Hey, guys. Welcome back to the Wheel of Time Re-read! Today is Part 3 of The Dragon Reborn, covering Chapters 14-21.
Previous entries can be found here. As ever, spoilers abound for the entire series, so if you haven’t read, don’t read.
Before we get going, I just want to reiterate how cool it is that so many of you guys are following the blog and participating in the discussion; as always, I am really enjoying it even though I rarely have the time to play down there with you in the comments.
While we’re on the subject, though, I would like to ask y’all for a favor: I’d really love it if we could try to avoid some of the more common Netiquette Fails that sometimes invade comment sections. Most of you, of course, are doing just fine already, and are obviously old hands at this, but for those of you who may not be experienced blog-commenters, here’s a really quick list of dos and don’ts:
Please do not post in all caps. It is headache-making and rude, and is the online equivalent of screaming in our collective ears. We can hear you just fine in lowercase, I totally swear.
Please do try to use proper grammar and spelling, and avoid the use of excessive punctuation and so forth. Obviously there is leeway on this for those of you for whom English is not your first language, and the occasional goof is inevitable no matter what your native language, but at least a token attempt to make your comments as readable as possible is deeply appreciated.
Please, please please please, as a personal favor to me, knock off the “First Post!” thing. I know it’s all in fun, but it’s not conducive to conversation (which is the whole point, right?), and frankly, it’s obnoxious. Let’s not be obnoxious, okay?
Thanks for indulging me on this, guys, I mean it. All right! Now, on to the fun stuff!
Chapter 14: The Bite of the Thorns
Siuan muses for a bit, then finally tells Egwene and Nynaeve that she has managed to keep the worst of the news about Liandrin and the others (like the fact that they killed Aes Sedai, and were Aes Sedai themselves) from public knowledge, but Siuan doesn’t know how long she can keep it that way. She is determined to catch them. Nynaeve and Egwene exchange confused looks, and Nynaeve asks if they are to be punished more, or what. Siuan says, in a manner of speaking, yes. Egwene sees that Siuan looks uncertain, which scares her. Siuan says it’s a matter of who she can trust; Leane? Sheriam? Verin? Moiraine? She always thought she could trust Moiraine, but... She trails off, and Egwene wonders if she knows about Rand, and that Verin and Moiraine were helping him. Or something; she dreamed last night that Rand was running away from Moiraine. Nynaeve finally says she doesn’t know what this is about, but in her opinion Moiraine is not to be trusted. Siuan doesn’t think much of Nynaeve’s ability to judge that, but admits, who knows; the point is, the two of them are what she has to work with. She says that Liandrin tried her best to get rid of them, so she supposes that means they aren’t Black Ajah. Egwene gasps, and Nynaeve snaps how dare she even suggest such a thing; Siuan dares her to say more, and Nynaeve manages to swallow her anger and apologize.
With a compressed smile, the Amyrlin leaned back in her chair. “So you can keep your temper, when you want to. I had to know that.” Egwene wondered how much of it had been a test; there was a tightness around the Amyrlin’s eyes that suggested her patience might well be exhausted. “I wish I could have found a way to raise you to the shawl, Daughter. Verin says you are already as strong as any woman in the Tower.”
“The shawl!” Nynaeve gasped. “Aes Sedai? Me?”
Siuan says there is no point in belaboring it, as she knows Nynaeve cannot channel unless she’s in a fury, and the tests for Aes Sedai involve being able to stay calm and channel under extreme pressure, and she will not set that requirement aside. Nynaeve is still slack-jawed, and Egwene says she doesn’t understand. Siuan tells them that of all the women in the Tower, Egwene and Nynaeve are the only two she can be absolutely sure are not Black Ajah. Liandrin and her twelve went, but was that all of them, or are there more? Not to mention, Siuan has no intention of letting them get away with what they did; they will be found and stilled. Nynaeve still doesn’t see what this has to do with them.
“Just this, child. You two are to be my hounds, hunting the Black Ajah. No one will believe it of you, not a pair of half-trained Accepted I humiliated publicly.”
Nynaeve gasps that that’s crazy. They wouldn’t stand a chance against fully-trained Aes Sedai. Siuan agrees, but points out both of them are more than a match for any of the escapees in sheer power. Egwene doesn’t understand how she will even have the time to hunt for Black Ajah. Siuan says she must find the time; it will be a little easier once she is Accepted. Nynaeve asks why not include Elayne, and Siuan says she’s got enough problems with Morgase as it is. Nynaeve and Egwene discuss it between themselves, and agree that it would be better to be on the offensive than to be just sitting around waiting for something terrible to happen, and accept the task. Siuan smiles, and Egwene thinks of puppet strings. Siuan muses that she might as well trust Verin a little further, and says that Verin will give them bios on the defected sisters, as well as a list of the ter’angreal they stole. Nynaeve still doesn’t see how they’re going to be able to do anything effective when any Aes Sedai could send them to do their laundry at a moment’s notice. Siuan hesitates, then goes to her warded box and hands them each a slip of parchment:
What the bearer does is done at my order and by my authority. Obey, and keep silent, at my command.
