The Wheel of Time Reread

The Wheel of Time Re-read: Towers of Midnight, Part 11

Shoot me down, but I won’t fall, WOTers – I am ti-TAN-I-UM The Wheel of Time Re-read!

Today’s entry covers Chapters 17 and 18 of Towers of Midnight, in which pretty much everyone fights dirty – some more literally than others, depending on how you look at it.

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 upcoming final volume, A Memory of Light.

This re-read post contains spoilers for all currently published Wheel of Time novels. If you haven’t read, read at your own risk.

And now, the post!

 

Chapter 17: Partings, and a Meeting

What Happens
Mat climbs out from under Aludra’s supply wagon, which he’d slept under at random to try to throw off the gholam, and heads back into camp in a foul mood, where Juilin finds him and tells him he is thinking of taking Thera and going with the Aes Sedai back to Tar Valon, as they have promised him work there. Mat tells him he’s welcome to go wherever he wants, and Juilin shakes his hand and leaves. Mat goes to where the Aes Sedai are preparing to leave, to make sure they aren’t commandeering too many of his horses, and finds Bethamin and Seta are there as well. He asks if they are going as well, and they say yes, though Seta adds that sometimes she thinks it would be better for them to die, for the danger they represent to the Empire.

“Go with the Aes Sedai,” Mat said. “I’ll give you your own horses, so you don’t have to rely on them. Learn to channel. That’ll be more use than dying. Maybe someday you two can convince Tuon of the truth. Help me find a way to fix this without causing the Empire to collapse.”

The two women looked to him, more firm and confident, suddenly. “Yes, Highness,” Bethamin said. “It is a good purpose for us to have. Thank you, Highness.”

Seta actually got tears in her eyes! Light, what did they think he had just promised them? Mat retreated before they could get any more odd ideas in their heads. Flaming women.

Thom joins him, and points out that Leilwin and Bayle Domon are there too, and Mat comments that if Leilwin goes as well as the Aes Sedai he’ll almost “start thinking life has turned fair” on him. Leilwin approaches and tells him she’d always intended to go to the White Tower since she’d left Ebou Dar, and wishes him luck, opining that his journey will be tougher than hers. Domon thanks him for keeping his word, and the two move off. Mat asks the Aes Sedai if they are set, and is amused when Joline forces herself to be polite to him, and more that Elayne had turned them away without an audience. Joline comments that she would have liked to have “tamed” him, and might come back someday for it. Mat tells her he’ll wait “breathlessly” for it, and gives her a parting gift of powdered sweetbuns, to her surprise. He tells them he’s sending soldiers with them, including Vanin, to bring the horses back from Tar Valon (and also to gather information on the status of the city), and tells them to deliver a message for him.

“I want you to tell the Amyrlin something,” he said. “If it’s Egwene, this should be easy. But even if it isn’t, you tell her. The White Tower has something of mine, and it’s nearly time that I reclaimed it. I don’t want to, but what I want never seems to matter a whisker, these days. So I’ll be coming, and I don’t mean to be bloody turned away.” He smiled. “Use that exact language.”

Teslyn doubts that Elaida will have given up the Amyrlin Seat, but agrees; Mat tells her she might be surprised. Teslyn tells him that Setalle Anan has decided to stay behind, which Mat is only mildly upset about. He bids the party farewell, and Teslyn and Edesina give him respectful farewells, as does Leilwin. On the way back, Thom asks about the sweetbuns, and Mat confides they will make Joline’s mouth blue for a week.

“Nice,” Thom said, knuckling his mustache. “Childish, though.”

“I’m trying to get back to my basic roots,” Mat said. “You know, recapture some of my lost youth.”

“You’re barely twenty winters old!”

“Sure, but I did a lot of living when I was younger.”

He goes to see Mistress Anan, who chides him at first for his disheveled appearance, but when he confesses that he doesn’t want to go back to his bloodstained tent, she tells him gently that he needs to hire a serving man to replace Lopin. Mat scowls and changes the subject to Olver. He tells Setalle that he is leaving with Thom soon, and should be back, but if he is not, asks her to look after Olver. She agrees, and he promises to move her and Olver into the city, and then later promises to get her back to her husband. She asks if the others are gone, and when he confirms it, looks regretful.

