|Long Live Insanity #6: The Darkfriend That Was
As the sun rises in Amador, the streets begin to fill up with people. A drunken man sitting outside a tavern watches them go by.
“Whitecloaks...boring people...more Whitecloaks...more boring people...” He takes a swig of ale and continues his litany. “More Whitecloaks...more boring people...’nother Whitecloak...Aes Sedai...huh?”
He blinks. “Yep, Aes Sedai...Asha’man...Ogier...Aiel...Trolloc...Pink elephant...” The drunk slowly keels over and starts snoring.
“Pink elephant?” Sycho looks behind him just in case. An Aes Sedai, an Asha’man, an Ogier, an Aiel and a Trolloc, but no pink elephants.
“No pink elephant,” Snarg growls.
“Drunk people see strange things sometimes,” Shani tells him.
“Drunk see us.”
“That’s what I said.”
The sober people around them see much the same thing, with the exception of the pink elephant. They simply tune it out. The good citizens of Amador are not prepared to believe in certain things, so certain things do not register on their brains. The sight of an Aes Sedai in a bright red shawl and an Asha’man in a black coat walking arm in arm and laughing, accompanied by an Aiel, a Trolloc, a Whitecloak and an Ogier, is one of those things.
“So this is what it’s like to be invisible,” Shadar remarks.
“What’s happening over there?” Someone, with a pen in one hand and a notebook in the other, nods toward the Fortress of the Light.
A dozen Whitecloaks, armor and cloaks gleaming in the sun, are marching down the street with a chained prisoner in their midst.
“They’re hanging a Darkfriend,” Sycho replies.
The two channelers in the group exchange a look which says Yeah, right.
“Should we try and help?” Shani asks.
“We’d better,” Shadar agrees as the Whitecloaks come closer. “Ready -”
He is interrupted by Snarg, who has been staring hard at the prisoner. “Hey, I know him! He Darkfriend!”
“He what?” Shani exclaims.
“Let me get this straight,” Shadar says. “He is a Darkfriend? A real, true, bona fide Darkfriend?”
“Well, of all strange things...” Shadar raises his voice. “Hey, you in the white cloak! Do you realize you’ve got a Darkfriend there?”
“Of course we do,” the officer in charge snaps. “We always have a Darkfriend.”
“No. I mean a real Darkfriend.”
“What!?” The officer’s face goes white to match his cloak. “He can’t be! We never catch a real Darkfriend!”
“Looks like you made a mistake, then. Our Trolloc here is absolutely sure that man’s a Darkfriend.”
“But we’re not authorized to deal with Darkfriends!”
The whispers are spreading out through the crowd. “They caught a Darkfriend... They caught a real Darkfriend...”
“Well, that’s just not on.” Shani puts her hands on her hips. “Next thing you’ll catch a real Aes Sedai, and then where will we be? You’d better let that Darkfriend go at once.”
“But we never let anyone go!”
“Paradigm shifting,” Someone whispers, an Ogier whisper anyway, to Shaiel as he takes notes. “It drives Whitecloaks insane. Soon he’ll be seeing pink elephants.”
“You can’t keep real Darkfriends?” Shani says patiently.
“Of course not! That’s not our job!”
“And you can’t let him go, either?”
“Of course not!”
“So what does that leave you?”
“Um - uh - um...” The Whitecloak’s eyes suddenly bulge in terror. “The pink elephants are coming! The pink elephants are coming!” He turns and runs, still screaming, through the crowd.
“Paradigms shifted,” Shani says smugly. “Incurably.”
“Beautifully done,” Shadar congratulates her.
“This is outrageous,” a man in the crowd declares. “We pay our taxes. We have a right to expect certain standards from the Children of the Light. We certainly do not expect them to go capturing real Darkfriends!”
“It’s outrageous...It’s scandalous...It shouldn’t be allowed...” The mutters from the crowd increase. Before long a brawl results between the crowd and the remaining Whitecloaks.
“Let’s get out of here,” Sycho suggests nervously. “I don’t want them to start thinking I go around catching Darkfriends.”
Shani laughs. “Can I interest you in a little paradigm shifting, Sycho?” she invites him with a wicked grin.
He shudders. “Not me, thanks. I’d pick Maiden’s Kiss any day.”
“Really?” Shaiel grins even more wickedly and links her arm in his. “We might want to talk about that...” Sycho has just been soundly outmaneuvered.
They make their way out of Amador. At the very edge of the city, they meet an old man with hair as white as his cloak. “Good morning,” he greets them all, blinking. “Tell me, young man, has anything of note taken place in the city recently?”
“Yes, sir,” Sycho replies. “They caught a Darkfriend, but he turned out to be a real Darkfriend, and the officer in charge lost a few paradigms and started seeing pink elephants. I think that just about covers it.”
“Ah.” The old Whitecloak places his hand on Sycho’s head in a benediction. “Walk in the Light, my son. Walk in the Light, my daughter,” he adds to Shaiel, not taking any notice of her spears, and turns to the others. “Walk in the Light, my son.” He stretches up to touch Someone’s head. “Walk in the Light, my daughter. Walk in the Light, my son.” The old man appears oblivious to the fact that he has just blessed an Aes Sedai and an Asha’man. He adds a final absent-minded “Walk in the Light, my son,” and a pat on Snarg’s shaggy head, before making his slow way into the city.
“What a nice old man,” Shani murmurs.
And all Amador breathes a sigh of relief as they leave. All except one man.
“Gotta stop drinking...hic...pink elephants all over the place...”
The moral: Darkfriends are dangerous. But paradigms shifting and pink elephants can be even worse.
Author’s Note: I thought about calling this one ‘Paradigms and Pink Elephants,’ but...