Added on November 28, 1998-January 28, 1999
Dragon's Library Fiction Contest 1998: Honorary Mention
Category: WoT Humor

Reviewing the Darkfriends' Progress

Prelude (Ishamael Awakens)
Part 1 (Black Ajah)
Part 2 (Two Rivers)
Part 3 (Seanchan)
Part 4 (Whitecloaks)
Part 5 (Tinkers)
Part 6 (Tairens)
Part 7 (Aiel)
Part 8 (Cairhienin )
Part 9 (Domani)
Part 10 (Altaran)
Part 11 (Saldaean)
Part 12 (Taraboner)
Part 13 (Sea Folk)
Part 14 (Sharans)
Part 15 (Grand Finale)

Series Introduction:

This is a sort of sequel to my classic humor series of days gone by, "Renovating the White Tower!" In that series, Amyrlin Egwene was seen in her study shortly after Tarmon Gai'don (i.e., after the series finally ends), interrogating a representative of each Ajah and demanding to know what that Ajah had actually ACCOMPLISHED lately. In some cases, the answer was 'pathetically little.' Unfortunately, I was unable to give the Black Ajah its fair share of attention because after TG it will have been wiped out, I hope. But I always meant to get around to summing up its contributions to the boneheaded rules of the White Tower one of these days, and finally decided to balance Egwene's interviews in my last series with Ishamael's interviews in this new series, wherein he will call in the Darkfriend Station Chief from each great nation and ask them to sum up how the Evil Work has been going in their neck of the woods! After all, it's only fair to give Light and Shadow equal chances to tell their side of the story, right? This series will explain the actual origin of MANY of the dumbest traditions of various WoT cultures. You didn't think all those colossal mistakes were made by ACCIDENT, did you? :)

Prelude: Ishamael Awakens

[SETTING: Ishamael's posh bedroom in Shayol Ghul, where everything is done in the classic 'basic black' colorscheme. Ishamael is beginning to stir on the bed.]

ISHAMAEL: Oh man, what time is it? [Glances at a ter'angreal clock mounted on the wall]. WHAT? New Era Year Nine Hundred and NINETY-FIVE? Last thing I remember, it was right after the Aiel War (around 980?) and I painted Jain Farstrider like a fool and sent him to the Ogier, just as part of one of my long-range schemes, and then figured I'd catch a quick decade or so of hibernation to preserve my dashing good looks before gearing up to track down the Dragon Reborn in the final ten years before the Millennium! But at this rate the other Chosen will be stirring before I have the kid in my pocket!

[Ishamael glances again at the alarm clock] Maybe I forgot to set the alarm again ... I remember, I made that mistake about 2000 years ago ... meant to catch a quick forty years of well-deserved rest after I finally destroyed that bloody Manetheren place (so what if I lost ten million Trollocs in the process? Those men were a thorn to my foot and a bramble to my hand!) But the seals were tightening their grip on me again, so I came home and collapsed into bed, forgetting to slide the tiny control that activates the alarm after you set it ... next thing I know it's 200 years later and the Trolloc Wars have been over for five generations and the Black Ajah is nearly defunct because who wants to work for an organization whose CEO hasn't been heard from in a couple of centuries?

[Peers at the clock more closely] No, I DID set it! Year 990, Month 1, Day 1, one minute after midnight! [He pushes buttons]. Great. It's gotten all rusted up inside at some point in that pastthree millennia ... I wonder if I can get it repaired for free, or has the Warranty expired? [Throws the clock away.]

Well, I'll just have to get cracking and make up for lost time! Let's see what's piled up in my mailbox! The Myrdraal Pony Express faithfully visits once a month while I'm slumbering ...

[Pulls open a large door and is buried under an avalanche of stuffed envelopes]


[Flash of balefire incinerates several dozen letters, including the ones from his spies explaining that something resembling a Seal is in the Panarch's Palace in Tanchico, that Moirane Sedai seems to be criss-crossing the map searching for a boy born during the Battle of the Shining Walls, that the Sea Folk Windfinders can channel, that in addition to Callandor the Stone of Tear contains a veritable horde of angreal and ter'angreal collected by the High Lords several centuries ago, and the discussion of how it would be so much EASIER to get past the Borderlander armies and ravage the lands further south if he would just tell them how to navigate in the blankety-blank Ways!]

Darn, I overreacted! I just had an unprecedented amount of mail piling up on my doorstep after the thousand cubic feet of Mailbox was finally overloaded! Oh well, the lost messages probably weren't anything important anyway, and I still have about 95 percent of the total accumulation!

Let's take a look at some of the other stuff. [Rips open an envelope] "Dear Mister Tedronai, we note with regret that your income tax payment for the Year 8359 (Age of Legends dating) was never made. The original sum would have been $101.57, but after 3400 years of compound interest the accumulated debt is approximately 1.1230 time ten to the seventy-fourth power (in Age of Legends dollars), plus some small change which we are willing to ignore. Please remit at your convenience to the Bureau of Internal Revenue ..." [Ishy breaks off from reading the letter]. I don't believe it! When we started the War of Power, the first thing I skragged was the central compound of the IRS during their annual Dinner when every single employee was on the premises (oddly enough, this was one particular massacre that NO ONE ELSE ON EITHER SIDE ever complained about during the rest of the War, not even that prig Lews Therin!), and STILL the essence of their mindless, soulless, bloodsucking bureaucracy somehow survives across the centures to continually hound me for every penny it thinks I owe! Granted, the Soulless Essence of Taxation got a new lease on life during the Trolloc Wars when it was able to manifest itself in Aridhol and give itself the snazzy alias of Mashadar ... I wonder if it's still there? Must remember to check ...

Anyway, moving on to the NEXT item ... "Do you want to make a fortune perfectly legally?! Simply send one dollar to each of the five names on this list, and make up your own list of 100 people to whom you will send a copy of this letter, having replaced the first name on this list with your own name at the bottom, and exhort each of the Hundred People to send YOU a dollar (and the other four people preceding you in the chain), and before you know it, you'll be richer than our beloved Bill Gates the Two Hundred and Seventy-Fourth, the King of InformationSystems in Our Age who has a higher net value than the average inhabited planet!" [Ishy flash- burns the letter with a weave of Fire.] Stupid pyramiding schemes ... you get on their mailing lists somehow, and thousands of years later you still haven't managed to convince them to REMOVE your name again ...

[Suddenly, a wind blows through the room and a bottle of ink is overturned, splattering across a blank sheet of paper on the writing desk. Ishamael goes to investigate and finds that the ink just happens to have formed the following words on the page]

"Attention Ishamael - due to a typographical error caused by one of our new and inexperienced data entry workers at Multiversal Headquarters (she carelessly struck the 8 key on her numeric keypad when she should have struck the 5 directly below it), we mistakenly permitted you to fully awaken 3 years before you are next due to find your thread woven directly into the Great Weave as a functional participant in the Physical World. The error has been identified and it will be necessary to reverse your premature awakening forthwith. We apologize for any inconvenience and will grant you the limited privelege of being able to converse directly with Darkfriends and Shadowspawn here at Shayol Ghul, which will gradually expand to being able to access Tel'aran'rhiod at intermittent intervals, until you finally break free for good. We look forward to doing business with you again, however, and hope this incident need not cast a Shadow across our close working relationship. With regards, the Pattern."

[Ishamael's mind starts to fade in the insubstantiality of a Dream Figure, while his body collapses back onto his bed.]

ISHAMAEL: I'll get you for this, Pattern! Mark my words! After we break the Great Lord free, we won't need YOUR meddling anymore! In the meantime, I better set up some Dreamland interviews with the heads of each Branch Office of the Darkfriends Organization. Hmm ... of course, it'll take a year or two to get my records up to date and figure out who they are, but as soon as I can access their dreams ... I'll demand an accounting from each one! Starting with whoever the ranking Black Ajah member is these days!

Part 1: Black Ajah

[SETTING: Ishamael's office as Acting CEO of the Darkfriends, in the absence of the Chairman of the Board, Mister Great Lord of the Dark himself! (His friends call him "Great Lord" for short). Or at least, this is the T'A'R manifestation of that office, since Ishy is still bound in the flesh for the time being.]

[Wrapped up soundly in her Basic Black outfit (reflecting how she thinks of herself, of course), the current Head of the Black Ajah (hereafter called BA) has just been dragged into his office by the force of his will.]

ISHAMAEL: No need to go down flat on your belly! Merely kneeling and touching your head to the floor will suffice! Tell me, how fares the Great Work in the White Tower?

BA: Very well, Master! The Three Oaths are still considered inviolate! The First Oath is particularly useful to us, since it makes our fellow Aes Sedai (and all other educated persons) assume that anything we say MUST be true, even if they don't understand how!

ISHAMAEL: [snickering] I swear, the First Oath was the BEST idea I ever had! Bind those witches to speak no word that is not true, which makes the occasional torture of an Aes Sedai much more satisfying because you don't need to reinvent the lie detector to see if she's really telling the truth after you apparently crack her, then set my followers FREE of that Oath without anybody realizing such a thing is possible, and now Black Ajah can lie their heads off and never a suspicion of it in the minds of 99.99 percent of the populace! Sometimes I'm so clever I amaze myself!

BA: Yes, Great Lord. Also, whenever a Black sister is lecturing the novices and Accepted, she stresses the importance of practicing the haughty sniff, the silent stare, the veiled threat, and other ways of insulting or intimidating people. The cover story is that this makes people RESPECT Aes Sedai more than they would if we treated them like social equals!

ISHAMAEL: [nodding] Good, good ... perish the thought that the Aes Sedai should ever master even the BARE ESSENTIALS of how to Win Friends and Influence People, as opposed to bullying them! And how is the White Tower's Recruiting Program been doing lately?

BA: [surprised] Recruiting Program? What Recruiting Program?

ISHAMAEL: That's what I like to hear! So they still wait for girls who might be capable of learning to channel to just spontaneously show up on their doorstep at Tar Valon? On the theory that if they don't travel to Tar Valon, they aren't worth the trouble of training?

BA: Yep.

ISHAMAEL: And I suppose OCCASIONALLY a Sister traveling in another nation might test a few girls to see if they had the capacity to learn, but odds are she'll walk right past the ones who could and never know it. Needle in a haystack and all that sort of rot ... unlike the situation in the Seanchan Empire where I made sure they found every last sul'dam or damane in existence by checking every girl EVERY year ...

BA: [blankly] Seanchan? Where's that?

ISHAMAEL: [waving a hand in the air] Nowhere that need concern you just now! By the way, the Tower still refuses to accept anyone as a novice above a certain age, don't they?

BA: Yes, Great Lord. The age of 18, usually, with minor exceptions for the occasional wilder who started channeling on her own.

ISHY: I'm not too worried about those. Three quarters of them die of it, anyway. And some of those who don't probably never go within a thousand miles of the Tower if they can help it ... the important thing is that if the Tower fails to sense a girl has the spark in her teenage years, they lose all interest in when she's older! I wonder how many thousands of women in their twenties and thirties and forties and so forth COULD have learned to channel, given a chance? Well, the Seanchan will clear THAT question up for me ...

BA: [determined not to ask about this Seanchan business this time] Also, Great Lord, I feel I should mention the Kin. They sweep up nearly all women who CAN channel but are rejected by the Tower in the end for lack of strength (in the Power, or in sheer determination).

ISHAMAEL: [contemptuously] Nonsense! Any activity against the Kin might cause them to reinitiate contact with the White Tower, and I prefer possible enemies to stay divided! Besides, there can't be more than one or two hundred of them, or thereabouts.

BA: [trying to remember the exact number of rejected channelers who were cast out of the Tower within, say, the last 200 years] Great Lord, are you SURE it's that few? I think ...

ISHAMAEL: [firmly] That will be ALL, Alviarin! Now get out of here, I have an appointment with the Two Rivers Station Chief! [He gestures and she is gone, back to her own body in Tar Valon]

[COMMENTS - to make my life easier, I am avoiding the question of whether or not these Darkfriends think Ishamael is the Dark One himself. Assume, if you like, that Ishy blurs their memories of these conversations so that they won't grow suspicious of who he is or isn't.]

Part 2: Two Rivers

[SETTING: Ishamael's office as Acting CEO of the Darkfriends, in the absence of the Chairman of the Board, Mister Great Lord of the Dark himself! (His friends call him "Great Lord" for short). Or at least, this is the T'A'R manifestation of that office, since Ishy is still bound in the flesh for the time being.]

[The Station Chief of the Two Rivers Darkfriends Society enters. She is covered with a thick, hairy coat that shows very little of the flesh beneath.]

ISHAMAEL: Welcome! How fares the great work in the Two Rivers?

2R: Very well, Great Lord! Would you believe they are STILL doing fifty percent of their exporting in the form of tabacc?

ISHAMAEL: [snickering] No chance their Wisdoms will ever realize there's a correlation between smoking and lung cancer?

2R: None at all, Great Lord. The occasional wilders (if they doesn't die first) generally don't understand their own channeling abilities well enough to probe a victim's lungs that way and find out what's wrong! As a matter of fact, only one of the current Wisdoms can channel at all, and only then when she's angry at a patient for being sick! She doesn't even know what she's doing!

ISHAMAEL: Well, she'll obviously never be any threat to my plans. We can forget about her. If only I could introduce the manufacture of nicotine so they could soak their tabacc leaves in it ... their sales would go way up and their addicted customers would die off way faster! Anything that weakens the human race in preparation for Tarmon Gai'don is a good idea, in theory ... but nicotine isn't found in large quantities in nature, and thus mass production of the substance would require teaching those mortals a LOT more about chemical engineering than they have any right to know! No, keeping them down at Zero Technological Progress has worked beautifully for three millennia, and this would be a bad time to change it.

2R: Meanwhile, no Aes Sedai has set in the Two Rivers area (as near as I can tell) for over 2000 years, ever since the fall of Manetheren. So they have no idea that there is so much power left in the Old Blood.

ISHAMAEL: Yes, I imagine the Aes Sedai are a bit nervous about the idea of going there, because if one did go, and if she was asked "Why have we never seen your kind around here before?", she would have to dodge the question like crazy to avoid saying, "Because after an Amyrlin Seat betrayed your ancestors during the Trolloc Wars and did not send the reinforcements she should have sent by treaty, resulting in the destruction of Manetheren as a nation, it's been kind of awkward and we prefer to pretend the whole thing never happened."

