The Wheel of Time Reread

The Wheel of Time Re-read: A Crown of Swords, Part 10

Once upon a midnight freezy, while I wrote comments light & breezy
O’er two chapters of a volume Crowned with Swords galore
As I snark-ed, all protracted, suddenly I was contacted
With some news that made me go, “For reals? Oh wow, oh score!”
For my roommate’s getting married, to a girl she doth adore
Which rocks, you guys, for shore.

But soon I realized my condition, which would soon come to fruition:
Their marriage must be followed by a change in how I lived before!
Because, you see, cohabitation’s typical, post-culmination
Of vows to love and honor your beloved evermore
Ergo, too soon my roommate situation will be shown the door
New options now I must explore.

…aaand that took almost two hours to compose, so rather than further mangle Mr. Poe’s legacy, I will resort to prose to explain that as a result of all the above, I… think we’re going to have to stick with the once-a-week posting schedule for a while, until my situation has settled out, which will hopefully be soon.

Sorry, guys, but the next month or so promises to be a lot, and I’d rather have the re-read be slow than be crappy, so.

Previous re-read entries are here. The Wheel of Time Master Index is here, in which you can find many a quaint and curious volume of links to news, reviews, and semi-forgotten lore 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.

So come, fear not tomorrow, let WOT lend you surcease of sorrow! Click and feel your brow unfurrow! Click, just like you have before!

Chapter 15: Insects


What Happens
Carridin is composing a report to Niall, trying to keep the ants crawling around from smudging the ink, when Shiaine enters. He knows that Niall should be pleased at the chaos his bands of “Dragonsworn” have created in Arad Doman and Tarabon, helped along by the rumors of an army of witches marching across the country, but also knows that Niall will keep insisting that he capture Elayne Trakand, which Carridin has no idea how he is supposed to do. He smashes an ant, ruining the report, and snaps at Shiaine that he supposes she wants more money. She smiles lazily and answers that searches are expensive, especially covert ones. Carridin is irritated that she is not intimidated by him, when he knows that her real name is Mili Skane, and she is no lady, but a saddler’s daughter who turned to the Shadow after being sent away from the White Tower. On the other hand, he knows she is a skilled and deadly assassin, and that matters like earthly rank do not matter among Friends of the Dark; Carridin himself would kneel without question to Old Cully, the leader of his circle, even though Old Cully is a toothless beggar. He tells her that many things can be forgiven, even money that was supposed to go for information being used to gamble, but failure will not be. She freezes a moment at his words, and protests that there are difficulties; it is dangerous to ask about objects of Power, especially when Aes Sedai are in the city. She needs more time. Carridin looks out the window at the “trash” crowding the streets below, and briefly considers starting a riot to smoke Elayne and the others out of Tarasin Palace, but decides that might interfere with his other orders, and of the two sets, Niall’s is the one he can ignore. As Shiaine continues her protest behind him, he suddenly catches sight of a young man across the way, fanning himself with his hat and talking to an old white-haired man.

Suddenly he felt as though a knotted rope had been fastened around his head and was being drawn ever tighter. For an instant a face hidden behind a red mask filled his vision. Night-dark eyes stared at him, and then were endless caverns of flame, and still staring. Within his head, the world exploded in fire, cascading images that battered him and swept him beyond screaming. The forms of three young men stood unsupported in air, and one of them began to glow, the form of the man in the street, brighter and brighter till it must have seared any living eyes to ash, brighter still, burning. A curled golden horn sped toward him, its cry pulling his soul, then flashed into a ring of golden light, swallowing him, chilling him until the last fragment of him that recalled his name was sure his bones must splinter. A ruby-tipped dagger hurdled straight at him, curved blade striking him between the eyes and sinking in, in, until gold-wrapped hilt and all was gone, and he knew agony that washed away all thought that what had gone before was pain.

