Happy Friday, WOTerians! In honor of the impending three-day weekend some of us are about to be graced with, have a Wheel of Time Re-read!
Today’s entry covers Chapters 17 and 18 of The Path of Daggers, in which I wickedly and dastardedly leave us upon a political cliffhanger. Sowwy!
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 information 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.
Scheduling note: Also in honor of Memorial Day weekend, I am giving myself a wee holiday from Re-reading, because I has a Plan for the weekend which does not involve sitting in front of a computer for once. Ergo, no post on Tuesday; the Re-read will commence again next Friday. So make this one last, kids!
Chapter 17: Out on the Ice
Egwene, Siuan, Sheriam, Bryne, and the rest of the Hall ride out before dawn , accompanied by their Warders, over a thousand cavalry (led by Uno), a thousand more soldiers flanking them, and myriad servants (and Halima). Egwene is nervous, though she doesn’t show it; Siuan is uneasy, too, and Sheriam seems strangely angry (and also uncomfortable in her saddle), though it doesn’t stop her from making a sly comment about Siuan’s lack of horsemanship. Bryne, of course, is completely calm. All the Aes Sedai are dressed to the nines, and Romanda and Lelaine are uncomfortably close behind Egwene.
Egwene managed not to look back more than once or twice, yet she could feel their eyes pressing between her shoulder blades. Each thought her tied in a neat bundle, but each had to be wondering whose cords had done the binding. Oh, Light, this could not go wrong. Not now.
The ride seems to take forever to Egwene, but at length Bryne’s scouts bring the news that the Andorans and Murandians are already at the site. He adds that Talmanes is there too, with about a hundred of the Band. Egwene only nods, but Lelaine and Romanda blow up at Bryne, accusing him of shoddy scouting and/or collusion with Dragonsworn; Bryne just listens quietly. They arrive at the frozen lake; the meeting tent is set up on the ice, since this will prevent either of the armies ranged around it from interfering. Rudely, no one emerges from the tent to greet the Aes Sedai party; silently, the sisters wait as the servants toss out the chairs set up for the sisters in the tent and replace them with ornate raised boxes.
When Egwene and the Sitters took their places, they sat a foot higher than anyone else. She had had her doubts about that, but the lack of any word of welcome had settled those. The meanest farmer would have offered a cup and a kiss to a vagabond on the Feast of Abram. They were not supplicants, and they were not equals. They were Aes Sedai.
Egwene notes that no one really looks surprised when she takes the front seat, and supposes they’ve all heard about the girl Amyrlin by now. Sheriam gestures to the other chairs, and the nobles belatedly realize that they’ve lost the upper hand by keeping silent, and grimace as the eight highest seat themselves. Egwene notes Talmanes standing off to the side silently, in neither group, and hopes for the chance to speak to him, even though she’s not sure how to do it without everyone there hearing them. Sheriam again takes control of the meeting by introducing Egwene to the four main Andorans and the four main Murandians with a conspicuous lack of titles, and ending by telling them they may present their “supplications” to the Amyrlin Seat, which does not please the nobles at all. Taking it up, Egwene declares that Andor and Murandy have always welcomed Aes Sedai, and demands to know why they bring an army against them now.
“You meddle where thrones and nations fear to step. Thrones have fallen, meddling in the affairs of Aes Sedai.”
That sounded suitably threatening, whether or not Myrelle and the others had managed to prepare her way. With luck, they were well on their way back to the camp, with no one the wiser. Unless one of these nobles spoke the wrong name. That would lose her an advantage against the Hall, but alongside everything else, it was a straw beside a hayloft.
Arathelle stands, and speaks to the sisters behind Egwene instead of her; Egwene grits her teeth and listens politely as Arathelle tells them that they are here precisely to avoid being tangled in Aes Sedai affairs; allowing them to pass through Andor unhindered might be seen as a declaration of alliance with the rebels to the White Tower. Furthermore, she’s heard rumors of Aes Sedai and Tower Guards moving in Andor in secret, and they want no part of a war between Aes Sedai on Andoran soil. One of the Murandians, Donel, spits that Murandy doesn’t want that either, and brings up what happened “out east”; he almost mentions the sisters who had visited them the previous day before Arathelle shuts him up (to Egwene’s relief) and continues that their other concern is that this is all a ruse, and the Aes Sedai’s real target is the Black Tower.