2R: I have a list of young men who were all born within the right general timeframe. When Padan Fain comes down next spring, he can investigate them in more detail. People don't tell me much, you understand, so I just get to eavesdrop occasionally.

ISHAMAEL [looking sympathetic] I understand the burdens you have to bear with, in your present circumstances. But don't worry, Beidomon old chap, as soon as the Great Lord of the Dark is free, I will personally petition him to transfer you into a more appropriate body. Perhaps that of the Dragon after we evict the current occupant! It's a real drag, the thing the Pattern selected for you to be reincarnated within!

2R: Just because I helped open the Bore and end an age of peace and joy, is THAT any reason to treat me like this? Those people were getting stagnant! Just look at all the progress they made in developing exciting new kinds of weaves (such as balefire) and ter'angreal (such as shocklances) when they realized it was NECESSARY! Think of it as Evolution in Action! Survival of the Fittest! The strong survived, the weaker failed to adapt and perished! And then I get killed by some malcontent who didn't fight fair, and wake up in THIS form! [Stamps a hoof in frustration].

ISHAMAEL: Er, right. Look, 'Bela', why don't you just step outside where I have some nice hot oat mash (with lots of sugar) waiting for you, while I wait for the Seanchan Station Chief to fall asleep so I can summon HER for a progress report?

[NOTE: For those of you who, like me, can easily get obsessed over inconsistencies in the Wot plotline - you're right. If Ishamael already had trusted Darkfriends as permanent residents in the Rivers area, he wouldn't have had to keep sending Padan Fain back every year to investigate things for him. But I had to find a way to present the idea that the tobacco industry, in ANY Age, is obviously a tool of the Dark One! So I took a few liberties with the facts in order to present my idealistic argument more clearly! A very time-honored tradition, I might add - invent "evidence" to support your argument!]

Part 3: Seanchan

[SETTING: Ishamael's office as Acting CEO of the Darkfriends, in the absence of the Chairman of the Board, Mister Great Lord of the Dark himself! (His friends call him "Great Lord" for short). Or at least, this is the T'A'R manifestation of that office, since Ishy is still bound in the flesh for the time being.]

[The Station Chief of all Darkfriends in the Seanchan Empire enters. She is wearing a loose black veil, but her clothing and long, lacquered nails betray her status as one of the Blood of Artur Hawkwing.]

ISHAMAEL: How are things going around the Court of the Nine Moons, lackey?

SEANCHAN: Great Lord! I am proud to say that the Raven is still venerated as a mark of distinction, meaning one is the personal property of the Empress! No Seanchan would ever mount an extensive campaign to kill all the real ravens in a district, although farmers do try to protect their own crops ...

ISHAMAEL [chortling] Good, good! My flying eyes will be able to come and go freely, after the Seanchan land on this continent! Now, if only I could get them to venerate rats as well ...

SEANCHAN: [sympathetically] Unfortunately, even the lowliest peasants have realized that rats carry disease, whatever else they may do ...

ISHAMAEL: [sadly] It gets harder and harder to start a good epidemic these days. People are finally wising up as regards the vectors that move it from place to place, after only three thousand years or so! But enough of that ... how is the sul'dam/damane system doing?

SEANCHAN: Quite well! We still find EVERY woman with the spark in her, as well as every woman capable of controlling a woman with the spark, and put them to work!

ISHAMAEL: Praise be, the Aiel are the only other culture with enough sense to institutionalize mandatory testing of possible saidar channelers. If it had ever occurred to the Aes Sedai to ask their closer allies (Andor and the Borderlands, for instance) to permit such a thing to occur, they would have at least ten times their current numbers, and be a REALLY tough nut to crack. [He coughs modestly] Of course, I played my small part in making sure the Aes Sedai adopted the philosophy that "Anyone worthy of joining us must come to us and BEG for admission!" I still can't believe they fell for that one [snicker].

ISHAMAEL: By the way, will you be placed in command of the Corenne?

SEANCHAN: Sadly, no. High Lord Turak is closer to the throne than I am, and thus takes precedence. But if anything happens to him (hint, hint!) I will be next in the chain of command.

ISHAMAEL: [he picked up on the hint, all right] Well, we'll see how that goes. I suppose Turak means to make landfall on the west coast of the continent, but if - I say IF - he is beaten back and the first beachhead must be abandoned, you should do all you can to relocate the Corenne General Headquarters to the isle of Tremalking, national capital of the Sea Folk and located just off the southwest corner of the lands Hawkwing ruled (with the help of a few suggestions from yours truly). There is a gigantic sa'angreal statue buried on that island, and I want it guarded for future use. You can't miss it - the only visible part is a HUGE hand reaching out of the earth, holding a sphere aloft.

SEANCHAN: I shall remember. [Pause] Just out of idle curiosity, how does one control the statue? Could one of my damane do it for me? I mean, for YOU, with me acting as your agent?

ISHAMAEL: [regarding her suspiciously] I'm not sure you have Need-To-Know, woman ... [lets his voice trail off as he gauges her reaction, which is nonexistent except for a slight increase in the rate of her blinking. Very indicative! He decides to make sure she won't do anything that could, er, inconvenience him] But what the heck, I'll give you a few clues. It requires three male channelers, three female channelers, one woman of the highest Blood in the world stripped naked and bound hand and foot as the ritual commences, three Myrdraal, one seal to the Great Lord of the Dark's prison, a billygoat, a live fangfish, and an apple pie. Please don't ask me for the details of how these items are meant to interact together to activate the statue, because even a man of my depraved background finds it disturbing to talk about, especially right before dinner.

SEANCHAN: [turning pale] Oh ... well in that case, I certainly won't do anything ... rash ... if I happen to gain custody of the statue. It sounds as though it could be ... undignified.

ISHAMAEL: [grinning] Are you SURE you aren't getting eager to try and control all that power? As my agent, of course? I could lend you the Myrdraal and the male channelers, and if you scrape up a few damane and the other things, you could take a crack at it! Of course, I don't know where you would get a Woman of the Blood ...

SEANCHAN: [rising hastily] No, no, I think I've already taken up more than enough of your valuable time, Great Lord!

ISHAMAEL: Good night, Suroth. Pleasant dreams! [Makes a mental note to make sure she dreams all night about the three Myrdraal, the fangfish, the apple pie, and so forth, to insure that she WON'T get fancy ideas about using the statue to mount a Hostile Takeover of his own position as Acting CEO]

Part 4: White Cloaks

[SETTING: Ishamael's office as Acting CEO of the Darkfriends, in the absence of the Chairman of the Board, Mister Great Lord of the Dark himself! (His friends call him "Great Lord" for short). Or at least, this is the T'A'R manifestation of that office, since Ishy is still bound in the flesh for the time being.]

[The Darkfriend Station Chief from Amador enters the office. He is swathed in black, including a long, loose cloak, so that any other Darkfriends lingering in the foyer outside don't get too many clues about his real identity. He carries himself with an arrogant stride which suggests he considers himself superior to the lot of them put together!]

ISHAMAEL: How go things in the Fortress of Light, lackey?

WHITECLOAK: Quite well, sir. It is still considered proof that a person is a Darkfriend himself if he (or she) does any of the following:

ISHAMAEL: [blinking] How did that last item get on the list?

WHITECLOAK: Oh, Pedron Niall's predecessor was a real bluegrass and country/western fan, and tolerated no dissent! He claimed that certain other forms of music, such as rap, were tools of the Dark One, meant to brainwash people into forsaking the traditional values, whatever that was supposed to mean.

ISHAMAEL: [under his breath] Wonder how he figured that one out? Good thing he's dead now. [He shrugs and snickers for a moment] With all that to keep them busy, the Hand of the Light's chances of catching any REAL Darkfriends are fairly scarce.

WHITECLOAK: [regretfully] Actually, Great Lord, they DO get a few each year. Some of our comrades are, to put it bluntly, STUPID. And occasionally I find it necessary to put to the Question a few of our own organization, captured by myself (but always choosing ones who do not know who I really am) to maintain my own high standing among my order.

ISHAMAEL: [waves his hand to dismiss the matter] You can't make an omelet without dropping a few eggs on the floor, as the old saying goes. By the way, just how DO you go about torturing a really stubborn case?

WHITECLOAK: Well, if the usual beatings and brandings don't do it, we have more insidious methods. Pulling out their fingernails and toenails, carving scars on their faces if they have considered themselves attractive previously (especially women), sleep deprivation, keeping them half-starved, tying ropes around sensitive bits of their bodies, tight enough to cut off circulation ... it varies.

ISHAMAEL: [shaking his head] BO-O-O-ORING! Now, back in MY day, if some of MY loyal fanatics wanted to get the truth out of someone, assuming none of them could channel to use simple Compulsion, they'd start by rounding up his wife and kids, or whatever loved ones he had, and asking him which one he wanted fed to the Trollocs! If he refused to pick one, they'd pick TWO instead! Then he got to watch the Trollocs fricassee them ... now THAT was a method that got results! None of this wimpy "We're going to use the thumbscrews now!" junk, no, we went for true EMOTIONAL torture! [Ishy breaks off and sighs profoundly] They just don't make really RUTHLESS torturers anymore! Funny how much I miss those days. Are the fanatics getting saner, or am I just getting crazier?

[Whitecloak starts to open his mouth to try and frame an appropriate response]


WHITECLOAK: [sighing] Yes, Great Lord. Er ... what are my orders now?

ISHAMAEL: Oh, just carry on as usual for the time being. Encourage Pedron Niall (as best you can) in his dreams of reestablishing the nation of Almoth under Whitecloak Rule; it will give him something to keep him busy until the Seanchan arrive in that very region and kind of mess up all his schemes. Perish the thought that he should find something PRACTICAL to do with his legions, such as lending them to the Borderlanders for use in crushing my major offensive at Tarwin's Gap two springs from now! If he ever figured out who his worst enemies really are, I'd have a fight on my hands! But if he goes meddling with the disputed zone between Tarabon and Arad Doman, he'll be no trouble to my own, much more intricate plans, despite his military brilliance.

WHITECLOAK: Yes, Great Lord!

ISHAMAEL: On your way out, Bors, send in the Tinker who's waiting to see me, will ya?

Part 5: Tinkers

[SETTING: Ishamael's office as Acting CEO of the Darkfriends, in the absence of the Chairman of the Board, Mister Great Lord of the Dark himself! (His friends call him "Great Lord" for short). Or at least, this is the T'A'R manifestation of that office, since Ishy is still bound in the flesh for the time being.]

[Wearing BRIGHT clothing below a black silk mask, the Tinker Darkfriend Chief enters. Hard to call him a "Station Chief," since (unlike most of his peers) he is NOT "stationed" in any single spot, such as the capital city of a great nation. But the rank is equivalent. Whenever his band crosses paths with another one, he hands out new orders from Ishy and the Darkfriend agents of the other band deliver their reports on what they've seen and done since their last chance to report.]

ISHAMAEL: Welcome, welcome! Tell me, how are things going with the Traveling Folk?

TINKER: Well, Great Lord, they still follow the Way of the Leaf. No violence against humans, no violence against animals, vegetarian diet, etc.

ISHAMAEL: [rubbing his hands together] Yes, yes, very good ... how's the recruiting been going?

TINKER: [apologetically] Not so well, Great Lord. Only a handful of young people join the caravans each year, hoping to escape the violent troubles of the world.

ISHAMAEL: Blood and bloody ashes! I kept hoping that if I ordered Darkfriends and such to leave the Tinkers alone for 3400 years or so, they would be able to convert a substantial portion of humanity to their idiotic teachings! Especially when I bent over backwards to let them PROSPER in the Trolloc Wars by giving my Trollocs strict orders - "If a caravan of a hundred of the Travelling Folk is two miles from you, and off in another direction you can see one lonely farmhouse that probably only has 6 or 8 people to eat, GO FOR THE FARMHOUSE EVERY TIME!" The point, of course, was to give the Tinkers a sense of false security, and make them think that if they leave the world alone then the world will leave them alone [snicker]. I dared dream that pacifism, as it became clear that it kept you alive when Shadowspawn were ravaging your neighbors, migh convert as much as ... ten percent of the populace? I LOVE dedicated pacifists, you know! Preferably with salt and pepper! They are one group we can count on to pose absolutely no threat whatsoever at Tarmon Gai'don, and we can use them as herd animals for the Trollocs afterward!

[Tinker is listening politely]

ISHAMAEL: [shaking his head to get back to the topic] Well, that doesn't matter now. Your band is currently over along the border between Shara and the Waste, correct?


ISHAMAEL: Okay, linger there for another ... . just a minute, I have to check my notes to get the exact timing. Where did I put that file folder?

[Starts to rummage through papers on his desk. He is somewhat hampered by the fact that, as we have seen demonstrated in TFOH and LOC when people were ransacking Elaida's study, or the T'A'R reflection of it rather, papers tend to appear and disappear without warning when you're in the Dream]

Hmm ... . my Jain Farstrider file ... no, no, that's old hat. He delivered his warning about 15 years ago ... . then there's the folder labeled "And a doom yet to come!" No, that's the Seanchan matter ... What's this? [Opens an envelope and reads aloud] "Dear Elin Morin: Caught as I am in a vacuole, I am only able to post these letters once every 550 years (from your point of view), but despite everything they said in the newspapers, I STILL don't believe you had anything to do with opening that nasty bore! And it's just sheer coincidence that I happened to end up caught in this nasty fluctuating long-term vacuole prison right after I told you I had found a better way to reseal the Bore to the Dark One's Prison than the Seven Seals proposal that Lews Therin was tossing around! Have you found a nice girl and settled down yet? Do you remember to carry an umbrella when it looks as if it might rain? You were always such a fragile boy ... your loving Mother." [shakes his head] WRONG FILE! Dear old mother, I must remember to do something special for her when it's safe to let her out (she being even stronger in the Power than I am!) I know! I'll give her a personal introduction to the Boss and ask him to give me permission to merely still her and put her to work in my kitchen! When I think how long it's been since I tasted her apple pie ... [looks around at his scattered papers helplessly] Now, what was I looking for again?