Carridin comes out of it and realizes that Cauthon is gone, and Shiaine has stopped talking. He turns to her angrily, only to see she is frozen in the act of rising from her chair, and Sammael is standing in the room. Carridin drops to his knees and tells Sammael he’s just seen Mat Cauthon. Sammael seems oddly taken aback at this news, but after ruminating on it a bit tells Carridin that his search is more important, and to only kill Cauthon if he interferes in it. Carridin begins to protest, and Sammael describes to him how his favorite sister Vanora just died at the hands of Myrddraal and Trollocs. Carridin hopes she never found out why she had died so horribly, and backs down; Sammael roars at him to find the cache of angreal, ter’angreal, and sa’angreal he knows are here in the city. Carridin stammers that there are Aes Sedai in Ebou Dar, which might prove an obstacle.

Waving him to silence, Sammael paced a few quick steps, three times up and back, hands clasped behind his back. He did not look worried, only . . . considering. Finally he nodded. “I will send you . . . someone . . . to deal with these Aes Sedai.” He barked a short laugh. “I almost wish I could see their faces. Very well. You have a little while longer.”

Daring greatly, Carridin asks about the “favor” he asked of Sammael, and Sammael laughs and tells him Carridin has very little luck, as it seems someone is still carrying out at least some of Ishamael’s commands; only Sammael’s protection will keep the same thing from happening to Carridin as already has to his family, so Carridin had better find what Sammael wants. He creates a gateway (Carridin gapes) and leaves, and Shiaine comes back to life, jumping in startlement as Carridin (from her perspective) suddenly jumps from one side of the room to the other. Carridin tells Shiaine that she will set her circle to finding a man named Mat Cauthon, and is surprised that Shiaine recognizes the name. She tells him that few linked to al’Thor remain unknown for long, and begins to ask what “a seedy farmboy” is doing in Ebou Dar. Carridin grabs her by the throat and slams her face onto the desk.

The dagger, stabbing down just in front of her eyes, froze her. By chance, the blade piercing the paper had caught an ant by the tip of one leg. It struggled as vainly as she had.

“You are an insect, Mili.” The pain in his head made his voice rasp. “It is time you understand that. One insect is much like another, and if one won’t do . . . ” Her eyes followed his thumb down, and when it flattened on the ant, she flinched.

“I live to serve and obey, master,” she breathed. She had said that to Old Cully every time he saw them together, but never before to him.

“And this is how you will obey . . . ” No one survived disobedience. No one.

So, I just went back and checked the Darkfriend Social scene in TGH, where Ishamael showed “Bors,” aka Carridin, Mat’s image (and Rand’s and Perrin’s), and there’s no mention of the Horn or the dagger in association with Mat. Or at all.

Which is fine, I guess, mystical acid flashbacks not generally needing to conform to set rules and all, but with Ishamael dead I’m just kind of puzzled at how this vision “evolved” to include them, so to speak. We can probably file it under Rule of Cool (Imagery) and let it go (warning: do not click that link unless you’re free for the next four hours), but it still bugs, a bit.

And speaking of Ishamael, who is still killing off Carridin’s family, anyway? I don’t think this is ever really mentioned again, so I suppose it’s just some random faithful minion out there who possibly doesn’t even know Ishy bought it four books ago, i.e. not particularly important, but, yeah.

Anyway, this is another “themelet” chapter, with the ants and the smushing and the I See What You Did There. Jordan tends very strongly to go with a theme whenever he does these interim pickup “let’s see what the Dark Side is doing” chapters, I suspect out of an authorial need to smooth them out a tad, make it less jarring to jump away from the main POV characters for a bit. Which, by the way, totally works, so that’s all right.

Although, he did tend to do it a lot for Our Heroes as well; the chapter example that leaps to mind is “A Sense of Humor” in LOC, with Rand. It was a Thing in general with Jordan. Again, not that I’m complaining.

Sammael: I forgot that it was Sammael who sent the gholam to Ebou Dar, not that it really matters. I also don’t know what to make of the fact that he is “taken aback” that Mat is in town; possibly because he thinks Rand may have sent Mat here to look for the same thing Sammael’s looking for, maybe? Oh, the irony, if so. And how did either he or Moghedien learn that the cache of *greal is in Ebou Dar, again?

