Hello! Welcome to the Labor Day Edition of the Wheel of Time Re-read, in which I celebrate a holiday about labor by, uh, working. I might have missed a memo, there.
Anyway. Today’s post covers Chapters 22-23 of Lord of Chaos, in which we ponder the ominousness of board games, honor – or at least efficacy – among horse thieves, and the importance of not annoying people by croaking mid-portentous message.
Previous entries are here. This and all posts contain spoilers for all currently published novels in the Wheel of Time series, which until next month means through Knife of Dreams.
As a gentle reminder, I know that there wasn’t much in the way of spoiler material in the sample chapter currently up on Tor.com (Whee!), but please do try to refrain from discussing any spoilers for it here. This also goes for when the Prologue goes online on September 17th; I know it’s frustrating, but let’s be considerate to those who want to wait until the whole shebang comes out in October, kay? Thanks!
(As to my own opinion, I’ve decided to refrain from commenting on either the sample chapter or on the Prologue; fairness, or bloody-minded perversity, take your pick, dictates I withhold a verdict until I can judge the whole thing. Sowwy.)
And there you have it! And now, have a post!
Chapter 22: Heading South
In the saddle, Mat juggles some interesting stones he’d found, which makes him think of Thom; he hopes the old man has survived hanging out with Elayne and Nynaeve, and grouses to himself about the girls’ lack of gratitude toward him for rescuing them. The Band is eleven days out of Maerone, making even better time than Mat had initially hoped, riding on high ground to avoid the refugees crowding the river road. The others are having a conversation about Aes Sedai, inspired by the groups of them they’d seen on the other side of the river, and Nalesean asks if Mat had ever thought of being a Warder. Mat puts the stones away and opines that Warders are “fools and dupes”, to let themselves be led around by Aes Sedai. Talmanes asks if he thinks the rumors about Logain being a Tower puppet are true, and Mat says he wouldn’t put much past Aes Sedai, but he doesn’t believe that. The rumors about Dragonsworn are more troubling, but Mat says that’s Rand’s concern, not theirs. Chel Vanin appears over the next rise, galloping toward Mat, and Mat orders a halt. He had surprised Nalesean, Daerid and Talmanes by asking them for the best poachers and horse thieves in their companies; the two nobles especially hadn’t wanted to admit having such men, but eventually they came up with seven names. Those seven had provided more, until Mat had forty-seven former thieves to use as scouts.
The last, named by all three just before him, had been Chel Vanin, an Andoran who had lived in Maerone but ranged wide on both sides of the Erinin. Vanin could steal a hen pheasant’s eggs without disturbing her on the nest, though it was unlikely he would fail to put her in the sack too. Vanin could steal a horse out from under a nobleman without the nobleman knowing it for two days. Or so his recommenders claimed in tones of awe. With a gap-toothed smile and a look of utter innocence on his round face, Vanin had protested he was a stableman and sometime farrier, when he could find work. But he would take the job for four times the Band’s normal pay. So far, he had been more than worth it.
Vanin tells him there’s something he thinks Mat needs to see, and Mat tells the others to wait and goes with him to where the remains of a Tinker caravan lies, wagons burned and corpses covered with vultures and ravens. Mat wants to know why Vanin couldn’t have just told him about this, and Vanin points out one wagon where a Tinker had written “TELL THE DRAGON REBORN” in his own blood on it.
Tell him what? Mat thought. That somebody had killed a whole caravan of Tinkers? Or had the man died before he could write whatever it was? It would not have been the first time Tinkers had come onto important information. In a story he would have lived just long enough to scrawl the vital bit that meant victory. Well, whatever the message, nobody was ever going to know a word more now.