Watcher of the Seals
Flame of Tar Valon
The Amyrlin Seat
Nynaeve says in wonder that she could do literally almost anything with this document, and Siuan warns her she’d better not try, or she’ll wish Liandrin still had them. They put the papers away, and Nynaeve asks about Mat. Siuan says she will send word to them, and shoos them out.
New icon! Not one of my favorites, though—the women look like they’re wearing funky helmets and have fat cheeks. I don’t know, it’s weird.
This is probably a case of hindsight being twenty-twenty, but I can’t help thinking that Siuan should simply sever the Gordian knot here and do what the Black Ajah Hunters end up doing later in secret—simply make every Aes Sedai in the Tower retake the First Oath and then say “I am not a Darkfriend.” Easy-peasy!
Well, of course it wouldn’t be that easy, and I’m sure there are all kinds of in-story justifications for why that would be a politically impossible thing for Siuan to do. But thinking about it, surely it would be possible to raise the subject in a way that anyone protesting against it looks like they’re hiding something, right? What am I missing here?
I just hope that there is a credible political reason why Siuan can’t do it that way, because the only other alternative is to suppose that the notion of using the Oath Rod simply didn’t occur to her, and that’s... pretty lame, if so.
Chapter 15: The Gray Man
Nynaeve and Egwene head back to their chambers. Egwene tells Nynaeve she hopes she didn’t mean it about adhering to the Three Oaths as if they’d already sworn them; they have precious few advantages as it is. Nynaeve muses that Liandrin would not have tried to get them out of the Tower unless she saw them as a threat; Nynaeve can’t imagine what that threat could be, but if there are any Black Ajah left in the Tower, they will surely regard them the same way. Egwene hadn’t thought of that, and swallows. Despite that, Nynaeve says she meant what she said; there are other ways to defend themselves. She will not risk being put out of the Tower. Egwene is wild with curiosity to know what Nynaeve wants to learn so badly, but does not ask. They reach the novices’ quarters, and Nynaeve checks Elayne’s room, but Elayne is not there; she heads to Egwene’s, saying she needs to talk to both of them. Egwene pulls her to a stop to ask why, and something stings her ear and clangs into the wall, and Nynaeve pushes her to the floor. Egwene stares at the crossbow bolt lying in front her, realizing if she hadn’t stopped, it would have gone right through her head. Nynaeve has embraced saidar, and a moment later gets to her feet, saying she used Air to snare the assassin. They run up to the next gallery, and find an average-looking man suspended in midrun, dressed in nondescript clothing, but he is already dead; a dagger sticks out of his chest. Egwene sees he has no crossbow, though, and she says there must be another, but before they can do anything, Sheriam appears and sees the man. She touches him, and hisses; she says the man is dead, and more than dead. Nynaeve asks what that means, and Sheriam says that the man is one of the Soulless, a Gray Man, a Darkfriend who has given up his soul to become an assassin for the Shadow. She adds that there hasn’t been a Gray Man in the Tower since the Trolloc Wars. She puts a shield of Air over the Gray Man to keep anyone from meddling with the corpse, and tells Egwene and Nynaeve to tell no one of this. They agree, but Nynaeve asks what Sheriam is doing there; Sheriam softly inquires if the Mistress of Novices needs an excuse for being in the novices’ quarters. Egwene hastily excuses herself to go get her cloak, intending to retrieve and hide the crossbow bolt before Sheriam sees it, but finds that it is already gone. She comes back and drags Nynaeve away, and asks if she’s crazy to question Sheriam like that, but Nynaeve retorts that they can hardly hunt for Black Ajah if they do not ask questions. She asks if Egwene noticed what Sheriam did not ask; she never wondered who stabbed the man.
When it comes to the Aes Sedai/Black Ajah thing, Jordan had a fondness for flinging red herrings around like it’s a food fight at the fish market, and wow there are a lot of words starting with “f” in this sentence.
Hm? Oh, anyway, I always tended to think this “suspicion” cast on Sheriam here was just a leeetle too obvious, even the first time I read it. However, I find myself at a real disadvantage here, as I cannot for the life of me remember what happens to Sheriam in Knife of Dreams, so I’m... just going to shut up about it, actually.
I’m supposing, though, that the Gray Man was sent by Mesaana, or perhaps Alviarin at Mesaana’s behest, whether Sheriam had anything to do with it or not. Which is pretty impressive planning on Jordan’s part when you consider Mesaana doesn’t show up for another three books.
