The Wheel of Time Reread

The Wheel of Time Re-read: Knife of Dreams, Part 7

Happy Tuesday, peoples! Welcome back to the Wheel of Time Re-read!

Today’s entry covers Chapters 6 through 8 of Knife of Dreams, which may be the only time you’ll ever see a discussion that manages to mention Tchaikovsky, zebras, and flatulence, all together. Because I am classy that way.

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 6: A Stave and a Razor

What Happens
The morning after Renna’s death, Mat is entirely unsurprised to discover that Luca has decided to stay in Jurador for a few more days to milk as much coin from the locals as possible. Luca declares he feels “almost like a ta’veren” with the luck he’s having, and gives Mat an odd look when Mat mutters he might not like it if he really were one. The dice are rolling in Mat’s head again, and he makes a token effort to convince Luca to move on, to no avail. Mat gives up and heads to Jurador to go shopping; he is very relieved not to run into any ghosts on the way.

The dead walking surely could mean nothing good. Very likely it had something to with Tarmon Gai’don and Rand. Colors whirled in his brain, and for an instant, in his head, he saw Rand and Min standing beside a large bed, kissing. He stumbled and nearly tripped over his own boots. They had not been wearing any clothes! He would have to be careful thinking about Rand… The colors swirled and resolved for a moment, and he stumbled again. There were worse things to spy on than kissing. Very careful what he thought. Light!

In the town, Mat spies a bowstave made of black yew, much to his surprise, as he had never seen the wood outside of the Two Rivers. He hides his excitement and buys it for a song, and then heads to the livery stables. He looks at dozens of horses until he finally finds something worth his time:

[…] she was a breed he had heard tell of but never thought to see, a razor, from Arad Doman. No other breed would have that distinctive coloring. In her coat, black met white in straight lines that could have been sliced by a razor, hence the name. Her presence here was as mystifying as the black yew. He had always heard no Domani would sell a razor to any outlander. He let his eyes sweep past her without lingering, studying the other animals in their stalls. Had the dice inside his skull slowed? No, it was his imagination.

Mat bargains hard and at length with the owner of the razor, eventually buying her for a price that satisfies both of them. He returns with the mare to the circus and hides her among the rest of the horses (noting in passing that Aludra is receiving a large shipment of something in barrels), and then heads to Tuon’s wagon, though he hesitates about going to her when the dice are rolling in his head. He finds Olver and Noal inside as well as Tuon and Selucia; Noal is telling Olver stories about the Ayyad. Tuon chastises Mat for coming in without waiting for permission, calling him “Toy.” Mat admires her for a moment, fantasizing about getting to kiss her, and tells her he’ll try to remember that, calling her “Precious.”

Tuon sat up very straight, though she was still shorter than Selucia, who was a short woman herself. “What did you call me?” she said, as close to crisply as her accent allowed.

“Precious. You have a pet name for me, so I thought I should have one for you. Precious.” He thought Selucia’s eyes were going to pop right out of her head.

“I see,” Tuon murmured, pursing her lips in thought. The fingers of her right hand waggled, as though idly, and Selucia immediately slid off the bed and went to one of the cupboards. She still took time to glare at him over Tuon’s head. “Very well,” Tuon said after a moment. “It will be interesting to see who wins this game. Toy.”

Mat’s smile slipped. Game? He was just trying to regain a little balance. But she saw a game, and that meant he could lose. Was likely to, since he had no idea what the game was. Why did women always make things so… complicated?

Noal goes on with his story, and Mat asks him if he is any relation to Jain Charin. Noal freezes, and finally answers that Jain is his cousin. Olver is thrilled by the news that Noal is related to Jain Farstrider, and Tuon asks who he is.

“He was a fool,” Noal said grimly before Mat could open his mouth, though Olver did get his open, and left it gaping while the old man continued. “He went gallivanting about the world and left a good and loving wife to die of a fever without him there to hold her hand while she died. He let himself be made into a tool by –” Abruptly Noal’s face went blank. Staring through Mat, he rubbed at his forehead as though attempting to recall something.

