Allo-allo, WOT readers! Welcome to another Wheel of Time Re-read!
Today’s entry covers Chapter 23 of The Path of Daggers, because it turns out that Chapter 24 is STUPID LONG, and I just canna do it, Captain. I din’t have the power!
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.
And that is the sum of what that is, so click on for the post!
Chapter 23: Fog of War, Storm of Battle
Rand examines the ripped-apart corpses of the Seanchan while Lews Therin howls for Ilyena in his head. Weiramon opines that it was a great victory, but mutters that there was “small honor” in it; he and most of the other nobles had charged without orders at the end of the battle rather than let the Asha’man do all the work. Rand had taken no part, afraid to seize saidin again. Bashere approaches with the news that Aracome is dead of his wounds, along with fifty others; Rand thinks of Min’s viewing, and hopes she didn’t see how he died clearly. The rest of the army is mingling without resentment for once in the exhaustion after the battle. Flinn, Adley, Morr, and Hopwil are down among the wounded (Narishma, Rand, and Dashiva are no good at Healing); Rand thinks of how he’d had to force Gedwyn and Rochaid to help. Bashere says they will do better next time, and Weiramon seizes the opportunity to make a speech.
Ignoring him, Rand stares at the hundred or so prisoners (mostly Taraboners) and wonders what to do with them; Gedwyn had wanted to interrogate and then execute them, while Weiramon thought they should skip the interrogation part, since the prisoners were all commoners and therefore couldn’t know anything useful. They are interrupted by one of Bashere’s patrols, who bring in a bedraggled sul’dam. Rand demands to know if they hurt her, and the patrol leader says no, they found her like this.
“She claims we killed her Gille. A pet dog, or cat, or some such, the way she carries on. Her name’s Nerith. We got that much out of her.” The woman turned and snarled at him again.
Rand sighed. Not a pet dog. No! That name did not belong on the list! But he could hear the litany of names reciting itself in his head, and “Gille the damane” was there. Lews Therin moaned for his Ilyena. Her name also was on the list. Rand thought it had a right.
Rand explains what little he knows about sul’dam and damane, and to his surprise Anaiyella coldly offers to hang Nerith herself if Rand felt “constrained”. Rand growls a refusal, and tells Bashere that the soldier prisoners are to be turned loose once they’re ready to leave (reasoning that none of them would be able to get to the Seanchan to warn them faster than Rand’s forces can Travel), but Nerith and any other women they capture will be kept. Weiramon and Bashere are both startled, and Anaiyella contemptuous; Rand tells them he has enough Aes Sedai against him without sending the Seanchan back their sul’dam, which relieves Bashere. Rand debates to himself where to send them, and thinks of the sisters with Elayne (and Mat, he thinks) on their way to Caemlyn. He says he’ll hand her over to “some Aes Sedai I choose”, and Nerith promptly shrieks in horror and attempts to run. It takes four men to stop her and hold her down—sort of—and Bashere offers odds on whether she can take them.
A young Asha’man Soldier named Varil Nensen has meanwhile Traveled back from scouting, and reports to Rand that he found more Seanchan thirty miles west of them. Eyeing Nerith, who is busy biting the Saldaean trying to tie her up, he adds that he didn’t see any women with them. Bashere comments there will be enough to time to eat, first, and Rand snaps to make it quick.
Would every sul’dam he captured be as difficult? Very likely. Light, what if they took a damane? “I don’t want to spend all winter in these mountains.” Gille the damane. He could not erase a name once it went onto that list.
The dead are never silent, Lews Therin whispered. The dead never sleep.
Rand rode down toward the fires. He did not feel like eating.
From a mountain ridge, Furyk Karede of the Deathwatch Guard watches the twenty-three hundred soldiers (most either Taraboners or newly-conscripted Altarans and Amadicians), along with twelve sul’dam and two damane, move through the pass below. The ten officers of the force are with him on the ridge. Karede thinks of the story that one of his ancestors was a noble who served Luthair Paendrag himself, though he doesn’t know if it is true.
Karede was da’covale and proud of it, like every man of the Guard, the property of the Crystal Throne, body and soul. He fought where the Empress pointed, and would die the day she said die. To the Empress alone did the Guard answer, and where they appeared, they appeared as her hand, a visible reminder of her. No wonder that some among the Blood could become uneasy watching a detachment of Guardsmen pass. A far better life than mucking out a Lord’s stables or serving kaf to a Lady. But he cursed the luck that had sent him into these mountains to inspect the outposts.
A raken flies by unusually low, but leaves no message, and Karede thinks that it’s just as well, as the few messages he had gotten had only made matters murkier. It’s clear there is some kind of force in the mountains (Karede thinks they are Altarans), but their coordination and cohesion run contrary to the nature of the Altarans he’d encountered thus far. One of the officers, Nadoc, complains about marching blind when at least forty thousand Altarans are out there; another officer, Jadranka, snorts that no matter their numbers, they are scattered and lacking support, and their own forces are doubtless just here to “sweep up the remains.” He adds that he had told the scouts to press on until they found the Altarans.
