What up, yo: Welcome back to the Wheel of Time Re-read! Today we begin a brand-shiny-new installment, The Fires of Heaven.
That’s right, we are actually on the fifth book, you guys. I KNOW. Look! Different cover to my right! Or is that stage-right? Whatever.
Today we cover the Prologue and Chapter 1, which believe it or not is a serious amount of footage.
Previous entries are here, and as always this and all other posts are brimful of spoilers for all the currently published novels in the Wheel of Time series, so read with foreknowledge.
All formalities now being taken care of, I heartily invite you to lick the clink, and—wait. Strike that. Reverse it. Thank you.
Prologue: The First Sparks Fall
Elaida sits behind her writing table in the Amyrlin’s study, fingering the seven-striped stole on her shoulders and half-listening as the women before her discuss the state of affairs in the world. Danelle, the only Brown present, says there seems to be internecine fighting in Shienar, which is very unusual for the Borderlands, and Alviarin puts in that they’ve picked a good time for it, as the Blight has gone bizarrely quiet lately. Teslyn, one of the four Red sisters in the conference, adds that the Marshal-General of Saldaea has an army on the move, going southeast, away from the Blight; Alviarin concludes from this that word of Mazrim Taim’s escape has leaked, and Tenobia and Davram Bashere obviously do not trust the Tower to take care of it. Mention of Taim brings an uncomfortable silence for a moment, and Elaida thinks it is because it brings them too close to a subject they do not wish to discuss. Alviarin, Joline (Green), Shemerin (Yellow) and Javindhra (another Red) discuss whether it is necessary to send advisors to Tenobia and to Shienar; Alviarin decides to send a sister named Memara, and moves on to Arad Doman and Tarabon, asking Evenellein (Gray) for the news on the disappearance of the Panarch Amathera, and the rumors that Aes Sedai were involved. Elaida smolders silently.
Less than two months since they had all knelt to swear fealty to her as the embodiment of the White Tower, and now the decision was made without so much as a glance in her direction. […] It happened too often, this slighting. Worst — most bitter of all, perhaps — they usurped her authority without even thinking of it. They knew how she had come to the stole, knew their aid had put it on her shoulders. She herself had been too much aware of that. But they presumed too far. It would soon be time to do something about that. But not quite yet.
Andaya, the other Gray, asks if there is any news of Elayne or Galad, raising the unpleasant consequences if Morgase should find out they’ve misplaced the Daughter-Heir, again; Javindhra tells her they have a Red sister at the Palace, newly raised so she can pass for other than Aes Sedai, to keep an eye on things, and says that Morgase is entirely absorbed in pursuing her claim to the Cairhienin throne and her lover Gaebril. Alviarin deems the matter well in hand for now. Teslyn complains about Gawyn and his Younglings leading raids against the Whitecloaks across the river, and Alviarin assures her Gawyn will be brought under control as well. They move on to discussing Pedron Niall’s possible meddling in affairs between Altara, Murandy, and Illian, and Elaida thinks disgustedly of how the Tower had never used to fear anything, but now it did. She looks up at the two paintings she’d hung on the opposite wall, which everyone but Alviarin have been studiously avoiding looking at. One is a triptych of Bonwhin, the last Red to have been raised to Amyrlin a thousand years before, and depicts her being stripped of the stole for almost destroying the Tower during Hawkwing’s siege of Tar Valon. Elaida knows most Aes Sedai can’t imagine why she would want to look at this, but she thinks it is because they do not understand the importance of remembering the price of failure.
The second painting was in the new fashion, on stretched canvas, a copy of a street artist's sketch from the distant west. That one caused even more unease among the Aes Sedai who saw it. Two men fought among clouds, seemingly in the sky, wielding lightning for weapons. One had a face of fire. The other was tall and young, with reddish hair. It was the youth who caused the fear, who made even Elaida's teeth clench. She was not sure if it was in anger, or to keep them from chattering. But fear could and must be controlled. Control was all.