Ah, HERE we are! At last, the correct file! Ah yes, Operation "Lay it on THICK About the Eye of the World Being in Danger, Part B!" Hmmm ... a party of Maidens to be challenged to invade the Blight on such a day, scheduled to arrive outside a Trolloc camp on THAT day, Myrdraal have orders to leave them alone and pretend not to notice them, while LOUDLY talking back and forth about my plans for the Eye of the World ... let the Maidens get a good head start heading back south into the waste, then send the Trollocs after them ... give the Trollocs orders to leave at least one wounded Maiden alive as they see the dust of a Tinker caravan approaching on the horizon ... [He does some hasty calculations of travel times for Aiel Maidens and Tinker Caravans on his faithful map of the Waste, the only such map in existence] All right, linger on the outskirts of Shara for another three months and five days, then come due west, at least a hundred miles south of the border between the Waste and the Blight. You will find something ve-e-e-e-e-ry interesting about halfway across. Pay careful attention, and be sure to tell people about it!

TINKER: Yes, Great Lord! Three months and five days it shall be!

ISHAMAEL: [looking thoughtful] Say, do the young women in the Tinker bands still do those .... interesting ... dances?


ISHAMAEL: I'm glad I arranged for them to learn those things from some hedonistic Darkfriends about 2500 years ago ... livens things up. I might even drop in one night incognito and watch the girls in your band [AHEM], just to make sure that they are still up to the high standard of performance I envisioned for them. Those lewd dances were meant to be a MAJOR recruiting tool in persuading farmboys to become pacifists ...

TINKER: Er, yes, Great Lord. I'm sure you'd be most welcome ...

ISHAMAEL: First I have to get back the full use of my regular body *sigh*. Of course, this trip will go on my business expense account, as opposed to being marked off as vacation time, since it's STRICTLY for professional reasons!

TINKER: [keeping his face straight by a truly remarkable use of willpower] As you say, sir!

ISHAMAEL: That's all for now. On your way out, Davey, send in the Tairen who's waiting to see me.

[NOTE: I had to break down and invent a name. We've only met a bare handful of Tinkers by name - the members of Raen's travelling band, including Aram who is now Lost to them - and I don't think any of 'em were Darkfriends. Nor would it be terribly funny to suggest that one of them was, even for satirical purposes. So I gave up and invented someone. Please assume that this is the Tinker who attended the "Darkfriend Social" (as we sometimes call it) in the Prologue of TGH. ]

Part 6: Tairens

[SETTING: Ishamael's office as Acting CEO of the Darkfriends, in the absence of the Chairman of the Board, Mister Great Lord of the Dark himself! (His friends call him "Great Lord" for short). Or at least, this is the T'A'R manifestation of that office, since Ishy is still bound in the flesh for the time being.]

[As we open, Ishamael is standing on his desk with his back to the door, one hand pressed over his heart, orating. Tairen enters behind him. A fairly tall woman, robed and veiled so that one cannot see much of her features.]

ISHAMAEL: My dear brothers and sisters of the Chosen, it is with humble gratitude that I accept the title of Nae'blis from the hand of our revered Great Lord of the Dark. I scarcely know what to say. Surprised as I was, I fear I have no fancy speech prepared, but will merely share my first reaction with you ... straight from the heart! Never did I expect such an honor, yet it is comforting to reflect upon this reward for the millennia of faithful service that I gave without any thought of my own comfort, while CERTAIN OTHER PARTIES were sleeping soundly here in Shayol Ghul, too lazy to bestir themselves and -

TAIREN: [clearing his throat] Er, Great Lord?

ISHAMAEL: [spinning around to see who's there, and - is it possible? - he almost seems to be blushing!] What? Oh, hello! Come on in! I was just practicing my acceptance speech for when the Great Lord is sufficiently free to begin issuing rewards for faithful service ... as a wise man once said, "Sounding spontaneous is mainly a matter of careful reparation."

TAIREN: [politely] As you say, Great Lord! But you wanted to ask me some questions?

ISHAMAEL: [seating himself behind his desk again] How goes the Great Work in Tear?

TAIREN: Well, we still have the STRONG tradition that the man who wields Callandor will be our rightful ruler ...

ISHAMAEL: Good, good ... I must make sure there are no witnesses when the Dragon gets it. Then I take it away from him, show myself to the High Lords of Tear and announce I'm the Dragon Reborn, and that's all she wrote!

TAIREN: Also, we permit no woman to channel within our borders. If an Aes Sedai comes (and we can usually recognize them as such, by the ageless face) she is permitted to travel to and fro, but always with a few men watching her. Any sign of channeling and she's in trouble!

ISHAMAEL: Excellent! If only more nations (besides the Amadicians, who take it even farther) could be brought to share that viewpoint about channeling being too dangerous to allow!

TAIREN: When you are free in the flesh, Great Lord, will you joining us in Tear? As a High Lord, perhaps?

ISHAMAEL: [after pondering the idea for a moment] No, no, I think I'll let Be'lal do all that. Good old Be'lal, always thought he was so tricky ... "Netweaver," he called himself. As if his old schemes did him the least bit of good in the end! I was the only one whose precautions were adequate to keep me from spending the next three millennia in a coma when everything went wrong! Yes, I'll suggest that since he was KNOWN as the Netweaver, and since Tairens are really obsessed with the fishing industry (which is dependent upon weaving lots of nets and knowing what to do with them) that he OUGHT to install himself at Tear because it will be such an OBVIOUS place for the Netweaver to go that it will be the last place anybody looks! That's exactly the sort of meaningless doubletalk that Be'lal will always fall for. I can read him like a book:)

ISHAMAEL: [shaking his head as if catching himself before he says too much] All right, get out of here, Alteima. On your way out, send in the black-veiled Aiel who's lurking outside, will ya?

[Alteima exits]

ISHAMAEL: [muttering to himself] No need to tell her what Callandor REALLY is, besides the proof that one is the Dragon Reborn! Be'lal will probably get the point, but I'll urge him to toy with the Dragon Reborn while urging him to grab it! "Go on, grab it! I dare ya! I double dare ya! For sentimental reasons, I'll give you one little chance to save yourself!" Of course (I'll tell him) the idea is to have the Dragon pull the blasted thing out of those wards that nobody else can penetrate, and then kill him and take it away from him! Frankly, I figure odds are Be'lal will take his cat-and-mouse game too far and get killed (if the Dragon can't handle it, I'll do it myself!), but then I'll balefire the Dragon, grab the sword, and be king of the world!

[Struck by a sudden thought, he starts scribbling notes] Hmmm ... logically, any other male Forsaken would also want to get his greasy little hands on Callandor ... I must find alternatives to distract them all. For Sammael, for instance, I might recommend he settle in Illian, whose capital city is (arguably) the richest in the world! Sammael never was imaginative, he'll probably go for it. Come to think of it, on the rare occasions when he DOES get creative, he usually messes everything up. Why, I think if the Dragon Reborn was facing him in single combat, Sammy Boy would probably do something totally brainless like Gate to Shadar Logoth and hope for that soul-drinking mist to get the Dragon before it got him! (Shakes his head) Nah, I exaggerate. Even Sammy wouldn't be THAT much of a fool ... I'm just fantasizing again.

Part 7: Aiel

[SETTING: Ishamael's office as Acting CEO of the Darkfriends, in the absence of the Chairman of the Board, Mister Great Lord of the Dark himself! (His friends call him "Great Lord" for short). Or at least, this is the T'A'R manifestation of that office, since Ishy is still bound in the flesh for the time being.]

[Aiel enters. She is naturally wearing cadin'sor and a black veil to conceal her features. Let's face it, she knows perfectly well that never in a million year would Ishamael be AFRAID of a single nonchanneler even if she had her veil drawn up as if ready for battle. He'll understand she just didn't want to run any risk of being identified by the crowd out in the waiting room.]

ISHAMAEL: Welcome! How goes the Great Work in the Three-fold land?

AIEL: Fairly well ... we have not yet been able to make the custom of gai'shain become PERMANENT instead of for a single year, but we keep trying! There's a woman named Sevanna, the young bride of the Shaido clan chief, who, while not one of us, is receptive to certain quiet suggestions. She is currently trying to identify which of two brothers is likelier to survive the passage through Rhuidean so that when her aging husband dies, she will be prepared to retain a position of power in the new regime.

ISHAMAEL: Still young, you say? Good! Gives us plenty of time to plant the idea of changing the gai'shain rules, if opportunity arises ...

AIEL: On the bright side, occasionally trespassers in the Three-fold Land (or peddlers and such who were welcome to pass through, but then were caught stealing or committing other major crimes) are sold into slavery at the Sharan border. Little by little, we are making the thought of slavery more acceptable to the Aiel mentality.

ISHAMAEL: [rubbing his hands together with glee] Aw, sweet slavery! The Seanchan fell for it, the Sharans fell for it, the Aiel are teetering on the brink ... slavery always sounds like a wonderful idea, unless you think you're liable to end up as the one in chains instead of the one holding the whip and giving orders! If only I could figure out how those idiots west of the Dragonwall and east of the Aryth Ocean have managed to completely avoid the idea of human beings as property under any circumstances. Have they no imagination?

AIEL: I wouldn't know, Great Lord. We still keep music very scarce ... no man of my people would dream of singing anything whatsoever, except battle chants or the occasional funeral dirge. Unless of course he's a warrior and is taken gai'shain by a Maiden, in which case they teach him to sing other things for their amusement. A few musical instruments are used, but people don't generally sing along ...

ISHAMAEL: I swore I would wipe out folk music if it was the last thing I did! Among the Aiel, I appear to have just about achieved it. That still leaves other cultures to shred, but it's a start! Gives people too much hope for the future, too much insight into the problems of their ancestors, and otherwise makes them THINK too much ... but battle chants are just plain STUPID! Glorifying slaughter ... just the thing to make them run headlong into a hopeless battle. Is is the society of Stone Dogs who have already sworn an oath "never to retreat"?

AIEL: That's the ones.

ISHAMAEL: [chuckling to himself] Amazing the things mere mortals will fall for, if you convince them it makes them something Elite, much better than the fools around them! By the way, what is the current viewpoint of the Aiel toward the Cairhienin?

AIEL: The very viewpoint you so strongly encouraged, Great Lord! If a wetlander king broke the old oaths and chopped down Avendoraldera, then ALL the men, women, and children of his land should be treated as oathbreakers and treekillers! The guilt falls upon ALL of them if their leader neglected his duty!

ISHAMAEL: And how do the Taardad feel about the way their former clan chief, young Janduin, neglected HIS duties? First by letting a pregnant woman stay west of the Dragonwall when she should have been sent back to safety by all custom; second by abandoning his responsibilities as clan chief after she died, and just walking away? Do all Taardad feel shamed and guilty because of this?

AIEL: [very firmly] Of course not! Totally different situation! A Clan Chief’s actions do NOT affect the moral condition of the other members of his clan! Each Aiel is responsible for his (or her) OWN choices, and no one else’s, but wetlanders are all tarred with the same brush!

ISHAMAEL: [laughing long and hard] Hypocrisy is such a BEAUTIFUL thing to see, don’t you agree?

AIEL: On that note, I should add that with every generation the dicates of ji'e'toh grow a little heavier to bear. Just as an example, for quite some time it's been a grave insult, tantamount to a challenge to a duel, to mention a man's mother-in-law or father-in-law to him if he didn't raise the subject first. Such a stupid little rule, so easily broken by mischance ...

ISHAMAEL: One of these days we shall finally achieve my dream ... a system of "honor and obligation" which is SO massively complicated, so out of touch with reality, that it will be IMPOSSIBLE for any normal adult Aiel to get through a single day of normal social interaction without breaking at least ONE rule! At that point, they will hopefully toss the whole system in the rubbish heap and say, "Heck with it, I QUIT! Who needs honor and obligation anyway?"

[AIEL maintains a discreet silence.]

ISHAMAEL: Don't you agree?

[More silence]

ISHAMAEL: [sharply] What's wrong? You don't think it will happen?

AIEL: [tentatively] Great Lord, I'm not sure you properly appreciate how STUBBORN my people are about sticking to a tradition for better or for worse, once it's been accepted. If they all entangled in blood feuds with one another simultaneously, they will STILL be true to their proud warrior traditions as a matter of pride!

ISHAMAEL: [starts to snap at her, then reconsiders.]

ISHAMAEL: [muttering to himself] Warrior tradition ... PRIDE in it ... yes, that's the ticket! Got to render a devastating blow to their self-esteem in order to soften them up for other changes! [Raises his voice] Do the Wise ones and clan chiefs still refuse to discuss whatever it is they learn on their trips to Rhuidean?

AIEL: Absolutely.

ISHAMAEL: Good! Then it will come as a TOTAL shock to the rest of the Aiel! As if it made a particle of difference what one's distant ancestors were doing over three thousand years ago, or even thirty years ago! Pacifists, sadists, plagiarists ... what's the difference? MY ancestors were mostly medical types who, instead of charging high fees for their great strength in Healing and thus becoming filthy rich very quickly, dedicated themselves (SHUDDER) to charity work among the poor and downtrodden! There's no money in that! But did I let THEIR insanity stop me from making a calm, rational decision to join the Great Lord of the Dark's forces and work my way up to Nae'blis? No, I OVERCAME my unfortunate family background for GOOD! [Pauses for breath, and the fires that were shooting three inches out of his eyesockets subside a little, back to a more (pardon the expression) "normal" condition)].

AIEL: [looking a trifle intimidated, as if she's not absolutely certain Ishy meant her to hear such a personal revelation, and is afraid to draw attention to the fact that it stil happened] Er, Great Lord, perhaps I should just be hurrying back to my body now ... before one of the dreamwalking Wise Ones happens to notice something wrong?

ISHAMAEL: Run along, Melindhra! I know where to find you when I want you! On your way out, send in the Cairhienin chap, will you?

AIEL: [shocked] ME? Speak to a TREEKILLER?

ISHAMAEL: [those flames are roaring out of his face again] JUST DO IT!

Part 8: Cairhienin

[SETTING: Ishamael's office as Acting CEO of the Darkfriends, in the absence of the Chairman of the Board, Mister Great Lord of the Dark himself! (His friends call him "Great Lord" for short). Or at least, this is the T'A'R manifestation of that office, since Ishy is still bound in the flesh for the time being.]

[The Darkfriend Station Chief for the City of Cairhien suddenly pops into existence in the room in answer to Ishy's mental summons. He is much taller than you would expect a Cairhienin to be, slim and with an arrogrant stride, with long hair, dark but graying in places, showing from under his black mask.]