Mat tells Vanin to make sure this wagon burns. Vanin spits as a large party of Aiel pass by, opining that they could have done it, even though a number of them recognize Mat and wave to him in greeting. Mat tells him he doubts it, and heads back to the others. The Band stops for the day, and news of the slaughter makes it a subdued camp that night. Mat can’t sleep; finding his tent confining, he takes a blanket (and the spear) and bunks down under some nearby bushes. He’s looking at the stars when he hears a faint noise, and looks over to see human shapes sneaking into his tent, and back out once they do not find him there; he sees they are veiled, which means Aiel, and can’t imagine what is going on, but keeps very still. Unfortunately, Talmanes chooses that moment to stomp drunkenly up to Mat’s tent, calling to him that he has some brandy; cursing, Mat leaps up and bellows an alarm, rousing the camp, before Talmanes gets murdered. The Aiel all go for Mat immediately, and Mat fights desperately until his men finally catch up and take on the Aiel themselves.
Mat slipped back and left them to it. The general who leads in the front of battle is a fool. That came from one of those old memories, a quote from somebody whose name was not part of the memory. A man could get killed in there. That was pure Mat Cauthon.
The Aiel assassins kill and wound a large number of the Band before they finally go down. Mat knows some of his wounds need stitches, and limps to where Daerid is putting a tourniquet on Talmanes’ leg. Daerid comments that the Aiel were clearly after Mat, and Mat wonders why Aiel would want to kill him. He inspects the bodies (relieved that they all turn out to be men), and supposes aloud that they are Shaido, though to himself he supposes they could also be Darkfriends. Daerid suggests they seek out the Aes Sedai across the river, to help with the wounded; Mat agrees, and then tells them he wants a ditch and a palisade around the camp tonight and every night thereafter. The others are astonished, and protest that the men will mutiny, but Mat disagrees, and sends them off. He examines his tent, and notices that two of the ropes and a bush have been sliced in a way that tells him the Aiel must have come there via a gateway, and thinks with a chill that they had been sent by a Forsaken.
Next time it would probably be a hundred Trollocs, or a thousand, instead of a handful of Aiel. Or was he important enough for that? If they decided he was too important, the next time it could be one of the Forsaken. Blood and ashes! He had never asked to be ta’veren, never asked to be tied to the Dragon Bloody Reborn.
He hears a footstep behind him, and whirls, almost skewering Olver, who screams and falls over. Mat snaps at him, demanding to know what he’s doing here instead of in Maerone; Olver tells him that the lady Edorion left him with didn’t really want him, having six kids of her own already, and “Master Burdin” gives him food for helping take care of the horses, which Olver likes much better. They are interrupted by Nerim, Talmanes’ serving man, who tells Mat with obsequious gloominess that he’s there to “mend the tears in my Lord”. He sends Olver for water, and Mat follows him inside his tent. To distract himself while Nerim sews him up, he asks Olver to show him what he’s got in his bag; Olver shows him a redhawk feather, some pretty stones, his game of Snakes and Foxes, and a turtle shell. Mat compliments the turtle shell, commenting he used to have one himself, and pulls out a couple of gold crowns, which he tries to give to Olver. Offended, Olver tells him he is no beggar, and Mat hurriedly improvises that it’s not charity, it’s pay, for carrying messages.
“Of course, you’d have to take care of your own horse. I could not ask anybody to do it for you.”
Olver sat up straight. “I would have my own horse?” he said incredulously.
“Of course. There is one thing. My name is Mat. You call me Lord Mat again, and I’ll tie your nose in a knot.” Bellowing, he jerked half-upright. “Burn you, Nerim, that’s a leg, not a bloody side of beef!”
“As my Lord says,” Nerim murmured, “my Lord’s leg is not a side of beef. Thank you, my Lord, for instructing me.”
Olver was feeling his nose hesitantly, as if considering whether it could be tied in a knot.
Mat reflects that he’s done Olver no favors, considering the Forsaken were after him, and hopes Rand’s plan works to get rid of one of them, at least.
Well, so now we know why that bit about Trollocs not being able to use gateways was brought up in the preceding chapter – so that this attack makes at least partial sense. If you don’t want to get irritated, I recommend you not think about it too much.
