The Wheel of Time Reread

The Wheel of Time Re-read: Towers of Midnight, Part 27

‘Allo, mates! It’s a Wheel of Time Re-read! Come and see the violence inherent in the blogging!

Today’s entry covers Chapter 50-52 of Towers of Midnight, in which rulers get unruly, and I am variously pleased and/or pissed about 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 50: Choosing Enemies

What Happens
Elayne sits in state on the Lion Throne, ruthlessly controlling any signs of nervousness as the demonstration of her new weapons continues for the Cairhienin nobles she’d invited to the city. The High Seats in Caemlyn are in the sitting chamber to the side, having been invited to unofficially eavesdrop on what is to transpire. Eventually, Elayne feels Birgitte return to the city with the Cairhienin in tow, and nods to Captain Guybon to bring in the prisoners. Arymilla Marne is sniffling, Naean Arawn numb and blank, but Elenia Sarand seems still in control of herself, and Elayne wonders if she knows where her husband’s still-unaccounted-for army is hiding. The three are made to kneel before the throne, just as the Cairhienin arrive in the hallway beyond. Elayne pronounces that she has given much thought to what to do with them, as their continued existence “vexes” the Crown, and she has decided that Houses Sarand, Marne and Arawn are stripped of title and estate, their lands forfeit to the Crown in retribution for their crimes. Murmuring arises immediately from the sitting room.

This was worse than an execution. When nobles were executed, they were at least executed with their titles—in a way, an execution was an acknowledgment of a worthy foe. The title and lands passed on to the heir, and the House survived.

But this… this was something few queens would ever attempt. If Elayne were seen as seizing land and money for the throne, the other nobles would unite against her. She could guess the conversations in the other room. Her power base was shaky. Her allies, who had stood with her before the siege and faced the possibility of execution themselves, might very well now begin to question.

Guybon moves the prisoners aside, and Birgitte enters with the Cairhienin. Ailil Riatin is there, a vocal Elayne supporter, along with Lord and Lady Osiellin, Lord and Lady Chuliandred, Lord and Lady Hamarashle, and Lord Mavabwin, who are all lesser nobles with the potential to be obstacles to Elayne’s power, but the two most important ones are Bertome Saighan and Lorstrum Aesnan. Bertome is Colavaere’s cousin and one of the most major private critics of Rand in Cairhien, and Lorstrum is one of those who rose to power after Rand’s disappearance, carefully neither for nor against him. Elayne asks them if they enjoyed the demonstration of their closest ally’s strength in the face of the Last Battle. Bertome assures her that they “exult” in Andor’s strength and stability, and Elayne answers carefully that it would be good for Cairhien to have such stability.

Several of them nodded, no doubt hoping she intended to offer one of them the throne. If she threw Andor’s support behind one of these, it would guarantee him or her victory. And it would give her a sympathizer as King or Queen.

Another might have made that ploy. Not her. That throne would be hers.

She comments that the Andoran Crown has recently acquired several estates of substantial means, now with no stewards. All talk from the sitting room stops as the High Seats realize Elayne means to offer those estates to foreign nobility. She says that Cairhien and Andor share long ties of blood and friendship, and she thinks strengthening those ties would benefit her court, “and perhaps educate me upon my heritage on my father’s side.” She thinks that if she takes the throne of Cairhien by force, the nation would rebel, but if she gives Andoran lands to Cairhienin nobles, it would prove that she does not intend to strip Cairhien’s nobility of their lands and titles. After a moment, Lorstrum and then Bertome offer alliance in exchange. The Osiellins and Mavabwin speak up next, and Elayne says she can split the remaining estate between them. Then she calls Elenia forward.

“The Crown is not without mercy,” Elayne said. “Andor cannot forgive you for the pain and suffering you caused. But other countries have no such memories. Tell me, if the Crown were to provide you with an opportunity for new lands, would that opportunity be taken?”

Elenia stammers that she would consider it. Elayne turns to the Cairhiein, and points out that for any of this to take effect, she would need authority to speak for both Andor and Cairhien. Lorstrum and Bertome ask her to give them an hour.

