Posted January 17-June 16, 1999 at the Scriptorium
Category: WoT Humor
Author: Sundara

Long Live Insanity

[Author's note: this started off as a kind of game between my (equally WoT addicted) brother and I, to see who could come up with the craziest story ideas. This first was one of mine, but after that, it grew. Episodes up to number 13 are already written and getting weirder.]

Prelude: A Friendly Game Of Darts
Prologue: Under The Dome Of Truth
Episode 1: The (Losing) Hand of the Dark
Episode 2: Housebreaking Trollocs
Episode 3: In the Amyrlin's Study
Episode 4: Maiden's Kiss
Episode 5: Gone Fishing
Episode 6: The Darkfriend That Was
Episode 7: Daes Dae'mar
Episode 8: Shadar Aman
Episode 9: No Business Like Show Business
Episode 10: The Show Must Go On
more episodes


Prelude: A Friendly Game Of Darts

The scene: the Black Tower. Six or seven bored Asha’man, away from the watchful eye of Mazrim Taim, are occupied in playing darts. The dartboard bears a life-size and remarkably realistic image of the Watcher of the Seals, the Flame of Tar Valon, the Amyrlin Seat, Elaida do Avriny a’Roihan. At least, it would be realistic if Elaida customarily had several darts stuck into various parts of her body. (The fact that a great majority of people would prefer that she did is irrelevant.)

Another dart hits.

The Asha’man whoops. “I got the stole! Double score!”

Another aims his dart and throws. It hits the red stripe of the stole. “Triple score.”

“Fluke,” the first one mutters.

“Ah, none of you are any good,” a third jeers. Picking up a dart, he throws and hits the Great Serpent ring. “Quadruple score. Looks like some of you need lessons.”

The scene rapidly degenerates into squabbling. The older Asha’man are standing back from the scene, looking amused, when...

“I think you all need lessons.”

The voice coming from the doorway is that of a woman, surprising in itself. But what makes all the black-coated figures gape is the fact that the speaker, now crossing the room, is stunningly beautiful, the possessor of ageless features, and wearing a shawl fringed in bright red.

“You’re aiming entirely wrong,” the Red sister tells them patiently. “If you’ll excuse me?” She plucks a dart from the fingers of one Asha’man. “This is where you try and hit.” The dart flies through the air.

It hits Elaida squarely between the eyes.

“Winning score, wouldn’t you say?” The slim woman bestows a dazzling smile on all of them. “Keep trying.” With the same graceful stride as entering, she walks out of the room, and her muttering is heard fading away in the distance. “I never liked that woman...”

It is more than five minutes before any of the Asha’man pick their jaws up off the floor and stop choking. All except one. The one whose dart was taken, a tall man with bright blue eyes, is leaning against the wall helpless with laughter.

“Amazing,” he manages to gasp out between fits of laughing. “I just met someone as crazy as me!”


Prologue: Under The Dome Of Truth

The scene: the Dome of Truth, of course. Where did you expect it to be? Several score Whitecloaks wander around, studying the paintings or just talking. There are two doors, carved and gilded, one on either side of the great room...

One of the doors swings open.

The person who enters is most definitely not a Whitecloak. Or male, for that matter. A stunningly beautiful woman all in red silk walks in and stands for a moment, looking around curiously. A shawl fringed in red is draped over her shoulders, and a Great Serpent ring gleams on her hand. The Dome is suddenly silent, except for the sound of countless jaws dropping to the floor.

The Aes Sedai glances at them, then starts walking around the room, studying the paintings one by one. Just as a couple of Whitecloaks have managed to overcome their shock, pick their jaws up and draw their swords, the other door swings open.

The person who enters is most definitely not a Whitecloak or an Aes Sedai. A tall, lean man in a black coat, with a silver sword pin on one side of his collar, a red and gold Dragon on the other, and the glint of madness in his blue eyes. Several Whitecloaks faint.

The Asha’man takes a few steps into the room, looking around. Those blue eyes fix, glittering, on one Whitecloak hiding in a corner. Another step forward, and said Whitecloak jumps up and runs, screaming. Several more follow his example.

The Red sister is standing in front of one of the paintings, frowning. With an irritated click of her tongue, she turns around. At the same time the Asha’man turns to look in her direction.

Blue eyes lock with dark. Someone in the room whispers what sounds like a prayer.

Still staring at each other, the two take a step closer. Slowly. Menacingly. Some more Whitecloaks run. The others are frozen still.

Another step. The remaining Whitecloaks abruptly find themselves unfrozen and run, as fast and far away as possible. Only a fool gets between a pair of hostile channelers, especially channelers of the opposite gender. And in this respect at least, Whitecloaks are not fools. The two continue to glare.

The Dome is empty. But for them.

And suddenly, the icy stares melt. Identical grins flash onto both faces.

“So someone had the same idea as me,” the Red sister laughs, extending a hand. “Good acting, by the way. I’m Shani.”

The Asha’man takes her hand, bowing. “Shadar.”

Shani tilts her head. “Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?”

“That would be at the Black Tower.”

“Ah - yes.” Shani snaps her fingers. “I remember you. Have you been practicing your dart throwing?”

“We’ve been working on it. It would be better with a more lifelike target, though. I don’t suppose you can spare Elaida?”

“‘Fraid not. Why not use Mazrim Taim? He must be at least as annoying as Elaida.”

“At least. Unfortunately, he’s off limits for the time being.”

“It’s always that way, isn’t it? So, Shadar, what are you doing here?”

“Well,” Shadar coughs, “there was a little incident at the Black Tower. A matter of a practical joke that wasn’t appreciated. Shall we say, I’m not exactly popular with Taim right now.”

“So you decided to come and have a look around Amador?”

“Something like that. And you?”

“Well,” Shani grins, “there was a little incident at the White Tower. A matter of a practical joke that definitely wasn’t appreciated. Shall we say I’m not exactly popular with Elaida right now?”

“Ah,” and Shadar’s answering grin matches hers, “a kindred spirit.”

“Right. So -”

“Hey, what’s all the fuss about?” A young Whitecloak is standing at the entrance to the Dome. “Where’s everyone gone - Ah.” There is a long pause before the young Whitecloak shrugs and walks across to them. “Welcome to the Dome of Truth. Is this an invasion or just a visit?”

“Somewhere in between,” Shadar replies. “And who are you?”

“Child Sycho Path. Call me Sycho.”

“Does your name fit your character?” Shani asks straight-faced.

“Pedron Niall thinks so.”

Another kindred spirit,” and all three grin. “While we’re on the subject of spirits, is there anything decent to drink around here?”

“Sure. Niall keeps some wine in his study.” Sycho bows. “In the, ah, not so regrettable absence of my superiors, may I offer you the hospitality of the Fortress of the Light?”

“Why not?”

**A few minutes later, in the study of the Lord Captain Commander...**

“A toast.” Sycho raises his cup. “To confusion!”

“No,” Shani corrects him, filling and raising her own cup. “To chaos.”

Shadar pours a cup for himself, then lifts it. “To us.”

The other two look at each other, decide they can’t top that, and drink.

“Long live insanity!”


Episode 1: The (Losing) Hand of the Dark

The curtain rises on - blackness. A dark fog hides the scene from human eyes. Voices can be heard, faintly, through the fog.

“Another hand?”

“You deal.” There is a sound of cards rustling.

The fog thins gradually to reveal a mountain ledge of black rock, with flames glowing in the distant depths of the mountain. On the ledge is set, rather incongruously, a card table...

“Raise one,” the black-clad man on one side of the table says lazily. He is tall, lean to the point of emaciation, and a sword and Dragon is pinned on his collar. The glint in his blue eyes suggest that the taint already has a foothold here.