Upset, Olver defends Farstrider and his adventures, and Noal placates him sadly. Tuon touches Noal’s arm and tells him he has a good heart. They are interrupted by Juilin, who comes in to tell them that Seanchan soldiers have arrived in Jurador.

Commentary
So, I recall that Jordan is on record somewhere as stating that the razor Mat buys in this chapter is definitely not a zebra. Which makes sense, because zebras, unlike horses, cannot be domesticated; they can be tamed, on an individual basis, but as a species they are too unpredictable and vicious to be reliably bred as beasts of burden.

(This is one of the many many random things you learn when you read Guns, Germs, and Steel. And you should totally read that if you haven’t already.)

That being said, I can understand why people would make the assumption, because I’ve never heard of a horse that has anything remotely like the coloring Jordan describes here. The closest I could find, after a trawl through Google, was the rare occurrence of the brindle coloring in horses, and that still doesn’t seem quite like what Jordan was describing.

I have to conclude, then, that he basically just made it up, to make the razor that much more exotic and rare a gift for Tuon. And, you know, if Randland can have Trollocs and Ogier and Draghkar and blahbidah blahbidah, I guess it can also have zebra-patterned horses, right?

It is a little weird, though, because as far as I can recall, up until this point Jordan’s never really applied the fantasy brush to already existing species of animals, at least from a looks perspective. Wolves in WOT may be able to talk to people (certain people, anyway), and be generally much more intelligent (and psychic) than I assume they are in real life, but unless I seriously missed something they still look like ordinary, real-world wolves. Rats and crows might be part-time ambulatory binoculars for the bad guys, but as far as I know they’re still completely standard rat-and/or-crow-like in appearance. So a zebra-patterned horse is pretty clearly an anomaly in this regard.

It’s not a big deal, ultimately, but I do think this change-up in the world building “rules” kind of threw the readers, even if they didn’t all consciously recognize why, which is why so many people were rather “Buh?” about it. So, yeah.

By the way, I pretty much cut out all the, well, horse-trading (and examining) Mat does in this chapter, but it was pretty interesting to read. I’m totally going to ask about that “fist between the rib cage and elbow” thing next time I chat with someone knowledgeable in the equine area.

Also: Hah. Rand and Min + sexytimes = brainpain for poor Mat.  Accidental voyeurism is like farting in public: it will happen to you at one point or another in your life, and it’s pretty much never not funny. For everyone else, anyway.

Of course, most people don’t have it happen to them via magical mental color swirlies, but hey.

 

Chapter 7: A Cold Medallion

What Happens
Mat orders Noal and Olver to find Egeanin and the Aes Sedai, respectively, and warn them, deliberately refusing to use Egeanin’s new name. As he goes to leave:

“No warnings for us to remain inside, Toy? No one left to guard us?”

The dice said he should find Harnan or one of the other Redarms and plant him outside just to guard against accidents, but he did not hesitate. “You gave your word,” he said, settling his hat on his head. The smile he got in reply was worth the risk. Burn him, but it lit up her face. Women were always a gamble, but sometimes a smile could be win enough.

He heads to the entrance of the circus to find that the Seanchan troops are setting up directly across the road, and three of the soldiers are heading into the show. One of the handlers stops them, asking for price of admission; one of the soldiers seems about to make trouble, but the handler is quickly joined by Luca and many of the performers, most armed with clubs. It looks to get ugly until a Standardbearer arrives and sends the first three packing; she then stuns Luca and the rest of the performers by trying to recruit them for the army. The performers all disperse bemusedly, and she turns to Mat.

“And what about you? From the look of you, you might be made an officer and get to give me orders.” She sounded amused by the notion.

[…] “I’d make a terrible soldier, Standardbearer,” he said, tipping his hat, and she laughed.

