I am just a posting mofo this week, ain’t I? I ain! So, here, have a Wheel of Time Re-read post—whether you want it or not. Don’t get all sullen now, this is for your own good, missy.
Upon this discrete circadian interval, our egregious loquacity is quaintly cognominated Part 6 of The Shadow Rising, in which we inspect, peruse, scrutinize, study, survey, traverse, and/or valuate Chapters 20-22, with diligent and unmitigated application of maximum verbosity, divagation, and quibblation. Sesquipedaliophobics need not apply.
Old posts are here. So are spoilers.
Tangentially-but-not-really to this, I want to remind y’all that JordanCon doth approacheth, and I will be there, and I hope some of youse guys will be there too. To that end, I’m working on some fun con-related stuff for Tor.com which I will give you details on as soon as, um, I know those details. I do know that I will be participating in at least one or two panels there, and possibly doing some other really cool stuff too. More as it develops.
And now, I believe that is sufficient equivocation. Ventral locomotion is indubitably compulsatory at this exigency!
Chapter 20: Winds Rising
Falling over each other, Elayne and Nynaeve lurch up on deck after Coine and Jorin. The crew is shouting about earthquakes, but Elayne looks at the Stone and knows it was Rand. She and Nynaeve look at each other, and finally Elayne says he’d better not have damaged the ship. Nynaeve says comfortingly that the second letter must have touched a nerve, that’s all, but breaks off to ask what are they doing here? Elayne sees Thom Merrilin and Juilin Sandar standing on the deck, obviously not together but both looking in their direction anxiously. Coine comes over and tells them the ship is not damaged, and they can set sail immediately; in reference to Thom and Juilin, she expresses reluctance to throw a gleeman and a thief-catcher of good repute off her ship, but will if Elayne and Nynaeve ask it.
“Let us see why they are here first,” Nynaeve said in a flat voice that did not bode well for either man.
“Perhaps I should do the talking,” Elayne suggested, gently but firmly. “That way, you can watch to see if they are hiding anything.” She did not say that that way Nynaeve’s temper would not get the better of her, but the wry smile the other woman gave her said she had heard it anyway.
“Very well, Elayne. I will watch them. Perhaps you might study how I keep calm. You know how you are when you become overwrought.”
Elayne had to laugh.
As they come up to the two men, Elayne frowns at Thom, thinking he seems very familiar, but can’t imagine why; she turns to Juilin instead, and remarks mildly that the last time they saw him, he had not served them very well. Juilin replies that actually, the very last time they had seen him was when he and Mat Cauthon had rescued them. Elayne concedes this, somewhat, but that doesn’t explain what he is doing here. Juilin eyes Nynaeve warily.
“I was rousted out of my house no more than half an hour gone,” he said carefully, “by a man you know, I think. A tall, stone faced man calling himself Lan.” Nynaeve’s eyebrows rose slightly. “He came on behalf of another man you know. A... shepherd, I was told. I was given a great quantity of gold and told to accompany you. Both of you. I was told that if you do not return safely from this journey... Shall we just say it would be better to drown myself than come back?”
Nynaeve mutters about disobedience, but seems pleased nonetheless; Elayne frowns and thinks Rand must not have read the second letter yet, and now there was no time to send another, and it would only make her look a bigger fool if she did. Nynaeve asks Thom if “the shepherd” sent him, too, and Thom answers no, it was the lady who found Nynaeve and the shepherd both in Emond’s Field. Nynaeve asks why, suspiciously, and Thom tells her he has useful skills, and knows Tanchico well. Watching him, Elayne again feels that sense of familiarity, and without thinking reaches out and tugs one of his moustaches. He jumps, and she claps her hands over her mouth, mortified. She apologizes, and Thom accepts stiffly. Elayne looks to Nynaeve, who stares at the men for a long moment before deciding they can come, but only if they both agree to do as they are told. Thom attempts to weasel his way out of promising outright, but eventually both men give their word on it, and Nynaeve sends them off to find “a cubbyhole” to set up in. Elayne asks if she is not being too hard on them, but Nynaeve counters that Thom knows they are not full Aes Sedai, so they will need every advantage to keep the men from thinking they can take over the whole enterprise from two mere Accepted. They discuss whether they believe Juilin and Thom are trustworthy; Elayne is inclined to trust Thom, even though she’s not sure why, but Nynaeve is very suspicious that it was Moiraine who sent him.
