Greetings and salutations, Re-readers! I bet you’ll never guess what this post is.
Today’s entry covers Chapters 28 and 29 of Crossroads of Twilight, in which we have extensive board game marathons, numerous leisurely strolls, and a shopping trip. And some other stuff might have happened, too.
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 28: A Cluster of Rosebuds
Mat is intensely annoyed at the slow pace of the circus away from Ebou Dar, once Luca is convinced no one is chasing them. Vanin opines that at this rate they won’t reach Lugard before summer. Mat reassures him the pace will pick up once the snow melts, but he is not as confident as he sounds, considering that Luca insists on stopping to perform at every town and village they come upon.
The strangeness of the performers and the caged animals from far-off lands were sufficient to pull people. The animals from not so far were enough, for that matter; few had been far enough into the countryside to see a bear much less a lion. Only heavy rain lessened the crowd, and when the rain was too stiff, the jugglers and acrobats refused to perform anyway without some sort of covering overhead. Which made Luca stalk about in a sullen snit and talk wildly of finding enough canvas tarps to shelter every act, or having a tent made large enough to hold the entire show. One tent! The man was nothing if not grandiose in his ambitions. Why not a palace on wheels while he was about it?
Mat is unnerved every time Seanchan patrols pass them by, especially because the Aes Sedai keep slipping into the towns to gather intelligence, which Mat considers makes them “mad as loons.” After he catches them coming back from one village (shadowed by the three sul’dam), Mat goes to their wagon to confront them about it. Angrily, Edesina tells him she is grateful to him, but she will not be ordered about, and accuses him of setting the three sul’dam to watch them. Bethamin pipes up to report to him that all three were very “well-behaved,” but Renna puts in that they shouldn’t be trusted loose, and she would be happy to use the a’dam on them, which terrifies Teslyn and infuriates Joline. Mat hastily says there’s no need for that. Teslyn, trying to ignore the sul’dam, tells him they’d heard in the town that the Seanchan soldiers believe that they will present Illian as a prize to their Empress before the end of spring, and surprisingly Bethamin chimes in to confirm they’d heard the same, and Renna and Seta assure him they will tell him what they hear as well, saying that “the girls” (meaning the Aes Sedai) might be “shifty,” but he can trust them. Mat notes wearily that the Aes Sedai glare at him at this pronouncement, and tells them what he wants is for all of them to stay with the wagons and keep a low profile, but of course none of them listen to him, and continue going into the towns as the circus travels and reporting to him, including the news that Suroth had formed an alliance with “someone powerful” which was expected to give her “access to many lands.”
The women refused to be convinced that they need not listen for rumors. They never quite got around to handing over the a’dam, either. In truth, those silvery leashes and the three sul’dam were the only real lever he had with the Aes Sedai. Gratitude. From an Aes Sedai! Ha! Not that he really thought about putting those collars on the sisters again. Not often, anyway. He was well and truly stuck.
He trusts Thom and Juilin’s information-gathering more, though Thera’s inability to be separated from Juilin worries Mat, as he doesn’t think Thera would last two seconds if interrogated by a Seanchan; he gets Noal to follow Juilin as a precaution. Thom and Juilin, though, also report that the Seanchan seem aimed at Illian. Mat doesn’t go into the towns much, as he has other concerns. The first night out of Ebou Dar, he convinces Egeanin to come with him to Tuon’s wagon to “smooth things over”; he doesn’t understand why she is so afraid, but finally she agrees it’s best to get it “over and done with,” and goes with him. In Tuon’s wagon, he finds not only Tuon, Selucia, and Setalle, but Noal and Olver, who is playing Snakes and Foxes with Tuon. Olver is excited about the stories Noal has been telling about Shara.
Suddenly Noal slapped his thigh and sat up straight. “I remember now,” he said, and then the fool began to recite.
“Fortune rides like the sun on high
with the fox that makes the ravens fly.
Luck his soul, the lightning his eye,
He snatches the moons from out of the sky.”
The broken-nosed old man looked around as if just realizing anyone else was there. “I’ve been trying to remember that. It’s from the Prophecies of the Dragon.”