[NOTE: Since Cairhienin, particularly their nobility, take Daes Dae'mar to a ridiculous extent, and a Darkfriend Cairhienin aristocrat is naturally even more subtle and more paranoid than the "normal" aristocrats of Cairhien, I feel it necessary to reveal the thoughts of this one, regarding what he THINKS he is communicating to Ishamael and what he THINKS Ishamael is REALLY saying to him. Whether or not his opinions are anywhere near the "truth" of the matter is for you to determine as you go along. These thoughts, which Ishy does not hear, will be contained between sets of asterisks (like this: *** Thought ***). On the other hand, to make it easier to distinguish at a glance between the Cairhienin's thoughts and Ishy's thoughts (I intend to show you a few), Ishy's will simply look like this: Ishamael [thinking: Text of his thought.]

*** My orders were to report in at exactly three hours after midnight. I was told to swallow a certain potion ten minutes before that time, then lay myself down in bed to sleep, and within ten minutes I would find myself in the world of dreams, at which time a Great Lord's mental summons would automatically convey my soul into his august presence. Of course, I knew that if I simply did EXACTLY as I was told in the note delivered anonymously, I would look like a mindless, simpering fool with no courage to do any real thinking on his own. On the other hand, if I delayed and was not in T'A'R until AFTER three o'clock in the morning, I would look (shudder) REBELLIOUS! Accordingly, I decided to take the potion ten minutes EARLY to show that I retain a bit of independence, but that I use this independence to more quickly and efficiently fulfill my orders, instead of trying to go directly AGAINST the intent of them! THAT should make the right impression upon whomever is about to interview me! ***

ISHAMAEL: [thinking, as he glances at the clock on the wall] Hmm ... he was supposed to be in T'A'R where my mental call would be able to reach him at about three o'clock, and it's only 2:50 AM and he's already here! This can only mean one thing: my pesky clock must be running slow again! That thing never HAS worked right ... supposed to wake me up from my last nap five YEARS earlier than it actually did! Better not mention the discrepancy to him; he'd perceive it as a sign of weakness that I can't even get my own alarm clock to function properly.

CAIRHIENIN: As you have called, Great Lord, so have I come. [He bows.]

ISHAMAEL: [impatiently] Yes, of course you have. How fares the Great Work in Cairhien?

*** Why did he use the word "fares"? Is there a double meaning here? Fair as in pretty, lovely, attractive ... no, that doesn't make sense. Fair as in blond ... very few blondes in Cairhien, and I can't think of any who are currently known to me as being part of the Great Work. Fair as in carnival, marketplace, festive gathering? Hmm ... when IS the next holiday festival, anyway? About two months from now ... probably not what he means. Fares as in the price of passage on coach or ship ... is he asking about the hidden costs of carrying out the Great Work? Or perhaps asking how much travelling back and forth I and my trusted agents find it necessary to do, to keep Darkfriends in other parts of the nation all working in perfect harmony? I'm not sure! I thought I was a master of Daes Dae'mar, but he is too ambiguous for me! Best to play stupid and pretend I think he meant exactly what he said, give him a simple answer with no imaginative features in it, and see how he reacts. ***

CAIRHIENIN: Why, the work fares as well as may be expected, Great Lord! It is a great benefit to us that EVERY man or woman of stature in our society has an untold number of informers, double agents, hidden plots, secret alliances, and so forth, all of which he or she keeps as confidential as possible (usually), so that the secretive nature of an occasional Darkfriend such as myself raises no eyebrows! And if strange persons of all classes of society seem to come and go from one or another of my houses at odd times of day and night, everyone assumes they are some of my spies and none think to pry much deeper into the matter!

ISHAMAEL: Good! After all these centuries of labor on my part to instill the Great Game as a vital part of life in your part of the world, I am relieved to find that the effort has borne fruit. Considering that first I had to convince the Aes Sedai to take the First Oath (which took a hundred years or so of campaigning on the part of the Black Ajah), THEN I had to convince them that if they couldn't lie, the only thing to do was to find ways to turn the truth inside out and paint it over with hypothetical questions and other rhetorical devices, THEN I had to convince them to invent the combination of painstaking attention to subtle details of body language placed together with the suspicion of every least word that comes out of another persons mouth, and call it "Daes Dae'mar", THEN I had to get them to export the idea to other nations ... but at least it caught on! If I had taken all that effort to design and market a new product, and found it was a big flop with the demographic groups I had targeted, I might actually be in danger of losing my position as acting CEO after the final results were tabulated and the Chairman of the Board was in a position to study them! But as is, I have another trophy to add to my collection (chortle).

CAIRHIENIN: [waits until it becomes clear that Ishy is done speaking] Er, yes, Great Lord. What else do you wish to know?

ISHAMAEL: How are the morals of the typical Cairhienin?

*** Morals? What on earth does he mean by "morals?" My daddy always taught me that "moral" means "don't get caught!" But I'll assume he's referring to what some of the old fuddy-duddies of other nations mean when they talk about "morality" - sexual activities, that sort of thing. ***

CAIRHIENIN: Well, premarital and extramarital love affairs are considered quite "normal," but it's in very bad taste to admit this in public conversation. And admittedly, the children of such (ahem) liasons are not permitted to inherit titles and such. My cousin Moiraine Damodred comes to mind as an example of that ...

ISHAMAEL: [snickering] Good, good! If there's one thing the Great Lord of the Dark DESPISES, it's people who take their marital vows (or ANY vows except those sworn to HIM) too seriously! It makes them get lofty ideas about "honor" and "family values" and other nonsense! But if they swear to be faithful husbands and wives and then start committing adultery, it should be much easier to get them to break MORE vows when other temptations are waved before their eyes, and more after that, and so forth, until they have no "conscience" left at all! Meanwhile, the illegitimate children are understandably fed up with a culture that, on the one hand, ENCOURAGES their parents to have affairs, but on the other hand, DOESN'T permit the children full inheritance rights, when the KIDS have done nothing wrong whatsoever! We can build on that resentment - if they're going to be treated like sinners (we say to them), why not ACT like sinners too?

CAIRHIENIN: Yes, Great Lord. Did I mention that we treat our hired servants like dirt, and NEVER expect them to initiate a conversation with their betters except when carrying out previous orders to do so, or, and Light help the poor servant who actually INTERRUPTS a conversation to interject some silly idea or question of his own? Corporal punishment (floggings and so forth) would not be unusual when such insolence arose.

ISHAMAEL: [rubbing his hands together] Well, it's not QUITE as good as hereditary slavery would be, but it's certainly a start! Who needs "civil rights" and "freedom of speech"anyway? Silly, outmoded ideas ... oh yes, and what is the Cairhienin attitude toward duelling?

*** He must know perfectly well what the rules are about duelling - doesn't he? But of course he isn't just referring to young fools who fight with swords in the street, he must have a deeper meaning in his question. Duels between the great Houses? Or perhaps duel should be heard as "dual," referring to the endless dichotomies of the world, such as - the most classic one - saidar and saidin? And he said that right after "slavery," and the closest thing we have to slavery on this side of the Aiel Waste is the Warderbond used by Aes Sedai on their bodyguards! So that's TWO subtle hints that he really wants to talk about something relating to the One Power and the White Tower! Is he asking how we would feel if an organization of male chanelers arose to counterbalance the White Tower? (Ignoring for the moment the question of the taint on saidin, since if this rival organization was sponsered by the Great Lord of the Dark then its participants would presumably be protected from the taint which he himself created?) But of course I must begin by answering the APPARENT question, and then only gradually sidle over into answering the BURIED one! ***

CAIRHIENIN: Young men of good blood (nobles, wealthy merchant families, etc.) frequently duel in the streets on the slightest pretext, claiming their honor has somebeen insulted. This is accepted without argument, most of the time, if there are witnesses that it was a fair duel and not a case of several people conspiring to murder a single victim. On the larger scale, however -

ISHAMAEL: [raising a hand in surprise] Larger scale? Who cares about a "larger scale" of duelling? I just wanted to make certain that the occasional dead body in the street wouldn't attract any special notice! Also to make sure the Cairhienin were still glorifying slaughter as I hoped they would, and killing each other off (even if only a small portion of their total population) before the Trollocs finish the job in a few years! Every able-bodied young man who dies NOW is one less to overcome at Tarmon Gai'don!

*** He cut me off so quickly ... he MUST not have wanted me to finish my response by mentioning blood-feuds between houses and the implications of "duality" with regard to the One Power and so forth. Could it be that he's afraid someone is eavesdropping? Hmmm ... best to play along, and pretend his question about duelling only meant "ordinary" duels, in hopes of fooling the unseen listener. ***

CAIRHIENIN: Absolutely, sir! You hit the nail right on the head! By the way, did I mention that Galldrian seems to be more security-conscious than I find expedient, such that normal methods of, er, penetrating his security arrangements are proving sadly ineffectual? But in the interests of placing a sovereign nation under Your direct guidance, perhaps something UNORTHODOX could be ... [he lets his voice trail off suggestively].

ISHAMAEL: [he understands THAT hint, all right!] I am NOT going to take action to help you wipe out Galldrian Riatin, just so you can (possibly, with luck) have the Sun Throne returned to your family's tender loving care, Barthanes! IF you can seize it yourself by conventional means, WITHOUT compromising any of our ongoing Darkfriend operations, then suit yourself, but I am NOT going to send Myrddraal or Draghkar into the Sun Palace at this time. Too many eyewitnesses, word would leak out! Most people south of the Borderlands don't really believe Shadowspawn even EXIST, or if they know better than that, don't think they will EVER bother anyone except along the border of the Blight, and I have NO intention of tipping my hand by letting the most powerful people of Cairhien become aware that Shadowspawn are a clear and present danger to EVERYONE, anytime I want them to be! It might actually cause the Cairhienin and other southern lands to unite long enough to send a large army north to Shienar as a matter of self-defense, and THAT would ruin my plans for punching right through the Shienars in their stand at Tarwin's Gap two springs from now, with an army of a a size such as has not been seen in the Borderlands since I tried my luck with Artur Hawkwing over a thousand years ago! And got whipped for my trouble too (grumble, grumble). He didn't fight fair, the filthy ta'veren!.

*** Hmm. That seems straightforward enough ... but what is the UNDERLYING meaning? Why does he refer to Artur Hawkwing? Is he suggesting I seize the Sun Throne, then try to conquer the known world as Hawkwing did, then he'll attack with Trollocs and I will let them through instead of stopping them as Hawkwing did, and we'll overrun the world and I'll appointed (gasp) Emperor?! ***

CAIRHIENIN: [bowing] I shall not trouble you with my requests on this subject again, Great Lord. You have said QUITE enough to keep my mind well occupied with other plans!

ISHAMAEL: Yeah, whatever. [Glances at his clock] Okay, kid, scram! About time for the Domani Station Chief to be falling asleep, if I've calculated the time zone changes correctly (WHY couldn't the Creator have made the world FLAT, so that we all used the same schedule?).

*** Hmmm. He SAYS he is going to talk to a Domani next, but of course no sane schemer would reveal any aspect of his plans to me, so it's just a cover story. He doesn't want to admit that he is rushing me out of his office so he can uncover and punish the eavesdropper who (logically) MUST be lurking about somewhere! He can't say that to me with the eavesdropper listening, so he had to say something else! I'll give him a half-wink as I go, and a slight smile, to show I caught the real point of his remarks! ***

[Ishy gestures, and the Cairhienin's mind is shoved back into his body, many hundreds of miles south of Shayol Ghul. The Cairhienin seems to be smirking thoughtfully and squinting one eye as he fades out, however].

ISHAMAEL: [rubbing his aching forehead] Is it just me, or is that man downright WEIRD?

[NOTE: This post assumes that, as in our world, when a man and woman in Cairhien (or other parts of the WoT) get married, there is mention of sexual fidelity, i.e. both of them are (in theory) swearing to not have sex with other people. It seems a fair assumption. I also worked in a reference to my strong belief that Moiraine is illegitimate. We know she was only Prince Taringail's HALF-sister, and TSR Glossary Entry on Moiraine says "Born in House Damodred, though not in line of succession to the throne, and raised in the Royal Palace in Cairhien." Now, given that Taringail's daughter Elayne is considered a possible claimant for the Sun Throne, it appears that Taringail WAS in line of succession after his uncle, Mad King Laman, died. If his half-sister was apparently not in the "line of succession," I take that to mean "could not inherit the throne, under the laws of Cairhien, under ANY conceivable circumstances, no matter how many of her Damodred relatives died first!" which would mean, in effect, "is not a legitimate heir born to a man and woman who were legally married." I admit this could be wrong, since we don't know any details of her ancestry (such as the exact names of EITHER of her parents).]

Part 9: Domani

[SETTING: Ishamael's office as Acting CEO of the Darkfriends, in the absence of the Chairman of the Board, Mister Great Lord of the Dark himself! (His friends call him "Great Lord" for short). Or at least, this is the T'A'R manifestation of that office, since Ishy is still bound in the flesh for the time being.]

[The Bandar Eban Station Chief suddenly appears in the room. Not surprisingly, she is tall and willowy, with copper-toned skin and long dark hair. She is wearing a very thin, clinging dress which technically covers her body (high neckline, and all that) but is tight enough that it doesn't exactly leave much to the imagination. In other words, she looks dead average by Domani standards (granted, their standards are downright PECULIAR!).]

ISHAMAEL: Welcome! How goes the Great Work in your homeland?

DOMANI: [sliding gracefully into Curtsey #413, the one which a properly educated young woman gives to a person who is of the opposite sex AND is clearly OLDER than you are AND is known to be your your direct superior in an organization (as opposed to merely "outranking" you in the sense that any nobleman outranks any commoner who is not actually living on the noble's lands) AND this person seems reasonably attractive to you (or so you want him to think) even though you already know that he has far better things to do than flirt with you, much less get involved in anything SERIOUS, but of course (the precise angle of the bend of the head suggests) you can't help HOPING that something romantic just might come of this meeting, if you play your cards right! That is the GENERAL impression which the body language of Curtsey #413 is meant to convey to any observer, although of course it would take considerably longer to discuss all the SUBTLE things which clearly set it apart from such closely related poses as Numbers 411, 412, 414, 415(a), 415(b), and 415(c) ... um, where was I again? Oh yes, I was originally going to have the closing brackets of this "stage direction" be immediately followed by the transcript of what Domani actually SAID verbally as she was performing this curtsey, a work of art in its own right, but this description has already gone on so long that I think I'll say 'heck with it!' and give the actual speech its own paragraph. Stay tuned!]

DOMANI: Great Lord, it is a GREAT pleasure to finally see you personally! [Her voice does all sorts of interesting things with the words "pleasure" and then "personally", as the result of long practice.]

