The Reader's Digest Presents:
THE WHEEL OF TIME
by Robert Jordan
BOOK 1: THE EYE OF THE WORLD
The palace doorbell rang again. "Coming, dammit!" growled a badly hungover Lews Therin Telamon, picking his way through piles of rubble. "Ilyena!" he moaned. "Who spiked the saidin?" Bleary eyed, he opened the door.
"Candygram!" chirped a man in black. "Candygram for the Dragon!"
"Candygram?" cried Lews Therin. "I love candy!"
"Just kidding. Actually I'm one of the Forsaken, here to torment you."
Despair welled up in Lews Therin's breast. "Betrayer of Hope! How dare you? I am the Lord of the Morning! You know what that means? That means nobody gets breakfast until I say so! No coffee, no danish, no newspaper -- nothing that is in any way morning-related! Ilyena, we have a guest." He hoisted a woman's pathetic broken form, her golden-haired beauty marred only by the fact that she was a dead, rotting corpse. "Hello," he piped in a falsetto, working her like a big ventriloquist's dummy. "I'm Ilyena! What's your name?"
The man in black rolled his eyes, grossed out. "Call me Ishamael."
The air around Lews Therin turned to fire. The bolt that struck from the heavens split open the earth, reared up a huge mountain from its bowels, and left the man in black covered head to toe with embarrassing soot. Quivering with duck-like rage, he sputtered a single word: "Dithhhh-picable!"
The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass leaving memories that become legend, which fades to myth, which starts to fade back to legend but instead fakes everybody out and fades directly to memories, then myth again, then legend, until the beginning and the point of the sentence are both long forgotten.
Rand al'Thor and his father Tam slogged stubbornly along the road to Emond's Field. All Two Rivers folk had a stubborn streak, and arguments over parking spaces could last for generations. But now it was Bel Tine, Rand's favorite holiday even though it had become very commercialized. As they neared the village, he could hear singing:
"Ah-boo daw-ray, ah-boo daw-ray
Welcome Bel Tine, Bel Tine day!
Winternight is in our grasp
As long as we have hands to clasp..."
Suddenly Rand froze. "Father, look!" he shouted. "A black rider!" Tam spun around, but the rider had vanished. Rand gaped. "But he was there! I swear, by the Light!"
Tam grunted. "I wouldn't worry, lad. Even if there was a black rider, he was probably just on his way to the Shire and got lost in the wrong epic fantasy. Nothing for us to worry about." Still, Rand couldn't help noticing the shrub that seemed to follow them, moving sideways three quick steps at a time.
"Dad?" he asked stubbornly. "Sometimes when I'm abiding in the field, keeping watch over our flock by night, I get these... funny feelings. About the sheep."
Tam nodded. "I understand, lad. It can get lonely, herding sheep. But when you get those feelings, try to remember the flame and the void. Also, cold showers help."
"Here, have a Lifesaver. Rand, I know it's been hard on you since your adopted mother -- I mean, since your mother died. Your biological mother. Not adopted. Say, what's this?" Mayor al'Vere was up on a ladder, hanging a banner across the front of the Winespring Inn. It read WELCOME TROLLOC CONVENTION.
Suddenly Rand felt a mysterious, constricting pain in his gut. Had he been struck by the One Power?! No, someone had given him a flying wedgie. Behind him, Mat Cauthon laughed hysterically. "What's the matter, Rand? Somebody plug the hole in your Shayol Ghul?"
Rand tugged at his small clothes, which actually means underpants. "Funny as a crutch, Mat. You know, if a bunch of demon snake people ever hang you by your neck from say, the Tree of Life, I'm just going to leave you there!"
"Rand al'Thor, get your hand out of your pants before I box your ears!" It was Nynaeve al'Meara, Wisdom of Emond's Field and well known bitch on authentically medieval ox-drawn cart wheels. "Ow!" she added, giving her braid a characteristic tug.
Rand sighed. "Nynaeve, I wasn't --"
"Wasn't what, Rand? Teasing the Great Serpent?" Rand froze. It was Egwene al'Vere. Egwene was the most popular girl at Emond High, even though, like everyone in the Two Rivers, her middle name was Al. She had big dark eyes. Almost like a ewe, Rand thought. Yes, a tender young ewe...
Egwene and Nynaeve giggled. Nynaeve pulled on her braid again. "Ouch!" she said.
Tam called out to the Mayor. "Say, Bran. What's this about a Trolloc convention?" Rand noticed a number of huge, horned Trollocs wandering around wearing black armor, name tags and little red fez hats.
The Mayor climbed down. "Isn't it great? Finally some tourist trade!"
A Trolloc with a camera around its neck and sunblock on its snout tapped Rand on the shoulder. "Us here for convention," it snorted. "Us look for teenage boys. You teenage boy?"
"You see?" said Tam. "That's exactly the sort of thing we don't need in the Two Rivers!"
