.
“It’s a trick,” Erith said, but her voice was shaky. Elder Haman just shook his head. He knew real trollocs when he saw them.
“No trick,” Angamael said pleasantly. “Actually, that whole thing about Shadowspawn not being able to go through gateways was a bit of deception started up during the War, just so we’d constantly be underestimated.”
The Ogier looked at one another in alarm.
“In the interests of communication and full disclosure, I thought I should tell you,” the Nae’blis went on. “I wouldn’t have wanted it to affect your negotiations.”