Gleeman Bob writes: explanatory note... this story is told almost entirely from Cohradin's perspective and is therefore full of inconsistencies, exaggerations and falsehoods! Also, he was very drunk. I apologise for the crudeness and vulgarity, however. I just had to get this out of my system before going on to more serious topics, like who is inside the Stasis Box now that it has finally opened... this confused narrative took a weekend to write and several months to edit!
Walk in the Light!
(oh, and there are two missing scenes which Cohradin only remembers at a later date, which explain why and how the Eelfinn had all evidence of his visit to their Realm scrubbed from the Cosmic Consciousness... just in case anyone wants to point-out that young Master Cauthon was the first to step through the redstone doorway in 'a very long time.' nyah!)
Shocklances still aren't ter'angreals though... unfortunately!
* updated! sorry, the stupid Gleeman got the whole bridal-wreath thing wrong also! I have made changes thereof and I wish to apologise to the entirety of the Aiel nation for confusing their marriage proposal customs with my own! not that I am planning on making any bridal-wreaths in the near future... or dishonourably dressing-up like a Wise One either!
Cohradin & the Foxmen
(a night in Rhuidean)
There were Wise Ones and Sept Chiefs and algai'd'siswai of five different Clans camped on the slopes of Chaendaer that lead down to the mysterious City of Rhuidean. There were Wise One's apprentices to be sent into the grey smoke to return as Wise Ones, as well as a succession of bare-skinned, scowling girls sent running down also, to return as Wise One's apprentices. And in addition to this, the sneaking Shaido sneaks had brought several unlucky fellows to Rhuidean also, the Sept Chief of Wet Sands Hold included with the others, each arranged in order of height so that the tallest and most impressive specimens of Chiefhood were sent in first. (They had not returned.)
In other words, there was a big queue waiting to go into Rhuidean this time, and it always went in order of importance – prospective Wise Ones, then prospective apprentice Wise Ones… and then, mere sneaking Shaido Sept Chiefs! Even the Shaido Wise Ones agreed that this was how it should be… though they agreed on little else, even with each other.
Provokingly, the tricksome Taardad and almost-as-bad stinking Shaarad had received all of their self-important newly-raised Wise Ones and still-scowling-only-even-more-so apprentice Wise Ones back, returned from the bosom of the Hidden City… yet had remained camped on the slopes leading down to Rhuidean for several extra days – but why? For the sheer entertainment value of watching Shaido Sept-Chiefs trudging fatalistically into the grey smoke and not trudging out again, that was why! It was nice, the fools to the south no-doubt thought, to see sneaking Shaido disposing of themselves one-at-a-time into the fog, to never emerge – every three days; one less goat-thief to have to worry about!
Clan Chief was not-near so coveted a position amongst the Shaido as with other Clans and no Sept Chief particularly cared to go into Rhuidean, where clearly something lived that did not like Shaido men, for Shaido women always returned… which undoubtedly meant that some kind of Jenn Aiel Maiden-monster of the scary-Spears lurked within (the wiser heads considered) a terrifying apparition that presumably enjoyed the flavour of Shaido Sept Chiefs.
A pity that the old Shaido Clan Chief, had fallen down that hole directly onto the large nest of fearsome puffer-snakes. A vacancy! But hardly surprisingly, no Sept Chief particularly wanted the job… apart from the rigorous and almost-always fatal application process, their current duties were bad enough, after all – sitting in the silly uncomfortable chair all morning whilst a frowning Wise One hovered nearby, occasionally prodding you with a bony finger, whispering and hissing her orders prior to the rare occasions when you were permitted to speak… why then, did they not just make a Sept Chief of straw behind which the Wise One could crouch, gruffening her voice as she gave her commands and moving the straw mouth with strings? Why trouble to even have Sept Chiefs at all, anyway?
One-eyed Cohradin of the Sovin Nai often occupied his mind with such issues. It was a fairly good mind, when he was not drunk or enraged about something unimportant, and his speculation not entirely idle either, for his father had been Sept Chief of Wet Sands for thirteen years and might have gone to Rhuidean and returned, had he not been waked by Shadowrunners the year before the officiating Clan Chief tumbled off the cliff onto all of those spiny rocha-plants. Like father like son? No chance! The only way Cohradin would ever get into Rhuidean was if he sneaked in there! Cohradin was adept at sneaking, as were all of the Shaido, it was not just a clever name… but those of Wet Sands needed to be particularly gifted in every manner of sneakery, for of all the Shaido Holds, there's stood closest to the Blight.
Odd, though, that sparsely-populated Wet Sands had provided one of the 'goats' this time… Cohradin always thought of the Sept Chiefs who went into Rhuidean as goats, prodded along by the Wise Ones, bleating goats to the slaughter! And it was, of course, old Sadora prodding Mangalin the Sept Goat along with her fearsome stick on this dread occasion. Cohradin was glad that he was not Sept Chief of Wet Sands and had therefore not been selected, though this would have been unlikely to happen in any event, as the rest of the Shaido Wise Ones hated him almost as much as old Sadora did!
Actually, the Wise Ones of the other Clans seemed to intensely dislike Cohradin also, often shaking their fists and throwing rocks at him, but he had absolutely no idea why! Then, there were the Maidens… even those who did not know who he was were soon told exaggerated and untrue finger-stories by their hand-chattering spear-sisters… and now they all seemed to hate him as well! Come to think of it, the wives of his near-friends were not all too keen on him either, and as for the many widows of the brave Sovin Nai he had lead to their honour-filled wakings in the Blight, well… they certainly seemed to loathe him deeply! But why? It was impossible to understand women!
Mangalin, Sept Chief of Wet Sands, was unlikely to be seen again – he had gone into Rhuidean the previous dawn, Cohradin scowling at his back as he disappeared into the strange grey smoke. As well as being foolish, Mangalin was also annoying – he was always borrowing things and 'forgetting' to give them back… and it was not an honourable borrowing, as when the Shaido borrowed goats from the fools who lived to the south and forgot to return them. Did not the mighty Shaido live the very closest to the Blight, and dance the spears the oftenest with the Dark One's spawn, thus ensuring the continued safety of the southern Clan's goats? Did they not deserve additional herds in return for this service? 'Lizards for buzzards or buzzards for lizards - but sand for sand!' (as the ancient saying went.)
No, foolish Mangalin's 'borrowing' was most definitely of the dishonourable kind. He had borrowed Cohradin's best whet-stone to sharpen his spears and had neglected to return it. Gerom had refused to lend his Sept Chief any more books until he relinquished those he had not yet read. And Chassin regretted lending Mangalin a book also, an unusual wetland book that contained a great many pictures of unclothed ladies leaning forward to sniff flowers or holding vases up into the air. While the smelling of the blossoms made sense (for who did not appreciate the pungent aroma of a flowering rocha-plant?) why did the wetland ladies hold aloft the vases? Gerom thought it might perhaps be in order to catch some of the wetland 'rain' in. They had all agreed that this must be the most likely explanation.
A strange tome indeed, but Chassin's favourite (and only) book. Mangalin had definitely not returned this! Though he claimed that his ferocious wife Dydendhra had found the book concealed beneath his sleep mat and had become characteristically enraged because the wetwomen within were not decently inside of a sweat-tent whilst engaged in their flower-sniffing and vase-holding. After rolling the slim book into a tube and beating Mangalin with it awhile, Dydendhra consigned it to the flames of their hearth. Imagine! Burning a book, even though there were not that many actual words in it. Wives!
Though the whole thing was probably a falsehood, for Mangalin was a great liar as well as a big fool… had Dydendhra truly found such a book she would have done much worse things to Mangalin than he claimed. Things involving deep stab wounds even, for though Dydendhra had publicly broken her spears when she presented foolish Mangalin with his rather ugly bridal-wreath, which he had snatched up with unseemly haste, she had not broken all of them and still kept her favourite (and sharpest) spear in a cupboard... just in case she ever decided to wake Mangalin from the badhusband-dream and go back to being wed to a weapon instead. Maidens!
As Society Leader of the Knife Hands, Cohradin had been required to attend Mangalin the foolish Sept-goat, with all two Sovin Nai as his honour-spears. This was all the Knife Hands Wet Sands had to boast at the moment, since the rest had not returned from Cohradin's latest attempt to hunt and kill Sightblinder. Old Sadora was angry with Cohradin about this (though if not this it would only have been something else) and would have left him behind if she could. It was not Cohradin's fault that the big purple worm-thing ate all of the others! They were difficult to kill, those Worms – it had taken he, Chassin and Gerom all afternoon to beat it to death with their spear-butts (since it did not seem to care if they stabbed it) and their cadin'sor had become completely ruined in the revolting worm-dance!