Also, Sammael’s appearance here reminds me that I still occasionally wonder whether to complain about how little the Forsaken are utilized in WOT in general, or be glad that their relative scarcity of on-screen time maintains at least some of the shadowy mystique they enjoyed in the first few books. ‘Tis a conundrum I invite you to discuss!

(Oh, and minor note: the proof that Old Barrel Guy ≠ Old Cully is in this chapter, since Carridin would presumably recognize the leader of his own Evil Clubhouse, but looks right at the old man talking to Mat and doesn’t recognize him.)
Chapter 16: A Touch on the Cheek

What Happens
Mat had always previously entered Tarasin Palace via the stables (to get a look at the horses), but this time he marches up to the main gates. He tells the head guard that he is here to leave a message for Elayne and Nynaeve Sedai, in person if possible; the guard eyes him uncertainly, but decides at length that Mat can’t be turned away, and leads him inside. The guard hands Mat off to a maidservant, who leads him further in. For once, Mat is too distracted by the dice rolling in his head to appreciate the display of wealth in the Palace.

The dice almost always meant danger, and something else he had not figured out yet. The prospect of having his skull cracked was not enough, and once or twice there had been no possibility of such, yet the upcoming likelihood of Mat Cauthon dead in some spectacular fashion seemed the most usual cause. Unlikely, maybe, in the Tarasin Palace, but unlikely did not make the dice go away. He was going to leave his message, grab Nynaeve and Elayne by the scruff of the neck if he had an opportunity, give them a talking-to that made their ears glow, and then get out.

He is handed off to another servant, who hands him to another, and another; finally he grabs the sixth servant by the arm and asks how two Aes Sedai can be so difficult to find. A voice from behind him says he has found two Aes Sedai, and Mat turns with a slightly uneasy smile to see two sisters, one of whom he thinks very pretty, while the other looks like she “ate brambles for breakfast”. The servant escapes, and Mat tells the sisters he’s looking for Elayne and Nynaeve, and asks if they are friends of theirs. The pretty one answers, “Not exactly”, and introduces herself as Joline and her companion as Teslyn; Mat berates himself that of all the Aes Sedai in the Palace, he has to run into the two who support Elaida. The two women flank him, entreating him to help Elayne and Nynaeve see that they must abandon “this nonsense” before it’s too late; Mat responds by grinning as insolently as he can, and opining that he thinks Elayne and Nynaeve see just fine, and maybe Teslyn and Joline should abandon their nonsense. They go on the offensive, Joline mentioning that they know he is ta’veren, and Mat wonders uneasily if they could possibly know about the medallion, or worse, the Horn. Abruptly, he is grabbed by the scruff of the neck and hauled backwards by either Adeleas or Vandene (Mat can’t tell them apart), and Teslyn quickly grabs him the same way from the other side. Mat growls at them to watch the coat, but they ignore him. Adeleas/Vandene is accompanied by two other sisters, whom Mat identifies as Sareitha Tomares and Merilille, the leader of the rebel embassy. Merilille asks scathingly if Teslyn has stooped to kidnapping men in the halls, and points out that Mat can be of no interest to a Red, as he doesn’t channel. Teslyn snaps back that Cauthon do be “of considerable interest”, and shouldn’t be running loose.

“Don’t fight over me,” he said. Tugging his coat was not making anyone let go. “There’s enough to go around.”

Five sets of eyes made him wish he had kept his mouth shut. Aes Sedai had no sense of humor.

The Aes Sedai continue to fight over him, but Mat doesn’t understand why Merilille almost backs down from Joline until Vandene (he’s decided it’s Vandene) says something dry, and then Merilille looks embarrassed. She tells Joline that she cannot expect to take Mat from them when it is five to two; as an afterthought, she adds that Elayne and Nynaeve make seven. Just as Mat is about to start prying at fingers, the servant reappears and breathlessly begs forgiveness, but the Queen has summoned Lord Cauthon. The Aes Sedai stare at her, then at each other (Mat thinks, to see who can “out-Aes Sedai” the others), and Mat cheerily announces that he can’t keep the Queen waiting, can he? They all sniff at him (even the servant), and Merilille tells Adeleas to release him.

