The Wheel of Time Reread

The Wheel of Time Re-read: A Crown of Swords, Part 9

Greetings and salutations, Readers of the Re-read! Welcome back.

Home computer status update: Still prostrate under evil virus onslaught. I’m having a computer-savvy friend of mine come look at it Saturday, but until that happens, I’m not sure whether I’ll be able to get a post up Monday again. I will keep y’all updated in the comments. Sorry guys, I’m doing the best I can. As a side note, people who write computer viruses need to have hot wires applied to their unmentionables, and no, I am not even slightly kidding.

Anyhoo, today’s post covers Chapters 13-14 of A Crown of Swords, in which everyone gets more than they bargained for.

Previous re-read entries are here. The Wheel of Time Master Index is here, in which you can find links to news, reviews, and all manner of yummy tidbits regarding the newest release, The Gathering Storm, and for WOT-related stuff in general.

This re-read post contains spoilers for all currently published Wheel of Time novels, up to and including Book 12, The Gathering Storm. If you haven’t read, read at your own risk.

And now, a post!

Chapter 13: The Bowl of the Winds

 

 

What Happens
Aviendha perches on a bench in the tiny boat cabin with Elayne, Nynaeve, and Birgitte, and tries not to think of the fact that they are surrounded on all sides by water. She can’t get over how there could be so much water, and yet none of it is fit to drink. She thinks the worst part is that she was the one who suggested this trip in the first place, and tries to distract herself by thinking of the strange but enjoyable clothes she now wore. None of the others look like they want to talk, and Aviendha notes that Elayne seems preoccupied and worried.

Two duties confronted her, and if one lay nearer her heart, she had chosen the one she considered more important, more honorable. It was her right and duty to become the chief, the queen, of Andor, but she had chosen to continue hunting. In a way, however important their search, that was like putting something before clan or society, yet Aviendha felt pride. Elayne’s view of honor was as peculiar at times as the notion of a woman being a chief, or her becoming chief just because her mother had been, but she followed it admirably.

Aviendha finds Nynaeve baffling; though brave “to the point of madness”, she moans about being a coward, and clearly displays her shame for all to see about her discomfort at being on the water. Aviendha jumps when Elayne begins to talk, and Elayne almost asks her what’s wrong before seeming to realize it would shame Aviendha. Hastily, she asks if they think Nicola and Areina could really cause Egwene any trouble, referring to the message Egwene had left them in their dreams. Aviendha opines that Egwene should get rid of them. Elayne looks shocked, but Birgitte agrees it might be a good idea; she admonishes Elayne for going all “prim and indignant in her head”, and Aviendha muses that Birgitte often slips back and forth between behaving like a Warder and like a bossy older sister. Birgitte continues that she would think the news about “Marigan” would concern them more. Nynaeve says firmly that if she comes after them, they will “settle for her” again, but then trails off unconvincingly. After more silence, Aviendha finally asks why, if their search is so important, aren’t they using every weapon at their command?

“Mat Cauthon is ta’veren, yet we work to avoid him. Why not take him with us? With him, we might find the bowl at last.”

Nynaeve exclaims that she would rather “stuff her shift full of nettles”, but Elayne tells her to be quiet, and berates herself for not thinking of that before; Birgitte suggests maybe she was too busy seeing Mat as nothing but a scoundrel, which Elayne acknowledges reluctantly. Nynaeve pleads earnestly against the notion, saying Mat will be nothing but a torment to them, trying to take charge; she thinks he would be ten times worse than Vandene, Adeleas, and Merilille combined. Birgitte is amused, and Elayne points out that he alters chance just by being there, and they could use some ta’veren luck at this point.

“Besides, we can snare two birds at once. We should not have been letting him run loose all this time, no matter how busy we were. That’s done no one any good, him least of all. He needs to be made fit for decent company. We will put him on a short rein from the start.”