“I’m sorry,” Mat said. “About whatever happened to you.”

“The past is gone,” she replied. “And I need to leave it be. I should never have even asked to see the item you wear. These last few weeks have made me forget myself.”

He leaves her and goes looking for Olver, and a place to shave.

Elayne strolls through one of the palace’s rooftop gardens, worrying over the dying greenery. Birgitte complains she is too exposed up here, and is infuriated by Elayne’s assertion that Min’s viewing means that she will be safe until her babies are born. Birgitte points out acidly that there are plenty of ways Elayne can be very seriously hurt and still deliver healthy babies, but Elayne dismisses her concerns. Sumeko and Alise join them and greet Elayne respectfully. Elayne asks after the Kin, and Alise replies they are much better now that they are no longer being murdered one by one. Cautiously, Elayne asks what they plan to do since they cannot return to Ebou Dar. Sumeko declares they are going to Tar Valon, but Elayne counters that surely those who do not wish to or cannot become Aes Sedai might not want to go there. Alise, who is far more disillusioned with the Tower than Sumeko, says that she’d assumed they would stay in Caemlyn, and become the place Aes Sedai could retire into. Elayne agrees, and makes her proposal: she will offer them direct support from the Crown, in return for their services in Healing and Traveling.

“Imagine a place in Caemlyn where any person can come to receive Healing, free of charge. Imagine a city free of disease. Imagine a world where food can travel instantly to those who need it.”

“And a queen who can send troops wherever she needs,” Alise said. “Whose soldiers can fight one day, then be free of wounds the next. A queen who can earn a tidy profit by charging merchants for access to her gateways.”

Elayne concedes the point, but adds that Healing will be provided free of charge, and the people to be treated in order of the severity of their ailment, regardless of rank or wealth. Alise says she could agree to this, to Sumeko’s shock. Sumeko argues that Alise has no right to speak for the Kin and violate their Rule, but Alise counters that the Kin as it used to be is no more; they are not strong enough to stand on their own, and Caemlyn is as good a place to start over as any. Elayne puts in that they can reorganize their laws, and the lack of secrecy means they can marry, which will give them roots in the city and also help differentiate them from Aes Sedai, who seldom marry. Alise asks what the Amyrlin will think of them charging for their services.

“I will speak with Egwene,” Elayne repeated. “I’m certain I can convince her that the Kin, and Andor, are no threat to her.”

Hopefully. There was a chance for something incredible in the Kin, a chance for Andor to have constant and inexpensive access to gateways. That would put her on nearly equal ground with the Seanchan.

She dismisses the Kin, and walks a while more, reflecting that she was sure the Seanchan would be coming for Andor eventually, after Rand’s armies are weakened and maybe broken from fighting, and also that sooner or later the Seanchan will also have the secret of Traveling. She thinks that Andor is hers to protect now, and is determined to prove to her people the wisdom of their choice. The Kin are the first step in that, but she further reflects that she cannot and will not ask them to fight in battle for her, and there she is at a great disadvantage against the Seanchan.

The only thing she could think of was the Black Tower. It was on Andor’s soil. She’d told them that she considered them part of her nation, but so far she’d gone no further than sending inspection parties.

What would happen to them if Rand died? Dared she try to claim them? Dared she wait for someone else to?

Commentary
So Mat’s bit in this chapter might as well be called Trimming The Dead (Plot) Wood. Begone, bit players! Juilin and Thera – done! Egeanin/Leilwin and Domon – sayonara, babies! The Aes Sedai Three – see ya, wouldn’t wanna be ya, bam!

Well, okay then. Thera didn’t even get a line, heh.

I would be even more sarcastic about this, honestly, if I weren’t kind of glad it was happening. Yes, perhaps one and a half books out from the finish line we should be wrapping some things up, y/y? So I’m happy it’s being done, but I’m just kind of laughing about the speed of it.

