Happy post-Turkey Day, WOTers! I hereby invite (the American portion of) y’all to drag yourselves out of your leftovers-induced food coma long enough to enjoy a brand-new Wheel of Time Re-read!
Today’s entry covers Chapter 1 of Crossroads of Twilight, because I’m still recovering a bit from my own food coma, and therefore only have so much brain to spare at the moment.
Previous re-read entries are here. The Wheel of Time Master Index is here, which has links to news, reviews, interviews, and all manner of information about the Wheel of Time in general, including the newest release, Towers of Midnight.
This re-read post contains spoilers for all currently published Wheel of Time novels, up to and including Book 13, Towers of Midnight. If you haven’t read, read at your own risk.
And now, the post!
Chapter 1: Time to Be Gone
Wheel, Ages, legend, myth, wind, beginning. The wind blows across Altara to Ebou Dar, where scores of wrecked and charred ships litter the harbor in the wake of a massive battle with the One Power six days earlier. Mat sits on the bank of the river Eldar a mile south of the city and feels exposed, even though Ebou Dar is not visible from his vantage point. Noal, who had come along with him to the river, asks how long Mat intends to stay there, but Mat only glares in response. He watches a rowboat crew in the river hauling a corpse out of the water, and winces, thinking of the Sea Folk he’d heard hanged en masse in the Rahad for rebellion, aside from all those who’d died in the harbor battle.
Freeing the Sea Folk Windfinders had been the right thing to do, the only thing he could do, but aside from the hangings, hundreds and hundreds of bodies had been fished out of the harbor in the last five days, and the Light only knew how many had washed out to sea with the tides. The gravediggers labored from sunup to sundown, and the graveyards were filled with weeping women and children. Men, too. More than a few of those dead had been Atha’an Miere, with no one to weep while they were dumped into mass graves, and he wanted some idea of the number he had saved to balance his bleak suspicions of the number he had killed.
His calculations are mostly futile, but he suddenly realizes something else, and comments aloud to Noal that the Seanchan do not have enough ships left to take them all back home. Behind him, a female Seanchan voice drawls that they already are home, and Mat almost flings a knife before recognizing Egeanin, wearing a dress and a long wig. She had been extremely upset about Mat’s insistence that she shave her head to get rid of her distinctive hairstyle; Mat knows that baldness is reserved for members of the Imperial family only, on pain of death, but thinks she’s making a little much of it considering she’s already under the death penalty for much more serious crimes. He gets up, pretending his hip isn’t hurting him, and asks if she is sure the Windfinders who were recaptured wouldn’t be permanently harmed; he’s heard talk of cutting off hands and feet. Egeanin answers dismissively that people who can’t control their property without mutilation are sei’mosiev anyway, and hardly anyone has done it in the last few hundred years. Privately Mat is of the opinion that people who would deliberately cut off a woman’s hand can’t have much shame to be sei’mosiev with, and asks if Suroth is one of those. Egeanin snaps back that Suroth couldn’t even if she wanted to, as all the Windfinders are Imperial property.
“I’ll try to put this in terms you can understand. If your dog runs away, you don’t maim it. You switch the dog so it knows not to do that again, and you put it back in the kennel. Besides, damane are just too—”
“Too valuable,” Mat finished for her dryly. He had heard that till he was sick of it.
Egeanin reminisces sadly about her damane Serissa, who she’d left in Cantorin, and then informs Mat that’d she’d given orders that no one was to leave the wagons. Mat grins as insolently as possible and ignores this, but she ignores him in turn, so he puts an arm around her. When she knocks it away, he reminds her that they are supposed to be lovers and “Leilwin” needs to play the part. She gives him a warning stare, and Mat is incredulous that she thinks he’s enjoying this.
Burn me, I’ll never understand these Seanchan, he thought. Not that he wanted to. The only thing was, he had to.
They head back, Mat trying not to lean on Egeanin for support as his hip pains him more and more, and he thinks back to the night of their escape. It was raining when they reached the gate, and Mat was far less worried about the guards than he was about the sul’dam and damane inspecting the party; the sul’dam passed them without comment, but the dice had started rolling in his head again. Tuon was draped over his saddle, bundled in a wall hanging from the Palace, and he kept waiting for either her or Selucia to raise the alarm despite the unsheathed knife in his hand, but neither of them made a sound. The officer in charge of the gate invited Egeanin in to have tea while her damane’s exit from the city was recorded, but trumpets sounded before she could accept the invitation.
The officer of the guard hesitated at the sound of the trumpets, but suddenly a bell pealed loudly in the city itself, then another, and then it seemed hundreds were clanging alarm in the night as the black sky split with more lightning than any storm had ever birthed, silver-blue streaks stabbing down inside the walls. They bathed the tunnel in flickering light. That was when the shouting started, amid the explosions back in the city, and the screaming.