“A battle between Aes Sedai might ruin the land for miles around. That battle might ruin half of Andor.”
Pelivar sprang to his feet. “The plain of it is, you must go another way.” His voice was surprisingly high, but no less firm than Arathelle’s. “If I must die to defend my lands and my people, then better here than where my lands and people die, too.”
Egwene knows now is the moment Lelaine and Romanda are expecting her to name one of them to speak. She takes a deep breath, and tells the Andorans that Elaida is a usurper and a lawbreaker, and she, Egwene, is the Amyrlin Seat; Egwene’s army goes to Tar Valon to unseat Elaida, but that is Aes Sedai business. The Black Tower, she continues, is Aes Sedai business too, as men who can channel have always been, but Elaida takes precedence; the Black Tower is not their target. She hears shifting behind her from the Sitters, but Egwene goes on.
What was that strange call to arms the Band used? Yes. It was time to toss the dice. “I give you this assurance as the Amyrlin Seat. For one month we will stay here, resting, and then we will leave Murandy, but we will not cross the border into Andor. Murandy will be troubled by us no more after that, and Andor will not be troubled at all.”
The nobles are uncertain and torn about this, and Egwene speaks up again before the muttering gets too loud, telling them that this is not a negotiation but a decision; they can accept it, or “face what surely will come from their failure”. Pelivar et al exchange glances, then slowly nod agreement, and even though it’s obvious they think she is just mouthing words from the Sitters, Egwene sighs with relief. Arathelle adds, though, that they will remain in the area—not that they doubt the word of Aes Sedai, of course. Egwene accepts this, and suggests they all mingle a bit before departing back to their respective camps; to herself, she thinks this might give her a shot at talking to Talmanes.
“Oh. One other thing you should all be aware of. The novice book is now open to any woman, whatever her age, if she tests true.” Arathelle blinked. Siuan did not, yet Egwene thought she heard a faint grunt. This was not part of what they had discussed, but there would never be a better time.
Stepping down, Egwene feels like laughing, even though she knows only half her task is done.
Go, Egwene, go!
On first reading, I was right there with her on the Oh crap please don’t let this go pear-shaped thoughts—but probably even more so, as at this point I had no idea how she was planning to avoid having Romanda and Lelaine administer a political (and, possibly, physical) beatdown on her ass for Daring To Defy Them. At least Egwene knew what she was going to try to do; us poor readers were left totally in suspense.
(For fairly awesome values of “poor”, of course.)
It’s occasionally a very perspective-sharpening exercise to put yourself in the position of the characters, not merely in the situation they are in at the moment, but yourself as the age they are as well. I’m just saying, my eighteen-year-old self had a bit of a freakout over moving nine hours away from home for college; if I’d had to, at that age, conduct high-level political negotiations to try to defuse a potential war, while knowing almost no one on my own side had my back?
Um, no. Break out the paper bags and the Xanax, please. Also, the getaway car. DO NOT WANT. But then, that’s why no one’s writing an epic fantasy about my life, innit?
Of course, this is a slightly disingenuous comparison, since Egwene plucked fresh from her unexceptional life in Emond’s Field and planted in that tent would likely have been making with the hyperventilating and the running away too. Eighteen or not, at this point she’s had just under two years of extremely Exceptional things happen to her, and is a vastly different person than she was back in “normal” life, so that naturally has to be taken into account. But even so, it’s interesting to think about.