Although, Egeanin’s comments to Mat here lend much more credence to the theory that the Seanchan woman helping Egwene in her Dream from – um. KOD? Something like that – is probably Egeanin. Which is kind of a shame, since I thought my “female archetypal figure representing the whole Seanchan Empire” theory was much prettier, sigh. But my heart will go on somehow!

I did like Mat’s message to Egwene re: coming to get the Horn, which I’m pretty sure I had completely forgotten about until this point. That should be a fun scene, heh. Also: Heroes of the Horn at the Last Battle, whoo!

(Still curious about what’s going to happen with Birgitte when the Horn is blown again. Possibly nothing, but it would be cool if something did. I hope the issue will at least be acknowledged, anyway.)

I also was amused that Mat inadvertently gave Seta and Bethamin a Royal Command – and a pretty steep one, too! Just help change the entire infrastructure of the Empire, guys. No pressure! (But hey, if it works I am TOTALLY behind it.)

Surprisingly, even though very little really happened in it I actually quite liked Elayne’s portion of this chapter, reflecting as it did the kind of difficult decisions a ruler of a large – and temptingly rich – nation would have to make in order to secure its safety. Those kinds of decisions are rarely pure as the driven snow, but the fascinating and frustrating thing about them is that they really can’t be.

Viewed one way, Elayne’s campaign to have a contractually obligated group of channelers dedicated to providing supply, transport and medical services for her armed forces – not to mention her as-yet vague thoughts on trying to commandeer the Asha’man for her own personal shock troops – is frankly alarming, especially for those with anti-imperialist convictions. Having that much power concentrated in one person – or nation – is scary, especially if you don’t happen to be part of that nation.

Viewed another, Elayne is perfectly correct in her worries about being outmatched by the Seanchan, and as the ruler of her nation has not only the right but the duty to do whatever she needs to do to protect it. And if that includes shamelessly taking advantage of the circumstances re: channelers as they are presented to her, well, it’s not like any other monarch wouldn’t do just the same. Not to mention, many other rulers/governments wouldn’t be nearly as likely to balance that military advantage with what amounts to vast public works programs (hey, a virtual magical highway system is still a highway system) and, heh, universal health care.

And yes, I do see the potential real-world parallels, and yes, I do find them kind of grimly amusing. Having Andor and the Seanchan Empire as the post-apocalypse version of a certain Mosk and Merk is… well, it’s quite a thought.

 

Chapter 18: The Strength of This Place

What Happens
Perrin runs through the wolf dream, feeling much better now that things were settled between him and Faile. He heads toward the Whitecloak camp, knowing that he could use the Asha’man and Wise Ones to crush them utterly if he decided to. He wanders through the extremely orderly camp.

The Whitecloaks liked things neat, tidy and carefully folded. And they liked to pretend the entire world could be polished up and cleaned the same way, people defined and explained in one or two words.

He finds the Lord Captain Commander’s tent, but other than momentarily seeing a signet ring with a winged dagger as its device, finds nothing useful. He checks out the tent where Gill and the others are being kept, and sees Gill’s hat for a moment. It occurs to him to wonder why he never used the wolf dream like this to check out Malden while Faile was kidnapped, and is troubled that he never even considered it. Hopper joins him, and Perrin comments that when he, Perrin, lets himself be consumed by a goal, his focus grows dangerously narrow.

“All right,” he said to Hopper. “I’m ready to learn.”

Hopper tells him, follow, and vanishes. He repeats this twice more, but Perrin cannot figure out where he has gone, and tells Hopper that he doesn’t learn the way wolves do; Hopper must explain what he is doing. Hopper sends him an image this time, of Emond’s Field, and Perrin follows him there, and is dismayed to see they are still flying the wolfshead banner. Hopper comments that men are strange, and is frustrated that Perrin doesn’t just know what he is supposed to do. Perrin asks him to explain what he means when he says Perrin is in the dream “too strongly.” Hopper says he cannot be too long away from “the other you,” and suggests he remember this place as his den, to keep him from being lost. Perrin thinks that it is Faile who is his home now, not Emond’s Field. Hopper thinks of her as like a beehive, “with sweet honey and sharp stings,” which makes Perrin smile.