Nynaeve mutters and glowers, but at length gives in tacitly by declaring that under no circumstances will she be the one to ask him. Elayne answers that Birgitte will ask him, and Birgitte jerks upright in startlement; Aviendha is surprised to note that she even looks a little afraid. Elayne assures Birgitte that he can’t possibly have recognized her, or he would have said something by now, which Aviendha does not understand. Birgitte smirks and answers that she should have known Elayne would get her back for the remark about her bottom (which Aviendha also doesn’t get), and then wonders what it is about Elayne and Nynaeve that puts Mat’s back up the way they do. She doesn’t think it’s the Aes Sedai thing, because he treated Egwene with more respect than most of the sisters do. Nynaeve only mutters that he was “born to be a trial”, and then the ship lurches to a halt and Nynaeve dashes above with a hand clapped to her mouth. As they head up to the deck behind her, Elayne pauses and suggests that Aviendha only look at the ship and not the water, but makes it sound like she’s talking about herself, and Aviendha is grateful for her near-sister’s delicacy. On deck, however, she forces herself to turn and look out at the vast bay anyway, and is almost sick herself. She mutters to Elayne that she is a fool for not listening to advice, but Elayne answers that Aviendha is braver than she; Elayne then steels herself and adds that tonight they will talk about Rand. Aviendha doesn’t quite see the connection there, but agrees, thinking that sister-wives must discuss the husband in detail if they are to manage him, after all. Nynaeve meanwhile has finished throwing up and is arguing with the sailor on the deck of the Sea Folk vessel they’ve pulled up next to, yelling that they aren’t after the gift of passage, so she doesn’t care if they refuse it to Aes Sedai. Elayne sighs and steps in, introducing herself and telling the man they must speak to the Windfinder on a matter of urgency, and they already know about Windfinders. The sailor frowns and disappears, and Nynaeve tells Elayne the woman will probably think Elayne means to tell on her; she adds that “only a ninny” thinks she can threaten people and get anywhere.

Aviendha burst out laughing. By the startled look Nynaeve gave her, she did not see the joke she had made on herself. Elayne’s lips quivered, though, however she tried to hold them. You could never be sure about wetlander humor; they found strange things funny and missed the best.

At length a rope swing of sorts is lowered down for them to be pulled up on, and Birgitte punches one of the rowers for trying to look up Elayne’s skirts as she is hoisted up. Aviendha solves this problem by hurling her belt knife over their heads; they hit the deck, and definitely do not look up, and Aviendha congratulates herself on figuring out wetlander customs more every day. Up on deck, she gapes at the Sea Folk’s appearance, particularly their jewelry. A woman with more jewelry and silk than most comes up and introduces herself as Malin din Toral Breaking Wave, Wavemistress of Clan Somarin and Sailmistress of Windrunner, and asks them resignedly to the cabin; Aviendha comes to near panic at the unbroken vista of open water the cabin windows show. An old man with a sword is in the cabin, along with a woman who Aviendha senses can channel, and infers must be the Windfinder, and another older woman with twice as much jewelry as anyone else, whom Aviendha immediately pegs as the one in charge. The old woman rises and inspects Nynaeve and Elayne rudely, and then Birgitte. She says to Birgitte that she is not Aes Sedai; Birgitte replies she is not, “by the nine winds and Stormbringer’s beard”, which makes the woman jump and stare before she turns to Aviendha and makes the same observation. Aviendha introduces herself by sept and clan, which surprises the woman even more; she comments that Aviendha is not dressed as she would expect before introducing herself as Nesta din Reas Two Moons, Mistress of the Ships to the Atha’an Miere, and demanding to know how they know about the Windfinders.

Nynaeve had been working on a scowl since the woman first looked at her, and now she snapped, “Aes Sedai know what they know. And we expect more in the way of manners than I’ve seen so far! I certainly saw more the last time I was on a Sea Folk ship. Maybe we should find another, where the people don’t all have sore teeth.”