Nynaeve goes below as the ship sets out through the river delta; once they are out on open sea, all the Sea Folk women take off their blouses, even Coine and Jorin, to Elayne’s consternation. Juilin cannot decide where to look and soon dashes below, and Elayne convinces herself she doesn’t care, as long as they do not expect her to do the same. She finds herself in the bow, watching the dolphins playing in the bow wave, and sees that Thom is there too. She notes he seems sad, and thinks she would remember why he was so familiar if she could make him laugh. She asks if he means to compose the epic about Rand. Thom replies perhaps, but it doesn’t matter much; by the time the next Age comes around (though, he admits, that could be very soon) the tale will be changed out of all recognition, and no one will remember the truth of it. Rand al’Thor will be lucky if anyone still gets his name right in a couple of dozen generations. He laughs, and Elayne is sure she remembers him now. To keep him talking, she brings up Hawkwing; surely the tales are correct about him. Thom says in essence, perhaps, but he seriously doubts Hawkwing actually did even half of what the stories claim.
“And that is only a thousand years back. Go back further, back to the oldest tales I know, from the Age before the Age of Legends. Did Mosk and Merk really fight with spears of fire, and were they even giants? Was Elsbet really queen of the whole world, and was Anla really her sister? Was Anla truly the Wise Counselor, or was it someone else? As well ask what sort of animal ivory comes from, or what kind of plant grows silk. Unless that comes from an animal, too.”
Elayne says she doesn’t know about the rest of it, but he could ask the Sea Folk about ivory and silk; Thom laughs again, and says she is practical and to the point, just like her mother. Elayne doesn’t think he should be talking about his queen so familiarly, but Thom goes on that the Sea Folk don’t know where silk comes from any more than anyone else, and tells her about the closed ports beyond the Waste. Elayne asks again why he came with them, and Thom gives cheerful non-answers, yet Elayne is struck again by the feeling that she can trust him utterly. She suddenly interrupts their conversation, though, and tells him she must go; she walks over to Jorin, who is clearly surrounded by the light of a woman channeling. Elayne watches as Jorin weaves “cable-thick” flows of Air and Water, driving the ship along at a great pace. When she finishes, Elayne says quietly this is why Sea Folk ships will not carry Aes Sedai. She tries to assure Jorin that the Tower would not interfere with the Windfinders, but Jorin disagrees; she had hoped that perhaps Elayne and Nynaeve were not Aes Sedai despite the rings, but now they know, and soon so will the Tower. Elayne tells her that she cannot promise to keep the Windfinders’ secret, but she will do what she can, and swears by her House that she will do her best to protect her people from interference. Jorin is fatalistic, but accepts. They move on to a discussion of why Sea Folk call their ships “he” when everyone else calls them “she”:
“The men will give you a different answer,” the Windfinder said, smiling, “speaking of strength and grandness and the like as men will, but this is the truth. A ship is alive, and he is like a man, with a true man’s heart.” She rubbed the rail fondly, as if stroking something alive, something that could feel her caress. “Treat him well and care for him properly, and he will fight for you against the worst sea. He will fight to keep you alive even after the sea has long since given him his own deathstroke. Neglect him, though, ignore the small warnings he gives of danger, and he will drown you in a flat sea beneath a cloudless sky.”
Elayne hopes Rand is not that fickle, and asks Jorin how long till they reach Tanchico. Jorin thinks ten days or less, to Elayne’s amazement. Elayne asks Jorin if she would teach her the flows she was just using; Jorin is astonished that an Aes Sedai would ask for instruction from her, but agrees, and says perhaps they shall both learn.
Once again in Thom and Elayne’s conversation we are introduced again to the theme of story decay. It’s kind of funny now how thrilled I was to realize that Mosk and Merk were references to the Cold War, when now it seems like the Cold War was anticlimactic enough that no one a thousand years from now is likely to remember anything much occurred between World War II and... whatever really bad thing happens next, much less multiple thousands of years from now.