Alviarin declares the meeting over, and the sisters all rise and prepare to leave. Elaida asks if she gave them permission to leave, the first time she’s spoken since the beginning of the meeting, and they look at her in surprise. She tells them that since they are standing, they can stay that way, and continues that they have not said anything about the search for “that woman” and her companions. They all know who she means, and Alviarin answers, too coolly for Elaida’s taste, that it is difficult considering that they have spread rumors of her execution. Elaida tells Joline that since she is in charge of that particular mission, maybe a penance will help speed matters; Joline is to write out a suitable penance, and if Elaida doesn’t think it is harsh enough, she will triple it. Joline is shocked, but finally says “As you command, Mother”. Then Elaida tells Javindhra, who has charge of finding those sisters who ran away from the Tower when Siuan was deposed, that she is to give Elaida a report by tomorrow, and if it is not diligent enough, she will consider that perhaps Javindhra needs to give up her seat in the Hall to allow her to devote more time to it. Javindhra hurriedly replies that that will not be necessary, and adds that she is sure the runaways will begin returning soon. Elaida is not so sure of this, but the point had been made; perhaps after a few more examples they will treat her as Amyrlin in truth. She commands them to look at the painting on the wall, and they do, reluctantly; only Alviarin seems unaffected. She says that is Rand al’Thor, a man who can channel, and details all the ways in which the world is torn by war because of him.
“The greatest danger the Tower has ever faced, the greatest threat the world has ever faced, and you cannot make yourselves speak of him? You cannot gaze at his image?"
Silence answered her. All save Alviarin looked as though their tongues were frozen. Most stared at the young man in the painting, birds hypnotized by a snake.
Elaida thinks of how she had had the man in her reach, before he was spirited away, and how her predecessor had known what he was, and yet let him run wild. That woman and Moiraine – all of the Blue, Elaida thinks – had known, and Elaida promises herself that when she gets her hands on them they would plead for death when she was done. Elaida tells the sisters that Rand al’Thor is the Dragon Reborn (Shemerin sits down on the floor, hard), and there can be no doubt of it. The Dark One is breaking free, and the Dragon Reborn must be there to meet him.
“And he runs free, daughters. We do not know where he is. We know a dozen places he is not. He is no longer in Tear. He is not here in the Tower, safely shielded, as he should be. He brings the whirlwind down on the world, and we must stop it if there is to be any hope of surviving Tarmon Gai'don. We must have him in hand to see he fights in the Last Battle. Or do any of you believe he will go willingly to his prophesied death to save the world? A man who must be going mad already? We must have him in control!”
She tells them this is more important than anything else they are doing, and that they are to report to her what they are doing about it, and then dismisses them. They all leave except for Alviarin, who gazes at Elaida steadily. Elaida knows that Alviarin will not be so easily cowed, knowing as she does that Elaida’s bid for Amyrlin would not have succeeded without her support. They are interrupted by a terrified Accepted, who curtsies and tells Elaida that Master Fain is here. Elaida yells at the girl and sends her to let Fain in, knowing it was Alviarin she was really angry at. She thinks Fain might be mad or a half-wit, but may be useful nonetheless, and the first step to putting Alviarin in her place was to keep her in the dark about Fain’s purpose.
Fain steps into the Amyrlin’s study, relishing the tension he feels between the two women inside, thinking the same stretches throughout the Tower.
He had been surprised to find Elaida on the Amyrlin Seat. Better than what he had expected, though. In many ways she was not so tough, he had heard, as the woman who had worn the stole before her. Harder, yes, and more cruel, but more brittle, too. More difficult to bend, likely, but easier to break.
Elaida sends Alviarin out, and as she goes, something about the look she gives Fain makes him huddle unconcsciously for a moment, like she knows too much about him. He thinks of the Horn of Valere, somewhere in the Tower’s storerooms, and more importantly the dagger; having that back would restore so much of what was lost to him, and getting it was a much better option than trying to go back to Aridhol, where he might be trapped again.
Padan Fain. Mordeth. Ordeith. Sometimes he was uncertain which name was really his, who he really was. One thing was sure. He was not what anyone thought. Those who believed they knew him were badly mistaken. He was transfigured, now. A force unto himself, and beyond any other power. They would all learn, eventually.
He brings his attention back to Elaida, who is asking what he knows of Rand al’Thor. He stares at the painting of him on the wall, and becomes enraged. He tells Elaida that al’Thor is devious and sly, and only interested in power, but there is a way to lead him, if you tie a string to someone he trusts.