ISHAMAEL: [Very matter-of-fact, he's acting as a drama critic here] Isn't that a trifle repetitious? Using the adjective "great" twice in one sentence? Wouldn't it be better to vary it by saying "a true pleasure", or even use a bit of alliteration instead and say "a profound pleasure"?

DOMANI: [looking SLIGHTLY embarrassed for half a heartbeat, before regaining her composure and putting on her best wide-eyed, eager-to-learn, and very-impressed-by-the-nice-man's-wisdom expression! That would be Facial Expression 136 in her manual of women's wiles that she studied under her mother's tutelage] Of course you are correct, Great Lord! I fear my youthful inexperience, combined with my unprecedented awe when facing your overwhelming presence, has led my foolish tongue astray!

ISHAMAEL: [smiling briefly] A much better performance that time! For a moment I was afraid you might have not paid enough attention to the lessons your dear mother taught you! She was a very useful servant to me, you know. Could wrap the typical man around her little finger with little more than a modest lowering of her eyes and a stroke along his cheek with one fingertip! And if she kissed him ... well, it was just unbelievable the things most men would do at her bidding in hopes of getting ANOTHER such kiss!

DOMANI: [looking mildly shocked at the idea] Oh, of course, I would NEVER venture to kiss a man the first time I met him! But if he seemed nice, and HE happened to kiss ME, I might try to be polite and participate as best I could, just to be ... sociable!

ISHAMAEL: [chuckles] As if any man ever just "happened" to kiss a Domani lass. Usually she's planned out every detail of the operation an hour ahead of time and knows to the split-second when he'll finally work up the nerve to "spontaneously" plant one on her lips. But you can drop the act now, kid; I'm not in the market for what you've got on display.

DOMANI: [hesitating, looking down on her empty hands] On display? I'm not carrying anything for the marketplace! [Sounds VERY puzzled and timid].

ISHAMAEL: [raising his voice slightly] You've made your point! You could give any litter of kittens a run for its money in a "cuteness" contest with that wide-eyed innocent look you do so well! Now sit down and drop the act, and let's get to business! [Punctuating his comment, those pesky flames come shooting out of what are theoretically his "eyes" and "mouth" since he's annoyed now.]

DOMANI: [Hastily seating herself, and from sheer reflex using Method of Collapsing Into a Chair #58, the one indicating a girl has been TOTALLY intimidated by the big, strong, forceful man who just barked at her! However, her tone does become less seductive and more businesslike, allowing for the fact that her soprano voice has a natural musical quality even when she doesn't work at it consciously]: Very well, Great Lord! What do you want to know?

ISHAMAEL: Well, I was wondering before you came in if Domani women could still tie men's minds up in knots at will, but I think that question's been settled already. Sure makes me glad I arranged for them to learn the basics of manipulative seductive behaviors, way back when, from some Darkfriend specialists I had in those arts. Glad to see the idea's caught on! How are some of the other programs doing, that you know of?

DOMANI: Well, sursa became the official dining implements as of a few generations ago, and now the typical Domani wouldn't be caught dead with a knife or a fork on his dining table (although knives are still used in the kitchen to chop up meat small enough that sursa can be used to eat the pieces)!

ISHAMAEL: Excellent! Anything that makes people from other cultures uncomfortable and embarrassed when they enter Arad Doman is likely to be a good thing for me! Makes it more difficult for them to think of Domani as being fundamentally the same as themselves, and contributes to a feeling of alienation instead! Besides, it's so much FUN to watch some poor fool try to manipulate those fragile little sticks for the very first time! Even we villains need a good laugh sometimes, you know! [He gestures for her to continue].

DOMANI: And with every passing generation, more and more of us come to believe that the Great Lord of the Dark (the Dark One, as they call him) is already DEAD and we need not worry anymore! Tarmon Gai'don is just a myth, the Borderlanders have held back the Trollocs for ages and will do so indefinitely, and talk of the Dragon Reborn is probably just a fairy tale!

ISHAMAEL: [rubbing his hands together with glee] At last, SOMEONE was dumb enough to fall for that line about the Great Lord of the Dark being DEAD! If only the idea had succeeded elsewhere ...

DOMANI: That's about it, aside from the way we've been squabbling with the Taraboners over the rights to Almoth Plain for the last three centuries or thereabouts, without ever really resolving anything.

ISHAMAEL: [nods] Anything that keeps them busy! It's better than having them both decide to divert their armies north to the Borderlands and offer to help with a counteroffensive into the Blight to try to DESTROY Trolloc tribes instead of just resisting them in a continual holding action (which all the Borderlanders will ever be able to do, unassisted!). I've said it before and I'll say it again ... if the human race ever got smart enough to realize that NON-Humans are the deadly enemy of ALL of them, they might actually be able to inconvenience me! Occasionally, as in the Trolloc Wars, they've BRIEFLY gotten the point ... but their grandchildren always forget it again and go back to killing each other instead! It ought to be REALLY interesting when the Seanchan and the Whitecloaks march onto the Plain from east and west, and turn it into a four-cornered power struggle!

DOMANI: [blankly] Seanchan?

ISHAMAEL: Never mind about them. Just remember that in a year or two, when word comes of strange invaders near Falme and perhaps points further south, all the influence of the high-ranking Domani members of our organization should be used to PREVENT the Domani monarch from sending troops south to help the Taraboners. Prevented for as long as possible, that is ... eventually the invaders will come to your doorstep whether you like it or not!

DOMANI: [humbly] Yes, Great Lord.

ISHAMAEL: [generously] You must have been your mother's prize pupil, Manon! In a month or two I may have someone for you to use your charms on for real, if you're so eager as you seemed, but in the meantime ... begone! [He gestures and she disappears].

[NOTES: It has been stated in the books that Domani women have catalogued 1107 types of kiss, and 93 ways to touch a man's face with one hand. I extended the logic to other poses, gestures, etc., but I obviously can't claim to have "invented" the basic idea from scratch.

Also, the comments about sursa (or chopsticks, as we call them in the 20th Century) should NOT be taken too seriously. I don't think they are really a tool of the Dark One. But thinking of all the trouble Nyn and Elayne had with the things in TSR, I decided to give Ishamael the credit for designing them. Don't take it personally if you're a chopstick user yourself :)

Also, it was necessary for me to invent a name for the Domani Darkfriend, since I don't think we actually the names of any such character in the books. I don't think we've ever had a single scene set in Arad Doman, actually!]

Part 10: Altara

[SETTING: Ishamael's office as Acting CEO of the Darkfriends, in the absence of the Chairman of the Board, Mister Great Lord of the Dark himself! (His friends call him "Great Lord" for short). Or at least, this is the T'A'R manifestation of that office, since Ishy is still bound in the flesh for the time being.]

[There is the sound of a skirmish outside in the reception area, but Ishamael doesn't seem to notice. He's leaning back in his swivel chair, feet up on his desk, crooning softly one of his favorite old songs from the Age of Legends. Even Ishy gets nostalgic for his carefree youth from time to time, y'know?]

ISHAMAEL: [singing softly] Well she got her daddy's car and she cruised through the ter'angreal stand now / Seems she forgot all about the Sharom like she told her old man now / And with the callbox blastin' goes cruisin' just as fast as she can now / And she'll have fun, fun, fun till her daddy takes the jo-car away!


[SFX is scripting jargon for Sound Effects, or I think it is :) ]

[The Aiel Darkfriend (okay, okay, I have previously conceded that her name is Melindhra) and the Ebou Dar Station Chief Darkfriend have just tumbled through the door, shattering it to pieces and passing right through without either of them being particularly hurt - something which is a heck of a lot easier in T'A'R, where if you really WANT that door to give away as soon as you crash into it, it probably will! Most James Bond films probably occur in T'A'R, given his uncanny ability to run right through a hail of automatic weapons fire (AK-47s and the like) on his way through an enemy stronghold, without his even being scratched! Oh dear, am I digressing again? Maybe if I hurry back to the story nobody will notice! Worth a try!]

[I should probably mention at this point that the Altaran character is female, about 30 years old, wearing a black dress with an oval cutout in the neckline, revealing part of her bosom. She had a black veil over her face originally - rather resembling that worn by Melindhra in her role as a Maiden of the Spear - but it's been ripped off in the fracas and Melindhra will now know "Altaran" if they ever come face to face again.]

ISHAMAEL: WHAT'S ALL THIS? [He gestures, and suddenly Altaran and Melindhra are standing rigidly, tied up in bonds of air, side by side, facing his desk without being able to move any muscles below their collarbones]. Mel - [catches himself. No need to give away one high- ranking Darkfriends' real name to another!] - AHEM! [clears throat]. Had a frog in my throat for a moment. "Maiden!" I'll hear your side first. I thought I sent you back home to your dreams in the Three-Fold land after our interview an hour ago?

MELINDHRA: Not exactly, Great Lord! If you will recall, as you waved me out you instructed me to send in the Cairhienin Station Chief next. No Cairhienin was visible in the lobby, so I waited for him to show up so that I could comply with your order before leaving - and also so that I could give him a scar or two for inconveniencing Your Malevolence by not being where he was supposed to be, when he was supposed to be there! [She tries to look as virtuous as possible, if that's the right word for a Darkfriend who wants to show her evil fervor in performing her duties].

[NOTE: If you aren't inclined to take her word for it about Ishy's boner in his last instructions to her, check the transcript of that interview for yourself.]

ISHAMAEL: [thinking to himself, silently] Hmmm ... that was the interview right before Barthanes came in ... oh, that's right! Barthanes keeps strange hours - seems to be insomniac, in fact - and I wasn't sure he'd be asleep naturally at the precise time I wanted to talk to him (my calendar is SO crowded these days!), so I had sent him a message to take a sleeping potion that would knock him straight into dreamland at such-and-such a time. When he passed out, my mental summons immediately scooped him up and brought him right into my office instead of just guiding him to my lobby, since I was ready to see him right away! And I forgot Melindhra was standing outside waiting to show him in. Oops! Let's see, on the one hand I could ADMIT I made an error ... but on the other hand ...

ISHAMAEL: Good thinking, Melindhra, but I fear the Cairhienin has not even fallen asleep yet. Apparently he has chosen to defy me, but the matter will be dealt with in my own fashion.

MELINDHRA: [sneering under her veil]: Well, what ELSE can one except from a mere treekiller? Loyalty? HA!

ISHAMAEL: I'll get back to you in a minute, Maiden. [Glancing at Altaran]: Okay, now let's hear from you, briefly. What happened when you arrived?

ALTARAN: Great Lord! I was summoned to your reception room tonight, and was told by one your servants to enter this office at a certain time! When I tried to do so, this savage tried to STOP me from following orders! Naturally I went for my knife, since she was evidently challenging me to a duel -

MAIDEN: [blankly] Duel? One duels with fellow WARRIORS, not with soft, weak wetlander women who have to half-expose themselves in public in order to win the approval of the men who run everything in the wetlands -

ALTARAN: [looking shocked, then amused] Is THAT the way you think it works west of the Dragonwall? Let me tell you something about the facts of life, you nincompoop! When I wear a dress like this, it's so that -

MAIDEN: [growling] "Nincompoop?" I suppose I COULD make an exception and duel with you after all if you REALLY want it that way! I don't suppose you know the way of the spear, but I'll gladly face your silly knife, or even two knives at once, with nothing but my bare hands in order to give you at least one chance in a hundred of SURVIVING -

ISHAMAEL: ENOUGH! [Fires shoot forth several inches from what an optimist would call his "eyes" and "mouth"]. It was all a lamentable misunderstanding, triggered by that pesky Cairhienin's failure to appear on time! Not in any way MY fault, of course, as my written report shall make clear if the Great Lord of the Dark himself ever inquires into the matter, but I would prefer that it be forgotten as quickly as possible. It's highly unlikely that you two will EVER meet again, in the flesh or in T'A'R, so forget it already! [He snaps his fingers and Melindhra disappears, her mind being zapped back to her own body somewhere in the Waste. Altaran suddenly finds her arms and legs free to move again as Ishy releases the weaves of Air.]

ALTARAN: Thank you, Great Lord. Please tell me one thing, as a personal favor?

ISHAMAEL: [eyeing her warily] Let me hear it, and I'll decide if you deserve to know the answer.

ALTARAN: Do we REALLY need to keep around those argumentative Aiel around AFTER Tarmon Gai'don? I appreciate that they are very dangerous warriors and it would be a great coup if we could somehow convince them that one of us was their long-awaited Messiah figure, so that their clans would hit the armies of the Light from the east at the same time the Trolloc hordes were sweeping down out of the north, but shouldn't we arrange to, ahem, dispose of them AFTER the Last Battle? They're such a bloodthirsty, stiff-necked, inflexible, trigger-happy breed that they might refuse to meekly accept the Great Lord of the Dark's supremacy and his right to give orders to everyone!

ISHAMAEL: [seems to mutter something, very softly, about the pot calling the kettle black, then replies more audibly] Fear not! One of their own prophecies states that only "a remnant of a remnant" of their people shall survive the battles which will soon be upon us, and if we assume that means "a third of a third" then no more than one ninth of their peak population will still be around after Tarmon Gai'don. Probably a lot less!

ALTARAN: [relieved] Thank you for your indulgence in answering my query, Great Lord!

ISHAMAEL: [sourly] I'm just too soft-hearted and tolerant for my own good. Ask anyone who knows me! (The handful of survivors, at least!)

ALTARAN: And now, what did you have to ask of me?

ISHAMAEL: [searching his memory for a moment] Oh yes ... well, I wondered if duels were still the favorite sport of the Altaran people, but I think we've already settleded that when you were arguing with the Aiel Maiden ... Your people are even more obsessed with such things than the Cairhienin, which takes some doing. Do all Altaran women still wear those, ah, interesting necklines? Narrow but plunging V-shapes, or else oval cutouts?

ALTARAN: Yes, Great Lord! The theory is that the marriage knife (once a girl has married) should stay right next to her skin for some reason or other, instead of being separated from it by a layer or two of cloth. And since it traditionally goes over the middle of the chest, dress styles must needs reveal a bit more of that area of a woman's anatomy than some cultures would consider "decent."

ISHAMAEL: Ah yes, that's right! That was the way I planned it, several centuries ago, when I decided to experiment with making Altaran women VENERATE their personal daggers and study hard to learn how to use them on people! I assume that men are often distracted by the spectacle of a woman's dagger (not to mention the, er, immediate background against which it is resting) to the extent that they don't keep track of other things as much as they should?

