“I’ll say one thing about Swovan Night,” Dr. Nick declared with drunken sincerity.
“Wha’ssat?” Chucky asked.
“The one thing you’ll say ’bout Swovan Night,” Chucky prompted, settling back in his chair, putting his feet up on the table and taking a sip of his sixth pint. The beer had been steadily improving since the first pint, which had had a dead rat floating in it. Chucky had complained to the innkeeper about that, and had consequently been force-fed his first, second and third pints, and charged a small fortune for them just to add insult to injury. He’d managed to earn himself a break from the pint-insertions – not to mention a respectable little bar tab – by fluttering his cloak and telling a couple of graphic stories about Druss and Yoru fighting Darth Vader and the Borg, and from that moment he had found the beers deceptively easy to stomach.
“Oh, that,” Dr. Nick took a swig from his oosquai bottle. “Yeah. It beats looking through three million warehouses for a freaking bowl.”
“I’ll drink to that,” Chucky said, and did.
A foggy length of time later, there were fireworks outside, and most of the patrons went out to watch them. Chucky took the opportunity to collect some delicious beer-dregs from some of the other tables. When everybody came filing back in, Chucky and Dr. Nick weren’t as surprised as they should have been to find that many of them had doubled in size.
“There you are,” Wyse said, sitting down on the floor beside their table. Coarshus and Frendli joined them, the latter raising himself up off one cheek with a mild curse a moment later to retrieve a drunk and unconscious Olver, whose face had not been even slightly improved by having it crushed into an Ogier’s left buttock. “We’ve been looking for you.”
“Who have?” Chucky asked.
“We’ve been here all evening,” Dr. Nick added.
“I could have guessed that,” Mat appeared between the Ogier, pulled up a chair, and sat down. “Apparently, our Ogier Heroes have cracked the case of the murdered Tinkers.”
“Oh,” Chucky said, obscurely disappointed. “So they left?”
“Oh no, they’re back at the palace, formulating a report to Nynaeve,” Mat grinned and jerked his head at Wyse. “I’ll let them tell it. You guys don’t seem to be in a hurry. Who do you have to fuck for a beer in this place?”
“Hoarni,” Dr. Nick grinned, then looked around. “Where is he, anyway?”
“Last I saw,” Coarshus said, “he was making sweet love to a large Swovan Night street parade float.”
“All the people got off it unharmed,” Frendli added.
“Agarat, son of Peete and Chee, son of Shaft, stayed behind to look after him,” Wyse said, as Mat headed to the bar. “In any case, the Heroes of the Horn believe they have solved one mystery, only to uncover a larger one, and the two are so connected that the Heroes of the Horn have determined their task here in this world will not end until the larger mystery is also solved,” he looked to his brothers for reassurance, and went on. “The Tuatha’an, you see, were slain … but not by any agency of this world or any other, on whom we can lay blame and against whom we can bring justice to bear.”
“Don’t leave us in suspense,” Dr. Nick said.
“For more than an hour or two,” Chucky put in, since they were, after all, talking to Ogier.
“They were slain by the Pattern itself,” Wyse said, “it snapped from its rightful formation into a new arrangement, an arrangement in which the Tuatha’an were butchered most cruelly. It was, the Heroes of the Horn believe, a protective measure on the part of the Pattern, a violent rearrangement in one place so that other pressures, across the length and breadth of the Age Lace, are relieved, and complete destruction is averted.”
“Or at least delayed,” Coarshus corrected.
“Quite so,” Wyse agreed. “The Pattern rearranged itself by force, to protect itself, and in the process, the foul miasma of the Dark One leaked through from his place of languishing beyond the Pattern itself. The result was a bubble of evil, but the Ogier believe the slaughter of the Tuatha’an was destined to happen with or without the assistance of such a bubble. If things continue this way, the Pattern will weaken all the more quickly, and the miasma of the Dark One will thicken swiftly.”
“At this point, discussion became rather convoluted,” Coarshus took up, “but we will explain as thoroughly as we can.”
At that timely moment, Mat shoved his way back through the crowd, a beer in one hand and the elbow of a tall, familiar-looking blonde woman in the other.
“You’ll never guess who I met at the bar,” he said.
“Birgitte,” Chucky hazarded.
“Look at you,” Birgitte said, failing to hide a grin. “Firmly entrenched in a bar. Why am I not surprised?”
“What are you doing here?” Dr. Nick asked, not particularly pleased to see the female Warder who had persistently and laughingly refused to put out.
“Elayne sent me,” Birgitte replied. “She wants to know how your search goes.”
“The Bowl of the Winds turned out not to be in the bottom of this pint,” Chucky declared, lurching to his feet and displaying the empty pint, “but perhaps the next round will be our lucky round.”
“Right,” Birgitte chuckled. “Where’s Someshta?”
“He was getting dried out,” Wyse said, “so he went to find a secluded well somewhere on the edge of the Rahad where he could let down his roots to drift and get a bit of fresh water for a while.”
“I see,” Birgitte looked around. “And diynen’d’ma’Ghûl’damned’purvene? Where’s Hoarni?”
“Well,” Wyse said delicately, “I guess you could say Someshta is floating his roots, and Hoarni is, well…”
“Sort of the opposite,” Chucky concluded.
“That was quite a long set-up for such a lame joke,” Dr. Nick remarked.
Lanfear examined her clothes a final critical time, lips pursed, and shrugged to herself. They were only Nynaeve’s poxy old clothes anyway, and a bit of water damage wouldn’t noticeably affect them. If she’d been wearing any of her real clothes – or even the finery given to her by the eager-to-please Queen Tylin – it would have been another story.
None of it would have happened if she’d been thinking straight anyway, but those obnoxious, squalid little Sea Folk had annoyed her, and she’d forgotten for a moment just how flimsy and poorly-built everything was these days. Her tornado of Air and Fire had torn the ship to pieces and dropped her into the water before she could weave a bridge for herself.
On the plus side, she hadn’t been anywhere near as surprised as the snooty children aboard the Sea Folk ship. And the water hadn’t boiled her alive the way it had done to them.
“Now,” she said, sitting back down and returning her attention to her guest, “are the Kin going to be as tiresome as the Sea Folk?”
Reanne, the laughably-misnamed Eldest, whimpered and struggled against shield, bonds and the gag of highly-pressurised Water that filled all but the bare minimum volume in her lungs. She gurgled as she drew a painfully laborious breath, stopping herself from coughing by sheer willpower. Coughing would have torn her lungs to ribbons and probably killed her. Lanfear was duly impressed.
“Current resourcing difficulties mean we can’t get the required number of experienced channelers and myrddraal to Ebou Dar to convert you,” she went on, “so we have to do this in the current inelegant manner. Now, you’ve already told me so much,” she consulted her notes. “How many you are, your practices and hierarchy, your famous member Berowin with a shield powerful enough to hold one of the Chosen … you’ve been very helpful. Now, you’re going to tell me everything else,” Lanfear smiled and leaned forward. “And you’re going to be very interesting,” she went on, “because if I get bored I might just release saidar, and if I do, the Air holding that pressurised water in your lungs is going to vanish, and you really, really don’t want to know what will happen when I do that.”
Reanne made pathetic wheezing noises of compliance.
“Okay,” Lanfear sat back and readied her pen. “Tell me about the Bowl of the Winds.”