|Long Live Insanity #4: Maiden's Kiss
“Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall, ninety-nine bottles of beer...”
“Sycho, shut up!” two voices shout. With reason. The singer sounds like a stepped-on frog. A snarling growl is also heard.
“Ninety-eight bottles of beer on the wall, ninety-eight bottles of beer...” The distinctly unmelodious singer can now be seen, staggering along through the countryside. A once-white cloak seems to have come unfastened from one shoulder and is constantly tangling with his legs, perhaps accounting for the staggering gait. Of course, the trail of empty bottles behind him might have something to do with that, too...
“Shadar - you let him carry the drinks?”
“Well, Snarg couldn’t carry everything.”
“If one green bottle, should accidentally fall...”
“He’ll never stop now.”
“Certainly he will.” The black-coated man striding along glances at the one in the white cloak. “About -”
“There’ll be ninety-seven bottles of beer on the - aargghh!” The singer starts coughing and choking around a gag of Air.
“Why, thank you. I hadn’t thought of that.” The Domani woman smiles and looks back behind her. “Snarg! Hurry up!”
“Snarg hurrying! Books heavy!”
“Be careful with those books!” another voice rumbles. “Those are priceless!”
“Stupid priceless books! Should burn!”
“If you even think about burning them, you great oaf of a Trolloc -”
“Books burn good!”
“- then I will get Shadar Asha’man or Shani Sedai to throw you through a gateway into Aridhol!”
Snarg shuts up abruptly, except for a few grumbles.
“stupid books... stupid Ogier...”
“Maybe we should camp here,” Shani suggests diplomatically. “It’s as good a place as any. Besides -” she glances at the lurching Whitecloak - “I doubt Sycho can make it much further.”
Shadar also glances at Sycho, who chooses that moment to trip over his own feet and collapse on the ground. “I do believe you’re right.”
They sit down, spreading rugs and cushions and in general taking their ease. Except for Sycho, who hasn’t quite managed to sit up yet. And Snarg who is kept busy obeying a constant stream of orders from the other three.
“Snarg! Be careful with those books!’
“Snarg! Set up the tents!”
“Snarg! Bring the firewood!”
“Clock?” Shadar looks up, and grins. Snarg, with impeccable taste, has brought the remains of Elaida’s favourite clock along as fuel. “Seems Trollocs aren’t always dumb. All right, Snarg, just bring the stupid clock over here. Then go set up the tents while we light the fire.”
“Stupid clock burn great,” Snarg announces happily before shambling off to set the tents up.
Someone (son of Someone Else, son of Some Other Ogier) takes out a notebook and starts scribbling. “For my book,” he explains absent-mindedly. Meanwhile, Shani looks critically over at the still-prone Sycho. “How many bottles do you think he drank?”
“Most of the crate, I’d say.”
“About that, yes.” Shani takes Sycho’s head firmly in her hands, and channels.
Sycho bellows like a drunken bull (or rather a drunken Whitecloak) and thrashes, gasping for breath. “Wha...wha..what...”
“It’s called sobriety. You’ll get used to it.” Shani sits back down beside the newly-lit fire. “And it serves you right for taking all the drink.”
“I’m starting to believe Aes Sedai really are Darkfriends.” Looking somewhat the worse for wear, Sycho makes his unsteady way over to the fire. “That was evil.”
“Oh, I can think of worse -”
They are interrupted by a shout from beyond the tents. Shani, Shadar and Someone look around. So does Sycho, once the sound has made its way to his befuddled brain. Snarg is now lying flat on the ground, and a lithe, golden-haired figure is poised with a spear in her hand.
Someone blinks, and starts writing faster. Shani raises one eyebrow. Sycho groans. “Are you sure I’m sober?”
“Welcome to our fire,” Shadar calls. “Be careful with Snarg, would you? Otherwise we’ll have to carry our own baggage tomorrow.”
The Aiel girl spins around at his voice, looks at the four around the fire, shakes her head, rubs her eyes, and looks again. “White cloak, red shawl, black coat. And an Ogier, and a Trolloc to carry your baggage. Who’s insane? You or me?”
“Us, of course,” Shani replies.
“But you can be insane, too.” Sycho adds generously. “If you want to. It isn’t hard.”
“It comes naturally.” Shadar stands and bows. “I’m Shadar, this is Shani, that’s Sycho, the Ogier is Someone and the Trolloc is Snarg. We are all, without exception, completely mad. And you?”
“I’m Shaiel. And I’m sane -” she glances at the five and shakes her head again - “for now. Is the Trolloc safe?”
“Of course he’s safe.” Shani tosses her hair back. “He’s really very well behaved, you know - for a Trolloc, anyway. Aren’t you, Snarg?”
“Snarg very good!”
“And he’s an art critic, too,” Shadar adds.
“Snarg burn stupid clock!”
“Whatever.” Shaiel lets Snarg up and comes to sit by the fire. “So you’re all mad. And not just mad, completely mad. Is this wetlander humour?”
“Something like that,” Sycho agrees. “You don’t happen to have anything to drink, do you?”
“Ah - no. I meant alcohol. Ale or something. Ale - Aiel! Hey, that’s a joke!” Sycho falls over backward laughing.
Shadar, Shani, Shaiel, Someone and Snarg groan simultaneously.
“It’s not wetlander humour,” Shani assures Shaiel. “We have better taste than that.”
“That’s a relief.”
Sycho, his joke unappreciated, is sulking. Someone continues to write, shaking his head over human oddities. Snarg, muttering “...stupid Whitecloak...” under his breath, continues setting up the tents.
Shani, bored, starts channeling, and little dancing figures appear in the flames. One of them has long dark hair and wears a red dress. Shadar joins in, and some more figures appear, one wearing a black coat. The Shadar and Shani figures bow and curtsy to each other and start dancing.
Sycho looks at them and rolls his eyes. Shaiel studies the dancers for a moment, then shrugs, deciding it’s either a wetlander thing or an insanity thing, and turns to Sycho. “Say, stranger. Have you ever heard of a game called Maiden’s Kiss?”
Shani and Shadar immediately look up, interested. So do the dancing figures. Someone blinks, stares, then decides he heard right and starts scribbling as fast as he can. Snarg drops a box of priceless books on his foot, and, for a wonder, Someone doesn’t even notice. Shaiel has the kind of wicked grin that only a Maiden can wear. Sycho, alone of all the group, looks completely blank.
Shadar and Shani glance at each other, still mirrored by the dancers, and smile in gleeful anticipation. “Ah,” they both think, “Aiel humour...”
The moral: If you make jokes about Aiel, THE JOKE’S ON YOU.