The memory is part, Hopper sent. But the other part is you. You must stay as Young Bull. A wolf’s reflection in the water, shimmering and growing indistinct as ripples crossed it.

“I don’t understand.”

The strength of this place, Hopper sent an image of a wolf carved of stone, is the strength of you. The wolf thought for a moment. Stand. Remain. Be you.

Hopper hurls himself at Perrin, trying to knock him out of the dream, and Perrin practices holding himself there, following Hopper from place to place and then repelling Hopper’s attempts to shove him out, physically and mentally, finding the balance between holding steady and not holding too strongly. They keep practicing until they suddenly come to a translucent violet wall that cuts across the countryside and out of sight in all directions. Hopper says it is “wrongness,” and should not be there. Perrin debates touching it, but then it disappears. Hopper moves on, and Perrin follows, troubled.

Rodel Ituralde bellows orders from the top of the hillside guarding the only ford over the River Arinelle, outside the city of Maradon in Saldaea, trying to push back the horde of Trollocs that threaten to overrun it. He curses the lord of Maradon for refusing to open the city’s gates to him, considering them invaders, and then has to take cover as the Trollocs begin using trebuchets to hurl not boulders but rotting corpses at Ituralde’s camp. Ituralde calls for the Asha’man to Heal the wounded, though all of them are near exhaustion now. A messenger reports there are sixteen trebuchets, and Ituralde realizes he’ll have to pull the lower camp back further toward the city, as the hill will no longer adequately shelter them.

I never used to swear this much, Ituralde thought. It was that boy, the Dragon Reborn. Rand al’Thor had given Ituralde promises, some spoken, some implied. Promises to protect Arad Doman from the Seanchan. Promises that Ituralde could live, rather than die trapped by the Seanchan. Promises to give him something to do, something important, something vital. Something impossible.

Hold back the Shadow. Fight until help arrived.

[…] You’d better keep your word, boy.

Ituralde goes to the command tent while the men move the rest of the camp, and reflects that they do not have the numbers to hold, and eventually must be pushed back to the city, where they would be crushed against the walls if Maradon continued to refuse to let them in. Ituralde curses the Saldaeans again as bloody fools, and issues orders to get the archers and Asha’man in position to take out the siege engines.

“Something’s wrong,” Ituralde said.

“This whole bloody war is wrong,” Rajabi said. “We shouldn’t be here; it should be the Saldaeans. Their whole army, not only the few horsemen the Lord Dragon gave us.”

“More than that,” Ituralde said, scanning the sky. “Why carcasses, Rajabi?”

“To demoralize us.”

Ituralde supposes that’s it, but something seems off to him. Then he realizes that there are far too many corpses falling out of the sky to be accounted for by only sixteen trebuchets, and suddenly realizes that not all of them are corpses after all. He bellows a warning, and the camp goes into chaos as Draghkar drop out of the sky and attack. Ituralde begins screaming at the top of his lungs to drown out the monster’s hypnotic croons as he fights. Even with his screaming, he hears the war drums from the other side of the hill, and knows that the Trollocs are simultaneously renewing their efforts to ford the river.

You’d better keep your promise to send me help, boy, Ituralde thought as he fought the second Draghkar, his screaming growing hoarse. Light, but you’d better!

Faile strides through camp, also feeling refreshed after her night with Perrin, heading toward the Mayener section; she has decided it is time to do something about Berelain. Faile knows that as a ruler of a weak country constantly threatened by a stronger neighbor, Berelain is a master of manipulating and controlling rumor to her advantage, and she doesn’t believe for a moment the rumors about Berelain and Perrin were spread without Berelain’s collusion.

That woman, Faile thought. How dare she—

No. No, Faile couldn’t continue down that path. A good shouting match would make her feel better, but it would reinforce the rumors. What else would people surmise if they saw her stalk to the First’s tent, then scream at her? Faile had to be calm. That would be difficult.

