|The Day The Seals Were Re-sealed
Seal One: the Earth Shakes
The sun shown red upon the Blasted Lands, highlighting the dismal clouds crowding around the slopes of Shayol Ghul. The jumara frolicked across the waste, playfully chasing down- and eating- whatever they came across. The forgers were at work, hammering away. A Myrddraal leaned idly against the wall of the forge, studying the way the light slid off the surface of a bit of scrapmetal as he waited for his new weapon. Every so often he would stop to smile unpleasantly at the sole female prisoner, who cowered within her restraints.
All in all, it was a calm, peaceful day in the Blight. There was only one thing besides the Last Battle that could disrupt the idyllic mood….
‘WHAT DO YOU MEAN – THEY FOUND A WAY TO KEEP THE SEALS SEALED?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!’
Boomed a voice, powerful, fearsome, majestic.. and very angry.
Seal Two: Shaidar Haran Loses His Footing
The ground bucked again, then was still. Shaidar Haran regained his
footing, blood trickling down the side of his eyeless face. “Exactly
that, Great Lord. ”
Stepping outside, he picked his way around the new terrain, shaking
his head in silent disapproval when he saw the ruins that were all that
remained of the forge. He had always thought that thing should have been
constructed better. Not his problem. He had free range of the world! The
ploy had worked.
They HAD found a way to seal the Seals. Oh blood and bloody flaming ashes burn him to ash. No wonder the Great Lord had not seen through his falsehood. It was true. The Light burn him to ash. But how? Fish paste, it said. He was going to kill that Sanche woman. Meddling with things that didn’t concern her. Why hadn’t she just stayed stilled like most decent Aes Sedai?
Shaidar Haran spun around and punched a fresh outcropping of rock. Damn! This was going to cause trouble. He looked the direction of the Draghkar. “Fly.” He grated. “Pass the news to Moridin, and report to him. He will tell you what to do next.” Likely he’d just kill the thing in one of his rages. The Draghkar cringed and backed away, whispering assurances. It took off the moment he looked away.
Shaidar Haran shredded the message in his hands. Would nothing work
out? The Draghkar was flying straight south. He needed to think. Somewhere
peaceful, he thought as he seized a shadow. Somewhere where I won’t be
bothered by any Light-cursed messengers.
Seal Three: An Attempt at Rest
When Shaidar Haran found himself sitting beneath a tree in what appeared to be an abandoned Ogier stedding, he realized that he should have specified a little more in what kind of ‘peaceful place’ he had wanted. Still, it was quiet, and he didn’t see any terrified Draghkar bearing bad news. Settling back against the trunk of the tree behind him, he folded his arms behind his head fully intending to sleep.
Haha. He should have known better. The Hand of the Shadow, be able to steal a few minutes of peaceful rest in an Ogier grove without being bombarded by all sorts of strange occurrences? He really should have known better.
Of course, he did get a couple of moments to rest. It wasn’t as if he was ta’veren or anything- he was just the Hand of the Shadow. But then again, it wasn’t as if he was unimportant enough for the remainder of the day to pass uneventfully. Still, he did get a couple minutes of rest.
In fact, he got nearly a full hour’s worth of rest. To be exact, he got exactly fifty-nine minutes and fifty-nine seconds worth of rest. So- this seems awfully repetitive- he got three thousand, six hundred seconds worth of rest, or fifty-nine and fifty-nine sixtieths minutes of rest, depending on how you calculate. A second more of uninterrupted rest, and he would have had a full hour’s worth of rest, and the events that passed would not have happened at the time they happened. Philosophy is fascinating, don’t you agree?
But to get on with the point, fifty-nine minutes and the same number of seconds later, the sound of boots crashing through the underbrush got Shaidar Haran to his feet and behind the tree just in time to see a young Ogier and his companion, a younger man in a black coat, walk past the spot of ground he had vacated but moments before.
The Ogier was speaking. “Aren’t you glad the Aes Sedai let us come here, Karldin? For a moment I thought they wouldn’t, the way Lelaine Aes Sedai kept glaring at us. But they did. The Waygate should be over this way, I think. It’s the last one, too. I’ll be able to get back to Rand and writing my book soon. Or maybe I’ll find Mat. Do you know Mat, Karldin? You would like him, I think.”
“I’m sure.” The man named Karldin grumbled. “Can we hurry, Loial? I just want to ward the Waygate and go.”
Asha’man. Shaidar Haran pulled back against the tree and listened as they walked off. They were warding the Waygates, too. Clenching his hand into a fist, Shaidar Haran punched the tree in frustration. Burn them! Would nothing go right?
Loial and Karldin were out of hearing range. Shaidar Haran stood, relieved that he could get back to his nap.