Bran put an arm around Tam's shoulders. "Tam, look. They may be twisted monsters who live only to serve the Dark One and feast upon human flesh, but they spend money like it's going out of style! The Chamber of Commerce is already talking drawing up plans for The Two Rivers Family Entertainment and Shopping Complex." He steered Tam into the Inn. "Come on, have an apple brandy. I'll introduce you to Narg and the boys!"
Mat tugged at Rand's sleeve. "Let's go set off firecrackers under the Congars' midden heap! Oh Light, here comes Perrin."
Perrin Aybara was the blacksmith's apprentice. He might have been a blacksmith himself by now, except he kept getting left back. He had muscles like steel cables, including where his neck should have been. On one of his scarred hands was scrawled a reminder: WHITE HOT METAL -- DON'T TOUCH! COLD METAL -- OKAY TO TOUCH.
"Hey Rand. Hey Mat." Perrin paused, slightly dizzy from the exertion of remembering his friends' names and speaking at the same time. He noticed Rand again. "Oh, hey Rand."
A man with shaggy white hair and thick mustaches came scurrying out of the Inn. His cloak seemed a mass of patches. "Look, a gleeman!" squealed Egwene, delighted.
The gleeman's face twitched spasmodically. "Go f@#$ a shovel, you slug-infested c&*@!" he spat.
Nynaeve frowned. "Boy, that was some pretty substandard glee." She yanked on her braid. "Ow! Damn."
"Sorry," said the gleeman. "I got Tourrette's. That's why I'm out here playin' the boonies. I used to be a court bard, til the day I ended The Siege of Tol Madin by telling Queen Morgase to bob some skull on the snotty end of my f#$% stick." He put some funny-looking tabac in his pipe and lit up. "Ahh, that's better. Thom Merrilin at your service. Also available for children's birthday parties. S*@#! C%&*sucking @#$&*!"
"Perhaps I can help," said a melodious voice from behind them. "What with my magic Aes Sedai powers and all. Oops! What a giveaway."
"Aes Sedai," breathed Rand. "All the stories are true! Well, except for the one about Bongo the singing frog who became King of the Moon. That one's probably not true."
Perrin nodded slowly. "Or Mat's story about what he did with the Finngar sisters behind the -- "
"Sedai," said the woman. "Moiraine Sedai." She was only 4'8", but her grace and air of command made her seem at least 4'10". Behind her stood a tall, grim-faced man wearing a strange cloak that clashed horribly with the rest of his ensemble, so that it was almost impossible to look at him. "And this is Lan, my gaidin."
"Heh," chortled Mat. "She said gai. Heh."
"I see you've noticed my disconcerting agelessness," continued Moiraine. The teenagers exchanged puzzled glances. "Go on, guess how old I am!"
"Thirty-seven?" suggested Rand. The others nodded in agreement.
Moiraine blinked, then casually studied her blue nail polish. "Kill them," she said. Lan reached for his sword.
"Did I say thirty-seven?" Rand babbled. "I meant twenty-seven. No, eighteen! Two and a half?" Moiraine smirked. Lan resheathed his blade. Suddenly an overpowering stench made them all stagger.
"Wares!" croaked a gangly man driving a huge refuse wagon, like a dumpster on wheels. "Things! Stuff! Material possessions!" Flies buzzed around the teetering heap of garbage. On the side of the cart, the words RUBBISH REMOVAL had been painted over with the slogan FINE IMPORTED MERCHANDISE, PADAN FAIN PROPRIETOR (NOT A DARKFRIEND).
"Look, a peddler!" squealed Egwene, delighted. Two Rivers folk were kind of easily delighted, in addition to the whole stubbornness thing.
"But he's selling garbage," said Rand, puzzled.
"Correction," barked Fain. "Celebrity garbage! Come on, who wants to buy a moldy, half-eaten corn dog discarded by the false Dragon? You, ma'am! How about a nice, waxy Q-tip used by the Amyrlin herself?" People began crowding excitedly around the pungent wagon, including several members of Emond's Fielders, the local softball team.
"News!" they clamored. "We want news!"
"News?" said Fain. "Hmm, let me think... oh, yes! We must all immediately pledge our souls to the Great Lord of the Dark, for He is mighty beyond our pathetic mortal comprehension, all hail Shai'tan, bow down before Him or face obliteration and eternal torment."
"Wow," said Rand. "Talk about media bias."
Tam al'Thor staggered drunkenly out of the Winespring Inn, vomited on Bela the horse, and fell over. Rand rushed to his side. "Please," he implored Moiraine. "You've got to heal him. I'll pay any price in my power if you help him!"
Tam mumbled, slurring his words. "Kari, you whore. You burned the pot roasht again!" Whack! The back of his hand caught Rand across the jaw. "Bad enough we had to adopt thish half-Aiel brat. What kind of a ssshtupid name is Rand, anyway?" Whack!
"On second thought," said Rand, "it's not like we're related or anything." He dropped Tam face-first into the gutter, pausing only to relieve him of his heron mark sword.