Well, really, you tell me if you know offhand what happened in between the Battle of Hastings (1066) and, say, the First Crusade (1095). Unless you’re either a history buff, fresh out of a Classical History course, or seriously well-read, you probably have no clue. And that was only a thousand years ago too. And we haven’t had a world-altering catastrophe in between that and this, either. I’m just saying.
Re: Jorin's explanation of why a ship is called by the masculine pronoun: [an hour later] Oh, for Christ's sake. I am so irritated right now.
So, it turns out, if you Google “why ships called she”, the overwhelming majority of the search results quote the following oh so clever quip:
A ship is called a ‘she’ because
there is always a great deal of bustle around her;
there is usually a gang of men about, she has a waist and stays;
it takes a lot of paint to keep her good looking;
it is not the initial expense that breaks you, it is the upkeep;
she can be all decked out;
it takes an experienced man to handle her correctly;
and without a man at the helm, she is absolutely uncontrollable: she shows her topsides, hides her bottom and, when coming into port, always heads for the buoys.
Most of the rest quote Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz’s more succinct reason, in an address to the Society of Sponsors of the United States Navy: “A ship is always referred to as ‘she’ because it costs so much to keep one in paint and powder.”
Are you kidding me with this shit, or what?
I suspect that merely by bringing this up will result in my having to bust out a bingo card on at least a few commenters, but nevertheless I will not pretend that I find the above quotes amusing, because I don’t. They basically make me kind of dully angry and depressed. One might try to point out that the quotes are obviously outdated, considering the reference to “stays” (i.e. corsets) and the fact that Nimitz died in 1966, and one would be right – except for the fact that in 2009, a Google search on the question turns up practically nothing else except these two quotes. Seriously, go try it if you don’t believe me. The few hits that don’t reference these quotes either say something brief and vague about it being a reference to captains being married to their ships, or something about goddesses that makes no sense, or merely shrug and say no one really knows where the tradition comes from.
What kills me about this is that in an hour-ish long search, I was not able to find ONE reference to this practice which wasn’t either a hasty brush-off or a derogatory lampoon. Even Wikipedia devotes all of one sentence to it. Are we seriously this scared of addressing anti-feminist traditions, Internets? Really? Really?
Gah. And you know, I wasn’t even intending, when I started this, to make this about sexism. I was simply looking for a parallel, hopefully similarly poetic description of why we call ships “she” to compare with Jordan’s rationale for calling ships “he”. Imagine my surprise when all I could find are jokes that explain how ships are, basically, whores. Un-fucking-believable.
[a day later] I’ve been re-reading what I wrote here, and debating whether or not my initial reaction was too harsh, and whether I should just delete it. But you know, I’m not going to. Maybe it is overly harsh, but it was my honest reaction at the time, so I’m going to leave it as is. I just think it would have been really nice to find something in that search that was anything nearly as nice and laudatory as what Jorin said about her ship, instead of... that. Ech. Moving on.
Chapter 21: Into the Heart
An irritated Moiraine, trailed by Egwene, enters the Heart of the Stone, packed with Tairen nobility at Rand’s orders. She’s annoyed because Lan is missing, though the bond tells her he’s not far from the Stone. She thinks about Nynaeve and how hard Lan was fighting his love for her, and that she has done what she had to about that; Nynaeve will have him if Moiraine dies, and not before. Moiraine asks Egwene if she’s sure Rand said nothing about what he’s planning, and Egwene confirms this, sounding irritated as well. Moiraine observes that Egwene has obviously not heard the rumors about the Two Rivers, but she cannot count on being so lucky about Rand. Moiraine reflects that Elayne and Nynaeve should be aboard the Sea Folk ship by now, and Thom is gone as well; she is pleased, for it gets them out of her hair and off to deal with the much less likely possibility that Amico was right about Tanchico. Moiraine is fairly convinced the Mazrim Taim story was the truer one, but her messages to Siuan should take care of that. It was just a shame Egwene hadn’t gone with them.
“Speaking of wool-brained, do you mean to continue with this plan to go into the Waste?”
“I do,” the girl said, firmly. She needed to be back in the Tower, training her strength. What was Siuan thinking of? She will probably give me one of those sayings about boats and fish, when I can ask her.