There was a rustle of leaves. Shaidar Haran stepped back behind the tree, watching as a tall, copper-skinned Domani woman with a green shawl around her shoulders and a serpent ring on her left hand entered the small clearing. A broad-shouldered, stocky man joined her a sixtieth of a second later. The Aes Sedai turned towards him, standing up on toe-tips to whisper something into the man’s ear. Then she kissed him.
This went on for some time. Shaidar Haran shook his head and moved off a bit, guessing precognitively what was coming next. It shouldn’t be too hard to find another clearing.
Three women, the plain cut of their dresses and the books in their hands marking their Ajah as obviously as their brown shawls, strolled past, pausing every so often to examine an insect or leaf that caught their eye. It wouldn’t have surprised Shaidar Haran if one of them thought him a new species of beetle and called the rest over to help identify him. The Great Lord burn him, he had wanted PEACE! Was everyone swarming into the forest today?
Shaidar Haran continued to slink along in the shadows, stopping every now and then as some new person or people strolled into view. Cooks, carpenters, Tinkers, tanners, butchers, bakers and candlestick makers, they all seemed to have a reason to be wandering among the trees. There had been a Whitecloak and an Aes Sedai, arm in arm, strolling along a narrow path! At that, Shaidar Haran began to wonder whether he was going insane.
When a dish and a spoon ran hand down the path that the Aes Sedai and her Whitecloak companion had just vacated, followed up by a laughing dog and a cat playing the fiddle, Shaidar Haran just groaned and walked over to the nearest shadow. This was what stress did to you. It wallowed around in your mind and muddled your thinking. He’d be seeing unicorns, next. What he needed was a nice, long, relaxing trip on some tropical island. The Land of Madmen, perhaps, or the Bahamas. That would be the thing.
He was just about to leave, to go back to the Blight and arrange for that island retreat, when a Dragon stepped into the clearing. The Dragon Reborn, to be exact. Shaidar Haran bit back a slightly hysterical desire to laugh. This was just getting worse and worse.
Stepping out of sight, Shaidar Haran watched as the figment of his imagination (that was what he thought it was) wandered around the area, peeking under bushes in the most peculiar manner. Shaidar Haran fought to keep a calm façade. Normally, upon seeing the Dragon Reborn, he would have leapt at him and tried to put an end to the Last Battle before it began, but jumping at a figment of his imagination was a bit foolish seeming. Shifting his weight to his right foot, he leaned back against the tree. A stick crackled.
“Who’s there?” Demanded the Dragon Reborn. His voice was cold, and Shaidar Haran realized that he had attempted to draw saidin, and had only succeeded catching the Void. That was what happened when you tried to channel in an Ogier stedding or grove. Maybe he was real.
Ducking down behind the tree, Shaidar Haran attempted to disguise his voice. “The gardener.” He lied. His voice crackled in a very inhuman fashion. “Who are you?”
“The Dragon Reborn.” Came the haughty voice, followed by a considerably less arrogant one. “But don’t tell anyone. Do you know where the key is?”
“Key?” asked Shaidar Haran, genuinely puzzled.
“The one to the back door. I need to see Elayne.”
Wasn’t Elayne in Andor? “I don’t know where the key is.” He replied.
‘You sure?” Rand al’Thor, the Dragon Reborn, the Lord of Morning, the Prince of Dawn, and king of troublemakers, asked. “Well, thanks anyway. I’ll keep looking. Oh, and please don’t tell Egwene that I’m still here. She really got mad when I tried to make the White Tower swear fealty to me.” He wandered off, still looking for the key.
Shaidar Haran stepped out from the shelter of the tree and the shadows
that made him invisible. As he did so, his boot made contact with something
hard and metallic. Looking down, he found that he had stepped on the key
to the backdoor of the Tower. Picking it up, he examined it. An idea formed
in his mind. Setting the key back down where Rand al’Thor couldn’t miss
it, he seized a shadow and entered the White Tower.
Seal Four: The White Tower
He skipped from shadow to shadow, avoiding everyone and trying to improve his fake voice. It still sounded hopelessly dry and crumbly- by human standards, anyway- but he could hopefully blame that on an old throat injury. His clock hid his face well enough, but as for his height…I couldn’t help it that my mother was a Trolloc. Shaidar Haran thought wryly. Though I don’t think they will deem that a suitable excuse. No, Mother, being tall just seems to run in the family. I’m not Shadowspawn. I’m just a perfectly normal human. Shaidar Haran snorted. They wouldn’t put up with that for an instant. I am the Hand of the Shadow, Shaidar Haran told himself. I will think up something that they will believe. Haha.
Seizing hold of another shadow, Shaidar Haran made his entry into the Amyrlin’s study.
Egwene al’Vere, the Amyrlin Seat, looked up from the paperwork on her desk and gasped. “Shadowspawn.”
Siuan Sanche seized the One Power and wheeled around. “Where?”
Pointing, Egwene said, “There.” She, too, seized the Source.