Chapter 16: Hunters Three
Nynaeve and Elayne enter Nynaeve’s room to find Elayne there with Gawyn and Galad. Galad takes Egwene’s hand and says that he worried about her, and is glad to see her safe; Egwene flushes and smooths her dress. Gawyn says the question is, where have they been, since Elayne won’t say. Elayne retorts that it is none of their business, and Gawyn replies that Elayne owes them after what they went through with Morgase. Galad adds that the Tower has become a dangerous place, and they are to return Elayne to Caemlyn as soon as it is safe. Elayne turns her back on him, and Nynaeve points out that Morgase’s orders hold no weight in Tar Valon, and she wants them to leave. Gawyn tries to guilt-trip Elayne into talking, but Nynaeve cuts him off and tells them that Elayne owes them nothing, and they will leave now, before she reports them for being in the Accepted’s quarters without permission. She gives them a count of three.
“Nynaeve, you wouldn’t—” Gawyn began worriedly, but Galad motioned him to silence and stepped closer to Nynaeve.
Her face kept its stern expression, but she unconsciously smoothed the front of her dress as he smiled down at her. Egwene was not surprised. She did not think she had met a woman outside the Red Ajah who would not be affected by Galad’s smile.
“I apologize, Nynaeve, for our forcing ourselves on you unwanted,” he said smoothly. “We will go, of course. But remember that we are here if you need us. And whatever caused you to run away, we can help with that, as well.”
Nynaeve returned his smile. “One,” she said.
Gawyn and Galad try to play it cool, but still manage to be out of the room before Nynaeve reaches “three”. Elayne is delighted, and twits Egwene for not saying a word while Galad was there. Elayne admits that Galad is good-looking, but maintains that he is horrid, and tells Egwene that if she wants to pay attention to someone, to try Gawyn; he’s besotted with Egwene. Egwene protests that Gawyn has never looked at her twice, and Elayne replies of course he hasn’t; he would never show interest in a woman Galad has shown a preference for first. Nynaeve acidly cuts in to say they have more important matters to discuss, and to Egwene’s surprise tells Elayne everything about the Black Ajah and the Gray Man. Nynaeve tells Egwene that she doesn’t know if they can trust the Amyrlin any further than anyone else, and it is to their advantage to have Elayne as their ace in the hole that no one knows about. Egwene agrees, but warns Elayne that it will be dangerous. Elayne reflects that the Queens of Andor are expected to be braver than anyone, and she can do no less if she is to be worthy of her throne. Nynaeve explains the Amrylin’s plan to Elayne, who is indignant at its shoddiness:
“Why, that’s like being told to go up in the hills and find lions, only you do not know whether there are any lions, but if there are, they may be hunting you, and they may be disguised as bushes. Oh, and if you find any lions, try not to let them eat you before you can tell where they are.”
Nynaeve tells her she can back out if she wants, and Elayne rejects this suggestion with disgust. Nynaeve then moves on to the subject of Mat, and says she thinks the Amyrlin may mean to let him die. They discuss whether between the three of them they know enough to Heal him without Aes Sedai help, but before they come to a conclusion, the door slams open and an Aes Sedai enters.
Lions and icons and, uh, lions, oh my! (Yeah, I... really didn’t think that one through.)
Elayne really likes to harp on that do-gooder trait of Galad’s, doesn’t she? Did she think we’d forgotten since the last sixteen times she’s mentioned it?
On Gawyn being “besotted” with Egwene... well, okay, but he sure hides it really well. I mean, fine, I’ll go with it, but some indication other than Elayne’s say-so would have been nice, is all.
And hah: Nynaeve:1, Galad: 0. Take that, pretty boy!
On the other hand, I don’t know how clever Nynaeve’s clever plan is here about bringing in Elayne. Anyone who isn’t stone blind would surely have noticed the three of them are thicker than thieves, even if Elayne hadn’t been with the other two on their Toman Head Escapade. However, I seem to recall that Siuan finds out about Elayne in about two seconds flat anyway, so this not-cleverness may have been deliberate on Jordan’s part.