Rahvin lounges in a gilded chair and smiles as he manipulates the Compulsion weaves on the young woman in front of him. He thinks that Compulsion was no problem for this one, and his smile fades as he thinks that’s not always the case; some have such strong senses of self that they fight it constantly, even when they do not understand what it is they are fighting, and unfortunately he had need of one such at the moment. He would have to decide whether to keep her or kill her soon. He sends the young woman before him off, telling her she will only remember taking her morning walk. As the door closes, a woman’s voice behind him asks if she was one of his play pretties, and Rahvin snatches at saidin, turning to see a gateway to a room with silken white hangings before a woman similarly dressed in white and silver steps through. He demands of Lanfear what she means by sneaking up on him; Lanfear ignores this and observes that Rahvin is a pig, but not usually a fool, yet that young woman was Aes Sedai. Rahvin sneers that the “Aes Sedai” of this time are half-trained children, and Lanfear wonders how he would feel if those half-trained children put a circle of thirteen around him. Stung, Rahvin tells her that the woman is the Tower’s spy here, and now reports exactly what he wants her to. He demands again to know why Lanfear is here, and Lanfear tells him that since he avoids the others, a few are coming here, and she came first so he would know it was not an attack. Rahvin laughs, and says she was never one for attack, was she? Not as bad as Moghedien, but Lanfear always did “favor the flanks and the rear.” He asks, what others, and then another gateway opens, male work this time, and Sammael steps through. Rahvin observes to himself that Sammael would have been fairly good-looking if not for the scar which slants across his entire face, which he could have had removed forever ago but refused to. Sammael eyes him warily, and says he expected dancing girls; has Rahvin tired of his sport? A woman’s voice interrupts, and Rahvin sees a third gateway to a room filled with naked acrobats and servants, and, oddly, an old man in a wrinkled coat sitting sadly among them. Graendal steps out of the gateway, accompanied by two beautiful and fawning servants, wearing an amused smile.
“So,” she said gaily. “Nearly half the surviving Chosen in one place. And no one trying to kill anyone. Who would have expected it before the Great Lord of the Dark returns? Ishamael did manage to keep us from one another's throats for a time, but this...”
Sammael asks if she always speaks so freely in front of her servants, and Graendal blinks and says they will say nothing; they worship her, don’t they? The servants fall to their knees, babbling their devotion to her, and she gags them into silence after a moment. Rahvin wonders who they had been, as it amused Graendal to take nobility for her servants, and thinks she is wasteful and without finesse. He asks Lanfear if he should expect more, and Lanfear says it is only the four already here. She reiterates Graendal’s point about the number of Chosen dead, and one who has betrayed them. Sammael is skeptical that Asmodean would really have the courage to turn traitor, but Lanfear assures him it is true. Sammael wants to know why she didn’t kill him, then, and Lanfear replies that she is not as quick to kill as he, and besides does not care to launch a frontal assault against superior forces, in Sammael’s terms. Rahvin asks quietly if this Rand al’Thor is really so strong, and Lanfear replies that he is Lews Therin reborn, who was as strong as any. Sammael rubs his scar, which Lews Therin had given to him. Graendal jumps in and asks if they are finally getting to the point of the meeting.
“If this Rand al’Thor really is Lews Therin Telamon reborn,” Graendal went on, settling herself on the man's back where he crouched on all fours, “I am surprised you haven't tried to snuggle him into your bed, Lanfear. Or would it be so easy? I seem to remember Lews Therin led you by the nose, not the other way around. Squelched your little tantrums. Sent you running to fetch his wine, in a manner of speaking.” She set her own wine on the tray, held out rigidly by the sightlessly kneeling woman. “You were so obsessed with him you'd have stretched out at his feet if he said ‘rug’.”
Lanfear’s eyes glitter, but she merely answers that al’Thor is Lews Therin reborn, not Lews Therin himself. Graendal wants to know how she can be so sure of that; she’s never heard of such a thing, herself – a specific man reborn according to prophecy. Lanfear smirks and tells her he is no more than the shepherd he appears, but now he has Asmodean, and it is still true that four of the Chosen have fallen to him. Sammael opines that they should let al’Thor “whittle away the dead wood”; he will still have no chance at the Last Battle. Lanfear responds by taunting both him and Graendal, and Graendal looks furious. As the two women stare at each other, Rahvin senses Sammael gathering himself to do something, and quickly lays a hand on his arm, stopping him. Lanfear and Graendal, seeing something has passed between them, are suspicious, and Rahvin says to the room in general that he wants to hear Lanfear out. Lanfear tells them that Ishamael tried to control Rand al’Thor with fear and bullying, but bullying does not work on al’Thor, and so they can succeed where Ishamael failed. She says that someone else, perhaps Moghedien or Demandred, is trying to control or kill him, and Graendal asks how she knows it is not one of them here. Lanfear answers, because they all chose to carve out strongholds for themselves rather than slash at the others.
It was true, what she said of them. Rahvin himself preferred diplomacy and manipulation to open conflict, though he would not shy from it if needed. Sammael's way had always been armies and conquest; he would not go near Lews Therin, even reborn as a shepherd, until he was sure of victory. Graendal, too, followed conquest, though her methods did not involve soldiers; for all her concern with her toys, she took one solid step at a time. Openly to be sure, as the Chosen reckoned such things, but never stretching too far at any step.