Shaidar Haran, who had still been thinking on what he intended to say when he entered the room, and therefore hadn’t heard a word that they had said, turned around to better see what she was pointing at. ‘Where?”
“Myrddraal!” Egwene gasped, even louder.
Shaidar Haran jerked around in the opposite direction. ‘Where is it?”
“You are!” Egwene shouted, sounding somewhat exasperated.
“Me?” Shaidar Haran looked down. “Oh, yes. I guess I am.” He agreed, feeling somewhat embarrassed.
“Yes, you are.” The present-day Amyrlin Seat and her former one
said in unison. The two of them both began to weave something that smelled
distinctly unpleasant and painful to his One Power sensitive nose.
Egwene paused in her weave. “Why shouldn’t I?” She asked suspiciously.
“Well… I have important news.”
“Like what?” The Amyrlin Seat picked up in her weave where she had left off.
Shaidar Haran backed up. “I’m not telling until you until you stop channeling.” That thing was worse than balefire. Of course, he could just shield them, but that would put a complete end to any hopes at a civil discussion.
Siuan frowned, then turned to Egwene. “It just might be worth hearing him out,” She said. “We can always balefire him later.”
That was not very comforting, but the Amyrlin Seat did let her flows unravel as she released the Source. “Very well.” She sniffed. “Tell us what you know, Shadowspawn.”
Shaidar Haran looked about until he found a chair. Taking his cloak off and sitting down awkwardly –it was a very small chair- he addressed the Amyrlin Seat. “I have a name.” He said.
Egwene sniffed. It was a very direct sniff that made Shaidar Haran feel as if he were a youth again, and one that had gotten his armor very muddy and forgotten to scrub the blood off his shin-guards. ‘I could care less, and considering that you haven’t told me, you can’t possibly expect me to know it.” He had forgotten to feed the Trollocs, too, and his cloak needed mending.
“Shaidar Haran,” said Shaidar Haran.
“That’s not the Trolloc tongue.” Siuan cut in.
“No, it’s not. But that is my name.”
‘Are you sure?” Asked Egwene.
“Yes I’m sure.” Shaidar Haran returned.
“Positive? I mean, you seemed to be having an identity crisis a little bit back, and you’re a bit…. tall.”
‘You noticed.” Shaidar Haran replied dryly. “I am so glad.”
“Get on with it.” Siuan snapped impatiently.
“Not quite yet.” Shaidar Haran said. “I’m not just going to give you information. There’s a price.”
“I should have known.” The Sanche woman muttered. “I suppose you want us to swear fealty to the Dark One or something like that.”
“Not quite. We already have enough of you in our ranks, and the complete lack of any challenge would make the Last Battle a bit boring.”
“There isn’t going to be one.” Siuan crowed triumphantly. The Amyrlin Seat shot him a smug smile.
“But there will be.” Shaidar Haran commented. “You have all the Seals here, in the Tower. The Great Lord is not patient. If I can’t solve this relatively peacefully, he’ll send a Gholem or two to recover the Seals and bring them to Shayol Ghul.”
“A Gholem!” Exclaimed a muffled voice. Shaidar Haran turned just in time to see a short, attractive woman with dark hair. Behind her was a considerably taller, fairer-skinned woman with red-gold hair, who was garbed in an elegant dress of red and white. “What about a Gholem?”
Egwene smiled. “Where did you put Lan, Nynaeve?”
“On the practice ground, with the rest of the Warders.” She sniffed. “I finally got Myrelle talked into giving me his bond.”
The woman in the red and white dress sniffed. “You nearly made her wet herself, Nynaeve. You shouldn’t have been that harsh with the woman. She was just doing what Moiraine wanted…. What is that?!” She pointed at Shaidar Haran.
The Myrddraal rose smoothly to his feet. “I am Shaidar Haran.” He informed her, bowing politely but not deeply. “I admit that I had not expected to meet you here, Elayne Trakand.”
Swallowing, Elayne turned toward Egwene. “Pardon, Mother, but what are you doing with that…that…that Myrddraal in your study?”
“He says he has some information for us, for a price.” Egwene told her.
Nynaeve sniffed. “How can you believe a word it says, Egwene!” She exclaimed. It? “I would have thought you had better sense than that.”
“Yes, how? Mother.” A voice said from the doorway. It was the Domani Aes Sedai that Shaidar Haran had seen in the Ogier grove kissing the stocky man. She was wearing a remarkably thin, nearly completely transparent gown. She frowned at Shaidar Haran. “And why?”
“It says that if we do not remove the adhesive from the Seals immediately, the Dark One will become angry and send a Gholem to recover them.” IT, again? Shaidar Haran was insulted. He was NOT an It.
“Is that the truth?” Elayne asked.
“Very much so.” Shaidar Haran answered.