ALTARAN: [thoughtfully] Well, natives of Ebou Dar and other Altaran towns get used to our dress styles and stop looking, but it's a real plus when we're dealing with outlanders. Combined with the law that any woman killing a man is PRESUMED innocent UNLESS it can be proven that she had no "good" reason to kill him, it's been a great benefit in our work! If there's some man whom the Darkfriends of nearby nations such as Murandy or Illian or Amadicia want killed, they find a way to get him to voluntarily step over the line into Altara as part of a business trip or some such, and then I (or one of my fellow assassins) arranges for a quiet conversation with him, and while he's, er, distracted, I find an opportunity to shout something like, "You FILTHY man! How dare you make such an indecent proposal?" And I grab my dagger and kill him in "self- defense!" Witnesses have to admit that he was staring at me in a very improper way, and under the law, the court has to take my word for it that he actually made some very indecent overtures unless someone can PROVE I had motive to murder him, such as being mentioned in his will! Since the men I kill are always total strangers to me, nobody can ever prove I had a secret motive!

ISHAMAEL. [trying hard to look modest. He doesn't do it very well, but hey, who would have the heart to tell him?] I STILL can't believe the Altaran Lords and Ladies accepted that law when I proposed it - the idea that the woman ALWAYS gets the benefit of the doubt, even if she is KNOWN to have killed some poor male fool! After the First Oath of the Aes Sedai, that is perhaps my most brilliant achievement, even if I do say so myself!

ALTARAN: Did I mention that the marriage knife is given to the bride by the groom as part of the wedding ceremony, and he must formally ask her to kill him with it if he ever displeases her?

ISHAMAEL: [incredulous] NO!

ALTARAN: [smugly] YES!

ISHAMAEL: Good grief, I missed a lot during my last couple of naps! How did the men ever agree to THAT kind of rule?

ALTARAN: It was my great-great-grandmother's idea, actually. I'm not sure how she made it work, perhaps by appealing to the masculine pride of all the men in her neighborhood of Ebou Dar, saying, "Aren't you BRAVE enough to risk fighting your own wife if anything goes wrong? Aren't you STRONG enough? Aren't you SMART enough to treat her as a woman DESERVES to be treated?"

ISHAMAEL: Ah yes, it's marvelous the way the Macho Instinct can completely override the brain cells in the male of the species ... sometimes I allow myself to forget that (I being, of course, too wise and experienced to ever fall into such a trap). So what you're saying is ...

ALTARAN: YES! If a female Darkfriend marries a non-Darkfriend, and he eventually uncovers proof that she is involved with some sort of conspiracy (though he may not understand exactly what) she can simply kill him and announce that he offended her! Keeps security risks to a MINIMUM!

ISHAMAEL: I never dreamed we could get THAT institutionalized in your culture! Good work on your family's part! Anything else I should know?

ALTARAN: Well, there still isn't a central government worthy of the name. If it ever becomes likely to happen, we start assassinating enough important people to stir up trouble again! The current Queen inherited from her father, but he took the throne the HARD way, and I wouldn't be surprised if the same thing happens all over again after Tylin dies, since her only surviving child, Beslan, is somewhat dissipated in his pursuit of wine, women, and song, as opposed to political acumen ...

ISHAMAEL: I can guess what happened to his siblings. Keep up the good work! On your way out, Lucrezia, send in the Saldean representative, would you? [Thinks about that for a minute, in the light of the Melindhra thing]. But if you don't see him right away, don't bother to linger. Just relax and go back to sleep so that you'll wake up in your own bed at home!

[NOTE: Yes, I had to invent a name for the Altaran Darkfriend, since I don't think we know any such character by name.]

Part 11: Saldaean

[SETTING: Ishamael's office as Acting CEO of the Darkfriends, in the absence of the Chairman of the Board, Mister Great Lord of the Dark himself! (His friends call him "Great Lord" for short). Or at least, this is the T'A'R manifestation of that office, since Ishy is still bound in the flesh for the time being.]

[Ishy is reading a letter from one of his Myrddraal servants.]

ISHY: "Dear Ba'alzamon, Whoever You Really Are! A catastrophe of frightening proportions has occurred! My laundress at the Greater Northeastern Blight Laundry Company has RUN OUT OF STARCH! Without lots of starch to make our distinctive black capes hang down along our backs, stiff as a board and thus NEVER flexing when the wind blows all around us, we will lose a vital part of our cherished mystique, our foreboding reputation, our ... our IMAGE! Please assist us as soon as possible. Yours, Jekkanodh."

ISHAMAEL: Crybaby! Why, in MY day, you never saw a Myrddraal bothering us with a silly thing like that! I'll just tell him that if he NEEDS starch, he'll have to find a way to go out and STEAL some! Now, when is that Saldaean going to get here?

[The Maradon Station Chief enters the room. Although he's wearing a token mask to keep other Darkfriends out in the reception area from getting a GOOD look at his face, I'll admit that he has black hair, a full beard, and tilted green eyes. His nose, under the mask, is probably hawkish, near as we can tell.]

ISHAMAEL: Hello, lackey! Tell me, how goes the Great Work in Saldaea?

SALDAEAN: Great Lord, I have the honor to report that Saldaean women are still firmly convinced that a man doesn't really love and respect and a woman unless he shouts at her as he orders her around!

ISHAMAEL: [grinning from ear to ear] Amazing the things some people will fall for ...

SALDAEAN: And if a woman thinks a man is mistreating her (failing to yell loud enough, for example) she simply sulks and waits for him to come to his senses. On the other hand, she may try to bully him in order to see if he's such a weakling that he will do as she says instead of bullying right back and asserting himself like a real man should!

ISHAMAEL: In either case, she does all this WITHOUT giving him any hints as to what behavioral changes he is supposed to make if he really cares about her?

SALDAEAN: Absolutely! I'm not CERTAIN, but I think mothers all teach their daughters this litany: "I would sooner DIE than shame myself by discussing marital problems with my husband? Does he think I'm so WEAK that I can't cope with the trouble he's causing, except by begging him to stop causing it? This I vow: I WILL DIE BEFORE I SPONTANEOUSLY DISCUSS MY FEELINGS WITH HIM!"

ISHAMAEL: Oh, so they just expect the man to read their minds, figure out that they are upset, figure out why, figure out how he can fix it, and fix it, and all this time he is supposed to remain aware of whether or not the woman still loves him, since she probably never discusses THAT with him either?

SALDAEAN: That's the general idea. Of course, we Darkfriend males have a head start in that department - once we get married or otherwise develop a close relationship with a woman, we don't really CARE if she "loves" us or not! We just bark orders at her, REFUSE to let her bully us into anything, and get prompt obedience and the comfort of living with a woman who is CONVINCED that every day our actions speak louder than words in proving how much we love and respect her!

ISHAMAEL: [shaking his head in wonder] I swear, you guys have got it made! I've spent the past three millennia conducting these little social experiments to see how many crazy ideas I could get any particular culture to accept as gospel truth - a different mix in each culture, of course - but from the male standpoint, Saldaea just about takes the prize!

SALDAEAN: [curiously] By the way, Great Lord, did you also have something to do with forward our farmgirls are? I've never understood how all that got started, yet now it's proverbial!

ISHAMAEL: [winking] THAT would be telling! But if you assume that it all fits into my master plan, you won't be far wrong ... by the way, how are the female Darkfriends bearing up under these rules?

SALDAEAN: Oh, they manage to keep themselves busy! It is commonly agreed that spying on friends and enemies alike is the woman's role in a marriage, so they have the PERFECT cover story for their activities!

ISHAMAEL: Obligatory and socially acceptable "friendly" spying on one's own neighbors, liege lords, etc. - and they aren't even expected to keep secret the fact that they are doing it! If only I could have gotten that attitude instilled in other places (besides Cairhien - they take it for granted as a national pastime in that neck of the woods, even more than the Saldaeans do!). Ah well, it's better than nothing! The more people spy on each other, the more they involved in their own little power games instead of presenting a united front to all comers! Why, I had managed to get Saldaea so broken up into isolated self-centered communities this way that until the current Queen's reign, there were portions of the nation which hadn't even seen a taxman from Maradon in at least 15 years! They all fought Trollocs when they had to, but otherwise the nation was slowly disintegrating around the edges! [Rubs his hands together] Well, we'll deal with Tenobia if she becomes too much of a nuisance. As I understand it, she has such lofty expectations of any potential mate that it would just about require a male Forsaken, with hundreds of years of education and experience and the ability to use channeling (Compulsion, and so forth) to appear to be meeting her standards for mental and physical ability! Perhaps I'll suggest as much to one of my comrades when they finally get loose from the Bore again. Or maybe not . . [He shakes his head suddenly]. That will be all, Azak! On your way out, send in the Taraboner!

[NOTE: I invented the name Azak, or more precisely I stole it from a vaguely Arabian character in another fantasy series by another author.]

Part 12: Taraboner

[SETTING: Ishamael's office as Acting CEO of the Darkfriends, in the absence of the Chairman of the Board, Mister Great Lord of the Dark himself! (His friends call him "Great Lord" for short). Or at least, this is the T'A'R manifestation of that office, since Ishy is still bound in the flesh for the time being.]

[The Tanchico Station Chief suddenly appears in front of Ishamael's desk. He politely pulls off his dark veil, to reveal a perfectly transparent veil underneath it. Through this one, we can see his full moustaches and lined face.]

ISHAMAEL: [was starting to say something else, but changed his mind] I give up. I'm finally going to break down and ask ...WHY do you people wear those transparent veils? It can't possibly be for modesty, they don't conceal a thing!

TARABONER: Great Lord! You mean you really don't know?

ISHAMAEL: [patiently] No. Tell me.

TARABONER: Seven hundred years ago the current King of Tarabon had a brother-in-law in the veil-making business! So he made it mandatory to wear veils at court, and the fashion spread throughout the land. They are transparent because the thinner the brother-in-law made them, the less material he had to buy for each new veil. He made a bloody fortune before the King was finally killed in a palace coup. It was lead by House Jasenna, who were in the scarf-making business and had been outselling the veil industry three to one until the King interfered. They were unsuccessful in their efforts to make the new King switch the fashion from veils to scarves, however.

ISHAMAEL: [rubbing his hands together] Ah yes, the sweet scent of corruption in high places! Anything to make people lose faith in their government, that's my motto! I keep being afraid that one of these days they'll catch on and consider the advantages of representative government with strict term limits, but so far it hasn't happened. They prefer to let lifelong rulers lapse into senility rather than elect a new one, most times (chuckle).

TARABONER: As you say, Great Lord. What else can I answer for you?

ISHAMAEL: How's the level of corruption doing these days?

TARABONER: You need to spend bribes to get anywhere in a petition to the government. Also, many of our own nobles are engaged in smuggling operations as part of their standard business activities.

ISHAMAEL: Good, good ... a crime is always a good thing, from our point of view. The less they obey the laws of the land, the better we do at recruiting rebellious souls to our own organization!

TARABONER: Was there anything else?

ISHAMAEL: Just one more thing. Have you ever seen anything like THIS in Tanchico? In the displays that can be viewed in the Panarch's Palace, for instance? [He gestures, and a large circle appears on the far wall. It is made of heartstone, marked with the classic symbol of the Aes Sedai, the left half white, with the bulging part toward the bottom and the tail at the top; the right half black, arranged the other way of course.] It would be about five inches in diameter ...

TARABONER: [thinking carefully before he answers, to make sure he doesn't say anything he can't back up with evidence if challenged] No ... no, Great Lord, I've never seen a disk such as you depict there.

ISHAMAEL: Darn! I thought one of your Kings or Panarchs might have picked one up for their collections, over the centuries ...oh well. Off you go!

[He snaps his fingers and the Taraboner fades out of view. What Ishamael does not know is that even as he disappears, the Taraboner has something on his mind]

TARABONER: [thinking silently] Hmmm ...maybe I should have mentioned a similar disk on a table in the Panarch's Palace that has the black thing on the LEFT and the white thing on the RIGHT? No ...better not risk it. He was very specific about what he wanted, I shouldn't waste his time -]

[NOTES: This is my humble effort to explain why A) one of the seals was lying right out in plain sight in a museum exhibit in the Panarch's Palace in Tanchico, yet B) Ishamael, in 3400 years of being intermittently awake, never seemed to find that one (or any of the others). Of course, one was in the the Eye of the World and one was in Rhuidean, and those places had certain protections, evidently ...but what about all the others?
Re the dimensions of the seal: five inches in diameter is my best estimate (a wild guess, basically). If anyone has better data, please let me know.]

Part 13: Sea Folk

[A certain POD revelation about Sea Folk family life struck me as totally insane. Accordingly, it must be Ishamael's fault! Or maybe I'm just an old stick in the mud?]

[SETTING: Ishamael's office as Acting CEO of the Darkfriends, in the absence of the Chairman of the Board, Mister Great Lord of the Dark himself! (His friends call him "Great Lord" for short). Or at least, this is the T'A'R manifestation of that office, since Ishy is still bound in the flesh for the time being.]

ISHAMAEL: [musing aloud, though he is alone in the room at the moment] Now for a look at what is probably the strangest Station Chief assignment I have ever made (and I've made some pips!). I don't know what came over me that day, but they were so insistent that they did EVERYTHING together ... maybe I better fade out of the picture for a few minutes and see how they coordinate with one another when their superiors aren't around.

[Ishy makes a flamboyant gesture and two things occur simultaneously ... 1) He becomes utterly invisible behind his desk. 2) The Tremalking Station Chief materializes in the middle of his office. The male component of the Station Chief is a Sea Folk, dressed as a Cargomaster and about 45 years old. The female component of the Station Chief is also a Sea Folk, dressed as a ship's officer of some sort, probably in her late 30s. Yep, Ishy co-promoted a married couple to oversee all Darkfriend activities among the Atha'an Miere!]

HUSBAND: Hmmm. I don't see the Great Lord anywhere. What do we do now? How long do we wait?

WIFE: Why are you asking me? You outrank me!

HUSBAND: Yes, but I outrank you PROFESSIONALLY and IN PUBLIC. Here we are in private - I don't see anybody else in earshot, do you? - so that puts YOU in charge.

WIFE: This isn't "private" in the true meaning of the word. We aren't in our own quarters, after all, we just happen to be alone in somebody ELSE'S office. YOU'RE in charge!

HUSBAND: Oh no, you're not pinning responsibility on ME if we do the wrong thing in here and get the Great Lord upset at us! Nobody else can possibly see or hear us - I'm sure he has his walls soundproofed - so we're as private as we could EVER be back on the ship, or even alone on an island somewhere! YOU're in charge!