Gerom had once told Cohradin that the snivelling wetlanders kept creatures as 'pets'. These were 'dogs' and 'cats' and 'swines' that lived with them inside of their wetland Holds as though they were kin, and sat at table with them and ate what they did! It seemed very strange to Cohradin, sharing your inanimate food with food that was still moving, in this fashion. Apparently, these 'pets' even slept in the beds of the wetlanders also – just think! A wetlander pig-beast resting its head upon the pillow next to yours! Most unhygienic. And Cohradin had said so. Sometimes, Cohradin thought things and then realised that he had also said them! Especially when he was drunk. This had not endeared him to others over the years. But really – eating your honey-glazed locusts alongside a grunting hog-animal, and then sharing your blankets with it as well! Wetlanders!
'The uncultured folk to the west of the Dragonwall presumably lack any concept of civilised behaviour, at least as we would understand it,' Gerom had posited. Cohradin agreed… though he did have a favourite goat back at Wet Sands and would sometimes talk to it, or go for evening walks with it… but of course, that was completely different. He intended to eat it one day, one day for sure.
Doubtless, the great angry wormy thing that devoured the others and took a long time to wake from the worm-dream and left them covered in purple slime from head to toe (from ji to toh!) had been some kind of a 'pet' of Sightblinder. Seemingly, Sovin Nai were its favourite lunch! It had certainly seemed to enjoy gobbling-up the others whilst they slept! They should not have slept, for this was the Blight, and the Blight never slept, so they should not have either! Cohradin had deduced this. This was what he had learned from the vile experience.
The Dark One was crafty indeed – sending his Worm-pet to foil Cohradin's latest attempt upon his life! But Cohradin would wake Shai'tan one day, if he kept on trying – it was inevitable that he would. If he was not woken from the Dream first, of course. And everyone else who he had nagged and bullied into coming with him to the Blight yet again, woken also…
What often confused other Aiel when they met one-eyed Cohradin of the Sovin Nai (soon wishing they had not) was the awkward fact that he was somehow still alive! Those algai'd'siswai who behaved as he did were usually waked from the Dream at a much earlier age! Though difficult to understand why, it was as though the Creator quite liked Cohradin… which was well, for Sulin of the Taardad did not!
a rather savage kicking…
"So, seeing that the Aes Sedai was using her healing powers on the fellow with the long hair and noting that the other wetlander was unlikely to dance with his dishonourable blade since he was, after all, holding a baby carefully (if incorrectly) in both of his arms, I ran back down the slopes of the Dragon's peak to rejoin my Clan, since the Treekiller was now dead and we could return to the Three-fold Land with all due honour."
"Did you say 'baby' Sulin?"
"Yes, the shorter wetlander (they wore the green din'sor of the Companions of Illian, wherever that is) was holding a small newborn baby and looked very happy, though he frowned when he saw me, since I had just gutted one of his swordbrothers. But the Aes Sedai healers are powerful indeed! I am sure the fellow lived."
"Why did you even tell the Aes Sedai about the fellow you wounded? What cared you if the wetlander died? It is not like you to show mercy, Sulin!"
"I know. I would not have done it, but then I saw this particular Aes Sedai healing another wetlander and I recognised her – she was the very same we nearly ran into the day before! Do you recall, Nandera?"
"I remember, Sulin – we nearly trampled three Aes Sedai! But they saw that we meant them no harm, and did not destroy us… I won a fine silver neck chain from a stupid Knife Hand who said that they would! He thought that if the Aes Sedai did destroy us, I would then give him a gold brooch set with a small opal!"
"Knife Hands are foolish!"
"Foolish Sovin Nai!"
"They stink of dead he-goats left too long in the sun!"
"Even though supposedly grown-men, they all still wet in their blankets…"
"And are scared of the dark and ask the Nightwatcher to protect them…"
"Yes, well, this is all true of course… but to continue with my tale, I saw that same Aes Sedai we nearly ran over and knew that she was one of the healers of the White Tower, for did she not wear the Wise One's shawl with the yellow threads hanging down from it?"
"But why did you tell her of the one you wounded, that he might be healed?"
"For two reasons, both of them good! First, he was a brave fellow who attacked us all though he was alone and danced the blades well, for I was the only one who survived the encounter… he moved very fast for such a big man. He cut the throats from Galindra and Nawenda with but one stroke of his blade! But this left him open – I feinted to the side, for he was expecting the attack in front, as he was no fool… but neither am I! He thought he had me with his sudden thrust, but I rolled beneath his blade, punched my buckler into his chest, catching him off balance for a moment, then kicked aside his dishonourable sword and plunged my spearblade in, a hand's-span above the navel… I twisted as I withdrew and he fell back, dropping his blade. I then lowered my veil, for though he yet lived, the Dance was done."
"And your second reason for showing him mercy, Sulin?"
"I told you that also, did I not? I lead the Aes Sedai to where the fellow lay for though he had waked my spear-sisters, he had done so with honour and not fought from the back of a steed or shot the arrow of a cowardly wetland crossed-bow…"
"But why, Sulin?"
"Because he was a handsome fellow! And he had such lovely long black hair, of course! Like the fur-mane of the wetlands 'horse' I would suppose…"
"Horse tastes little different than goat."
"It does indeed, Nandera, but is more stringy. Though I am glad he did not have the same long face as the horse-beast… or the ears…"
"The ears become less chewy when scorched in the fire awhile…"
"The horse is also a larger beast than the goat in other areas!"
"Hold your peace, Nandera! Do you tell this story or do I?"
"Forgive me, Sulin… pray continue…"
"Yes, well… it would have been foolish had the wetlander had that face. But he did not, fortunately! He had bold, handsome features beneath his fine mane."
"So you saved him because..?"
"Sulin of the Maidens may scorn a husband in favour of the spear, but that does not mean she is blind to the charms of a pretty man with a good head of hair!"
The loud, raucous cackling of several seasoned Maidens of the Spear polluted the night as they stood in a circle clutching their spears and sipping their oosquai from tiny silver cups (a Knife Hand drank his oosquai straight from the flask - the more intelligent way to so do!) their occupied hands being the only reason that others had to listen to this endless lizard-jabbering for had their hands been empty then they would have stood silent, watching each other's flickery fingers and not making such horrid noise…
One-eyed Cohradin of the Sovin Nai crept a little closer… sneaked a little nearer… for he was a sneaking Shaido was he not? it was not just supposed to be a clever name, for did the Shaido not live closest to the Blight of all the Clans? and were they not required to perform acts of great sneakery at times?) Acts of great sneakage, often sneaking into the Blight itself – and also, acts of great honour.
Though it was difficult to sneak, whilst wearing the thick algode skirts and blouse of a Wise One's apprentice... though it felt more liberating than the cadin'sor! A measured sip of oosquai, and Sulin's interminable and foolish tale continued.
"Had the fine fellow had the good fortune to be born Aiel, and had the good sense to live by ji'e'toh, I should have taken him gai'shain then and there, and brought him back to the Roof of the Maidens at Cold Rocks that he might sing sweetly to my spear-sisters and me, and massage our feet after a long day's run!"
More vile chicken-cackling, louder and longer… Cohradin scowled darkly. And sneaked a little closer, carefully keeping Sulin's bridal-wreath hidden behind his back with one hand, whilst holding the Wise One's shawl before his face with the other, to disguise the handsome features of a male algai'd'siswai impersonating a female. He crouched a little also, though Marindha, apprentice to old Sadora, was almost as tall as he and the clothing he had borrowed from her (albeit without her knowledge) fit surprisingly well.
Sing sweetly? Urgh! A man did not sing sweetly, or at all, unless it be noble songs that were of the Dance or being Waked from the Dream! If the Maidens of the Spear wished singing, let them go and catch themselves a Sword-Bard of Aramaelle, like Anselan Mac O'Nar, the only wetlander ever to somehow earn the enormous honour of being made Sovin Nai! Or go seize themselves a 'pet' Gleeman (though they would not be allowed to keep him.)
Neither old Sadora nor the Maidens had wished to let Roth Blucha leave Wet Sands Hold when he could walk again… the strutting Gleeman was lucky he were not Aiel or he would have been forced to marry someone! But wearing the white robe and tending bad-tempered old Maidens under their Roof? Cohradin would far rather stand gai'shain to a Fist of Trollocs and their Eyeless than massage those horny yellow feet! The soles of young Maidens were soft, soft indeed, their toes pink and delicate, and Cohradin did not mind massaging those, not at all, but Sulin and her scarred, stringy friends? Urgh! And really! Letting some hairy wetlands fellow live, even showing an Aes Sedai healer where he was… just because you thought he was really good-looking? Maidens! Again!
"And besides, sisters, the fellow gave me a compliment! Lying there with a deep wound in his belly that my spear had just made, but not weeping or whining like most pitiful wetlanders would! I lowered my veil and he looked at me very boldly with his fine flinty eyes, as though he did not care that he was dying, and pursed his lips appreciatively in a lewd way, as though he wished to take me in his arms like some compliant wetland woman, and kiss me upon the cheek, or even the lips!"
"I was younger and more comely in those days, granted. But honestly! Even whilst they lay dying, there is still but one thing that occupies what passes for their minds, it would seem."
"Ours are as bad also, unfortunately…"
"No, they are worse!"
"That is not all! He winked at me, the saucy fellow, with his fine silky locks!"
"He did not!"
