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Chapter 29: Memories of Saldaea
Kadere lays on the bed in his wagon, missing Saldaea and his sister Teodora, and touches the scrap of parchment he’d found slipped under his door and had hidden in the woodwork.
You are not alone among strangers. A way has been chosen.
The use of the word “chosen” makes him sure that it was from another Darkfriend, but Kadere is surprised it came now, so long after Natael had attached himself to al’Thor with no explanation and Keille Shaogi had vanished without a trace. Kadere suspects Natael murdered her, and considers it a job well done. He touches the scars on his chest, and thinks about how he had been visited by Lanfear herself two months ago with instructions in his dreams, and how relieved he was that she hadn’t come back.
The second surprise of the note had been the hand. A woman’s hand, unless he missed his guess by a mile, and some of the letters formed in what he now knew for an Aiel way. Natael had told him that there must be Darkfriends among the Aiel—there were Darkfriends in every land, among every people—but he had never wanted to find brothers in the Waste.
Kadere thinks the note spells disaster; either Natael blabbed to some Aiel Darkfriend about who he was, meaning he could be exposed, or the note had come from a minion of another Chosen besides Lanfear, and he was about to be caught between them. Someone scratches at the door, and Kadere lets in Isendre. He chuckles that her black robe must be uncomfortable, and invites her to take it off; she declines bitterly, even though she’s twitching as if itching under it. Kadere can’t understand why the woman had been stupid enough to steal, and is annoyed that it’s made his task more difficult. He asks if she had any news on al’Thor and Natael. She says that Natael never says anything useful except to tell her to be patient and silent and “make accommodation with fate”, whatever that means, and other than that all he wants to do is play strange music and make love. Kadere observes that she has not managed to get into al’Thor’s bed yet, and tells her she will have to try harder. Isendre says “No”, and Kadere reminds her that “no” is not a word their mistress likes to hear. She begins to cry.
“I cannot, Hadnan. When we stopped tonight, I thought I might have a chance in a town instead of tents, but they caught me before I got within ten paces of him.” She pushed back her hood, and he gaped as moonlight played over her bare scalp. Even her eyebrows were gone.
She says they shaved her and then beat her with nettles; sobbing, she says they told her next time they would make her wear nettles, or worse, give her to Aviendha. She repeats that she cannot. Kadere stares at her, and realizes that the Maidens have broken her, and soon she will convince herself that she wants to obey them; he wonders how long it will be before she confesses her sins to them. He asks absently what Aviendha has to do with it, and she shouts back that al’Thor has been bedding her since Rhuidean, and the Maidens think he will marry her. He watches her sob, and tells her gently that if she cannot, she cannot; she can concentrate more on Natael now. He stands and guides her toward the door as she mumbles that Natael will not want to look at her all red and welted, and as they reach the door he twists his handkerchief into a cord and pulls it around her neck.
He tried to ignore her rasping gurgles, the frantic scraping of her feet on the floor. Her fingers clawed at his hands, but he stared straight ahead. Even keeping his eyes open, he saw Teodora; he always did, when he killed a woman. He had loved his sister, but she had discovered what he was, and she would not have kept silent.
He waits until Isendre is dead, then goes to his cabinets for a butchering knife, thinking that perhaps this Aiel Darkfriend would do for a replacement if he can make contact with her. He hums a lullaby Teodora taught him as he goes to work.
Bye, Isendre! I have to say, I feel a little sorry for her. Not much, but a little. She was evil, yes, but it’s hard to avoid thinking that her suffering was disproportionate to her crimes (although I can’t really know that, of course; who knows what she did before coming to the Waste?). Mostly, though, I’m just relieved she’s not around to give Aviendha more ammunition to disparage Rand’s character, so they can get on with the sexing.
The creepiest thing about this chapter, in my opinion, is how Kadere’s decision to murder Isendre comes across as completely rational. And not even in the sense that he was cold about it, but that you find yourself kind of unthinkingly agreeing with him that getting rid of her is—well, not the right thing to do, obviously, but a logical solution to the problem she represents. As long as you have no problem with murdering people, of course.