Vanin: Another cool minor character. I’ve said this before (I think in reference to Basel Gill), but I like that Vanin is both competent AND overweight. I’m heartily sick of stories where Fat always equals slovenly/lazy/incompetent/evil/all of the above. (Really, anyone who saw the behind the scenes footage of a then-quite-portly Peter Jackson careering around the set of Lord of the Rings for half a decade ought to know better than to believe that stereotype.) WOT is not overburdened with non-repulsive heavyset characters, but they’re there – including among the Aes Sedai, which is nice, since generally there’s a much stronger stigma against women than men in the arena of weight – and not just in fiction. But we all knew that.
Tinkers: I can only assume the message on the wagon refers to Perrin and Egwene’s encounter with Raen’s Tinker caravan aallll the way back in TEOTW, in which Raen told them about the Tinkers who found the Maidens dying from their trip to the Blight:
“‘Leafblighter means to blind the Eye of the World, Lost One. He means to slay the Great Serpent. Warn the People, Lost One. Sightburner comes. Tell them to stand ready for He Who Comes With the Dawn. Tell them… ’”
Of course, this isn’t for sure, and actually there are a number of problems with it. Namely that the Eye of the World bit has long since been dealt with. Although I suppose the Tinkers might not know that? Maybe? Also problematic is that this suggests that Tinkers at large know He Who Comes With the Dawn = the Dragon Reborn, which I’m not sure is a connection they would have enough information to make, frankly.
So, I’m not sure this is the same thing, at all. I feel like I’m missing something. Maybe it is as simple as what Mat supposes (“Tell the Dragon Reborn we’re getting slaughtered”), but somehow I doubt it. Ideas?
(This Tinker caravan couldn’t be Raen’s, could it? Weren’t they planning to leave the Two Rivers back when we saw Perrin in the Prologue? Because that’s horrible, if so. I hope not.)
Olver: And the surrogate-fathering of Mat begins! Jordan tends to belabor this aspect of Mat’s relationship to Olver over the course of the series, but I forgive it because it is adorable. And hilarious; I giggled aloud over the bit about tying Olver’s nose in a knot (and Olver’s reaction).
Jordan claimed that Olver had a purpose other than just being a red herring in the Gaidal Cain business, but I still don’t know what that purpose might be. Simply introducing Mat to Chutes and Ladders Snakes and Foxes doesn’t seem like enough. But, who knows; maybe that is all it is. It is going to be fairly important for Mat to know how to beat the Finn (by breaking the rules) Real Soon Now, after all.
Chapter 23: To Understand a Message
Graendal’s streith gown gives away her shock and envy as she enters Sammael’s apartments in Illian and sees the number of items from the Age of Legends he has displayed there. He tells her he found a stasis box, and Graendal notes it must have belonged to a follower of the Great Lord, owing to the presence of a zara board, which contains illegal “once-human playing pieces”. She replies that she found a box, too, but other than the streith it contained only “rubbish”.
“How sad for you.” Again that faint smile. He had found something more than playthings and pretties. “On the other hand,” he went on, “think how awful it would have been to open a box and rouse a nest of cafar, say, or a jumara, or one of Aginor’s other little creations. Did you know there are jumara loose in the Blight? Full-grown, though they’ll never transform now. They call them Worms.” He laughed so hard at that, he shook.
Graendal is not amused, having had an almost fatal encounter with a jumara, and reflects Aginor was mad to have made things like it, especially the gholam. She comments on Sammael’s good mood, and he tells her he all but has his hands on a stash of angreal, but more importantly, he has a truce with al’Thor. Graendal goes cold, and protests that his army is still gathering in Tear, but Sammael nonchalantly points out that it takes time to dismantle such a huge fighting force. She mentions the Maidens Sammael killed, but Sammael is honestly confused as to why that should be important.
“You really never have looked at these people. They have changed as much as the land, Sammael. Not just the Aiel. In some ways, the rest have changed much more. Those soldiers were women, and to Rand al’Thor, that makes a difference.”