“No,” he says as if hearing your thoughts, “it isn’t the taint.” He rearranges the cards in his hand, and you catch a glimpse of an ace. “I was born insane.”

“Talking to yourself again, Shadar?” A stunningly beautiful Domani woman looks up from her own cards. Her clinging red dress is just short of opaque. Well, to be perfectly honest, a very long way short of opaque. The shawl lying over the back of her chair has a bright red fringe to match. “We know you’re insane. That’s why we’re all here, isn’t it?”

The man opposite her shrugs, his gleaming white cloak shifting with the movement. “I can’t imagine why you’d say that, Shani. What’s insane about playing poker at Shayol Ghul?”

“We call him Sycho,” Shani says conversationally to no one in particular.

“Tell me again the point of this game.” The voice of the fourth player sounds like rotting snakeskin, or rather, since snakeskin rotting doesn’t make any sound at all, like someone imagined rotting snakeskin might sound like if it sounded like anything... “What is the purpose of picking up these cards?”

“Well -” Sycho the Whitecloak looks as if he has just been asked to explain the purpose of gravity making things fall - “picking up the cards is the purpose. Betting money. You know.”

“Losing money?”

“And winning it, but - well - it’s playing that counts. Shani, you explain.”

“Oh, thanks a lot.” The Red sister, Shani, sighs. “It’s probably a species thing.”

“No,” Shadar the blue-eyed Asha’man disagrees, “it’s a mentality thing.” There seem to be two aces in his hand now. “We’re insane. He’s just evil.”

“There is that.”

“Are we finished?” The rotting snakeskin voice again.

“Well, I suppose so.” Sycho lays his cards, face up, on the table. There are four aces.

Shani laughs. “Great minds...” There are four aces in the cards she puts down on the table. The Great Serpent ring on her hand appears to wink in the uncertain light.

Shadar and Shaidar Haran lay their cards down at the same time. Shaidar Haran has the lowest hand possible. Shadar, on the other hand, has five aces.

“Oops,” he murmurs mildly, and the fifth one disappears back up his sleeve.

The Myrddraal’s face looks as dismayed as someone without eyes can possibly look.

“You lose, Hand of the Dark,” Shani says with mocking sweetness. The fog is beginning to thicken around them.

“What did we decide about stakes?” Sycho asks innocently, and is answered by Shadar.

“Shayol Ghul, wasn’t it?”

As the scene fades into blackness, the maniacal laughter of three people is the last sound that can be heard...

The moral of the story: Evil will always be defeated by insanity. Or, if you prefer: when a Domani Red sister, an Asha’man, and a Whitecloak get together to play poker, anything can, and probably will, happen.

Tune in next week (or sometime soon, anyway) for episode 2 of Long Live Insanity: Housebreaking Trollocs.


Episode 2: Housebreaking Trollocs

Once again the curtain rises on darkness - but not the black rocks of Shayol Ghul. The sky is overcast, but a few stars manage to gleam through, faintly illuminating the shape of a looming manor house.

All around the house are open fields and the road running past. The nearest house is miles away down the road. In all directions, not a soul can be seen. Of course, a Soulless couldn’t be seen either, if one happened to be around, which it doesn’t. So all in all, no one is in sight.

Not far away, however, grunts and guttural half-words can be heard, interspersed with the clink of weapons. “Now?” “Yes.” “Why?” “Because.” The dialogue is not on a particularly high conversational level. The owners of the voices would seem to be of rather diminutive brain capacity. They don’t smell very good, either.

And now they are in sight, ten-foot, hulking shapes trooping up the road to the manor house. Trollocs, of course.

They break down the gate and stomp through the garden to the front door, squashing the flowers and generally turning the once stately garden into a mess. The leading Trolloc raises his axe.

“You!” A woman’s voice cuts through the air, making the Trollocs jump and stand up straight. “Wipe your feet before you come into my house!”

It is the voice of command, the voice that turns any male creature into a guilty little boy wondering whether he remembered to clean his nails or, as the case may be, horns, the voice of She Who Must Be Obeyed. Carefully, the leading Trolloc wipes his feet on the mat provided, then raises his axe again and smashes the door open.

“And be careful of the walls!” The woman disappears from the upstairs window, and quick footsteps are heard from within the house, hurrying down a staircase, as the Trollocs push through the doorway.

One Trolloc looks thoughtfully - or what passes for thought in a Trolloc mind - at the delicate carvings on the mantel, and lifts a mail-clad fist.

“Don’t you dare!” The woman with the commanding voice stands at the top of the stairs, hands on hips. She has copper-coloured skin, long dark hair, and is wearing a dress of vivid scarlet. A Great Serpent ring gleams on her finger. Yes, people - it’s Shani. The Trolloc puts his hands behind his back quickly.

The slim Domani shakes her head irritably. “Look what you’ve done to my garden! It’ll take weeks to fix now. And the door!” She sighs and strides down the stairs. The Trollocs automatically make way and then look sheepish at doing so.

“Snarg smart,” one growls. “Human not bluff Snarg. Snarg kill!”

“Go play somewhere else, Snarg. I’m busy.” Shani walks past the astonished Snarg to the kitchen. “At least you’ve broken nothing here - put down that pot, you!” The Trolloc addressed obeys immediately, looking as embarassed as the average Trolloc can manage. Shani takes a baking tin from the stove. “And you needn’t think you’re getting any cake! This is for my friends and I. You lot are cleaning up the mess you’ve made, and then you’re leaving.” Balancing the cake tin in one arm, she picks up a red-fringed shawl and pulls it across her shoulders. A gateway appears before her, and she steps through. “And don’t dare go until you’ve tidied up!” The gateway snaps shut behind Shani.

The Trollocs look at each other, scratching their heads and wondering what just happened. Then they traipse out into the garden - wiping their feet on the mat - and start tidying up. The broken gate and door are carefully propped up, the ruined flowers piled neatly in a heap, and the sky beginning to grow light before they finally troop, still scratching their heads and looking sheepish, down the road.

“Trollocs,” Shani sighs, “are so hard to housetrain.” She cuts the cake and passes a slice over to Shadar. “Another piece for you, Sycho?”

“Mmmff!”

“I take it that means ‘yes’” Shani cuts another slice, and then one for herself. “I know that expression, Shadar. Penny for your thoughts?”

The lean Asha’man grins. “Just an idea I had.” He takes a bite of the cake. “This is good, by the way. Congratulations.”

“Thank you - and what idea?”

“If you really can housebreak Trollocs, I can think of a use for one...”

Tune in - well, today - for episode 3 of Long Live Insanity: In the Amyrlin’s Study.


Episode 3: In the Amyrlin’s Study

The curtain opens on - oh, c’mon, it’s been described a dozen times already. Big room, carved writing desk and chair, two pictures, silly-looking clock on the wall, red roses in a vase in one corner. A long, striped stole is hanging over the back of the chair. The room is empty.

The door opens, just a crack. Shani puts her head through, looks around, then pushes the door open fully and comes in. “The way’s clear,” she calls back over her shoulder, “you can come in.”

Three people file in after her. Shadar in his black coat, Sycho in full Whitecloak regalia, and a ten-foot tall, wide-shouldered figure with a long snout, hairy ears and a notebook in one hand. Shani looks at him, raising a single eyebrow in approved Aes Sedai style.

“Oh,” Sycho says, “this is Someone. Someone, son of Someone Else, son of Some Other Ogier, that is. He sort of joined us. Someone, this is Shani.”

The Ogier bows. “An honour, Shani Sedai.” His voice is, also in approved style, a rumble sounding like a very large bumblebee. “I am very interested in you three, you see. In what you are doing. I may write a book about it.” He starts scribbling in his notebook.

