Greetings, and welcome to today’s load of balderdash Wheel of Time Re-read!
Today’s entry covers Chapters 17 and 18 of Winter’s Heart, in which everybody knows that the dice are loaded, and everybody knows that the deal is rotten, but that’s how it goes.
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 everybody knows that it’s now or never, so now, ze post!
Chapter 17: Pink Ribbons
Mat hurries Noal to one of the stableyard gates of the Palace, watching nervously for any sign of the gholam. The gate is guarded by both Ebou Dari and Seanchan soldiers; the Ebou Dari officer (Surlivan) comments on the state of Mat’s clothes, and that “she” won’t like it if Mat’s been in another fight. Scowling, Mat ignores this to ask if it’s all right for Noal to bed down with his men; Surlivan is fine with it. Mat pulls Noal aside to make way for a trio of Seanchan messengers; Surlivan gives them permission to enter, and then comments on how they always ask him, not the Seanchan guards. Noal asks what they would do if Surlivan refused them entry, and Surlivan angrily tells Mat to warn his new friend about the wisdom of watching his tongue. Mat gives a polite reply and drags Noal inside, where he explains to Noal about Listeners and Seekers.
“I see,” the old man said slowly. “I hadn’t known that.” He sounded irritated with himself. “You must spend a good deal of time with the Seanchan. Do you know the High Lady Suroth as well, then? I must say, I had no idea you had such high connections.”
“I spend time with soldiers in taverns, when I can,” Mat replied sourly. When Tylin let him. Light, he might as well be married! “Suroth doesn’t know I’m alive.” And he devoutly hoped it remained that way.
In the stableyard, several dozen damane are being walked by sul’dam, half of whom are captured Windfinders. One is Teslyn Baradon, and Mat thinks he hadn’t liked her much, but would not have wished such a fate on her. He mutters that he supposes it’s better than being dead; Noal asks if he’s sure, and Mat frowns and doesn’t answer. They go to the four surviving Redarms’ (and Vanin’s) room, where Harnan and the others are all ready to go do violence to whoever roughed Mat up. Mat introduces them to Noal and adds that Noal saved his life that day, which earns cries of approbation from the Redarms. Noal tells the story with what Mat thinks is a gleeman’s skill, downplaying his own role in the incident; the men laugh in appreciation until he gets to the part of how the gholam escaped, which sobers them up. Trying to make light, Mat says the thing seems to be after him, so he’ll give them gold to book passage on the first ship out tomorrow, along with Thom and Juilin and Olver and Nerim and Lopin, to go find Talmanes. After a pause, Harnan opines that Talmanes would skin them alive if they came back without Mat; Vanin thinks Olver would “gut [him] like a trout” if he takes the boy away from Riselle, and anyway he has time to read here.
“You’re all mad,” Mat said with a frown. “Just because it wants me, doesn’t mean it won’t kill you if you get in the way. The offer stays open. Anyone who comes to his senses can go.”
“I have seen your like before,” Noal said suddenly. The stooped old man was the image of hard age and exhaustion, but his eyes were bright and sharp studying Mat. “Some men have an air about them that makes other men follow where they lead. Some lead to devastation, others to glory. I think your name may go into the history books.”
Harnan looked as confused as Fergin. Vanin spat and lay back down, opening his book.
“If all my luck goes away, maybe,” Mat muttered. He knew what it took to get into the histories. A man could get killed, doing that sort of thing.
Fergin advises him to clean up before the Queen sees him, and Mat stalks out, and his temper is not improved when he’s told the same by a dozen servants in the halls. Then he runs into Juilin, who has no business being outside the servants’ quarters. Mat tells him about the gholam and repeats his offer to have Juilin leave, but Juilin refuses; recognizing the look in his eyes, Mat tells him to take her with him, whoever she is, or just find another one. Juilin thanks him profusely (and sarcastically) for his wisdom re: women, and adds that he’s heard that if Mat comes back again looking like he’d been ”dragged in the mud,” the Queen intends to switch him. Incensed, Mat storms into Tylin’s apartments, throwing his hat across the room, and stops dead. Inside, Tylin is sitting with Suroth and what Mat thinks is a little girl, shaved bald and wearing a veil. A very tall, beautiful dark-skinned woman stands behind the girl’s chair.
It was not the presence of Suroth or the strangers that jerked him to a halt, though. The dice had stopped, landing with a thunder that made his skull ring. That had never happened before. He stood there waiting for one of the Forsaken to leap out of the flames in the marble fireplace, or the earth to swallow the Palace beneath him.