Moiraine contemplates the Tairens, in particular High Lady Alteima, who she judges is far more dangerous than either her dead lover or her soon-to-be-deceased husband, and thinks that Thom missed, there, perhaps because he had a strange reluctance to move against women. She thinks something will have to be done about Alteima, and picks out High Lady Estanda, Alteima’s biggest rival. She regrets sending Thom away for a moment, but he had had too much influence with Rand, and had been settling the boy down to rule Tear, when Moiraine knows he has to move on. She waits impatiently, fuming over Rand.
That blind fool of a boy, running headlong through the night with never a care for cliffs, never thinking he could carry the world over as well as himself. If only she could keep him from rushing back to save his village. He would want to, but he could not afford to do so now. Perhaps he did not know; it could be hoped.
She spots Mat across from them, slouching and unkempt; he shifts nervously as she looks at him, then grins at her defiantly. Moiraine thinks of the trouble he has given her spies, always seeming to eel away whenever they got near. Egwene frowns at Mat and comments that she thinks he must sleep in his coats on purpose, and asks where Perrin is. Moiraine scans the crowd and does not see him. Egwene doesn’t think he would run away, but Moiraine points out that Faile has been trying to convince him to leave, which surprises Egwene, that Faile would think she could succeed.
“Perhaps she does not believe it as he does.” Moiraine had not believed it herself, at first, had not seen it. Three ta’veren, all the same age, coming out of one village; she must have been blind not to realize they had to be connected. [...] There was no guide to how they were connected, or what they were supposed to do; the Prophecies never mentioned companions.
Rand finally enters, striding into the Heart surrounded by a hundred veiled Aiel and carrying Callandor. He goes to the center and looks around at the assembly, and Moiraine thinks he looks surprised and upset to see Egwene there; Moiraine he smiles at infuriatingly. He announces that the High Lord Sunamon has given him a treaty with Mayene that follows Rand’s guidelines, and has agreed to be hanged if it is not fulfilled. In the dead silence that follows this, he adds that the armies of Tear are to march. At this, the Tairens all cheer and caper madly, shouting “Illian shall fall!” Eventually Rand gets silence and tells them the armies will march north into Cairhein. He names the lords who will lead the force – Meilan, Gueyam, Aracome, Hearne, Maraconn and Simaan – and that Torean will be financing the mobilization, and going along as well. Moiraine applauds his choices, as those are the seven lords most heavily plotting against Rand, but thinks the rest is madness. Meilan tries to object, pointing out that interfering in a civil war is like stepping into quicksand, and Rand counters that the armies will be bringing food to relieve the famine, and restore order. Egwene mutters fiercely that she knew he wouldn’t start a war, and Moiraine asks her if she really thinks this will involve less killing. Rand then proceeds to undercut Alteima, sending her to Cairhien as well and putting her “sick” husband under Estanda’s care; Alteima faints at the news, and Moiraine thinks Rand is truly harder than he was, but also looked slightly ashamed. Estean shouts that with the Lord Dragon to lead them, Tear will conquer the world.
Jerking his head up, Rand appeared startled. Or perhaps angry. “I will not be with you. I am... going away for a time.” That certainly brought silence again. Every eye was on him, but his attentions were all on Callandor. The crowd flinched as he lifted the crystal blade before his face. Sweat rolled down his face, much more sweat than before. “The Stone held Callandor before I came. The Stone should hold it again, until I return.”
Suddenly the transparent sword blazed in his hands. Whirling it hilt uppermost, he drove it down. Into the stone floor. Bluish lightning arced wildly toward the dome above. The stone rumbled loudly, and the Stone shook, dancing, heaving screaming people from their feet.
Moiraine pushes Egwene off her and gets to her feet, watching as Rand slowly forces himself to pry his fingers from the hilt. He tells the Tairens to look at Callandor while he is gone, and remember that he will be coming back for it. Anyone who wants to take his place only has to pull it out, and he grins, waggling a finger at them, and marches out. Egwene asks if he could be mad already, and Moiraine hopes he is not. They both run after him and catch him in the hallway. Rand says to Egwene that she should have gone with Elayne and Nynaeve, and Egwene tells him she is going to Rhuidean in the Waste. Rand misses a step, and then starts reminiscing with her about Emond’s Field; Moiraine cuts in and asks why he did it. At first he deliberately misunderstands her, but then tells her that he could do anything with Callandor, and now it is a weight off his shoulders; seeing she doesn’t understand, he quotes her the Prophecies:
“Into the heart he thrusts his sword,
into the heart, to hold their hearts.