Mat decides to check on the Aes Sedai to make sure they aren’t doing anything stupid. As he approaches the wagon, his medallion goes cold, meaning they were channeling inside, and he storms in to find Teslyn, Edesina, Seta, and Setalle Anan watching as Joline slaps Bethamin’s face repeatedly. Mat grabs her arm, stopping her, and Joline slaps him with her other hand. Mat pulls her over his lap and spanks her, ignoring that his medallion goes ice cold. Edesina gasps, but then she and Teslyn just watch him continue to spank Joline until Setalle finally makes a move, whereupon he dumps Joline on the floor. To his surprise, Setalle is thoughtful instead of outraged.

“Joline must have tried to stop you, and Teslyn and Edesina as well, but whatever they did failed. I think that means you possess a ter’angreal that can disrupt flows of the Power. I’ve heard of such things – Cadsuane Melaidhrin supposedly had one, or so rumor said – but I’ve never seen the like. I would very much like to. I won’t try to take it away from you, but I would appreciate seeing it.”

Joline demands to know how Setalle knows Cadsuane even while glaring tearfully at Mat, and Edesina comments that she’d said something about testing for the shawl once, too. Setalle gives an evasive answer, and then they are interrupted by Blaeric and Fen, Joline’s Warders, coming up the steps. Mat prepares to defend himself, but Joline slams the door in her Warders’ faces and turns to berate him. Mat cuts her off:

“Except for me, you’d be wearing a damane collar around your neck, and so would Edesina and Teslyn,” he said, as much heat in his voice as there was in her eyes. “In return, you all try to bully me. You go your own way and endanger all of us. You bloody well channeled when you know there are Seanchan right across the road! They could have a damane with them, or a dozen, for all you know.” He doubted there was even one, but doubt was not certainty, and in any case, he was not about to share his doubts with her, not now. “Well, I might have to put up with some of that, though you’d better know I’m getting close to my edge, but I won’t put up with you hitting me. You do that again, and I vow I’ll pepper your hide twice as hard and twice as hot. My word on it!”

“And I won’t try to stop him next time if you do.” Mistress Anan said.

“Nor I.” Teslyn added, echoed after a long moment by Edesina.

Joline looked as though she had been hit between the eyes with a hammer. Very satisfactory. As long as he could figure out how to avoid having his bones broken by Blaeric and Fen.

He demands to know what’s going on, and Setalle explains that there was a scuffle, and Bethamin channeled. Bethamin begins sobbing, exclaiming she didn’t mean to. Teslyn opines they should let her die, and Bethamin swears she won’t do it again, but Joline informs her that she will, she won’t be able to help it, and sighs that they will have to teach her. Teslyn is incensed at the notion, and they all begin to argue. Mat slips out of the wagon, and realizes that while Blaeric and Fen know what happened to Joline, they don’t know Mat did it. He implies to them one of the other sisters did it, and gets away. He plays Stones with Tuon and goes to sleep, hoping the next day will be better than this one.

Well, he had never claimed to always be right. He just wished he was not quite so wrong so often.

Commentary
Oy, this again.

I really wish I didn’t have to comment on this chapter, because the spanking thing is really just beyond old at this point. Not to mention, trying to articulate why I hate it so much always leads me to paint myself into an ethical corner where I find myself kind of in a really bizarre way condoning violence toward women. Which is just BEYOND fucked up as an experience for me personally, I can tell you.

Because, I actually completely agree with Mat’s outrage with Joline et al’s behavior towards him, and I also totally agree that Joline smacking him around is utterly not cool. I just really, really DON’T agree that spanking her like a five-year-old child is a fair or proportionate response.

But then, of course, the question becomes what is a fair or proportionate response. Because honestly the initial impulse is to go for an “eye for an eye” type solution—i.e. for Mat to slap her back the same way she slapped him. And then I realize what I just said and feel a little nauseous.

But this is extremely weird territory to negotiate, because the real-world stigma against men hitting women (and the relative lack of stigma against the other way around) is based on the (very real) power imbalance between the sexes that has existed and still exists today. And in theory, at least, that power imbalance does not exist in WOT, so logically, Mat slapping Joline should not have any more stigma associated with it than Joline slapping Mat.