"He did. So, I smiled at him and winked back, then left him to die in his own good time, whilst I rejoined my Clan. But I saw the Aes Sedai and since some Nakai had shouted to me that the craven Treekiller was finally executed for his crime, I decided to show her where he lay, though the other wetlander had joined him by that point – he was crouched beside his dying comrade, showing him the baby, and the handsome fellow laying in his own blood was stroking it on the cheek and cooing to it! Wetlanders are strange."
"But why would the long-haired fellow be holding a baby?"
"Were you not listening? It was not the handsome and richly-maned young wetlander who held the baby, but the other, his 'Captain' I believe it is called… he was shorter and with very dark eyes, but there was something to him… apart from having the bird on his sword that is the wetland sign of a Blademaster… I think had he not held a baby then he might well have danced with me there and then, for had I not mortally wounded his swordbrother? Why, he well may have waked me from the dream, for he looked angry enough to! The handsome lad was a leopard, but this, a lion! But then he saw that I had brought the Aes Sedai healer with me, so he bowed awkwardly to her and called for us to approach. Whilst his swordbrother was being healed (a miraculous sight, I tell you!) the short blades-master even let me hold the baby… in fact, I recall now that I commanded him to, for he was not holding the babe properly, nor supporting his little head as one should."
"Oh, it was a boy…"
"A little baby boy…"
"They have weaker necks than the girls, you must hold them properly…"
Cohradin sighed with great disgust. But quietly, since he was quite close to them now. Foolish Maidens, chattering of some wetland baby as though there were anything special about that? There were many babies in the world, a great many babies indeed, what was so remarkable about this particular babe that had come to the Dragon Mountain to crawl the baby-blades with other silly wetland babies?
"Yes, well, Sulin of the Maidens showed the short wetlander how to properly hold the babe, for men are ignorant of these and many other matters of importance…"
"Indeed they are, Sulin, they are indeed…"
"Men trusted with babes sometimes foolishly drop them onto the floor…"
"You must never let a man hold a baby unless you stand ready to catch it…"
"But Sulin, I do not understand why the Blademaster had a baby at all?"
Cohradin had by this time skilfully Shaido-sneaked to within striking range! He tensed his body tensely, preparing to perhaps dance the… fists? Not the spears at least, for this was Rhuidean was it not, where the Peace held sway? Dancing the feet as well as the fists, perhaps? No, he would not need to dance, Sulin would hopefully find what he was about to do amusing, very amusing indeed. His brother Knife Hands and the stupid Red Shields were all watching closely. Doubtless, some of the foolish Aethan Dor thought that he would not do it, that he would be afraid to… Cohradin grinned at the ridiculous idea of fear and raised the bridal-wreath (which was not a very good bridal-wreath) out before him with both hands. He then pouted grotesquely, giving his much scarred lips a good lick, getting them nice and…
"I do not know why the wetland Blademaster was carrying a babe ineptly into the middle of a battle! Ask a Wise One why, for all I know is the spear I am wedded to! Perhaps it is some custom of theirs to take a baby to the Dance? They are strange, those wet- aahh! Eurrghh! What in the Pit do you think you are doing, ugly man?"
"I am giving you a kiss upon your cheek, Sulin of the Maidens!"
"You dirty fellow! I know you – you are that sneaking Shaido Knife Hand who is always causing trouble and nearly starting blood-feuds over other people's goats! What is that foolish thing you are holding?"
"What does it look like?"
"It looks foolish! And why are you dressed as a Wise One?"
"I wished to give you a bridal-wreath, Sulin, and could scarcely do so without posing as a woman! You are man enough for both of us! Do you accept?"
"No! What is your stupid name, disconcertingly skirt-wearing Shaido..? Karadin..?"
"Cohradin, of the Sovin Nai! And I kissed you, Sulin, because you are so beautiful to me! Here, do you pick up this bridal-wreath that I throw at your sore feet! Will you please give up the spear for me and be my spouse, Sulin of the Man-Maidens?"
"That is not a proper bridal-wreath, it is some shrivelled-looking spiny things that you have found somewhere and tied together with old boot-laces. But even if it were a true bridal-wreath and were I ever to give up my spear and my sisters for a husband (which I would not) it would have to be for a much less disfigured man than you, scar-faced wretch, and preferably, he would have both of his eyes in his head!"
"I sense that I may have upset you in some way, dearest Sulin? This confuses me, for I know that you return my feelings but are too shy to speak of it. There is no privacy here, with everyone rudely listening as we coo to each other like a pair of Sharan love-doves. Will you not come to my tent that we may be alone together?"
"Hold my spears for me a moment, sisters. And my small silver cup. A great pity it is, about the Peace of Rhuidean… Hear me, no-brained Cohradin of the dirty-hands, while I tell you that I would not go to your tent even if it were the very last tent in the Three-fold Land and you the last man in it, for Sulin of the Maidens has standards and you are but a filthy sorda!"
"I realise that you only say this to hide your great love for me, Sulin. Do not fear, handsome Cohradin of the Sovin Nai is not offended. Pick up my wreath that lays at your aching feet (which I hear that you wish to have massaged by a long-haired crooning wetland gai'shain, the poor fool) and lift it high for all to see, that I may be made the happiest algai'd'siswai upon this side of the Great Dragonwall!"
"And you have been spying on me like the sneaking Shaido hairy spider that you are! You eavesdrop upon my conversation with my spear-sisters, you interrupt my interesting tale of the day we slew the Treekiller by smearing your vile slimy lips against my cheek and then you give me this stupid thing of twigs and leaves as though it were a bridal-wreath? This is all some foolish jest, I take it?"
"It is no jest, Sulin! I wish for you to be my bride! I will have no other!"
"You have been drinking oosquai, Shaido maggot, I smell it on your stinking and rancid breath. How much oosquai have you drunk this night, Cohradin-the-fool?"
"I do not know, I cannot really remember… and it is still no jest! Wed me!"
"If it is no jest, lizard-faced Cohradin, then why do those Knife Hands over there clutch at each other's cadin'sor and point and laugh like foolish children?"
"I do not- ughhh!"
"You should not have looked away like that, for Sulin of the Maidens kicks harder and faster than any wetland horse-beast! Now, do you stay down there, curled up on the ground and clutching crudely at your… yes, well, I will ask them myself..."
"You kicked me in between of my legs, Sulin! That is dishonourable! The Maidens of the Spear have no hon- ughhh! You did it again! Uh! It is painful!"
"Would it perhaps be more dishonourable to kick you hard in that same place for a third time, rat-eyed Cohradin of the Stupid Knives… like this?"
"Ughhh! Dishonourable… yes… uh… but please do not do… uhg… not do that again, Sulin…"
"Oh, I shall do worse to you than that, Cohradin-the-jester, for it is more dishonourable to kiss a Maiden of the Spear upon her cheek when she had not given you permission to kiss her upon her cheek. You still have much toh to me. Dog!"
"Lay there grunting like the Knife Hand swine-creature that you are, blushing bridal-blossom bringer! Sulin of the Maidens shall properly begin your lessons in manners in a moment, dirty Shaido pig. You, Knife Hands – why do you laugh so, and why do those Red Shields next to you frown and pass you things?"
"This loud-mouthed Red Shield here who now gives to me a pouch of the fine Two Rivers tabac said that Cohradin would not creep up to you and kiss you upon your cheek, Sulin of the Maidens, for fear of your anger. Cohradin kissed you to uphold the honour of the Sovin Nai against the falsehoods of the foolish Aethan Dor. The skirt-wearing and the pretend bridal-wreath was his idea, although. He thought that you would think it amusing, though both Chassin and I warned him that you would not."
"Yes, Gerom is correct in this, we told Cohradin to not disguise himself as a woman and throw the false bridal-wreath at you many times, many times indeed, we explained to him that you would not like it, Sulin, but though we are his near-brothers, he never listens to us, or to anyone else either, even Sadora the Wise One. He always thinks he knows best. Cohradin has a fine sense of humour but he does not think things through properly. When I saw that he would not be dissuaded from his plan, I did give him the bootlaces to tie up the weeds and grasses and sticks and rocha-plants and other things… with."
"Thank-you for telling me of this, big hairy fool who looks like a stunted Treebrother and little tiny short scowling fool, both of the foolish Feather Hands. Now, watch closely, pussy-pawed Shaido striped-cats, while I show you why it is a bad idea for your stupid Society Leader at stupid Wet Kiss Hold to press his vile scarred lips to a Maiden's cheek and to interrupt her conversations with a foolish jest about bridal-wreaths. Stop trying to crawl away from me, much-bruised Cohradin of the filthy-fingers. Where do you think you are going? It is time for your lessons in mannerly behaviour to begin. Watch, fools, as I do this!"
"Did you like that, one-eyed sneaking ger'bil? Try this!"
"Urghh! I did not like that… please Sulin – I apologise! – it was but a jest…"
"And this is an even better jest as far as I am concerned, for why else do my spear-sisters gather around us and laugh and point at the Shaido worm cowering upon the sand at their feet? (which you shall later massage!) Though with but one of your hands, as two of your fingers appear to be broken upon the other. Now… let us continue with your tutelage in the correct way to behave to a Spear-Maiden… pig!"