Elayne again steps in, greeting Nesta politely and asking forgiveness for any offense, and then introduces them all, seeming taken aback at the sniffs from the Sea Folk on learning their Ajahs. Elayne continues that they have come for two reasons: one, to learn how the Sea Folk intend to help Rand al’Thor, who they call the Coramoor, and two, to request help from the Windfinder, whose name she doesn’t know. The Windfinder blushes and introduces herself as Dorile din Eiran Long Feather, and Malin also looks embarrassed and welcomes them formally to her ship. Nesta, on the other hand, is not embarrassed at all, but informs them curtly that the Coramoor is their business, and none of the shorebound’s. Then she demands of Nynaeve (calling her “girl”) to tell which ship gave them the gift of passage; Nynaeve grips her braid and replies with false lightness that she cannot recall. Then the old man (Baroc) speaks up, telling Nesta that “a split sail is split”, and that perhaps it would be of use to know why Aes Sedai ask their aid, if they are truly Aes Sedai; Aviendha notes he speaks to Nesta as an equal. The Windfinder answers him that Elayne and Nynaeve can channel, as well as Aviendha, and that all three are stronger than anyone she’s ever seen. She thinks they must be what they say they are, but Nesta counters that Aes Sedai never ask aid of anyone. She asks Elayne what they want, but addresses her as “Daughter-Heir of Andor”, rejecting the Aes Sedai titles. Nynaeve gathers herself to explode, but Elayne stops her with a hand on her arm, although Aviendha can tell Elayne is furious herself, mostly because of Birgitte’s reaction. Aviendha decides she will kill the Windfinder first if it comes to fighting, but then Elayne tells them that they are seeking a ter’angreal that they think can fix the weather, but they believe that in order to use it, they will need a number of channelers, maybe a full circle of thirteen. As no living Aes Sedai knows as much about working weather as the Windfinders, Elayne thinks Windfinders should be in this number. After a moment of silence, Dorile asks her to describe the ter’angreal, and when she does so, excitedly tells Nesta that it must be the Bowl of the Winds; she and Malin grow very excited, saying it must be because of the Coramoor’s coming that it would be found after two thousand years, until Nesta calls them to order sharply. She sends Baroc to summon the other Wavemistresses in port, as well as the First Twelve, and to send down tea, as she thinks working out the terms of this bargain will be “thirsty” work. The Sea Folk quickly split them up; Nesta sits down with Elayne and Nynaeve, Malin pins down Birgitte, and the Windfinder Dorile begins interrogating Aviendha:

“I have read of the Aiel. If it pleases you, tell me, if an Aiel woman must kill a man every day, how are there any men left among you?”

Aviendha did her best not to stare. How could the woman believe such nonsense?

Birgitte looks like she wants to run from Malin, and Aviendha overhears snatches of Nesta’s bulldozing; Elayne and Nynaeve came to them, not the other way around, she says, and that sets the basis for the bargain. Baroc soon rejoins them, saying that the boat they had arrived on has left but there are plenty of rowboats on board which can take them back. Joining Nesta, he opines in disbelief that of course the bargain will favor the Sea Folk, as “Who asks must of course pay highest.” Aviendha goes pale as she realizes that not only was it her suggestion that landed them in this predicament, but that now she would have to recross seven miles of water in an open boat.

“Do you have a bucket?” she asked the Windfinder faintly.

Commentary
Haggling, I think, is something of a lost art in the U.S., at least in terms of direct seller-to-buyer transactions. It survives here and there in non-corporate situations (especially in New York, city of a million sidewalk bilkers hawkers), but you’re just never going to see anyone trying to talk five dollars off a pair of Gap jeans, if you see what I’m saying. Well, you might see it, but you won’t see it succeeding, is what I’m saying.

I’m overgeneralizing, and I’m sure the commenters can come up with a million examples of how I’m wrong (hell, I can come up with contradictory anecdotes my own self), but I’m not trying to say that no one haggles anymore in America; I’m more trying to say the sense of it, as an expected and legitimate way of conducting business, is gone.

The Art of The Deal is the exception nowadays, rather than the rule, and as a result most people don’t have the first clue how to haggle. This is why buying a car–one of the last bastions of corporate-endorsed retail haggling–is a traumatic experience for so many people.

(I know for a damn fact, for example, that I suck at haggling. This vaguely worries me, in the same self-consciously absurd way that it worries me that I’m near-blind without contacts. Because, you know, should the inevitable zombie apocalypse/collapse of civilization/trapped in a sunken submarine/sucked into a parallel medievalish dimension event ever occur, these are just a few of the many factors that will guarantee my total screwage re: survival.

(Okay, my lack of haggle-fu would probably not apply to the submarine thing – but the contacts definitely would. (As a point of interest, it is not possible to swim underwater with your eyes open while wearing contacts – at least not if you want to keep them. This is the sort of thing that is obvious in retrospect, but not when you are, say, a newly-contacted eleven-year-old who just wants to get in the damn pool already. See?! (No, actually. Which is the POINT: Me + contacts + sunken submarine = SCREWED, is what I’m saying. (Nested parentheses FTW!)))))

