The Wheel of Time Reread

The Wheel of Time Re-read: Winter’s Heart, Part 16

Well, hey there, kids! I Spy With My Little Eye… a Wheel of Time Re-read! However did you guess?

Today’s entry covers Chapters 23 and 24 of Winter’s Heart, in which I muse on navigational difficulties, Constitutional Issues, and the uneasiness incurred by a lack of ruth in one’s companions.

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 latest 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, I Spy… a post!

Chapter 23: To Lose the Sun

What Happens
Shalon follows Harine and Harine’s Swordmaster Moad through the gateway from Cairhien, trying not to fall off her horse. Cadsuane had not let Shalon watch her form the gateway, and Shalon tries not to think about the trap she is in. She watches the Aes Sedai with Cadsuane, trying to see an advantage in the tensions there. She is puzzled by Eben, one of the Warders already through the gate, because she could have sworn she’d seen him in an Asha’man’s black coat before. Harine is muttering an often-repeated diatribe about how she will no longer put up with Cadsuane’s disrespect of her authority and position; Shalon isn’t really listening, thinking about the Aes Sedai and wondering how they manage with such a disorganized ranking system.

Supposedly the White Tower was like some mechanical contrivance that ground up thrones and reshaped them to its will. Of course, the machinery did seem to be broken, now.

Harine demands that Shalon figure out where they are; Shalon can’t be accurate without her sextant (which is a carefully hidden secret from the shorebound), but guesses that they are three or four hundred leagues south of Cairhien. Both she and Harine realize the implications of this, and Harine orders Shalon to learn this gateway weave at all costs. She suggests Shalon offer Cadsuane to spy on Harine in exachange for the knowledge, to Shalon’s shock; Shalon tries to dissuade her, knowing that the pretense will ruin Shalon’s plan to tell as little as possible for the spying she’s already been blackmailed into doing, but they are interrupted by Sarene, who tells them Cadsuane has instructed her to be Harine’s attendant and answer whatever questions they might have. She adds that she understands if Harine feels “discomfort”; this seems to utterly fluster Harine, who demands someone else, and also more respect.

“I can ask her to name someone else,” Sarene said doubtfully, as if she did not expect her asking would change anything. “You must understand that she gave me quite specific instructions that day. But I should not have lost my temper. That is a failing of mine. Temper destroys logic.”

“I understand obeying orders,” Harine growled, crouching in the saddle. She looked ready to launch herself at Sarene’s throat. “I approve of obeying orders!” she very nearly snarled. “However, orders that have been carried out can be forgotten. They no longer need be spoken of. Do you understand me?” Shalon stared sideways at her. What was she talking about? What orders had Sarene carried out, and why did Harine want them forgotten?

Sarene doesn’t think this is very logical, but accepts it. Harine wants to know where they are going, and Cadsuane interrupts to answer that they are going to Far Madding. Harine asks if the Coramoor is there, but Cadsuane only tells her to keep up and be quiet, and listen to Sarene, who “has her instructions.” Shalon expects Harine to explode, but Harine actually stays quiet, and Shalon hopes this does not end up rebounding on herself. Shalon goes back to puzzling over the Aes Sedai. She has mentally divided them into two “boats”: Corele, Merise, Kumira and Daigian are in Cadsuane’s boat, while Nesune, Erian, Sarene, Beldeine and Elza are in the other, though they don’t even seem to like each other.

Sometimes Alanna seemed in one boat, sometimes the other, while Verin appeared to be in some way of Cadsuane’s boat but not in it. Swimming alongside, perhaps, with Cadsuane holding her hand. If that was not strange enough, there was the matter of deference.

Shalon thinks that according to their (very odd) hierarchy that ranks by strength, some in Nesune’s boat should outrank those in Cadsuane’s (except Cadsuane herself), and yet Cadsuane’s sisters only defer with near-contempt to them. She’s also still puzzled by the Warders; along with Eben, she thinks that she’d seen Jahar and Damer in black coats as well, though she’d been very distracted by Ailil at the time. Sarene makes a sudden comment that the men can no longer channel now; startled, Shalon asks if she means that they were gentled, and if that’s why they were bonded. Sarene explains that Far Madding has a ter’angreal (or maybe three) that duplicate the effects of an Ogier stedding. Shalon doesn’t understand (she thinks Ogier are mythical), and Sarene tells her that within a stedding, channelers cannot use or even feel the True Source; the imitation Far Madding uses has a larger range for men, but the women will feel it before they reach the bridge.