Bryne: Heh, you have to love him. Egwene compares him at one point to a rock weathering the surf without budging an inch, and that’s exactly what he is. I love the image of him standing there while Romanda and Lelaine yell at him, being all, “Mm-hmm. Yep. Okay. Sure. Absolutely. Whatever you say”, and probably giving Romanda and Lelaine internal screaming fits. I’m telling you now, one of the great secrets of life is that the absolute most effective response you can ever give to someone trying to provoke you is polite indifference. It drives would-be provokers BONKERS; provokers are looking for a response, after all, and why would you want to give an asshole what he wants? I don’t always succeed at keeping my temper when provoked, but man does it pay off when I manage it.
I have to say, I’d forgotten the Andorans’ actual reason for gathering up their army and confronting the Rebels. I’d vaguely recalled it as just a kind of obstreperous y’all better git off mah property strutting thing, but actually Pelivar and Arathelle have a fair point here: a battle between Aes Sedai and Asha’man would be, pretty much, the Randland equivalent of nuclear warfare. In their backyards. I… really can’t blame them for being anti-that.
The rumors of Aes Sedai and Tower Guards within Andor refer, if I’m not mistaken, to the about-to-be extremely ill-advised raid on the Black Tower. God, but Elaida’s dumb. Well, we’ll get to that mess in due time.
Chapter 18: A Peculiar Calling
The Andorans and Murandians all beeline for the Sitters, deeming a puppet Amyrlin not worth their time, but Egwene manages to yank Sheriam aside and order her to find out all she can about this rumor of Aes Sedai and Tower Guards inside Andor. Romanda and Lelaine are giving Egwene glares of imminent doom, but they are both buttonholed by nobles, and Egwene is relieved that even those two would not go so far as to repudiate her on the spot. Siuan hisses “Shein Chunla” at her, but Egwene is busy looking for Talmanes. Right as she spots him talking to Pelivar, Segan (one of the Murandian nobles) comes up, eyes her doubtfully, and abruptly asks if what she had said about the novice book was true. Egwene confirms it, and to her surprise Segan thanks her, calling her “Mother” before heading off.
Siuan snorted. “I don’t mind sailing the Fingers of the Dragon in the dark if I must,” she muttered half under her breath. “We discussed that; we weighed the dangers, and anyway, there doesn’t seem to be a gull’s last dinner for choice. But you have to set a fire on deck just to make things interesting. Netting lionfish isn’t enough for you. You have to stuff a prickleback down your dress, too. You aren’t content trying to wade a school of silver-pike—”
Egwene broke in. “Siuan, I think I should tell Lord Bryne you’re head over heels in love with him. It’s only fair that he know, don’t you agree?” Siuan’s blue eyes bulged, and her mouth worked, but all that came out was a sort of gobbling. Egwene patted her shoulder. “You’re Aes Sedai, Siuan. Try to maintain at least a little dignity. And try to find out about those sisters in Andor.”
She walks in Talmanes’ direction, leaving Siuan to abuse the servants. Talmanes seems alert but tired, and he makes her a respectful bow when she approaches. He comments that she just changed a border, bringing Andorans this far into Murandy, and points out how the Murandians are fawning and jockeying for the Andorans’ favor. Egwene only notes that all the Aes Sedai party except Siuan and Halima seem occupied, and tells Talmanes that he’s been a good friend to Mat, and she thinks to her as well, and hopes he hasn’t said anything he shouldn’t. He studies her for a moment, then tells her “not all men gossip”, and asks if she knew what would happen here today when she sent Mat south. She answers, of course not. Talmanes then asks if she will at least tell him where Mat is; is he on his way to Caemlyn with the Daughter-Heir? At her surprise, he comments dryly that serving women will speak with a soldier at the stream, even if he is “a horrible Dragonsworn.” Flustered, Egwene almost lies to him, but sees Siuan across the room, and remembering her speech, growls to herself and reluctantly tells Talmanes that Mat was in Ebou Dar last she heard, but she is sure he is on his way north by now, if for no other reason than he still thinks he has to save her.
Talmanes did not look at all surprised. “I thought it might be so,” he sighed. “I have… felt… something, for weeks now. Others in the Band have, too. Not urgent, but always there. As if he needed me. As if I should look south, anyway. It can be peculiar, following a ta’veren.”