And, um, yeah. This is what comes of reading too much sf, y’all. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED–oh, wait, you’re reading this blog. YOU HAVE BEEN ASSIMILATED. RESISTANCE WAS FUTILE, SUCKA.

(God, I’m such a geek sometimes.)

I sense I may have digressed. What was I talking about? Oh yes, haggling. And I should probably mention the Wheel of Time at some point!

Like I was saying, haggling is something your average present-day person (in the United States, I don’t presume to assume for other nationalities) finds rather unorthodox and even off-putting, which I suppose is part of why this whole Sea Folk Bargain Thing left such a bad taste in my mouth.

Another part of it is simple partisanship; these are MY Supergirls, how dare you thwart them! Or worse, make them look like fools; my dislike of the latter being rather amplified by the knowledge that I and my lack of bargaining know-how would look just as foolish in the same situation. Nobody likes to be made to feel stupid, even by proxy.

But the biggest “blech”-inducing factor in this is what the Sea Folk are actually haggling about. I’m not sure if Jordan actually intended for them to come off as the biggest assholes ever, but bargaining for political gain over the matter of making sure the world doesn’t starve to death strikes me as being a perfect way to convey the impression. Seriously, Machievelli’s ghost is over here being all, “Damn, y’all, that is cold.”

And hence was born my opinion of the Sea Folk as being the least likeable culture in all of WOT–an opinion which to date has had basically zero incentive to change, either. I do not like them, Sam I Am!

It doesn’t help that also to date, other than the Bowl of the Winds thing (and maybe blowing up some Seanchan ships in Ebou Dar), the Sea Folk have been essentially useless to anyone. Rand was still arguing with them in TGS over why they haven’t done anything he asked them to, and we won’t even speak of the obstacle course-imitation retardedness they’ve been pulling in Caemlyn over the last few books. Useless, I say! Gah.

Besides initiating my hate-on for the Sea Folk, this chapter is also notable for being (to my knowledge) the first time we get a POV from Aviendha. I think it’s rather curious that we had to wait this long for one, actually, seeing as she’s been a central character since TSR.

I seem to recall, in fact, that I had a small looney theory prior to reading ACOS that Aviendha’s lack of POVs meant that she was actually going to get killed off at some point. And though I have bemoaned before (and will again) the dearth of major character deaths in WOT, I do have to say I’m rather glad that that turned out not to be the case (at least thus far), because I like Aviendha a lot.

Her POV here highlighted her amusing and pleasingly believable blend of cultural naivete with sharply observant deductions about her companions. Her thoughts about Nynaeve in particular were rather hilariously on point. Plus, I am always a sucker for POVs of Our Heroes from alternate/outsider points of view; that Aviendha manages to simultaneously fill the role of Hero AND outsider is one of the most interesting aspects of her character.

Not to mention, she gets points for being the only one of the Supergirls thus far to even attempt to view Mat objectively. Speaking of which, let’s go see Mat!

Chapter 14: White Plumes

What Happens
Mat thinks that the Silver Circuit is rather grandly named for being a grimy racetrack, though nobles are in just as heavy attendance as commoners for all they are separated by ropes and guards; he knows, though, that fortunes change hands regularly here, and even lives. Mat raises his hand and a booker comes over, murmuring a ritual phrase that Mat thinks he is probably the only one who remembers the origin of. He notes that Wind, Olver’s mount, is only listed as the third favorite in the odds, and tells Nalesean to put it all on Wind. Nalesean is hesitant at the risk, opining that two other horses in the race look very good, but Mat dismisses them out of hand, thinking that knowledge of horses is at least one thing he learned on his own, from his father. The booker is taken aback at the large sum Nalesean produces, but takes the bet, before casually slapping her assistant for making eyes at Mat and leaving. Nalesean hopes Mat’s luck is in, as the seamstress he’s got his eye on won’t be “friendly” if he can’t afford to make her smile. Mat tells him absently that he’ll make her “laugh till she can’t stand up”, thinking that gold is never his worry; Olver is, since if the boy gets hurt he’ll never hear the end of it from Elayne, Nynaeve, Setalle, and especially Birgitte and Aviendha, as the latter two had already tried to move Olver out of the inn to the Palace behind his back. Mat curses Nalesean again mentally for getting Olver involved in racing in the first place. Nalesean sneers as he notices Juilin approaching; they are both Tairen, but Mat knows there is little love lost between noble and commoner in Tear.