Tylin, her look promising retribution later, tells him to go get cleaned up, but Mat just stands there, dazed, trying to work out what had happened. The girl says sternly to Suroth that this man has been “set upon,” and she thought there was order in the city; she is displeased. Suroth assures her of the safety of the streets, and Mat is struck that this little girl apparently makes Suroth of all people anxious; then he notices how very still Tylin is being. The girl repeats that she is displeased, and chastises Suroth for her “ill-considered” attack eastward; she wants to know how Mat could have been set upon if the streets are so safe. Suroth glares at Tylin, and Mat blurts that he just fell down, to their surprise. The dark-skinned woman (Anath) grabs the girl’s winecup and throws it in the fireplace, telling her (Tuon) that she is being foolish, and that Suroth is doing well. Suroth (and Mat) gape in astonishment, but Tuon only answers that Anath may be right, but that “the young man” is clearly lying, perhaps in fear of retribution, and his injuries are more than could be sustained from a simple fall. Annoyed at the (sort of true) implication he is scared of Tylin, Mat grins and replies that he was injured the day of the invasion, but he’s just about healed now, thanks. Tuon walks over to examine him minutely, and Mat thinks she would be pretty if she were not so stern (and had hair).
She reached up with one hand, putting her fingertips under his chin, and he started to jerk back. Until Tylin glared at him over Tuon’s head, promising retribution here and now, if he did any such thing. Glowering, he let the girl shift his head for her study.
“You fought us?” she demanded. “You have sworn the oaths?”
“I swore,” he muttered. “For the other, I had no chance.”
“So you would have,” she murmured.
She continues her examination until Anath tells her to either buy the boy or not; Tuon examines his signet ring, showing “a running fox and two ravens in flight, all surrounded by crescent moons,” and asks Tylin how much for him. Tylin chokes on her wine, and protests unsteadily that he is a free man, which Mat thinks would be funny in other circumstances. Tuon goes over to Tylin, and tells her not to be afraid; she gives an astonished Tylin a ritual kiss and proclaims that she and Tuon and Suroth shall be like sisters, and Tuon will make her High Lady Tylin as well as Queen of Altara. She invites Tylin back to her rooms to look at maps; as they prepare to leave Mat pulls Tylin aside and tells her that the gholam tried to kill him an hour ago, and it might be dangerous to Tylin for Mat to stay here any longer. Tylin sniffs that it cannot have him, and neither can Tuon—though she whispers that part.
“Who is she?” he asked. Well, it had never been more than a chance.
“The High Lady Tuon, and you know as much as I,” Tylin replied, just as quietly. “Suroth jumps when she speaks, and she jumps when Anath speaks, though I would almost swear that Anath is some sort of servant. They are a very peculiar people, sweetling.”
She examines his mud, and asks if he remembers the pink ribbons, promising more when she gets back. Everyone leaves, and Mat puts his head in his hands. Even pink ribbons cannot distract him from worrying about the dice.
The dice had stopped and… What? He had come face-to-face, or near enough, with three people he had not met before, but that could not be it. Maybe it was something to do with Tylin becoming one of the Blood. But always before, when the dice stopped, something had happened to him, personally.
Then Tylin returns, and has not forgotten the pink ribbons, and Mat is otherwise occupied for a long time.
It’s kind of sad that this momentous thing happened in this chapter—namely, Mat meeting his future wife—and yet the biggest thing I carry away from it is how utterly annoyed I am at Tylin.
I mean, intellectually I know that there are a significant number of people out there who derive pleasure from humiliating other people, from degrees ranging from relatively harmless “taking the piss” (as the Brits put it) all the way to outright sadistic torture, but it’s just never been a thing I’ve found enjoyable even in its milder forms, ever, either giving or receiving, and ergo I think I just don’t get it in some ways. There are any number of reasons why I would not have done well in the military (a basic inability to take orders respectfully probably topmost, heh), but honestly my strong aversion to anything that smacks of hazing is rather foremost among them.
This is, I think, just as much a flaw as it is a virtue, and probably makes pride one of my besetting sins, but at least I take comfort in the fact that in real life I try to follow the maxim of not dishing out what I don’t myself care to take. But it also guarantees that this entire “relationship”—and I use the term loosely—of Mat and Tylin’s is something I am not going to be able to enjoy even on a superficial level, even putting aside the whole issue of whether it’s nonconsensual or not. Not that I’m really ready to put that aside!