Moiraine faced the three boys. "Tell me your dreams," she said.
"Well," Perrin began awkwardly. "Sometimes I dream Master Luhhan announces a surprise quiz, only then I realize I haven't been to the forge all semester, and I'm gonna fail!" He shuddered.
"I dream of being naked in public," said Mat. "Like in some kind of tavern. I'm dancing, and sleazy men in raincoats are throwing money at me." He went on, a faraway look in his eyes. "My da says it's just a crazy dream, and that I should forget about it and go into horse trading like him. Well, maybe it is a crazy dream -- but darn it, it's my dream. And I don't care what anybody says, I'm gonna be a star!"
Rand cleared his throat. "This probably isn't worth mentioning, but... every night I dream about battling the Dark One on Tarmon Gai'don and washing away the Shadow with my blood on the rocks of Shayol Ghul."
Moiraine nodded. "Just as I thought. One of you boys is the Dragon Reborn! Now, if I can only figure out which one..."
An angry mob surged around the corner, led by Hari Coplin, Cenn Buie, and Cenn's cousin Baba Buie. "Aes Sedai out of the Two Rivers!" they shouted at Moiraine. "F G H I, we don't need no Aes Sedai!"
A hissing white flame flared from Moiraine's staff. "Is this what Aemon's blood has come to?" she scolded. "Let me tell you a story. Once, the land you call the Two Rivers was known as Manetheren. Aemon was its king, and Eldrene was his queen. But Aemon was often away on business, and late at night, lying on silk sheets in the palace bedroom, Eldrene would get lonely. On one such night, Eldrene was sprawled on a bearskin rug beside a roaring fire, clad only in a sheer nightie. Slowly, she began to touch herself."
The mob was silent now, spellbound. Moiraine went on. "Soon Eldrene's soft cries attracted the attention of her maid, Candy. 'Why, Mistress!' Candy said. 'Are you in distress? Let Candy help.' And with that, Candy let her own flimsy teddy fall to the stone floor. The firelight flickered across her tawny skin, revealing ripe, sensuous curves aching for sweet attention."
Someone in the crowd moaned. Several men shifted from foot to foot, panting. Moiraine's eyes glinted. "Writhing with uncontrollable desire, the two women became as one, tongues and limbs intertwined in a glistening orgy of smoldering, sapphic passion. Stroking. Nibbling. Grinding!"
"Uh, I have to go!" said Bili Congar, edging away.
"Me too!" said Darl Coplin.
"Does anybody have a Kleenex I could borrow?" asked Cenn Buie. "Well, that I could have, really." The rest of the men bolted, scurrying away home or into nearby alleys for quick relief.
"As I was saying," said Moiraine, "All three of you are ta'veren. You'd better come with me to Tar Valon."
"Can I come too?" asked Egwene, biting her thumb. "I really liked your story."
So it was that Rand, Perrin, Mat and Egwene found themselves setting out on what seemed a grand adventure. Thom the gleeman decided to tag along too, having been forced to leave town in haste after closing his act with an unusual rendition of "That's Life (So S@*# My Mother#%&*ing &@#$ You Pr*#k Bastards)."
"Hey, Moiraine!" said Rand as the company rode past an ominous thicket. "What did you mean before when you said one of us is the Dragon Reborn?"
"Don't be ridiculous!" snorted Moiraine. "I never said any such thing."
"Sure you did." Mat chimed in. "You said, 'One of you boys is the Dragon Reborn!'"
"No, I didn't."
"Um, I heard you too," said Perrin.
Moiraine sighed impatiently. "Look. What I said was, 'One of you boys is a drag on Rayburn.' Okay? And it just so happens that Rayburn is the name of that horse you're riding, Rand. There, mystery solved. Whoopdee-doo."
"His name's not Rayburn," said Rand. "It's Cloud."
"Listen, you little hayseed punks!" snapped Moiraine. "The next one of you who opens his yap gets turned into a greased gerbil, and sat on by a degenerate celebrity. 'The Dragon Reborn...' Pfsh! I never heard anything so preposterous in all my life."
Just then a platoon of Trollocs burst from concealment in the thicket. "Look!" one of them barked. "Is Dragon Reborn! Get him!"
Lan's sword was out in a flash. "For the Seven Towers!" he cried, plunging into the fray.
"For the Six Geese A-Laying!" cried Rand.
"Garbanzo shm'geggy ixnay!" cried Mat, who always liked to slip 'er a little of the Ol' Tongue when he could get away with it.
Huge Trollocs, powerful Myrddraal, and unstoppable Draghkar all quailed with fear. "Polyglot farm boys? Yikes, retreat!" They broke ranks and fled, presumably in search of another thicket to hide in.
"That was lucky," growled Lan. "But we have a saying in the Borderlands: 'Luck is but a matter of seemingly chance happenings, such as random good or ill fortune.' Okay, it's not so much a saying as a strict definition. Nonetheless, you three had best learn to use the weapons you carry."