Chapter 17: The Red Sister
Elaida sweeps in, and says she is not surprised to see the three of them together. Nynaeve tries to excuse herself, but Elaida is having none of it. Elayne tries to speak, and Elaida tells her softly that she may have destroyed a three thousand-year-old alliance, and she will be silent. Elaida sits and asks them if they know that the Black Ajah is loose in the Tower; after a startled silence, Nynaeve confirms they were told so, yes. Elaida says that the three of them disappear, and in the interval, so do Liandrin and her cohorts, which makes them look very suspicious. Elaida will not have Elayne brought down, so it seems that in order to protect Elayne she must do so for all three of them, but in order to do that she must know why they left and what they have been doing. Egwene hesitantly tells her that their friend Mat got very sick, and they went to bring him to the Tower to be Healed, and Nynaeve interjects that the Amyrlin said their transgressions were to be forgotten now that they’ve been punished for them. Elaida replies that was an odd thing for the Amyrlin to say, considering she’s announced their punishment to the entire Tower. She continues that their friend Mat came from the same village as another boy, Rand al’Thor, did he not? Nynaeve replies evenly that she hopes Rand is well, but they have not seen him in a long time. Elaida orders them to tell her about him, but before anyone replies the door opens again to admit Sheriam; surprised, she says she had not expected to find Elaida there. Elaida says that everyone is curious about these girls and what they’ve been doing; Sheriam replies that she believes that once a wrongdoing is punished, the fault is erased and should be spoken of no further. She and Elaida have a stare-off for a moment, and Elaida says she will speak to the girls some other time, on different matters, of course. She leaves, and Nynaeve asks Sheriam what became of the Gray Man.
Sheriam’s mouth tightened. “You take one step forward, Nynaeve, and then a step back. Since from Elayne’s lack of surprise, you have obviously told her of it—after I told you not to speak of the matter!—then there are exactly seven people in the Tower who know a man was killed today in the novices’ quarters, and two of them are men who know no more than that. Except that they are to keep their mouths shut. If an order from the Mistress of Novices carries no weight with you—and if that is so, I will correct you—perhaps you will obey one from the Amyrlin Seat. You are to speak of this to no one except the Mother or me. The Amyrlin will not have more rumors piled on those we must already contend with. Do I make myself clear?”
They chorus agreement, and Sheriam tells them to come with her. Nynaeve asks where they are going, and Sheriam replies that in the Tower, Healing is always done in the presence of those who brought their sick. Egwene bursts out, so you are going to Heal him? Sheriam frowns and wonders that she doubted it; the Amyrlin Seat herself will be participating. She adds that their friend’s life drains away while they dawdle, so they’d best get moving.
It’s interesting reading this chapter from the perspective of knowing for sure that Elaida is not Black Ajah, when obviously at this point the reader is meant to suspect the opposite.
Although she ranks not far behind Fain and the Whitecloaks on my list of WOT Characters I’d Like To Give An Atomic Wedgie, you can see here that in her own bitca way she’s trying to do the right thing. Just, you know, in a way that’s going to ruin everything, but hey.
Chapter 18: Healing
Sheriam leads them to a mostly-deserted area deep inside the Tower. Sheriam warns them to be silent and not to interfere, and brings them into a stone chamber, empty except for a stone table draped with a cloth. Mat lays on the table, barely breathing, with the Shadar Logoth dagger in a sheath on his belt. Siuan, Leane, Verin, Serafelle (the other Brown sister at Fal Dara), Alanna, Anaiya, and three other sisters Egwene does not know are positioned around the table, Siuan at Mat’s head. Sheriam joins them, bringing the total to ten sisters, and Siuan takes out a fluted foot-long white rod, which Egwene recognizes from her lessons as one of the few sa’angreal the Tower possesses, and the most powerful. She is appalled to realize that the Aes Sedai are not sure they can Heal Mat even with the sa’angreal, and is intensely grateful she and Nynaeve and Elayne never got a chance to try; they probably would have killed him. Siuan tells the sisters that she will meld the flows, and to be careful; the Power needed to break the bond with the dagger is very close to what could kill Mat. They begin, and Mat shakes his head, eyes still closed, and mutters something. Egwene fights to keep herself from embracing saidar and joining with the sisters, and sees that Elayne and Nynaeve are similarly tempted. Mat begins to thrash on the table, gripping the dagger, and slowly his back arches until only his heels and shoulders touch the table; he bares his teeth in a snarl, and his hand is forced away from the dagger. Egwene whispers that they are killing him, and Nynaeve whispers back that it would kill Mat to stop now, and anyway she doesn’t think she could handle more than half of the Power the Aes Sedai are using.
Suddenly Mat shouted, loud and strong. “Muad’drin tia dar allende caba’drin rhadiem!” Arched and struggling, eyes squeezed shut, he bellowed the words clearly. “Los Valdar Cuebiyari! Los! Carai an Caldazar! Al Caldazar!”
Egwene frowned. She had learned enough to recognize the Old Tongue, if not to understand more than a few words. Carai an Caldazar! Al Caldazar! “For the honor of the Red Eagle! For the Red Eagle!” Ancient battle cries of Manetheren, a nation that had vanished during the Trolloc Wars. A nation that had stood where the Two Rivers was now. That much, she knew; but in some way it seemed for a moment that she should understand the rest, too, as if the meaning were just out of sight, and all she had to do was turn her head to know.