EVERYONE in the room turned towards him and sniffed as one. So much combined sniffing power made Shaidar Haran feel very small. It was as if the last sniff directed at him had rebounded some fifty times.
“Why is everyone up at arms?” Someone asked, entering the door and closing it behind her. “I could hear that last sniff as I came up the hall.” She took one glance at Shaidar Haran and whipped an arrow out of her quiver and onto her bow, aiming it dead at him.
Shaidar Haran swallowed, then very calmly used his special abilities to unstring the bow. “Not necessary.” He said, hoping he sounded calm.
“This is Shaidar Haran.” Nynaeve said, sounding as if she was informing the woman about the drunkard who had lost his lunch on her carpet the day before.
“I can introduce myself.” He told her, and received another sniff.
“He’s the person you were all sniffing at?” Birgitte inquired, stepping forward to examine him closely. “I could almost pity him. Almost.” She stepped close enough that she actually seemed to loom above him. ‘The Hand of the Shadow, are you?”
“I am.” Shaidar Haran said with as much dignity as he could manage surrounded by five sniffing women and a heroine of the Horn looming over him.
Birgitte said, “I would have called you his backside.” And sniffed. Shaidar Haran shrunk a little in his chair. SIX sniffing women, and one a heroine of the Horn!
Suddenly the door banged open, and a tall, red-haired woman and her companion, a shorter, dark-haired one in breeches, entered. “Rand is waiting for you, Elayne.” Said the tall woman. The shorter one chimed in “It’s your turn.”
“Oh, goody.” Elayne skipped out the door. “Birgitte, you stay here and make sure the Myrddraal doesn’t do anything.” The two women who had just entered followed her out.
Egwene went red. “That woolhead, here? I told him not to come back.” Standing up, she ran to the door. “Take him back to the Palace with you, Elayne.” She yelled. “And make sure he doesn’t come back!”
Turning back to Shaidar Haran, she appeared all calm serenity once more. “Now what was it that you were going to tell us, Myrddraal?” She wove a warding against eavesdroppers around the room.
“That was part of it.” Shaidar Haran mumbled, pulling a bit farther back from a grinning Birgitte.
A hand suddenly touched his shoulder, and he looked up to see the Domani woman smiling at him. “You are kind of cute.” She murmured.
Startled, Shaidar Haran pulled away. He liked women as much as the next Myrddraal, but now was neither the time nor place for that. He also had a strong feeling that she was only trying to distract him to the point that he would say more than he had intended.
Siuan snorted, but said nothing. Egwene took up her seat behind her desk again. “What else?”
Shaidar Haran tried to collect his thoughts. It was growing increasingly hard to do so, as the Domani had begun to stroke his neck in a very familiar fashion. Whenever he tried to pull away, she would just laugh and redouble her efforts. After a few attempts at pulling away, he realized it was best if he just sat there and tried to ignore her. It was impossible, of course, but at least she no longer increased her efforts. Looking up, he found the other women gazing at him with varying degrees of amusement, from Egwene’s small smile to Birgitte’s outright laughter.
“I need some sort of agreement from you before I say anything.” He told them.
“Do you?” the Domani inquired. She slid her hand down past his armor and gambeson until it touched his bare shoulder. Shaidar Haran jumped and pulled away.
“Will you stop that?” He demanded. The Domani woman smiled and opened her mouth to reply, but it was another voice filled his head. ‘THIS IS NOT THE TIME FOR PLEASANTRIES, MY HAND. HURRY BEFORE I DECIDE TO REPLACE YOU.’
“What was that?” Someone asked, and Shaidar Haran realized he was on his knees. His head hurt like fury. “My Lord is displeased.” He said, regaining his seat. “He wants action. Burn me, I should just leave you to the Gholem.” He really should, too. Nice instincts led people nowhere when you were a villain.
“You will not.” Birgitte said, more of a command than self-assurance.
“What is a Gholem, anyway?” Asked the Domani woman. Birgitte glanced over at the woman wide-eyed, apparently shocked that she did not know what a Gholem was, but the Domani truly was naïve of the depth of her question.
Egwene shook her head. “You do not want to know, Leane. Elayne spoke briefly of them to me in tel’aran’rhoid, and the little I know is more than enough.”
“I want to know.” Siuan said.
“A Gholem is a Gholem.” Shaidar Haran told her. He didn’t think he could put it into terms that these apparently one-track minded humans would understand.
“What do they do?” Siuan queried acridly.
Shaidar Haran winced. “I’m sure Birgette could explain it to your-” He could off when Birgitte shook her head vigorously. Okay, perhaps she couldn’t. Shaidar Haran could except that, however much he personally disliked the subject. Gholem were the only humanoid Shadowspawn alive that could best a Myrddraal in a fight, and he didn’t like the way they were always flaunting their immunity towards the One Power.