The guards say they were given orders to expect her, and take her to Berelain’s tent. A displeased Annoura exits as she approaches, apparently having been kicked out. Faile reflects that this conversation could end in disaster, but that it had to be done, and enters. Berelain greets her calmly, and Faile reminds herself that no matter how beautiful the other woman was, Perrin loved her. She cuts through Berelain’s attempt at small talk, and Berelain states instead that the rumors are false, and nothing inappropriate happened between herself and Perrin. Faile replies that Perrin has already told her that, and she believes him over Berelain. Berelain frowns, and asks why she is here, then, and Faile says it is not what happened, but what is presumed to have happened that angers her.

“Such strong, persistent rumors are unlikely to have happened without encouragement,” Faile said. “Now everyone in the camp—including the refugees sworn to me—assumes that you bedded my husband while I was away. This not only makes me look like a fool, but casts a shadow upon Perrin’s honor. He cannot lead if people take him for the type of man who will run to the arms of another woman the moment his wife is away.”

Berelain says many other rulers have overcome rumors of infidelity, even when they were true, but Faile counters that Saldaea and the Two Rivers are different, and Perrin is not like other rulers, and the way his men look at him “rips him apart inside”. Berelain disagrees, and says he will learn to use the rumor to his advantage. Faile observes that she doesn’t understand Perrin at all, and Berelain snaps back that she understands men, and while Faile was clever to weld Saldaea to the Dragon Reborn by taking Aybara, she should not expect to keep him without a fight. Faile tells her that she might have been able to forgive Berelain for her own dishonor, but not for damaging Perrin’s.

“In the Borderlands, if a woman finds that another has been bedding her husband, she is given the option of knife combat.” That was true, though the tradition was an old one, rarely observed any longer. “The only way to clear my name is for you and me to fight.”

Berelain is incredulous, then calculating. She offers to publicly deny the rumors, and Faile tells her it is far too late to deny them only now that Faile has returned, and will only confirm their truth in many people’s eyes. She sees that Berelain believes Faile will actually go through with this, and tells her Faile will give her one day to respond to her challenge, and goes to leave. To her secret great relief, Berelain stops her, and asks her not to force this; surely they can come to an accommodation. She asks if Faile wants her to leave, but Faile says that will do nothing for the rumors. Berelain points out that killing her won’t dispel them either, and in fact will encourage them. Faile notes that her eyes look worried.

She realizes that she let this go too far, Faile thought, understanding. Of course. Berelain hadn’t expected Faile to return from Malden. That was why she’d made such a bold move.

Now she realized she’d overextended herself. And she legitimately thought Faile unhinged enough to duel her in public.

Berelain claims that Perrin directly encouraged her in her attentions during Faile’s absence, and Faile is amazed at how blind she is. She tells Berelain that she has two choices: fight Faile, and lose Perrin whether or not she wins the duel, or come up with another way to stop the rumors. Faile thinks that this is her gamble: to put Berelain in a position where she had to come up with the solution that Faile herself had failed to work out.

Faile met Berelain’s eyes, and allowed herself to feel her anger. Her outrage at what had happened. She was being beaten, frozen and humiliated by their common enemy. And during that, Berelain had the gall to do something like this?

At length, Berelain acquiesces. She says there may be a way, but she doesn’t think Faile will like it very much: they need to become friends. She says being enemies will only fuel the rumors, but if they are seen getting along, believably, that paired with Berelain’s public repudiation of the rumors should be enough. Faile is flabbergasted at the notion of pretending to like a woman she detests, but agrees, though she also demands that Berelain find herself another man to prove she is no longer interested in Perrin. Berelain agrees, and remarks that they shall see what happens.

Commentary
Damn, this was a long chapter.

But Perrin is LEARNING THE DREAM THINGS, you guys! Finally! Huzzah!

And… yes. He’s learning the dream things. I am pleased, and… I have nothing else to say about that bit. There will plenty of time to talk about the violet wall later.

Oh, except this line which I am going to quote again because I wanna:

The Whitecloaks liked things neat, tidy and carefully folded. And they liked to pretend the entire world could be polished up and cleaned the same way, people defined and explained in one or two words.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the textbook definition of a zealot. And a bigot. Thank you, goodnight.