I also thought the framing device of the chapter was really well done, which was the misdirection about Kadere’s sister Teodora. The progression of it makes you sympathize with him as a human being at the beginning of his POV, therefore making the reveal at the end that much more effective in demonstrating what a monster he is. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been, but when I first read this I was honestly shocked to realize he had actually killed Teodora. Cleverly done.
Chapter 30: A Wager
Rand sits on the rail of a bridge in the middle of Eianrod, the small town they have camped by, watching the flowing river with pleasure after being so long in the Waste. He hopes that Moiraine has given up on him for tonight, as he doesn’t know if he can stand another episode of her actually begging him to let her stay when he sent her out so he could work with Asmodean. She has started taking him his meals, too, talking at him constantly. He looks at how the river has shrunk, and considers trying to make it rain, but is not sure he remembers how; Asmodean is no help there, as he is no good with weather.
Once he had thought that the Forsaken knew everything, that they were all but omnipotent. But if the others were like Asmodean, they had ignorances as well as weaknesses. It might actually be that he already knew more of some things than they. Than some of them, at least. The problem would be finding out who. Semirhage was almost as poor at handling weather as Asmodean.
He shivered as if this were night in the Three-fold Land. Asmodean had never told him that.
Sulin comes to join him, and remarks that it’s an odd night; they were gambling, but suddenly everyone was throwing nothing but sixes. Rand tells her he’s sorry, and she gives him a strange look; the Aiel didn’t know about his ta’veren twisting of chance. He thinks about the other incidents: three Stone Dogs had fallen into a viper pit, but none of them had been bitten; Tal Nethin, the saddlemaker from Taien, had tripped and broken his neck on flat ground. But on the other hand, Bael and Jheran had ended the feud between Shaarad and Goshien while he was there, looking confused at what they were doing, but swearing binding water oaths to that effect.
He had wondered if those random effects would ever work in his favor; maybe this was as close as it came. What else had happened today that might be laid at his feet, he did not know; he never asked, and would as soon not hear. The Baels and Jherans could only partly make up for the Tal Nethins.
He asks Sulin where Enaila and Adelin are, and Sulin tells him they will come back when they have learned to stop playing with dolls. Rand is confused, but only says to tell them he said they should act like grown women, which pleases Sulin greatly. They are interrupted by the arrival of a party of around twenty horsemen, escorted by Aiel, including Rhuarc and Mangin. Most are Tairens except for half a dozen Cairhienin in the rear, two with con marking them as officers. They look dejected until they see Rand, at which the two Tairen lords exchange startled glances and dismount to kneel before him. One of them, Edorion Selorna, asks incredulously if he has been taken prisoner by the Aiel too, and introduces himself and the other lord, Estean Andiama; Rand remembers them from the Stone.
“They said they were taking us to some Dawn fellow. The Car’a’carn. Means something about chiefs, if I remember what my tutor said.”
Rand tells them quietly that he is the Car’a’carn, and He Who Comes With the Dawn, and tells them to stand and introduce their Cairhienin companions. Edorion summons the two officers, Meresin and Daricain, and Rand thinks it’s like he’s calling dogs. As the Cairhienin obey slowly, Estean asks nervously if Rand sent the Aiel attacking Cairhien; Rand replies that he did not, and the Aiel attacking the city are his enemies. Meresin and Daricain kneel before him, and Rand thinks that after being with the Aiel for so long he had almost forgotten about all the kneeling and bowing everyone did outside the Waste. He makes them stand and introduce themselves, and is surprised to learn that they are lords as well as officers, which is a change from how it used to be in Cairhien. Meresin tells him, stumbling over the “my Lord Dragon” part, that the city can hold for a few days, but it is doomed unless relief comes soon; Estean interjects that that’s why they came out, to look for help. Edorion questions whether Rand’s Aiel will be able to reach the city in time, and Estean describes the atrocities Couladin has visited on prisoners and refugees:
“Sometimes they let peasants make a run for the city, then shoot them full of arrows when they’re almost safe. However safe Cairhien is. Only peasants, but...” He trailed off and swallowed hard, as if he had just remembered what Rand’s opinions were of “only peasants.” Rand just looked at him, but he seemed to shrivel, and muttered under his breath about brandy.