“You will not be able to channel in there?” Harine said. When the Aes Sedai nodded without looking away from the city, a thin frosty smile touched Harine’s lips. “Perhaps after we find quarters, you and I can discuss instructions.”

“You read the philosophy?” Sarene looked startled. “The Theory of Instructions, it is not well thought of these days, yet I have always believed there was much to learn there. A discussion will be pleasant, to take my mind from other matters. If Cadsuane allows us time.”

Harine’s mouth fell open. Gaping at the Aes Sedai, she forgot to cling to her saddle, and only Moad seizing her arm saved her from a fall.

Shalon had never heard Harine mention philosophy, but she did not care what her sister was talking about. Staring toward Far Madding, she swallowed hard. […] What would it be like not to feel it, like the sun just out of sight beyond the corner of your eye? What would it be like to lose the sun?

They ride on, and suddenly Shalon feels the Source vanish. She feels empty, but thinks it is not as bad as she’d thought—as long as it didn’t go on too long. At the bridge fortifications, Cadsuane hands a purse to one of the guards as another writes down all their names; Harine is contemptuous of what she assumes is a bribe, until Sarene explains that the purse is the fee for peace-binding the men’s swords, as otherwise they would have to leave them here. Harine asks how Moad is to defend himself, then, and the guard answers there’s no need for anyone except the Street Guards to do that.

“Let any man as wants start carrying a sword, and soon we’d be as bad as everyplace else. I heard what they’re like, Mistress, and we don’t want that here.”

Moad accepts this without a fuss, but the Warders are not so sanguine, until someone (Shalon suspects Merise) settles them down. As they ride into the city, Shalon tries to pay attention to Sarene’s tour guide speeches, but all she can concentrate on is the absence of the True Source.

It had always been there, promising joy beyond knowing, life so rich that colors paled when the Power was gone from her. And now the Source itself was gone. Gone. That was all she was aware of, all she could be aware of. It was gone.

Commentary
And just when I thought I’d exhausted all the ways in which I could infuriate people with my opinions on controversial subjects, we get this chapter. Which means, boys and girls, I now get to talk about—dah dadaitah! – gun control.

MWAHAHAHAHA.

(Well, okay, “sword control” technically, but it amounts to the same thing in principle.)

And here is my kind of sort of stream-of-consciousness thoughts on this: I have had nothing but positive experiences with firearms, myself. My father was a hunter, and used to take me and my sisters out to the firing range to show us how to use (and respect) the guns he owned, and these times are honestly among my fondest memories of my father. I’ll be honest: I like guns. They are, well, fun, in the way that many activities with a calculated element of risk are fun.

That said, I have heard all the arguments for banning guns, and the horrors that can be perpetrated by them, and I sort of agree that banning weapons is probably the more mature civilized thing to do—except for the rather large problem of the total lack of indication, as far as I can tell, that banning guns would actually work.

People, unfortunately, have a remarkable tendency in my experience to be perpetual teenagers about things Mom and Dad tell them they can’t have, and the more dangerous or detrimental or morally questionable it is, the more people want it. You ban alcohol, you get the Roaring Twenties; you ban drugs, you get—well, you get the last sixty years or so. I’m against the War on Drugs not because I think teenagers being hooked on smack is super-great, but because as far as I can tell the War on Drugs has in no way prevented that from happening. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, and therefore the only thing that banning legitimate gun sales (in the U.S., anyway) will do in my opinion is guarantee the livelihoods of the black market dealers who will rush to fill the vacuum.

It is a sad but unavoidable truth that if people really want to kill each other, they’ll find a way to do so—as Rochaid and Kisman (and Rand) demonstrated quite ably in Chapter 22, by the way. Banning weapons does nothing but force people to get creative about it, because it’s addressing a symptom of violence rather than the cause. Perhaps it keeps “honest people honest,” to an extent, but it’s not the honest people we were really worried about in the first place, was it?