“You did what?” Karede said softly.
Soft or not, his words jerked every eye toward him. Though Nadoc and a few of the others had to struggle to stop gaping at Jadranka. Scouts told to press ahead, scouts told what to look for. What had gone unseen for those orders?
Before anyone could open his mouth shouts rose from the men in the pass, screams and the shrieks of horses.
Karede sees the men in the pass getting mowed down by what he at first assumes are crossbow bolts, until the ground also starts erupting under the soldiers’ feet and lightning striking from above, and realizes the Altarans have Aes Sedai with them. Shaken, Nadoc asks what they’re going to do; Jadranka snarls back that they will rally and attack, but is cut off when Karede stabs him through the throat, and calmly counters that they will retreat. He sends a messenger to Suroth, though he suspects that she already knows what is transpiring.
On another ridge, Rand inspects the now-quiet valley below. Flinn, Dashiva, Ailil, and Anaiyella are with him, and Ailil comments that perhaps it is over now.
Rand found himself humming and stopped abruptly. That was Lews Therin’s habit, looking at a pretty woman, not his. Not his! Light, if he started taking on the fellow’s mannerisms, and when he was not there, at that…!
Thunder and fire boom from further down the valley, and Rand knows that only part of that had been from saidin. He is irritated to be relegated to the sidelines, and touches the bundle tied to his saddle, but rejects the idea. An Asha’man Soldier named Arlen Nalaam Travels back to Rand’s position with a sul’dam prisoner, and Rand tells him to take her to the carts before returning to the fighting. He then asks Nalaam why he’s going back to the same spot to make a new gateway.
Nalaam half turned back to him, hesitating briefly. “It seems easier, here, if I use a place I’ve already made a gateway, my Lord Dragon. Saidin… Saidin feels… strange… to me here.” His prisoner turned to frown at him.
Rand notes that Flinn looks smug; he had been the first to mention the strangeness, though Rand isn’t sure how anyone is supposed to tell with the taint interfering. He hopes they’re not all coming down with his dizziness problem. He checks for himself, but cannot detect any difference in saidin. He thinks of the twenty-three sul’dam and two damane prisoners he now has; he hadn’t initially thought of the damane as prisoners, but the one he’d taken out of her collar had killed nine Defenders and an Asha’man Soldier before she could be shielded and re-collared. Overall there had been more casualties among his forces than he had expected, but he thinks that they are driving the Seanchan hard.
Renewed fighting breaks out down the valley, and Rand orders Flinn and Dashiva to join the fray; Flinn is worried about leaving Rand alone, but Rand thinks that between Ailil and Anaiyella’s lancers, Bashere’s pikes, and Weiramon’s forces hemming the ridge he’s fine. Flinn is doubtful, but goes with Dashiva (who almost trips over his own sword). Rand contemplates the situation a moment, then is suddenly fighting with saidin; he releases it before it can kill him, and realizes he is on the ground.
A knot of hot pain in his side told him those never-healing wounds had broken open. He tried to push himself up, and cried out. In stunned amazement he stared at the dark fletchings of an arrow stuck through his right arm. With a groan he collapsed. Something ran down his face. Something dripped in front of his eye. Blood.
Seanchan cavalry appear between the trees, coming in from the north where Weiramon’s forces were supposed to have been guarding. Rand tries to reach the Source but cannot, and Lews Therin whispers it is time to die. Then suddenly Ailil and Anaiyella’s lancers appear and smash into the Seanchan lines. The two noblewomen come to Rand and turn him over, staring at him. Anaiyella hisses at Ailil that if he dies Bashere will hang them both, if those “black-coated monsters” don’t get them first, and proposes they make a break for it.
“I think he can hear us,” Ailil broke in calmly. Her red-gloved hands moved at her waist. Sheathing a belt knife? Or drawing one? “If he dies here—” She cut off as sharply as the other woman had, and her head jerked around.
Bashere and Gregorin appear with their companies, and send them in to the fray. Bashere glares at the two women suspiciously, and then yells for Morr. Morr appears (Ailil and Anaiyella hastily clear off) and Heals Rand roughly, not being as good at it as Flinn. Lews Therin shrieks to kill him; Rand thanks Morr (who looks surprised), and stands up unsteadily. He stares at Ailil and Anaiyella and wonders whether they meant to kill him, but if so, why they had sent their soldiers to defend him. Weiramon shows up (looking impeccable) and sonorously apologizes for being out of position.
“I thought I saw Seanchan advancing in front of the ridge and went to meet them. I never suspected this other company. You can’t know how it would pain me if you were injured.”