He shrugged dismissively, and she suppressed contempt, kept the streith steady in a calm fog. He had never understood that you must understand people to make them do as you wished. Compulsion was all very well, but you could not use Compulsion on the entire world.
Graendal attempts to regain ground by taunting him, but Sammael merely smiles and tells her that given his truce with al’Thor, it is very likely that he will be the last of the Chosen left standing when the Day of Return comes, and implies that if she wishes to have a chance to survive, she would do well to give him more information about the whereabouts and plans of the other Chosen. Graendal has become convinced he must have the advantages he claims, and finally tells him that she doesn’t know where Demandred or Semirhage is, but Mesaana is in the White Tower. Sammael tells her to find the others or prove their deaths; Graendal is furious, but agrees.
After she leaves, Sammael relaxes his smile, and wonders what will happen if Graendal realizes how thoroughly he manipulated her. He thinks the information on Mesaana is interesting, but is sure that Graendal had not guessed his real purpose.
Do I want to know how one goes about making a person into a game piece? Probably not. Nice little detail, though.
Streith: This has got to be the worst fashion idea since the invention of the skort. A dress that reflects your emotional state? Ye gods and little fishes. Thanks, but no thanks. The whole point of a great dress is that it looks good no matter what you’re feeling. Fashion is camouflage, and anyone who thinks different hasn’t been paying attention. All streith sounds like to me is one more damn thing you have to worry about, instead of just enjoying the damn cocktail party. Or the damn evil plotting symposium, as the case may be. Either way, it seems like a particularly asinine – or arrogant – sartorial choice for a situation in which a good poker face is needed. Sheesh.
Jumara: This is one of my favorite references I ever put in the FAQ, because verifying it led me on a fascinating web trawl which taught me a lot, and ended up nicely expanding the original submission to this:
Jumara: Arabian Nights’ “Tale of the Three Sharpers” makes mention of a creature called a “jamusah”, the mythical offspring of a bull and a mare, or an ass and a cow. In French, this is called variously a “jumart”, “gimere”, or “jumarre”, depending on the region, and is derived from the Latin “Chimaera”.
It’s a neat example of the way cultures and mythologies bleed into one another. Good times.
This chapter is an example of how easy it is to overthink a situation – not just for Graendal, but for the reader. On the one hand, it’s tempting for the reader to conclude that for a supposed master manipulator, Graendal was maneuvered into submission far too easily by Sammael’s subterfuge; but on the other, Sammael does have a point in that people who are used to hoodwinking others are often arrogant enough to believe that no one else could possibly do the same to them. And as I’ve just noted, arrogance is unquestionably a large part of Graendal’s personality. Not that this differentiates her much from the rest of the Forsaken, but there you are.
Then again (see what I mean about overthinking?), it does strike me as at least slightly odd that Graendal never seriously considers the possibility that Sammael’s lying through his teeth – which he is, of course. But then again again (aaagh), it’s always most tempting to believe the worst possible interpretation of something, and obviously Sammael having a bona fide truce with the Dragon Reborn is the worst possible scenario for Graendal’s position.
So, yeah. I guess it comes down to a matter of opinion, really. At least we can give Graendal props for noticing Rand’s chivalry issues, whereas Sammael is utterly clueless. I would give Sammael semi-props for not caring about whether a soldier is male or female, except for how I’m pretty sure that that’s just because he doesn’t care, period. Egalitarianism through the application of universal sociopathy is, I’m pretty sure we can all agree, not the way to go on that score.
As to what Sammael’s real purpose is… I dunno? I mean, other than the obvious one of “make Graendal think he is unassailable, and use her to gain advantage over the others”, that is. Does there actually need to be more to it than that? Sammael’s POV snippet at the end of the chapter seems to suggest there is more, but I’m getting a little muddled about the various plots at this point, so I guess I will just wait and see.
And we out! I hope you have had a lovely Labor Day weekend, even if you didn’t technically have one, and I will see youse guys Wednesday!