The Path of Blaggers, Part 19

“We have almost a thousand novices, Mother, but we don’t know how many of them are Darkfriends at any one moment,” Romanda said. “It would be folly to act now, when all is in such great doubt.”

Janica sighed, took off her glasses and rubbed at her eyes, then slipped the spectacles back on. It did tend to erode her authority a bit, when she took the glasses off and started addressing the wrong person. “We won’t be able to guarantee the integrity of our Aes Sedai until we can pinpoint the voluntary Black Ajah who are the source of the conversions,” she said. “And we know they’re high up in the order,” she gave her a’dam a little tug, and crossed the floor of the Hall. Another thing that undermined her authority was the collar around her neck, particularly when she walked somewhere without Debs being ready, and ended up clotheslining herself.

It was worse when Debs took off the bracelet, of course – then Janica couldn’t go anywhere without throwing up explosively, and there was always the risk that someone else might wander by and put on the bracelet in her place. Someone of whose loyalties they were unsure.

Of course, it was difficult to be sure of anyone’s loyalties at this point, and that made the already-difficult task of organising a rebellion of Aes Sedai against the White Tower well-nigh impossible. It was like herding cats, Janica relected, if the cats had magical powers and could talk for three hours solidly without taking a breath, and kept getting turned into man-eating lions without warning. And then refused to admit they had done so after Janica and Debs turned them back.

For this extraordinary final meeting of the rebellion-within-a-rebellion that she and Debs called the Emergency Thumb-Removal Committee, they had gathered Romanda, Lelaine, another newly-discovered novice named Sharina who was stronger in the One Power than anyone with the possible exception of Janica herself, and a couple of other Aes Sedai whose names Janica had decided were totally unimportant. They’d assured themselves of one another’s dedication to the Light by the simple expedient of having Contro administer electric shocks to everyone to step inside the wards protecting the hall. The mindlessly-laughing Tinker and the great, shaggy grey form of Cyberwollf were now sitting by the entrance, respectively trying to give helpful advice and guarding against intruders. The blackened and somehow ominous shape of the Green Man was also part of the conference, but he hadn’t said much.

“Now it’s all very well to sit here and say we need to clean our hoose before we re-take the castle,” Janica went on, “but that might take months, if it is even possible at all. So we might as well make our move on the White Tower, show our strength and our resolve, and bring the confrontation to a head on our own terms. Then sort out our friends from our enemies once we’re laying siege to the walls.”

“Not that I agree with Romanda for a moment,” Lelaine said, “I think she is too worried about the wrong facet of this issue. My question is why would the Aes Sedai who have been turned to the Dark One march on their sisters in the White Tower who have also been turned to the Dark One? Even if they do as you tell them, Mother, and we move the entire settlement into the shadow of Dragonmount, what is to stop them from simply joining forces with their allies and converting those last few of us who remain loyal to the Creator? That is, if your claims can be believed, about the Aes Sedai being turned by force to the Dark One,” she added, then put in another, “Mother,” as an afterthought.

“I disagree with both of you,” Romanda said, “but especially with Lelaine.”

“Then we shall have to argue some more,” Lelaine declared.

“Light help me,” Sharina muttered.

“I’m putting down roots over here,” Someshta rumbled.

“Kill them all and let God sort them out!” Contro exclaimed. “Ha ha ha! Whatever that means!”

“I don’t know what it means,” Janica muttered, “but it’s very tempting.”

“Mother, we cannot in good conscience-”

“Is Janica really your mother??” Contro asked, and not for the first time that evening. “That’s odd, because you look so much older than her! Ha ha ha!! Aw, you don’t really, because I can’t say how old any of you are because you have the ageless look!! And also, it’s rude to say how old a woman is!!”

“We can sit here playing this ridiculous tickle-tum war of attrition with the Forsaken forever-” Janica started.

“Yay!” Contro exclaimed, and Cybes wagged her tail without turning around.

“-or we can take the fight to the greater enemy in the White Tower, and begin to turn this whole thing around. Starting from the bottom, we’re never going to get anything done because they can just pipe in more Dreadlords and fades. Starting from the top, we’ll at least have a chance to take out the rot at its source.”

“The True Source??!?”

“We have not yet considered the ramifications of this action,” Romanda said. “If we make a hostile move against the White Tower Darkfriends, what will the Darkfriends here do about it?”

“They still think Debs and I are Darkfriends anyway,” Janica replied. “By the time they realise what we’re ordering them into, it will be too late. The longer we sit here, the more chance we have of being discovered, and the more chance they have to get their story straight and figure out what they want us to do. They’ll soon have me backed into a corner where all I can do is order some action that we know is not supposed to happen, and will cause even greater damage to the Pattern,” she sighed, even as she said it. Narrative adherence and the integrity of the Pattern was something with which the Aes Sedai famously had trouble coming to terms.

“Who are we to say what path events should take?” Lelaine said.

“To correct Lelaine slightly, of course we should be the ones to say so,” Romanda added, “but who are you to say this is the correct path?”

“I’m the Amyrlin fucking Seat,” Janica snapped.

“Ha ha!! Are you really a seat?”

“The Hall of the Tower will do as their Amyrlin tells them, in this wartime situation,” Janica pushed on.

“So what are you still doing, standing there and arguing?” Someshta said.

Janica considered this with a frown.

“Bloody good question,” she acknowledged. “Sharina, Debs, let’s go.”

Fifteen minutes later, aided by the female Choedan Kal ter’angreal Janica had been hiding in her study, the damane and the highly-powerful grandmother novice wove a colossal gateway on the edge of the rebel Aes Sedai settlement. Baffled but as-yet unable to verify where the orders were really coming from and what they in fact were, the converted Aes Sedai within the rebel camp marched on Tar Valon at the head of the Amyrlin’s army.

Rumours spread out about recent events, from the Seanchan invasion to the siege on the White Tower to the fall of the Black, the kidnapping of the Dragon Reborn and the rise of the Prophet in New Manetheren, but frankly nobody got it right and nobody was more confused than the people actually struggling along in the centres of those rumoured events. After a long period of neglect and slow dissolution, the Pattern was whipped back into action, and the force of it very nearly tore it apart like rotten cloth.

As Contro himself succinctly put it, it wasn’t much but it was certainly something. So there.


The End

of the Eighth Book of

The Steal of Time

About Hatboy

I’m not often driven to introspection or reflection, but the question does come up sometimes. The big question. So big, there’s just no containing it within the puny boundaries of a single set of punctuationary bookends. Who are these mysterious and unsung heroes of obscurity and shadow? What is their origin story? Do they have a prequel trilogy? What are their secret identities? What are their public identities, for that matter? What are their powers? Their abilities? Their haunted pasts and troubled futures? Their modus operandi? Where do they live anyway, and when? What do they do for a living? Do they really have these fantastical adventures, or is it a dazzlingly intellectual and overwrought metaphor? Or is it perhaps a smug and post-modern sort of metaphor? Is it a plain stupid metaphor, hedged around with thick wads of plausible deniability, a soap bubble of illusory plot dependent upon readers who don’t dare question it for fear of looking foolish? A flight of fancy, having dozed off in front of the television during an episode of something suitably spaceship-oriented? Do they have a quest, a handler, a mission statement, a department-level development objective in five stages? I am Hatboy.
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