The group made its way with casual aimlessness in a meandering sort of northerly direction, any illusion of progress shattered by the occasional glitch in the universe that turned them around or changed their intended destination. Still, the pointless and time-wasting journey gave Chucky ample opportunity to discover Lanfear’s true identity, and come perilously close to getting himself torn to pieces – or worse – with the One Power in the process. The Forsaken was still unwilling to take the chance, however, that the Gleeman was really as chummy with “Angamael” as he pretended to be.
“Loversknot is the worst name for a horse ever,” Chucky insisted.
“It is if you say it that way.”
“How am I supposed to say it? I mean yeah, if you say it a certain way, I’m sure it’s fine. You know, if you write it down maybe. What were you thinking? You’re riding on a horse called Loversnot.”
“I didn’t call it that,” Lanfear growled. “As you know perfectly well, Nynaeve called it that, before I took her place.”
“It’s bad enough that we’re apparently heading for a rendezvous at an estate belonging to the Hornwells,” Chucky went on, “but you’re doing it on a horse called Loversnot. I’m just saying. Hoarni has been a handful as it is, he doesn’t need the help of suggestive-sounding names.”
“When you say he’s been a ‘handful’,” Lanfear said, “do you mean your own personal hand?”
“See?” Chucky waved his gleestaff. “Soon nothing we do or say will be free of innuendo,” he paused in his waving, lowered the gleestaff carefully, and wiped his hand on his cloak. “And then where will we be?”
“At the manor, I hope,” Lan said from Lanfear’s far side. “I’m heartily sick of this whole venture.”
“I don’t even know why we’re going there,” Chucky confided. “I lost track weeks ago. I figure, nobody else cares, so why should I?”
“What are your orders, Gleeman?” Lanfear demanded. “What has the Great Lord instructed you?”
“Need to know basis,” Chucky said.
“I need to know.”
“Obviously not,” Chucky replied, for once pleased to have had such extensive experience debating with Mister C, “or you’d know already.”
“Insta-lose,” Wyse opined from the sidelines.
The journey went on, interminably. Dr. Nick had not succeeded in nursing Nynaeve back to health, if indeed she was Nynaeve, and there was nobody more qualified to even try. The Ogier had finally shown up after wimping out on them during Operation Wind, but after what the other Nynaeve had done to the Green Man they were desperately unhappy and even more prone to stomach upsets than usual. And there was nothing quite like an unhappy Ogier with an upset stomach to hinder the healing process.
And speaking of Wind, Olver was still riding alongside on the universe’s most flatulent quadruped, absent only when he veered off their path from time to time to get himself immersed in some calamity or other, most of which somehow contrived to make him even uglier. By the time they reached the Hornwell estate, it was entirely likely that Olver would have undergone metamorphosis into some hitherto unknown form of Shadowspawn.
All in all, Chucky had to admit he’d fallen in with the worst possible combination of people he could have imagined, short of Contro being present, with whom to share the mid-series doldrums they were very obviously experiencing.
When their paths crossed, seemingly by complete coincidence, with a group of asha’man, Chucky was almost relieved. A bit of bafflement and suspicion followed by a brisk and bloody culling of excess characters was just what the proverbial doctor ordered.
The search for Puddin Taim had reached a new and, in Forsaken_1’s opinion, unnecessarily complex stage. After deeming Shadar Logoth too unstable and hazardous to look for the big whining dork, the Aes Sedai following Cadsuane had settled on a confusing system combining asha’man spot-checking parties, Tel’aran’rhiod, standard grid-pattern search procedure and a weird ter’angreal Elayne had ‘accidentally’ made one morning when she was trying to heat up her tea.
Now they were all in the throne room, standing around with their metaphorical thumbs up their butts. Except for one of Mazrim Taim’s henchmen, who Forsaken_1 was beginning to suspect was literally butt-thumbing it. From where he was standing on the far side of the Lion Throne next to Cadsuane, he could hear the asha’man with his hand down the back of his pants muttering quietly about “not letting them escape”.