He pointed to Perrin's axe. "That axe. It is most effective when used for chopping. You want to go for a sort of chopping motion. Chop! Chop! Like that." Perrin looked at his axe, as though seeing it for the first time.
"That bow," Lan told Mat, "is for shooting arrows over long distances, so that they become lodged in people or things." Mat looked at his bow, as though Lan were an idiot. Lan turned to Rand.
"That sword," he began, then noticed the heron mark. "Oh, look! It has a birdy on it! Hello, little birdy! Tweety tweety tweet!"
Later, as they made camp, Rand overheard Moiraine instructing Egwene in the use of the One Power. "With
saidar," she intoned, "you can blow stuff up real good. Or make things disappear, or fly. Or vibrate! Incidentally, master the vibrating part and you'll never need a man again." She handed Egwene a dusty leather volume. "Here, I want you to do a book report on this."
Egwene held it reverently. "The Andrea Dworkin Reader. Was she Aes Sedai?"
"Sort of," said Moiraine. "Pay special attention to the essay in which she explains why all intercourse is actually rape."
Rand pulled his blanket over his head and tried to fall asleep, but he felt uneasy. Egwene couldn't really be serious about shaving her head, could she? Not to mention piercing her - well, what she said. Rand shuddered. Nice Two Rivers girls just didn't do things like that!
He dreamed he was in a bookseller's shop, eyeing the horrendous cover art on the latest volume of The Karaethon Cycle. The series had been going downhill of late, not to mention the torturously long intervals between installments. Suddenly Ba'alzamon tapped him on the shoulder. "Serve me or you'll never find out how it ends!" he hissed.
Rand woke with a start. After they had saddled up, he noticed that Mat and Perrin looked like they hadn't slept well either. "Did you have bad dreams too?" Rand whispered.
"You mean about meeting Ba'alzamon in a bookstore?" Mat replied. "And he was wearing a red cloak, and his eyes were filled with flame?"
"Nope," said Mat. "I think I'd remember that."
They topped a ridge, and Baerlon came into view up ahead. Rand had never seen a big city before, and he was amazed by the towering skyscrapers, some almost twice the height of a man. The streets were jammed with people, dozens of them.
"Gee," said Perrin. "I bet they don't even have to marry their cousins! I mean, if they don't feel like it." Then he injured himself while trying to pick his nose with his axe, and it occurred to Rand that perhaps there was a little too much inbreeding in the Two Rivers.
A slender girl sat on a barrel outside the door of The Stag and Lion Inn. At least, Rand thought it was a girl, though her hair was cropped short. She wore tape wound tightly around her chest beneath a man's shirt, and some sort of strap-on appendage under her trousers.
"Hi," she said. "My name's Min, but I prefer to be called Brandon. Wow, you guys have sparks and colors swirling all around you!"
"Forkroot-sniffing junkie," muttered Thom.
"No," said Moiraine. "Min has special abilities. What else do you see, Min?"
Min squinted. "I see the tall redheaded one banging the Daughter-Heir of Andor, a psycho Aiel, and - holy crap!" She fell backwards off the barrel.
"Are you all right, Min?" asked Rand, concerned.
"It's Brandon! Don't touch my tape."
"Lan!" a woman's voice called out from behind them. "Oh, Lan! You forgot something!" Rand turned, amazed to see Nynaeve staggering after them, dusty and out of breath. "Here," she said to Lan. "You forgot, um... this gum wrapper! I thought you might, you know, need it or something. Say, could you unzip me?"
Abruptly, Lan whipped out his sword and roared "Myrddraal! Die, Halfman scum!" Rand glimpsed a black cloak and a pale, eyeless face before Lan's whirling blade sliced the startled figure to bloody red ribbons, like raw steak in a blender.
"Hey!" said Min, as Lan wiped his weapon on the Fade's shredded black cloak. "You just killed poor old Mister Snodgrass, the blind albino! He was born with no eyes, and always had to wear a black cape to protect him from the sun."
Lan shrugged. "It looked like he was reaching for a weapon," he said. A crowd began to gather.
Moiraine spoke. "Clearly, this was a case of a well-intentioned, conscientious Warder making a split-second decision based on what, at the time, appeared to him be the facts. I see no evidence of 'Warder brutality' or any other wrongdoing. A civilian board of inquiry would only interfere with the ability of the Warders to do their job and protect the public."
Later, after planting a sword on the dead body and intimidating several witnesses, the company skipped town and checked into a cheap motel down the road in Shadar Logoth.
Rand sat by the pool, thumbing through Lan's AAA tour book. "Hey, it says here Shadar Logoth used to be called Aridhol, back before it was devoured by a great evil which now curses all who visit. Local sights include a deadly cloud of mist, the skeletons of those who were foolish enough to set foot here before us... and the world's largest rubber band ball! Wow, let's go check that out."
Mat walked in. "Hey, look at this cool dagger!