Some Maidens just have no sense of humour, Cohradin considered, later. Unfortunately, Sulin of the Taardad appeared to be one of them… the kiss was bad enough, but mayhap she would have only broken one of his fingers if he had stopped there? He really should not have worn a Wise One's apparel and given her that funny-looking bridal-wreath. He always went too far! Although Chassin and Gerom and the rest of the Sovin Nai and some of the Aethan Dor and even a few of the younger Far Dares Mai who didn't like Sulin later told him that it had been quite amusing. And had he not done it, he might never have drunk even more oosquai to dull the great pain he was in and would hardly have formulated his clever plan for sneaking into Rhuidean and hunting for the mysterious and elusive Jenn Aiel, to prove to old Sadora that they existed!
Cohradin should probably not have gone into that red stone doorway thing and talked to the Foxmen though… he didn't really remember much about what had happened on the other side, except that they had not seemed to like him very much, but that was hardly out of the ordinary… but he really should not have been in Rhuidean at all, especially not with that big flask of oosquai to keep things going… and having failed to find and catch a Jenn, he should not have wandered into the centre of the strange, unfinished city, he should have just left.
But of course, he did not.
Why am I in Rhuidean? I do not know. How did I get here? Oosquai…
It was easily the strangest night of his life, and one-eyed Cohradin of the Sovin Nai had stuffed many a strange night into his twenty-eight years-worth of dangerous and foolish existence. Though the strangeness occurred later, after Cohradin had received his worst beating ever from the humourless Maiden and drunk nearly all of the oosquai that his near-brothers could not manage to imbibe… or would not.
After three small silver cups to be polite, Gerom had gone to hang a foolish lantern in his foolish tent and smoke his foolish pipe and read a foolish book… no, books at least were not foolish, though everything else was… and Cohradin happened to know that there was a tall, blonde Nakai Wise One's apprentice who was also 'bookish' and had told Gerom she would stop by his tent to 'read' later, so it was safe to assume that his near-brother's plans for the evening would have a more pleasant resolution than that his own had lead to.
Meanwhile Chassin, who was small (though few dared to say so more than once) and had less room to spread the oosquai out inside of him, had soon passed-out and now lay with his mouth open, snoring gently and sprawled too near to the fire so that his cadin'sor was beginning to smoulder. Cohradin crawled slowly toward his diminutive near-brother and pulled Chassin further away from the flames with one hand, because the other had three of the fingers bound together with rawhide. Fortunately, it was only his right hand and not the striking hand that he had trained and toughened ever since he was a small (and very naughty) boy, ready and able to stab through things that a non-Knife Hand could not. Most Sovin Nai used their right hands to strike instead of their left, but Cohradin (who was also right-handed) liked to do unexpected things in the dance. And not just in the dance.
Cohradin abruptly did something unexpected when he lurched to his feet and went for a walk, stepping awkwardly over his comatose brother Knife Hands from the other Septs and Holds, limping slowly off into the darkness with a large flask full of oosquai gripped in his uninjured… in his less injured hand. His striking hand… but also, his drinking hand! This had only been stamped upon once, fortunately… Sulin of the Taardad had been quite upset with him for what had seemed like a long time before he lost consciousness, but at least when the toh-giving was finally done he had not been forced to massage the other Maiden's feet as she had darkly threatened… her lanky and leathery spear-sisters had all loudly declared that they did not want Cohradin to touch them with his crooked pig-trotters, and had made many another similar remark also, mostly to do with the dirty, sneaking, one-eyed Shaido's close resemblance to wetlander swines and hogs of all kinds. Maidens!
Unfortunately, whilst staggering along the perimeter of the mysterious grey smoke that hung over Rhuidean, Cohradin drunkenly imagined he might have seen something moving about in there, and this got him thinking (if such a term could be applied to what was meanderingly going on inside his head) about the Jenn Aiel and whether they were real or not. Perhaps they were just a children's story, like Vron'Cor, the Nightwatcher?
Or mayhap the Jenn were like the mysterious Great Bird of Shara – you thought that it could not possibly exist, but then you accidentally stepped upon a big egg whilst being in Shara when you were not supposed to be and an enormous furious yellow beast-bird the size of a Treebrother rushed up to you squawking angrily and stabbed you in the face with its great long bill… gave you a terrible wound, because you were too surprised that it actually existed to even jump out of the way! Did the Jenn Aiel have beaks also?
Cohradin hoped not, he really did. He did not care for beaks. And he had no wish to dance the bills with the Great Bird of Shara ever again, it had been very upset about the egg… so, he had fled swiftly and shamefully from the big-bird-battlefield, run faster than he ever had before, a hand clutched to his ruined face. The wrathful beast-bird had pursued him a goodly distance before eventually giving up the chase and returning to its nest, no-doubt to lay a new egg, like a chicken's, only many times larger.
The Great Bird was a fool, why did it build its nest down upon the ground, instead of up in one of the odd spongy Sharan trees? Cohradin had run from the dreadful yellow monster when he would not have run from Sightblinder himself… there had just been something so disconcerting about a creature Jain Charin described (and Cohradin foolishly scoffed at) suddenly and vengefully attacking him! But he was a coward for running and not standing and facing his feathered opponent and being waked from the Dream by its huge bill, and sometimes Cohradin yet had ill dreams where the Great Bird chased him swiftly for many miles, shouting angrily!
Cohradin had had two eyes in his head before that foolish egg got in the way… his memories of that terrible day were imperfect, he had been feeling very odd since he broke his fast… had it not happened..? yes, whilst he was slaying the small purple furry Shara-creatures with the large eyes… several of them had attacked from the bushes, calling out to him in their strange high-pitched voices, alarming him considerably, and had grabbed at his legs and tried to eat him, though they were not very strong. What had they meant?
"E'gg! E'gg! Ca're'fu'll Co'hra'di'n! Ne'st! E'gg!"
"Ne've'r li'ste'n! Bi'g Bi'rd co'mi'ng! Ne've'r li'ste'n to nea'r bro'the'rs!"
What had the foolish creatures said? Their squeaking voices had been very hard to understand whilst they were ineffectually assaulting him. The fools! Could they not see he was much larger than they? And how did they know his name? Were they speaking in the Old Tongue? e'gg? egg? They seemed to be similar words. Was it the same word in the Vulgar-speech? Perhaps… Had they meant the egg that he had stepped on because they had pushed him? It was their fault, not his, the purple fools! They should not have tried to dance the spears with him, the strange small creatures (all though they did not have spears) and they should definitely not have disturbed and disquieted him by grabbing at his knees with the soft hands at the ends of their long stringy arms…
Sulin of the Taardad had arms a bit like that, though without the fur of course… and her arms were much stronger… though she had mostly kicked him and trod on him, only putting him in a strangling choke-hold when he started saying rude (yet true) things, things about her family… the purple hands that seized at his shins had been unclawed, had they not..? Foolish to attack, without claws… they had not had any teeth in their large gaping mouths either, just the red thing… and the round blue noses between their big staring eyes, naturally… odd colouring, how could you hide in the bushes with a nose of that colour? What were they? He had never seen anything quite like them!
Except perhaps during his Sovin Nai initiation when he ate the special cactus and saw… no, Cohradin did not want to think about some of the things that he had seen that night… it was not fair, Chassin had seen pale-skinned, naked ladies picking flowers and Gerom had seen a bear reading a book by candlelight… he said the bear had a strange square hat upon its head, with a tail like the tail of an algai'd'siswai… but instead of pleasant-yet-confusing visions, Cohradin had seen nightmarish things! The brown beast with six legs and the long nose… no! do not think of it… and the other things besides… the strange-nosed sharp-toothed creature who kept counting everything… and laughing, laughing loudly indeed… no, do not think of that either!
These savage purple fools with their ridiculous blue noses, calling out his name and threatening him with some kind of a spearweapon… what in the Pit was a 'Bi'g Bi'rd?' perhaps it was not a weaponspear, but that they were they calling him rude names, as the Maidens often did? He would not take their insults! Stop grabbing at me with your soft offensive hands, purple creatures! Let us dance the… oh, it is not worth it, I shall just shoot them all down with my arrows instead… they will pay for their vocal effrontery! Which he could not really understand, but assumed were battle-cries, like the high-pitched pipes that summoned the blood and prepared an algai'd'siswai for the coming Dance. And they should not have approached him so suddenly! It had made him angry and confused at the same time!