Rand asks Rhuarc how long, and he replies “seven days”. Estean laughs in disbelief, and says it took them that long to get there on horseback. Rand replies that it isn’t how fast the Aiel can make it, but how fast someone can get back to Cairhien ahead of them, to warn Meilan, the Tairen lord in charge there, that Rand is on his way. He adds that it will have to be someone who can keep their mouth shut in case they are captured by the Shaido. Estean goes white, but the two Cairhienin fall to their knees again, and each seize one of his hands to kiss. Rand doesn’t care for this, but Moiraine had advised him to avoid offending other people’s customs as much as possible, so he allows it. The two Cairhienin babble their willingness to go and their gratitude to him, and that they will be his man to the death, etc. Rand finally gets them to stand up again, and thinks that no man should look at anyone like “dogs gazing at a master”. Edorion sighs and says if he made it out he supposes he can make it back in, and asks Rand if he would care to wager a thousand gold crowns that he could really get there in seven days.
Rand stared at him. The man was as bad as Mat. “I don’t have a hundred crowns silver, much less a thousand in—”
Sulin broke in. “He has it, Tairen,” she said firmly. “He will meet your wager, if you make it ten thousand by weight.”
Edorion laughed. “Done, Aiel. And worth every copper if I lose. Come to think, I’ll not live to collect if I win. Come, Meresin, Daricain.” It sounded as if he were summoning dogs to heel. “We ride.”
He and the Cairhienin take off, and Rand turns to Sulin and asks what does she mean, he has ten thousand gold crowns? He’s never even seen that much coin. The Maidens, Rhuarc and Mangin all exchange glances as if he’s crazy, and Sulin answers slowly that as chief and battle leader, one tenth of the every fifth the Aiel take is his, which would include the Stone, all of Tear, and now Cairhien. Rand shakes his head; he had never considered that the fifth might apply to him. He realizes he doesn’t know anything about using taxes (which the fifth might be considered from a certain point of view), and wishes Elayne were there to tell him about it, as that would be a lot more fun than learning about it from Moiraine. He wishes he knew where she was, and that he could get her to explain those two letters.
Maiden of the Spear or Daughter-Heir of Andor, women were strange. Except maybe Min. She had laughed at him, but she had never made him think she was speaking some strange language. She would not laugh, now. If he ever saw her again, she would run a hundred miles to get away from the Dragon Reborn.
Rhuarc suggests they send their own scouts ahead as well; Rand feels the Maidens looking at him, and suggests Thunder Walkers. Rhuarc agrees, and he and Mangin haul Estean off to question him about conditions at the city, Rand shouting after them to treat him humanely. Sulin remarks flatly that he “tends his people well”, and Rand refuses to rise to the bait. He tells them he is going to get something to eat and then sleep.
I’m going to get really, really tired of typing “Cairhien” and “Cairhienin” in the next few chapters, aren’t I? Friggin’ “i” before “e” grammar rules.
Poor Moiraine. She knows the closer they get to Cairhien, the closer her (imagined) end is to occurring, and the less time she has to teach Rand. That’s got to seriously suck, by the way. I used to think I would want to know when and how I will die, but while it would certainly help for organizing the Bucket List, on reflection I think it’s much better not to know.
This is actually the first time in a while that we’ve seen Rand’s ta’veren-ness show up in a “makes random crap happen” context. The last time I remember it happening was back in Rhuidean, and even then it was pretty mild compared to the nutsiness going on in, say, TGH. The plot didn’t need random crap happening for a while, I guess. Eh.
Speaking of which, little research gaffe: I’m pretty sure there’s no such thing as a “viper pit” in nature. Pit vipers get their (awesome) name from an organ on their heads (shaped like, duh, a pit) that allows them to sense prey, not because they actually dig pits or anything. And true, “viper pit”, in the sense of “a hole full of poisonous snakes”, is a ubiquitous concept allegorically, presumably because it was just too good a metaphor to pass up (usually for politics, heh), but that doesn’t excuse Jordan using it literally. Or maybe I missed something?