With a loud pop of tearing leather, the golden-sheathed dagger rose from Mat’s belt, hung a foot above his straining body. The ruby glittered, seemed to send off crimson sparks, as if it, too, fought the Healing.
Mat’s eyes opened, and he glared at the women standing around him. “Mia ayende, Aes Sedai! Caballein mirain ye! Inde muagdhe Aes Sedai misain ye! Mia ayende!” And he began to scream, a roar of rage that went on and on, till Egwene wondered that he had breath left in him.
Anaiya takes a metal box and tongs from under the table, and carefully grasps the dagger with the tongs. Mat’s screams grow frantic, and Anaiya thrusts the dagger into the box and slams the lid shut. Mat collapses and his screams cut off, and the glow of the Power around the Aes Sedai winks out. The sisters are visibly exhausted. Verin comments that it is fascinating that the Old Blood could flow so strongly in someone today, and she and Serafelle confer among themselves. Nynaeve asks if it worked, and Siuan tells one of the sisters (Brendas) to take Mat to his room. Brendas and several of the other sisters leave. Nynaeve again demands if Mat is all right, and Siuan answers coldly that Mat is as well as can be expected, but there’s no way to know what effect carrying the dagger for so long will have on him. He should live, though. Elayne asks what it was he was shouting. Siuan replies that he was ordering soldiers, in what sounded like a two thousand-year-old battle to her. Nynaeve says that she heard him say “Aes Sedai” too.
For a moment the Amyrlin seemed to consider, perhaps what to say, perhaps whether to say anything. “For a time,” she said finally, “I believe the past and the present were one. He was there, and he was here, and he knew who we were. He commanded us to release him.” She paused again. “ ‘I am a free man, Aes Sedai. I am no Aes Sedai meat.’ That is what he said.”
Leane sniffs, and some of the other sisters mutter angrily, and Egwene says he couldn’t have meant it that way; Manetheren and Tar Valon were allies. Siuan replies they were, yes, but who can know the heart of a man? Egwene asks if they can stay with Mat, and Siuan looks at her and says she has chores to do. Egwene knows she’s not talking about scrubbing pots, and she and Nynaeve and Elayne curtsy and follow Sheriam out.
I’m sorry, I will try to contain my squee, but seriously, you guys, I am so relieved to get to the part where I finally start liking Mat. There is a whole lot of awesome coming up re: him.
Plus, there really aren’t many passages in WOT that gave me chills (I’ve think we’ve had two so far), but this scene is definitely one of them. I know I said I don’t think WOT will work as a movie/series, but this is one of the parts that make me wish I was wrong, because I would kill to see this done (well) on film.
Also, a couple of other grace notes of awesome in this chapter, like Nynaeve realizing she’s strong enough to channel ten times as much as any one of the strongest Aes Sedai in the Tower. (I’m assuming the sisters in the room were picked for their strength, because otherwise it makes no sense that not one of them was Yellow Ajah.)
Chapter 19: Awakening
Mat wakes up and stares at the richly decorated chamber, wondering where he is. His dreams and memories are all jumbled up and fragmented, and he is not sure which are which. He remembers Loial, Moiraine, a ship captain, a beautiful woman, and a well-dressed man giving him advice, but is pretty sure the Portal Stone and other things are dreams.
“Muad’drin tia dar allende caba’drin rhadiem,” he murmured. The words were only sounds, yet they sparked—something.
He has a memory: he is on a hillside, watching spearmen below fight a massive army of Trollocs while the Heart Guard awaits his command. He is known as a gambler, and knows it is time to toss the dice. He orders the footmen to prepare to pass the cavalry forward; he orders the Heart Guard to charge, and is first into the fray. Mat mutters “Los Valdar Cuebiyari”, and is almost sure it means something like “Forward the Heart Guard”, but there is no way he could know that, surely. He examines his emaciated body, and remembers something about a ruby-hilted dagger and Shadar Logoth, and that Egwene and Nynaeve were taking him to the Tower to be Healed. Laboriously he sits up and pulls himself to his feet, and staggers over to the table, where he finds a large quantity of food and wine. He grabs some beef and hauls himself over to the window to find out where he is, but it is nighttime outside and he can’t see anything. He remembers Abell Cauthon’s lessons, that you can turn any situation to your advantage if you only examine it from every angle. He concludes he must be in Tar Valon, and though he is starving and weak, he must have been Healed. Which meant the One Power had been used on him, which makes him shiver, but he tells himself that it’s better than dying. He goes back to the table, and as he eats, muses about tricky Aes Sedai, and wonders whether Rand is mad yet. He remembers that Egwene and Nynaeve are training to be Aes Sedai, and Rand is following Moiraine around, and he has no idea what Perrin’s doing, just that he’s been acting crazy ever since his eyes turned funny. He thinks to himself that he is the last sane one left, and he could do nothing to help Rand or the others; he would have to look out for himself.