Well, the purple goats should not have attacked him, for he was algai'd'siswai and Sovin Nai, and he slew them all with great Honour before the Great Bird arrived on its long orange legs… when he roared angrily, his attackers had run from him like cowardly Shaarad and he had shot them down with his arrows for they were not worthy opponents for his spears. He wished he might have skinned one of the creatures (though the thin, purple pelt did not look of much value) so that he could have shown it at Wet Sands… he had wished to see what the small bobbing creatures tasted like, but there had not been time to butcher one properly before he had to flee from the Great Bird that so severely injured him… no doubt their flesh would have tasted rank, their thin watery blood had looked unappetising…
The day Cohradin took the scar and lost his eye… that had been a bad day, and also, a very odd one… very strange, very strange indeed… he had taken a terrible wound and the small, pointed and strange-tasting Sharan mushrooms he had eaten that morning had given him a sickly stomach also. Perhaps the Great Bird had only been very large and brown? With a curved, cruel beak, instead of the long bill? Why had he thought it yellow and why had all of the other colours around him seemed so much brighter than they usually did, so that he had been staring at everything wide-eyed and did not notice the large egg until it was all over his boot?
Had the purple creatures even been there, or had he imagined them? They had not sounded like Gerom and Chassin (well, perhaps Chassin, though his voice was not pitched quite that high) but they had seemed to yelp the sort of things he had heard Gerom and Chassin say to him when he did something foolish… it had seemed rather peculiar that they had known his name also, perhaps they had heard tell of his deeds..? Chassin was not much taller than they… perhaps they were his distant kin who had gone to Shara and grown purple fur on their bodies? Cohradin was not sure…
Also strange… the Great brown Bird always appeared as yellow with the long orange legs when it chased him in his nightmares, and when it shouted at him (it had not spoken whilst he danced with it, just squawked loudly and with great rage) it always threatened to take his remaining eye when it caught him… and for some reason, it always squawked with the quavering voice of old Sadora the Wise One… well, dreams could be odd. But there were places in the waking world that could be decidedly odder.
Shara was an unusual place, the Great Bird particularly, but almost everything else too. A bit too unusual in fact! Cohradin did not think he would go back there again. He had sneaked into Shara several times since he was a boy and had seen some of the strange things that Jain Farstrider had seen, and even a few that he had not.
Those foolish fellows with their heads in their bellies, for example… no, that had been the next day when he was still feeling odd and was lying by the river waiting to see if he would die… but he had not! Someone had tended and bandaged his wound very skilfully while he slept. So he lay there, all day, in the strange bed suspended between the two Shara-trees. There had been a peculiar frog-creature in the lake nearby (had there not?) which had kept speaking to him in a croaky voice, calling him 'si'r' and asking him many questions… but Cohradin had resolutely ignored the talking-beast until it gave-up and swam slowly away. He was starting to think that some of the things he had seen in Shara lately were not real, and were actually just in his own head.
This same head pounded for about a month, but Cohradin had been able to make it back to Wet Sands, where old Sadora had tended his injury further. And waited till he got better. And then reached for her extra-heavy stick because he had been to Forbidden Shara again when he should not. Cohradin did not care, it was better to go to Shara than to not go to Shara, in his estimation… though he had to adjust his movements in the dance to compensate for the lost eye… the lost vision… could it be that all he had seen in Shara had been just that, mere visions?
Perhaps the Headbelly-Men had not been real either, though they had seemed real and had come and attempted to talk to Cohradin in their deep voices with their strange speech, at least until he shouted at them to leave him alone and they had shrugged their unrelieved shoulders and gone back inside the three-sided pointy thing they lived in… a strange-looking Hold for a strange-looking folk… though perhaps it was one of them who had tended his wound, and left him the large bag of sesame seeds to eat on the way home?
Cohradin should not have rudely shouted at the Headbelly-Men, mayhap, but he had been feeling strained and weak and in a bad mood, after the unusual things he had witnessed the day before, and had therefore not been happy to see men with their heads in their bellies, even if they had helped him. A man's head should be upon his neck, not looking at you through the embroidered hole in his shirt… no, they could not have been real, he had imagined them, like the small purple creatures… but who had cleaned and dressed his wound, then? Shara was full of unanswered questions!
Cohradin went to Forbidden Shara when he was not supposed to because (as did his favourite wetlander, the Malkieri traveller-and-writer Jain called-Farstrider) he liked to see things for himself and not just read about them. He slowly drank more oosquai whilst he thought about not liking beaks. His mind (or what passed for it) then drifted awhile in a sea of drunken and self-involved speculation…
When Cohradin came back to what little senses he had, he realised that he had been in Rhuidean for some time, searching through the great stone Holds for the Jenn Aiel. How had he got there? There had been some grey smoke all around him for a time, had there not? But he was not sure. He did not think that he had ever been this drunk in his entire life! At least the contusions left by Sulin's boots and fists and knees and elbows had faded to a dull ache. Oh well, he was here now, as long as he stayed away from wherever it was the Wise Ones went, and foolish Mangalin also, then he would perhaps not get into trouble. He might as well find the Jenn while he was here, if it could be done.
Chassin always claimed that no-one had ever seen a Jenn Aiel because they were made out of glass and did not wear their cadin'sor, so were very difficult to see. Gerom scoffed politely at such foolishness… his considered theory was that the Jenn looked exactly like other Aiel, but were just very, very small and rode around on jumping fleas (like pitiful wetlanders clinging to the backs of their leaping horse-creatures) so were hard to notice also, for this more intelligent reason. Cohradin simply did not believe that the Jenn Clan (that was not a Clan) even existed, he thought they were but a legend become mythic, like Vron'Cor or the Horn of Valere.
Where was he? Why was his one-eyed vision all blurred? Why did he only have one eye anyway? Did he go somewhere? Where had he gone? Was this still Rhuidean? What was Rhuidean? And who was that strange fellow over there, the one who looked a bit like a fox? Never mind that, what was that smell? Was it him? He did not think so… though it might be… no, it was coming from the fox-man… wait, where was his oosquai flask? Where was- oh, it was in his hand… hold a moment… why was he so very drunk? And what was his name..? Lizard-head? No… no, that was not it… hmm… a big tree..? drunk… red… stone… door-thing..? drunk… a bright light… a very loud noise… drunk… and in…
Oh… Sulin beat me so I had to drink more oosquai to dull the pain when I did not wish it… it is therefore her fault I am in Rhuidean, for she does not have a sense of humour, and neither do her spear-sisters (who helpfully kicked me whilst Sulin was getting her breath back prior to making me give her yet more toh…) Maidens!
There was the sound of a throat being cleared, as though somebody wanted to get his attention. He turned his bleary gaze on the Foxman, swaying slightly. The Foxman blinked its strange, pale eyes, then pointed a claw at his knife and yelped.
He remembered that he was still holding the oosquai flask in his less damaged hand and raised it to his lips, taking a fiery sip. He optimistically knew that the flask was still half-full, and he would attempt to drink it all before he passed-out or his name was not one-handed Karadin of the… of the… oh, he had forgotten that there was a Foxman. It was waving at him to get his attention. He smiled at it in a friendly way, then hiccupped loudly.
Perhaps the Foxman would like a sip of his oosquai? Did Foxmen drink oosquai? What was a Foxman anyway? A man… who looked like… a fox! Not the proper desert fox, but the red-haired wetland fox… (for he had seen pictures of it, had he not?) and so… a Foxman! It was obvious! But he still did not know what Foxmen were, or even if there was more than one of them… he would ask Gerom about Foxmen if he remembered to… but who was Gerom? For that matter, who was he?
Then, the Foxman said something to him in its fox-voice; words that sounded a bit like the Old Tongue Gerom talked sometimes… Gerom is the one who talks the Old Tongue! He is short, and has scars on both cheeks… no… that is someone else… but he did not understand the Foxman and shook his head slowly. The Foxman frowned, then seemed to be trying to remember something, pursing its fox-lips and furrowing its fox-brow. These Foxmen were… they were… what was his name?
"Nay… cowlde… iron…" The Foxman's voice sounded strange, strange indeed. It then nodded, and looked quite pleased with itself. It pointed a claw (it is not well, to have claws) at his knife again.
Ah, the foolish Foxman… (why does he look like a fox? it is not well, I think, to look like a fox…) the manfox, it does not like his knife… it thinks that it is made out of gold… irons? Golden iron? What is..? Cohradin! It meant 'Brother of the Dance!' That was what his mother had called him! Yes!
Cohradin then patiently explained to the foolish Foxman that the long knife of an algai'd'siswai he proudly wore on his belt was not forged of 'golden iron' (whatever foolish thing that was) but good steel, made by Gerom's near-cousin's mother's daughter's sister-son's great-father, Darim, Blacksmith of Wet Sands Hold, whose wife Dallilla, who hated him (there were few women of his Sept, wives or widows or wives expecting to become widows, who did not!) where was he…? oh, yes, Darim's horrible wife Dallilla was also Chassin's sister-mother's near-sister's father-brother's sister-son! No… no, that could not be right… there was something wrong there, he would have to start again… so he did. Though he was slurring his words badly… but it was no matter, for he was still going to drink all of the oosquai in his flask, just to prove that he could and that he was not afraid of Foxmen!