Lanfear begins to explain the plan, and as she does Rahvin sees both Graendal and Sammael grow interested. Rahvin decides he will reserve judgment for now.
I’m really beginning to hate Prologues. Not for the content, exactly, but because they are nothing but exposition and talking heads 95% of the time, which is just a bitch to recap. Not to mention, they are only getting longer.
But enough grousing! Except, wait, I’m going to grouse some more: Elaida and Fain! Two foul tastes that taste foul together! Blah.
Although, the truly annoying thing about Elaida is that she is really perfectly believable in her incapacity to recognize how fundamentally unsuited for leadership she is. It is our misfortune as a species that she is exactly the kind of personality who so often manages to bulldoze their way into positions of authority that they should never, ever be allowed to attain. And yet.
Ruthlessness does not equal strength, y’all. And decisiveness is only nice if you make good decisions. Elaida is annoying precisely because she’s almost a good leader, but manages to miss the mark in just such a way that everything she touches is destined to turn to crap.
And of course, after hanging with Fain for a while she’s got about zero chance of ever doing anything differently. Fain: he’s like mold in the shower of your mind. Once that shit gets in, no amount of scrubbing is going to get it completely out.
Though I did appreciate that Fain’s POV cleared up a potential Plot Stupidity that had occurred to me at some point, which was to wonder why Fain was so dead-set on getting the dagger back when he had a whole city’s worth of crap just lying around for the taking. But that he fears getting trapped there again if he goes back, well, that makes perfect sense, really.
The Forsaken Symposium of Evil Plotting: See, this is why I could never be a villain. I could do the snarky sly insulting thing (shut up), but all this alert watching-your-opponent-for-signs-of-weakness hawklike crap just makes me tired, and wanting some hot cocoa and maybe a snuggly blanket. Sloth beats avarice, whoo!
The presence of the FSoEP in the Prologue signals a definite sea change in the treatment of Our Villains, too. Prior to The Fires of Heaven, of the Forsaken only Lanfear was a significant presence as a character; the others were either shadowy background threats, one-or-two-scene wonders, or Ishamael. And while Ishy was a great Eye of Sauron type villain, I don’t personally consider periodic cameos of Ominous Declamations of Ominosity And Occasional Murder Attempts to be much of a character imprint. (In my opinion Ishy doesn’t get interesting as a character until he’s reincarnated as Moridin, and even then he doesn’t seem to do much except lurk and give Rand vision problems.)
But here we are in TFOH suddenly meeting a whole slew of Forsaken, and getting POVs from them, too. It’s never going to become common, at least not through KOD, but from here on out the Forsaken are much more active players in the story. Which is both a good thing and a bad thing, in my view. On the one hand, yay for some narrative balance between opposing factions, but on the other, once they actually appear on screen I feel like they lose a little bit of the atavistic creepiness their prior shadowyness afforded them. (One exception is Semirhage, who is ten times creepier in person. But that’s later.)
But, you know. It is what it is. All things considered five books in is actually pretty late to be really meeting the Bad Guys, so.
Also, Graendal is supposed to be all conservative and stuff for a Forsaken, but I have to say I was like, damn, Ms. Knievel, with her taunting Lanfear about Lews Therin. Don’t you know that chick will cut you? Hi, memo: GIRL BE CRAZY.
As far as the actual Evil Plot proposed at the Evil Plotting Symposium, don’t worry, that’ll be plaguing us later.
Chapter 1: Fanning the Sparks
Wheel, Ages, legend, wind, beginning. In a town called Kore Springs just within Andor’s borders, Min tries to see through a crack in the shed wall she, Siuan, and Leane are locked in, awaiting trial for trespassing in and then burning down a local farmer’s barn. Min thinks to herself that Logain had escaped, of course, and it had been all his fault in the first place, knocking the farmer (Admer Nem) down and sending his lantern flying into the straw. Min turns to Siuan and Leane and asks what the penalty is for burning down a barn in Andor, and Siuan says a strapping if they’re lucky, a flogging if not. Min doesn’t think much of this definition of “lucky”, and Siuan answers that a strapping is the least time-wasting punishment possible; hanging, of course, being the most time-wasting of all, so to speak, but she doesn’t think Andoran law calls for that.
Wheezing laughter shook Min for a moment; it was that or cry. “Time? The way we are going, we’ve nothing but time. I swear we have been through every village between here and Tar Valon, and found nothing. Not a glimmer, not a whisper. I don’t think there is any gathering. And we are on foot, now. From what I overheard, Logain took the horses with him. Afoot and locked in a shed awaiting the Light knows what!”