The Tairens and Cairhienin: This is what I meant earlier about getting my wishes fulfilled re: seeing Rand interact with non-Aiel now that he’s taken a level in Kinging. It also contains a little bit of an ethical dilemma for me. On the one hand, I share Rand’s distaste for seeing people grovel, because to a modern sensibility, ugh. I hold this truth to be self-evident, that I ain’t licking nobody’s boots, and neither should anyone else have to. On the other hand, this is total guilty wish-fulfillment, and the reason why so many people are into this whole royal/noble/vassal thing as a fictional genre. I am brought once again to one of my favorite Bujold quotes, in which her protagonist Miles notes that members of egalitarian societies tend to take to aristocracies quite well–provided they’re the aristocrats. It’s shamefully true.
As a side note, I found myself kind of perversely liking Edorion, despite the way he treats the Cairhienin. He may not be the most sensitive fellow, but it takes guts to turn around and ride back into a virtual deathtrap right after you escaped from it. Estean, on the other hand, is a waste of space–though I seem to recall he redeems himself a bit during the Battle of Cairhien later. And of course, either way he’s not nearly so bad as some. *cough*Weiramon*cough*
Chapter 31: The Far Snows
Rand heads through the blackened ruins of Eianrod to a merchant’s house, which he has declared the Roof of the Winespring Brothers (no one can enter unless they have drunk from the Winespring in Emond’s Field) to prevent the Maidens from setting up there as well; he hopes this will keep Aviendha out too, as he doesn’t know how much longer he can stand listening to her sleep right next to him. He waves the gai’shain away as he enters the building, and goes up to his room. He stops dead on the threshold; Aviendha is standing before the washstand with a cloth and a bar of soap, and nothing else. She is as stunned as he, and stutters something about trying his way of washing.
She was hard muscle and soft curves; she glistened damply from head to feet. He had never imagined that her legs were so long. “I thought you would remain longer at the bridge. I...” Her voice rose in pitch; her eyes widened in panic. “I did not arrange for you to see me! I must get away from you. As far away as I can! I must!”
Suddenly a shimmering vertical line appeared in the air near her. It widened, as if rotating, into a gateway. Icy wind rushed through it into the room, carrying thick curtains of snow.
“I must get away!” she wailed, and darted through into the blizzard.
The gateway begins to close, but Rand channels without really knowing what he is doing, and blocks it halfway. He ties off the flows, grabs up all the blankets and rugs in the room, and runs after her. He chases her through the blizzard on the other side, shouting for her to stop, but she only runs faster, until her figure suddenly disappears; he catches up and realizes it’s a stream or river, and Aviendha has fallen through the ice. He channels Fire at a patch of ground on the bank until it is glowing hot, and sets down the the blankets and rugs before crawling out onto the ice, dimly aware that he will soon succumb to the cold too if he doesn’t hurry. He finds the hole where she fell through and splashes around until he grabs her hair. He pulls her out, screaming curses at himself, and drags her to where the warm ground is. He wraps her in the blankets, but she does not move; he tries listening for her heartbeat, but is not sure he can hear it.
He could feel the weave he had used to block open her gateway, a mile or perhaps two away through the storm. If he tried to carry her that far, neither of them would survive. They needed shelter, and they needed it here.
He channels again, constructing an igloo of sorts from packed snow, and carries her in, closing the doorway with more snow. He warms the air with the trick Asmodean showed him, but has to release it in case he falls asleep. Aviendha is still icy cold, and he strips off his sodden clothes and wraps himself in the blankets with her, hoping his body heat will help warm her.
His sense of touch, enhanced by the Void and saidin, soaked in the feel of her. Her skin made silk feel rough. Compared to her skin, satin was... Don’t think.
He tries talking to distract himself, but keeps circling around to the subject of Elayne, and then Min, which is not helping, so he switches to talking about his plans for Cairhien, and where this place she took them to might be. He thinks that she must truly hate him, if she fled him like that rather than just telling him to get out. Stroking her hair, he tells her she was crazy to do such a thing, and if she does anything like it again he’ll break her neck. He’ll make it so that she does not have to run away; he’ll send her away. He freezes as she stirs; she opens her eyes and does not look surprised to see him there.