[Note: This is the longest speech Someone ever makes. Most of the time he just stands around writing whenever one of the other three does something strange. Which is most of the time.]

“Well,” Shani says, “nice to meet you.”

In the meantime, Shadar has already made himself at home, sprawling on the only chair in the room with his feet up on Elaida’s desk. Sycho takes off his helmet and puts it on the desk, accidentally crushing a priceless ivory carving which happens to be one of Elaida’s favourites. “Oops.”

“Don’t worry. They’re old.” Shani wanders over to the vase of roses in the corner, and takes one. “Pretty.” She puts it in her hair, looks at it in the mirror, then changes her mind and pins it to her dress, dislodging an already precarious neckline. Shadar whistles. Shani blows him a kiss. Sycho rolls his eyes. Someone continues writing.

“That clock,” Sycho observes, “is a masterpiece of bad taste. Someone - sorry, not you, Ogier - had to be really trying to make something that silly-looking. Who ever designed it?” Shani shrugs. “Some old Amyrlin.” She is now occupied in trying on Elaida’s stole, turning this way and that in front of the mirror.

The door, closed behind Someone, rattles, and a grunting sound is heard outside.

“Oh, yes,” Shadar glances up, “let Snarg in, would you?”

Sycho crosses the room, opens the door with a flourish, and stands back. A large Trolloc pushes through the too-small doorway and stomps inside. He squints at the clock, massive brow furrowing.

The carved, painted figures on the clock abruptly stop their normal motion, and start dancing. Snarg frowns at the tiny carved Trollocs, who are now performing a jig.

“Shadar,” Shani chides.

The Asha’man grins. Shani studies her reflection in the mirror once more, then shakes her head and tosses the stole aside. It lands on Snarg, catching on his fur. Shani pats him on the shoulder and goes back to the roses.

“Oh yes,” Shadar applauds, “very nice. It suits him.” Snarg straightens up, looking in a puzzled way at the stole, then nods to himself and turns back to the clock. Someone continues writing.

“Clock stupid,” Snarg growls, displaying impeccable taste. “Snarg no like stupid clock.” With a sudden burst of power, Snarg picks the clock up, stomps to the open window - far above the ground - and throws it out.

There is a moment of silence, before Shadar saunters over to the window and looks down. He grins and turns back to the others.

“Clock fragmented.”

The Amyrlin’s study echoes with laughter.

The moral of the story: Even Trollocs have better taste than Elaida.

Don’t forget to tune in next week for episode 4 of Long Live Insanity: Maiden’s Kiss.


Episode 4: Maiden's Kiss

“Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall, ninety-nine bottles of beer...”

“Sycho, shut up!” two voices shout. With reason. The singer sounds like a stepped-on frog. A snarling growl is also heard.

“Ninety-eight bottles of beer on the wall, ninety-eight bottles of beer...” The distinctly unmelodious singer can now be seen, staggering along through the countryside. A once-white cloak seems to have come unfastened from one shoulder and is constantly tangling with his legs, perhaps accounting for the staggering gait. Of course, the trail of empty bottles behind him might have something to do with that, too...

“Shadar - you let him carry the drinks?”

“Well, Snarg couldn’t carry everything.”

“If one green bottle, should accidentally fall...”

“He’ll never stop now.”

“Certainly he will.” The black-coated man striding along glances at the one in the white cloak. “About -”

“There’ll be ninety-seven bottles of beer on the - aargghh!” The singer starts coughing and choking around a gag of Air.

“- now.”

“Why, thank you. I hadn’t thought of that.” The Domani woman smiles and looks back behind her. “Snarg! Hurry up!”

“Snarg hurrying! Books heavy!”

“Be careful with those books!” another voice rumbles. “Those are priceless!”

“Stupid priceless books! Should burn!”

“If you even think about burning them, you great oaf of a Trolloc -”

“Books burn good!”

“- then I will get Shadar Asha’man or Shani Sedai to throw you through a gateway into Aridhol!”

Snarg shuts up abruptly, except for a few grumbles “stupid books... stupid Ogier...”

“Maybe we should camp here,” Shani suggests diplomatically. “It’s as good a place as any. Besides -” she glances at the lurching Whitecloak - “I doubt Sycho can make it much further.”

Shadar also glances at Sycho, who chooses that moment to trip over his own feet and collapse on the ground. “I do believe you’re right.”

They sit down, spreading rugs and cushions and in general taking their ease. Except for Sycho, who hasn’t quite managed to sit up yet. And Snarg who is kept busy obeying a constant stream of orders from the other three.

“Snarg! Be careful with those books!’

“...stupid books...”

“Snarg! Set up the tents!”

“...stupid tents...”

“Snarg! Bring the firewood!”

“...stupid clock...”

“Clock?” Shadar looks up, and grins. Snarg, with impeccable taste, has brought the remains of Elaida’s favourite clock along as fuel. “Seems Trollocs aren’t always dumb. All right, Snarg, just bring the stupid clock over here. Then go set up the tents while we light the fire.”

“Stupid clock burn great,” Snarg announces happily before shambling off to set the tents up.

Someone (son of Someone Else, son of Some Other Ogier) takes out a notebook and starts scribbling. “For my book,” he explains absent-mindedly. Meanwhile, Shani looks critically over at the still-prone Sycho. “How many bottles do you think he drank?”

“Most of the crate, I’d say.”

“About that, yes.” Shani takes Sycho’s head firmly in her hands, and channels. Sycho bellows like a drunken bull (or rather a drunken Whitecloak) and thrashes, gasping for breath. “Wha...wha..what...”

“It’s called sobriety. You’ll get used to it.” Shani sits back down beside the newly-lit fire. “And it serves you right for taking all the drink.”

“I’m starting to believe Aes Sedai really are Darkfriends.” Looking somewhat the worse for wear, Sycho makes his unsteady way over to the fire. “That was evil.”

“Oh, I can think of worse -”

They are interrupted by a shout from beyond the tents. Shani, Shadar and Someone look around. So does Sycho, once the sound has made its way to his befuddled brain. Snarg is now lying flat on the ground, and a lithe, golden-haired figure is poised with a spear in her hand.

Someone blinks, and starts writing faster. Shani raises one eyebrow. Sycho groans. “Are you sure I’m sober?”

“Welcome to our fire,” Shadar calls. “Be careful with Snarg, would you? Otherwise we’ll have to carry our own baggage tomorrow.”

The Aiel girl spins around at his voice, looks at the four around the fire, shakes her head, rubs her eyes, and looks again. “White cloak, red shawl, black coat. And an Ogier, and a Trolloc to carry your baggage. Who’s insane? You or me?”

“Us, of course,” Shani replies.

“But you can be insane, too.” Sycho adds generously. “If you want to. It isn’t hard.”

“It comes naturally.” Shadar stands and bows. “I’m Shadar, this is Shani, that’s Sycho, the Ogier is Someone and the Trolloc is Snarg. We are all, without exception, completely mad. And you?”

“I’m Shaiel. And I’m sane -” she glances at the five and shakes her head again - “for now. Is the Trolloc safe?”

“Of course he’s safe.” Shani tosses her hair back. “He’s really very well behaved, you know - for a Trolloc, anyway. Aren’t you, Snarg?”

“Snarg very good!”

“And he’s an art critic, too,” Shadar adds.

“Snarg burn stupid clock!”

“See?”

“Whatever.” Shaiel lets Snarg up and comes to sit by the fire. “So you’re all mad. And not just mad, completely mad. Is this wetlander humour?”