In a private chamber, Birgitte demands to know what just happened, and Morgase tells her Elayne was brilliant. Dyelin thinks it clever but dangerous. Birgitte doesn’t see what’s so clever about a simple bribe, and Morgase explains that Elayne’s actions made bonds between the two nations, as well as not making herself an oddity by being the only one to have holdings in both countries. Dyelin adds, though, that Lorstrum didn’t acquiesce because of the bribe.

“He didn’t?” Birgitte said, frowning. “But—”

“She’s right,” Elayne said, sipping her tea. “He gave in because he saw that I was handing him the chance for both thrones.”

The room fell silent.

“Bloody ashes,” Birgitte finally swore.

Dyelin says that Elayne has created enemies that could overthrow her, and Elayne says she is counting on it; she needs them to be unequivocally in favor of a common monarch. Dyelin protests that that’s only because they hope for the chance of seizing that common throne for themselves.

“Better to choose your enemies than remain in ignorance,” Elayne said. “I’ve essentially limited my competition.”

She says they may make a play, but not for some time, as they must consolidate their new power first. So for now she has two staunch and powerful allies who will hand the Crown to her. She is serious about Elenia as well. Birgitte comments she will leave herself surrounded by enemies, and Elayne answers that’s why she has Birgitte.

Commentary
POL-itics, la la la la la POL-itics…

*jazz hands*

Which was… well, pretty much what this was.

It’s fun, in a kind of detached way, to watch Elayne walking the high wire of upper-echelon power plays—much more interesting than back when she was walking a literal one, if you ask me. Although I’m finding that my fun has to be detached, these days, because otherwise I find myself getting too aggravated. And now I’ll tell you why!

And… well, the reason is I’m old.

Okay, not OLD, but oldER. And like it or not, that really does change how you look at certain things from how you looked at them before.

It’s almost funny, to think how differently I would have read this chapter (well, this entire series, but in particular the political plotlines) back in, say, my college days. I suppose I’m fairly typical in that I’ve only in the last decade or so begun really paying attention to real-world politics—not just in the sense of current events, but also to the (I guess) philosophical underpinnings of systems of government—why this system is or is not better than that other system. (And other light topics!)

My point here is that as a lifelong fantasy reader, a perhaps disproportionate amount of the stories I’ve read tend to be set in a more or less medievalish feudalish monarchish system of government. But as I have become progressively more firmly ensconced on the “Constitutional Republic/Suffrage/Inalienable Rights Yay, Moistened Bints Lobbing Scimitars Nay” train, the various foibles of the pseudo-feudalish fantasy governments I read about have come to bug me more and more.

And that kind of annoys me. I’m bugged that it bugs me, if that makes any sense, because I sometimes feel like it’s pulling me out of the story, to an extent which may not be justified. Even though I certainly agree that it can be useful to compare this sort of thing to modern-day situations for one’s own personal edification and/or amusement (and God knows I’ve done that on this blog before), sometimes I kind of wish I could just sit back and enjoy Elayne getting her Machiavelli on without getting all tangled in how much injustice is inherent in the system and ‘Elp ‘elp I’m bein’ repressed and blah blah blah.

But it’s kind of like those Magic Eye things: once you see it, it’s really really hard to unsee it.

Bluh.

ANYWAY, politics! Elayne is good at them! At least, that is what this chapter assures us! Hooray!

And hey, where is Jarid Sarand’s army? If we find out before the end of TOM I don’t remember it. *shrug*

 

Chapter 51: A Testing

What Happens
In the Stone of Tear, Min holds Callandor nervously, thinking it feels almost alive. Rand touches it, and Min sees a vision of Callandor being held in a fist made of onyx. Rand asks if she knows what it means, but she does not. Cadsuane thinks they should hide it away, and to take it is “foolhardy,” but Rand merely tells her her objection is noted, and puts it in the sheath on his back.

At his side, he once again wore the ancient sword with the red-and-gold dragons painted on the sheath. He’d said before that he considered that to be a kind of symbol. It represented the past to him, and Callandor—somehow—represented the future.