Who draws it out shall follow after,
What hand can grasp that fearful blade?”
Moiraine points out tightly that the problem is anyone can come and get Callandor after he leaves, including the Forsaken; Rand replies that he almost hopes they’ll try, and warns Moiraine to tell the Tower they must not try to take it, either; he could not make the trap pick and choose. He tells her he will come back for Callandor eventually, and leaving it there means he can come back without bringing an army to do it. Moiraine asks where he is going, then, and he answers quietly, “Rhuidean”. Egwene is astounded, and Moiraine hears a murmur from the Aiel still surrounding them. Moiraine asks if he got this from the snake doorway, and he replies that she will have to trust him, just as he has so often had to trust her.
“I will trust you for now. Just do not wait to seek my guidance until it is too late.” I will not let you go to the Shadow. I have worked too long to allow that. Whatever it takes.
The interesting thing about the relatively few POVs we get from Moiraine is how little we learn about her even when we’re in her head. Her general air of mystery is definitely one of the most appealing things about her as a character. As well as the most frustrating. I mean, seriously – she can’t even die in a straightforward manner! Or appear to die. Whatever. See?
One of the things we do see here is how increasingly stressed she is getting over her inability to control Rand, which again is both annoying – why can’t she just trust him? – and understandable – why should she just trust him? Confronted with a ridiculously powerful, completely untrained, back country 19-year-old farm boy who’s admitted to hanging out with a besotted Forsaken and is already showing signs of madness, I don’t know that I would be all that trusting, either, honestly. Plus her sole absolute source of support is fractured, by Lan’s conflicting loyalties. If you think about it, it’s kind of amazing she hasn’t had a nervous breakdown. Of course, she’s not exactly the nervous breakdown type, so.
Compared with later politicking subplots, the Daes Dae’mar we get in Tear is actually pretty straightforward and uncomplicated. Of course, everything political is uncomplicated compared with what we eventually get into with the Aes Sedai. And, you know, though I was a little dismissive earlier of the myriad tangles of Tower power plays, I do have to say that the politicking sideshow stuff (Aes Sedai and otherwise) is definitely one of the aspects of Jordan’s world-building that most strongly lends authenticity and depth to the setting. One of the most frequent mistakes sf authors make, in my experience, is failing to ground the fantastical/futuristic/whatever elements of their stories in believable human details that the audience can identify with, possibly in the erroneous belief that one has nothing to do with the other. This could not be less true, in my opinion.
For example (and I apologize if I have brought this up before): the reason Star Wars (the original trilogy) was so immersing and believable and real to me was the seemingly irrelevant details of the setting. There were space ships and laser beams and yadda yadda, but the reason I believed in them was because on occasion, those space ships broke down.
A hyperspace drive, I can deal with for story purposes; a hyperspace drive that goes on the fritz, on the other hand, I can accept immediately, because in my real life human experience, that is exactly what technology does. The physical impossibility of a hyperspace drive is ten times easier to ignore if it behaves the way we all subconsciously expect complicated machines to behave – which is to say, badly, sometimes. A space ship that gets grimy and dirty and is jury-rigged to hell and sometimes you have to bang on it to make it work is a space ship I can believe in. A space station as big as a moon? Well, I don’t know... oh, wait, it has a giant garbage compactor in it? Oh, that makes total sense. No problem.
You’ll note the common theme here: the details that make imaginary worlds work are fairly often the details which assure us that this world, just like ours, is far from perfect. A world of shiny smooth seamless flawless whatever may look real pretty, but I’m not going to believe in it, personally.
Ergo, I am much more likely to accept, say, a semi-monastic enclave of magic wielders with vast political influence and power if they behave like every group of people in positions of power that has ever existed, and jockey like mad for every bit of advantage they can get, whether this is to the detriment of their avowed purpose or not. Because that, sadly, is what people do. If I believe in them as people, flawed, messy, nonperfect people, then the fact that they can also create fireballs and whatnot is just another aspect to incorporate.