“Something like that,” Sycho agrees. “You don’t happen to have anything to drink, do you?”

“Water?”

“Ah - no. I meant alcohol. Ale or something. Ale - Aiel! Hey, that’s a joke!” Sycho falls over backward laughing.

Shadar, Shani, Shaiel, Someone and Snarg groan simultaneously. “It’s not wetlander humour,” Shani assures Shaiel. “We have better taste than that.”

“That’s a relief.”

Sycho, his joke unappreciated, is sulking. Someone continues to write, shaking his head over human oddities. Snarg, muttering “...stupid Whitecloak...” under his breath, continues setting up the tents. Shani, bored, starts channeling, and little dancing figures appear in the flames. One of them has long dark hair and wears a red dress.

Shadar joins in, and some more figures appear, one wearing a black coat. The Shadar and Shani figures bow and curtsy to each other and start dancing. Sycho looks at them and rolls his eyes.

Shaiel studies the dancers for a moment, then shrugs, deciding it’s either a wetlander thing or an insanity thing, and turns to Sycho. “Say, stranger. Have you ever heard of a game called Maiden’s Kiss?”

Shani and Shadar immediately look up, interested. So do the dancing figures. Someone blinks, stares, then decides he heard right and starts scribbling as fast as he can. Snarg drops a box of priceless books on his foot, and, for a wonder, Someone doesn’t even notice. Shaiel has the kind of wicked grin that only a Maiden can wear. Sycho, alone of all the group, looks completely blank.

Shadar and Shani glance at each other, still mirrored by the dancers, and smile in gleeful anticipation. “Ah,” they both think, “Aiel humour...”

The moral: If you make jokes about Aiel, THE JOKE’S ON YOU.

Tune in sometime in the next few days for episode 5 of Long Live Insanity: Gone Fishing.


Episode 5: Gone Fishing

The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes round again. In one Age, an Age yet to come, an Age long past, a wind rises in Amadicia. North and south the wind blows, east and west, because there really isn’t very much interesting happening in Amadicia, until it comes across a small group gathered on the banks of a river.

And the wind bursts out laughing.

A deck chair has been set up on the bank, occupied by a tall figure in black, with a fishing rod in his hands and a broad-brimmed hat pulled down over his eyes. A large pile of fish is lying beside his chair. Farther downriver, two people are lying on opposite banks, dipping their hands in the water to snatch out fish. One, a woman in red, has an even larger pile beside her. The other, a man in white, has only a few small fish on the bank beside him and is looking suspiciously at hers.

“You’re cheating, Shani,” he accuses her.

“Why, Sycho! What a thing to say!” Shani reaches down and scoops another huge fish from the river.

“You’re using the Power to catch them.”

“Would I do something like that?”

“If you’re not channeling, why are none of the fish on your side moving?”

Shani shrugs, and tosses another onto her pile.

Still farther down, the river winds through a grove of trees, from which strange sounds can occasionally be heard. Not far from Sycho, two more people are roasting fish on sticks over a fire. One has short golden hair, and her brown coat and breeches blend in with the landscape. The other is ten feet tall, shaggy, and industriously writing in a notebook between fish.

“...Sycho accuses Shani of cheating.” The Ogier frowns and looks up. “Do you think she is, Shaiel?”

“Hmm?”

“Shani. Would an Aes Sedai cheat? The river does seem very still on her side.”

“What would I know about rivers?” Shaiel skewers another fish. “These taste good, though. The wetlands do have advantages. How many ways did you say you know to cook them, Someone?”

Someone, son of Someone Else, son of Some Other Ogier, flips through the pages of his notebook. “One thousand, six hundred and forty-three. That doesn’t include variations, of course.”

“Of course.” She glances up. “Look - we’ve got company.”

A portly figure in a white cloak has appeared farther up the river.

“Oh, no,” Sycho mutters. “Not him.”

“What is going on here?” the Whitecloak officer demands of the black-clad man in the deckchair, who happens to be closest. He receives absolutely no response. Not even so much as a glance.

“I said, what is going on here?” Raising his voice, the Whitecloak stamps over to the deckchair.

The figure in black does not move.

“This is an outrage! You!” The portly man points at Sycho. “I insist that you help me arrest this person!”

“Sorry, sir. No can do. I’m trying to catch some fish.”

Shani and Shaiel start laughing. Someone is busy recording the conversation. Some more odd noises come from the grove downriver. The man in black continues fishing.

“I SAID -” Whatever the officer said is lost as a black-sleeved arm reaches out, hooks his ankle and pulls. Cloak and wearer tumble into the water.

“- splutter gasp splutter,” the Whitecloak officer finishes his sentence as he is carried downriver by the current, past another, insubordinate Whitecloak and a very amused Aes Sedai.

“I never liked him,” Sycho observes.

“Shadar,” Shani calls upriver, “do you have to throw your rubbish in the water? You’re scaring the fish away.”

The man in black raises his hat and, very deliberately, winks one blue eye before reeling his line in.

Sycho scowls across the river. “I can think of other reasons all the fish are gone.”

“That might be it, too,” Shani agrees. “Do we have enough, do you think?”

But there is a sudden bellow from the grove. “Snarg catch fish!”

Shani and Sycho sit up. Even Shadar looks up curiously as a very large Trolloc emerges triumphantly from the grove, with a white cloak in his fist and the wearer of the cloak dangling below.

“Snarg catch BIG fish!”

Sycho whoops with laughter, slapping his thighs.

Someone blinks, then starts flipping through his notebook again. “Ah! A great white!”

Sycho laughs harder.

“That’s a good fish you caught, Snarg,” Shaiel calls. “Do you want to roast it?” She picks up one of her spears. “This should do as a skewer.”

The Whitecloak’s eyes bulge in terror, and he wriggles out of the cloak and falls to the ground. With surprising nimbleness for a stout man, he leaps up and runs, throwing panicked glances over his shoulder in case one of them is chasing him.

None are. They’re all too busy laughing.

Snarg looks crestfallen. “Big fish run away.”

“They do that sometimes.” Shani pats him on the shoulder. “Never mind, Snarg. We’re going to Amador next week. Maybe you can catch another one. There are lots of big fish in Amador.”

The moral: Don’t annoy insane people. Especially not when they’re fishing.

Don’t forget to tune in next week for episode 6: The Darkfriend That Was.


Episode 6: The Darkfriend That Was

As the sun rises in Amador, the streets begin to fill up with people. A drunken man sitting outside a tavern watches them go by.

“Whitecloaks... boring people... more Whitecloaks... more boring people...” He takes a swig of ale and continues his litany. “More Whitecloaks... more boring people...’nother Whitecloak... Aes Sedai...huh?”

He blinks. “Yep, Aes Sedai... Asha’man... Ogier... Aiel... Trolloc... Pink elephant...” The drunk slowly keels over and starts snoring.

“Pink elephant?” Sycho looks behind him just in case. An Aes Sedai, an Asha’man, an Ogier, an Aiel and a Trolloc, but no pink elephants.

“No pink elephant,” Snarg growls.

“Drunk people see strange things sometimes,” Shani tells him.

“Drunk see us.”

“That’s what I said.”

The sober people around them see much the same thing, with the exception of the pink elephant. They simply tune it out. The good citizens of Amador are not prepared to believe in certain things, so certain things do not register on their brains. The sight of an Aes Sedai in a bright red shawl and an Asha’man in a black coat walking arm in arm and laughing, accompanied by an Aiel, a Trolloc, a Whitecloak and an Ogier, is one of those things.

“So this is what it’s like to be invisible,” Shadar remarks.

“What’s happening over there?” Someone, with a pen in one hand and a notebook in the other, nods toward the Fortress of the Light.