Mat realized the dice in his head had stopped. The officer hastily shooed Egeanin’s party on its way with no further ado, and they galloped out into the night. Now, six days later, Mat hopes that the worst is over. He doesn’t think there is anything more than a coincidence of timing to connect his own departure with Egeanin’s, or either of them with Tuon’s disappearance, but he is extremely uneasy about the apparent complete lack of an uproar over Tuon’s vanishing from the Palace. Egeanin has told him that such a thing would not be made public, and any search for her would be clandestine, but Mat is not sure he believes her. They reach the road, and Mat chastises Egeanin for glaring at a company of Seanchan soldiers passing by. Noal comments on one man with dark skin but blue eyes, wondering where he’d seen that before and seeming upset that he can’t remember; Mat gets his attention and tells him they’re going back to the show now.
“I told you that,” Egeanin said with a sharp nod.
Mat groaned, but there was nothing for it but to keep walking. Oh, it was way past time to be gone. He only hoped he had not left it too late.
This is all very vague in my head and possibly I imagined it entirely, but I seem to recall that someone said somewhere that Jordan had at some point expressed surprise at the general lack of fan reaction to the revelation of how many people, mostly Sea Folk, had died during the Windfinders’ attempted jailbreak. Meaning, I suppose, that he’d noticed it wasn’t something that tended to come up in reviews, discussions or questions surrounding COT in general.
And on the one hand, he was right, it didn’t. But on the other, well, I’m not really sure that that is implying what Jordan seemed to be, er, implying that it was implying. Assuming I’m right that he ever implied it in the first place, of course. Which I may not be.
I’m just not sure an implicit accusation of callousness can really apply here, or at least, not an accusation of callousness above and beyond what any normal person would feel. Yes, of course it’s terrible that hundreds or thousands of people died in the battle but, first of all, that’s hardly the first time this has happened in this series, and given that we’ve been steering toward an alternate version of Armageddon from the get-go, I’m feeling pretty safe in assuming we ain’t seen nothing yet.
Furthermore, well, we’re honestly given no reason to care about this battle in particular. Like it or not, a million is a statistic, and that page sums it up quite well: psychologically, proximity is more important than magnitude in terms of how strongly an audience reacts to the death of fictional characters. The way the battle at Ebou Dar was presented to us (which is to say, hardly at all), there was no incentive for the reader to have any kind of emotional attachment to or investment in the victims; hell, we didn’t even get to see the battle, much less meet anyone involved and have a chance to care about what happened to them.
And while it would of course be wonderful if we as human beings could care just as deeply about the deaths of total strangers as we do about the deaths of people we know and/or love, unfortunately it just doesn’t work that way. And the tendency is only magnified when the “people” you are talking about are fictional characters.
So it is that while the news of the death toll here is sad to me, I was far more horrified at the conversation Mat and Egeanin have about whether it’s likely that any recaptured Windfinders will have their extremities lopped off, because Jesus H. (Just when I thought this damane thing couldn’t get any worse!) And, it’s worth noting that the one person involved in the battle who we did meet is the Windfinder damane Mat freed at the end of WH (who ergo was also the one who got the whole ball rolling on the thing in the first place). I think it’s safe to say that she is the only person who I would be interested to know whether she survived and/or escaped the battle (or, if she was recaptured, if she escaped freakin’ mutilation, God), because she is the only character I know.
And, naturally, this is something that we are decidedly not told. I hope that we find out what happened to her in KOD—I’m having a vague memory of Harine and a bunch of other Sea Folk meeting up and doing… something—but I’m honestly not sure. It’s rather annoying, if not.
Also, the Seanchan are still culturally disgusting, and I would rather like to punch Egeanin in the mouth right about now. Film At Eleven.
Mat’s flashback to their escape from the city is interesting, in that I don’t think I quite twigged to what that business was about Mat’s dice rolling until I had to actually recap the scene. Which is, that the dice were rolling up until the start of the battle diverted the gate guard from recording the passage of Egeanin’s damane out of the city; it was only when the guards let them go without officially noting them that the dice stopped. I’m pretty sure the implication is that Mat’s escape plans would not have worked nearly as well if that information had been properly recorded.
Though, I have to wonder if I’m supposed to buy into Mat’s hopes that no one’s connected him and Egeanin and Tuon together, or if I’m supposed to recognize it as the utterly silly load of wishful thinking I’m pretty sure it turns out to be. I mean, only a coincidence of timing? Does he really think they need any more than that to at least follow it up? This is what Mat gets for not keeping up on his Law & Order reruns, I swear.
And, I swear that I have nothing else useful to say, and so have the right to fall silent! Enjoy the weekend, me buckos, and I’ll catch you next week!