“Gholem were created during the Age of Legends by Ishar Morrad Chuain, to assassinate Aes Sedai. They are immune to the One Power, and-” He was cut off by Siuan’s exclamation of ‘Fishsticks!’
“How do they do that?” Leane demanded.
Shaidar Haran shrugged. ‘How would I know? I didn’t create them. Ask Ishar Morrad.”
“Aginor.” Shaidar Haran told them, a bit irritated. Humanity was quickly reaching the level of Draghkar on his intelligence scale.
Egwene rolled her eyes. “He’s dead.” She told him.
“And so was his companion, but thanks to my Lord, he’s now your companion.” Also thanks to some threatening on his own part, he might add.
“Who?” Egwene demanded, sitting up straighter.
“I’m not telling.” Shaidar Haran chuckled. “But I might tell you in exchange for one of the Seals being unsealed.”
“We’re doing this Seal by Seal now, are we?” Siuan asked wearily. “Why don’t we just get this over with?”
“Aha!” Exclaimed a voice from outside the door. “There’s the beetle!” Shaidar Haran spun around in shock to find an Aes Sedai of the Brown Ajah standing in the doorway.
“What beetle?” Egwene asked, trying to sound dignified.
“That one!” the woman, obviously half-crazed, pointed at Shaidar Haran. “I saw it sneaking off into the bushes in the grove. Wanted to study the thing.” She waved her hand dismissively, and Shaidar Haran felt a trifle miffed. Thing? What would they call him next? It, again.
Striding over to the Amyrlin’s desk, Verin said, “I found the answer to the paper I showed you.” She pointed in the direction of Shaidar Haran. “That is Ishmael \Ba’Alzamon\ the Heart of the Dark\ the beetle.” Turning, she confronted the Myrddraal. “You are, aren’t you?”
“I’m the Hand of the Shadow. Shaidar Haran,” He clarified. “And I am a he, not an it, or a that, or a thing, or a beetle.”
“What’s your point?” Came Nyneave, followed up by Egwene’s “Are you sure?”
“Yes I’m sure!” Shaidar Haran shouted, losing his grasp on his temper completely and sending the room flaring into an unnatural darkness. “I am absolutely, positively, completely sure. And no, I am not having an identity crisis.”
“No need to loose your temper.” Leane murmured, smiling in a languid fashion and reaching blindly out towards him.
Shaidar Haran jerked away. “And would you stop that?” He summoned up a dark light. “Now can we get back to business?”
Leane frowned and treated him with a pouty expression, followed by a sharp sniff as she turned away. Nynaeve nodded. “We might as well,” She said, then looked to Egwene. “If you will, Mother.”
Egwene nodded back. “We might as well.” She said. Turning to Shaidar Haran, she asked; “What is your proposition, Shadowspawn?”
“I have a name.” Shaidar Haran pointed out.
“But are you sure of what it is? You keep alternating between calling yourself Shaidar Haran and the Hand of the Shadow. I wouldn’t want to call you the wrong thing, you know.” She frowned. “You having an identity crisis isn’t helping, either.” She turned to Nynaeve. “Could this be part of his midlife crisis?”
Nynaeve frowned, then walked over and set herself down directly in front of Shaidar Haran, blocking his view of the rest of the room. “I don’t know yet. How old are you?”
“Not anywhere near middle-aged.” Shaidar Haran growled, twisting around to get a good glance at Egwene. “And where did you get your education? Shaidar Haran means ‘the Hand of the Shadow’ in the Old Tongue. Even I know that much.”
“From my mother.” Egwene said stiffly. “And I do agree that we should begin negotiating, Shaidar Haran. But I will have you know, however bad your upbringing may have been, the Amyrlin Seat deserves a certain degree of respect. I suggest-”
“How old are you?” Nynaeve repeated, cutting Egwene off.
“Twenty.” Shaidar Haran lied, as much to get her out of his face as to answer her question. How old was he, anyway? The Amyrlin Seat thought his upbringing was lacking? At least he could puzzle out the Old Tongue.
“He’s too young to have a midlife crisis. It is quite possible, however, that he is having a psychological disorder caused by too much stress, lack of sleep and not enough contact with positive emotions and people transmitting those emotions.”
“Do you think that’s possible?” Verin mused, a finger to her lips as she digested that. “We really don’t know that much about the personality and neurological capacity of Myrddraal. It’s rather hard to get a hold of one to answer questions, you know.” She took a place at his shoulder and began to search her pockets for a pen as she produced a book from apparently nowhere.
Shaidar Haran, aware that he was about to become a laboratory exhibit, started to pull away from the Brown sister only to find Leane at his other shoulder. “Are you saying he’s lonely?” She asked with a smile that promised to end that. Shaidar Haran started to pull away from her, only to have Nynaeve catch him by the shoulders and frown fiercely at where his eyes would have been had he been human. “If I combine spirit, air and water in a circular weave with very thin strands, I might be able to-” She faded into unintelligible muttering.
