Hail WOT fellows, and well met! Welcome back to the Wheel of Time Re-read!
Today’s entry covers Chapters 4 and 5 of Crossroads of Twilight, in which we have adorable assassination stories, tinfoil hattery (medieval style!), and a lesson in how when you think you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
A DREARY, RUSTY, ANGSTY NAIL. Sheesh.
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 4: The Tale of a Doll
Banner-General Furyk Karede of the Deathwatch Guard sits in his room at the Wandering Woman and stares at nothing, while his servant Ajimbura kills a rat with his knife; Karede reminds him not to clean or eat it in front of anyone else. Karede has never figured out why Ajimbura left his hill tribe to follow him, especially considering Karede had tried to kill him three times before that. His desk is littered with requests for advice on the forces arrayed against them in Illian, but Karede knows that war is a secondary concern for him.
Oh, the Guards were always there whenever a major battle was fought, the swordhand of the Empress, might she live forever, to strike at her enemies whether or not she herself was present, always to lead the way where the fight was hottest, but their first calling was to protect the lives and persons of the Imperial family. With their own lives, when necessary, and willingly given. And nine nights past, the High Lady Tuon had vanished as if swallowed by the storm.
The city was being exhaustively searched for her. Even though Karede knows that Tuon has engineered her own disappearance on two prior occasions, his duty is to find and protect her regardless, or avenge her if she is dead. A slender blond man enters his room without knocking and shows his Seeker’s badge. The Seeker tells Ajimbura to leave, and is surprised that Ajimbura fails to obey until Karede repeats the order.
“A precious thing, loyalty,” the pale-haired man said, eyeing the tabletop, after Ajimbura pulled the door shut behind himself. “You are involved in Lord Yulan’s plans, Banner-General Karede? I would not have expected the Deathwatch Guard to be part of that.”
Karede moved two bronze map-weights shaped like lions and let the map of Tar Valon roll up on itself. The other had not been unrolled, yet. “You must ask Lord Yulan, Seeker. Loyalty to the Crystal Throne is precious above the breath of life, followed closely by knowing when to keep silent. The more who speak of a thing, the more will learn of it who should not.”
The Seeker surprisingly ignores the rebuke, and comments that Karede must be proud of his sons. Karede knows they are in no trouble (otherwise the Seeker wouldn’t have mentioned them so quickly) and only asks for the Seeker’s name. After a pause, the Seeker gives it as Almurat Mor, and Karede asks what he wants. Mor tells him that the Seekers have heard rumors from the locals that a girl with a Seandar accent has been seen extorting gold and jewels from merchants in the city, and “the title Daughter of the Nine Moons was mentioned.” He adds that the descriptions of her were very accurate. Flatly, Karede asks what the reaction is from the Palace, and Mor says that Suroth is extremely on edge and Anath has “taken to seclusion,” but otherwise are carrying on like usual, though some of the Blood have made quiet funeral arrangements. Infuriated, Karede deduces that Mor is implying that the Deathwatch Guards are involved in the charade, and says as much, demanding to know why Mor came to him, then.
The effort of keeping his voice level almost strangled him. Since the first Deathwatch Guards swore on the corpse of Luthair Paendrag to defend his son, there had never been treason among the Guards! Never!
Sweating, Mor asks for a drink, and to unnerve him more, Karede makes himself drink from Ajimbura’s cup, which is made out of a human skull. Mor gives Karede a rundown of his own career, noting that Karede had asked three times to be assigned to Tuon’s bodyguard even when his accomplishments rated a higher station. He also notes that after the second time Karede saved Tuon from assassins, she gave him her most precious possession, a doll, which Karede kept until it was lost in a fire ten years later.
Not for the first time, Karede was glad of the training that allowed him to maintain a smooth face no matter what. Careless expressions gave away too much to an opponent. He remembered the face of the small girl who had laid that doll on his litter. He could hear her still. You have protected my life, so you must take Emela to watch over you in turn, she said. She can’t really protect you, of course; she’s only a doll. But keep her to remind you that I will always hear if you speak my name. If I’m still alive, of course.
Karede asks again why Mor came to him. Mor tells him that on the same night Tylin was murdered, two damane were taken from the kennels, both former Aes Sedai, and several others also left the Palace: a young man who was Tylin’s pet, four armsmen, and an older man calling himself Thom Merrilin who was supposedly a servant but had too much education to be one. Mor suspects he was a courtier in disguise, and theorizes Tylin may have been murdered because she learned too much about him.