(I am suddenly remembering the Elijah Baley books by Isaac Asimov, which to date are the only sf books I can recall reading where people not only actually go to the bathroom on-screen, but where the subject is addressed at length and in detail – both from a technological and a “cultural protocol” standpoint. This is fairly hilarious, in my opinion.)
Chapter 22: Out of the Stone
Even though Rand had made no announcement about his departure, a crowd still gathers to watch the few hundred Aiel as they march out of the Stone and eastward out of Tear. Rand rides along, enjoying the anonymity; Moiraine and Lan seem to be gathering all the attention not going to the Aiel. Mat is there, too, and Rand is still surprised at his decision to come. Egwene rides up next to him, and asks if he thinks it was right to let the Aiel take all those things out of the Stone; he explains to her about the law/tradition of the fifth, and Egwene concedes that if the situation had been reversed, the Tairens certainly wouldn’t have stopped at a fifth, but stripped the place bare. Rand watches the countryside around them, noting the extreme poverty of the farms, and tells himself he can’t do anything about it yet. Egwene abruptly brings up Elayne.
“What about her?” he asked warily. He touched his pouch, where two letters crinkled against a small hard object. If they had not both been in the same elegantly flowing hand, he would not have believed they came from the same woman. And after all that kissing and snuggling. The High Lords were easier to understand than women.
Egwene asks why he let her go like that, and puzzled, he answers that she wanted to go, and besides would be safer away from him anyway. Moiraine interrupts to ask if she can know the next secret now. Mat joins the group reluctantly, and Rand asks if he is sure he wants to come; Mat grins weakly and says who wouldn’t want to see Rhuidean? Moiraine interjects that he should be glad Mat is here:
“You made a grave error letting Perrin run off, hiding his going from me. The world rests on your shoulders, but they must both support you or you will fall, and the world with you.” Mat flinched, and Rand thought he very nearly turned his gelding and rode away on the spot.
Rand answers that he knows his duty, and one of them had to go back; she may be willing to sacrifice anything, but he does what he has to do. Lan nods in agreement, though he does not speak aloud. Moiraine asks again for the next secret, and Rand answers, Portal Stones. Mat starts groaning and cursing, asking didn’t Rand remember what happened the last time? Rand answers that he is free to leave if he doesn’t want to do it, and ignores Moiraine’s icy stare, and continues to Mat that he has no reason to go to the Waste.
“Oh, yes I do. At least... Oh, burn me! I’ve one life to give away, don’t I? Why not like this?” Mat laughed nervously, and a bit wildly. “Bloody Portal Stones! Light!”
Rand frowned; he was the one they all said was supposed to go mad, but Mat was the one who seemed on the edge of it now.
Moiraine and Egwene both bring up Verin’s account of what happened the last time, and Moiraine wants to know how he intends to avoid a repeat of it; Rand feels his belt pouch and doesn’t immediately answer, and she continues that they don’t even know if there is a Portal Stone in the Waste. In reply, Rand tells her about an account he’d found of a peddler who claimed to have gotten a look at Rhuidean, and in passing had mentioned a stone there which from the description could only be a Portal Stone; then he had talked to the Stone’s chief librarian, who had identified four more Portal Stones in Tear, and they were on their way to the nearest of those now. Moiraine sniffs, disparaging this as a very thin chain of reasoning, but Rand brushes her off, though he feels ashamed of this when he sees how frightened Egwene and Mat are. At Lan’s suggestion, he sends the Aiel out to scout for the Stone; he notes in passing Egwene’s friend Aviendha, and that she seems to be giving him a contemptuous look. The Aiel spread out, searching, and soon Aviendha finds the Stone. Rand reaches her first, and while the others are catching up, examines the Stone. He notes again the flat look Aviendha is giving him, and remarks that she doesn’t like him.
“Like you?” she said. “You may be He Who Comes With the Dawn, a man of destiny. Who can like or dislike such? Besides, you walk free, a wetlander despite your face, yet going to Rhuidean for honor, while I...”
