A Crown of Frauds, Part 15

Seven miles south of Cairhien Lady Caraline Damodred, High Lord Darlin Sisnera and their assorted cronies were gathered in their pavilion for an anti-Dragon rally. It was uncertain to anybody involved why. Toram Riatin and his colleague, Jeraal Mordeth, were thought to be responsible for the whole misguided idea.

That was about all the information Forsaken_1 felt ready to absorb, so he tuned out at that point. Until, at least, Cadsuane noticed him tuning out, and delivered a swift smack to the back of his head.

“Pay attention,” she said. “I’m not going to repeat any of this to you.”

“Thanks,” Forsaken_1 said, sincerely.

“Just … do your best to stand there and look impassive and dangerous,” Cadsuane said. “Can you do that? I’m going to try to talk with these foolish children again, and you can help by just looking like a Ghuldarned Warder.”

“I could look impassive and dangerous,” Forsaken_1 said, “or I could actually do the dance from ‘Dangerous’,” he did a little test-spin and grabbed his crotch. “Ow!”

“I’ll give you ‘ow’ if you do that again, my lad,” Cadsuane promised grimly. “Now, I’m going to talk to Caraline, and when I get back-”

Whatever Cadsuane was planning on doing, it was interrupted by a gateway opening almost close enough to trim the grey-haired Aes Sedai’s bun off. She stepped away from the bright slash of light with a mild curse, and watched unamused as several Asha’man, a couple of dozen Maidens of the Spear, a bunch of guardsmen and the brothers Taim stepped through into the large tent, right in front of the rebels.

“Puddin and Mazrim Taim,” Cadsuane muttered. “There’s a pair who should never have left Far Madding,” scowling, she hurried forwards as Vamps was drawn, clearly unwilling, into a confrontation with Riatin in the centre of the pavilion. “Just what the blue blazes do you think you’re doing?” she demanded.

Vamps visibly cringed. “Cadsuane,” he said, “what are you doing here … that is, mistress Cadsuane Sedai, I-”

“Draw your sword, you spotty little girly-man,” Riatin said, standing with sword ready and Mordeth at his elbow, looking slimy. Forsaken_1 tried to figure out why Mordeth looked so familiar, but it was a tough case to crack for a man whose best score on a newsgroup memory quiz was 30%.

“I don’t have a sword,” Vamps said, looking relieved.

“Use mine,” Mazrim said, pulling out a sword and offering it to his little brother hilt-first. “Give him Ghul.”

Before Cadsuane could take a breath to shout, the two men were circling each other warily, Vamps struggling to hold the sword steady and Toram Riatin making small exploratory jabs in the Dragon’s direction. Suddenly, the tent was whisked away and Forsaken_1 looked up to see that thick fog had fallen over the entire camp. He wondered if one the Aes Sedai or Asha’man had decided to channel a way out of this situation.

While everybody was staring into the impenetrable banks of fog, Riatin stepped forward and kidney-punched Vamps, who promptly dropped his sword and doubled over. While the Dragon Reborn was crying, a tendril of fog snaked down and grabbed one of the Aes Sedai. Screams and wet floppy noises ensued.

“Run!” Forsaken_1 shouted. “It’s that fog that turns people inside out!”

Pandemonium broke out, everybody running in different directions. Vamps, sniffling and wiping his nose, climbed to his feet and stood holding his side, which seemed to be bleeding. Forsaken_1 had no idea why. He stuck close to Cadsuane, who was standing protectively next to the Dragon with a couple of her Aes Sedai cronies. The mist closed in, and more tentacles began curling out to grab people. One of them drifted close to Vamps, and he opened up with a blast of balefire that seemed to surprise him as much as anybody else. The brilliant stripe of Pattern-tearing light cut a momentary lateral slice through the mist, and Cadsuane whacked Vamps on the back of the head.

“Don’t do that again,” she said. Vamps blubbered.

“Man up, Puddin,” Mazrim said, bending to retrieve his sword and elbowing his brother as he straightened. Unfortunately he caught Vamps in his injured side, and the Dragon’s sobs grew louder.

“Sheesh,” Cadsuane muttered, turning to cover their backs as the fog grew ever more dense. “We need to get out of here.”

A formless shadow in the mist suddenly sharpened to reveal the scrawny shape of Jeraal Mordeth, and the light of recognition finally flickered into being between Forsaken_1’s ears.

“It’s Fain!” he shouted, and Cadsuane spun around. Fain, obviously sneaking up on the weeping Vamps with the intent to do some mischief or other, might have been able to do some damage in the time he was given – had he been armed. Instead, he looked down at his empty hand with clear frustration, hissed angrily at the assortment of Aes Sedai and Asha’man, and melted away into the fog again. More screams and squishy noises started coming from all sides.

“First useful thing you’ve done since you made breakfast this morning,” Cadsuane said gruffly. “Now let’s get the Ghul out of this mess.”