WIFE: Even stipulating for the sake of argument, and without making any real ADMISSION, that I might reasonably be considered to be the person in charge at this point if the circumstances were just SLIGHTLY different ... I feel that the Atha'an Miere customs are IRRELEVANT at this point. We are not here as citizens of our people; we are here as Friends of the Dark, and in THAT context we have EQUAL rank!

HUSBAND: If we were currently meeting with other Friends of the Dark, or a Forsaken or something of the sort, that would be true. But at the moment we are merely alone - in PRIVATE - in a room that just happens to belong to our superior, who is absent, so he doesn't count.

[Ishamael is curled up in one corner, his arms clutching his midsection as he doubles over, laughing silently.]

WIFE: [possibly hearing Ishy gasp for air] WAIT! I thought I heard something!

HUSBAND: AH HA! You gave me a direct order! Clearly you subconsciously agree that YOU are in charge and I am the one who has to obey!


[ISHAMAEL finally snaps his fingers and the squabbling duo disappear again].

ISHAMAEL: [after he finally catches his breath] Oh, that was fun! I knew the Sea Folk would never be very important anyway, so I decided to just have some fun with that "One outranks in public, the OTHER commands in private!" idea. Just to see what would happen ... must create some real tension in those marriages, deciding what's "public" and what's "private." The Sea Folk send all their channelers to the Tower anyway, so who cares what they do on borad their ships? I never was a good sailor, anyway ... always got seasick. Who needs sea power anyway, except for the occasional transoceanic invasion like Artur Hawkwing did against Seanchan? But that's a once-in-a-millennium situation ... considering the adamant refusal of Sea Folk to spend more time on land than absolutely necessary (they develop severe depression or other mental problems if you press the point) they're not worth much anyway. So I just relax by laughing at them!

[Ishamael rubs his aching head for a moment] It's getting late, but I still have a few more interviews to do. Let's see ... next come the Sharans, and then (I think) the Illianers.

Part 14: Sharans

[SETTING: Ishamael's office as Acting CEO of the Darkfriends, in the absence of the Chairman of the Board, Mister Great Lord of the Dark himself! (His friends call him "Great Lord" for short). Or at least, this is the T'A'R manifestation of that office, since Ishy is still bound in the flesh for the time being.]

[Ishamael is busy singing an old song from one of his favorite musicals of the old days . . .]

ISHAMAEL: [singing] Close your eyes and surrender to your darkest dreams! / Purge your thoughts of the life you knew before! / Close your eyes, let your spirit start to soar! / And you'll live as you've never lived before . . .

[Ishamael breaks off as his alarm clock rings]

ISHAMAEL: Lovely song - but that show had a ROTTEN ending! When I become Nae'blis, I'll insist they rewrite the final scenes to more properly reflect the way Intelligent Evil always triumphs over Naive Goodness in the long run! But now, I have another interview to give. It's 10 AM here at Shayol Ghul, so it ought to be about 4 am in the city where my Sharan Station Chief currently resides ... I sent her word to be sound asleep and ready for me at that time ... [He snaps his fingers to summon her]

[Nothing happens.]

ISHAMAEL: Huh? Let's try that again. [SNAP!]

[Still nothing]

ISHAMAEL: [fuming] There had BETTER be a good excuse for this!

[Several minutes later, the Sharan Station Chief finally materializes. She is female, about forty years old, and wearing a nightdress which changes into silken robes (although the colors keep changing) as she becomes aware of her surroundings and realizes this isn't just a dream]

ISHAMAEL and SHARAN: [in unison] What took you so long?

ISHAMAEL: [blinking, he's not used to this sort of thing] Was that an echo I heard, or did YOU ask ME -

SHARAN: I said, "What took you so long?" Do you know how long I've been trying to stay asleep so that I would be ready when you summoned me?

ISHAMAEL: [glancing at the clock on the wall, which tells him it's about 10:15 AM local time) Er ... a quarter of an hour?


ISHAMAEL: Come again? I told you to be asleep by 4 AM, and it's now 10:15 AM here, and your part of Shara is about six time zones away, so it follows that -

SHARAN: Don't you even know which way the earth rotates? My home town is six hours AHEAD of your clock, not six hours BEHIND! It's about 4:15 PM, not AM, back there! For over twelve hours I've telling all my servants not to disturb me, I'm still tired and need more rest, and they must think I've gone crazy since I don't have a fever! I finally had to swallow a sleeping draught to conk out again, and that was when you finally got me!

ISHAMAEL: [muttering] Pesky time zones ... how is a fellow supposed to keep them straight? I swear, when I'm Nae'blis first thing I'll do is introduce Universal Time. If that means some people wake up at sunrise at 3 PM every day, and go to sleep around 7 AM for the night, so be it!
Anyway, how are things going in Shara? Who's in charge these days?

SHARAN: Well, sir, an impartial observer would have a terrible time making up his mind on that issue. For instance, the nobility of Shara generally believe that absolute power rests, if anywhere, with male and female rulers in alternation. Seven years of the Sh'botay, followed by seven years of the Sh'boan, followed by seven years of a new Sh'botay, and so on. On the other hand, the merchant class look upon themselves as the rulers of the nation since they control all the money.
True aristocrats supposedly are disgusted by the thought of concerning themselves with anything so common as the Silk Trade, so the merchants have a good grip on it, although in practice they have to pay lots of taxes, naturally. But then the aristocrats turn around and spend most of the tax money on silly luxuries which only the merchants can provide, so the merchants do pretty well for themselves. The Peasants look at the chaotic bickering and falsehood on all sides and conclude that only the Pattern itself causes the continued stability of the realm, as exemplified by the death of each ruler after 7 years, always alternating between male and female.

ISHAMAEL: [nodding agreeably] And who REALLY rules?

SHARAN: [giggling at the Great Lord's little joke] WE do, of course! By which, I mean we the female channelers! We are the ‘servants' of the Sharan rulers, and naturally we make sure that each ruler quietly expires after the seven-year limit is reached.


SHARAN: Well, except in a mere handful of cases where a Sh'boan or Sh'botay has actually had the nerve to argue with the itemized daily schedule of whom to interview that day, etc., which we thoughtfully prepare for them! In that case, the quarrelsome monarch dies hastily and his or her mate begins a seven-year term a little sooner than they expected, and has to arrange a new marriage in a hurry in order to have a clear successor.

ISHAMAEL: I love it! How the White Tower would gnash their teeth if they realized that while they have ostentatiously tried to manage one end of the continent for over three millennia (and been losing ground steadily!), a rival organization of female channelers has been doing a much better job, UNSUSPECTED, at the other end! It makes me want to pat myself on the back ...

SHARAN: [beaming] My family has always appreciated the way you arranged for us to become the hereditary leaders of the channeling enclaves, Great Lord.

ISHAMAEL: I just wanted to make sure that when the Dragon is Reborn, he won't find a few thousand saidar users suddenly flocking to his banner from this corner of the world. What with the Seanchan sul'dam/damane teams trying to kill him, the Aes Sedai trying to gentle or brainwash him, and your own outfit following my orders (although most of you don't know that I give the orders in Shara!), he'll be hard put to find any sane channelers to support his claim! Admittedly the Aiel was a tough nut to crack, but I'll burn that bridge when I come to it. Speaking of which ... are the people well-prepared for Tarmon Gai'don?

SHARAN: Let me put it this way: these days, most people believe what our official histories say: The Trolloc Wars were a joke! There may have been a few nasty border skirmishes along the edge of the Blight during those 300 years, but nothing that ever meant true danger to the security of the realm (such as cities falling to the Shadow).

ISHAMAEL: [chortling] How quickly they forget! So when Trollocs move against the Sharans in FORCE for the first time in centuries, they will ... ?


ISHAMAEL: That's the way to do it. They'll take a long time just to get over the shock of seeing a real army of Trollocs coming down their throats, well-organized and ruthless! As one of my great role models once said, "The moral is to the physical in war as three to one." Of course, by "moral" he was referring to psychological issues of moral rather than high personal moral standards, but his point was valid ... [He shakes his head] Am I rambling again?

SHARAN: Absolutely not, Great Lord! Never did mine ears hearken to the words of a man less prone to pointless rambling than yourself! Indeed, a more concise and well-spoken man (one burdened with great authority, to make the comparison apt) it would be hard to imagine, even if one believes the ancient legends of the man called Silent Cal, or Calvidge. I might even say -

ISHAMAEL: [raising a hand hastily] I recognize that deception and flattery are the foundation of the "moral values" of your culture, but PLEASE don't overdo it!

SHARAN: Sorry, Great Lord!

ISHAMAEL: That's all for now. Go home. [Snaps his fingers again, and she's gone]. Now, where did I put my appointment book? Next up on the timetable is ... is ... egad, that's all there is! I postponed the other interviews until several months from now! I finally get some time off! [raises his voice] SHAIDAR HARAN! GET IN HERE! I WANT TO TALK TO YOU!

[NOTES: Most of the info about the Sharan culture is based on things stated in the novels and in the Guide. The precise attitude of the merchant class is something I invented, however. The bit about the merchants having most of the money, and being the only ones who have any intelligent ideas for investing it to make even MORE money, while the aristocrats consider haggling over a few coints to be beneath their dignity, is based loosely on my understanding - such as it is - of the setup in feudal Japan (and Japan stayed feudal until the mid-nineteenth century). A true samurai was not overly concerned with such sordid, worldly matters as making shrewd investments in foreign trading ventures, etc., if I have this right. (You will note that the samurai types no longer rule in Japan - the big corporations allegedly do that instead. Proves something about who had the smarter view in the long run, perhaps?) I have no particular reason to think this is the way it works in Shara, but I decided to invent a little data to make it more interesting :)

ilent Cal (or Calvidge) is a reference to the U.S. President Calvin Coolidge, also known as Silent Cal. It is said of him that one night at a banquet, a lady seated next to him said, "Mister President, I bet a friend ten dollars that I could coax at least three words out of you tonight!" Coolidge, never a man to beat around the bush, said, "You lose." Those two words were all any of the dinner guests heard from him on that occasion, if the legend is correct. Not a master of the social graces, perhaps, but certainly not a man who would bore you to death by monopolizing the conversation with rambling stories about himself :) Unlike Ishamael, in my interpretation of the character.

The thing Ishy was singing at the start is a verse from a song called "The Music of the Night," in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera. I always thought it would make a great theme song for a Forsaken, so I quoted a bit of it here. The Phantom ultimately died after the beautiful girl fell in love with the brave, handsome, aristocratic young suitor instead of the brilliant, mysterious, ruthless, charismatic, and hideously ugly fellow who had been manipulating her. For some reason, Ishy takes this sort of "happy ending" as a personal insult :) ]

Part 15: Grand Finale

[Ishamael has called in his trusted lieutenant, Shaidar Haran, to discuss things with him.]

ISHAMAEL: You know, Shaidar, I think all this paperwork and interviewing is starting to get me. I feel like I haven't slept in weeks!

SHAIDAR: But Boss, you've BEEN asleep the whole time! This is all happening in Tel'Aran'Rhiod, remember?

ISHAMAEL: Huh? I mean, of course I remember that! What do you think I am, crazy? But cooped up in this boring old office - it's just not for me. I gotta go outside and see of the lovely scenery I remember from the waking world.

SHAIDAR: You mean, like the majestic peaks of the Spine of the World ... or the Isles of the Sea Folk, so far south that they're always green because it never snows down yonder ... or maybe the fabled flower gardens of the Royal Palace in Shara?

ISHAMAEL: No, Shaidar, I mean something really INSPIRING! Like - - like - - like the outside of Shayol Ghul! The jagged black slopes, the rolling sea of grey clouds overhead, the flashes of lightning and the swirling of steam, the constant chill of the air ... ah, that's the stuff! There's no place like home!

SHAIDAR: If you say so, boss. I prefer a warmer climate myself ...

ISHAMAEL: Let's just take a look!

[They both disappear from the office as Ishamael Wills them to reappear out near the T'A'R equivalent of the forge where Myrddraal Blades are made.]

ISHAMAEL: Isn't it majestic? The whole place has ‘ominous' and ‘brooding' and ‘macabre' written all over it! If only Edgar Allan Poe were here to describe the place in a way that would do it justice!

SHAIDAR: I could go get him for you ...

ISHAMAEL: Never mind. He's dead, and his reborn soul probably went into some more relaxing line of work this time around than drug-addicted poet. It was before your time ...

SHAIDAR: [it's used to this kind of raving from the Big Guy] Whatever you say, Boss.

ISHAMAEL: Wait! Who's that?

[Not far away, a hooded figure has suddenly appeared, gazing at the sights of Shayol Ghul with a stance which suggests detached interest, rather than fear or admiration]


FIGURE: [turning around slowly] Were you addressing me, young man? [Calm female voice]

ISHAMAEL: [distracted by the question] Young? Do I really still look that young? Haven't had time to worry about it lately, these past three millennia or so. I was afraid the rigors of my position might have taken their toll!

FIGURE: You don't look a day over 800 years, tops!

ISHAMAEL: [glancing away, embarrassed] Oh, you flatterer!

SHAIDAR: [rolls its nonexistent eyes, and clears its throat, hoping to remind Ishy of what he was originally doing in this conversation] A-HEM!

ISHAMAEL: [sympathetically] Cold air getting to you, Shaidar? Better wrap your throat up with a scarf to protect it before you catch a nasty chill! By the way, Madam, are you one of my Black Ajah servants whom I haven't met yet, come to gaze worshipfully at the site of our Great Lord of the Dark's imprisonment?

FIGURE: Black Ajah? My goodness, no! [Does a double take] Light man, are you claiming to be a Dreadlord of some sort?

ISHAMAEL: [glaring] Are you out of your mind, woman? Do I look like a common Dreadlord? I am the acting Chief Executive of the Darkfriend Organization, Ba'alzamon!

FIGURE: Does that have any connection with Ishamael? A name hidden behind a name, or however it goes?

ISHAMAEL: [blinking] How would you know that?

FIGURE: Oh, I read bits and pieces in the Tower Library ...

ISHAMAEL: [horrified] You're an AES SEDAI? Here, outside MY Headquarters? [He hastily gestures toward Shaidar, who takes the hint and moves very close to the Figure, nullifying any attempt she makes to channel. She doesn't seem to notice; she's too busy staring at him with frank interest in the rare opportunity to observe Ba'alzamon firsthand]

FIGURE: [tosses back her hood, revealing the face of Verin Mathwin] Now that you mention it ...

