The Dragon Reborn, together with his small army of Maidens of the Spear, asha’man and assorted hangers-on like Min and Loial, filed through the gateway and into the hinterland near Cairhien’s Jangai Gates. The Cairhienin army unit that had, up until recently, been formed up for Bashere’s dress inspection, had scattered in panic and now stood in a wide ring around the hole in the air and the little pile of dog-meat that had once been a footsoldier named Goddard Nyram.
“It’s nice to be back,” Vamps said. “I bet everybody missed me.”
“Oh yes,” Bashere said. “Everybody was very worried. In fact, Colavaere was so worried, she waited almost fifteen minutes before declaring you dead and taking the throne.”
“Why do you think I was leading an inspection parade?” Bashere snapped. “The army was so out-of-condition, we made asses of ourselves at the coronation and Colavaere busted me down to drill instructor and banned me from entering the city. We’ve been parading ever since, and we’re going to keep on parading until she’s satisfied we’re back in shape.”
“Who’s Colabeer?” Vamps asked.
“Does that really matter?” Mazrim said. “You’re going to have to kill her, Pud’.”
“What if she’s hot?”
“Then no doubt milord Dragon will seduce her with his urbane wit and sophisticated mannerisms, and she’ll be as putty in his hands,” Bashere said. Vamps glowered at him.
“Was that sarcasm?” he demanded. “I’m not shielded anymore, you know.”
“Then I’d be far too scared to be sarcastic,” Bashere replied blandly, “wouldn’t I?”
Vamps glowered some more. “Yeah,” he eventually concluded.
Bringing the unwilling Cairhienin soldiers along, the Dragon Reborn and his followers marched into the city and made straight for the Grand Hall. Mazrim was silent and coldly purposeful, Loial was scribbling desperately into his notebook, Vamps was muttering to himself and Bashere was still attempting to wipe Goddard Nyram off the left side of his tunic.
They found Colavaere in the throne room, sitting on the throne, with the crown on her head. She looked a bit queasy, and this only intensified as more and more Maidens and asha’man filed into the room behind the Dragon Reborn.
“This isn’t what it looks like,” she said.
“Just keeping the seat warm, I expect,” Mazrim drawled.
“What’s all this about?” Vamps demanded. “Who are you anyway?”
“I’m … I’m Lady Colavaere,” she stammered. “I was next in line for the throne … ever since Galldrian Riatin died … I know that Caraline Damodred and Toram Riatin disagreed, and Darlin Sisnera-”
“Who?” Vamps shouted. “Who are all these people?”
“The Aes Sedai told me you would not be coming back,” Colavaere said weakly.
“What Aes Sedai? Wait, never mind,” he waved his hands. “No more names. The throne of Cairhien is meant for, um…”
“Elayne Trakand,” Bashere said, “if milord Dragon will excuse my thoughtless filling up of his brain with an additional name. At least those are the instructions we were left with.”
“Right, Elayne,” Vamps nodded. “So, if you’ll just get off there and hand the crown over, we won’t say any more about it, will we?” he looked around at his brother and the Maidens. “Will we?” he prompted, showing his best pulp-beating face.
“Not a word,” Taim said.
“Okay,” Colavaere stood up on wobbly legs and lifted the crown from her brow. “This has all just been a terrible misunderstanding…” she went on, stepping away from the throne and handing the crown to Bashere. “I just assumed that, with the Dragon gone-”
Mazrim Taim jabbed his hand forward in a swift, gruesomely expressive gesture, and Colavaere exploded in a soggy detonation of Air. In the silence that followed, the soft pattering of pieces could be heard in the far corners of the throne room. Vamps turned and stared at his brother in disbelief.
“What?” Mazrim shrugged. “I didn’t say anything.”
Davram Bashere splatted up to Vamps and offered him the dripping crown.
“I’ll get the cleaners,” he said, and glanced down at himself. “Well, at least it’s a nice even covering now.”