“If the White Tower had certain plans in Ebou Dar, they might send such a man to carry them out.”
Mor goes on that the damane were taken by the Lady Egeanin Tamarath, and the sul’dam she used had close connections with Suroth; he assumes that Egeanin released the other damane to cover her escape with them from the city. He adds that all of these people – Merrilin, the boy, Egeanin, and Suroth – have had “close dealings” with Aes Sedai in the past. Mor further implies that the reason he came to Karede is because he suspects his own superiors to be complicit in the conspiracy.
So. Suroth plotted with Aes Sedai and had corrupted at least some of the Seekers above Mor, and the White Tower had placed men under one of their best to carry out certain actions. It was all believable. When Karede was sent with the Forerunners, he had been tasked to watch the Blood for over-ambition. There had always been a possibility, this far from the Empire, that they would try to set up their own kingdoms. And he himself had sent men into a city he knew would fall whatever was done to defend it, so they could harm the enemy from within.
Mor says Egeanin’s party went north, but is sure they have changed direction by now. Karede is non-committal, and Mor casually adds that the fake Tuon was accompanied by soldiers wearing the uniform of the Deathwatch Guard. Then he leaves. Karede knows this could all be lies, but decides he cannot afford to ignore it, and sends Ajimbura with a note to Captain Musenge. The next day, Karede rides out of the city dressed as a civilian and meets Ajimbura in the woods, who leads him to a clearing where Musenge has gathered a hundred of the Guard, twenty Ogier Gardeners, and all six of the damane and sul’dam assigned to Tuon. Karede notes in particular the damane with the ageless Aes Sedai face. The der’sul’dam, Melitene, tells him that none of them would be left behind.
“As for Mylen…” That must be the former Aes Sedai. “After we left the city, we told the damane why we were going. It’s always best if they know what’s expected. We’ve been calming Mylen ever since. She loves the High Lady. They all do, but Mylen worships her as though she already sat on the Crystal Throne. If Mylen gets her hands on one of these ‘Aes Sedai,’ ” she chuckled, “we’ll have to be quick to keep the woman from being too battered to be worth leashing.”
Hartha, the First Gardener, doesn’t see what’s so funny considering they are trying to “catch the wind in a net,” and Karede replies that therefore they must spread their nets finely.
Musenge and Hartha nodded. For the Deathwatch Guard, what must be done, would be done. Even to catching the wind.
Skull cup = NASTY. Them wacky primitive types.
Tuon + doll + Karede = DAWWWW.
Well, “Dawwww” in a particularly creepy Seanchan way, natch. Assassination attempts on small children: not something I ever expected to elict warm fuzzy feelings, really! (Lord.)
So, I really really tried not to let the terminology I was using in the recap here slide too far into Tom Clancy-ese, but it was damn hard, y’all. I’m pretty sure that this entire scene could be redone with minimal effort to be a conversation between an NSA operative and a Secret Service guy who’s just lost track of the President’s daughter. Or something; it’s not a one-to-one correspondence, exactly, but still.
The comparison inevitably brings up a topic I’ve been rather reluctant to get into overmuch (though I think I’ve discussed it at least a little prior to this), which is the undeniable but (I emphatically add) also not perfectly aligned parallels the Seanchan have with the United States.
I am reluctant to get into this not because I am unwilling to criticize my native country, because God and Usenet know that I am not exactly prone to reticence when it comes to Stupid Shit America Does, but because it is virtually a certainty that any discussion of the U.S.’s flaws (or virtues, for that matter) on the internet is doomed to devolve from intelligent constructive discussion into wild-eyed poo-flinging America-bashing almost instantly, in which no one listens to anyone and soapboxes are literally raining from the sky and blah blah blah shootmenowcakes. Some people might enjoy slamming their head repeatedly into metaphorical walls, but personally I prefer to do something more useful with my time.
In terms of WOT specifically, there seems to be a contingent of the fandom that blithely chooses to ignore the fact that some aspects of Seanchan culture could have been constructed to reflect on America’s without implying that America shares all of the traits of Seanchan society, particularly the negative ones. This I have to regard as people just being dicks, really, because it is screamingly obvious that Jordan drew from a huge number of historical and cultural sources to build the Seanchan culture, and the parallels to America specifically are by far in the minority overall. Not to mention there is not a single nation in Randland that draws all its cultural flavorings from only one source, so why should the Seanchan be any different?