I just bought it in the parking lot from a guy named Mordeth, but I'm already feeling very attached to it."
"Mordeth!" Moiraine said. "He lurks in Shadar Logoth, waiting for someone foolish enough to accompany him to the walls. Then he will consume their soul, and wear their body."
A blood-curdling scream echoed in the distance. "Owwwww! Hey, that was my soul, fella! Whoa, get out of my body! Owwwww!"
"Funny," said Rand. "That sounded exactly like Padan Fain, that non-darkfriend peddler."
"Don't panic! Stay together!" ordered Moiraine, as the company panicked blindly and fled in several directions at once. As he raced through blackness, dodging the fatal misty tendrils of Mashadar, Rand could hear Nynaeve's wails of "Wait for me, Lannykins!" receding into the gloom.
Perrin and Egwene trudged through the woods, stomachs growling loudly. "I'm just saying," Egwene was just saying. "Desperate situations call for desperate measures. You understand, don't you?"
Perrin scratched his head. "You want to eat me?"
Egwene sighed, rolling her eyes. "You don't have to put it so crudely. My point is, I'm going to be Aes Sedai someday - maybe even Amyrlin. But not if I starve to death in this stupid forest! Under the circumstances, I think cannibalism is a perfectly reasonable option. Now give me your arm."
Knowing better than to argue with a Two Rivers woman, Perrin reluctantly extended his forearm. But as Egwene was sprinkling it with basil and oregano, a pack of drooling wolves surrounded them. "Go get your own!" Egwene snapped at them crossly.
"Oh, don't mind them!" said a strange man dressed in pelts. "Jaws, Fang, Rip, Shred, Masticate and Eatyouup are just being friendly. My name is Elyas Machera. I see dead people - I mean, I can talk to wolves!" He pointed to Perrin. "So can he."
"No, I can't!" Perrin said. He turned to the wolves. "Can I?"
"There, see?" said Elyas. "He talked to them."
"Right," said Egwene. "Well, it's been very nice meeting you, Mister Machete. But we really have to be going now." She flashed Perrin a discreet 'loony' signal.
Bitch sure looks like dinner to me! Perrin heard the wolves' thoughts in his head. Hey, Young Bull. You want her wishbone or a drumstick?
"Perrin!" Egwene cried. "Your eyes are yellow! And you have fur all over your back."
Perrin blushed. "Actually, that's always been there."
"I know," said Egwene. "I just think it's gross."
Elyas led them to where a band of Tinkers was camped. A sickly sweet haze filled the clearing. Egwene sniffed. "That smells like the funny-looking tabac Thom Merrilin puts in his pipe."
"They follow the Way of the Leaf," Elyas explained. "The Primo Colombian Leaf."
"Duuuude!" said a paunchy, long-haired Tinker wearing a tie-dyed t-shirt. "I'm Raen the Mahdi. This is Mott the Hoople, and his old lady Dreamflower. Do you know the tune?"
"Duuuude!" Elyas replied formally. "No."
Perrin whispered to Elyas. "What's he talking about?"
Elyas whispered back. "They seek a lost Grateful Dead track, which does not appear on any album, nor is it found on any bootleg concert tape. They believe that when they find the lost tune, it will be the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. Which is kind of like the Age of Legends, only instead of working miracles, everybody just sits around with the munchies, watching TV."
A slender, bare-chested Tinker wearing love beads massaged Egwene's shoulders. "I'm Aram. Why so tense?" Then he noticed Perrin fingering his axe. "Duuuude! Mellow out. We're pacifists."
"Pacifists?" Perrin said. "Oh. So then, you couldn't fight back even if I did something like this?" He poked Aram in the stomach. "Or maybe this?" He grabbed Aram by the nose and smacked him several times. "A wiseguy, eh? Nyuk nyuk nyuk!"
"You with the shaggy back!" squawked a voice on a bullhorn. "Drop the Tinker and put your hands on your head!"
"Whitecloaks!" squeaked Aram, and began frantically eating his stash. Perrin could hear toilets flushing repeatedly all over the Tinker camp.
"Gee," said Egwene, as a squadron of Children of the Light closed in on them. "I wasn't expecting the Amadician Inquisition."
"Don't try to distract us with obvious cue lines!" commanded the Whitecloaks' leader. "I am Lord Captain Bornhald. Do you walk in the Light?"
The other Children burst into song:
When you walk in the Light
Hold your head up high
And don't be a Friend of the Dark...
"Quiet!" barked Bornhald. "Child Byar, these two will be our guests. So prepare the hospitality manacles, and sharpen the instruments of persuasive friendliness."
Suddenly a great hoopla erupted. "The Golden Crane!" cried Lan, butchering a gory path through the Whitecloaks' ranks, while Moiraine called down lightning from the sky for dramatic effect. "The Silver Dumptruck! The Platinum Forklift!" Meanwhile, Nynaeve had finally yanked her braid completely off. Bits of her scalp flew everywhere as, swinging it like a mace, she knocked several Whitecloaks unconscious.