“Well?” Mat said sourly, tugging his hat low, once the thief-catcher reached him. “No, let me tell you. They slipped out of the palace again. No one saw them go, again. Nobody has any bloody idea where they are, again.”

Juilin, however, tells him that the four women took a boat from the river landing, and Thom hired another to see where they are going. Mat thinks of his promises, and of Elayne et al’s failure to even tell him why they are here in Ebou Dar, and growls aloud that he will see them safe if he has to “stuff them into barrels and haul them to Caemlyn in a cart”. Apropos of nothing, Juilin comments that Tarabon must be a terrible place for a woman not used to taking care of herself right now; Mat tells him they have plenty enough problems with women right here, and sends him back to the docks to wait for Thom, as Mat wants to know what those “fool bloody women” are up to. Juilin gives him a sardonic look and leaves. Mat gazes over the crowd, noting a white-haired old man and a “fox-faced” noblewoman with excessive plumes on her hat, among others, as he thinks about the women. He thinks Rand had “jumped into a bear pit” letting Aviendha and Elayne come together, with them both mooning over Rand the way they do; Mat cannot figure out why that hasn’t blown up already. For some reason he notes the fox-faced woman again, and wonders why she makes him think of straw. He thinks that Birgitte and Aviendha can take care of themselves, and normally he would say the same of Elayne and Nynaeve, but the fact that they’ve been sneaking out the way they’ve been doing means that even they think whatever they’re doing is dangerous, which to Mat indicates that it’s really dangerous. He sees the noblewoman again, and thinks, not straw, a stable. And a knife, and fire. He shakes his head.

Other men’s memories, of battles and courts and lands vanished centuries ago, filled holes in his own, places where his own life suddenly went thin or was not there at all. He could remember fleeing the Two Rivers with Moiraine and Lan quite clearly for example, but almost nothing more until reaching Caemlyn, and there were gaps before and after, as well. If whole years of his own growing up lay beyond recall, why should he expect to recollect every woman he had met? Maybe she reminded him of some woman dead a thousand years or more; the Light knew that happened often enough. Even Birgitte sometimes tickled his memory.

Nalesean observes, fretting, that the race is beginning, and Mat tells him to relax. Wind breaks early from the pack, but Mat is distracted from the race as he catches sight of the plumed hat again, and suddenly remembers where he had seen the woman: she was the Darkfriend who had tried to kill Mat and Rand in a stable on the way to Caemlyn, with a knife that charred wood and boiled water; Mat had almost slit her throat with the Shadar Logoth dagger. He shivers, and puts no odds on her just happening to be in Ebou Dar at the same time as he. Nalesean pounds his back in excitement, breaking his reverie, as Olver wins the race by four lengths. Mat, eyes on the Darkfriend, tells Nalesean to collect their winnings and Olver and meet him back at the inn.

“Where are you going?”

“I saw a woman who tried to kill me,” Mat said over his shoulder.

“Give her a trinket next time,” Nalesean shouted after him.

Mat follows the plumed hat back into the city and the throng of refugees crowding the streets, to one of the many canal bridges, this one large enough to support shops along the sides. The Darkfriend stops at one, and Mat hastily turns aside to the shop next to him to avoid being seen. The proprietor asks if my Lord wishes to see a signet ring, and Mat, his attention on the woman, points to one at random. He slips it on, only noting it is a dark oval, and tries to decide if it would be worth it to denounce the woman to the Civil Guard, but thinks the Guard is too corrupt to do him much good. A Whitecloak walks by, the crowd making way for him, and Mat notes that the Darkfriend smiles at him before turning to go. Mat tries to take off the ring, but suddenly it won’t budge; in his haste not to lose the woman, he snaps at the shopkeeper that he’ll take it, and throws far too much money on the table before hurrying off. Once away from the shop, the ring comes off easily, and Mat stuffs it in his pocket. He continues following the woman, losing her periodically and picking her up again in the crowd, and finally sees her entering a small palace where she is clearly known to the doorman. He stares at the place for a while, and wonders aloud to himself who lives there.