A rich city like Tar Valon should have some possibilities; he doesn’t think he would be able to get an Aes Sedai to gamble with him, but surely there are merchants and the like about to pad out his purse, and then maybe he would go see a bit of the world before he went home. Preferably the bits of it without any Aes Sedai. He should visit Egwene and Nynaeve first, though, and see if they’ve come to their senses about being Aes Sedai. He realizes at this point that he has eaten everything on the table, but barely even feels full. Then he remembers something else:
I blew the Horn of Valere. Softly he whistled a bit of tune, then cut it short when the words came to him:
I’m down at the bottom of the well.
It’s night, and the rain is coming down.
The sides are falling in,
and there’s no rope to climb.
I’m down at the bottom of the well.
“There had better be a bloody rope to climb,” he whispered.
He tries to remember if Verin knew that he’d blown it, but cannot. He is trying to convince himself it doesn’t matter when there is a knock, and then the door opens.
Dice! You know you’ve arrived in WOT when you get your own icon.
Well, Mat’s still definitely himself, no matter how much of his memory he’s lost. And even though he’s still something of an opportunistic jerk here, finally being in his head shows that it’s tempered by enough compassion for his friends that you can tell most of his talk is just that, talk. Apparently Mat is even good at bluffing himself.
This is one of the reasons I like him so much, though. In a lot of ways he and Nynaeve are very similar: they are basically insecure characters who put on big tough uncaring fronts to hide that uncertainty, even from themselves, but when it comes down to brass tacks they are both big gooey piles of heroic nobility—in the personality trait sense rather than the inherited aristocratic sense. I love that.
(This similarity is probably also at least a little bit of why Mat and Nynaeve get along like two cats in a sack. On fire.)
Re: the Manetheren memories: this is one place where Jordan did misspeak. He said at a signing that Mat’s war memories all came from the Foxes in Rhuidean, and not from past lives, but he’d obviously forgotten about all this business in TDR when he said that. I don’t mind, myself; no reason Mat can’t have gotten them from both sources, after all, and personally I regard the Foxes’ gift to be more a fulfillment of the archetype Mat represents more than anything else, so it works.
Chapter 20: Visitations
The woman who enters is the most beautiful woman Mat has ever seen; he vaguely thinks he knows her, but rejects the notion. She tells him he might be passable once he fills out again, but for now maybe he wouldn’t mind putting on something. Mat realizes he is naked, and lurches to the bed and pulls the blanket around himself, stammering an apology. The woman says she would not have visited him this way, except she was in the Tower for another purpose and decided to see “all of you”. The way she says “the Tower” seems almost mocking. Mat asks if he knows her; she replies he may have seen her somewhere, and says to call her Selene. Mat asks if she is Aes Sedai, and she replies no; he asks if she’s a novice, noting her white dress, and she says hardly. She says she is someone whose interests coincide with his. She tells him that the Aes Sedai mean to use him, but she thinks that he will like it, mostly; surely there is no need to urge him on to glory. Mat asks what kind of glory, and she smiles and says she knew that would pull him; he is more important than these “so-called Aes Sedai” even know.
“You certainly sound as if you don’t trust them.” So-called? A thought came to him, but he could not manage to say it. “Are you a . . . ? Are you . . . ?” It was not the kind of thing you accused someone of.
“A Darkfriend?” Selene said mockingly. She sounded amused, not angered. She sounded contemptuous. “One of those pathetic followers of Ba’alzamon who think he will give them immortality and power? I follow no one. There is one man I could stand beside, but I do not follow.”
Selene tells him that he must trust her; she will use him, too, but at least she is being honest about that. She will not compel him; she has always believed that men perform better when not coerced. But she can give him what he desires. Mat replies she talks a lot, but how can he know he can trust her any more than the Aes Sedai? She says, by listening to what they do not tell him. Will they tell him, for instance, that his father came to Tar Valon, along with another named Tam al’Thor, looking for him? And that they sent them away without even telling them Mat was alive? Will they tell him that Rand al’Thor has run away, and that the Black Ajah infests their Tower? He should remember his choices. Mat replies glumly that he doesn’t seem to have many of those, but he supposes so.
Selene’s look sharpened. Friendliness sloughed off her voice like an old snakeskin. “Suppose? I did not come to you like this, talk in this way, for suppose, Matrim Cauthon.” She stretched out a slim hand.
Her hand was empty, and she stood halfway across the room, but he leaned back, away from her hand, as if she were right on top of him with a dagger. He did not know why, really, except that there was a threat in her eyes, and he was sure it was real. His skin began to tingle, and his headache returned.