Min reminds him that her research indicates that Callandor seems to have a deeper flaw than just the one they know about, and she worries that it may be used against him. Rand replies that everything else has been used against him, so why not this? He turns to Naeff and says that he has been unable to Travel to the Black Tower, and shows him a weave he can use to disguise himself. He orders Naeff to Travel a day’s ride away from the Black Tower and ride in to find out the situation there. He also asks Naeff to pass on a message to Logain and his followers.

“Tell them that I was wrong. Tell them that we’re not weapons. We’re men. Perhaps it will help. Take care. This could be dangerous. Bring me word. I will need to fix things there, but I could easily stumble into a trap more dangerous than any I’ve avoided so far.”

Naeff looks confused, but obeys. Rand has Narishma open a gateway to outside Far Madding, and tells Cadusane to be ready to make a gateway to escape if necessary. Cadsuane points out that they are prevented from touching the Source near Far Madding, and Rand smiles and counters that she is wearing a “full paralis-net” in her hair, which contains a Well. Cadsuane goes still, and says she’s never heard that term. Rand replies that he doesn’t recognize all her ornaments, and suspects her net was made during the Breaking, but he was there when the first ones were designed, and wore the first male version.

The room fell still.

“Well, boy,” Cadsuane finally said. “You—”

“Are you ever going to give up that affectation, Cadsuane Sedai?” Rand asked. “Calling me boy? I no longer mind, though it does feel odd. I was four hundred years old on the day I died during the Age of Legends. I suspect that would make you my junior by several decades at the least. I show you respect. Perhaps it would be appropriate for you to return it. If you wish, you may call me Rand Sedai. I am, so far as I know, the only male Aes Sedai still alive who was properly raised but who never turned to the Shadow.”

Cadsuane paled visibly.

Rand’s smile turned kindly. “You wished to come in and dance with the Dragon Reborn, Cadsuane. I am what I need to be. Be comforted—you face the Forsaken, but have one as ancient as they at your side.” He turned away from her, eyes growing distant. “Now, if only great age really were an indication of great wisdom. As easy to wish that the Dark One would simply let us be.”

The party goes through the gateway and heads toward Far Madding and the huge army spread around it. Rand talks absently of the ancient names for the city and the people who used to live there, and Min asks him if he is really four centuries old. Rand observes that she is worried that he is no longer the foolish sheepherder she knew, and assures her they are just memories. Min counters that he talks like he was the one who tried to seal the Bore, and knew the Forsaken personally.

Rand rode in silence for a time. “I suppose I am him. But Min, what you’re missing is this: I may be him now, but he was always me as well. I was always him. I’m not going to change just because I remember—I was the same. I’m me. And I always have been me.”

“Lews Therin was mad.”

“At the end,” Rand said. “And yes, he made mistakes. I made mistakes. I grew arrogant, desperate. But there’s a difference this time. A great one.”

“What difference?”

He smiled. “This time, I was raised better.”

Min found herself smiling as well.

“You know me, Min. Well, I promise you, I feel more like myself now than I have in months. I feel more like myself than I ever did as Lews Therin, if that makes any kind of sense. It’s because of Tam, because of the people around me. You, Perrin, Nynaeve, Mat, Aviendha, Elayne, Moiraine. He tried very hard to break me. I think if I’d been the same as I was so long ago, he would have succeeded.”

Narishma hisses as they cross the boundary where the Source disappears, but Rand does not react; Min thinks that he doesn’t seem to be having the sickness when he channels anymore either, and then wonders if he’s covering it. An escort of twenty soldiers meets them as representatives of “the Unity of the Border,” and Min comments that they did not call him “Lord Dragon.” Cadsuane tells Rand not to be arrogant, but not to back down either, and Min observes with amusement that she called him by name this time, instead of “boy.” Cadsuane warns that any gateway she makes will be very small, only enough to crawl through, though she is sure it will not come to that. Rand is not so sure, but thanks her for the advice. Cadsuane points out the four monarchs as their party approaches, giving a quick rundown on each ruler’s personality quirks. Rand asks Min for her input.