Siuan cautions her to watch the names, and Min grimaces but admits to herself she is right. They have been traveling under pseudonyms ever since Tar Valon, and even Logain doesn’t know the women’s real names. Leane finishes the adjustments she was making to her dress and tugs it on; Min sees that the neckline is lower and the fit snugger, but can’t imagine why Leane is bothering. Then Leane rummages in their packs for the cosmetics Laras had insisted Min take along and Min hadn’t gotten around to throwing away, and starts applying the paints and powders. After watching this for a moment, Min asks jokingly if Leane means to take up flirting, but to her surprise Leane answers yes, she is, and if she does it right she might be able to get them lighter sentences. Siuan wants to know what brought this on, and Leane calmly tells them how her mother was a merchant, and once fogged a Saldaean lord’s mind until he consigned his entire timber harvest to her for half its worth, and that later he sent her a moonstone bracelet. She adds that Domani women don’t entirely deserve their reputation, but they deserve some of it. She says it’s too late for her to be a merchant, and the way she thought her life would go is... no longer available, so this is as good a time as any to relearn old skills. Siuan observes that that’s not the whole reason.
Hurling a small brush into the box, Leane blazed up in a fury. “The whole reason? I do not know the whole reason. I only know I need something in my life to replace — what is gone. You yourself told me that is the only hope of surviving. Revenge falls short, for me. I know your cause is necessary, and perhaps even right, but the Light help me, that is not enough either; I can't make myself be as involved as you. Maybe I came too late to it. I will stay with you, but it isn’t enough.”
Leane calms herself, and muses that she’s always felt like she was masquerading as someone else, and after a while it seemed too late to ever take the mask off, but that is done now. She had considered starting practice with Logain, but decided he was the kind of man who might hear more promises than were offered, and expect them fulfilled.
A small smile suddenly appeared on her lips. “My mother always said if that happened, you had miscalculated badly; if there was no back way out, you had to either abandon dignity and run, or pay the price and consider it a lesson.” The smile took on a roguish cast. “My Aunt Resara said you paid the price and enjoyed it.”
Min is astounded, both at the change in Leane’s behavior and at her superb makeup job. Siuan asks what happens if this local lord is like Logain, and Leane swallows, but says given the alternatives, what choice would she make? Min never gets to hear the answer, because then the shed door opens and a very large man enters to take them to Lord Gareth. As they walk, Min notices Leane mouthing to herself and making small gestures with her free hand, as if rehearsing something. In the common room of the town’s inn, Admer Nem and his kin all glare at the three women with hatred and satisfaction, which makes Min’s heart sink, and she thinks the crowd’s mood is akin to one she encountered at an execution. The slim woman standing next to a graying, bluff-featured man Min assumes is the lord announces the lord’s name – Gareth Bryne – and Min wonders if he’s the same Gareth Bryne who was Captain-General of the Queen’s Guards. She looks at Siuan, who is staring steadfastly at the floor. The slim woman announces the charges against them (trespassing, arson, assault, destruction of property, and theft), and asks Admer Nem for his version of the story. Nem only exaggerates a little in his account, and his wife Maigan adds an admonishment to Bryne to whip “these hussies” good and ride them out on a rail. The slim woman shuts her up and then asks for the defendants’ testimony. Leane then gives (to Min’s eye) a virtuoso performance of pleading their case to Bryne, seeming helpless and guileless while at the same time giving Bryne smoldering looks, blaming the whole thing on “Dalyn” (Logain’s pseudonym) and begging gracefully for clemency, ending by kneeling next to his chair and laying a hand on his wrist. Bryne stares at her for a long moment, then gets up and walks to Min and asks her name; Min accidentally gives her real name and then hastily amends it to “Serenla Min”. Bryne chuckles and says her mother must have had a premonition, then asks for her statement, to which she simply says they’re very sorry and ask for mercy. Bryne moves on to Siuan, who is still staring at the floor, and cups her chin to lift her eyes, asking for her name. Siuan jerks her head free and answers “Mara Tomanes”.
Min groaned softly. Siuan was plainly frightened, yet at the same time she stared at the man defiantly. Min more than half-expected her to demand Bryne let them walk away on the instant. He asked her if she wished to make a statement, and she denied it in another unsteady whisper, but all the while looking at him as though she were the one in charge. She might be controlling her tongue, but certainly not her eyes.