Then said Verin, to Birgitte, “Child, would you be a dear and go gather a couple of Sisters? Sareitha, I think, and a couple more Browns. Maybe a Yellow, if you can find one. Dagdara would be convenient, I think. No, no, not her. One of the Sitters. And….”
“Can we get down to business?” Shaidar Haran squeaked, growing somewhat frantic. He was not a science experiment. He refused to be one. His dark light had dissipated and the room was light again. “Please?” He simply could not knock the frantic edge of his voice. Birgitte smiled at him, clearly amused. Would she stop them if he begged?
A scratch at the window saved his dignity. Birgitte walked over to open it, and in tumbled a young Draghkar. Birgitte stepped back just in time to avoid being bowled over.
The Draghkar gaped wide-eyed at Shaidar Haran, sitting in a chair surrounded by women. Swallowing, it bowed hastily to everyone in the room, twice, then launched into its message. “The Great Lord is losing his patience, and Moridin is really angry. They want you to reach some kind of agreement, and fast.” It stared at him, and scuffled its feet. “Do you want me to relay some kind of message for them?”
“We’re working on it.” Shaidar Haran said.
Verin frowned thoughtfully at the young Draghkar. “We haven’t much knowledge in regards to Draghkar, either.” Smiling suddenly, ominously, she started towards the Draghkar and began to fire questions at it. “Do Draghkar lay eggs? How, exactly, do you hypnotize people, and how do you consume their souls? How long do you live? How old are you? What university did you graduate from? Where have you been previously employed, and for how long?”
“What do you propose in exchange for the unsealing of the Seals?” Egwene asked.
“Of what kind?”
“What topic areas?”
“Hints at infiltrators, perhaps a few names, some answers, the answers to last night’s Jeopardy, tomorrow’s winning lottery numbers, the location of the Bermuda Triangle, what Christopher Columbus really discovered, the order of-”
“Columbus. An explorer. I can tell you about Magellan, too.”
“The Bermuda what?”
“Nevermind. Have we a deal?”
‘I will have to pull a council together to decide that. It will take a couple of days. Is that okay with you?”
“Fine, I guess.” Shaidar Haran replied, staring at Verin, who was still jabbing questions at the unfortunate Draghkar without giving it a chance to reply. It was a wonder she hadn’t run out of breath yet.
“Have you ever worked grave-yard shift? Written an essay on Quantum Theory or a paper on physics? Did you ever flunk one of your grade school classes? What’s your I.Q.? How old was your mother when she married and what was her maiden name? Did your father have any shares in Microsoft? Did he have a hand in Watergate? Can you juggle while standing on your head? Ever served jury duty? Been audited by the IRS? Read ‘the Name of the Rose’ by Umberto Eco? Read ‘Little Women’? ‘Treasure Island’? ‘Canterbury Tales’? Been abducted by aliens? Been questioned by a conspicuous F.B.I. agent by the name of Mulder? Have you-” She rambled on. Shaidar Haran made a note to avoid her, else he suffer the same fate.
As if on cue, Verin looked up and favored him with a crafty smile.
Shaidar Haran felt his soul slowly slipping away.
Seal Five: Visitations of a Rather Odd Type
Two months and a week later, Shaidar Haran dropped his head onto the table in front of him. He knew he should have refused when Egwene bloody al’Vere had wanted to bring an Ogier stump meeting into it. He should have turned down the Sitters, too. The Whitecloaks, as well. Why him? Why did this have to happen to him?
The air wavered before him. Looking up, Shaidar Haran saw a man coalesce before him, on top of the otherwise abandoned table. “Who are you?” The weary Myrddraal asked.
The man smiled benevolently. “I am one you might consider as the Creator.” He said quietly, in the kind of voice that, if put in enlarged print, would have equaled at least a size seventy-two font because of sheer power and wisdom. It made the Dark One look a blind fool.
“Why are you here?” Shaidar Haran asked, full of unexplainable awe.
The Creator smiled again. “I heard your question, and thought it deserved an answer.” He paused. “Things are the way they are, and there is no justifiable reason for it. It simply is.”
“That doesn’t help much. Can you do something about it?”
The Creator shook His regal head. “Not now. But here is a small comfort: this is not of my making, and therefore is little more than a dream in a sense. Soon it shall go away and you will return to a more realistic existence.” Another smile. “One in which nursery rhymes don’t run around Ogier groves.”
Shaidar Haran nodded slowly. “But if this is not a world of your making, then what is it?”
“But this world is of my making.” The Creator said. “It is this particular plot that is not. Some of my worshippers are a bit…. Too worshipful. They devote their entire lives into creating Wheel of Time related….” The air shimmered again, and abruptly a girl in her early teens wearing thick glasses replaced the Creator.