“I suppose it can,” she agreed, hoping none of her incredulity showed. It was strange enough to think of Mat the wastrel as leader of the Band of the Red Hand, much less as ta’veren, but surely a ta’veren had to be present, nearby at least, to have any effect.
Talmanes then observes that she never had any intention of being “rescued” by either Mat or himself, did she; Egwene answers, no, but admits that it has been a comfort to have him nearby, and tells him she hopes their friendship can continue. Talmanes says that she has been more open with him than he expected, and in return tells her that King Roedran of Murandy has approached him with the notion of hiring the Band to use as decoys to unite the nobles and bolster his position, and Talmanes is considering taking the offer, as it will keep him closer to Mat. Egwene thinks that at this point there is no real need to have the Band following her around anymore, but out of friendship advises Talmanes against it, as even the Band cannot handle it if all of Murandy decided to turn against them. Talmanes replies that the Band will slip away before then. Angrily, Egwene wants to know what happens if Roedran decides to betray him, but Talmanes counters that no one could do anything before spring, and he is certain Mat will find them before then, anyway. Egwene demands that Talmanes promise her that he will not let himself get dragged into a war even if Mat doesn’t show up by spring. He tries to protest, but:
“Your word, Talmanes. Or I will not allow your agreement with Roedran.” The only way to stop it was to betray it, but she would not leave a war in her wake, a war she had started by bringing Talmanes here.
Staring at her as if for the first time, he finally bent his head. Strangely, that seemed more formal than his bow had. “It will be as you say, Mother. Tell me, are you sure you are not ta’veren, too?”
“I am the Amyrlin Seat,” she replied. “That is quite enough for anyone.” She touched his arm again. “The Light shine on you, Talmanes.” His smile nearly touched his eyes this time.
Egwene sees that their extended conversation has attracted attention, and tries to figure out what the results might be; mentally, she curses Siuan’s “bloody” Law of Unintended Consequences. She goes back to circulating, trying to ascertain the mood of the nobles about the likelihood of the peace holding. She is approached by nearly every noblewoman there, to ask if her news about the novice book was true; several female servants ask her covertly, too, one of whom is from the Aes Sedai camp. She is very pleased about this, but annoyed that the noblemen avoid her like the plague, she thinks for fear of been seen to be interested in the same thing. Finally she goes and plants herself in Pelivar’s way and refuses to let him escape, and opens with what she thinks is a “soft” question.
“You must be pleased to hear that the Daughter-Heir is on her way to Caemlyn, Lord Pelivar.” She had heard several of the Sitters mention that.
His face went blank. “Elayne Trakand has a right to put in her claim to the Lion Throne,” he replied in a flat voice.
Egwene’s eyes widened, and he stepped back again, uncertainly. Perhaps he thought her angry over the absence of her title, but she barely noticed that. Pelivar had supported Elayne’s mother in her claim for the throne, and Elayne had been sure he would support her, too. She spoke of Pelivar fondly, like a favorite uncle.
Siuan comes up and whispers to Egwene that they have to go, and Pelivar escapes gratefully, to Egwene’s annoyance. Egwene hurries to give the order to pack up, though, as it is vital they get back to camp before sundown.
So, it makes perfect sense in retrospect why the dice icon was used for this chapter, but man did it get my hopes up for a moment, the first time. *grumble*
I would like Talmanes to be my new drinking buddy. I bet he would play a mean game of pool.
It’s always so rare and refreshing when a conversation in WOT results in actual information being exchanged that I always want to take a moment to appreciate it, like savoring a good brandy. Or so I imagine; I don’t really drink brandy myself. But you know what I mean!
I was rather absurdly pleased by their acknowledgment of friendship, too. Chalk up yet another random pair of characters who probably don’t need to meet up again before the end of the series, but whom I think it would be neat to see together once more. I think I’ve got, like, thirty of those by now or something. Le sigh.