Logic, however, really doesn’t have a whole lot to do with it. The upshot is, it still feels really fucking wrong.

So I can see the problem here, and sympathize with it. It’s still a mystery to me, however, that Jordan seemed to feel spanking was a better solution. Because, no.

I suppose really the most noble response, as opposed to the proportionate one, is to take the Jesus route and reject the Old Testament “eye for an eye” in favor of the new-wave “turn the other cheek” philosophy. But somehow I don’t think Mat is a very New-Testamenty kind of guy, at least not in this particular regard.

And frankly, neither am I. But then again…

Bah. If there’s a solution, I don’t have it at the moment. So I’ll just sit here and stare forlornly at the horns of this incredibly annoying dilemma, and you guys can go on to the next chapter. Yay for you!

 

Chapter 8: Dragons’ Eggs

What Happens
Mat wakes the next morning to find that Luca is breaking down camp; Petra explains that after the incident with the soldiers, it’s best that they move on. Mat knows from the medallion that Joline must be teaching Bethamin inside the wagon as they travel. He worries over Tuon, and how he still doesn’t know what she’s like.

But how could a man be married to a woman if he did not know her? Worse, he had to make her see him as something more than Toy. Marriage to a woman with no respect for him would be like wearing a shirt of black-wasp nettles day and night. Worse still, he had to make her care for him, or he would find himself forced to hide from his own wife to keep her from making him da’covale. And to cap it off, he had to do all of that in whatever time remained before he had to send her back to Ebou Dar. A fine stew, and doubtless a tasty meal for some hero out of legend, a little something to occupy his idle time before he rushed off to perform some great deed, only Mat bloody Cauthon was no bloody hero.

They make terrible time, as Luca insists on stopping every few days at every remotely sizeable town to perform. They are passed by several merchant trains and Tinker caravans; Mat notes that, oddly, all the Tinker caravans are heading in the opposite direction, toward Ebou Dar. Mat barges in on Aludra their first night on the road to tell her he’s figured out what she wants with bellfounders—to make lofting tubes out of bronze—but he can’t figure out why. She stares a moment, then laughs and comments that she always gets in trouble with clever young men. He asks why again, and she explains that making a lofting charge powerful enough to travel more than three hundred paces will burst a wooden tube, but with a bronze tube, she could send a smaller, iron charge almost two miles. Mat whistles, getting it immediately, but sees a problem:

“These bronze lofting tubes – “

“Dragons,” she broke in. “Lofting tubes are for making the night-flowers bloom. For delighting the eye. I will call them dragons, and the Seanchan will howl when my dragons bite.” Her tone was grim as sharp stone.

“These dragons, then. Whatever you call them, they’ll be heavy and hard to move. Can you mount them on wheels? Like a wagon or cart? Would they be too heavy for horses to pull?”

She laughed again. “It’s good to see you are more than the pretty face.”

She explains about her plans for dragoncarts, one for the dragon and one for the charges, or “dragons’ eggs.” She supposes that he will want to learn how to make the secret powders, now, but Mat tells her he’d rather have her come with him, to a friend who can make as many of her dragons as she wants. As he thinks of Rand, the colors show him Rand talking to Loial for a moment; Mat is just glad Rand is wearing clothes. Aludra wants to know who this friend is, and Mat swears her to secrecy before telling her it’s the Dragon Reborn. Aludra is skeptical, but Mat tells her they grew up together; she can ask the Aes Sedai or Thom if she doesn’t believe him. Aludra decides she does believe him, and shakes his hand to seal the deal.

For a moment, as he shook her hand, he was sure the dice had stopped, but a heartbeat later they were rattling again. It must have been imagination. After all, this agreement with Aludra might help the Band, and incidentally Mat Cauthon, stay alive, yet it could hardly be called fateful. […] But were the dice bouncing as loudly? He thought not, yet how could he be sure? Never before had they slowed without stopping. It had to be his imagination.