A dozen Whitecloaks, armor and cloaks gleaming in the sun, are marching down the street with a chained prisoner in their midst.

“They’re hanging a Darkfriend,” Sycho replies.

The two channelers in the group exchange a look which says Yeah, right.

“Should we try and help?” Shani asks.

“We’d better,” Shadar agrees as the Whitecloaks come closer. “Ready -”

He is interrupted by Snarg, who has been staring hard at the prisoner. “Hey, I know him! He Darkfriend!”

“He what?” Shani exclaims.

“Let me get this straight,” Shadar says. “He is a Darkfriend? A real, true, bona fide Darkfriend?”

“Yes! Darkfriend!”

“Well, of all strange things...” Shadar raises his voice. “Hey, you in the white cloak! Do you realize you’ve got a Darkfriend there?”

“Of course we do,” the officer in charge snaps. “We always have a Darkfriend.”

“No. I mean a real Darkfriend.”

“What!?” The officer’s face goes white to match his cloak. “He can’t be! We never catch a real Darkfriend!”

“Looks like you made a mistake, then. Our Trolloc here is absolutely sure that man’s a Darkfriend.”

“But we’re not authorized to deal with Darkfriends!”

The whispers are spreading out through the crowd. “They caught a Darkfriend... They caught a real Darkfriend...”

“Well, that’s just not on.” Shani puts her hands on her hips. “Next thing you’ll catch a real Aes Sedai, and then where will we be? You’d better let that Darkfriend go at once.”

“But we never let anyone go!”

“Paradigm shifting,” Someone whispers, an Ogier whisper anyway, to Shaiel as he takes notes. “It drives Whitecloaks insane. Soon he’ll be seeing pink elephants.”

“You can’t keep real Darkfriends?” Shani says patiently.

“Of course not! That’s not our job!”

“And you can’t let him go, either?”

“Of course not!”

“So what does that leave you?”

“Um - uh - um...” The Whitecloak’s eyes suddenly bulge in terror. “The pink elephants are coming! The pink elephants are coming!” He turns and runs, still screaming, through the crowd.

“Paradigms shifted,” Shani says smugly. “Incurably.”

“Beautifully done,” Shadar congratulates her.

“Thank you.”

“This is outrageous,” a man in the crowd declares. “We pay our taxes. We have a right to expect certain standards from the Children of the Light. We certainly do not expect them to go capturing real Darkfriends!”

“It’s outrageous...It’s scandalous...It shouldn’t be allowed...” The mutters from the crowd increase. Before long a brawl results between the crowd and the remaining Whitecloaks.

“Let’s get out of here,” Sycho suggests nervously. “I don’t want them to start thinking I go around catching Darkfriends.”

Shani laughs. “Can I interest you in a little paradigm shifting, Sycho?” she invites him with a wicked grin.

He shudders. “Not me, thanks. I’d pick Maiden’s Kiss any day.”

“Really?” Shaiel grins even more wickedly and links her arm in his. “We might want to talk about that...” Sycho has just been soundly outmaneuvered.

They make their way out of Amador. At the very edge of the city, they meet an old man with hair as white as his cloak. “Good morning,” he greets them all, blinking. “Tell me, young man, has anything of note taken place in the city recently?”

“Yes, sir,” Sycho replies. “They caught a Darkfriend, but he turned out to be a real Darkfriend, and the officer in charge lost a few paradigms and started seeing pink elephants. I think that just about covers it.”

“Ah.” The old Whitecloak places his hand on Sycho’s head in a benediction. “Walk in the Light, my son. Walk in the Light, my daughter,” he adds to Shaiel, not taking any notice of her spears, and turns to the others. “Walk in the Light, my son.” He stretches up to touch Someone’s head. “Walk in the Light, my daughter. Walk in the Light, my son.” The old man appears oblivious to the fact that he has just blessed an Aes Sedai and an Asha’man. He adds a final absent-minded “Walk in the Light, my son,” and a pat on Snarg’s shaggy head, before making his slow way into the city.

“What a nice old man,” Shani murmurs.

And all Amador breathes a sigh of relief as they leave. All except one man.

“Gotta stop drinking...hic...pink elephants all over the place...”

The moral: Darkfriends are dangerous. But paradigms shifting and pink elephants can be even worse.

-Author’s Note: I thought about calling this one ‘Paradigms and Pink Elephants,’ but...

Don’t forget to tune in next week for episode 7: Daes Dae’mar.


Episode 7: Daes Dae'mar

The sun rises over Cairhien.

It begins with a pale glow in the east, then brightens as the sun lifts itself into the sky and over the hill. The first rays of light gleam down on the sleeping city.

“Isn’t it ugly?” Shani comments.

Sycho comes to look. “How can anyone build a city all straight lines?”

“It’s something in the Cairhienin character. They plan every little detail before doing anything.”

“How incredibly -” Sycho pauses, looking for a strong enough insult.

“Boring?”

“Something like that.”

“Stupid city,” a deep voice growls from behind them.

Shani pats the new arrival on the shaggy shoulder. “I always said you had good taste, Snarg. Did you keep watch like I said last night?”

“Keep watch.”

“And?”

“Shadar gone.”

“I thought he would.” Shani grins.

“Where did he go?” Shaiel comes across to join them.

“He went to the Black Tower,” Shani explains. “To visit his friends, and cause a little incidental chaos. He’ll catch us up later. C’mon, let’s go.”

“Someone’s still asleep,” Shaiel tells her.

“Wake him up, then.”

“He won’t wake up.” The gold-haired girl looks exasperated. “I shook him, shouted at him, I even dumped a bucket of water on him. He’s still snoring.”

“No one sleeps that hard,” Sycho scoffs.

“You try, then.”

“Wake up, Someone!” Sycho yells at the top of his voice. There is no interruption in Someone’s snoring.

“WAKE UP, STUPID OGIER!” Snarg’s voice shakes the leaves from a few nearby trees, but there is still no reaction from Someone.

“Someone,” Shani says very softly, “if you don’t wake up I’ll throw your books in the fire.”

The Ogier sits up suddenly, blinking and grabbing for his books. “What? What? What’s happening?”

“And that is how you wake up an Ogier,” Shani tells the other three, before turning back to Someone. “We’re heading into Cairhien. Coming?”

“Cairhien? The Royal Library?” Someone pushes blankets aside and starts packing his books. “Certainly I’m coming.”

“I thought so.”

A few minutes later, the five walk through the gates, ignored by the guards (even without an Asha’man in the party, there’s a limit what people’s minds are prepared to take in) and into Cairhien.

“All right,” Sycho says, “what now?”

“We find an inn. We get settled in. Then we play Daes Dae’mar.”

“Uh - what are the rules?”

Shani gives him an amused look. “You’ve never been in Cairhien, have you?”

“Well, no.”

“That’s what I thought. There are no rules.”

At the inn, the five sit around a table by the fire for a lesson in Daes Dae’mar. “The idea is to confuse,” Shani explains. “Whatever you do, a thousand people are going to put different interpretations on it. Even if you don’t do anything.”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” Sycho protests.

“Of course it doesn’t,” Shaiel says in an irritatingly superior tone. “It isn’t supposed to make sense.”

“But -”

“Just follow our lead,” Shani advises him.

He glares. “How do you know so much about this, anyway?”

“Because she’s Aes Sedai,” Shaiel tells him, rolling her eyes. “It’s the first thing novices learn. How to confuse people.” P>“So how do you know?”

“Because she’s Aiel,” Shani tells him in exactly the same tone and rolling her eyes in the exact same way.

“So?”

“If you can understand ji’e’toh, Daes Dae’mar is child’s play.”