‘I’m writing this.” She snapped. “Now get back to the plot.” The air shimmered again, and the teenage girl was replaced by a bearded, robed man with a hat on his head. “I’m Fizban.” He said. “Have you seen my hat?”
Shaidar Haran would have blinked in surprise had he been so enabled. “Uh…. I believe it’s on your head, sir.”
Fizban reached up with both hands to touch his head. In doing so, he knocked the hat onto the table. “No it’s not.” He informed the Myrddraal crossly. The air shimmered around him and he was gone.
Something shook Shaidar Haran roughly. Looking around sleepily, he asked “What?”
“You were asleep.” Karldin said roughly. Neither of them liked each other. The two of them had become drinking buddies, however: they disliked Aes Sedai even more than they disliked each other’s company.
“Oh.” Shaidar Haran said. “Thanks. Do you have any brandy?”
“I do.” Dain Bornhald stalked over to the table. He joined them regularly on their escapades, and could gulp down twice as much as the two of them put together. Pulling a flask off of his belt, he tossed it down in front of Shaidar Haran. “Don’t get too drunk, Shadowspawn. They appear to be make a final decision, yes?” Bornhald threatened to have him hung at least twice a day, but his threats never progressed farther than that.
Shaidar Haran glared up at him, but said nothing. He never actually got drunk- he just sat around and slurped a few ales with company that even Leane would not hang around with. It was his one proven defense against her. Although that defense did fray his nerves some. Having an Asha’man muttering darkly about balefire and Shadowspawn-tuned wards on one side and a Whitecloak alternating between threatening him with the hangman’s noose, attempting to convert him to the Light, and bemoaning his lost chance at destroying Perrin Aybara on the other was just a tiny bit irritating. He was going to need a psychiatrist by the time this farce was over.
Shaidar Haran stood flask in hand. “Don’t you have something better to do?” He asked. “I heard a rumor the other day that Aybara was in the city.” Bornhald was off like a flash of the Light.
Karldin shook his head. “Cruel, man. That was cruel.”
Shaidar Haran shrugged. “Of course it was. I’m the Hand of the Shadow.” He seemed to be repeating that an awful lot. I am Shaidar Haran. I am the Hand of the Shadow. No, I am not Ishmael and you cannot study me. “Would you go over and tell those Aes Sedai that my Lord is growing bored?”
“They’ll just take longer.” Karldin muttered. But he did.
Shaidar Haran sighed and leaned back against the table. He stepped into a shadow and turned invisible just as Leane strolled past. Chasing him had become a game to her. His Lord burn him to ash, he hoped that this was finished soon.
Turning around, Shaidar Haran noticed a hat on the table. Before his eyes, the air shimmered, and an arm darted through the hole and seized it. “Found it.” A voice crowed triumphantly. Another voice whined plaintively, “Get back to the plot.”
Shaidar Haran gulped down the brandy.
Seal Six: Everyone Finally Agrees to Something
Egwene al’Vere strode towards Shaidar Haran, followed by a covey of Brown sisters and her personal companions, among them Elayne, Siuan, and Nynaeve. Leane was nowhere to be seen, thank the Dark. “We came up with the agreement.” She announced peremptorily.
“What is it?” Shaidar Haran asked. Probably something he would spend an eternity regretting.
“The first three Seals will be unsealed in return for information on the Darkfriends in the Tower, including the identity of the person who was Balthemal. We made up a list of questions we expect answered. Okay?”
“Fine.” Halima was going to have to make a very hasty exit.
“The forth Seal will be unsealed in exchange for everything you know about the Forsaken. Agreed?”
“I guess.” He didn’t know that much about the Forsaken, anyway.
“The fifth and sixth Seals will be unsealed in exchange for your willing participation with the Brown sisters in composing a compendium of knowledge on the various types of Shadowspawn, including yourself. All right?”
“Uh….’’ Shaidar Haran hesitated.
“If you don’t agree, all that we have previously agreed upon will be void and you’ll have to find another way to get the Seals unsealed.”
“Okay, okay.” Shaidar Haran groaned inwardly.
“The seventh Seal will be unsealed in exchange for you commanding the Seanchan to stop leashing us.”
“That’s not fair.” Said the sul’dam who was part of the Seanchan embassy, at the same time that Shaidar Haran said “I could command them to, but it won’t help. They aren’t all Darkfriends.”
“Oh.” The Amyrlin Seat paused. Siuan came over to whisper into her ear. “Oh, yes. We will unseal the seventh Seal in exchange for tomorrow’s jackpot lottery winning numbers.”
Shaidar Haran shrugged.
“And the eighth Seal will be unsealed in exchange for you keeping the Gholem off of our backs.”
“There is no eighth Seal.”
“Oh.” There was a definite silence that stretched out for a long moment. “I guess we’re done, then.”