Aludra sets off a nightflower, and Mat sees it in his dreams later:

[…] but there it bloomed among charging horsemen and massed pikes, rending flesh as he had once seen stone rent by fireworks. In his dreams, he tried to catch the things with his hands, tried to stop them, yet they rained down in unending streams on a hundred battlefields. In his dreams, he wept for the death and destruction. And somehow it seemed that the rattling of the dice in his head sounded like laughter. Not his laughter. The Dark One’s laughter.

The next day, Egeanin and Domon find him and announce that they have just been married by the local Wisdom. Mat gapes, but manages to congratulate them, and perforce finds himself sleeping in a tent so the newlyweds can have the wagon to themselves. Over the next few days, Thom and Juilin bring him rumors and news; though Mat makes them stop telling him about Rand so he won’t have to fight the colors in his head all the time, he notes that everyone seems very worried about the fact that the Dragon Reborn has vanished.

If the Dragon Reborn was dead, what was the world to do?

He continues to dine with Tuon, and be bemused by her and Selucia’s obsession with omens. One night, she asks him out of the blue what he thinks of the Dragon Reborn; Mat chokes on his wine, and gives her a non-answer, and asks why she wants to know.

“For one thing, he must kneel to the Crystal Throne before Tarmon Gai’don. The Prophecies are clear on that, but I haven’t even been able to learn where he is. It becomes still more urgent if he is the one who sounded the Horn of Valere, as I suspect.”

“The Horn of Valere?” he said weakly. The Prophecies said what? “It’s been found, then?”

“It must have been, mustn’t it, if it was sounded?” she drawled dryly. “The reports I’ve seen from the place where it was blown, a place called Falme, are very disturbing. Very disturbing. Securing whoever blew the Horn, man or woman, may be as important as securing the Dragon Reborn himself.”

Four days out of Jurador, he brings Tuon (and Selucia) out of the wagon, and presents her with the razor. He freezes as he realizes the dice have stopped, but only one set; there are more than one pair in his head. One stopped with Aludra, and another when he gave Tuon the horse, though he doesn’t understand why that is so fateful.

Light, it had been bad enough when he had to worry about one set of dice giving warning at a time. How many sets were still bouncing off the inside of his skull? How many more fateful moments were waiting to crash down on him?

Tuon is delighted, especially after he explains how rare razors are, but Selucia is unreadable. They go riding (Mat resigned to Selucia’s presence), and Mat enjoys watching Tuon’s pleasure in her gift. Just as they are passing a Tinker caravan, Tuon takes off at a gallop into the trees, Selucia following. Mat races after them, and Tuon only stops after a wild dangerous ride. Mat blows up at her for her carelessness, and then cringes, waiting for the response, but she only says that she’s naming the razor Akein (“Swallow”). She asks what this place is, referring to the ruins they’ve come upon, and Mat suddenly remembers that it used to be a city called Londaren Cor. He also remembers taking an arrow in the throat here and drowning in his own blood, and he thinks to himself that he hates remembering dying, and for the first time thinks about how many memories of dying he has, and wonders how the Eelfinn could have those memories from men who obviously must have gone through the twisted door before their deaths.

A way occurred to him, one he did not like, not a scrap. Maybe they created some sort of link to any human who visited them, a link that allowed them to copy all of a man’s memories after that right up to the moment he died. […] Burn him, the bloody foxes were inside his head right then! They had to be. It was the only explanation that made sense.

Mat can see no way to get free of it, and Tuon asks if he’s going to vomit. Selucia points out that a group of people from the Tinker caravan are following them with their giant dogs; Tuon thinks they can avoid them, but Mat counters that the Tinkers are no threat, and the best thing is to meet them and reassure them Mat wasn’t chasing Tuon and Selucia against their will. Selucia is indignant, but Tuon laughs.

“Toy wishes to be commanding today, Selucia. I will let him command and see how he does.” Bloody kind of her.