They quickly reached Perrin and Egwene, and carried them to safety on Mandarb, Aldieb, and a couple of Hertz rental horses. "You know," Moiraine told Nynaeve. "Rescues like this would be a lot easier if you'd just admit you can channel. Then you could blow stuff up, or make things vibrate!" She leaned close. "Incidentally - "
"Hey," Lan objected. "You wanna ease off with that crap? I haven't had it in months."
Rand, Mat and Thom stood on the deck of the Spray. The Captain resembled a fat Abe Lincoln, or possibly the guy on the Quaker Oats box. "I do be Bayle Domon," he said "I be from Illian."
"You be illin'?" Rand asked, confused.
"No! I be from Illian. That be why I do be speaking Illian-bonics. Now, what be you trading for your passage?"
"Let me do all the talking," Thom whispered. He turned to Domon. "Ahem! I do be trading these two pert-rumped cabin boys, for the carnal usage of yourself and your crew. Their names do be, er... Willing and Compliant!"
"I'm not sure we should let him do all the talking," Rand told Mat.
"Hmmm," said Domon thoughtfully. "What think you, Popeye? Sinbad? Barnacle Bill?" The leering sailors nodded their eager approval.
"Do you think they're pirates?" Mat asked, licking his lips and stroking his souvenir Shadar Logoth dagger. "Pirates have lots of treasure, huh?"
Rand frowned. "You know, you've become very materialistic and treasure-oriented recently. I think that dagger may be having a negative effect on you."
"Don't touch it!" hissed Mat. "It's mine! My preciousss, yesss. Gollum."
To pass the time, Thom gave the boys lessons in how to eat fire, plus how to scream in pain and treat third degree mouth burns. Despite his Tourrette's, Thom was even able to teach them most of The Great Hunt of the Horn plus How Susa Tamed Jain %&*@ing Farstrider That C%&*sucking Piece of S*!#.
Rand sat atop the mast as they neared Whitebridge. "I'm the King of the World!" he shouted. Then he spied something up ahead in the fog. "Uh oh," he said as the Spray crashed into a giant iceberg, and began to sink. Thom, Mat and Rand scrambled for the single lifeboat, shouting "Ta'veren and Gleemen first!"
They made it safely to shore, only to find a Myrddraal waiting to buy the movie rights. "We won't make any major changes," it said in a voice like Mike Ovitz drawing a file softly across bone. "Ricky Martin will star, opposite a cute animated robot. Sign here!"
"Take the Gleeman!" Rand and Mat cried, throwing Thom to the Myrddraal. Then they ran away as fast as they could, and Thom's screams quickly faded into the distance along with any inconvenient feelings of guilt.
Soon they came to a farmhouse. Rand knocked on the door, and the Farmer answered. "Good day," said Rand. My friend and I are Traveling Gleemen. Can you put us up for the night?"
"Very well," answered the Farmer. "But we have not much room, so you will have to sleep with my daughter!"
"What is this," said Mat. "A joke?"
Several farms later, they came to Four Kings. The man who founded the town did so with money won in a poker game, so he named it after his winning hand. Actually, he had founded several towns in the area, including Fullhouse Falls and Straightflushburg.
The common room of the Los Amigos de La Dark Social Club & Inn was filled with people wearing masks and black cloaks. Mat looked uncomfortable. "Uh oh, I think this might be one of those Zorro bars."
"Milk," ordered Rand.
At once, the room fell silent. You could hear a pin drop. Mat bent down to pick it up. "Hey!" he said. "Somebody lose a pin?"
"You know what happened to the last guy who ordered milk in here?" sneered the bartender.
Rand thought for a moment. "He found out he was lactose intolerant?"
Just then one of the regulars walked in, and everybody cheered "Paitr!" A lutist in the corner began playing the Inn's theme, 'Where Nobody Knows Your Name.'
Mat slapped his forehead. "Rand, these people are all Darkfriends!"
"Please," said an oily voice behind them. "Darkfriend is such an ugly word. We prefer to be called Darkpals. Or Darkbuddies. Or even The Little Dark Rascals!"
The man wore a velvet cape, and his hands glittered with a ring on each finger. Rand gaped at him. "Liberace?" he asked, amazed.
"Howal Gode," said the man. "And I believe you've already met my friend Evil Stabby Barn Woman. See? You're pretty much trapped. You might as give up and surrender to the dark side of the One Power." For no apparent reason, he cupped a hand over his mouth and made a heavy breathing noise.
"Go ahead," rasped Rand. "Make my day!" The air around him turned to fire. A bolt struck from the heavens, incinerating the entire town and everyone in it, except for him and Mat.
Stunned but relieved, they continued on their way. Mat didn't specifically mention what had happened, but he did buy one of those novelty I'M WITH THE DRAGON REBORN t-shirts with the funny pointing finger. "Would you please take that off?" Rand asked, as they passed through the gates of Caemlyn.