“It detects and reacts to specific shifts in the Pattern,” Elayne was explaining from the throne, “a combination of ta’veren and saidin which we have managed to tune – at least I think we have – to resonate against some of the events the Dragon Reborn is supposed to cause,” the Queen of Andor glanced at Min in irritation. “Min’s viewings are becoming less useful by the hour, and some of them are downright insulting.”
“I can’t help it-”
“Keep those ones to yourself next time,” Elayne snapped.
“Yeah, and tell us later,” Stifler added. The Queen’s three Warders were lounging behind the throne on a little trio of chairs with a table in between. Or, at least, Stifler and Birgitte were lounging while Gaidal Cain, whose turn it was to be ‘on duty’, was standing close behind Elayne’s right armrest and watching everyone in the throne room with bland dislike.
Elayne turned and leaned over to give her Warder a look around the bulk of the Lion Throne, then gave the ter’angreal a shake. To Forsaken_1 it looked like one of those forked sticks that insane people used to try to find water, only made out of glass … or perhaps glass tubes with water inside. Sparkly little coloured things moved around inside the glass, but he couldn’t get a good look at them. Cadsuane was blocking his line of sight, and every time he tried to crane his neck to look over her shoulder, she told him to stop looking at Her Majesty’s breasts. “Anyway,” she said, “the upshot is that this thing should be detecting Puddin Taim.”
“So is it working or not?” Cadsuane asked.
Elayne gave the ter’angreal another shake, and glared at it. Mazrim Taim shifted his feet and a couple of his non-thumb-butt minions glowered, which Forsaken_1 took to mean Elayne was channeling. She had the ter’angreal by the forks with the shaft pointing across the room towards the main doors, and when she suddenly swung it around it almost smacked Min in the face. Then she swung the other way, but Cadsuane had already prudently stepped back. Forsaken_1 felt a weird buzzing in his ears as some sort of invisible beam from the end of the ter’angreal passed through his chakras. Probably radiation, he thought, and spared a moment to be glad Elayne was wielding the thing at head-height due to the elevation of the throne.
“It’s working,” she declared. “According to this, he’s a long way off, and there’s something very weird about these readings…” she gave the ter’angreal another shake.
“I think we all know there’s something very weird about the Lord Dragon Reborn,” Davram Bashere said, “and Cairhien and Tear used to be a long way off too, but all it takes is for one of our inestimable asha’man comrades to wiggle his fingers, and we’ll be able to just reach through a gateway and grab him by the lapels. If he happens to be wearing a coat. Or indeed anything. The main variable is what we grab him by, is my point.”
“Hey, thanks for that mental picture,” Stifler said.
“You’re the one who can’t stop yourself from picturing Vamps naked,” Forsaken_1 pointed out. He was getting sick of Stifler getting the juiciest lines. Cadsuane turned and smacked him swiftly in the back of the head. “Ow.”
“You behave yourself, young man,” the ancient and horrible Aes Sedai said sharply.
“Yeah,” Stifler grinned. “That’s what you get.”
“Don’t make me get down off this throne,” Elayne said, although she was still preoccupied with the ter’angreal. “I’ll turn this rescue operation right around.”
“Speaking of this rescue operation,” Mazrim Taim said, “you want me to make a gateway to where, exactly?”
“I’m not sure,” Elayne said, “but I think … I think … Puddin is in a World of If,” she frowned, “quite close to this world but separated from it by vast gulfs…” she looked up. “And also, he’s not on this continent in the World of If. He’s in Shara.”
Forsaken_1 considered asking whether the ter’angreal was programmed to detect False Dragons, dead Dragons, foreign Dragons or only genuine Dragons, but gave the question up as too difficult before even arranging it in his mind. Cadsuane would only slap the back of his head again anyway.