“Very interesting, Noal,” Mat muttered. Those colors whirled in his head just the way they had that morning, when the Aes Sedai were panicking. They flashed away without making a picture this time, but he felt as cold as if he had spent a night sleeping under a bush in his skin. The last thing on earth he needed was anybody else linking him to the Prophecies.
Tuon gazes at him, then comments that “Toy” doesn’t mean to be rude, and politely dismisses Noal and Olver. When they leave, she demands to know why Mat is here, and Mat tells her he wanted to make sure she was all right, and gives her a present of a very large and expensive necklace. Selucia sneers, and Tuon says it doesn’t suit her and gives it to Selucia, who promptly pronounces it fit for a shea dancer, and hurls it at Egeanin, commanding her to put it on. Egeanin obeys while Mat tries to figure out what’s going on.
“She came for a new name,” Tuon said musingly. “What does she call herself?”
“Leilwin,” Selucia replied. “A fitting name for a shea dancer. Leilwin Shipless, perhaps?”
Tuon nodded. “Leilwin Shipless.”
Egeanin asks leave to withdraw, but Selucia doesn’t respond until she grovels and kisses the floor, and tells her not to let her see her face again. Egeanin scuttles out, and Selucia kicks a flabbergasted Mat out too, backed up by Setalle.
Strategy and tactics. Learn the ground, learn your enemy, and if you could not win one way, you found another.
The next night, Mat convinces Tuon to play stones with him. He tries to figure out whether it would be better to let her win or not, until she takes matters out of his hands by routing him soundly and then mocking him that he “doesn’t play very well.” The night after that, he brings a small paper flower, but gives it to Selucia instead of Tuon, startling them both. He plays stones with Tuon every night, winning less than half of the time, and enjoying how much Tuon gets into the games. He continues giving Selucia flowers: a linen one, then a silk one.
He let three days pass without a present, then brought a little cluster of red silk rosebuds, complete with short stems and glistening leaves that looked as real as nature, only more perfect. He had asked the seamstress to make it on the day he bought that first paper flower.
Selucia took a step, reaching to accept the rosebuds with a curl to her lip, but he sat down and put the flowers beside the board, a little toward Tuon. He said nothing, just left it lying there. She never so much as glanced at it.
[…] “I’ve changed my mind, Toy,” she murmured, placing the white stone carefully on the intersection of two lines near the center of the board. “You play very well.”
Mat is surprised that she seems to know what he is up to, but convinces himself that she was only talking about stones. They play to a draw that night, and she points out that she has kept her half of their bargain, and wants in return to be allowed to take walks outside the wagon at night, adding that he may accompany her “to make sure she doesn’t run away.” Mat agrees, and tries to use the walks to learn more about her (ignoring Setalle and Selucia, who he thinks are awfully chummy for a prisoner and guard), but Tuon deflects his inquiries back to him more often than not. He tells her about the Two Rivers, and that his father trades horses; she asks what he does. Mat deliberates, and decides to tell her the truth.
“I’m a gambler,” he said.
“My father called himself a gambler,” Tuon said softly. “He died of a bad wager.”
And how were you supposed to find out what that meant?
He asks, another night, what she does for fun, and she answers “training horses and damane”, and then comments to a stunned Mat that she’s heard from Setalle that he is “a scoundrel” and asks how many women he’s kissed. She laughs when he weakly evades the question. Later, he complains to Egeanin about the way the circus folk are treating him; she reasonably points out that their cover story is that Egeanin and he are lovers, but he spends all his time with Tuon.
“You behave like a man courting.” She reached to place her stone, then stopped with her hand above the board. “You can’t think she’ll complete the ceremony, can you? You can’t be that big a fool.”
“What ceremony? What are you talking about?”
“You named her your wife three times that night in Ebou Dar,” she said slowly. “You really don’t know? A woman says three times that a man is her husband, and he says three times she’s his wife, and they’re married. There are blessings involved, usually, but it’s saying it in front of witnesses that makes it a marriage. You really didn’t know?”