Suddenly Selene whips her head around, and the tingle vanishes. She tells him she must go now, but to remember her words; they will speak again. She leaves, and Mat tries to make sense of what just happened. He concludes that telling the Aes Sedai about her would be a very bad idea, and decides he should probably leave. He lurches over to the wardrobe, and is examining his dice cups when Siuan and Leane enter.
Siuan observes dryly that he will hardly need those just yet, and he should get back in bed before he falls over. He hesitates, and then goes to lie back down. Siuan examines him and asks how he feels, and Mat tells her he’s fine, and will be on his way as soon as he sees Egwene and Nynaeve. Siuan and Leane ignore him and discuss his condition; Mat scowls and says he will go. Siuan tells him he was just Healed from something that killed an entire city, and he’s going nowhere until they are sure he is completely cured. She adds that she read him right from the start, and has taken precautions; he will not be allowed off the island until she is satisfied he is well. Mat remarks he has been gone from home for while, and his parents probably think he is dead. Siuan offers to send a letter to them for him. He waits, but she says nothing more, so he adds that he’s half-surprised his da didn’t come looking for him. Siuan then tells him that his father did come to Tar Valon, but they did not know where he was at the time. Mat thinks: she told him, but he’d had to ask. He says he was traveling with a friend, Rand al’Thor, and bets his father is worried too. Siuan sends Leane out of the room for more food for Mat, and as soon as she is gone snaps at him to watch what he says; some topics are dangerous. Mat protests that he knows nothing dangerous; he hardly remembers anything at all. She asks him if he remembers the Horn, and he asks what horn she is talking about. She jumps up and tells him that he’ll regret it if he tries playing games with her; Mat swallows and admits he remembers. She asks if he knows that he is linked to the Horn now; for him it will summon dead heroes, but as long as he lives it will not work for anyone else. Mat gapes, and then accuses that she means him to blow the Horn for them at the Last Battle. She asks if he would prefer the alternative.
He frowned, then remembered what the alternative was. If someone else had to sound the Horn . . . “You want me to blow the Horn? Then I’ll blow the Horn. I never said I would not, did I?”
The Amyrlin gave an exasperated sigh. “You remind me of my uncle Huan. No one could ever pin him down. He liked to gamble, too, and he’d much rather have fun than work. He died pulling children out of a burning house. He wouldn’t stop going back as long as there was one left inside. Are you like him, Mat? Will you be there when the flames are high?”
He could not meet her eyes. He studied his fingers as they plucked irritably at his blanket. “I’m no hero. I do what I have to do, but I am no hero.”
Siuan tells him most heroes only do what they have to, and warns him to tell no one about his link with the Horn. Mat says she doesn’t have to worry about that, and asks what, she doesn’t trust her Aes Sedai? She glares at him and says to have a care; if Darkfriends find out about him and the Horn they will be eager to kill him, or worse, take him. Then she tells him to get some rest, and leaves. Mat lies back and thinks about Siuan, and Selene, and the holes in both their stories, and tries to think of a way to avoid being caught between the two of them.
Ah, the Icon Heard Round The World, in The Shadow Rising. We’ll get back to that. Right now I’ll just groan about how it means we’ll be seeing a lot more of Lanfear.
Selene/Lanfear continues to irritate me, in case you didn’t notice, both as a character and a subplot. It’s just so convenient how she could Compel the snot out of Mat and Perrin, especially with no excuse about wanting them to Wuv her like with Rand, and yet the one time she finally lowers herself to start doing it she is interrupted Just In Time. Bah. (Although, I will kind of torpedo my own complaint by admitting that the scene with her earlier, with Perrin wearing the helmet in his dream, could be read as her attempting to Compel him and being thwarted by his Wolfbrotherliness. But still.)
It’s really funny how my character likes and dislikes have been flipping around this time through; I thought Lanfear was Evil Fabulous on first reading, and now I just want her to go away. Mat’s character trajectory so far, thankfully, seems to be on track for me, so hopefully he will be the exception.
Speaking of which, Siuan’s comparison of Mat to her uncle Huan pretty much sums up why Mat is awesome in my opinion. Perhaps I’m letting the narrative lead me around by the nose here, and Siuan’s speech is a trifle didactic, but I really don’t care that much as long as I get my coolness. So There.
Chapter 21: A World of Dreams
Tired and dirty from scrubbing pots, Egwene heads to Verin’s quarters in a dusty, little-used area of the Tower. She finds the door and enters to find a room cluttered with books and scrolls and papers, interspersed with strange contraptions and skulls and all manner of oddments. The owl she at first takes to be stuffed blinks at her, and she jumps. Verin is holding a paper that she absently tells Egwene she’s been studying for forty years, and still doesn’t understand. It’s a fragment of a book written just after the Breaking. Egwene asks what it says.