“Tenobia has a spear hovering over her head,” Min said. “Bloody, but shining in the light. Ethenielle will soon be wed—I see that by white doves. She plans to do something dangerous today, so be careful. The other two have various swords, shields and arrows hovering about them. Both will fight soon.”

“In the Last Battle?” Rand asked.

“I don’t know,” she admitted. “It could be here, today.”

Rand dismounts before the monarchs and asks them what they wish of him. Ethenielle walks up and slaps Rand in the face. Min et al react with fury, but Rand orders them to stop, and asks Ethenielle mildly if that is some traditional Kandori greeting. She steps aside, and King Easar steps up and backhands Rand hard enough to draw blood. Rand again waves off his followers. Then Tenobia slaps him hard enough to hurt her own hand, and finally Paitar gives him a blow that sends Rand to his knees. Min can’t take it anymore and dashes to his side, demanding to know how they dare to treat him this way when he came to them peacefully.

“Peacefully?” Paitar said. “No, young woman, he did not come to this world in peace. He has consumed the land with terror, chaos and destruction.”

“As the prophecies said that he would,” Cadsuane said, walking up as Min helped Rand back to his feet. “You lay before him the burdens of an entire Age. You cannot hire a man to rebuild your house, then reproach him when he must knock down a wall to do the job.”

Tenobia says this presumes he really is the Dragon Reborn, and Rand stands and draws Callandor from its sheath, and asks if she will deny that. Ethenielle says that even if he does prove to be the Dragon, he has much to answer for. Rand replies hat she can take her price after the Dark One has had his day with him. Paitar says he has a question which will address the problem. Rand says he can see that Paitar believes him, and asks if the question is necessary. Paitar replies that it is vital, and is what drove them all here. He stands ready to draw his sword, and Min realizes he is too close to be stopped in time if he does attack. Rand tells him to ask.

“How did Tellindal Tirraso die?”

“Who?” Min asked, looking at Cadsuane. The Aes Sedai shook her head, confused.

“How do you know that name?” Rand demanded.

“Answer the question,” Easar said, hand on his hilt, body tense. Around them, ranks of men prepared themselves.

“She was a clerk,” Rand said. “During the Age of Legends. Demandred, when he came for me after founding the Eighty and One… She fell in the fighting, lightning from the sky… Her blood on my hands… How do you know that name!”

The monarchs look at one another, and relax. Ethenielle calls him Dragon Reborn, and invites him to sit and talk.

Cadsuane tells herself Rand is a “fool boy” for not seeming nervous at being surrounded by the Borderlander army, not to mention thirteen Aes Sedai waiting outside the tent, but then acknowledges to herself that he’s changed, and that she is – grudgingly – a little proud of him. Paitar tells them of the prophecy passed down in his family line, kept secret from all but they:

“I see him before you!” Paitar quoted. “Him, the one who lives many lives, the one who gives deaths, the one who raises mountains. He will break what he must break, but first he stands here, before our king. You will bloody him! Measure his restraint. He speaks! How was the fallen slain? Tellindal Tirraso, murdered by his hand, the darkness that came the day after the light. You must ask, and you must know your fate. If he cannot answer…”

He trailed off, falling silent.

“What?” Min asked.

“If he cannot answer,” Paitar said, “then you will be lost. You will bring his end swiftly, so that the final days may have their storm. So that Light may not be consumed by he who was to have preserved it. I see him. And I weep.”

Cadsuane says they came here to murder him, then, and Tenobia counters that they came to test him. Rand tells them they have no idea how close they came to doom; if he had come to them a short time earlier, he would have “returned those slaps with balefire.” Tenobia points out scornfully that they are within the Guardian’s range, and Rand whispers that the Guardian “blocks the One Power only.” Cadsuane wonders what he means by that. Paitar says they were destined to test the Dragon Reborn, to see if he could be trusted to fight the Last Battle. Rand tells them it was a foolish gambit. Ethenielle asks if they can teach the Borderlanders’ Aes Sedai how to Travel, and Rand replies that he will, in exchange for an oath of fealty. Tenobia snaps that they are sovereigns, who will not bow to him like her uncle did. Rand rises, and says that the ultimatum he gave them before was “phrased poorly” but nonetheless stands: he is their only path to the Last Battle, and without him, they will be stranded here.