Mat tries to laugh this off by pointing out that Tuon didn’t answer him, but Egeanin explains that by law she has a year and a day to reply. Mat drops stones pieces everywhere, and stays away from Tuon’s wagon for two days after that. Eventually they come to two towns on the River Eldar, which are surrounded by Seanchan military camps; Mat realizes that Tuon is on the wagon seat in full view of the soldiers, and that the dice have started rolling in his head. He waits for her to call out to them and give the whole thing away, but they ride all the way through town and Tuon never says a word.
That was when Mat really knew there was no escape for him. She was going to set the hook all right. She was just biding her bloody time.
That night Tuon makes a request (more like a demand, Mat believes). He tells her he’ll consider it, but knows he has to return her gesture of trust, and three days later he says yes.
She smiled at him, and the dice in his head stopped dead. He would always remember that. She smiled, and then the dice stopped. A man could weep!
Well, it’s almost certainly not the strangest courtship on record (fictional or otherwise), but it’s gotta be up there.
I think I like it much better now than I did the first time I read it, too. I think the first time I was too (completely unfairly) annoyed that Tuon didn’t acknowledge the full awesomeness of Mat immediately to notice that she was being sort of awesome herself.
Well. Except when she groups damane in with livestock, of course. *headdesk*
But other than her hideous cultural beliefs, Tuon shows herself to be more than wily enough to keep up with Mat, with a certain sly, understated sense of humor that I found continually surprising over the course of WH, COT, and KOD. Part of the reason I disliked her appearances after that was, I now realize, because it seemed like that humor had disappeared in her. Of course, she wasn’t with Mat anymore after KOD, was she? Hmm…
But even the first time around, when I was all impatient for them to just get on with it already, this chapter was a breath of fresh air after all the Perrin-ness of the chapters preceding it. Oddly enough it seems that even demented courtship makes for lighter reading fare than maiming and torture. Who knew?
If nothing else, it more or less proves to me that Tuon and Mat deserve each other, in the sense that while there are plenty of female WOT characters capable of maintaining a level romantic playing field with Mat, Tuon seems to be the first one to actually enjoy doing so.
As far as Seanchan marriage customs are concerned, I’ve never really been able to make up my mind whether I thought the whole “say it three times and you’re married” thing was contrived or not. Not least because it seems incongruous to me that the Seanchan of all peoples, a society obsessed with ritual and ceremony and general, er, elaborateness, would have such a simple and brief marriage tradition.
I mean, I think even getting married in Vegas has more to it than that. Well, unless the thing I heard about drive-thru wedding chapels is true, in which case, never mind. Did I say this already?
Two thoughts on the first quoted bit: I’m hardly a zoology expert, but I’m under the distinct impression that outside of The Wizard of Oz, lions and bears don’t exactly hang out in the same style habitat. Bears in a generally Europe-like temperate climate with forests and such (as Randland seems to be) works fine, but lions? Did I miss the part where we had a savanna in there?
Second thought: Luca as P.T. Barnum, heh. Though it turns out (according to Wikipedia, so take it for what it’s worth) that Barnum never actually said “there’s a sucker born every minute,” he thanked the guy who tried to slander him by attributing the line to him for all the free publicity. Which is totally the way Luca would look at it.
Suroth: the mention of her “alliance with someone powerful” was a total brain fart moment for me on first reading, because I thought it referred to Rand’s intended olive branch toward the Seanchan that we’d found out about all of three chapters ago, and I was all “wow, that was fast,” but of course it was really referring to Suroth’s alliance with Masema. Talk about backing the wrong pony, eh?
Noal doesn’t have much to do in these chapters, but he does get to make a certain kind of WOT history, by being the character to reveal to us that Rand isn’t the only Superboy to feature in the Prophecies of the Dragon. Which is fairly momentous, all things considered. I mean, obviously we all knew that Mat (and Perrin, who we find out later also gets a prophetical blurb) were going to be Majah Playahs in the apocalypse, but something about seeing it sort of made official, as it were, brought that home more powerfully
This bit, therefore, was one of the few passages from COT that really gave me that old-time, early-WOT thrill of discovery. Which was great, and all, except for how it made me realize how much I’d missed it.