“I think I know,” Rand said dryly, and Weiramon blinked. Seanchan advancing? Perhaps. Weiramon would always snatch at a chance for glory in the charge.
Bashere and Gregorin report that the Seanchan are in full retreat. Gedwyn shows up, frowns at Weiramon, and reports that there are three more columns of Seanchan within ten miles. Bashere glares at Gedwyn and puts in that all those columns are heading west back to Ebou Dar; Rand has won. Weiramon and Gedwyn both argue for a further push, and Ailil and Anaiyella agree; only Bashere and Gregorin are against it.
Take Ebou Dar, Rand thought. Why not? No one would expect that. A total surprise, for the Seanchan and everybody else.
“Times are, you seize the advantage and ride on,” Bashere growled. “Other times, you take your winnings and go home. I say it’s time to go home.”
I would not mind you in my head, Lews Therin said, sounding almost sane, if you were not so clearly mad.
Ebou Dar. Rand tightened his hand on the Dragon Scepter, and Lews Therin cackled.
Man, this blows.
I was initially having some trouble pinpointing exactly why this entire sequence is filling me with such foot-dragging, apathetic reluctance to recap it, or even read it. I mean, yes, Rand is being a dick, people aren’t trusting each other, things are gloomy, yadda, but it’s not like that’s never happened before in this series. And also, it’s not like I can claim this bit is boring; this is a frickin’ battle scene, one in which our hero was almost just assassinated. Shit Is Happening, so what’s my problem, exactly?
On reflection, though, I think that my issue here is that I know what’s going to happen, what the eventual outcome of all this hoopla is going to be, and I really really really don’t want to get to it. I’m dragging my feet on this part of TPOD for the same reason I always put off balancing my checkbook; it’s one thing to know generally that you have no money this month, but it’s another to have to see it in stark, accusing, black and white precision.
Yes, I’m aware this is ostrich-like behavior, thanks for pointing it out. I would stick out my tongue at you, but then I’d get sand in my mouth. So THERE.
And the thing is, I knew I didn’t want to get to the culmination of this storyline even when I didn’t yet know how it ended! Because, really. Let’s just say, any plan of action that ignores the advice of the ONE PERSON in your entourage who wouldn’t throw a party if you keeled over dead that second is going to end BADLY, and there is no way around it. Rand was screwed the second he went against Bashere’s counsel. The Laws of Narrative Karma demand it, dude, sorry. You’re hosed, and I do not wanna read all about it.
Other than that (and Rand almost, you know, dying and all) this chapter was mainly about throwing even more suspicion on the various already-highly-suspect nobles in Rand’s STUPID STUPID entourage. At this point I’m not even sure whether it matters if any of them are traitors or not, if it ever did.
Although for the record I will say that I still don’t really think Weiramon is a Darkfriend even though those who think he is one have a very good case based on this chapter alone. My only basis for this, really, is that even in a story about an apocalyptic battle between good and evil, I tend to favor Hanlon’s Razor: never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity. Sometimes an incompetent nincompoop is just an incompetent nincompoop.
This will come up again in the next chapter with the interaction between Weiramon and Gedwyn, but I’ll talk about that then. In the meantime I’ll settle for metaphorically beating them both senseless with a hardbound copy of the Geneva Conventions, and leave it at that. Tools.
As for Ailil and Anaiyella, who both have two of the more annoying names to type in WOT, I’m not sure why but I tend to think that they are sort of kind of on Rand’s side, and would not have killed him. I could be totally wishfully thinking on that score, though. I can’t remember what (if anything) becomes of them either, so I’ll just let it go at that for now and see.
Rand’s list: I’m finding it more difficult than I initially did to give him crap about this, mainly because of the revelation I had somewhere back in the last couple of books that his list of women is not so much about women, as it is about an arbitrary Moral Event Horizon he has assigned himself, which frankly makes it at least a tad easier to swallow. It’s kind of weirdly fascinating, though, that he’s mentally set it up so that he really doesn’t have any kind of control over how it works. I’m really interested to see what happens to his List in TOM, post-Lews Therin going away and (presumably) Moiraine reappearing. That’s going to be quite a thing, or at least I devoutly hope so.
Karede: One thing that’s going on a lot here that you should know is that we are getting a lot of the minutiae of Seanchan life and culture (in the military, at least) in these chapters, and also that I am leaving most of this world-building out of the recap. I don’t think this is a reflection on me, necessarily—this is supposed to be a condensation, after all—but it is a reminder that if you are not following this with the original text there is stuff you are missing. So, um, yeah.
I’m sure there’s more I could say about this chapter, but I really don’t have the emotional fortitude to summon it up, so I think I’ll stop here. Have a fantabulous weekend, my chickens, and I’ll see you next week!