Someone said, “Carridin.” It was a scrawny, white-haired fellow lounging nearby in the shade. Mat looked at him questioningly, and he grinned, showing gaps in his teeth. His stooped shoulders and sad weathered face did not fit his fine gray coat. Despite a bit of lace at his neck, he was the very picture of hard times. “You asked who lived there. The Chelsaine Palace is let to Jaichim Carridin.”

Mat asks if he means the Whitecloak ambassador, and the old man confirms it, adding that Carridin is also an Inquisitor, and not someone to mess with. Mat hums to himself, thinking about a Whitecloak who had a Darkfriend visitor, and turns to thank the old man for the information, but is startled to see the man has disappeared. He suddenly remembers that he had also seen the old man before, too: at the Silver Circuit, not far from the Darkfriend woman.

Turning his hat in his hands, he frowned uneasily at the palace. The Mire never held a bog like this one. He could feel the dice tumbling in his head suddenly, and that was always a bad sign.

Commentary
These two chapters are actually something of a piece, in that they both involve bargaining–or the lack thereof, as the case may be. I don’t know, they’re both very much about business transactions. (And I definitely include playing the ponies in that category; it doesn’t have to be smart business to still be business.) I don’t really have any deep observation to draw from that, it was just something I noticed. Hey, I can’t be profound all the time.

I’d really hate to think time can corrupt one’s pleasure in a thing, but, well, sometimes it does. At the time I first read ACOS, Mat was by far and away my favorite character in the series, and I just grinned and snickered my way through his every POV. As this is the first of his POV chapters in the book, I remember mentally cheering when I arrived at it, all Yay, Mat!

And now, well. I still snicker (the exchange between Mat and Nalesean as he heads off to follow Shiaine proves that sometimes old jokes are still the funniest ones), and I still enjoy him as a character, but I dunno, it’s just not the same as it used to be. I’m having a hard time pinpointing exactly why.

Maybe I’ve just read the series too many times. Maybe I’m getting old and decrepit and cynical. Or maybe I’m just having an off day, who knows. Now get off my lawn!

I do remember being a lot more firmly on Mat’s side in the Mat vs. Supergirls showdown in ACOS the first time around, and that is… no longer quite so much the case. Which is to say, I still think Nynaeve and Elayne are still being prejudiced and unreasonable about him, but this time around I’m seeing a lot more of the ways in which Mat is guilty of the exact same thing. The problem on both sides, of course, is that they are all just enough right about each other to make it possible for everyone to ignore the parts where they are dead wrong, and stalemate ensues. At least until one party member switches sides…

Anyway. Lots of new stuff introduced in this chapter, most notably Mat’s Fateful Ring of Impending Princeliness, and Old Barrel Guy, aka Noal Charin, aka Jain Farstrider. Though of course we don’t find out about the “aka”s for a while, and in fact the last one has still not been 100% confirmed in the text, though it’s completely bleeding obvious by inference.

And now I’m having a little moment of fond nostalgia, remembering the endless arguments on the newsgroup over whether Old Barrel Guy was (a) Jain Farstrider, (b) Graendal’s Old Man (who Sammael glimpses in her palace in TFOH), (c) Geofram Bornhald (of all people), or (d) some combination of the above. (It’s (a), by the way; Graendal’s old man is almost certainly Alsalam, the former king of Arad Doman, and supposing this guy is Geofram was just silly even before we found out more about him.)

I do give us fans props for all immediately leaping on both the Jain Farstrider thing and on the Fatefulness of the signet ring (even though we didn’t of course yet know what it was Fateful for). I mean, okay, maybe the ring thing is a gimme, but at least it shows we’ve all done our Fantasy Tropes homework!

We also have some old stuff reintroduced as new, like Plumed Darkfriend Woman, aka Shiaine, in a classic demonstration of the Law of Character Conservation, as she’s the second (or maybe third) Random Speaking Role Darkfriend from TEOTW to pop up again later. And one of the few, if not only, RSRDFs still alive and kicking as of TGS, at least as far as we have been told. .So… yay, I guess?


And… that’s all I have to say about that. Thbbt! Have a lovely weekend, chillen. I will keep you in the loop on the next post. Mwah!

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