The Foxman seemed disinterested in both the amusing co-incidence and his commitment to remaining drunk until dawn whilst not being scared of Foxmen, so presumably it had no sense of humour, like a humourless wetlander, or Sulin. At least it let him keep his knife, for it was his favourite knife – Darim was a good Blacksmith, a good Blacksmith indeed, though sometimes he sang foolish songs after he drank too much oosquai as Cohradin had also done that night, a truly heroic amount of oosquai, the most he had ever drunk ever before… though when he sang, it was not foolish, not foolish at all… where was..? oh, yes, the oosquai which had helped him to form his wise plan for sneaking into Rhuidean to hunt for the Jenn Aiel in the first place! (No, wait, there had been no plan he had just sort of involuntarily trespassed where he should not, yet again.) But only after Gerom had gone to bed and Chassin (who had a weak head and could not take his oosquai) had passed-out! Though they were his near-brothers, Cohradin did not wish to share with them the honour of catching a Jenn and bringing it to show to old Sadora, thus proving that there were Jenn to be found, and not just a myth!
At this point, the Foxman rudely snarled at Cohradin and put its paw (it is not well, to have paws… claws upon paws…) over its mouth, clearly wishing him to stop talking – he was so drunk he had not realised that he had actually been saying all of that! The Foxman did not seem interested in his subsequent explanations of this foolish mistake either! So… he swiftly and cleverly drank some more oosquai to better help him to concentrate upon things better.
The strange, thin Foxcreature looked at him in a disappointed fashion, and shook its head a bit sadly. He offered the Foxman some of his oosquai but it did not seem to want any and sneered at him, wrinkling its fox-nose.
"Nay," the Foxman growled, so Cohradin pretended that he could not hear it, cupping a hand over one ear in a comedic manner and looking quizzical, so it repeated the word louder but he continued to feign deafness until the Foxcreature got exasperated and shouted; "naayyy!" and then he amusingly asked it why it was making the cry of the foolish wetland horse-beast! Surely the 'yip' of the desert-fox would be more appropriate? But the Foxman did not seem to understand what a good joke this was. And it would not drink oosquai with him! Did it think itself better than he? But perhaps its fox-wife would not let it drink oosquai, as Darim's dreadful wife would not. But still… they were a dull lot, these Foxmen!
Angrily, Cohradin then poured more oosquai into his mouth whilst turning his head so as to maintain one-eye-contact with the Foxman (to show it that he was certainly not concerned by Foxmen) leaning right back as he drank, right back… but he foolishly managed to fall over. He examined the Foxman from the floor, where he lay awhile before attempting to rise. Was it going to try to attempt to eat him, as the dangerous purple creatures had done? It did not look as though it liked to eat or drink anything. But he was certain that if he could find a chicken, the Foxman would soon change its mind! But he did not know where he could find a chicken in the middle of the night inside of a confusing door-thing in the middle of Rhuidean… why had he not thought to bring a chicken with him..? fool! there were chickens to be had, were there not? but why..?
Cohradin could not remember, so he drank some more oosquai, easier to do whilst lying down. For though he had fallen upon his back in a stupor he had retained the grip of his powerful knife-hand upon the flask, and managed to hold it level, spilling not a drop. Sulin was a fool (though until his injuries healed he would only say so to her if she was some distance away) for she had deliberately broken the fingers of his right hand, thinking that was his knife-hand, when it had always been his left! Even so… Sulin!
Now the Foxman was staring at Cohradin's head in a funny way – he was not sure, but it was as if the Foxman was looking inside his mind, looking at some of the noble things that he had done in the course of his proud and honour-filled life! It must be well, to be a Foxman, and to gaze upon the many adventures of so brave and heroic a man as he.
Cohradin's many proud exploits… like shooting-down with arrows the fleeing purple creatures… no, not that! (had that really happened? he hoped it had not, for he still felt mildly guilty about it) well then… what about the time he had skilfully waked some loud-mouthed Tomanelle for trying to stop him from milking that strange-looking one-horned goat he had found in the back of the cave… that had been a bold adventure, a bold adventure indeed… and despite all the trouble caused, the painful toh-giving that followed… the main point was that the goat was still his goat.
Cohradin talked to his goat sometimes, telling it about his day and who he had danced the spears with… though of course, the animal was not a wetland 'pet' for that would be foolish. Its milk had run dry long ago, and had always been rather rancid milk anyway, not worth the trouble of drinking really… he had long intended to wake the beast from the goat-dream and eat its flesh… he had just not got round to it yet… it would probably not taste very nice anyway… but he was sure that he would slay the goat for its meat one day, it was inevitable, just as he would also kill Sightblinder…
For some odd reason, the Foxman did not seem to like what it saw when it looked at Cohradin in that strange way, and it started to look ill… and then sighed. He thought the Foxman looked sad, and offered it oosquai, in case it had changed its mind since the last time he offered it oosquai, but the Foxman refused again, in a more angry way than before even when it had sounded like the wetland horse-beast! They were touchy, these Foxmen, almost as bad as Chassin! Who was Chassin?
Cohradin's mind seemed to drift for a while so he drank some more oosquai – the flask was now a quarter-full! Soon, it would be empty! And he would win something! Honour, perhaps? He decided to get up now. The Foxman watched as he struggled on his back, legs kicking and arms waving… and a strange look came over its fox-features for a moment. Cohradin did not think it felt sorry for him, he did not think it felt anything, at least not in the way he did… but he had once seen a Sharan tor'toise that had fallen off a rock onto its back… and Cohradin had looked at it as it struggled to right itself in much the same way as the Foxman had just looked at him… Cohradin had felt embarrassed for the strange Sharan shelled-lizard, though he had not let that stop him from waking it from the tor'toise-dream and eating it later. But in the Foxman's foxy face… a hint of that same embarrassment… perhaps it would eat him later also… he should have brought a chicken for it! He would remember, the next time he came to the Foxman Hold… if he did not forget…
It took some time for Cohradin to get to his feet. The Foxman did not offer to help, though he would not have liked to hold one of its fox-hands in any case… these Foxmen were strange indeed… drifting along… drifting along with the Foxman… drifting down the… what was happening now? He seemed to be walking… oh yes, there was the Foxman in front of him, it kept looking over its shoulder and scowling at him and they were in some kind of strange long hall of the Fox Hold with windows looking out at things that did not make sense, so he did not trouble to look at them.
They walked for a time, whilst Cohradin loudly sang some of the rude songs that the young Gleeman Roth Blucha had taught to him, even though the Foxman kept growling at him and covering its strange pointed ears with its strange clawed hands. Foxmen!
But then… Cohradin suddenly realised that he needed to be very sick, and had leant out of one of the strange windows to do it, though the Foxman yapped at him and obviously did not wish it… too late Foxman! What was the problem, there were only strange plants and other things down there also… what were those things? These fox-things did not make fox-sense… but the vomit, it had not landed on any of the Foxmen, for there were none down there, just the strange… things… what were those things? and what did it matter if Cohradin was sick down there? He had to be sick somewhere, that was what happened when you drank too much oosquai! Did the foolish Foxman not grasp this fact? Was it stupid? Did the Foxman wish Cohradin to be sick onto the floor of his hall-of-many-doors instead? Did it?
Suddenly, Cohradin realised that he was shouting at the Foxman, which had its fox-mouth hanging open, so he apologised to it and offered it some more oosquai, because Foxmen liked to drink oosquai, did they not? Oh, no, that was wrong, they did not… the Foxman made an odd yelping noise and turned away, its fox-head hunched down between its thin fox-shoulders, and as Cohradin was feeling better now after being sick he followed, pleased that he had been able to lean out of the window in time. It was well, to lean out of the fox-window in time when you had to be sick at Fox Hold. But he had better drink some more oosquai before the Foxman could try to stop him! Oh no, that was also wrong, it had not tried to… wait, Foxman! Don't walk so fast, my knee still hurts from where Sulin stamped on it… at least he had not been sick onto the fox-floor of Fox Hold… it was well, to not… not to… what?
Though in any case, it did not matter, for a little further down the hall Cohradin was again struck with the need to vomit! A far more urgent need this time, for he did not get as far as the window, and the Foxman barked angrily at him while shaking its fox-fist, even though Cohradin said he was sorry and used his shoufa to mop up the worst of it. This Foxman was a fool! If he wished his silly long hall with doors that always showed the same foolish room to be clean, why, then, did he not summon one of his Fox gai'shain to mop? Cohradin had seen no Foxmen wearing long white robes, so presumed them to be asleep in their fox-beds. In fact, he had seen no other Foxmen, but this was clearly a large Hold where many Foxmen could live and probably did… so where were they all then? They could not all be out herding their fox-goats… Cohradin realised that he had never really met a Foxman until today and knew nothing of Foxmen, nothing whatsoever! They were mysterious creatures, these Foxcreatures!
The Foxman was growling and snapping at him and Cohradin realised that he had been saying all of this to it too! So he offered it some oosquai again and the Foxman looked up at the ceiling and made a whiny noise. Cohradin did not wish to wear his shoufa anymore, so he tossed it out of another strange window, despite the Foxman yapping at him and waving its clawed hands. This window did not show the spongy plants, but a large thing that looked a bit like the odd crag above Three Peaks Hold, where Chassin's great-mother's first-sister's fox-daughter Bwalindra captured her unlucky husband when she finally decided to give up the spear, forcing the poor fellow to pick up her thorny bridal-wreath at knifepoint… Women!