“Tomorrow, I meet with the monarchs of the world. After that, I am going to go to Shayol Ghul and break the remaining seals on the Dark One’s prison. Good day.”

Cadsuane didn’t rise. She sat, sipping her tea. The four seemed astounded. Well, the boy certainly had picked up an understanding of the dramatic.

Paitar sputters, and Rand tells them that he stepped in to save Maradon, barely, but their countries need them. They can either swear to him, or “sit here and let everyone else fight in your place.” He gives them an hour to decide, and asks if while they deliberate they can send for a man named Hurin, as Rand would like to apologize to him. The monarchs look stunned, and Cadsuane rises to go find the Borderlander sister, satisfied that Rand has them in hand.

Another army beneath his banner. I didn’t think he’d manage this one.

One more day and it all began. Light, but she hoped that they were ready.

Commentary
This chapter both delighted me and completely pissed me off. Both emotions, of course, were entirely on Rand’s behalf.

It delighted me, especially on this second reading, because again, it is awesome to see a Rand no longer on the verge of a psychotic break, and making rational decisions, and actually being a leader I would want to follow instead of the world’s biggest douchebag ragemonster. Not just for the obvious reasons, but also because I am so pleased that it seems like it’s so much nicer for him inside his own head, which is a state of affairs that hasn’t existed since… well, since the beginning of the story, really, but especially not since Crazypants Lews Therin took up residence in his brain. Our heroes are supposed to suffer (remember, no conflict no story), but there are freakin’ limits, jeez.

And I was also delighted—in an only nominally schadenfreude-ish manner, I swear!—by Rand’s interaction with Cadsuane in this chapter. The whole “you can call me Rand Sedai” conversation was truly glee-worthy. And not just because it put Cadsuane so badly out of countenance (though I can’t deny that was part of the glee!), but because it was very cool to see that Fully Integrated Rand has finally discovered how to successfully work with her compulsive need to drape everything she says in only barely metaphorical barbed wire.

The successful formula, as far as I can tell, is to simply pick out the (usually) good advice buried underneath, and ignore everything else. Which is an awfully neat trick that I doubt I could personally pull off. Show me a man who can climb over barbed wire—metaphorical or otherwise—without flinching, and I’ll show you a hoopy frood who really knows where his towel is.

Which is probably why the rest of this chapter shouldn’t have pissed me off so much, since from that point of view Rand’s handling of Cadsuane and Rand’s failure to lose his shit and balefire the everliving crap out of the Borderlander monarchs are both evidence of the same thoroughly impressive maturity. But I don’t care, because WHAT THE FUCKING HELL, BORDERLANDER MONARCHS, YOU DO NOT SMACK MY BOY AROUND, I WILL CUT YOU.

Grr.

And I get what the purpose is here—not least, to show just how huge a bullet the Light dodged by Rand having his epiphany/integration thing happen before it was too late and he irrevocably crossed that Moral Event Horizon and doomed the world. Which, I think balefiring the crap out of four Lightside rulers and the majority of their military puissance would definitely count as. But it’s a proprietary thing. Rand’s suffered so much at the hands of others, and it just frosts my cookies to see him subjected to more.

And Cadsuane makes an excellent point when she says it’s a bit rich for Paitar et al to get all righteously indignant at Rand for doing… exactly what every prophecy of him ever has said he was going to do. Including the one they had so much faith in that they essentially left their countries to be overrun with Shadowspawn to fulfill. That veers pretty darn close to hypocrisy, there, if you ask me.

But, whatever. Borderlanders: secured! Yay!

And speaking of that epiphany/intergration thing:

“I suppose I am him. But Min, what you’re missing is this: I may be him now, but he was always me as well. I was always him. I’m not going to change just because I remember—I was the same. I’m me. And I always have been me.”

This paragraph kind of gives me a headache, because I sort feel like it’s bullshit, and yet am not sure I can quite support the claim.