Egwene and Talmanes’ conversation is interesting in several ways. First there’s the revelation that it’s not only Rand who can ta’veren at people from across large distances, which I thought was very cool. (I still think Verin was lying through her teeth to Mat in TGS with all that business about being dragged around by his ta’verenness, though.)
Secondly, I think this scene is significant because in some ways Egwene facing Talmanes down and compelling (small “c”) him to take the course of action least likely to cause a war is Egwene truly acting as the Amyrlin for the first time.
The purpose of the White Tower, as I see it, is ideally twofold: it is meant to stand as a bulwark against the forces of the Shadow when they come, but it is also intended to keep everyone else from falling apart in the meantime. Hence the Tower’s policy of being part of no nation but frequently involved in the business of all nations, smoothing disputes, organizing mediations, and negotiating peace accords—or, if necessary, figuratively rapping nations’ knuckles and standing them in the corner until they agree to play nice with all the other countries.
This is a purpose fraught with ethical gray areas, naturally, and you can argue till the cows come home whether the Tower has the right to do such a thing. I kind of tend to think they do, but I agree that even the excuse of “there’s an apocalypse coming!” is still technically the ends justifying the means, so, well. I dunno. But my POINT is, regardless of what you think of the ethics of the Tower’s purpose, it remains that Egwene’s ultimatum to Talmanes is fulfilling that purpose. It’s also an example of thinking beyond her own immediate concerns, and acting to preserve what she sees as the greater good. So, go Egwene.
Egwene being ta’veren, because I know someone’s going to bring it up: She isn’t. No, really. Jordan said so. I don’t remember where, but he did. And if I’m wrong about this I shall be very red-faced, but I don’t think I am.
I’m wondering how much of Egwene and Talmanes’ conversation Halima heard; Egwene thinks she is out of earshot, but if Halima was holding saidin she could have easily been close enough to hear without Egwene realizing it. I’m not sure it makes much difference, though. Yes, it would have signaled to Halima that Egwene was not at all the puppet she appeared, but I can’t see how she couldn’t know that already, via Sheriam if no other way (and thanks to the commenters who pointed out that Sheriam confirmed who her tormentor was in TGS). Also, the cat’s about to be out of the bag to everyone on the non-puppet score anyway, and evidently nothing changed on Halima’s end, so, enh. (Still don’t get why she was only blocking Eg’s Dreams.)
Also, wow, the Murandians really do not come off very well in these chapters, do they? Have we met a cool Murandian, ever? Should I take it as a sign that two of my three least favorite characters—Fain and Elaida—are both from Murandy? And should I note significantly in addition that we never find out where my third least favorite character, Lord Tool Captain Eamon Valda, is originally from?
No, no I shouldn’t. I should not make such broad, sweeping generalizations! Surely an entire nation, even a fictional one, could not be universally peopled with only greedy, unscrupulous, unpleasant folk, right?
Of course not. Right. Yup. *swings arms, snaps*
Siuan: is cracking my shit UP. I really think the exchange between her and Egwene, where she throws every fish metaphor in the world at the wall like overcooked spaghetti (seriously, Jordan so did that on purpose), is one of the funniest things I’ve read in WOT. Especially when Egwene completely pwns her a second later. Ha!
Pelivar: Our first hint that Elayne’s throne-gaining may not go as smoothly as she thought. D’oh!
Also, I’m a little confused. The men were avoiding Egwene because they didn’t want to seem interested in novices? That’s how Egwene puts it, and that… doesn’t really make sense to me. I initially thought it was because they didn’t want to seem like they were interested in channeling, but on reflection that makes even less sense. If they, as men, were interested in channeling, the Amyrlin Seat is the last person they’d go to, so why would talking to her be seen as suspect? So it must be the novice thing, but why is that bad, again? I mean, are we talking about not wanting to seem overly interested in young girls? Because, huh? Am so confused!
And also, am so ending this post! Have a fabulous Memorial Day weekend if that be your national inclination, and I’ll see y’all next Friday!