He frowned as the white-haired woman complied. Those two ought to wear little signs with their names, or different-color hair ribbons or something.

He asks Teslyn to let go also, please, and Teslyn finally tells him to watch who he allies with, or even a ta’veren may come to regret a wrong choice. She lets him go, and the five Aes Sedai watch him follow the maid until he turns back, then glide off in different directions; Mat is very relieved to be away from them. He tells the servant that he’s sure the Queen doesn’t really want to see him, and asks again for Elayne and Nynaeve, but the servant is adamant, and Mat gives up and goes along. Upon being presented to Tylin, Mat thinks she is not exactly beautiful, but very impressive; she reminds him of “Isebele of Dal Calain”, who had made an Amyrlin come to her instead of the other way around. He sweeps her a bow and greets her (“Majesty, by your summons do I come”), trying not to ogle her cleavage, as he thinks he would sooner dally with the Darkfriend he saw at the Silver Circuit than with a queen. She walks all the way around him, and then remarks that he speaks the Old Tongue.

Deyeniye, dyu ninte concion ca’lyet ye. That was what he had said. The bloody Old Tongue popping out of his mouth again without him knowing it. He had thought he had that little bother under control. No telling when those bloody dice would stop or for what.

Tylin tells him she has pen and paper for him to leave a message for Elayne and Nynaeve, and Mat thanks her, carefully not in the Old Tongue, and goes to the writing desk. He composes a note, telling them about the Darkfriend he had followed to Carridin’s rented palace.

What else? He added a few more reasonably worded lines. The last thing he wanted was to put their backs up.

Be sensible. If you have to go traipsing around, let me send a few men along to keep you from having your heads split open. Anyway, isn’t it about time I took you back to Egwene? There’s nothing here but heat and flies, and we can find plenty of those in Caemlyn.

There. They could not ask for pleasanter than that.

As he’s sealing the letter with wax, he suddenly remembers that he has a signet ring now, and pulls it out to take a look: “Inside a border of large crescents, a running fox seemed to have startled two birds into flight.” He would preferred a hand, for the Band, but the medallion has made him fond of foxes, so he likes it. He seals the letter and turns around, and almost walks right into Tylin’s cleavage. He stumbles back, trying not to blush, and hastily tries to cover by telling Tylin the same thing about Carridin as he had Elayne and Nynaeve in the note. Tylin frowns, but moves on, saying they should talk “of more pleasant things”, and Mat is aghast at her cavalier dismissal of such news. She asks if he is “Lord” Cauthon, and he tells her, just Mat Cauthon, and tries to take his leave. Tylin ignores this, and goes on that Elayne and Nynaeve Sedai seldom mention him, but Tylin can read between the lines of what they do say. She touches his cheek lightly.

“What they do not say, but I hear, is that you are an untamed rogue, a gambler and chaser after women.” Her eyes held his, expression never altering a hair, and her voice stayed firm and cool, but as she spoke, her fingers stroked his other cheek. “Untamed men are often the most interesting. To talk to.” A finger outlined his lips. “An untamed rogue who travels with Aes Sedai, a ta’veren who, I think, makes them a little afraid. Uneasy, at the least. It takes a man with a strong liver to make Aes Sedai uneasy. How will you bend the Pattern in Ebou Dar, just Mat Cauthon?”