I’m not really bothering to contest the part where Rand claims that he was always Lews Therin, and vice versa, because sure, it’s like time travel stories, just nod and smile and put away your silly logic. I’m fine with that. But the part where he says it’s not going to change him is patently, observably untrue—otherwise he and Min wouldn’t be having this conversation in the first place. Because New Jesus Rand is obviously very much changed from Previous Rand—either before or after he started diving off the Cliffs of Insanity.

I mean, if you’re going with the idea that non-integrated Rand was the aberration/incorrect version—for his whole life, mind you—and it’s only now that he and Lews Therin are all comfily smooshed together that he is the person he’s supposed to be, well then, maybe in a weird way the claim is true. But otherwise, clearly not. And, by the way, the implication that pre-Lews Therin Rand was the “wrong” version of his true self or whatever is exactly why I initially had a problem with Zen Master Integrated Rand in the first place.

But I’ve pretty much gotten over that, that faint feeling of betrayal to the character I’ve been sticking with for all these years. And again, as I said, this is obviously the best thing that’s happened to Rand in, like, ever, so it’s kind of crappy of me to begrudge him whatever small amount of peace he can find before this whole Tub o’ Doom goes down.

Although, I note that his veiled reference to the True Power in this chapter does definitely indicate that not all of Rand’s issues have been resolved. Which is as it should be, of course. Once the conflict is over, the story is over—and it is important that that applies to both external and internal conflict.

Other notes:

Hurin! Apologies! Yay! *hearts in eyes*

Min’s vision of Callandor: the “black onyx” thing seems oddly specific—and puzzling. Otherwise I would have leaped to the most obvious conclusion, which would involve Moridin getting hold of it somehow. That still might be the best bet, actually, since Rand’s talk about everything getting used against him eventually wasn’t foreshadowing or anything at ALL.

*shrug* Maybe Moridin gets turned to stone? I think I saw a movie like that once!

Her other visions are pretty self-explanatory, although Tenobia’s seems to suggest that if she is going down, she’s going to do it in a perhaps literal blaze of glory. So that’s nice.

As far as the aside with sending Naeff to the Black Tower goes, it was pointed out in the comments on Androl’s chapter (where I was confused about its placement in the overall timeline) that he was still able to make gateways in that chapter, whereas apparently in Rand’s timeline (and Elayne’s, from her comments in an earlier chapter) the dreamspike I am assuming/will be later told (can’t remember which) is preventing Traveling around the Black Tower is already in effect. So obviously Androl’s intro chapter was at least somewhat ahead of everyone else’s on the timeline. And, so, yeah. Worth mentioning, I think.

 

Chapter 52: Boots

What Happens
Elayne, Birgitte, Guybon, and her honor guard of a hundred gather in the Queen’s Plaza, and Elayne regrets that her efforts to create more foxhead medallion copies are not going well without the original to use as a template, so only she and Birgitte have one. Birgitte comments that she doesn’t like this, and Elayne replies she doesn’t like anything these days.

“I swear, you’re becoming more irritable by the day.”

“It’s because you’re becoming more foolhardy by the day.”

“Oh, come now. This is hardly the most foolhardy thing I’ve done.”

“Only because you’ve set a very high benchmark for yourself, Elayne.”

Elayne looks southward, and comments that Rand is preparing for something, and feels troubled and peaceful at the same time. She thinks that the meeting at Merrilor is in one more day, and assures herself that Rand will see reason re: breaking the seals. Alise and three other Kinswomen are also riding with them, and Birgitte asks Alise for a weave that would prevent archers from hitting Elayne. They go through the gateway to outside Cairhien, where Lorstrum and Bertome wait with large armies of five thousand each, which thrills Birgitte not at all. Elayne reminds her that she is Queen now, and will always be in danger, and thinks to herself that it means her friends will also always be in danger too. The Cairhienin troops form up around Elayne’s party to escort them into the city. Lorstrum approaches to inform her that there is some unrest in the city owing to “unfortunate rumors” surrounding her ascension.

Rumors you probably initiated, Elayne thought, before you decided to support me instead. “Surely they won’t rise against your troops?”

“I hope they will not.”