Yes, I’m totally humorless, the horror of me, whatever. Sorry, but anyone who punishes someone for surviving an assassination attempt is just never going to be on my Christmas card list, so I guess we’ll have to just call me crazy and leave it at that, n’est-ce pas?
Agh, blah, moving on. At least we got the fun of Noal being all awesomely tactlessly accurate about everything, especially re: Mat’s Leader-Of-Men-ness, which is always something I enjoy getting pointed out, not least as a welcome counter-agent against all the humiliation Mat is otherwise subjected to pretty much the entire time he’s in Ebou Dar. It’s a nice little callback to why I like Mat, which is something we haven’t been getting a lot of since he came to this horrible city, which sucked even before it was overrun with overbearing caste-ridden slaveowners, so I like to appreciate the reminders where I find them.
Tuon: In retrospect you have to admire her aplomb here, since from our comfortable future knowing-everything perspective it’s pretty obvious that she guessed (or strongly suspected) Mat was the subject of her Foretelling almost from the moment he stormed into Tylin’s rooms. Certainly from the moment she saw his ring, anyway—which I note that only NOW does Jordan finally describe accurately, tease that he is. (Before this it had always been “birds,” not “ravens” on his ring, presumably because otherwise it would have been too much of a gimme, though I don’t necessarily agree with that.)
And it kind of had to totally suck for Tuon too, since she of course has no way at this point to know anything about Mat’s awesomeness, and instead sees only that he is, to all appearances, a ridiculous dandified commoner boy-toy with no manners and a penchant for rolling in the mud and being insolent to his betters. I mean, if I were her I might have been strongly tempted to throw a tantrum at this point, so yay restraint, yes?
Though, I think from her comment about whether he would have fought that she already sees something more than that, or wants to. Fortunately for her it’s not wishful thinking; unfortunately for us it’s going to be two-ish books before she finds this out. Oh, well.
Also, I kind of had to laugh at Mat’s waiting for a Forsaken to leap out of the fireplace when there’s one standing ten feet from him, if only he knew. Irony: it’s what’s for breakfast! Yeek.
Teslyn: Damn. As usual, the damane thing continues to turn my stomach. It’s telling in some way, perhaps, that it didn’t occur to me to wonder why Joline wasn’t in the same predicament as Teslyn until later events rendered it moot (as we shall see). I am unobservant, sometimes!
Chapter 18: An Offer
Mat spends the next few days being irritated. The gholam is still lurking around the city, and the Redarms still refuse to leave. Thom and Beslan are sneaking around together, and Beslan is still mad at Mat for not supporting his rebellion. Juilin gets caught and strapped for being abovestairs, but doesn’t stop sneaking up there; Mat supposes he’s involved with a Seanchan noblewoman, though he finds the notion unlikely. The Corenne continues, disgorging thousands of civilians and soldiers alike into the surrounding countryside; Mat doesn’t understand, though, why a contingent of Deathwatch Guards (including a hundred Ogier Gardeners, whom Mat reflects are nothing like Loial) are staying in the city instead. News comes in from outside via merchants, mostly about Aiel looting everywhere and armies on the move, but especially about Rand; wildly conflicting stories circulate about his whereabouts and status, including the one about his swearing fealty to Elaida, or that he is dead, but Mat doesn’t believe either of those—for some reason he is sure he would know if Rand died. The day after the gholam attack, Mat burns all the pink clothing Tylin had made him wear, and stomps out to look for inns with hidey holes again. He finds himself at the Wandering Woman, which he’d been avoiding because it was stuffed with Seanchan officers, and decides to go in. Inside, Setalle Anan greets him with a smile and asks after Nynaeve, Elayne and the Kin, to Mat’s surprise; Mat tells her they all got out and are safe as far as he knows. He explains what he is looking for, and Setalle shakes her head at him.
“You don’t know our ways, that is the trouble,” she said. “Pretties are an old and honored custom in Altara. Many a young man or woman has a final fling as a pretty, pampered and showered with presents, before settling down. But you see, a pretty leaves when she chooses. Tylin shouldn’t be treating you as I hear she is. Still,” she added judiciously, “I must say she dresses you well.” She made a circling motion with one hand. “Hold out your cloak and turn around so I can get a better look.”