Chapter 29: Something Flickers
Domon thinks this is madness, but Mat tells him that he promised, and tries to ignore the dice in his head, which had started rolling again that morning. Egeanin tells Domon that Tuon would never break her word, but Domon thinks it’s crazy anyway. Mat and Egeanin head over to Tuon’s wagon, and Egeanin opines that the only reason he could have for doing this is that he really thinks he can marry Tuon.
Mat grinned. “The question is, does she mean to marry me? The strangest people marry, sometimes.” When you knew you were going to hang, the only thing to do was grin at the noose.
Mat is disappointed but not surprised that Selucia is coming along, and asks if Tuon is ready to go shopping (for cloth to make better-fitting dresses for her). Tuon compliments his clothes and comments that she might have lace added to his cupbearer’s robes. Mat wonders if she can really make him da’covale if they are married. Goderan, the Redarm standing guard, asks if Mat wants him along; Mat hesitates, but tells himself he has to trust her word, and says no. They head out on the road to the town, which is crowded with people all walking and staring straight ahead. Mat dodges several of them, and Tuon asks if he is practicing a dance.
He opened his mouth, just to point out how crowded the road was, and suddenly he realized he could no longer see anyone beyond her and Selucia. The people who had been there were just gone, the road empty as far as he could see before it made a bend. Slowly, he turned his head. There was no one between him and the show, either, just the folk waiting in line, and that looked no longer than before. Beyond the show, the road wound into the hills toward a distant forest, empty. Not a soul in sight. He pressed fingers against his chest, feeling the foxhead medallion through his coat. Just a piece of silver on a rawhide cord. He wished it felt cold as ice.
He tries to brush it off to the women; they just shake their heads at each other and head on. Mat firmly puts the people on the road out of his mind. Jurador is a busy, prosperous town with no Seanchan presence, and they walk over most of it as Tuon inspects and rejects the wares of multiple silk merchants. Mat spots Aludra at one point speaking with who he thinks is a salt merchant, and wonders why an Illuminator would be interested in salt; he sees Thom go by, yawning, and wonders why Thom foregoes sleep to read his “precious letter” over and over.
What could be so fascinating in a letter from a dead woman? A dead woman. Light, maybe those people on the road…! No; he was not going to think about that at all.
Then Mat is appalled to see a glimpse of Edesina’s face down the street, being followed by two of the sul’dam; he is so preoccupied by this that it takes him a moment to realize Tuon and Selucia are no longer in sight. Mat looks for them frantically a moment, then decides to trust his luck. He closes his eyes, spins in a circle, takes a step at random, and dashes into the shop he’s facing, just in time to appease the shopkeeper, who is suspicious Tuon and Selucia will not talk to her (as their accents would have given them away). He tells Tuon bluntly that this is their last stop, and to his surprise she smiles to herself. Then she proceeds to spend most of Mat’s money on silks, linens and woolens, and Mat is grimly unsurprised that he has to carry it all back. Back at the circus, Juilin runs up to Mat to tell him Egeanin has been hurt. He throws down the silk and runs with Juilin to where Domon is sitting under their wagon, holding a bloody Egeanin in his arms; Tuon and Selucia follow a moment later. Domon spits that Renna stabbed Egeanin in the back and ran, and yells for the Aes Sedai, not caring who hears him. Teslyn arrives and Heals Egeanin swiftly, and Mat realizes she doesn’t have a cloak, and all of the circus folk dotted about are looking at her.
The dice battered at the inside of Mat’s head. They had not stopped; the game was not played out, yet.
Juilin reports that the Redarms, Lopin, Nerim, and Olver are searching the grounds for Renna, but he is not optimistic about their chances. Mat asks why Renna, of the three, and Egeanin shakily explains that she was the only one who knew Renna’s secret. Mat asks what secret.
The woman hesitated, for some reason, frowning at Domon’s chest. Finally she sighed. “Renna was leashed, once. So were Bethamin and Seta. They can channel. Or maybe learn to; I don’t know. But the a’dam worked on those three. Maybe it works on any sul’dam.” Mat whistled through his teeth. Now, that would be a kick in the head for the Seanchan.