“Yes, but -”

Someone interrupts the argument. “Here comes Shadar.”

The lean Asha’man saunters across the common room and sprawls out in a chair. “What’s happening?”

“Talk Daes Dae’mar.”

“Ah. And what do you think of the Great Game, Snarg?”

“Sound fun!”

“You’ve corrupted him,” Sycho groans, sinking back into his chair and closing his eyes.

Shani and Shaiel grin at each other over his head. “So what happened at the Black Tower?” Shani enquires.

“Chaos.” Shadar’s expression is unbearably smug.

“Care to be more specific?”

“The number of insane Asha’man has approximately doubled. Beyond that, no. You can go and look for yourself if you’re really interested. Oh, and by the way,” Shadar pulls a folded parchment from his pocket, “you have an invitation. For tonight, it looks like.”

“Tonight?” And Shani smiles. “Let the Great Game begin...”

That night...

“Are you sure about this?” Sycho tugs at his cloak.

“Of course I’m sure.” Shani smooths down her dress, which is an evening version of her usual one. That is to say, even lower-cut and less opaque. “It’s a costume ball, isn’t it?”

“But we’re wearing the same clothes as always.”

“Exactly. Now be quiet and let me handle this.” Shani takes a deep breath, causing every male eye in the vicinity to focus on her, and glides up the stairs. “I am Shani Aes Sedai,” she announces regally. “These are my guests.”

The guards look at the party of one Aes Sedai, one man in a black coat, another in a white cloak, one woman in cadin’sor, an Ogier and an apparent Trolloc. “Of course, Aes Sedai, my Lords, my Lady.” One bows. “Follow me, if you please. Splendid costumes, if I may say so.”

“Why, thank you.” Shani smiles sweetly and leads the party in.

“An honour to meet you, Aes Sedai,” a wary-eyed Cairhienin lord says, bowing, glancing at Sycho and Shadar. “An honour. Your Warders, I presume?”

“My Warders,” Shani agrees serenely. “Very perceptive of you.”

“You lied!” Sycho hisses once they are out of earshot. “What happened to the First Oath?”

Shani shrugs, looking amused. “The First Oath stops me from speaking any word that is false, and every word in that sentence, taken individually, is true. Only the sentence itself was a lie, and the Oath doesn’t prevent that.”

“That’s sheer sophistry, Shani.”

“Oh, you noticed?”

“Worthy of the White Ajah,” Shadar compliments her. “Shall we dance?”

Shaiel, for her part, has just politely refused an invitation to dance by a young and rather pompous nobleman. Dancing with wetlanders is no fun. She never loses. “Ah, a shame. A fine costume, by the way. Very realistic. These Aiel savages, they are everywhere nowadays.” The man scowls.

“They are indeed,” Shaiel agrees, reconsidering her refusal to dance.

“I am writing a book,” Someone announces to a group of fascinated nobles. “All about - well, about -”

“The ramifications of insanity on an overly serious world,” another ten-foot tall figure supplies, joining the group, “and the potential methods for actuating such insanity. The research is quite fascinating.”

The nobles laugh and clap. Someone blinks. Shadar and Shani, pausing in their dance, look puzzled.

“Snarg,” Shadar murmurs, “do you realize you’re talking like a book?”

Snarg blinks, then mutters under his breath. “Too much listen stupid Ogier!”

“Keep going. You’re doing great.” Shani pats him on the shoulder as the two dance away.

“No,” Sycho tells a pair of insistent lords, “I am not playing the Great Game. I don’t even know the rules of the Great Game.”

The two lords nod and smile, and wonder just what he meant by that.

Shaiel is now the focus of attention of a small crowd of young Cairhienin men. “Are you sure you won’t dance?”

“You’re tempting me.” Shaiel’s hand strays to her belt knife.

Someone has started planning a new book. “Teaching Trollocs To Talk...”

“I said, I’m not playing Daes Dae’mar!” Sycho stalks away from a cluster of Cairhienin noblewomen. “And I don’t care where your husbands are!”

“Insanity, after all,” Snarg expounds to the group, “is known to be beneficial in small amounts. In large doses, of course, it can have undesirable consequences, but if care is taken...”

Someone busily takes notes.

“An odd costume to choose,” someone (not Someone) comments to Shadar. “I doubt Mazrim Taim would be pleased at seeing you.”

“Probably not,” Shadar agrees blandly, remembering the expression on Taim’s face when seeing him at the Black Tower earlier.

Shani laughs and joins Sycho. “How are you enjoying yourself?”

“It’s crazy!” Sycho flings up his hands. “I’ve told everyone that I’m not playing the Great Game, but they still think I’m up to something!”

“You told them you’re not playing?” Shani stares at him. “That’s the first rule of Daes Dae’mar! Don’t ever say you’re not in it!”

“You said there weren’t any rules!”

“So when was the Game ever consistent?” Shani sighs. “Shadar! Get over here. We’re leaving.”

“Leaving? Why?”

“Sycho just told everyone he’s not playing Daes Dae’mar.” Shani disappears in search of the others.

Shadar shakes his head. “Bad move. You can get away with almost everything in Cairhien, but not that. I’d say trouble’s brewing.”

“What could possibly happen?” Sycho demands as the rest of the party join them.

“Last person who tried caused a civil war.”

“Really?” Shaiel looks back. “Maybe I should dance, then.”

“Enough’s enough.” Shadar offers Shani his arm, and the pair lead the way out of the palace. “Chaos in Cairhien. Mission accomplished. Now we leave. There are places to go, people to see...”

“And drive insane...”

“That too. Let’s go!”

And all Cairhien breathes a sigh of relief as they leave. All except one man.

“Not again!” the drunk outside groans in an Amadician accent, and tips his ale out onto the ground. “No more drinking for me! I’m sick and tired of seeing pink elephants!”

Don’t forget to tune in next week for episode 8: Shadar Aman.


Episode 8: Shadar Aman

“To confusion!”

Six cups are lifted and drunk down.

“To chaos!”

The action is repeated. The unsteadiness of several hands suggests that quite a bit of toasting has already occurred.

“To us!”

The cups are drained a third time, and a flagon rises, gleaming in the firelight, and floats around the circle to fill them again.

Around the fire lounge six people in various states of drunkenness, ranging from a completely unconscious Trolloc to a completely unaffected Maiden of the Spear (Aiel don’t get drunk on oosquai, they only laugh at wetlanders who do). The more conscious members of the group are talking.

“The Car’a’carn visited the Black Tower yesterday,” Shaiel comments with a glance toward Shadar.

“Really?” Shani also glances toward the Asha’man. “Would that be before or after your surprise visit, Shadar?”

“After, probably.” Shadar downs a cup of oosquai and pours another. “I doubt they passed inspection. Al’Thor would not have been happy.”

“Doesn’t he have enough stress to cope with without you joining in? Give me that flagon, you drunken madman.” Shani snatches it from him on flows of Air and refills her own cup.

“He doesn’t cope with stress very well,” Shadar replies, ignoring the second part of Shani’s words. “I could do much better.”

“Oh?” Shani laughs. “You think you’d make a better Dragon than the Dragon?”

“Much better,” Shadar agrees, taking the flagon back and refilling his cup. “I wouldn’t have to worry about going mad. I already am.”

“Indubitably.” Abruptly Shani looks behind Shadar to where a white-cloaked form is stirring. “And you’d better demonstrate your control of saidin right now, because -”

“Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall, ninety-nine bottles of beer...”

“ - Sycho’s about to sing.”

“If one green bottle should accidentally fall -”

“No, you don’t!” Shadar weaves a gag of Air in record time.