Bryne stares at her for a moment, too, then goes back to his chair and announces his decision: Nem will be recompensed for his lost property and assault from Bryne’s own purse, and the defendants will work for him at standard wages until they have earned back the amount paid out. He tells them that if they swear an oath sufficient that he can trust them to be unsupervised, they will work in the manor; otherwise they will be in the fields where they can be closely watched. Min searches her mind for the weakest oath that might satisfy, as she has no intention of staying here a moment longer than necessary, but to her shock Siuan kneels before him:
“By the Light and my hope of salvation and rebirth, I swear to serve you in whatever way you require for as long as you require, or may the Creator’s face turn from me forever and darkness consume my soul.”
Leane hesitates for a moment, then follows suit. Min is appalled, and thinks that by her understanding, breaking such a strong oath was only a little short of murder, but now she has no choice but to match the other two. She gives the oath as well, inwardly screaming curses at Siuan:
Siuan, you utter fool! What have you gotten me into now? I can't stay here! I have to go to Rand! Oh, Light, help me!
Bryne breathes that he wasn’t quite expecting that, but it would certainly do, and asks the slim woman (Caralin) to make arrangements to transport them to his manor. She clears the villagers out of the common room, and when they are alone Bryne remarks that he’s never seen such an odd lot of refugees as they are: A Domani, a Tairen, and a girl from somewhere in the west of Andor (Min confirms Baerlon, then wishes she hadn’t). He says that he knows times are hard, and offers them a place at his manor even after their debt is paid off, if they wish. Leane gives him a sultry thank-you, but Siuan does not respond at all. Bryne adds that at least this way they will be safer than working at the Nems, which Min doesn’t quite understand, and then seems to run out of things to say. Finally Caralin comes back and takes them to Joni, one of Bryne’s armsmen, who loads them up on a cart for Bryne’s manor. As they ride, Leane enthuses about her first attempt, saying she’d forgotten how much fun it could be, and Min yells at her: they’ve just sworn away years of their lives and that’s all Leane can think about? Then she turns on Siuan and demands to know what she was thinking, swearing such an oath. Siuan replies it was the only way to be sure they would not be watched. After a moment, Min says in a shocked whisper that Siuan means to break an oath anyone but a Darkfriend would keep. Siuan answers that she will do as she swore, but she never said when she would do it; she was very careful to not even imply a timeframe in her oath. Min rightly opines that if she runs away and then comes back Bryne will skin her alive, and Siuan agrees Bryne is not a man to cross, saying she was terrified he would recognize her voice even if her face is all but unrecognizable, but she is willing to pay the price to do what she must do. Min, already knowing she will go along for Rand’s sake, abandons the subject and asks Siuan instead why everyone snickers at the name “Serenla”, and Siuan tells her is Old Tongue for “stubborn daughter”. Then the cart lurches forward; Siuan checks the driver’s seat and finds it empty. She stops the horses, and Min finds their driver, Joni, lying on the road behind them, unconscious. Logain appears, leading their horses, and Siuan asks if this is his work. Logain confirms it, and tells “Mara” that perhaps he should have abandoned them to their fate, but he wants the revenge she promised him, and he adds that her time is growing short to make good on it. Min sees again that flaring halo of gold and blue around him, indicating glory to come. Logain suggests they be off, expressing a surprising (to Min) amount of concern for the man he had knocked out. As they head out, Min asks if they think Bryne will come after them; Logain doubts he would think them important enough, and Siuan agrees.
In his manor, Caralin asks Bryne if he’s sure he wants to do this, adding that if he had put them to work at the Nems’, it would have been none of his affair at all. Bryne answers that Caralin knows perfectly well that Nem and his male kin would be trying to corner those girls day and night, and Maigan would make their lives a living hell. Caralin concedes this, but says they’ve had a day and a night to run in any direction; Bryne says Thad can track them, and disappoints Caralin’s matchmaking schemes by telling her that as oathbreakers, when he gets them back they are going in the fields. Caralin is annoyed, and campaigns for the Domani at least to be kept in the house. Bryne is amused at Caralin’s choice among the three, and thinks the Domani had been very pretty, but oddly hesitant in performing her arts, like she was trying them for the first time. But also, very pretty.
So why was it not her face that kept filling his mind? Why did he find himself thinking of a pair of blue eyes? Challenging him as though wishing she had a sword, afraid and refusing to yield to fear. Mara Tomanes. He had been sure she was one to keep her word, even without oaths. “I will bring her back,” he muttered to himself. “I will know why she broke oath.”