 


 

The morning after the Festival of … what had it been? Mat rubbed his numb face and attempted to remember … the Festival of Birds, that’s right – the feathers that fell out of his hair reminded him. The morning after the Festival of Birds dawned entirely too bright and with entirely too much noise going on outside his door.

“What’s the racket?” Melindhra demanded, sitting up in bed next to him and looking down at her own feathery, semi-naked state. “I don’t remember eating that.”

Their door opened and Nynaeve stepped through.

“On your feet,” she said, “we have work to do.”

As Mat and Melindhra struggled out from under the sheets and began trying to figure out who had been wearing what when they went to bed the night before, Nynaeve paced back and forth impatiently, stopping once or twice to peer out the window.

“Is something the matter?” Mat asked respectfully.

Lanfear is after me,” Nynaeve said, giving the two Darkfriends a significant look. “She balefired my boat yesterday afternoon.”

“What are we going to-” Melindhra started, then froze as a tall, imposing man in a Warder’s cloak stepped into the room beside Nynaeve. Lan, apparently completely sober, leaned down and murmured something in Nynaeve’s ear.

“We have found the Bowl of the Winds,” Nynaeve said, “and we’re going to get it. That’s what.”

“Lan,” Mat hesitated, “um, where did you…?”

“He just showed up,” Nynaeve shrugged, “so I bonded him. Oh, and the Mistress of the Ships married us last night.”

“Was Nancy on board?” Mat asked.

 


 

While Chucky had, in a baffled and lost sort of way, enjoyed his stay in Ebou Dar, he was glad to be leaving – or, at least, his liver was. Nothing seemed to happen in the stinking city except festival after festival. The next day was the Feast of Embers, and then Maddin’s Day, and then the Feast of the Half Moon … to be honest, Chucky needed a rest.

“Let’s get this stupid Bowl and get out of this stupid plot thread,” he muttered, looking up at the six-storey building at which the Royally-appointed search team had  just arrived.

“You guys,” Nynaeve said to a group of Mat’s rough-and-ready thugs, “go ’round and guard the back. You lot,” she gestured to a bunch of Ebou Dari women with black belts and facepaint, “through the front. Be ready for anything.”

“Especially high-intensity channeling without clearance,” Lan added crisply. The Warder looked more clean and sober than anybody Chucky had seen in the booze-addled town since arriving, and it was at least as incongruous as the bizarre karate-kid women. “We have it on good authority that the enemy will be trying to stop us, and they have already targeted Nynaeve.”

“Just to clear this up,” Chucky said, “when you say ‘the enemy’, you mean the Forsaken, don’t you?”

“That’s right,” Nynaeve said, looking at Chucky steadily. “Anything else to add?”

“Nope,” Chucky replied, “just that I might stay down here and, you know, guard the entrance. With my bagpipes.”

“We would like to do the same, mistress Nynaeve,” Wyse raised his enormous hand diffidently. “We’re concerned that, uh, we think that, well, we’re thinking that perhaps we should have stayed behind with the Heroes of the Horn.”

“We are afraid we might suffer the fate of all sidekicks in the business to come,” added Coarshus, “namely to be placed in great peril, injured or even killed. Like Mister See of Mayene.”

“Or Knwo,” Wyse went on, “the plucky little martial-arts expert who accompanied Yoru while he was pillaging the Secret City of the Tapestry Monks and burning all their tapestries…”

“Who said you guys were sidekicks?” Dr. Nick asked.

“Yeah,” Chucky added, and pointed at the Aielman engineer. “He’s a sidekick.”

“Hey.”

“You’re more sort of…” Chucky waved his hand vaguely. “Extras.”

“Do extras survive?” Frendli quavered.

“Sure they do.”

Would you idiots shut up?” Nynaeve snapped, and waved the channelers through. They entered the building, doing a passable impression of DEA agents making a bust on a well-armed cartel in the process. There was much barrel-rolling and ‘go-go-go’-ing. Barely ten seconds later, with ruthless efficiency, the screams began.

Nynaeve and Mat rushed into the building. Chucky, with considerably less enthusiasm, followed along behind with the Ogier and Dr. Nick.

“Keep back,” Chucky said, “this is where everybody gets attacked by a gholam.”

“It’s probably Coop,” Dr. Nick said, “we should be okay as long as we let him drain everybody else first. And I don’t think he drinks Ogier blood,” he added, glancing up at the wide, terrified face of Coarshus.

“Well, just be ready,” Chucky said, as they neared the source of the screams. “It might not be Cooper. It might be what’s-her-name, Sandrine. She was complaining about how Nynaeve wouldn’t let her kill anyone, and then she disappeared, remember? Or it could be some other gholam altogether.”

“Meh,” Dr. Nick shrugged, “I have ow’angreal up the wazoo.”

“Can I have an ow’angreal up the wazoo?” Hoarni asked.

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