Mat’s mouth drops open, and he tries to back away, thinking that women never behave this way, no matter what his old memories try to suggest. She smiles in a predatory way (Mat’s hair tries to stand up), but then suddenly turns away just as the door opens to admit a young man who is limping slightly, and who greets Tylin as “Mother”. Tylin greets him fondly as “Beslan”, and asks how it went; Beslan tells her regretfully that “Nevin” slipped on the third pass, so Beslan accidentally killed him instead of just wounding him, and now he has to pay condolences to his widow. Tylin beams, and tells him just to be careful if the widow turns out to be the kind who wants “comforting”, for then he will have to either marry her or kill her brothers. Mat is more aghast. She introduces Beslan to Mat, and tells Beslan that Mat is ta’veren, and they should be friends and go to Swovan Night together. Mat jumps, and hastily says he’s more into rough taverns than balls, but Beslan foils this tactic by answering he likes rough taverns better anyway, and Tylin swiftly arranges for them to go to all the upcoming festivals together. Mat laughs weakly, and decides Tylin and her son are both mad.

Oh, right: this is why I love Mat.

I’m sorry, but the whole scene with him and the Aes Sedai (and Mat’s mental commentary thereof) is frickin’ hilarious and that’s all there is to it. Nobody in WOT can out-snark Mat, that’s for damn sure. Or out-bareface him, either; I wish I could sum up my reaction to his brazen insolence to Teslyn et al with something more erudite than “OH SNAP”, but, well. Sometimes, Jerry Springerese is the only way to go. Three snaps in a Z formation, girlfriend!

I always got the sense Jordan had a great deal of fun writing Mat POVs, a sense possibly influenced by how much fun I generally have reading them. Part of the reason I like ACOS so much is that I think it’s where Mat’s snark factor reached a kind of apogee point; in my opinion, he’s never been funnier, before or, sadly, since. We will touch more on this point later.

Something besides themelet chapters that Jordan also does a lot, and well, is letting the more in-clued reader know what is going on with the non-POV characters even when the POV character him- or herself is clueless. As here, when Mat’s observations of the “swirling undercurrents” of the Aes Sedai faceoff let us understand that Merilille is having an Aes Sedai hierarchy crisis re: Joline, even though Mat himself has no idea what’s going on. Nicely done.

Tylin: I AM NOT TALKING ABOUT THAT THING YET. It hasn’t happened yet, we’re not talking about it till it does, everybody hush. Bzzt! No talky!

In the resulting blissful lack of foreknowledge of what’s coming up, therefore, I am free to remember that this entire scene cracked my shit up the first time I read it. As much as I enjoy how much Mat sets everyone else on their ear, it’s even funnier to see the tables turned on him for once. The rake out-raked, as it were. It’s a trope that’s older than the hills (a whole set of them, really), but sometimes if it ain’t broke, you shouldn’t fix it.

(And no, I’m not telling you which tropes they are. I don’t have ten hours to waste on That Site at the moment, thank you.)

The fact that he even can be put so much out of countenance, actually, is what keeps him the proverbial lovable rogue, instead of the arrogant jerk he occasionally threatens to become. This soupçon of vulnerability is an absolutely vital component in the Lovable Rogue formula (cf. Jack Sparrow, Robin Hood, and any character Harrison Ford has ever played). It’s a volatile compound, that formula, which by its very nature is difficult to maintain, and I applaud any writer who can successfully juggle it; keeping that proportion of scoundrel to hero steady can blow up in your face, y’all!

And whatever else you want to say about Tylin, her assessment of Mat’s nature is a hell of a lot more spot-on than just about any other character’s understanding of him, including (I would say, especially including) the people who have known him his whole life. And, uh, I can’t really say I blame her for being attracted to it, either.

(Yes, I know. HASN’T HAPPENED YET. Bzzt!)

Symbolic Ring is Symbolic: I always thought it was just a leetle overly coy of Jordan to fail to identify the “two birds” on the ring as ravens until Tuon shows up, especially since Mat has had “Odin’s Stunt Double” practically tattooed on his forehead since at least TSR. Not to mention the raven imagery he already has, on his spear. Given all that, would it really have been giving that much away to just call a corvid a corvid? C’mon.

Quoth the me, Nevermore! Or, at least NoMore… of this entry. Ba dum dum! Thanks, I’ll be here all week! Well, actually I won’t, but YOU will, so have fun, and be sure to tip your waitress!


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