Flushing, Mat demands to know if she has a space or not, and she does, but the price is a look at his bottom, which she enjoys very much (as does a Seanchan officer, who tosses him a coin). He returns to the Palace to find that Nerim and Lopin have discovered where Tylin was hiding his old clothes, and Mat instructs them to start ferrying them over to the inn, along with gold, bit by bit so as not to raise suspicions. After “diverting” Tylin from asking why his manservants are running down the hall (which takes a while), Mat goes to visit the only bellfoundry in Ebou Dar. Unfortunately Master Sutoma has no idea what bells have to do with fireworks and is not interested in Mat’s questions, finally barring Mat from the premises after his third visit. Attempting to work the problem from the other end, Mat finally gets Aludra to the kissing stage, but despite extended makeout sessions she still refuses to explain anything to him. Tylin begins lacquering her nails, but she isn’t ready yet to start shaving her head; Mat thinks there is no way she can know about Aludra, but Tylin regresses to stabbing her bedpost anytime she wants Mat’s company, though she also starts spending a lot of time with Tuon and Suroth. Mat cannot figure out the relationship between Suroth, Tuon and Anath, especially after he overhears a conversation in which Anath tells Tuon to ask for “a taste of the strap” to clear her head, which horrifies Suroth but Tuon merely declines politely. Mat also begins to suspect that he runs into Tuon a little too often for mere chance; one day he walks into Tylin’s apartments to find Tuon there alone, studying his ashanderei. Mat recalls that ravens are an Imperial sigil to the Seanchan, and Tuon remarks that this must be his, and demands to know what it is and how he got it.
“It’s called a spear, my Lady,” he said, resisting the urge to lean against the doorframe and tuck his thumbs behind his belt. She was Seanchan Blood, after all. “I bought it.”
“I will give you ten times the price you paid,” she said. “Name it.”
He almost laughed. He wanted to, and not for pleasure, that was certain sure. No would you think of selling, just I will buy it and here is what I will pay. “The price wasn’t gold, my Lady.” Involuntarily, his hand went to the black scarf to make sure it still hid the ridged scar that encircled his neck. “Only a fool would pay it one time, let alone ten.”
She studied him for a moment, her expression unreadable no matter how sheer her veil. And then, he might as well have vanished. She glided past him as though he were no longer there and swept out of the apartments.
The strange too-coincidental encounters continue, making Mat nervous, but otherwise he thinks things are looking up; the gholam seems to have given up, and Aludra seems close to cracking. Then Mat begins to worry about his hidey-hole at Setalle’s inn.
Anybody at all could lift up that floorstone, if they knew where to look. He had to make sure for himself. Afterwards, long afterwards, he would wonder why the bloody dice had not warned him.
So, this is basically a “time passes” chapter, which is generally necessary and good for syncing-up-the-storylines purposes, but kind of sucks when you have to come up with something interesting to say about it.
However, there is Setalle (hi, Setalle!) and her attempt to explain “pretties” to Mat. I think I would have been far more accepting of her explanation of the whole business if the Tylin/Mat thing had gone ANYTHING like that, but it kind of really, really didn’t, so whatever. At least we can divine from this that not all Ebou Dari are quite as bugnuts as their Queen in the romance department. Yay? I guess?
The only other item of any significance in this chapter, of course is Tuon: The Stalkening. Which, loaded terms aside, I sort of can’t really blame her for. Can you imagine just meeting this guy who you know you’re destined to marry, and who is completely inappropriate (in multiple ways, even!), and he has no clue, and it’s just completely bizarre, and… yeah, I would be kind of constantly watching him, too.
I remember reading this chapter and thinking oh please please please let this be resolved within this book, pretty please, because, well, yeah. The ashanderei thing mostly made me really impatient for her to get on with discovering that Mat does not suck. Sigh.
Speaking of which, I suppose it’s probably a given that Tuon can read the Old Tongue; I wonder what she made of the inscription on Mat’s ashanderei? Did she connect it to “remembering Hawkwing’s face” at this point, or is that maybe too big an intuitive leap to make, realistically? I don’t think we ever get her thoughts on that—not the spear specifically, anyway. Well, the ravens would have been enough to go on with in any case.
Oh, and one other thing: Aludra gets her High School on. Which I found both funny and a little bit sad, strangely; not sad as in “pathetic,” but sad as in affecting, because it seems to me like she really likes Mat, but she can’t quite totally bring herself to be the Other Woman, and plus she knows Mat is more or less only after One Thing (which is, of course, how to Blow Shit Up. Just like a guy!), so she settles for this halfway second-base compromise which of course is only going to make things worse, and I dunno, it’s a tiny bit poignant, maybe.
Or, I’m reading way too much into this and she’s just into necking with no follow-through. Whichever you like.
…And, yeah. That’s about what I got. So enjoy, kids, and join me Friday for slightly more action-y Matness! Laters!