I dunno. It seems like a lose-lose scenario either way, really, so in the end it comes down to choosing the lesser of two evils. Total bannination might work in a small and more easily-policed place like Far Madding (although, see above about how it really doesn’t), but on a larger scale—like, say, a nation of ~350 million—it’s nigh-impossible to pull off as far as I can see. It sucks, but it seems to me like a far better proposition to keep things like weapons (and drugs, and porn, and etc.) legal, and therefore at least get some tax revenue out of it—and some measure of control over how the goods are distributed—than to leave it all to the tender offices of smugglers, gangsters, and terrorists. Because I’m pretty sure those people don’t give a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut over whether five-year-olds get shot on the street, you know?

So that’s how I see all that. Feel free to tell me how I’m wrong. (Seriously, do; I might not agree with you, but as long as you’re not being a dick about it I’ll always consider differing opinions, especially since I freely admit this whole area is something I don’t have the strongest background on in the first place.)

Anyway.

Sextant: Shamefully, though I recognized through context that a sextant must be a navigational device, I had no idea what one looked like until I looked it up. Sometimes I am in awe of the things people come up with, really. Also, I am a tad disturbed that the first thing I thought when I saw the picture was “ooh, steampunky!” My brain is officially warped, you guys.

(Though if you want something seriously steampunk-awesome-looking, you go for the astrolabe.)

Though of course, that article was still no help in telling me how the thing actually works (or rather, it doesn’t help me understand how knowing the angle between the sun and the horizon tells you where you are), but that’s probably not Wikipedia’s fault; you start talking to me about latitude and degrees and altitudes and things, and my eyes pretty much glaze over, because me and geometry? Are Not Friends.

(Not to mention, I have no sense of direction whatsoever, to the point where I sometimes suspect I have a very mild version of this disorder. I don’t get lost in my own house or anything, but every time I come up out of the subway at a stop I am not familiar with, it takes me an embarrassingly long time to reorient myself as to which way is north or west or whatever direction it is I’m supposed to be going—and I’m not even going to tell you how often I end up being flat wrong. My point being, I could have been many things in my life, but a navigator is most definitely not one of them.)

…And, yeah. It’s pretty clear by this point that I have almost nothing to say about what actually happened in this chapter. Possibly this is because very little happened. And also because Shalon is boring and Harine is horrible, and I don’t care very much about them, and really would just like to get on with it, thanks. (Although, Harine’s interaction with Sarene was rather hilarious.)

Shalon’s thoughts do remind me that I forgot to remember (er, if that makes sense), when recapping the chapter before this, that until I read this one I would have had no idea what Lews Therin was blathering about re: the horribleness of Far Madding, and that I would have also been confused about why Kisman and Rochaid were trying to kill Rand with swords, because I wouldn’t have known until this chapter that channeling doesn’t work in Far Madding (or at least not why). So, um, oops?

Also, I’m not sure, but the above paragraph may contain one of the most tortuously grammatically contorted sentences I’ve ever written. Sheesh.

Chapter 24: Among the Counsels

What Happens
Sarene shakes Shalon out of her daze, and tells her that the ter’angreal is in the Hall of the Counsels, which they have just arrived at. Shalon notices Harine frowning at her and apologizes, promising to do better, and is worried when Harine says nothing in reply. Cadsuane leads the party into the stableyard, where a man runs up to tell them they must be mistaken in coming here; Cadsuane tells him to tell First Counsel Aleis Barsalla that Cadsuane Melaidhrin is here.

The man’s smile slid off to one side, and his eyes widened. “Cadsuane Melaidhrin? I thought you were—!” He cut himself short at her suddenly hard stare, then coughed into his hand and reassumed his fulsome smile.

Cadsuane tells him to tell Aleis she doesn’t have all day, and the man looks sick before running off. Cadsuane instructs Verin and Kumira to come with her and the rest to wait, and then has to haul Alanna back from trying to head into the city right then; she tells Merise to “sit on her” if necessary to keep her here. Shalon suddenly notices that Jahar is no longer with the group. Harine confirms with Sarene that this First Counsel is the equivalent of the ruler of Far Madding, and marches over to Cadsuane to demand to be taken along, but Cadsuane dismissively tells her she and Shalon will come along as well before Harine can even demand it, which infuriates Harine even more. They head inside and up a flight of stairs leading to a balcony overlooking an enormous domed room. Kumira pulls Shalon and Harine aside while Cadsuane and Verin confer, and explains that the Counsels do not like to see Aes Sedai, especially those who are originally from Far Madding (like Cadsuane and Verin).