All that being said, though, there are certain aspects of Seanchan culture which definitely smack of American influence. The most obvious is America’s (thankfully now historical) association with the institution of slavery, but the relevant one for this chapter is the decidedly non-historical phenomenon of the U.S.’s ever-increasing expansion of and reliance upon clandestine intelligence agencies to police both its affairs abroad and its citizens at home.
Again, I’m not going to get into this too much for reasons which should be apparent, but in my opinion the Seekers provide a pretty pointed example of what happens should you let your Big Brother tendencies run too far amok. Not to mention a fairly sharp criticism of the issues involved with intelligence gathering in general, as demonstrated by the way Mor has continually constructed hilariously almost-right-but-oh-so-wrong conclusions from the information he gathers—which is, again, part and parcel of Jordan’s larger theme about how nobody knows anything, ever.
But, er, it’s still kind of cool to read about spy stuff, ain’t it?
Anyway. The “fake Tuon” thing confused the hell out of me on first reading, because I was all, come on, they just happened to have Tuon’s stunt double hanging around on the off chance she got abducted? Are we in a Star Wars prequel or something?
(Obvious: Can’t be, the dialogue doesn’t suck enough! *runs*)
Later, of course, I got to kick myself for being a giant moron, for not remembering about Illusion disguises, and not picking up on the HUGE-ASS CLUE Mor drops here about Anath/Semirhage. I mean, duh, Leigh.
One thing I noticed about this chapter which I am now deeply puzzled by is two offhand comments Karede makes, which I am entirely unable to remember whether (a) it turned out they were connected and (b) whether anything ever came of them at all. Perhaps you can help!
The first statement is when Mor first enters and asks Karede about his involvement in “Lord Yulan’s plans” on seeing the map of Tar Valon, which Karede then rolls up. Now, that part is has been de-puzzled since Yulan’s Sooper Sekrit Sneak Attack on Tar Valon went awesomely toe up in TGS, yay, but then Karede comments that “the other had not been unrolled, yet.” By “other,” he means “other map,” I’m assuming.
Other map of what?
Then there is the comment further on:
When Karede was sent with the Forerunners, he had been tasked to watch the Blood for over-ambition. There had always been a possibility, this far from the Empire, that they would try to set up their own kingdoms. And he himself had sent men into a city he knew would fall whatever was done to defend it, so they could harm the enemy from within.
What city is he talking about? And is this city’s fall something that’s already happened, or something that hasn’t happened yet? And if the latter, is that what the unrolled map is about? Is this Yet Another Nefarious Plot? Do I need to bust out a “DUN” here? Or is Karede just reminiscing about that one time back in Seandar when he totally undermined Random Seanchan City X from within, and it was awesome and stuff, and it’s a city we’ve never heard of and never need to, and I’m just reading way too much into this?
This is what happens when your memory goes foom, I swear.
The Mylen thing, I’m not even touching. I feel so bad for her it makes my heart hurt.
Chapter 5: The Forging of a Hammer
He ran easily through the night in spite of the snow that covered the ground. He was one with the shadows, slipping through the forest, the moonlight almost as clear to his eyes as the light of the sun. A cold wind ruffled his thick fur, and suddenly brought a scent that made his hackles stand and his heart race with a hatred greater than that for the Neverborn. Hatred, and a sure knowledge of death coming. There were no choices to be made, not now. He ran harder, toward death.
Perrin wakes, freezing and exhausted, and wishes he could talk to Elyas like he can the wolves, to hear if he’s found anything yet. The dream is not nearly as upsetting to him as the ones he has about finding Faile dead, but he senses there is something urgent about it, and seeks out the wolves. He thinks it’s strange that the nearest pack is so far away. The pack is eager to meet Young Bull, but when he asks them what a wolf could hate more than a Neverborn, they fall silent, and Perrin is shocked that the question fills them with terror and dread. They fade from his mind without answering except for their leader Leafhunter, who only tells him The Last Hunt is coming. He sends that he did not mean to offend, but the wolves do not answer.