Teslyn’s mouth hung open, Aes Sedai serenity washed away in shock. Selucia made an angry sound, though, blue eyes blazing, and dropped the bundle of cloth from her back as she took a step toward Domon. A quick flash of Tuon’s fingers stopped her in her tracks, though it was a quivering halt. Tuon’s face was a dark mask, unreadable. She did not like what she had heard, though. Come to think, she had said she trained damane. Oh, burn him, on top of everything else, he was going to marry a woman who could channel?
Harnan and the Redarms ride up, bringing Mat’s horse, to tell Mat that Renna stole a horse; she has a headstart, but he thinks they can catch her “with luck”. Mat mounts Pips and orders Luca to get on the road immediately; Luca protests, but Mat ignores him. He tells Juilin to give Luca all their gold except one good purse, and to gather everyone and hide in the forest until Mat catches up. Juilin asks if he means Tuon and Selucia, too, suggesting it might at least slow the Seanchan down to leave them behind.
Mat met Tuon’s eyes. Big dark liquid eyes, in a smooth expressionless face. She had pushed her hood back a little, so he could see her face clearly. If he left her behind, then she could not say the words, or if she did, he would be too far way for the words to matter. If he left her behind, he would never learn why she smiled those mysterious smiles, or what lay behind the mystery. Light, he was a fool! Pips danced a few impatient steps.
“Everybody,” he said. Did Tuon nod slightly, as if to herself? Why would she nod? “Let’s ride,” he told Harnan.
They catch up with Vanin, who tells Mat Renna is pushing harder than he figured, and is doubtful they’ll catch up unless she runs her horse to death. Mat thinks of having the entire Seanchan army on his trail, and how Luca and the circus folk would be caught and executed, and tells Vanin they can make it. They ride hard all the rest of the day, and catch up with Renna just as she is fording the river. She has less than fifty feet to go before being in sight of the Seanchan garrison on the other side.
“My Lord?” Harnan said. He had an arrow nocked and his bow half raised. Gorderan held the heavy crossbow to his shoulder, a thick pointed bolt in place.
Mat felt something flicker and die inside him. He did not know what. Something. The dice rolled like thunder. “Shoot,” he said.
He wanted to close his eyes. The crossbow snapped; the bolt made a black streak through the air. Renna slammed forward when it hit her back. She had almost managed to push herself erect against the bay’s neck when Harnan’s arrow took her.
Slowly, she toppled from the horse, sliding down the slope, rolling, bouncing off saplings, tumbling faster and faster until she splashed into the stream. For a moment, she floated facedown against the bank, and then the current caught her and pulled her away, skirts billowing up on the water. Slowly she drifted toward the Elbar. Maybe, eventually, she would reach the sea. And that made three. It hardly seemed to matter that the dice had stopped. That made three. Never again, he thought as Renna floated out of sight around a bend. If I die for it, never again.
They ride back, weary and silent, to find the circus still set up, and Tuon and Selucia taking tea with Luca in his wagon. Mat tells them flatly that Renna is dead, and Tuon sharply forbids him to mourn the death of a traitor, telling him what he did was justice. Mat just asks if everyone else is still here, too, and Luca beams and tells him the High Lady had a “talk” with Merrilin and Sandar and persuaded them to stay, and then gave Luca a warrant placing his show under her personal protection. Mat bleakly thinks that he killed Renna for nothing, then, and sinks down on a bed.
“I did make specific mention of who is not under my protection, Toy.” Tuon took a bite of pastry and delicately brushed a crumb from her lip with a finger. “Can you guess whose name heads that list?” She smiled. Not a malicious smile. Another of those smiles for herself, amusement or delight in something he could not see. Suddenly, he noticed something. That little cluster of silk rosebuds he had given her was pinned to her shoulder.
Despite himself, Mat began to laugh. He threw his hat down on the floor and laughed. With everything, all his efforts, he did not know this woman at all! Not a bit! He laughed until his ribs hurt.
So, I knew this bit was coming up, but it was only when I read it that I realized (or re-realized) how much Mat’s decision re: Renna is meant to be a parallel to what Perrin went through with the Shaido prisoners two chapters ago. In a way, though, I didn’t find that Mat’s decision induced nearly the level of ambivalence (and sadness) in me that Perrin’s did.
