A Crown of Frauds, Part 1

Giving voice to a long, contented sigh, Angus McSmashie raised the cigar to his mouth and lit it with a swift puff from the old infinite caverns of terrifying flame. He reversed the eight-inch stogie – Deathwatch issue, imported fresh from Seandar via gateway – and gripped it between his teeth.

The warm breeze across the top of the White Tower whipped the smoke away as he stood and looked out over Tar Valon. He wondered, idly, if this was the proverbial wind that heralded the beginning of a new book, since according to his studies that ought to be the situation. It was quite liberating to realise he didn’t give a fuck.

Tar Valon was a mess of construction sites. Elaida was having a palace built. It was her own idea, and none of the Chosen had bothered to discourage her. It was keeping her from making any more disastrous policy decisions, and that could only be a good thing. A few days ago she’d somehow managed to order Toveine Gazal, fifty Aes Sedai and two hundred soldiers on an invasion of Mazrim Taim’s Black Tower, and Angus had only just prevented them from obeying. That wouldn’t have been a very nice start to the new year.

Angus didn’t think a giant new palace was the world’s best idea, but decided it ultimately couldn’t hurt. It would fail, of course – even if they could afford such a thing, what with the war effort and all, their infrastructure and technology couldn’t hope to compete with the Age of Legends yet and their use of the One Power certainly couldn’t, and the palace was abmitious even by Age of Legends standards. Still, Elaida had spoken. She wanted the Amyrlin Seat’s palace to be mightier than the White Tower, even though the Ogier had said “get stuffed, ma’am” in response to her demands for masonic aid. The project would keep her happy, at least, until her undoubtedly sticky end.

There were also a couple of new taverns being built – big, spacious ones with excellent accommodation and the best in food and drink. They were new installations of the Easing the Badger franchise, which Angus and his Chosen had begun converting into a series of recruitment and talent-spotting centres for male channelers. It made the perfect front, it was already well-established in most of the major cities, and it was very discreet. Even better, the Ogier were happy to help with the building, since it was ostensibly for a good cause, in feeding and sheltering the homeless and dispossessed.

Angus could have slapped himself for not thinking of it before. Recruitment had doubled since the implementation of the idea, boys and young men with the spark flocking to the welcoming atmosphere and cheap booze. Young, alienated, confused men, often with flamboyant imaginations and melodramatic personalities … well, the Easy was a place for them, and male channelers were drawn to the chain of inns like moths to a, heh, flame.

Of course, it wasn’t for everybody. Although the Ogier kept violence to a minimum, there was a certain amount of protest from concerned citizens, most of them representing a “moral majority” that probably didn’t exist outside of Amadicia. From where he was standing, Angus could see a group of protestors picketing one of the building sites. Engaging his super-saidin vision, he could even make out the placards they were waving.

“‘Tar Valon Already Has Too Many Sisters’,” he read aloud. “‘Badgers? We don’t need no stinkin Badgers!’,” he chuckled. “That’s a good one.”

Nae’blis.”

Putting on his Angamael-face, Angus turned to face Mesaana. Her silly voice-distortion weave sounded even more ludicrous when she said words like ‘Nae’blis‘, but he knew that forbidding such small eccentricities would needlessly upset her.

“Hey, Mesaana,” he said easily. “What’s up?”

“Alviarin has reported that the so-called Aes Sedai in Salidar are on the move,” Mesaana said, “and nobody seems quite sure whether they are on our side or not.”

“But they’re coming this way, right?” Angus said.

“Yes, Nae’blis.”

“And they’ve named Egwene al’Vere as their puppet Amyrlin?”

“Actually, a Seanchan wilder,” Mesaana said, her silly tinkly voice sounding apologetic, “a former damane by the name of Janica.”

Angus blinked. “Oh.”

“But she is still, to all outward appearances, a figurehead, Nae’blis,” Mesaana went on, loyally.

“Yeah, right.”

“Also, Elaida has had a Foretelling,” Mesaana went on.

“I hope this one wasn’t anything like the last one, where she said the world was going to be torn to pieces in flame and blood if she didn’t get to make her freaking palace out of freaking gold,” Angus said.

“No, Nae’blis, this seems to be the genuine article,” Mesaana jingled. “‘The White Tower will be whole again, except for remnants cast out and scorned, whole and stronger than ever. Puddin Taim will face the Amyrlin Seat and know her anger. The Black Tower will be rent in blood and fire, and sisters will walk its grounds. This I Foretell’.”

“Always with the blood and fire,” Angus muttered.

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