[…] Lorstrum nodded to her with respect. He knew she was manipulating him, but he also accepted that manipulation. She would have to keep a careful watch on him in the years to come.

Inside the city, Elayne is pleasantly surprised that the cheers from the crowd outnumber the jeers, though she knows some of the cheerers are strategic plants, and thinks that perhaps the Cairhienin people had been waiting for someone to take up where they had been abandoned. She thinks they are a wounded people, and resolves to do something about it. Her confidence grows as they arrive at the Sun Palace, where they are met by Sashalle Anderly and Samitsu Tamagowa, both Aes Sedai though Sashalle does not have the ageless face. Sashalle welcomes her with a speech formally transferring power from Rand to her, and Elayne does not let her irritation at that show. They enter the Palace and proceed to the throne room, followed by the highest ranking of the Cairhienin nobility. Elayne moves to sit on the Sun Throne, but Birgitte stops her, insisting on examining it first. Elayne is embarrassed until Birgitte discovers a poison-coated needle embedded in the cushion. Lorstrum and Bertome decry the assassination attempt, and Elayne allows them to save face. She asks Birgitte if it is safe, and Birgitte replies there’s only one way to find out, and plops herself down on the throne, to the crowd’s shock.

“Birgitte!” Elayne hissed, feeling her face grow red again. “You can’t sit in the Sun Throne!”

“I’m your bodyguard,” Birgitte said. “I can taste your food if I want, I can walk through doorways before you, and I can bloody sit in your chair if I think it will protect you.” She grinned. “Besides,” she added in a lower voice, “I always wondered what one of these felt like.”

Elayne gives a speech to the assembled nobles, in which she reminds them that she herself is half Cairhienin, and this alliance will make both their nations great. She hesitates, and adds that this is how the Dragon Reborn would wish it, reminding herself that she had taken Andor on her own, so could accept Rand’s help in securing this one. She sits, and orders the nobles to assemble their armies, as they will be Traveling with Andor’s forces to the Field of Merrilor to meet the Dragon Reborn. She also orders that any bellfounders in the city be brought to her immediately, and begin conscription and training of every able-bodied man available, as well as any women who want to fight. The nobles are taken aback, and Bertome protests that there is to be a coronation feast, but Elayne tells him they will feast when the Last Battle is won.

Mat surveys his camp, reveling in being free of the specter of the gholam, and reflects on his pleasure at being in a well-ordered military camp. He goes to his tent and goes over the news brought in. He is pleased to hear that Tuon had evidently crowned herself Empress. Most of the rest is unreliable or obviously false; mentions of Rand bring on the colors, which show Rand talking with some people in a tent. He is intrigued by some of the odder reports:

Wolves running in enormous packs, congregating in clearings and howling in chorus? The skies shining red at night? Livestock lining up in the fields, all facing toward the north, watching silently? The footprints of Shadowspawn armies in the middle of fields?

Setalle approaches, and Mat jokes that she has to make an appointment with his “steward” (a stump) before coming in. She sits on it instead, and remarks that he is “an interesting creature.” She asks if he really knows the Queen, and Mat shrugs and says Elayne is “a nice enough girl.” Setalle tells him she isn’t going to be shocked by him anymore, and says she received a letter from Joline, sending word they had arrived in Tar Valon and asking after Mat. Mat is highly skeptical of this, and Setalle tells him Joline respects him. Mat replies that you’d never know from how she treated him like mud, just like all Aes Sedai, and Setalle glares. Mat apologizes for the insult, and Setalle points out that she is not Aes Sedai. Mat shrugs.

“I know you said it didn’t hurt,” Mat said. “But…what does it feel like? The thing you lost?”

She pursed her lips. “What is the most delightful food you enjoy, Master Cauthon? The one thing that you would eat above all others?”

“Ma’s sweet pies,” Mat said immediately.

“Well, it is like that,” Setalle said. “Knowing that you used to be able to enjoy those pies every day, but now they have been denied you. Your friends, they can have as many of those pies as they want. You envy them, and you hurt, but at the same time you’re happy. At least someone can enjoy what you cannot.”