He heads outside, thinking that this land had belonged to his House for a thousand years, since there was an Andor, but now the line would end with him, and joins his armsmen, a group of twenty graying but still tough old campaigners. He thinks they had grabbed at the chance to relive old days, and wonders if that’s why he’s going to so much trouble, since he was certainly far too old to be chasing a pair of blue eyes on a woman young enough to be his daughter. They are joined by another veteran, Barim, who tells Bryne that he’s heard that Tear has fallen; there were Aielmen in the Stone, and the Sword That Cannot Be Touched has been drawn, though Barim doesn’t know by whom. Bryne is greatly troubled by the news, as he knows perfectly well what it means, but Barim is not finished. He tells Bryne that there’s a new Amyrlin in Tar Valon: Elaida, the Queen’s old advisor. Siuan Sanche is supposed to have been stilled and executed, and Logain is said to have died there, too. Bryne dismisses Logain as unimportant, but thinks Siuan Sanche is another matter.
He had met her once, nearly three years ago. A woman who demanded obedience and gave no reasons. Tough as an old boot, with a tongue like a file and a temper like that of a bear with a sore tooth. He would have expected her to tear any upstart claimant limb from limb with her bare hands.
He thinks that execution on top of stilling seems to be overdoing it a bit, and thinks the whole thing stinks of trouble; once this fellow in Tear consolidates his position he is sure to move against Illian or Cairhien, and the instability generated by the power shift in Tar Valon could make any number of things blow up as a result. Then he tells himself he is being an old fool, still thinking about politics, and tells Barim to catch up with them as they ride out. He promises himself he will get some answers from this Mara.
The High Lady Alteima enters the Caemlyn Palace in a carriage that had cost her almost all the gold she had left after fleeing Tear, but she thinks the display is worth it, if she is to secure herself powerful friends. She is dressed primly, in order to appeal to Andoran tastes, though the rumors of Morgase having a lover did not mesh very well with the reserved, proper woman Alteima remembered. She is met by Tallanvor, who she deems beneath her notice, and he escorts her to a large sitting room.
The young man went to one knee. “My Queen,” he said in a suddenly rough voice, “as you have commanded, I bring you the High Lady Alteima, of Tear.”
Morgase waves him away, greets Alteima warmly and offers her a seat. Alteima envies how beautiful Morgase is, but notes vast changes from the woman she remembers. Morgase is wearing a gown that even Alteima thinks is indecent, and concludes from this that not only does Morgase have a lover, but that the lover is the one calling the shots. She cautions herself that if she meets this Gaebril she should be as near-indifferent to him as possible, to avoid incurring Morgase’s wrath. She notes that despite the rumors of a break between Morgase and Tar Valon, Morgase is still wearing a Great Serpent ring, and worries about the inconsistency. They chat about events in Tear:
“Rand al’Thor,” Morgase mused softly. “I met him once. He did not look like one who would name himself the Dragon Reborn. A frightened shepherd boy, trying not to show it. Yet thinking back, he seemed to be looking for some — escape.”
Alteima tells her about al’Thor, truthfully (from her point of view): that he is unquestionably the Dragon Reborn, and that he is dangerous even leaving aside the fact that he can channel; he seems innocent and naïve, and then suddenly he’s hanging lords. She tells Morgase that al’Thor is a subject for hours, and Morgase tells her she will have them; inwardly Alteima triumphs. They discuss the Aiel, and Morgase is startled to hear that the Aiel and al’Thor himself have left the Stone altogether, but before the topic can go any further they are interrupted by an extremely handsome man who Alteima knows immediately is Gaebril from the way Morgase seems to melt the moment he speaks. Alteima notes he has no compunction about interrupting the Queen, nor in dismissing her servants, which he does. Alteima smiles at him distantly, pretending total disinterest.
“You come from Tear?” The sound of his deep voice sent a tingle through her; her skin, even her bones, felt as though she had been dipped in icy water, but oddly her momentary anxiety melted.
Morgase introduces Alteima and starts to talk about the news she brought, but Gaebril cuts her off and tells her she is very tired and to go take a nap. Morgase agrees with slightly glazed eyes, and exits. Alteima remains riveted on Gaebril, unable to think of anything except how handsome and wonderful he is, and he commands her to tell him why she is here. Alteima immediately tells him she poisoned her husband and was forced to flee Tear; she chose Andor because she loathes Illian and Cairhien is in near ruins, and here she might find herself a wealthy husband. He stops her and chuckles, calling her a vicious little cat, and says he might keep her for all that. Then he commands her to tell everything she knows of Rand al’Thor, and Alteima obediently talks herself hoarse.