“I think they would like to pretend the Power doesn’t exist. Well, their history gives them reason, and for the last two thousand years they have had the means to support the pretense. In any event, Cadsuane is Cadsuane. She seldom sees a swelled head without deciding to deflate it, even when it happens to be wearing a crown. Or a Counsel’s diadem. Her last visit was over twenty years ago, during the Aiel War, but I suspect some who remember it will want to hide under their beds when they learn she is back.”

Kumira leads them to the rail to show them the “guardian”:

Beneath the balcony, three women in white sat on stools spaced equally around the edge of the floor, right against the dome’s wall, and beside each woman, a disc a full span across that looked like clouded crystal had been set into the floor and inlaid with a long thin wedge of clear crystal that pointed toward the chamber’s center. Metal collars surrounded the murky discs, marked off like a compass but with ever-smaller markings between the larger. Shalon could not be sure, but the collar nearest her appeared to be inscribed with numerals. That was all. No monstrous shapes. She had imagined something huge and black that sucked in the light. Her hands tightened on the rail to keep from trembling, and she locked her knees to hold herself still. Whatever was down there, it had stolen the Light.

They are then joined by twelve richly dressed women, the obvious leader of whom introduces herself as First Counsel Aleis Barsalla, and proceeds to welcome Harine elaborately and effusively (to Harine’s satisfaction) while ignoring Cadsuane completely, inviting Harine to stay with her as her guest. Cadsuane asks dryly if she gets no welcome, and Aleis answers that she is grateful to Cadsuane for bringing the Wavemistress, and implies strongly that she can leave now. Cadsuane smiles and thanks her instead for her generous offer of accommodations, and accepts; Aleis is about to refuse when Harine reluctantly agrees with Cadsuane. Shalon remembers now the promise Cadsuane had extracted from Harine, that she must be included in any invitations Harine received, and realizes Cadsuane had known what reception she would get here.

“No need to be disheartened, Aleis.” Cadsuane leaned toward the First Counsel confidingly, but she did not lower her voice. The reverberations in the dome magnified her words. “I’m sure you no longer have any bad habits for me to correct.”

Aleis glares at Cadsuane with hatred, and Shalon notices the effect her words have on the other Counsels. She wonders how exactly they determine rank among themselves, and why Cadsuane has chosen to meddle with them so directly. Then Verin pipes up to point out the guardian has gone active, indicating a man has just channeled, and Shalon sees the discs have gone black and the wedges moved to indicate (Shalon realizes) a triangulation of the spot it happened; Kumira whispers that it would have been red for a woman. Aleis calmly says it must be an Asha’man, but they cannot trouble the city, and are welcome as long as they obey the law. She asks for Verin’s name, and Verin answers “All of you may call me Eadwina,” startling Shalon. She brings up Guaire Amalasan’s siege of Far Madding (ignoring Cadsuane’s attempt to shut her up), and how he crushed the city like “an overripe plum” even without being able to channel to do it. She then thoughtfully mentions the four nations’ worth of armies the Dragon Reborn has at his disposal, plus the Aiel.

“Very fierce, the Aiel. I wonder you can be so complacent about his Asha’man scouting you.”

“I think you have frightened them quite enough,” Cadsuane said firmly.

Verin finally turned from the gilded rail, her eyes open very wide, a round, startled shorebird. Her plump hands even fluttered like wings. “Oh. I didn’t mean… Oh, no. I would think the Dragon Reborn would have moved against you already if he intended to. No, I suspect the Seanchan… You’ve heard of them? What we hear from Altara and farther west is really quite horrible. They seem to sweep everything before them. No, I suspect they’re somewhat more important to his plans than capturing Far Madding. Unless you do something to anger him, of course, or upset his followers. But I am sure you are too intelligent to do that.” She looked very innocent. There was a stir among the Counsels, the ripple that small fish made on the surface when a lionfish swam below.