When they reached The Queen's Blessing, Master Gill the innkeeper looked them over. "Oh yeah, there was a possessed peddler looking for you! Say, your friend doesn't look so hot."
"Oh, Mat'll be fine," Rand reassured him. "Once he has a chance to relax, unwind, and spit rabidly at anyone who comes near, while feverishly clutching a demonic ruby-hilted dagger to his breast."
"Heh," chortled Mat, sweating and shivering. "You said breast. Heh."
"Pardon me," said a deep, rumbling voice. "But aren't you the Dragon Reborn?" Rand turned to find a giant Ogier towering over him. "My name's Loial. I'm your biggest fan! I have all your prophecies. I thought Aleth nin Taerin alta Camora was totally awesome. I've read it like twenty zillion times! Wow, wait'll I tell everybody back in the stedding I met the Dragon Reborn. But I'm not some psycho stalker groupie! I just want you to know that." The Ogier then dropped his voluminous trousers. "Hey, could you autograph my ass?"
After writing (with some prompting) TO LOIAL, MY BEST FRIEND IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD, FROM HIS SUPER-POWERED PAL THE DRAGON REBORN across Loial's broad, tufted buttocks, Rand made his excuses and hurried off to see Logain the false Dragon. "Hmm," he thought. "Maybe I can get a better view from up in this tree!" Boosting himself up by using a ROYAL TREE, DO NOT CLIMB sign as a stepladder, he soon caught sight of the procession.
There was a marching band from Caemlyn Middle School, a big ale float sponsored by the local Brewers' Guild, and of course the always popular giant balloons shaped like Artur Hawkwing, the Great Serpent, Underdog and Bullwinkle. But just as Logain came into view, go-go dancing in a big cage while surrounded by the red-shawled Tar Valon Majorettes, Rand tumbled out of the tree.
When he came to, he was being undressed by a beautiful girl two or three years younger than he. Her face was a perfect oval framed by sunburst curls, her lips full and red, her eyes bluer than he could believe. She looked almost like the borderline pedophile fantasy of a frustrated middle-aged writer. "Hold still!" she said, unbuckling his belt.
"What are you doing?" exclaimed Rand.
"Playing doctor, silly! I'm Elayne, and that's Gawyn." She indicated a bored-looking boy sitting on a tree limb, then added conspiratorially: "He likes to watch."
"Uh, I'm Rand." He tried to close his pants. "A shepherd from the Two Rivers!"
"A shepherd," Elayne purred. "Well, baa baa black sheep. Have you any... wool?" Her hand slid nimbly under his breeches.
Rand swallowed. "Did you just say... baa?"
"Baaaa," Elayne bleated enticingly. "Herd me, baby. Shear me. Baaaaaa!" Rand's eyes rolled back in his head. Aflame with desire, he reached for her.
"Elayne!" Rand froze. Queen Morgase stood over them, flanked by her stern Aes Sedai counselor Elaida, and Captain-General Gareth Bryne. "What do you have to say for yourself, young lady?"
Elayne sighed. "Um, rape? Help, rape."
"Guards!" roared Bryne. Rand found himself surrounded. Elaida walked over and grabbed his crotch. Her eyes opened wide with surprise. "So," she said softly. "They have Jews in the Two Rivers."
Bryne whispered something about Andor needing to maintain good relations with the bankers. Morgase looked nervous. "You're free to go," she said. Rand immediately took off running. She called after him: "But please consider lowering interest rates in order to increase capital liquidity and stimulate the market!"
Back at The Queen's Blessing, Rand was surprised to find Moiraine and the rest of his lost friends waiting for him. Mat looked quite cheerful and peppy. "You healed him!" Rand exclaimed.
"I'll say she did!" piped Mat. Then he turned to Moiraine, sweat beading on his upper lip. "Can I have another magic yellow Aes Sedai happy-all-the-time pill now, please?"
"Whoa," said Lan, holding up a copy of the Caemlyn Gazette. "Take a look at this." The bold headline read DARK ONE TO BLIND EYE OF WORLD, SLAY GREAT SERPENT! Then in smaller type: 'JUST KILLING TIME' SAYS SHAI'TAN.
"We've got to tell the Green Man!" said Moiraine.
"You mean the Incredible Hulk?" asked Perrin. "That's a great idea. Hulk will smash! Especially if he teams up with the Silver Surfer."
"We'll have to travel the Ways," continued Moiraine. "Of course, no one who enters the Ways ever comes out unmaimed. But that's the least of our worries, because then comes the Blight, which is basically Trollocpalooza. And if by some bizarre chance we survive that - "
"You know," said Rand. "I just remembered. I have to present a paper at the big shepherd's conference in Tanchico. But definitely let me know how the whole Eye of the World thing works out for you." He turned to go.
Lan grabbed him by the lapels. "Listen, punk. Pussy out now, and I swear by the Light you'll never make it to the Glossary." Rand hastily relented, since he had heard the Glossary entry for Far Dareis Mai was pretty juicy.