She asks why he hates Aes Sedai so, and Mat replies that he doesn’t, but that sometimes a man wants “to do what he wants, without someone telling him what’s wrong with it and what’s wrong with him.” Setalle asks if it is not about his peculiar views on nobles, which Aes Sedai often act like, and Mat replies he has nothing against nobles, he just doesn’t want to be one. Setalle asks why.

Mat sat for a moment. Why was it? Finally, he looked down at his foot, then replaced his boot. “It’s boots.”

“Boots?” Setalle looked confused.

Mat explains that an average man, like him, has maybe three pairs of boots, and knows exactly when and where to wear them, but a nobleman like Talmanes has dozens of pairs, and Mat doesn’t see how one keeps track of so many pairs.

“I see…. So you’re using boots as a metaphor for the onus of responsibility and decision placed upon the aristocracy as they assume leadership of complex political and social positions.”

“Metaphor for….” Mat scowled. “Bloody ashes, woman. This isn’t a metaphor for anything! It’s just boots.”

Setalle shook her head. “You’re an unconventionally wise man, Matrim Cauthon.”

Setalle shares cider with him and then leaves, after he promises to arrange a gateway for her once he’s back from his “errand” with Thom and Noal. He thinks on that “errand,” and how unnerving it was that he was about to attempt what one of the greatest Heroes of the Horn had failed in doing. He tells himself, though, that he has something Birgitte did not: his luck. He looks again at Verin’s letter, and decides that he is never going to open in, even if he returns from the Tower of Ghenjei. He tosses it on his desk and goes to find Thom and Noal.

Commentary
HOLY CRAP ELAYNE IS BLOODY QUEEN OF BLOODY CAIRHIEN OH THANK GOD CAN WE GO NOW

Because, seriously.

In her defense, Elayne seems to feel pretty much the same, since she’d barely even sat down on the throne before she was all, “Aaaaand we’re off to the apocalypse, kids, come on, pack up, chop chop!” Which was kind of hilarious, actually.

Although I have to raise a certain amount of eyebrow at the idea that every noble in Cairhien would be able to assemble all their troops with less than twenty-four hours’ notice, even with the use of gateways, but whatever. At this point I just want everyone to get to the damn Field of Merrilor already so we can giddyup this pony, so sure. Thousands of troops (tens of thousands of troops?), ready to go in a day. No problem.

And yay for the Secret Service Warder Birgitte! Foiling assassins and scandalizing nobles since… er, either last year, or for countless generations, depending on how you want to look at it. One thing about Birgitte, she may be pissy a lot, but she does her job and does it well.

Although I would certainly argue that anyone in charge of trying to keep Elayne safe has rather a lot of justification for pissiness. Oy. Her and Elayne’s banter at the start of the chapter was fairly amusing, if for no other reason than that at least Elayne acknowledges her particular brand of crazy, but I’m not actually sure if that makes it better or worse.

The Mat section was… mainly a transitional scene. The most significant thing I got out of it was the confirmation that Mat and Elayne’s timeline (and Perrin’s, by extension) have officially caught up with Rand’s, which is good to know.

Other than that it was just a smidge of character development, and actually I think Setalle’s bit of that was more revealing than Mat’s. The boots metaphor was fine (though I think Setalle’s commentary on it came rather perilously near to breaking the fourth wall there), but I’m not sure it told me anything about Mat that I didn’t already know. Whereas it was rather nice to hear that Setalle has managed to make her loss into as positive a thing as can reasonably be expected.

The only other thing worth mentioning is Mat’s decision to abandon Verin’s letter, which had me going “NO WHAT YOU ARE A MORON” even before I knew what it contained. Not only was it stupid (possibly only in retrospect but whatever), I don’t even get it. How could you not open it??

That would drive me barking mad, not to know what was in there. This is, among other things, probably why I would have no chance in hell of surviving any kind of genre horror movie, so I’m not necessarily saying this is a good thing, but come ONNNNNN. How could you not open it?


And that’s what that is, chirren. Have a delightful Thanksgiving holiday if you are of the American persuasion, and a delightful random week in November if you tisn’t, and see you next Tuesday!

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