Cadsuane sighs and announces she’s done talking about this, and Aleis reluctantly tells one of the Counsels to show Cadsuane and Harine to their quarters before dragging “Eadwina” off to talk some more; Verin looks alarmed, but Shalon doesn’t buy it for a moment, and thinks she knows where Jahar is now. Harine is furious at being left to underlings; Cadsuane smiles in Verin’s direction before collaring two of the other Counsels and beginning to lecture them as they walk, the two growing more and more nervous. Shalon and Harine follow, and Harine suddenly asks if this place troubles Shalon; Shalon tells her it is like she’s “lost her eyes,” but promises again not to let her fear get to her. Harine answers that Shalon never left Harine alone when she was afraid of the dark as a child, and promises the same to Shalon. Shalon is astounded at this level of familiarity from her sister, but smiles and thanks her, and Harine smiles back. Harine then muses that Cadsuane has unsettled the Counsels enough that she might be able to make a real bargain here, and instructs Shalon to find out why Cadsuane would do so. Shalon is of the opinion that Cadsuane “meddles the way anyone else breathes,” but says she will try.

“You always have, sister. You always will. I know that.”

Shalon sighed again. It was much too soon to test the depth of her sister’s newfound warmth. Confession might bring absolution or not, and she could not live with the loss of her marriage and her rank at one blow. But for the first time since Verin had bluntly laid out Cadsuane’s terms for keeping her secret, Shalon began to consider confession.

Commentary
Man. Verin is sneaky enough for a hundred Aes Sedai on her own; her and Cadsuane working together is downright terrifying.

It’s no secret that Cadsuane is hardly my favorite character, but I do have a certain amount of grudging admiration for her when I’m not busy being utterly pissed off at how she treats Rand. I think I’ve said this before, but really it’s only when she’s interacting with Rand that I loathe her; the rest of the time she ranges from neutrally amusing to sometimes mildly awesome.

And then she meets up with Rand again and ruins it. Grr.

That said, here she manages to achieve “mildly awesome,” albeit in a way that makes me slightly queasy even as I acknowledge the cleverness of it. This whole “softening up” thing she and Verin are doing here on the Counsels is awesome in its effectiveness, and all, but it’s also faintly unnerving, in that as far as I can tell Cadsuane doesn’t at this point have any evidence that scaring the Counsels off doing anything to Rand is even necessary.

What she’s doing here—unbalancing a stable government, to the point of possibly causing a coup among the ruling body of what probably can be considered a micro-nation for all intents and purposes—is nothing more than prep work. In other words, she’s doing this just in case Rand falls afoul of the Counsels, not because she’s sure he will (though, given her low opinion of him, she might be more sure than not, but still). I mean, wow. Nothing says “ruthless” louder than a preemptive strike that you don’t even know for sure you’ll need!

And, you know, ruthlessness is a great asset in an advisor—as long as you can always be sure it’ll be to your benefit, of course—but otherwise it’s not exactly the most endearing—or comforting—trait to have around. Mostly because of how ethically shaky it makes the things she does; her actions in this chapter, for example, are the very definition of the ends justifying the means. And, I agree with her ends and all, but… well. Cadsuane walks a very fine line, in my opinion, between acceptable pragmatism and repellent callousness, and so my mental carousel re: Cadsuane hatred/not-hatred continues to go round and round. Erg.

Moving on. I’m toying with a Looney Theory here that the “guardian” ter’angreal of Far Madding might have a larger role to play in the last two books. I base this on the long-held and popular theory that part of re-sealing up the Dark One is going to involve eliminating people’s ability to channel altogether.

After all, since WOT is supposed to be a future and/or past Earth, for our own Age to happen magic has to disappear at some point, and a change that profound seems like it would need a suitably apocalyptic event—like, say, Tarmon Gai’don—to come to pass. And, as we see, the guardian ter’angreal creates a null-magic field, so…

I don’t have any real idea of how this would actually work, mind you; I’m just thinking out loud here. And possibly it doesn’t make a lot of sense, since the guardian uses magic in order to block it which means ergo magic has to exist for it to prevent magic but if the whole world were covered in an anti-magic field how could you tell the difference and oh no I’ve gone cross-eyed.

Well. It’s a thought, anyway!


And that’s about what I got on this one, kids. Have a de-gorgeous weekend, be excellent to each other in commentage, and I will see youse Tuesday!

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