The Last Hunt is coming. That was what wolves called the Last Battle, Tarmon Gai’don. They knew they would be there, at the final confrontation between the Light and the Shadow, though why was something they could not explain. Some things were fated, as sure as the rise and fall of the sun and the moon, and it was fated that many wolves would die in the Last Hunt. What they feared was something else. Perrin had a strong sense that he also had to be there, was meant to be at least, but if the Last Battle came soon, he would not be. He had a job of work in front of him that he could not shirk—would not!—even for Tarmon Gai’don.
He makes a twenty-second knot in the cord he’s using to track the number of days since Faile was taken, and curses himself for letting his anger make him sloppy; he had been in such a frenzy to find Faile that he had had the Asha’man jump them too far ahead via Gateways, and ended up wasting days backtracking and relocating the Shaido’s trail. Since then, though, he had been slowly but surely cutting down their lead on him, and now he estimates he is only two days behind. The trail indicates that the Shaido’s numbers have swelled considerably as they traveled, and they have left carnage in their wake, but Perrin doesn’t care.
He would find Faile and free her. That came before anything, even living, so long as he lived long enough to accomplish it, yet he was a hammer, now, and if there was any way to accomplish it, any way at all, he intended to hammer these Shaido into scrap.
Perrin rolls out from the cart he’d been sleeping under to find Aram waiting for him. Aram indicates Balwer and Selande are waiting to speak to Perrin, and Perrin sends him off to get his horse ready before going over to them. Selande has news from Haviar and Nerion (two of Faile’s eyes-and-ears, or “young fools” in Perrin’s estimation), whom he had sent to join Masema’s camp as spies. They reported to Selande that Masema had sent another rider back toward Amadicia the day before; Perrin is incensed to learn that Nerion had also tried to follow the rider. Selande is wary of his anger, but goes on that there are Altarans among Masema’s followers, and supplies marked from that nation, but Perrin dismisses that as the result of Masema’s so-called “recruitment efforts” which are no more than an excuse for pillage, coercion and murder as far as Perrin is concerned. Perrin knows he could shatter Masema’s army even though he has three times Perrin’s numbers using the Asha’man, Wise Ones, and Aes Sedai with him, but also knows that would only result in hundreds of smaller bands scattered everywhere and doing the same thing.
Breaking the Shaido will do the same thing, he thought, and pushed the thought away. Stopping Masema would take time he did not have. The man would have to keep until Faile was safe.
Then Selande tells him (warily) that Haviar has told her that he’s seen Masuri Sedai visiting Masema’s camp several times, accompanied by her Warder Rovair and sometimes another woman Haviar thinks is Annoura Sedai. Perrin doesn’t understand this at all, considering Masema loathes Aes Sedai and Masuri had told him flat out that Masema needed to be “put down like a rabid dog,” but forces himself to calm down, and answers only that Selande should tell Haviar and Nerion to try and eavesdrop on her next visit if possible. He tells her gruffly that she has done well, and to his surprise she lights up with pride and thanks him. She adds that she thinks grace has favored the Lady Faile in him, and leaves; Perrin doesn’t necessarily agree. Surprisingly, Balwer compliments Selande’s instincts, but says he has some points to add. Aram walks up with Stepper, and Perrin humors Balwer by telling Aram to fall behind while he talks with Balwer in private. Aram smells jealous, but obeys. They walk through camp, which is laid out defensively; Perrin suspects but cannot prove that Masema’s people are responsible for various disappearances of some of his forces. He forces himself to walk through the Two Rivers section, where the men avoid his gaze and Jori Congar actually spits when he walks by. Lini, Gill, and Breane are no better.
Perrin walked through his friends and neighbors and servants and felt alone. A man could only proclaim his faithfulness so long before he just gave up. The heart of his life lay somewhere to the northeast. Everything would return to normal once he had her back.
Balwer and Perrin have a discussion about the riders Masema is sending out; Balwer thinks he is conspiring with the Whitecloaks, as usual, but Perrin counters it could just as easily be the Seanchan, since Masema has treated with them before. Perrin asks his opinion on why Masuri is meeting with Masema, and Balwer comments that for some, whatever is not specifically forbidden is allowed, while others take actions they believe will help without asking permission first. Perrin supposes he could just ask, but Balwer doesn’t think that will do much good, and might do harm if it gets back to Masema. Aram butts in to say he told Perrin not to trust the Aes Sedai; Perrin silences him, and Aram reeks of fury. Perrin studies Balwer, and then suggests that they could send some of Selande’s friends to the Aiel camp, and some to befriend Berelain and, by extension, Annoura; Balwer approves of the idea. Perrin then tells him that rather than trying to guide him to things, Balwer should just make the suggestion himself.