The Foxman did not seem to want to hear about this either, it kept shaking its head and frowning and pointing its claws at its odd-looking ears. What was its problem? Did it not even know how to speak the Vulgar-tongue? Foolish Foxman!
Cohradin was starting to sense that the Foxman might be beginning to become angry with him by the time he was rather rudely pushed into the big room where the Sept Chief of Fox Hold sat upon a tall, odd-looking Chief's chair, with both of his wives attending – no doubt there to yip and yap at him and tell him what to do! The Fox-wives of the Fox Chief sat upon strange Chief's chairs also, which was odd, for there could be but one Chief of the Fox Sept, surely? Cohradin assumed that one or both of these Foxwomen were Fox Wise Ones (at least one of the wives of Chiefs usually were) in which case the poor foxfellow was lucky they had permitted him to sit upon a foxchair in his own foxhold at all! Wise Ones!
Oddly, Cohradin felt as though he wanted to be near-friends with them all, especially his Foxman guide who he suspected he might have offended with his crude behaviour, so he offered it some oosquai again, nodding and smiling encouragingly… but the Foxguide just stared at him for a long moment, then made an odd, whimpering sound, dropped to its paws and ran away through the door and off down the hall. Running on all fours! Just like a fox! They were strange, these Foxguides!
The Sept-Fox of Fox Hold and his Foxwives did not want any oosquai either, and were all looking at Cohradin as though they did not like him, though they had all only just met and they had no idea what kind of a fine person he was. But Cohradin often met others who took an instant dislike to him for some reason, so did not mind too much. At this point, he decided that it would be well to drink some more oosquai.
Suddenly, Cohradin felt the need to urinate! But the Fox-chief refused to tell him where the place of convenience was, or if indeed there was one… even if the Sept-Fox, like the foolish Guide-Fox, did not speak the Vulgar, surely he should have understood his gestures and miming, to indicate what he needed to do? The Fox-chief just kept growling and shaking his head while his Fox-wives sneered at Cohradin and whispered to each other in what might have been the Old Tongue, but he was not sure. No doubt saying rude things about him, in his hearing, that he could not understand. Just like the Maidens, with their finger-insults! But perhaps there was no place of convenience in Fox Hold? Perhaps Foxmen did not need to urinate? That would be strange, strange indeed… they were strange people, these Foxpeople!
The Fox-Chief refused to answer Cohradin's searching questions about this, however, and seemed to be waiting for something, for it kept looking impatiently toward the foolishly-shaped door. Cohradin shrugged and squatted down easily, drinking some more oosquai and trying to ignore his full bladder. He noted that the Fox-wives were looking at him disapprovingly, it seemed, and then one of them made a loud sniffing sound. Perhaps he stank of vomit a little? Or mayhap it was that he was covered in scrapes and bruises, his cadin'sor much-stained with his own blood? And stained with other things besides, though he did not know what they were…
Cohradin scowled, ignoring the foolish Foxfolk for the time being, considering how best to obtain his revenge upon Sulin for the ferocious public beating she had administered… though it would be difficult… difficult? It would be impossible! This was Sulin of the Taardad, after all! She had killed more men than the Black Fever! Cohradin growled angrily and the Foxwives blinked at each other and gave him a surprised look… though he barely noticed… thinking that he would very much like to take Sulin gai'shain and save up all of his laundry until he had nothing left to wear but his veil – and then dump it all on his old gai'shain to do in one wash!
Yes, Sulin scraping the soap over his soiled cadin'sor and other garments, whilst he watched carefully and told her to pay particular care to his smallclothes, to make sure that they were soft and pliant and comfortable for him to wear whilst he danced the spears… it would be well to reduce Sulin to such humbleness! Then she would be like one of those wetland maid-servants in the picture in the romantic book about the Sun-Queen who took seven husbands (odd customs, these Sun-Queens!) that Gerom once showed to him… Cohradin grinned at the thought of Sulin, dressed in one of those strange outfits with the odd dress and the frilly apron-thing and the little lacy cap… slaving for some spoiled Wetland Lord in his Treekiller Hold, summoning her to pour for him the fruit-punch that he was too lazy to pour for himself! An amusing image! But only an image, unfortunately…
It was no good, the need to go was too intense to ignore any longer. Shaking his head at the great unlikelihood of his ever making Sulin gai'shain, Cohradin rose, staggered over to the far wall whilst loosening the front of his britches and, despite the angry snarling from the Fox-Chief and his Fox-wives, proceeded to relieve himself… such a relief! It was then, over the steady 'psshhing' sound, that he first heard the approaching footsteps, echoing down the long hall.
Proper footsteps, made by boots – not the pitter-patter of clawed foxfeet! Continuing to urinate (only half-done, little choice but to continue) Cohradin turned his head the wrong way, remembered that he did not have an eye on that side, and turned to look over the other shoulder, staring at the person (not a foxperson but a real one!) who had appeared in the many-sided doorway. His mouth fell open.
The fellow was tall, tall as an Aiel, and richly (if oddly) dressed… a long, dark coat, emblazoned with multicoloured diamonds, draped over a green silken shirt and silvery britches tucked into elaborate and ornately-worked boots… a mane of dark red hair falling to his wide shoulders… but what really grabbed Cohradin's attention was the fellow's face (though it could not be seen) for he wore a strange mask worked from beaten-copper, which covered his features and ears. He was clearly a man like Cohradin, without the too-tall-and-skinny foxbuild of the Foxfolk… but the mask!
Bright blue eyes stared from the eyeholes of the copper mask. Which was cunningly-fashioned into the shape of a smiling fox's face! Cohradin stared, a little fatalistically. The first person he had seen since he came here who was not a Foxman (or a scowling, shrewish Foxwife, for that matter) was still fox-like in that they wore a fox-mask! There was far too much foxstuff in Fox Hold, Cohradin was beginning to think…
The Fox-masked fellow bowed perfunctorily to the Fox-chief and his Fox-wives, resting a gloved hand momentarily on the folded-over top of a long, ochre-coloured boot… sweeping the other arm back a little… a very strange bow, certainly.
"Eelfinn," Foxmask stated, as though in acknowledgement, speaking in a fine, mellow voice which rolled sonorously from the confines of his mask. The Fox-chief just stared at him coldly, as though he did not like the fellow any more than he liked Cohradin. But after a moment, the Fox-chief grudgingly inclined its head a little, though his Fox-wives did not. In fact, they both sniffed loudly, in unison.
With the formalities clearly over, Foxmask turned, and for the first time seemed to notice what Cohradin had been doing; the dark stain against the wall, the yellow puddle at his soft-booted feet… the fellow stared for a moment, his blue eyes widening to fill the copper-rimmed eye-holes of his strange mask… and then, a soft, low chuckling noise began to echo from beneath the copper snout! Foxmask was laughing! The laughter went on for a time, whilst the Fox-Chief and his Foxwives shifted on their chief's chairs and muttered no-doubt uncomplimentary things under their breath. Foxmask finally quieted, still shaking his hidden head in amusement, then jestingly raised an admonitory finger, wagging it at Cohradin a few times! His blue eyes seemed to twinkle a little. And then he winked!
Still shaking his head, shoulders shaking a little with suppressed laughter, Foxmask turned away, the myriad-hued diamond-shaped patches decorating his long leather coat seeming to shift and scintillate in the low light… the fellow jerked a thumb at Cohradin, as he did-up his britches, and then thumped himself on the chest as he faced the scowling Fox-Chief once more. The man in the Fox-mask pointed firmly at Cohradin, uttering a single, loud word, which echoed in the Room of Bonds.
the morning after the night before…
Someone was poking him… poking him insistently awake. Was it one of the Foxmen? Cohradin woke (though immediately wished he had not) to find himself laying sprawled upon sand well-seeded with sharp rocks, some of which were digging into his face, and other parts of him also. He had the worst head-ache he had ever had in his cursed existence (except, of course, for the one after the Great Bird of Shara pecked him so viciously in the face.) He yawned and groaned and tried to stand, but could barely lift his face from the puddle of dried vomit – had he done that? There had been something that happened last night, had there not? Had he waked someone and nearly started a blood-feud… again? No… it was definitely worse than that… there had been a foolish red door and… and some Foxpeople… but what were Foxpeople? People who looked like foxes, presumably… and he had angered them in some way… but they had angered him also, and they had stolen his oosquai! Perhaps they had given him something in return for it..? A gift? But no. Absurd! He must have imagined it all…
A spear-butt prodded him hard in the shoulder and Cohradin glanced up, wincing and squinting and trying to shield his eye from the terrible dawn sun with trembling hands. There was someone standing silhouetted there, a woman perhaps, though since she was only poking him rudely with her spear, rather than kicking him and beating him with a large stick, he could only assume that she was not old Sadora.