On the one hand, I feel like it should be the other way around, because Mat made a decision to kill someone, whereas, you know, at least the Shaido guy lived. But on the other hand, and this may be slightly terrible to say but nevertheless it’s true, what Mat did felt… cleaner to me than what Perrin did. In fact I really don’t think there was much of a moral dilemma here at all, at least not relatively speaking.
What I mean by that is, in my opinion Renna’s death wasn’t a murder or even an execution: it was a combat kill, or whatever the correct term is for that—and therein lies the difference. Even by modern definitions I think it holds: she wasn’t a civilian (sul’dam all serve in the Seanchan military), and by her actions she was endangering the lives of Mat, his men, and all the civilians he considers under his protection. Not to mention it was “in the heat,” as it were; Mat only had seconds to make his decision, and the circumstances didn’t allow for any lesser option in order for Mat to protect himself and his people. So while Tuon and I don’t generally see eye to eye on ethical issues (she says, understatedly), in this case I think she is totally right to call Renna’s death justice. Or at least justifiable.
In fact, really, I don’t think even Mat disagrees with that assessment; he’s just torn up because the enemy combatant he killed happened to be a woman, which his own cultural biases have led him to place in a different moral category. If Renna had been a man I doubt Mat would have been much more than mildly regretful over the whole business. The fact that I disagree with him (and Rand) over making this distinction probably also helps explain why Mat’s angst over Renna didn’t affect me as much as did Perrin’s actions. (Not to mention, I’m willing to bet that just like Rand, his vow never to kill a woman again is going to come back and seriously bite him in the ass at some point—and I am categorically against my Superboys getting ass-bitten. Er. So to speak.)
Anyway. I feel bad for Mat because he feels bad, of course, but I don’t agree that it was a moral failure the way he does. Whereas I was right on the same page with Perrin’s horror over what he did, particularly because, as I said in the last post, even so I can’t know whether or not I would have done the same in his position, which is a damn scary thing to think about. So for me personally the parallel between the two sort of falls down a bit.
More ghosts in this chapter. I don’t know what to make of the fact that only Mat could see them; it seemed like in the other instances of ghosts appearing everyone could see them. Significant? *shrug* The ghosts thing just generally doesn’t make sense to me, I think.
Aludra: the salt thing is… odd. Several fans opined that this was a subtle hint that Aludra was acquiring ingredients for gunpowder, but the thing is, as I understand it saltpeter (one of the three main ingredients of gunpowder) is actually nothing like regular, NaCl table salt. Of course, I am even less a chemist than I am a zoologist, so I could be wrong, and I don’t care enough to research it. So There.
One thing that totally made me blink in this chapter is the way Mat found Tuon and Selucia after losing track of them in the town. I remember I was a tiny bit irritated in ToM that Mat all of a sudden (as I thought) came up with this “spin and point” randomizer method of navigation while trapped in Finnland; turns out, nope, he came up with it right here, three books earlier. My bad!
The bit at the end with Tuon seriously confused me on first reading, a reaction which I remember really not being alone on. This is because the significance of what Tuon did by excluding Mat from her warrant is not apparent unless you happen to recall the exact wording of the pledge she and Mat exchanged, specifically Mat’s part of it:
“I couldn’t leave you behind to raise an alarm,” he went on […] “I know [Mistress Anan’s] already told you this, but I promise no one’s going to hurt you. We’re not after ransom, just getting away with our heads still attached. As soon as I can figure out how to send you home safe and sound, I will. I promise.”
Since this exchange happened way back in Chapter 3, it was perhaps not surprising that I (and a lot of other people) missed the nuance here, twenty-five chapters later. What Tuon was doing, then, was ensuring Mat was still “in danger” from the Seanchan; if she’d put him under her protection along with everyone else, then he would have been safe from any reprisal, and therefore by his own words would be obligated to send her back. This way, though, it’s still technically too dangerous for him to send her back, and therefore she can stay with him. Sneaky Tuon!
And… there’s probably more I haven’t gotten to, but I am seriously about to keel over, so we’ll stop here. Have a lovely weekend, y’all, and come back on Tuesday for another post, and the endy-end of COT. Whoo!