They were in Murandy, somewhere south of Lugard. About the only thing Janica remembered about Lugard was that Padan Fain was from there. The region through which the “Amyrlin’s Army” was marching was called the Cumbar Hills, and the less said about that the better.
At the moment, the new Amyrlin Seat of the rebel Aes Sedai was doing her best to stay awake while NPC after NPC wafted through her command tent and babbled on and on about irritating minor plot details. She’d expected this, she reminded herself. She’d known that the plot thread in which she’d landed herself was a long and uneventful one, for all that it was one of the more important ones in the story. It would take them a very long time to reach Tar Valon and retake it from the enemy … and that whole plan depended on them figuring out who, exactly, the enemy was anyway.
The fact that she was operating blind – figuratively speaking, at least, since she’d brought a pair of glasses back with her from Tel’aran’rhiod – without any knowledge of the book or books that had been published since her inclusion in the Wheel of Time Experience, meant that she had little idea what to do when she reached Tar Valon in any case, short of lay siege to the place and maybe turn some things into cuendillar.
Debs, standing behind her in her Keeper’s stole, stifled a yawn. Even though her back was to the hefty sul’dam, Janica felt an acute sympathy-yawn coming on.
“Wait,” Janica said, “what was that last one you just said?”
“Gareth Bryne says the army is running out of food, Mother,” the Aes Sedai repeated warily. She was, Janica remembered apropos of nothing, Tiana Noselle. Mistress of Novices, if that meant anything these days. Janica still wasn’t sure whether or not she was a Darkfriend.
“No,” she said, “the other thing.”
“Um, some of the sisters are upset about Logain escaping…”
“That,” Janica leaned forward. Debs gave a forlorn moan behind her. “When did Logain escape? And what do you mean anyway? He wasn’t a prisoner here.”
“He said something about being followed,” Noselle said, “and not wanting to be caught by somebody. Apparently he had trouble in his past, and was worried it might catch up with him,” she hesitated again. “He took Callandor with him, Mother.”
“Which one?” Janica asked instinctively.
“Both of them. And the halfman blade,” the Aes Sedai looked around before lowering her voice into a conspiratorial whisper. “They say that strange merchant woman, Nancy Sidesaddle, vanished at the same time, Mother. Along with the captive Nynaeve Sedai was keeping in her tent. And they say she was a Forsaken,” she concluded in an almost-inaudible hiss.
“Logain and Shan, er, Nancy probably ran off together,” Janica said, a little doubtfully.
“I dinnae b’lieve et,” Debs snapped.
“Actually, I must concur with the Keeper, Mother,” Noselle said. “Logain seems very unlikely to run off with a woman, if the rumours about him have any basis in reality-”
“Is anybody in this army not just sitting around all day spreading rumours?” Janica raised her voice to cut off Debs’s indignant response. If the rumour mill knew what Janica knew about ‘Nancy Sidesaddle’, it would probably have even more fun. “Never mind, just … go and prepare for marching, or something.”
The Mistress of Novices curtseyed and withdrew, and Debs leaned over the desk at Janica’s side.
“Hoo’s yer hid?”
“It’s fine,” Janica muttered, “Whoever Halima was, she seems to have done a runner as well, and nobody’s givin’ me headaches. Except for this boring-ass plot thread we’re stuck in,” she looked down at the parchments spread over the desk. “I know running a rebel army is difficult,” she said, “but how much fuckin’ aroond can we do? The sooner we get moving, the sooner we can get all this over with.”
“But if we take less’n feeve bukes tae get’tae Tar Valon,” Debs pointed out, “et’ll feck up the narr’tive even mooer.”
“True,” Janica sighed. “I guess we’ll just have tae put up with it for now. At least we can-”
The tent flaps parted and Lan, his Whitecloak outfit so stained and ragged as to almost look like a Warder cloak again, stumbled into the Amyrlin Seat’s presence.
“Hey, Mum,” he slurred. “Washup?”
“Why are we in a stable?”
Puddin looked around, unimpressed. His Asha’man and Maidens of the Spear flowed through the gateway and gathered around him defensively, but there was nothing much to defend against. Horses looked out over their stable doors without much interest.
“This is just where the gateway opened, Lord Dragon,” one of the Asha’man, who Vamps thought might be named Grady, replied. He didn’t sound all that pleased about it either. “It was decided that this would be the safest place to have a gateway, even if it was one we were going to leave open all the time. Less risk of cutting people,” he snorted with laughter. “Although there was that one time. Remember that stampede?” he nudged the Asha’man next to him, who also sniggered. “A whole bunch of horses went charging past the gateway, side-on,” Grady explained.
“Okay, fine,” Puddin said with a shudder, “where are we anyway?”
“Caemlyn,” an entirely unwelcome voice said behind him, “although I for one wish milord Dragon hadn’t bothered himself.”
“Bashere,” Puddin said, as his overly-sarcastic Grand Vizier or whatever stepped out of the shadows with a giant Aielman beside him. “Who’s this?”
“Bael,” Bashere introduced the naggingly-familiar character, “clan chief of Goshien. Also Deira, Melaine and Dorindha,” he added, pointing behind Vamps. The Dragon turned to see several women exchanging low-voiced comments with the Maidens he’d brought with him. “And Mazrim Taim, of course.”
Vamps swung back around to see his brother standing beside Bael. Mazrim grinned and gave Vamps a thumbs-up, and Vamps noticed yet another woman standing awkwardly by Taim’s side.
“Elayne?” he hazarded.
“Queen Elayne sends her regards,” Bashere went on, “but could not excuse herself from matters of state in order to pay a visit to the royal stables on this particular occasion. The woman you’re looking at is, in fact, Alanna Sedai. She was recently released from the dungeon on conditional parole, under the supervision of her Warder, er, parole officer. I don’t know, they’re channelers. I just stay well away.”
“Okay,” Vamps said nervously, and allowed the group to lead him towards the entrance to the stable. “It smells of horse poo in here.”
“Milord Dragon is an eyeball-withering beacon of deductive brilliance,” Bashere remarked, “as usual.”
“I mean, why doesn’t it smell like horse poo in the throne room in Cairhien, if the gateway there is always open into this stable?” Vamps felt this was a rather clever question that could bear answering.
“The smell of bullshit probably drowns it out, milord Dragon,” Bashere replied way too promptly.
“Ah,” Vamps smiled in desperation, “don’t tell me you didn’t get the joke?”
“I fear milord Dragon’s humour is far beyond me.”
Getting the distinct impression he was being made fun of, Vamps turned to his brother. “What are we doing here?”
“Apart from recruiting as many new Asha’man as possible?” Mazrim shrugged. “Last I heard, we were left with instructions to look for angreal around Caemlyn, so we’re looking into that. And Elayne is interested in forming some sort of a strike force and going up against Sammael, which might be fun.”
“You think so?”
“Better than sitting around all day writing report cards.”
“So where’s Sammael hanging out…” Vamps frowned. “Report cards?”
“It’s almost graduation day,” Mazrim explained, “a whole new batch of Asha-man get their myrddraalskins in a few days. If I had to sit down and write out one more report card, I would go insane,” he paused. “Figure of speech.”
They reached the main entrance to the stables, and started across a courtyard. Just as Vamps was beginning to relax, yet another person leapt out of nowhere and grinned at him. He was dressed in a colour-shifting Warder cloak that had effectively rendered him invisible against a nearby rough stone wall, and he looked eerily like Stifler from the American Pie movies.
“Hey,” the grinning Warder said, “how’s it going? These cloaks are great. If they made condoms out of this stuff, nobody’d ever see me coming.”