As for Ituralde, very nice little action scene. I liked the Trolloc-corpse-hurling thing. Well, I mean, I didn’t like the Trolloc-corpse-hurling thing, because I am not a sicko, but I liked the shoutout to one of the oldest forms of biological warfare around.

(In case you’re curious, and of course you are, in 1346 the Mongol army besieging the Crimean city of Kaffa became infected with what would later be known as the Black Death, and in desperation hurled the plague-ridden corpses of their own men over the walls of the city so as to infect the Europeans within. It is theorized (though not proven) that it was from the survivors of the siege of Kaffa that the disease spread to Europe, where it killed up to one third of the population of the continent before running its course. This theory is fairly hotly contested, from what I understand, but if true, it would mean that the siege of Kaffa still stands as the single most devastating occurrence of biological warfare in history even today. Wacky!)

But the Shadow totally one-upped the Mongols, even, by using it not as biological warfare so much as an infiltration tactic. So, er, go them? Well, no, obviously, but you do have to admit it was pretty clever.

Also, what the hell, Saldaeans? I have to admit, I actually found it pretty difficult to believe that any Borderlanders would just sit there and watch while somebody else fought Trollocs for them. Haven’t these guys ever heard the axiom the enemy of my enemy is my friend? Or, you know, just had some common human decency? I raise a skeptical eyebrow in this plot development’s general direction!

As for Faile and Berelain, well. I’m not sure why Faile would be surprised that Berelain would believe that Faile would be crazy enough to challenge her to trial by combat, because as far as I can tell, before what she went through in Malden, Faile totally would have been that crazy. And I’m not sure if I’m being hypocritical about this or not, but I have to say my reaction on reading this bit was that I wouldn’t have really blamed her all that much if she had been that crazy, because I always thought that what Berelain did was seriously beyond the pale.

Mind you, I’m very impressed that Faile had the werewithal to take the high road on the situation, especially since Berelain was quite correct in pointing out that the two of them even being at odds, never mind actually dueling, was going to do nothing but prove that the rumors were true in most people’s minds. I’m not doubting that Faile’s approach was the correct one; I’m just not sure that I personally would have had the control to not take that opportunity for reprisal, or redress, or whatever. So go Faile, on that count.

It was a nice bit of subtlety, though, to highlight how Berelain really was (mostly) thinking of what she did in political terms, while Faile was thinking of it in emotional ones, because it is true that when you consider it in strictly political/tactical terms, Berelain’s actions are… well, not okay, certainly, but I think rather less heinous than if you consider them in light of what she was really doing without realizing it (at least if you buy her story), which was trying to destroy a love-match.

Actually, it sort of in a weird way comes back to what I was talking about in Elayne’s POV in the previous chapter. In her mind, Berelain wasn’t trying to ruin Faile’s marriage so much as she was trying to secure the future of her country, and therefore to her, doing some potentially morally questionable things to accomplish that goal is a necessary evil. The difference being, of course, that Berelain is making the mistake that so many leaders make, which is assuming that politics is a zero-sum game: in order for me to win, you must lose. It didn’t occur to her that Perrin (and Faile) were playing by entirely different rules.

(Elayne’s danger is slightly different. It is not that she believes her gain must be everyone else’s loss, because she doesn’t; it is that everyone else may assume that that is what she believes, and therefore move to curb her gain before it becomes their loss. If that makes sense.)

Of course, all that said, I also think that Berelain’s motives were certainly not entirely only politically motivated; it was very definitely personal as well, as anyone who’s read TSR would certainly be in a position to know. Whether or not one chooses to condemn her for her actions depends, I think, on whether one feels the balance tips further toward the political, practical motive or the personal, vengeful one.

Or maybe you disagree, and think that the political motive is actually the more distasteful of the two. Or that there is no real difference between them, morally. DISCUSS.


And that, I think, is all she wrote for now, kiddies! Have a week, and I will be back next Tuesday with Moar!

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