“I’m not a clever man, but I’m willing to listen to people who are, and I think you are. Just don’t try poking me in the direction you want me to go. I don’t like that, Master Balwer.”
Balwer blinked, then of all things, bowed with his hands folded at his waist. He smelled surprised. And gratified. Gratified? “As you say, my Lord. My previous employer disliked me suggesting actions unless I was asked. I won’t make the same mistake again, I assure you.” Eyeing Perrin, he seemed to reach a decision. “If I may say so,” he said carefully, “I have found serving you… pleasant… in ways I did not expect. You are what you seem, my Lord, with no poisoned needles hidden away to catch the unwary. My previous employer was known widely for cleverness, but I believe you are equally clever, in a different way. I believe I would regret leaving your service. Any man might say these things to keep his place, but I mean them.”
Bemused at the “poison needles” remark, Perrin supposes Murandy must be a rougher place than he’d thought, and tells Balwer he needn’t worry about his job, and to “forget the flattery.” Balwer answers that he never flatters, and takes himself off. Aram mutters that he doesn’t trust him, or Selande and Co. either, and Perrin snaps back that you have to trust someone. To himself, he thinks the question is who.
HOLY LORD, THE EMO.
You guys. YOU GUYS. You have no idea of the epic level of self-flagellating angst I just mostly elided for you. I deserve like a medal or something. Meritorious Service for Development of Emo-Filtering System. Yeah.
That, and I also cut out a metric buttload of extraneous recapping of The Perrin Sitch, which was just totally unnecessary, because obviously everyone rereads this series multiple times and knows exactly who what where when and how, right? And then has a blog where they comment extensively on it, and can practically quote entire passages of it from memory, right? So we don’t need your stinkin’ exposition, man, right? Right?
And re: emo, look, I’m not saying a man whose wife has been abducted by a bunch of pillaging nutbar loonies doesn’t deserve to be upset about it. And I’m not saying that having your most loyal followers sneer at you because of FUCKING BERELAIN and her back-stabbing, lying-by-implication, eminently punchable self doesn’t most egregiously suck. And I’m not saying that having Mr. Ray O’ Sunshine, Psychotic Break In Waiting, Little Ex-Tinker Who Couldn’t following you around 24/7 wouldn’t bring down the general tone a tad.
I’m not saying any of that. But Jesus jumping floppy-haired Jehoshaphat writing crap poetry in a Goth club, y’all. IN THE DARK. I’m dying over here.
Well, at least we know now that all Perrin’s angsting about being a hammer here or whatever is all bullshit. The REAL hammer comes later. Aw, yeah.
That…sounded a lot dirtier than I meant it to. Er.
ANYhoo. At least Balwer’s here to be awesome, and tell Perrin he’s awesome when no one else will. Even if Perrin doesn’t even really get the compliment. Because yeah, I rag on Perrin a lot, and I’m cringing a little at how much emo we have to get through before Perrin finally gets his shit together, but honestly I wouldn’t bother to be this annoyed with him if I didn’t care about his character.
I mock because I care, people. And also because I can. But mostly because I care. Trufax.
Well, Selande also tells him he’s awesome, in her own way. Which, not coincidentally, marks the first time I’ve really liked her. So, two people out of five thousand or so. Yay?
As to what little actually happens in this chapter, as far as I can recall absolutely nothing ever comes of Masuri and Annoura’s secret meetings with Masema. I’m not even sure that we ever even get an explanation of what was said, or what the purpose was, on either side. There was more than one way Masema’s death in TGS was something of a cheap shortcut, narratively. One I was grateful for, as I’ve said, but still.
The only other thing worth mentioning in this chapter, since we’ve covered the emo bits more adequately than they really deserved, is the foul stench dream Perrin has, and the wolves’ reaction to his query about it. However, that’s about to be expounded upon much more in the next chapter, so I will put off commenting on it till then.
And that’s the sign for quittin’ time, methinks! Have a lovely and rusty-nail-free weekend, chirren, and I’ll see you next week!