ISHAMAEL: Why, you're a classic example of the ethnic type most prevalent in the land of ... er, in the land of ... don't tell me, I'll get it in just a minute ... [chews on his lip for a moment] Never mind, I give up! What nation ARE you from?

VERIN: [vaguely] I'm really not sure. I don't know if the Creator has even made up his mind who gets the credit for me, yet.

ISHAMAEL: [waving that aside] Well, it's been nice talking to you, but you understand I can't just let you go back to your body in the Tower and tell everybody I'm running around loose again?

[Verin turns, meaning to leave quickly - yes, I know you don't have to turn around and walk away from something in T'A'R in order to "leave" that spot, but Verin is extremely new at this dreamwalking stuff at this point! - and RECOILS as a lightning blast suddenly shatters rock just to the left of where she is standing, a piece of shrapnel from the explosion tearing a gouge down the length of her forearm.]

ISHAMAEL: Not so fast, little Aes Sedai! Just stay right there and nobody will get hurt! Shaidar, go round up what we'll need for the ritual.

SHAIDAR: You got it, boss!

VERIN: Wait! Before you kill me - or before you rend my soul asunder - or before you surround me with 13 Black Ajah and 13 Myrddraal and turn me to the Dark Side of the Force (oops, wrong series! I meant turn me to the Shadow!) - before you do whatever it is you intend to do, I have just one little question!

ISHAMAEL: One question? That doesn't sound so bad. I'll humor you. What is it?

VERIN: Did you know your face is on fire?

ISHAMAEL: [laughs] What kind of stupid question is that? Don't you think I would notice if I were on fire?

[Verin silently reaches into a belt pouch and pulls out a small mirror, which she holds up before Ishy's eyes so he can see for himself].

ISHAMAEL: [staring in horror at the fiery pits where he thought his eyes and mouth were still doing business as usual, all this time] AAARRRRRRRGGGGGGGHHHHH!

[Ishamael frantically slaps his hands against his face, trying to smother the flames. He only manages to scorch his palms as he starts running around in circles screaming]

ISHAMAEL: FIRE! Help me, I'm on FIRE! My face! My perfect complection! GET ME SOME WATER, YOU MORONS! Water! I need water! I'M BURNING ALIVE!

[Verin quietly tucks the mirror back into a pouch and then reaches down and yanks the T'A'R ring off of her own finger and throws it far away. As she does so, her dream-body fades away while her mind snaps back into its proper position in her body in Tar Valon].

SHAIDAR HARAN: Hang on, boss! Help's a-coming! [It looks around frantically for a bucket, and then remembers this is T'A'R, after all]. Bucket - bucket - ah, here we are! [A bucket materializes in its hand as it concentrates] Water - water - there's some! [It rushes over to a nearby stream and fills the bucket to the brim, then hastily transports itself through shadows toward where Ishy is still clutching his head and moaning].


SHAIDAR HARAN: HOLD STILL, BOSS! [It throws the contents of the bucket squarely into Ishy's face].

[Ishamael SCREAMS. It's one of those truly agonizing screams, the kind of scream you might scream as you felt your leg being amputated with a rusty hacksaw without benefit of anesthesia, as you felt your Aes Sedai perish if you're a Warder, as someone forced you to read the latest utterly pointless novel by Jackie Collins or Sidney Sheldon, or even the way you might scream as you got the news that Jordan has just changed his projections AGAIN and currently figures he can't possibly be done with the series until he completes Book 20 around 2013 - and if he dies before that time, he wants Terry Goodkind to finish up the series for him! Okay, maybe it wasn't quite as bad as that last item - how COULD it be? - but the man is definitely in pain!]

SHAIDAR HARAN: [looking blank] Hey, what's the big deal! It's only a bucket of ... [he looks around reflexively at the stream he got it from, does a double take as he realizes which stream that is (specifically, the stream of very dangerous liquid which the forgers use in putting the finishing touches on a Myrddraal blade, in case you were lazy and didn't reexamine the LOC Prologue first, as I warned you to do, but do you ever listen to me? Oh no, I never get any respect!) and finishes weakly] ... um ... water?

[Ishamael is rolling around on the ground in agony, but seems to be channeling the True Power like mad in an effort to shed every last drop of that "water" which landed in his face before it soaks through his epidermis and causes REAL damage.]

ISHAMAEL: That water came from the stream where the Forgers quench the blades they make for Myrddraal, you moron! Do you know what that can DO to a man?

SHAIDAR HARAN: [thoughtfully] Actually, no. I mean, my mother always warned me not to play in that stream when I was just a little cub of a Myrddraal, but she wasn't very clear on what would happen if I went and did it anyway. And I don't recall ever seeing anyone exposed to it before ...

[Ishamael finally decides he's done all he can for the moment, and rolls to his feet. If you want to know what his face looks like now, pull out your copy of TDR and look at the spine of the book. Toward the top is a grotesque face with burning pits where eyes and mouth ought to be. The burning pits had been there for ages, but at least now you know how the facial features of the mature, good-looking fellow Rand saw in his dream in TEOTW Chapter 14 came to look - sometimes - like the incredibly UGLY apparition on the TDR cover. And here you always thought Darrell K. Sweet had just made a terrible continuity error [just as a change of pace from his normal behavior, that is]. Aren't you ashamed of yourself for having such nasty thoughts about him? The truth was that he put that ugly face on the TDR cover as a special favor to me, in order to provide a mystery for me to explain in my own due time! And you thought I didn't have any connections with people that matter in the publishing business! But now you know better! I can also offer you a swell deal on the Brooklyn Bridge!]

ISHAMAEL: The mere touch of that liquid can be FATAL!

SHAIDAR HARAN: [rubbing its hands together with glee] Really? You mean you're on the verge of death even as we speak? Just staying on your feet long enough to deliver some final instructions and words of wisdom to your natural successor as the Acting CEO of the organization (which would be myself, obviously!) before you kick the bucket? I want you to know, boss, that you will receive a first-class funeral and I'll put fresh bones on your grave every single day (after I feed the previous owner of each skeleton to the Trollocs) as a token of my esteem! In fact -

ISHAMAEL: That's ENOUGH, Shaidar Haran! I'm going to pull through. After all, this is only Tel'aran'rhiod we're in at the moment, and I managed to recover myself quickly enough that I dissipated the dream-reflection of the water with sheer willpower, before it could do much more than distort my facial features a bit.

SHAIDAR HARAN: [dubiously] A BIT?

ISHAMAEL: By the way, Shaidar, how long has my face had that, er, fiery look to it?

SHAIDAR HARAN: For as long as I've been around to notice, anyway. Er ... that would be about thirty-eight years ... and the oldest Myrddraal and Draghkar I knew in my youth told me that it had been that way as long as THEY could remember, and so forth ...

ISHAMAEL: Are you telling me that my eyes and mouth have been on fire for GENERATIONS?

SHAIDAR HARAN: Could easily be centuries.

ISHAMAEL: Why didn't someone TELL me this before?

SHAIDAR HARAN [shrugging helplessly] We assumed you already knew! Since you never mentioned it, we figured it was none of our business.

ISHAMAEL: [shaking his head helplessly] I don't understand how this could happen. I live a clean, wholesome lifestyle - I certainly don't smoke, don't overindulge in alcoholic beverages, get plenty of fiber in my diet, restrain myself in the red meat department, watch my sodium and cholesterol levels, my blood sugar has never given me any cause to worry ...

SHAIDAR HARAN: On the other hand, you are the only living True Power addict in all the world. Could that have something to do with it?


SHAIDAR HARAN [unfazed] Boss, when was the last time you went, say, 48 hours without channeling a bit of True Power just for the thrill of it?

ISHAMAEL: Er ... ah ... let me see ... [Pulls out a pocket notebook]. Why, I recently went for a good 15 years without channeling it!

SHAIDAR HARA:N [holding one hand to its forehead with an expression that somehow says, "Great Lord of the Dark, please give me the strength to endure this nonsense!"] I meant, 48 hours of "normal" activity, i.e. when you weren't comatose in the Bore at the time and incapable of channeling ANYTHING!

ISHAMAEL: Oh. Well, why didn't you SAY so? Let's see ... fall of Malkier ... fall of Kintara ... War of a Hundred Years ... [flipping further and further back through his diary] ... Trolloc Wars ... oh, here it is! About 3000 years ago, around 400 AB, I could tell I was about to pass out and sleep for another couple of decades in the Bore as the seals tightened their grip on me again, and I went for 49.12593221 hours without channeling the True Power at all! Instead, I was frantically doing all the paperwork to make sure Darkfriends all across the map knew what was expected of them for the next few decades!

SHAIDAR: And in the three millennia since that time, you've never again gone 48 hours at a stretch without using the True Power?

ISHAMAEL: I suppose not. What's your point?

SHAIDAR: It's just that this seems like proof of addiction to me. You may recall that toward the end of the War of Power, the Surgeon-General announced that True Power contained many risky ingredients which could be disturbing to your mental and physical well-being ...

ISHAMAEL:Nonsense! When I channel True Power, I see, taste, hear, touch, feel, THINK more clearly than ever before! And that splash of "water" from the stream the Forgers use to make the Myrddraal swords didn't hurt me ONE BIT, do you hear? Now take dictation! I've got some brilliant new ideas to send out to my Darkfriends!

SHAIDAR HARAN: [producing pad and paper] Go ahead, boss ...

ISHAMAEL: This message goes to Paitr and Gode: if you meet a possible ta'veren/male channeler type, do not, repeat do NOT try to kill him! Instead, try to convince him that he has no chance of escaping my net and can only hope to win my mercy by surrendering quickly!

SHAIDAR: Got it. Next?

ISHAMAEL: Message to Mili Skaine: Find enclosed with this letter a dagger which will fry anything it touches. You are to use it on any possible ta'veren or male channeler with whom you may come in contact in the future.

SHAIDAR: Er ... come again?

ISHAMAEL: Am I not enunciating clearly enough for you?

SHAIDAR: Er, yes, but - -

ISHAMAEL: Quit wasting time and just take notes! After you wake up, write out these letters and post them to the appropriate places! I have a feeling the Dragon will be popping up within another year or two!

SHAIDAR: Okay, boss ...

ISHAMAEL: Attention to the Myrddraal who will lead the attack against whatever place it is we end up attacking in force, as soon as we know where the Dragon Reborn is: "Daughter of the Night, she walks again ..." [Ishamael dictates the entire Dark Prophecy, as it is sometimes called, that ended up on the wall in Fal Dara in TGH]

SHAIDAR: Boss, you WANT to tell them that Lanfear is free (once she is), that Luc and Isam were merged together in the Mountains of Dhoom, that -

ISHAMAEL: [ROARING, and those flames from his eyes and mouth shoot out a record 16 inches this time!] ARE YOU QUESTIONING THE JUDGMENT OF THE GREAT LORD OF THE DARK?

SHAIDAR: What's he got to do with it?


SHAIDAR: Oh, mother ... he's really flipped this time. [He says it too softly for Ishy to hear. Basically, he just thinks it]

ISHAMAEL: [seemingly becoming more normal] Also, have a couple of Gray Men on permanent standby. As soon as they find out where the Dragon Reborn is, at least one is to sneak into the area and shoot him. Ideally, shoot him when he's standing next to somebody more important, so that nobody will know what the target really was.

SHAIDAR: Er ... right.

ISHAMAEL: In case that doesn't work, remind me later to warn him not to overdo it in his channeling. The poor boy might hurt himself!

SHAIDAR: Come again?

ISHAMAEL: And when he enters the Stone of Tear to get Callandor, if he makes it that far, I want to balefire him right AFTER he grabs the Sword That Is Not A Sword! Got it?

SHAIDAR: Isn't it possible that Callandor could protect him from balefire?

ISHAMAEL: Not a chance! Nothing is immune to balefire!

SHAIDAR: Except Cuendillar?

ISHAMAEL: Why are you always distracting the Great Lord of the Dark with trifles? What does cuendillar have to do anything?

SHAIDAR: Well, I was just thinking that if at least ONE item is impervious to balefire, then others might also be -

ISHAMAEL: You know what I see here, Shaidar? A Negative Mental Attitude! You'll NEVER amount to anything in this organization if you don't learn that a Positive Mental Attitude is the ONLY way to go! Now repeat after me: Today only the first day of the rest of my depraved life!

SHAIDAR: [resignedly] Today is the the first day of the rest of my life.

ISHAMAEL: There are no failures, only lessons! We have nothing to fear but fear itself! If at first you don't succeed, die, die, again!

SHAIDAR: There are no failures, only lessons ...


[NOTES: Believe it or not, I've had a pretty good idea of where things were going to end up since shortly after I started outlining various installments of this series. After all, we all know that Ishy was stark raving mad in the first three books, as shown by his total inability to make a plan for dealing with Rand al'Thor and then STICK TO IT for any length of time. Yet, as I have attempted to show in these posts, I think he had been relatively sane for 3400 years or so prior to that time, at least as a strategist, given all the incredibly STUPID customs he was able to introduce into many different cultures in order to keep mere mortals as clueless as possible. Any villain who managed to run a Black Ajah for over three millennia without the rest of the Aes Sedai ever even admitting that such a thing could exist, much less taking ANY firm action to uncover it and destroy it in all that time (and there were ways to try, if they had ever decided to try), must be a veritable genius at camouflage and subterfuge.

By the way, I don't really agree with any of the three sentiments he expressed in his last speech of this post. Self-deception, I call it.

On Shaidar Haran: whether or not Shaidar Haran "existed" a couple of years before TEOTW begins is unknown, but I decided to assume he did, because I wanted to use the name of a Myrddraal here, and he's the only one whose name has ever been shared with us.

In (TGH: 41, 588, Disagreements, 497), Ba'alzamon (Ishy) said to Rand, "Fool! You will destroy yourself!" in an effort to keep him from burning himself out. Yet at other times, such as the ends of TEOTW and TGH, he seems to have been honestly trying to destroy Rand in single combat, not just intimidate him. On the other hand, he clearly thought he was following a rational strategy :) What happened to him in this post is my best effort to explain how his brain got scrambled so badly :)

I have not yet been able to determine the nationality of Verin Mathwin from the books. I am beginning to think Jordan hasn't given her one yet :) This served as the basis for a very small joke.]

Larry Homer

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Dragon's Library & Ulrike Großmann