Elayne raised her hand. “May I speak?”
“Thankyou, Mother.” She glared at Shaidar Haran. “When do you want the Last Battle to start?”
“Why do you want to know?” Why was she asking such a stupid question?
“You didn’t specify when you wanted the Seals unsealed. You only said you wanted them unsealed, not when. We could do it ten centuries from now or in another Age…”
“Or I could send a Gholem after you and get it done tomorrow.” Shaidar Haran growled.
“Keep the peace, children.” Verin said, coming up from behind. She had an open book in hand. “Mother, I have something you might want to read.”
“What is it, Daughter?”
“It’s in poetry form. I translated it a few times, and I’d like your opinion of it.” Leaning over, she let Egwene get a good look at the book. Elayne came over. A moment passed, then they both began to giggle.
“What’s so funny?” Asked Nynaeve, coming over to join them. She began to laugh. Soon everyone was laughing, save Verin and Shaidar Haran, that latter of whom simply couldn’t seem to get close enough to read it.
“Some of my fellow sisters are waiting for you.” Verin said, taking the book back from Egwene and beginning to walk. Shaidar Haran reluctantly followed her.
“What was so funny?” He asked.
Verin stopped in her tracks and gave him a small, smug smile. She handed him the book. “Read away.”
Shaidar Haran did. Unfortunately, he was on the wrong page, and had to flip all the way through the ‘Daughter of the Night’ –a very naughty romance poem- until he found the bit that had caused so much laughter. There were two things on the same page, an essay on politics and a poem. Shaidar Haran read the poem.
‘Due to some fish paste glue,
There were some more stanzas, but after those few lines, Shaidar Haran’s mind went blank with shock and he handed the book back. “Was that a Dark Prophecy?” He asked, trying to remember why he had decided to come here in the first place.
Verin stowed the book back into her bag. “No,” She said. “I wrote it just now. Did you reading the ending stanza? What was your overall opinion?”
Shaidar Haran refrained from groaning in despair. He thought he had his emotions well under control, but for some reason, Verin just burst out laughing.
In the back of his head, another, darkly powerful voice chuckled with amusement. “THAT WAS AMUSING, MY HAND. REMIND ME TO HAVE HER BROUGHT BACK WHEN THE TIME COMES.” What the Dark One meant was, when Verin died, she was to be revived and kept around for a few laughs. Shaidar Haran had never been so humiliated before in his life.
“What’s so funny?” Asked Mat Cauthon, coming around the corner. He had a dice cup in his hands, as usual. Verin just howled with laughter, a reaction that just made Cauthon blink. The woman clutching her sides and laughing on the floor did not fit in with the image of the Aes Sedai who had followed them on the hunt for the Horn of Valere.
Sighing, Shaidar Haran explained what was ‘so funny’. Mat shook his head. “That’s why women are here, man. They exist to mock us, gripe at us, and call us names.” Shaking his head, he cast Shaidar Haran a sympathetic look. “Since you’re as tall as a Trolloc, they figure there’s just more of you to mock. Play me a game of dice?” He asked hopefully.
Shaidar Haran shook his head in return, then said “Maybe later” in the Old Tongue, which was what Mat had been addressing him in. Mat nodded and went off, whistling a rather badly written tune called ‘Life is a Game of Dice’.
Sitting down against the wall, Shaidar Haran waited for Verin to stop
Seal Seven: Things Dissolve to an End
Two grueling days of questioning later, Shaidar Haran stood at Verin’s shoulder, as far away from Leane as he could get. Egwene stared down at the seven Seals, laid out on a sheet of linen cloth atop a table. “Shoes have soles, not souls.” She said at last, to Verin.
Behind the Brown sister, Shaidar Haran shrugged. “Actually, they do. We use them as replacements for human souls when we’re lacking prisoners up in the Blight. Unfortunately,” He added. “Those swords always want to match their bearer’s armor, and they have definite ideas about getting dirty. Especially dress shoes,” He continued sadly. “Verin just put that in as humor. But I see what you mean. Can we get on with it?”
“Of course. Siuan, are you sure that water will dissolve this fish paste?”
Siuan harrumphed. “Of course it will. I didn’t live near the docks of Tear for nothing, you know.”
“Okay then. Lets get started.” She sloshed a bucket of water across the Seals.
Siuan gave a start. “Not like that! The Seals…. Uh oh.” The Seals fizzled. Foam rose around their edges. It made strange bubbling noises. The surrounding onlookers gazed on in shock as they dissolved.
“Fishsticks and butter-garlic sautéed salmon strips!” Siuan cursed.
Swallowing, Elayne looked up at Shaidar Haran. “When did you want the Last Battle to start?”
Shaidar Haran’s forehead wrinkled as he gazed down at the chalky remnants of the Seals. “Now, I guess.” He said faintly. The voice in the back of his head laughed.