The female Tinkers quickly separate Tuon and Selucia from Mat while he talks with their Seeker, who is surprised that Mat knows the ritual greeting response. Mat waves this off to ask the Seeker why so many Tinker caravans are headed toward Ebou Dar. The Seeker hesitates, and then says that the rumor is these Seanchan provide safety and equal justice for all. Mat understands, but warns him the Seanchan’s safety comes at a price; the Seeker assures him they will still bring any women who start channeling to Tar Valon. The women surrounding Tuon and Selucia begin laughing (at him, Mat is sure), and the Tinkers leave. Mat asks what was so funny, but Tuon refuses to tell him.

Commentary
Wow, I probably wouldn’t have promised to do three chapters if I’d known this one was so bloody long. Sheesh.

So anyway, cue the 1812 Overture, eh? It’s kind of hilarious, in a terrible way, that Mat doesn’t consider the invention of a technology that will change warfare (and the world) forever to be particularly fateful. But I guess only hindsight would be 20/20 on that score.

Though his nightmares afterward rather give the lie to his conscious assessment of the dragons as being not that big a deal. And, incidentally, contrast rather sharply to Egwene’s Dream about the same thing, where Mat appeared supremely unconcerned about the consequences of what he was doing. I commented at the time that it seemed very out of character for Mat, and Jordan evidently agrees. Still doesn’t explain why Mat was portrayed that way in Egwene’s Dream in the first place, though. I dunno, I still don’t get it.

The very ominous bit about the Dark One laughing over it, though, I get perfectly well. If there’s anything that’s going to send an anthropomorphic representation of Supreme Evil into a fit of giggles, it would be the invention of the first real (non-magical) weapon of mass destruction.

Also, interesting new development with the dice in Mat’s head. I’d pretty much totally forgotten about this bit. All I can think is that it must be very LOUD in Mat’s skull these days. Seriously, I think between the borrowed memories and the swirly colors and the dice, Mat’s got more metaphysical shit stuffed in his brain than anyone other than Rand himself.

…Including the Eelfinn, if Mat’s rather startling perspective on the matter is to be believed. I have to say, I’d never thought of it that way. The way I’d always thought of it was pretty much the way it’s described in the FAQ: that as the Finn are obviously not bound to the laws of the “regular” world in terms of space, neither are they bound in terms of time. Ergo, anytime someone enters their dimension they are capable of rummaging through the whole of that person’s life, past and future, in one sitting.

The “one sitting” thing being the operative phrase. In other words, I thought of it as being already done and over with while Mat was in there—the rummaging, I mean. But I guess from an alternate point of view, it really does mean that they are watching your whole life as it happens. And so they’re just… there. Watching. All the time.

And that, my friends, is seriously goddamn creepy. Yeargghh. That’s, like, at least two Crispin Glovers on the creepy scale, y’all.

To counter that, Tuon is really rather adorable in this chapter. Why can’t we have this Tuon all the time, with the mischief and the flirtiness, instead of what we get later? Sigh.

Crystal Throne: I’ve always maintained as a matter of course that the Seanchan version of the Prophecies were obviously selectively edited for their audience, with this nonsense about Rand kneeling to the Crystal Throne as proof. And I still think that’s right, because even aside from my philosophical objections to the idea, the thing is in Seandar, where we’ve been assured the action is never going to go, so there’s no way it could work logistically.

Unless of course you assume that the Throne is just a symbol of the Empress, and means Rand has to kneel to Tuon. Which had really, really better not happen, or I will be very Put Out. Nuh-uh, no dice. NO BUENO. No kneeling to the Empire run on slavery, THANKS WE’RE ALL GOOD HERE.

In the same vein, I was rather annoyed at the Tinkers’ all bouncing up and down to be a part of that. But then again, as I am not a cult of sworn pacifists roaming about an increasingly unsettled continent on the brink of an actual apocalypse, I may perhaps have a tad more luxury when it comes to standing on principle in this regard. So there’s that.


Aaaand I’m spent. Have a lovely week, O my peeps, and I will see you next Tuesday!

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