Rand asks, while she what?, but she says instead that he has treated Elayne badly, who is near-sister to her friend Egwene, but Egwene still likes him, so for her sake Aviendha will try to like him. Rand shakes his head, and then locates on the Portal Stone the symbol he knows represents the stone on Toman Head, which means the symbols surrounding it are similarly for stones in this world, rather than on other worlds, and which should include the symbol for the stone near Rhuidean. He will need luck to find it, though. Rhuarc arrives, and reluctantly points out two symbols that were used in old writings to represent Rhuidean; when Rand prods him, he finally admits that when a man goes to Rhuidean, the Wise Ones and his clansmen wait for him on the slopes of Chaendaer near a stone like this. Rand debates which one is the right one to use as the rest of the party joins them, and Egwene says he has no idea what he’s doing, does he, and asks Moiraine to stop him. Moiraine asks dryly how is she supposed to do that, exactly? Rand tells them both to be quiet, he is trying to decide. Mat asks what he has against riding.
Rand only looked at him, and he shrugged uncomfortably. “Oh, burn me. If you’re trying to decide...” Taking both horses’ reins in one hand, he dug a coin from his pocket, a gold Tar Valon mark, and sighed. “It would be the same coin, wouldn’t it.” He rolled the coin across the backs of his fingers. “I’m… lucky sometimes, Rand. Let my luck choose. Head, the one that points to your right; flame, the other. What do you say?”
Egwene starts to protest that that’s ridiculous, but Moiraine gestures her to silence, and Rand says why not. Mat flips the coin and slaps it down on the back of his hand, then hesitates; Rand touches one of the two symbols without looking, and says this is the one the coin points to. Mat checks, and blinks to find Rand is right. Rand stands and digs out the object in his pouch – a statue of a round little man sitting crosslegged with a sword across his knees – and tells Rhuarc to have everyone gather as close to the Portal Stone as possible; they are going to Rhuidean, right now. Rhuarc gives him a long look, but obeys; Moiraine asks what the statue is, and Rand tells her it is an angreal that works for men; he found it in the Hold in Tear. Egwene asks anxiously if he is sure, and he lies that he is. Moiraine observes that he seems to know an awful lot about Portal Stones, and he evasively answers that Verin told him about them. He doesn’t mention Selene/Lanfear, but can guess that Moiraine is thinking about it.
“Take a care, Rand al’Thor,” she said in that icy, musical voice. “Any ta’veren shapes the Pattern to one degree or another, but a ta’veren such as you might rip the Age Lace for all of time.”
Rhuarc nods to him that the Aiel are ready, and Rand seizes saidin; pulling through the angreal, he focuses on the symbol, willing this to work. The world winks out.
Once again Mat manages to be the most interesting character here even though he’s not the POV character and doesn’t even do very much. I think it’s safe to say that Mat in this section of the book is going through something of an internal crisis, and I can’t blame him. It cannot be anything other than supremely nerve-wracking to be riding off into the wild blue yonder, pretty much literally, on the sole say-so of a bunch of snaky freaks from another dimension. It’s the kind of thing that makes you question some core tenets about yourself, which is useful but rarely a ton of fun, shall we say.
And again, let’s not underestimate his courage here, in that he is the only member of the party (other than Rand) who knows exactly how horrible and possibly fatal it’s going to be if Rand screws the Portal Stone thing up, and yet he goes through with it. Which is not to belittle Rand’s courage, but the difference I think is that Rand’s single-minded focus allows him to disregard the possibility of pain and/or death to a degree which Mat cannot, or will not. Or maybe “disregard” is not the word I’m looking for, there; “sublimate”, possibly? Something like that.
My point is, Rand seems to drag everything down deep and bury it, and Mat, well, doesn’t, and thus somehow (rather unfairly) I regard his success in getting past his fear more impressive than Rand’s. Maybe it’s just because I would probably be more likely to react like Mat than I would like Rand; in fact I think most people would, and possibly this is why Mat has so much appeal as a character in general.
In other news, I still had no idea, at this point, that Aviendha would end up such a central character, even though by this time I had elevated her to around Verin’s tier in the cast billing. (Heh, originally in my head she was a spear carrier. Geddit?)
Okay, I’m going to have to hit myself now. Bad pun, Leigh! No biscuit!
All right, that’s enough of that. Monday brings you a shiny newish post, covering Chapters 23-25. Until then, everyone play nice in the comments – and I’m serious about that. We did only middling fair the last time I brought up unpleasant topics, and I expect better of y’all. If you can’t argue your point without name calling and attacking others, your point is not worth arguing. Right? Right. Okay, have fun. Laters!