“Maybe you could be the Car’a’carn,” Shaiel says dryly. “Leafblighter can’t be any worse than that.”

“All right, this promises amusement.” Shani raises her voice. “Someone! Stop drinking, we need you to record this. Shadar’s going to explain why he should be the Dragon Reborn instead of al’Thor.”

It would be nice to say that four attentive faces (Snarg being still unconscious) focus immediately on Shadar. In reality, however, the four wear expressions more skeptical than attentive, and Sycho is still attempting to sing through his gag. None of these, however, faze Shadar.

“If I were the Dragon Reborn,” the Asha’man expounds, “the main worry of all those surrounding me would be alleviated. No one would need to wonder when and how I was about to go mad, knowing that I could not possibly get any madder than I already am. All that energy spent worrying could therefore be turned to useful purposes.”

“Such as..?” Shani prompts him.

“Why, driving more people mad, of course. What else?” Shadar refills his cup. “Instead of teaching my Asha’man to kill, I would teach them to turn somersaults, laugh maniacally and frighten Darkfriends away by the sheer force of their insanity. Trollocs would not dare venture near me, afraid of having their tiny brains - sorry, Snarg - totally overloaded. Myrddraal, unable to laugh, would scream with frustration instead. No Shadowspawn would be taken seriously, and the Dark One’s forces would be completely crippled.”

“And the Shadowsouled?” Shaiel, despite herself, is getting interested. Someone is writing busily, albeit with a rather unsteady hand.

“The Forsaken?” Shadar dismisses the cast of nightmares with an airy wave of his hand. “They couldn’t exist in the same reality with me. They’d go running back to Shayol Ghul and hide.”

“And the Dark One?”

“Would take one look at me and beg to be re-imprisoned for another Age.” Shadar drains his cup and looks around with a rather smug expression. “Did I leave anything out? Would I make a great Dragon, or what?”

“I refrain from comment.” Shani finishes her own drink. “If you’re going to be the Dragon, can I be the Amyrlin?”

“What on earth for?”

“So I can break all the rules, of course!”

“I thought you did that already,” Shadar points out. “Didn’t Elaida put a price on your head?”

“Yes. Didn’t Taim put one on yours?”

“Yes.” The two channelers grin at each other.

“Back to the point...” Shaiel reminds them. “How are you going to break the rules any more than you do already? There are only so many, you know.”

“Not at all. An Amyrlin can make rules.” Shani smiles enigmatically. “And then proceed to break them. Aside from that, though, as Amyrlin I could break rules much more publicly. An Aes Sedai ignoring all Tower convention is one thing, but an Amyrlin doing so...”

“Ah. I see your point.”

“Exactly. Chaos. Besides, I think I’d like to be the first successful Red Amyrlin ever.”

Shadar laughs at that. “Successful - by what standard?”

“Who’d want to argue with me?”

“Arrghaghh!”

“What was that?”

“Gharrghahggh!”

“Oh - sorry, Sycho.” Shadar removes the gag. His apology doesn’t sound particularly sincere, and Sycho scowls. He doesn’t, however, sing.

“What were you saying, Sycho?” Shani passes him the flagon. “Do you want to be the Lord Captain Commander?”

“I’m not as insane as you two.”

“Don’t worry,” she assures him. “We’ll back you up.”

“So kind.”

“I know.”

“That’s settled, then,” Shadar announces. “I’ll be the Dragon. Shani can be the Amyrlin and Sycho can be the Lord Captain Commander. Someone can be the official historian and chronicler for the Dragon Reborn, and Snarg can be...”

“Official carrier of books for the official historian?” Shaiel suggests.

“Perfect. What do you want to be?”

“Nothing. I’ll stick to laughing at you five.”

“Chief spectator,” Shani agrees. “Are we agreed, then? In the event of the Dragon Reborn, the Amyrlin Seat and the Lord Captain Commander being simultaneously missing, dead or otherwise incapacitated, we take over?”

“That doesn’t seem likely to happen very soon,” Sycho points out.

“I suppose it doesn’t, at that.” Shani reaches for the flagon again. “We’ll just have to find something else to do in the meantime, won’t we?”

[Oh, and a note. 'Shadar Aman' translates literally as 'shadow dragon' but putting 'Shadar' in context as a name, the phrase can be translated as 'Shadar, the Dragon.' Which of course is the theme of the story.]


Episode 9: No Business Like Show Business

The curtain rises.

The author apologises for using the ‘the curtain rises’ opening again, but this time she has an excuse. The curtain rises on another curtain, which in turn rises on...

“Welcome to the Circus of Chaos!” Shadar, in a black silk cape and top hat, strides out from amidst a collection of brightly painted wagons, bowing flamboyantly to the audience, which consists of people from most parts of the continent, and even a few Whitecloaks standing at the back. “Welcome! I am Shadar, showmaster supreme, magician without compare! Allow me to present my circus of madmen!”

“Ahem.” A feminine voice breaks in. “Shadar -”

“Oh, yes. And madwomen.”

“Ahem!” A slightly louder voice this time, like the rumbling of a giant bumblebee.

“And mad Ogier...”

“AHEM!” A very loud voice.

“And mad Trollocs, yes. Ladies and gentlemen - oh, and Whitecloaks - as a prelude to later entertainments, let me dazzle and astound you with a demonstration of my skills at magic and sleight of hand. If my assistant will join me...”

Shani strolls out from the wagons, wearing a costume that would make Leane and Berelain blush, assuming they only saw it in dim light. The effect on the audience in broad daylight is best left to the imagination.

“...then I shall proceed.” Shadar then proceeds to pull half a dozen coloured balls from various places in his clothing (and from Shani’s, which is somewhat more of a challenge) and starts juggling them. One by one, they turn to balls of fire and dissipate in puffs of smoke. The audience laugh and clap. Shadar then calls various members of the audience up on stage and pulls coins and jewels from their apparently empty pockets, making him even more popular.

“I shall now pull a rabbit out of my hat!” Shadar removes his hat and places it on a table (don’t ask how the table got there, this is a magic act after all). He reaches in and pulls. First comes a golden plume, then a polished metal helmet, then a head...

“Hey, that’s no rabbit! Go away, Whitecloak!” Shadar pushes the head back down. The audience is quite amused, with the exception of a small group in white cloaks. “Sorry about that, people. You never know where they’ll turn up nowadays.” On the second attempt Shadar produces a rabbit. It still has a tiny helmet and white cloak, though. “Hmm. Oh well, better than nothing. That’s it, for now. Time for my colleagues to take a turn.” Shadar puts the rabbit back in the hat, followed by the table (and now you know), places the hat back on his head, bows again, and walks off.

After a suitable dramatic pause, Sycho comes out, carrying a rope and followed by Shaiel, wearing a sequined outfit with somewhat more material to it than Shani’s (okay, that isn’t really saying much). They quickly set up the rope, tied to two long poles. Shaiel climbs one of the poles, does a spectacular back-flip, and lands on the rope. Sycho attempts to do the same, slips, and ends up hanging from the rope by one hand. With an exaggerated sigh, Shaiel reaches down and hauls him up. They do several more flips, cartwheels and somersaults before suddenly freezing. Shani, standing below, tosses up a sword (glittering with fake gems) to Sycho, and a spear (likewise) to Shaiel. Both catch them, and, still balanced on the rope, start fencing.

Sycho attacks. Shaiel parries his blow, and counters with one of her own. Sycho ducks, falls backward, and barely catches himself with one foot hooked around the rope. Shaiel waits for him to pull himself back up, then does another flip over his head and attacks from behind. Sycho falls again.