Verin blinked, very much as the owl had. “What does it say? It is a direct translation, mind, and reads almost like a bard reciting in High Chant. Listen. ‘Heart of the Dark. Ba’alzamon. Name hidden within name shrouded by name. Secret buried within secret cloaked by secret. Betrayer of Hope. Ishamael betrays all hope. Truth burns and sears. Hope fails before truth. A lie is our shield. Who can stand against the Heart of the Dark? Who can face the Betrayer of Hope? Soul of shadow, Soul of the Shadow, he is—’ ” She stopped with a sigh. “It ends there."
Verin says Egwene did not come for that, though, and rummages around till she finds the list of the women who left with Liandrin. She tells Egwene this is everything that is known about them from the records, as well as a list of the ter’angreal they stole. Egwene wonders whether Verin is being honest with her, but does not say so. Verin says she has something else for Egwene, too; she understands from Anaiya that Egwene may be a Dreamer; the last in the Tower before her was Corianin Nedeal, over four hundred years ago, and from what Verin can determine she barely deserved the name. She explains that the worlds reached by the Portal Stones lie parallel to each other, but that some believe there are others that cross all of them, like the warp and weft of the Pattern, and the Dark One is imprisoned in all of them; if he is freed in one world, he is freed in all, but as long as he is kept prisoner in one, he is imprisoned in all. Egwene protests that that doesn’t seem to make sense.
“Paradox, child. The Dark One is the embodiment of paradox and chaos, the destroyer of reason and logic, the breaker of balance, the unmaker of order.”
Troubled, Egwene asks what this has to do with being a Dreamer, and Verin replies that there is a third constant besides the Dark One and the Creator: a world that lies within all the others, or perhaps surrounds them. In the Age of Legends it was called Tel’aran’rhiod, the Unseen World, or perhaps the World of Dreams is a better translation. Even ordinary people can touch Tel’aran’rhiod by accident, but a Dreamer can enter it at will. Verin takes out a ring that looks like it was carved from blue and brown and red stone, and gives it to Egwene.
Egwene shifted the papers to take it, and her eyes widened in surprise. The ring certainly looked like stone, but it felt harder than steel and heavier than lead. And the circle of it was twisted. If she ran a finger along one edge, it would go around twice, inside as well as out; it only had one edge. She moved her finger along that edge twice, just to convince herself.
Verin tells her Corianin Nedeal had that ter’angreal for most of her life, and Egwene will keep it now. Egwene is shocked at this responsibility. Verin says Corianin claimed it eases the passage to Tel’aran’rhiod. She warns Egwene, though, that there are dangers in doing so; what happens in Tel’aran’rhiod is real. Verin shows her a scar that she earned there. Egwene thinks that she wants no dreams that leave scars, but then that she wants to learn, and tells Verin that she will be careful.
After Verin sends Egwene away, she looks at the pages and pages of notes Corianin Nedeal had also left behind, and once again debates burning them, as she had debated giving them to Egwene, but decides again to leave things as they are, and see what happens.
Sneaky Verin is still sneaky. And has an owl, hah. Of course she does.
I still don’t really understand the logic of the decision to give Egwene an extremely dangerous ter’angreal, and yet not give her as much info as possible to help her use it. It doesn’t seem that it can be construed in any other way but as a desire to see Egwene fail or even die, and that’s inconsistent with everything else Verin does with regard to the Emond’s Fielders. I guess you could suppose it’s on the principle that Egwene might discover more if she had no preconceived notions?
Re: the cosmology lesson: Everyone has a different picture of how the universe works; the fun of being a fantasy author is that you get to make some actual decisions about cosmic TRVTHS, at least as far as the world you’re building is concerned. And since as puny humans we do not have all-encompassing minds, there’s usually some kind of central analogy/metaphor/conceit to frame the nature of the author’s created universe in a way that makes sense. Jordan is far from the first to use weaving as a metaphorical stand-in for Life, the Universe, and Everything, but he used the conceit very well, and it fits nicely with his overall methodical, geometrical approach to his world-building.
Where he was really smart, though, was in recognizing that too much order and methodology doesn’t work, either; there has to be some give in your rules, some flexibility in your building materials, or else the whole thing is in danger of falling down, Jenga-like. As Jordan says himself (through Verin), chaos and disorder is the antithesis of the world, its downfall and its enemy, but the inclusion of Tel’aran’rhiod and its ambiguous position in his otherwise orderly crosshatching Pattern shows that he understood very well that a viable universe must have at least a little bit of chaos in order to cohere. It needs a little bit of nonsense for the sense to make sense, the way a few drops of black paint makes a gallon of white paint whiter. The universe as Möbius strip: elegant, orderly, with just a twist of illogic.
Welp, that’s all the navel-gazing we have time for tonight, kiddies. Join me next week for more TDR goodness, starting with Chapters 22-27. Off with you!