Loial led the company through the dense, evil darkness of the Ways. They told him it was necessary for him to walk way out in front because only Ogier understood the arcane secrets of the Guidings, but really it was because he was dorky and unattractive and they were embarrassed to be seen with him.
Perrin raised his leg to mark territory, then sniffed the air. "Something's coming," he growled.
"Machin Shin!" cried Moiraine. "The Black Wind! Silent but deadly! Put these clothespins on your noses and run for your lives!"
They scrambled over ramp after ramp, the stifling stench of Machin Shin thick in their nostrils. Beans, beans, it whispered. Good for your heart! Choking and retching, they finally tumbled out through a nearby exit.
Stone towers reared up in the misty distance. "There it is," said Moiraine. "Fal Dara." As they approached the fortress, they saw top-knotted Shienarans readying for battle and dancing on fire-escapes. Their warlike song rang through the West Side of the city:
The Borderlands'll have their way tonight
Shienar is gonna have its day tonight
There may be lots of Trollocs in the Blight
But down in Tarwin's Gap
We'll rumble 'em right...!
Lord Agelmar welcomed them by reciting a few lines of Shienaran haiku. "The rose petal floats on water. The sword hacks our enemies' brains into pulpy mash. Kill! Kill! Kill!"
"Yes," agreed Lan. "That one has always summed it up for me, too."
Agelmar clapped him on the shoulder. "Dai Shan!" Then he moved on to greet Moiraine.
"What's Dai Shan?" Nynaeve whispered.
"Oh, just some title of great honor," Lan replied modestly. "I'm not certain of the precise translation."
"Blood and bloody ashes!" spat a Shienaran soldier, scraping the sole of his boot on a rock. "I just stepped in a steaming pile of Dai Shan!"
After a brief respite, the company journeyed on into the Blight. They passed strip malls with broken windows, housing projects infested with rats and cockroaches, and homeless people sleeping in doorways.
Rand found the high rates of unemployment, teen pregnancy and drug abuse very depressing, especially after Moiraine explained how the Blight's economic degradation was directly connected to corporate globalization and the classist economic policies of his own government. "If I ever make it back home to the Two Rivers," he solemnly vowed, "I will never again venture into a neighborhood where I might have to look at poor people. That way I can pretend they don't exist!"
They began to see billboards proclaiming VISIT THE EYE OF THE WORLD! NEXT EXIT and advertising various casinos and attractions. Soon they were met by a walking tree guy (but not an Ent) dressed in a suit made entirely out of money.
"Hi, folks!" he bellowed. "Welcome to the Eye of the World. I'm the Green Man! Get it? Green! Heh heh." As he laughed, dollar bills fluttered to the ground at his feet. "Don't forget to visit our Gift Shop."
Rand looked around. Fat, glassy-eyed tourists gawked unironically at tacky neon signs, or mobbed All You Can Eat buffets. Then he noticed a name in lights on a nearby marquee: IN PERSON - BA'ALZAMON! ONE NIGHT ONLY.
Inside, a capacity crowd was giving a standing ovation to a Dark One impersonator in a white jumpsuit, with a pompadour and eyes like caverns of flame. "Thank you very much," said Ba'alzamon. "You people are beautiful. I really mean that. Now, for my final encore, I want to bring out a very special guest. She's dead, but hey! They don't call me the Lord of the Grave for nothing. Please welcome the very beautiful, the very talented... Kari al'Thor!"
Colored smoke billowed as Rand's mother rose up out of the stage, dressed as a showgirl. Her pasties glittered, reflecting the glare of a thousand spotlights. Rand swallowed. "Mom?"
Ba'alzamon laughed. "That's right, Rand. It's your mother!" Like an insane echo, the audience began chanting "Your mother! Your mother! Your mother!"
Rand gritted his teeth. A sword appeared in his hand, a sword made of the One Power. "Don't... talk about... my mother!" he cried, swinging it at Ba'alzamon.
IT DOES NOT END HERE.
It was not Rand's thought, making his skull vibrate. Could it be... the Creator?
IN FACT, I BET I CAN SQUEEZE A DOZEN MORE BOOKS OUT OF THIS DEAL, EASY!
Rand sighed. "Okay, but try not to let me get too mopey and annoying, or people will lose interest."
HMPH. WHO ASKED YOU?
Something struck him with tremendous force, turning him to jelly, and the jelly shook and screamed from the fire raging inside, the hungry cold burning with no apparent end to the string of confused metaphors about screaming jelly and cold fire.
When he woke, Perrin and Mat were bending over him. "Look what we found in the Gift Shop!" Mat said, opening an ornate chest. A curled, gold horn nestled within. A line of inlaid silver script read IF YOU BLOW IT, THEY WILL COME.
Moiraine examined Rand's pupils. "Just as I thought," she said. "You've been using saidin."
"Don't worry," Rand reassured her. "I can quit any time I want to!"