“I really don’t think milord Dragon should be taking that passage literally.”
“Silence! Janwin, what do you think?”
The Aiel Clan Chief frowned. “I am Mandelain, not Janwin. That is Janwin.”
“And I think,” Janwin said, “that you should not be touching these swords.”
“Much less trying to make a hat out of them,” Indirian added. “You look a right prat.”
Dashiva stopped muttering to himself long enough to laugh explosively. Vamps favoured him with a foreboding scowl.
“The Karatheon Prophecy is quite clear,” Vamps said. “As the plow breaks the earth shall he break the lives of men, and all that was shall be consumed in the fire of his eyes. The trumpets of war shall sound at his footsteps, the ravens feed at his voice, and he shall wear a crown of swords. Now I already have the sheep-bladder trumpet-shoes and the trained flock of ravens, although admittedly we’ve established that it is best to pour the offal onto the flagstones, order the ravens to feed, and then let them out of their cage, and also never go anywhere serious or important while wearing the shoes…” he paused, and grimaced. “Ow, my neck’s locked again.”
“Milord Dragon is wearing sixty-five pounds of ironmongery on his head,” Bashere pointed out, “and milord Dragon’s head was somewhat on the soft side to start with.”
“Fine,” Puddin pulled off the crown and cast it to the floor. It landed with a great clang and several of the swords came off. “I’m bored. Is there anybody waiting to petition me?”
“I believe the last person was Wavemistress Harine,” Bashere said, “and she got tired of being ignored and decided to leave,” he checked his notes, “three days ago.”
“Milord Dragon is as popular as he is charismatic.”
“Yeah,” Vamps agreed, and scratched himself for a while. An Aes Sedai stepped silently into the room and approached the dais. “What’s going on?” Vamps demanded, tightening his grip on the arms of the throne. “I’m not going back in the box.”
“Cadsuane Melaidhrin Sedai,” the woman announced, ignoring the Dragon’s terrified blustering, “and her Warder,” she hesitated, “Foreskin.”
A boxy, tough-faced woman with grey hair strode into the room, the ornaments in her hair swinging. In her wake, a nervous and very familiar-looking guy in a colour-shifting Warder cloak sidled in and looked around.
“Cadsuane,” one of the Aes Sedai, who Vamps seemed to recall was named Annoura, spoke in surprise. “I thought you were dead.”
“I wouldn’t be out of place in this room if I were,” Cadsuane said bluntly. “Is that rotting carcass on the throne really the Dragon Reborn?” Bashere laughed, and turned it smoothly into a cough when Cadsuane favoured him with an unamused glance. “I thought you were meant to be keeping him alive,” Cadsuane accused. “None of the male channelers I brought back to Tar Valon ever started to decompose and gibber like that.”
“How many of the male channelers you brought back to Tar Valon were the Dragon Reborn, Cadsuane Sedai?” Bashere asked casually, to a range of scandalised Aes Sedai gasps.
“Almost all of them,” Cadsuane replied, this time with a hint of a smile in her voice. She turned back to Vamps. “Have you started hearing voices yet, Puddin Taim?”
“How did you know who I am?” Vamps demanded.
“Oh dear,” Cadsuane said, “he’s one of those.”
“I’m afraid so,” Bashere said, “in fact it’s possible that milord Dragon is the original.”
Cadsuane barked a laugh. “Have you tried spanking him?”
“Not my style,” Bashere replied, “and besides, there are a number of boils on milord Dragon’s posterior that might not take kindly to such rough treatment.”
“You let Foreskin and me be the judges of that,” Cadsuane declared.
The formidable Aes Sedai’s Warder, who up until now had been standing quietly in a corner and blending eerily with the décor by hunching down in his cloak, whimpered and turned to Mandelain.
“Kill me,” he whispered.
Some hours later, Min hobbled from her private quarters and made her way down to the kitchens. News of Cadsuane’s arrival was all over Caemlyn, but Min wasn’t interested. She was still hardly aware of the world around her at all. The images and signs that she used to sometimes see floating above people’s heads and around their bodies had intensified, and changed, somehow.
Now, they were everywhere. Aes Sedai and asha’man sometimes had three or four sets of overlapping images on top of each other, all of them different, all of them terrifying. Even ordinary people had at least one set of intense images these days, and although they were for the most part mundane they still frightened her. And that wasn’t all. Everyday objects, like chairs and tables and palace dogs, seemed to have auras as well. When she got to the kitchen, the head cook gave her a big plate of bread and stew, and that had images over it – images of a scorched and blackened piece of bread, and an otherwise ordinary stew, but with a celery garnish.
It was almost as if the world was trying to be two things at once, and only she could see it. But soon, the images would overwhelm the reality, and they would switch places, with terrible results. She had seen these results already, when Fain’s corruption and the Dark One’s evil had torn the fabric of the world at Dumai’s Wells. Although most of the things that had happened there, and leading up to it, were blessedly lost to her memory.
It was going to happen again, with or without the Dark One’s help, and Min seemed to be the only one who could sense it. Because when the world switched like that, there was a moment when it was neither one thing nor the other, and that was when things came through. Things that made Min want to dig her eyes out with her fingernails.
Rather surprisingly – for all that mere surprises had long since lost the ability to surprise her – Min found her usual quiet corner of the kitchen already occupied when she crept over to eat her stew. Puddin Taim, the Dragon Reborn, was curled up in the niche, picking idly at something Min couldn’t quite make out amidst the swirl of images and shadow-copies of the Dragon. One of the shadow-copies was a big tall guy with red hair and lots of muscles, and Min thought he looked like quite a good shag. Frankly, she was pleased the auras prevented her from seeing Puddin Taim too clearly.
“I had to get away from Cadsuane,” Puddin confided, “she and Bashere were having a sarcasm contest.”
“I could have beaten them both, in fact I did beat them both, but they didn’t understand my subtle humour and they kept on saying sarcastic things even after I won, so I left because I’d won, not because they were still saying mean stuff.”
“You know, Herid Fel is dead,” Puddin Taim went on. “He got torn to pieces and drained of blood. People are saying it was his prototype hydraulic penis-enlarger that did it to him.”
“That’s too bad,” Min said, and frowned. “You know, something tells me we should be having sex right now,” her voice sounded confused to her own ears, and the images all around her flickered and swirled faster than ever, obscuring her vision.
“Something tells me that too,” Puddin replied. “I call him Vamps.”
“But we can’t have sex,” Puddin went on regretfully, “I have this sort of, you know,” he waved his hands in an attempt to find a tasteful euphemism, “big gaping pus-filled maggoty row of sores,” he concluded, “all the way along my penis.”
“Oh,” Min said again, “that’s a shame.”
She took her stew back up to her room, and finished it in the lounge, while reading a book. Then she went to bed.