Morgase climbs into her bed, and tells herself to stop being stubborn, but cannot remember what she was being stubborn about. She wonders if she had told Gaebril she was tired, or he had told her, and then tells herself that’s nonsense, no man tells her what to do. For no reason, she thinks of Gareth Bryne, and wishes he was here, even though she knows she sent him away, for doing something she cannot quite remember either.
Her eyes closed, and she fell immediately into sleep, a sleep troubled by restless dreams of running from something she could not see.
Whoof, this was like a second Prologue, with the lengthiness and multiple storylines! All right, one at a time:
Min and Co.: Notable for a couple of reasons, firstly for Leane’s upgrade from third-tier Speaking Role Aes Sedai to an actual person with a history and a character arc, and secondly for the beginning of the Wuv story between Bryne and Siuan.
I’ve always liked Leane, both before and after stilling, even though (or maybe because) her post-stilling coping mechanisms bring up some potentially thorny gender politics issues. I mean, I’m assuming they are thorny, Leane’s art relying as it does on everyone’s favorite subject to get All Het Up about (literally and, ahem, literally): sex.
Yes, that’s right, girls and boys: Domani women are trained in the art of using sex as, if not a weapon, certainly as a pretty sharp gouging device.
Ha, you see what I did there? ‘Cause “gouging”, see, it has two meanings, and... oh, you – you got that, did you? Right. Cool.
SO, anyway, I’m kind of possibly hypocritically uncritical of this concept, really. This is really more the capitalist in me coming out than anything else, I think, in that I’m like, if you can’t keep it in your pants enough to keep your head straight during a business deal, you have no one to blame but yourself, blah blah blah caveatemptorcakes.
Yeah, but is it unethical? Ehhhh... the problem is, this runs into a whole host of issues surrounding treating women and men as if they come from two completely different species when it comes to sex, and frankly I’ve never really bought into that party line. It’s too glib, too easy.
Assuming men are all slobbering troglodyte horndogs helplessly enslaved to their baser impulses, and women are all eeevil backstabbing succubi who exist solely to lead said poor helpless troglodytes into temptation, is an eye-rollingly medieval view of sexuality that is insulting to both genders, and it lets far too many assholes, both male and female, off the hook for various idiotic and/or appalling behaviors.
Then there’s the whole “women using sex as a weapon” conundrum, where on the one hand I’m demonstrably against women being viewed solely as sex objects and that that’s the only skill they really excel in as a gender, which is deeply *headdesk*-worthy, but on the other hand given that sex is a highly motivational, um, motivation for a lot of people, can I really fault someone for using what advantages they have to get ahead?
Jordan is odd in that he seems to at least partially propagate this “men are from Mars, women are from God this book makes me half-inclined to support book burnings” theory of human sexuality in a general sense, but then ignores it in the specific. You’ll note, for instance, that Bryne knew perfectly well what Leane was doing, and critiqued her technique even as he aesthetically appreciated the effect, so the net implication seems to be that “sex as a weapon” only works if your mark is stupid enough to be taken in by any reasonably well-executed scam, and in that case, well, whatever.
Bryne and Siuan: this is one of the romantic storylines I had the least amount of trouble with, personally. Siuan made the unwittingly fatal mistake of being interesting to Bryne, and while one challenging stare might not normally be a sufficient excuse for Bryne chasing her all over hell and gone, I do buy that Siuan’s intriguingness, combined with Bryne’s terminal boredom with country life, is more than enough reasonable motivation for the character.
Though I also think that Bryne just happening to hear about Siuan Sanche’s downfall, and thinking uncharitable thoughts about her in the same chapter as he’s all up in her alter-ego’s Koolaid was just a weensy bit twee and sitcomish. But, okay.
Alteima: It took me the longest time to remember who the hell she is. Fortunately there are plenty of clues in the narrative, but I spent at least the first few paragraphs going “wait, wait, I’ll get it, hang on...”. Which is sad, considering I read TDR, what, less than two months ago? My brain, she go bye-bye sometimes.
Morgase: It actually makes me physically uncomfortable to read about her, because unless your brain really go bye-bye you should quickly realize that she is about the most appallingly violated character in the entire series – among major characters, I mean. I’ve said before how squick-inducing I find the concept of Compulsion, and I remember, the first time reading this, wanting to physically shake her and scream WAKE UP!!. Which is mildly horrible of me, maybe, but the motivation is that I just wanted her to get out of there so much... Ugh. *shiver*
And that’s all there is, there ain’t no more! Until Friday, anyway. Be there or be a four-sided parallelogram!