Cohradin took a closer squint, blinking back many tears… she was a tall and perhaps redheaded Maiden of the Spear, young, with a very fine bosom… and the cut of her cadin'sor immediately told him that she was a tricksome Taardad and that she was of the cowardly Nine Valleys Sept and… and his head felt like it was about to burst like an over-ripe melon. She poked him again, to alleviate boredom perhaps, since he was clearly awake… sleeping people do not tend to moan or whimper, unless they are having a bad dream.
Cohradin was having a bad dream even though he was awake. Why did the first person he saw on this horrible morning have to be a Maiden? Even if she did have a full and attractive cleavage. Women were so much more disapproving about an honest algai'd'siswai having a few flasks of oosquai after a hard day of dancing the spears with random strangers… milking strange goats… big birds of Shara… what had he done last night..? there had been a large tree, had there not..? yes, a red tree with Foxpeople hiding inside of it… but where had it been? You could not fit a whole tree inside of a tent… unless it was a very large tent… he was not sure, he would have to ask Gerom. The Maiden tossed her head so that her warrior's tail bounced upon her back. She then sniffed, with great disapproval, her full lips writhing in a cold sneer of disgust.
"You stink, sneaking Shaido!" she declared, loudly. The Taardad Maiden had one of those voices that seemed designed to pierce straight through the red mist of a man's morning-head and stab directly into his aching brain. Cohradin shuddered and hoped that he could somehow escape from this horrid virago (she was a beauty, though, with fine kissable lips and short red-gold hair that caught the sun, but would have been far more attractive to him without that permanent scowl on her icy face!)
"What are you mumbling, dirty Shaido lizard? I cannot understand you."
Oh, had he been speaking? He really had to stop doing that! It was well that she had not understood. Cohradin coughed and spat, and managed to roll a little away from the vomit, though the effort made his head pound as though Darin the Blacksmith were beating upon it with his largest hammer. The vile Maiden sniffed again, and poked him hard in the ribs with her spear-butt, also again.
"Go away from me… leave a man in peace…" Cohradin managed to groan.
The Maiden stayed there, glaring at him disapprovingly and shaking her head slowly from side to side.
"I feel as though Shai'tan has defecated inside of my skull," Cohradin added.
"Eurgh! You are disgusting, squealing Shaido swine-pig! What a disgusting thing to say, you sicken me! Wait… I know who you are…"
Dreadful, but at least she was not old Sadora… though would no doubt be just like her one day. What did he do last night? There had been a big tree… a bald man sitting there, smiling at him… and casting no shadow… a door-thing made of twisty-turny stones… red in hue… Foxmen and Foxwives… a masked Manfox… oh, and a big square full of silly things that you could see through… yes, Mangalin had been inside one of them, weeping like a woman listening to a Gleeman sing a sad ballad about some long-haired fellow who gets impaled on a dishonourable sword instead of kissing Sulin… on her scarred… leathery… Rhuidean..? Rhuidean! Oh no! He had trespassed there of all places? How much oosquai did he drink? He was a fool!
"I know you! You are he with the one eye and the scar who makes trouble and widows and starts feuds and goes to Shara when he is not supposed to go to Shara!"
The young Taardad Maiden's voice was like tiny spears being poked into his brain and Cohradin moaned loudly, waving his hands in desperation but the Maiden would not be silent! Tiny spears… now what did that make him think of?
"Cohradin, the Wet Sands sneaking Shaido, that is your name – you are the one that Sulin beat so badly last night when you kissed her upon the cheek! And dressed as a woman and gave her a stupid bridal-wreath that was not even a proper bridal-wreath! Was that supposed to be funny? You think that you are funny, Cohradin, but you are not! Also, I hear that Marindha is very angry with you for taking her clothes whilst she was in the sweat-tent and she means to beat you to within an inch of your pitiful excuse for a life, as do several other Wise One's apprentices also! What do you say to that?"
"Aaahh," said Cohradin, clutching at his aching head.
"Pathetic! I am glad that I am not a Wise One's apprentice (particularly to bad-tempered Sadora!) and am a Maiden of the Spear instead! Cohradin, my father-brother Rhuarc says that you should go to Rhuidean and unfortunately return (unlike stupid Mangalin!) because my father-brother, the Clan Chief of the Taardad, says you should go and return because you are exactly the sort of man the Shaido deserve to have as their Clan Chief!"
"Let foolish Suladric take his turn in stead of me… or Muradin, or that imbecile first-brother of his, Couladin, if they will even let him… but I have no wish to be Clan Chief… or even Sept Chief of Wet Sands, as was my father… I would far sooner be a… a peddler!"
"What did you say, sneaking Shaido? I did not understand your mumbling."
"I said that-"
"I think that you should be Clan Chief of the sneaking Shaido, Cohradin, because then you would foolishly lead the entire Clan sneaking into the Blight to hunt the Dark One! Would you not, Cohradin? I expect that you would."
"What kind of a stupid question is that? Ahh, my head… Of course were I Clan Chief I would lead them all to Shayol Ghul to kill Sightblinder! Ahhh… and his worm-pets… it would be the only course of action to be taken, for even if the whole of the Shaido fell in the dance, there would still be much honour gained! Ahhhh…"
"You are a big fool, Cohradin! But it would be well for you to be Clan Chief for then there would be no more Shaido and our nanny-goats would finally be safe!"
"It was my goat, I had every right to gather its milk! You are the big fool, girl, for you will prance about with your man's spear for another year and then you will meet some tall fellow with fine red hair and grey eyes that sparkle like shiny rocks in the sun and he will have a slippery smile and winning ways and you will swoon like a wetland Princess who wishes to be licked by toads (or whatever the Gleeman said happened) and your hastily-made bridal-wreath will have barely touched the ground and raised dust before the smirking fellow seizes it up and you proceed to leap on him like a female scorpion in heat and before you know it you will have birthed at least four of his winging babies and- oww!"
The Maiden was scowling darkly and poking Cohradin again, but this time she had reversed her spear and was using the sharp end, drawing small amounts of blood each time. Cohradin decided to leave it there for the time being, he had only been getting started… but why did Maidens and Wise Ones and Foxwomen and widows and Foxwidows hate him so very much? He was a reasonable man, was he not?
"I will never give up the spear for a man, no matter how tall or handsome!"
"I did not say he would be handsome. He will probably have burns on his hand or something else wrong with him to want to marry y- owww! Stop doing that, wench! I am having a bad morning! Go and chase an ostrich-bird instead!"
"There is no such thing as an ostrich-bird… they do not exist even if the lying wetlander Jain Farstrider says they do and you are also a liar! And I will run with my spear-sisters till I wake from the dream! I would dance the spears with you right now, Cohradin, if you but had any spears. You do not."
"I do! See?"
"What is this foolishness, Cohradin? You show me three toy spears that are no longer than your fingers that Sulin stamped upon with her foot! You are an idiot!"
"Silence, girl – your voice is like the hissing of many lizards and wasps and snakes and Sharan striped-cats! Can not you tell when a man has a morning-head?"
"You stink, Cohradin! You are covered in your own sick, and you stink! You have been drinking too much oosquai! Only a fool drinks too much oosquai and tries to kiss Sulin on the cheek because some Red Shields say he will not! Only a sneaking stinking stupid Shaido finds himself out here on the slopes of Chaendaer instead of returning to his goat-senses back in his tent, laying there with his head pounding and not being able to remember what foolish things he did last night! Only a great big imbecile like you, Cohradin… are you listening to me, Cohradin? Are you listening..?"
By this point, Cohradin was slowly dragging himself away on his elbows. Doubtless the girl would soon give up the spear, make a bridal-wreath for some poor drunken fool to accidentally pick up and proceed to make the rest of his pitiful life a pure misery in this loud and persistent fashion… what had happened to his shoufa? Had the Foxmen stolen that as well? And what was that smell? Oh… it was him… he forgot. But the Foxmen had given him something, had they not? Though they had not given what he asked for – they had tricked him! Tricksome Taardad Foxes! It should not be allowed! Foxmaidens!
Cohradin had wanted to go back and dance the spears with those deceitful Foxmen, even though he was not sure where his proper normal-sized spears exactly were, but the second time he ran through the red stone door, shouting with rage, he had just gone right through the other side and crashed into some statue things, which he might have broken, he was not sure… but that was later, after he had asked for the… what had he asked for?
Of course! The Foxmasked Man told him he could have three things… so naturally, Cohradin had asked for three special spears to kill Sightblinder with, one each for he, Chassin and Gerom to use in the Final Dance. And the Fox-Chief had smiled, for Cohradin had not specified the size of these spears. Cohradin paused his crawling a moment and gazed down at the three finger-spears laying in his palm for a moment, miniature weapons made of some dark metal, perhaps with tiny writing on them… his pounding head momentarily forgotten. An insult, to give him these! For a moment he considered throwing them away, but stuffed them into his belt pouch instead.
Tricksome Foxmen! Still, despite his aching skull and churning stomach, despite the fact that he would probably not be able to crawl back into the Shaido camp without Marindha or old Sadora noticing him, Cohradin smiled… because, unlike many a man of his Clan, he had gone to the Forbidden City of Rhuidean – and had returned.