After a few more minutes of this, Sycho falls yet again, tries to pull himself up, slips, and tumbles. The audience gasps. Shani and Shadar race up with a blanket (not just an ordinary blanket, of course, but a red velvet one covered in gems, the kind you could probably find on a Tairen lord’s bed. Shadar pulled it out of his hat.) and hold it up beneath the falling Sycho. He lands, bounces, and this time falls straight through the blanket. Shani and Shadar hold it up to reveal a large Sycho-shaped hole.

Shaiel slides down the pole, does a cartwheel over to where they are standing with the blanket, and bows. Shani bows. Shadar bows, flourishing his cape and hat. Sycho staggers to his feet, bows, and falls flat on his face again. The audience cheers.

Shadar and Sycho retire into the wagons. Shani and Shaiel walk around the audience carrying big hats (they pulled them out of Shadar’s, of course) and hand out coins instead of collecting them. After this unexpected generosity, they too retire to the wagons and close the doors. Another dramatic pause occurs.

Someone emerges, dressed in an oversized gleeman’s cloak. “Good day, good people!” he booms, then lowers his voice. Slightly. The audience clap and cheer at the appearance of an Ogier. “I have a story to tell you.” He flips through a notebook. “Hmm. Where was I? Ah yes, here it is. This is the story, ladies and gentlemen, of a most remarkable band of adventurers and their travels through the world. Most remarkable, indeed. There was an Asha’man, you see, and a Red sister, and...” He notices the laughter of the audience and looks at them reprovingly. “And it’s all absolutely true!”

Striking a pose, he begins. “The curtain rises on blackness...”

To be continued.


Episode 10: The Show Must Go On

A brief summary of events; yesterday’s show closed on Someone’s recitation of his story ‘Long Live Insanity.’ He got to the third ‘the curtain rises’ before finally becoming hoarse and having to retire to the disappointment of the audience. Today, the sun rises, and right on time the curtain also rises...

“Welcome! Welcome to the second performance of the Circus of Chaos!” Shadar, in hat and cape, sweeps a dramatic bow to the gathering audience. There are already more people than there were yesterday; apparently word has spread. “Today we will once again dazzle, amaze, astound and bewilder you with our phenomenal skills. This afternoon will bring another demonstration of my magical talents. But now, allow me to present to you the sensational, the spectacular, in fact the sensationally spectacular Shani, Tamer of Trollocs!”

Shani, in an even scantier outfit than last time and with a (sequined) whip in her hand, saunters into the arena to the thunderous applause of the audience. Especially its male members.

“And allow me also to present - Snarg!”

Right on cue, a loud bellow comes from the wagons, and Snarg lumbers out. The audience gasp and shriek, and playing to the crowd, Snarg bares huge teeth and roars again.

“Down!” Shani orders, cracking her whip. The giant Trolloc whines and cowers. Murmurs of astonishment come from the crowd. Shani smiles and bows, before turning back to put Snarg through his paces.

The Trolloc walks. He runs. He sits up and begs. He fetches a stick. He juggles coloured balls and flaming torches. He manages a few dance steps. He even attempts a somersault, before crashing over and landing on the ground. At Shani’s signal, he bows courteously and blows kisses to the audience, who are all laughing fit to burst.

“Thank you! Thank you!” Shadar announces as they all bow. “Ladies, gentlemen, Whitecloaks, let me assure you this is no trick. Snarg here is a genuine Trolloc. As you can see, it’s amazing what Trollocs can learn. When we’ve perfected Snarg’s training, we intend to drop in to the Blight and pick up a few more for Shani to work on. What would you think of an entire dance troupe of Trollocs?”

Due to the audience being too busy laughing, there is no response.

“Yes,” Shani agrees, “and it’s amazing how useful a Trolloc or two can be, too. Snarg here carries our baggage for us when we don’t have wagons. Don’t you, Snarg?”

“Snarg carry baggage!”

“And as you can see, he talks in the time-honoured Trolloc style. But with very little training, he can easily switch to cultivated language...”

Snarg bows again. “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Ah yes, and Whitecloaks. It is truly an honour to be here today.”

“...or even to Ogier dialect.”

“Hmm?” Snarg blinks. “Ah, yes. Hmm. Where was I?” He produces a notebook and starts flipping through it.

“What’s more,” Shadar adds, “he can act! In fact, all of us can. So watch closely, and we shall delight and enchant you with our theatrical art. Today’s performance is another episode from that story the Ogier was telling you yesterday...”

Shaiel, Sycho and Someone run out and join them in the arena. With props speedily produced from Shadar’s hat, the six perform a pantomime of the events in “Maiden’s Kiss.”

“Thank you! Thank you!” They bow and retire. Someone and Snarg walk around with hats handing out more coins.

“It’s not that we think we have to pay you to watch,” Shadar explains. “We know we’re good.” The audience cheers him on. “We just don’t like doing what everyone else does. Besides, what would we do with money? I can pull everything we need out of my hat.” He demonstrates, removing a number of silk scarves, some more coins which he throws into the crowd, a couple of Sword and Dragon collar pins, a Great Serpent ring, and a flock of doves which, oddly enough, are wearing conical metal helmets. “Wonder what happened there? Oh, well. As I was saying, we know we’re good. So let me present to you another display of my magical and sleight of hand skills. Shani! Snarg! Come on out!”

Shani comes out from her wagon. Snarg drops his hat of money and bounds out from the audience.

“Go get the box, Snarg!” Shani orders with another whipcrack. Snarg lumbers off, and returns carrying a wooden box the height of a person. He closes the box and intones a few grand-sounding words (although, in the unlikely event that anyone in the audience happened to speak the Old Tongue fluently, they would have heard a rather rude joke about people in white cloaks). Snarg lifts the box up again and parades around with it on his shoulders for a minute or two.

“Now - open the box, will you, Snarg? - you will see quite clearly that Shani is not in it!”

The box is opened. Shani is, indeed, not in it. Instead, Sycho staggers out dressed in full Whitecloak regalia.

“Not you again!” Shadar curses, shoving him back in. The Whitecloaks in the audience are not amused, but the rest more than make up for it. “Sorry, people. Must be Whitecloak season or something. They keep popping up like flies. Let me try that one again.” He closes the box, repeats the Old Tongue words (with a few embellishments for the benefit of his fellow performers) while Snarg lifts it again. In mid-air, the door opens and Shani jumps out, landing lithely on the ground.

“There, that’s better. I don’t know where all these Whitecloaks are coming from. Well, ladies, gentlemen - Whitecloaks - I’m sorry to say that the Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills, that all good things come to an end, and that right now -” Shadar squints up at the sun - “the show’s over.”

There are cries of disappointment from the audience.

“But I’ve always said that when you go out, go out in style!” Shadar flourishes his cape again and gestures dramatically. “Maestro!”

A band starts playing from somewhere unseen - could it be from inside Shadar’s hat? The wagons start moving with apparently no means of doing so. Shani dances across the arena, jumps up onto the roof of a moving wagon, and changes her dance to what several shocked observers recognise as the sa’sara. Sycho and Shaiel jump onto the wagon behind hers and start fencing with their jewelled weapons. Someone, still scribbling in his notebook, vaults onto the third wagon, and Snarg takes the fourth. A flash of light, and a gateway rotates open in the middle of the arena.

“There’s no business, like show business...” they sing (doing their best to drown Sycho out) as the wagons turn and drive themselves through the open gateway, the audience gaping. Shadar leaps onto the roof of the last wagon, his hat spilling out silk scarves, gold coins, jewels, flocks of doves and the occasional rabbit.

“Next performance,” he announces as the gateway closes behind them, “Shayol Ghul!”

Tune in next week for episode 11: The Ambush.

Sundara, the Insane


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