He took his arms from around her, started to slither away, and she seized a handful of his hair in a painful grip. If he moved, he would have a bald patch. She gave him no chance to explain anything. “I promised my near-sister to watch you.” She seemed to be speaking to herself as much as to him, in a low, almost expressionless voice. “I ran from you as hard as I could, to shield my honor. And you followed me even here. The rings do not lie, and I can run no more.” Her tone firmed decisively. “I will run no more.”
Rand tried to ask her what she meant while attempting to untangle her fingers from his hair, but she clutched another handful on the other side and pulled his mouth to hers. That was the end of rational thought; the Void shattered, and saidin fled. He did not think he could have stopped himself had he wanted to, only he could not think of wanting to, and she certainly did not seem to want him to. In fact, the last thought he had of any coherency for a very long time was that he did not think he could have stopped her.
Much later, he watches her walk around and examine the igloo, seeming completely unashamed about being naked now, though he admits that at this point it’s a little late for that. She asks what this stuff is, and he explains the concept of snow to her, which amazes her. He says that they can have the Wise Ones marry them as soon as they get back, and Aviendha gives him a determined look and replies that first, he has no right to ask her, and second, he belongs to Elayne. Rand is astounded, and splutters that they have to marry now, after what they just did.
“Not that I’m doing it because I have to,” he added hastily. “I want to.” He was not sure of that at all, really. He thought he might love her, but he thought he might love Elayne, too. And for some reason, Min kept creeping in. You’re as big a lecher as Mat. But for once he could do what was right because it was right.
Aviendha sniffs, and comments that Egwene has told her about Two Rivers customs; he asks incredulously that she wants to wait a year? Aviendha says yes, but then adds that apparently by his customs she would need her mother’s permission, and by her customs only she gets to be the one to ask, so they cannot marry. Rand tries to imply that Egwene doesn’t know about men’s customs, and says that since he started it, they have to marry, but Aviendha is scornful of the notion that he started anything.
“It does not matter anyway, since we are going by Aiel customs. This will not happen again, Rand al’Thor.” He was surprised—and pleased—to hear regret in her voice. “You belong to the near-sister of my near-sister. I have toh to Elayne, now, but that is none of your concern.”
She says they should get back, and then realizes that she does not know if she can reproduce what she did to get them here; he explains about blocking her gateway. Then he eventually realizes that she does not intend to turn her back so he can dress. He mutters “Fair’s fair” and gets up, and tries to ignore her compliments on his behind. He thinks that he has a feeling life with Aviendha was not going to become any easier as a result of this.
FINALLY, JESUS H.
That really was my reaction to this chapter, both the first time I read it and now. Seriously, all other considerations aside, if ever a character desperately needed to get laid, that would be Rand al’Thor.
Of course, one of the (smaller) issues I have with Rand and sex is that realistically, his problems re: sexual frustration should be worse after this than before, now that he has, er, broken the seal, so to speak, but I don’t really remember it being portrayed that way. Granted, he does have other issues on his mind in future months, but still. Before this he didn’t truly know what he was missing, is all I’m saying. Oh, well; he’ll be getting the regular sexing soon enough.
Although, I’m obviously looking at this from a very modern viewpoint; the notion that people need sex is really a fairly recent one. And one which is clearly not the way Rand’s semi-Puritanical culture looks at the issue, as his conversation here with Aviendha about marriage customs shows.
Aiel culture, on the other hand, seems to be a mix of the two, in that “casual” sex (in the sense of “between non-married/committed couples”) is expected, common, and largely irrelevant as long as the people involved do not decide to make a commitment, but the moment they do, BANG serious taboos fall into place.
This is the crux of Aviendha’s whole dilemma re: Elayne; if she thought that Elayne and Rand were just casually involved I don’t think Aviendha sleeping with him would be that big a deal (though I could be wrong about that, going by Melindhra’s possessiveness of Mat, but I’m not convinced that’s a typical example, since I’m pretty sure she’s acting at least partially under orders to stay close to Rand’s entourage). But in Aviendha’s mind, Rand and Elayne are betrothed (or the Aiel equivalent), and sleeping with someone else’s fiancé is evidently a VERY large no-no. (As it should be!)
Speaking of semi-Puritanical whatsits, I’ve seen people complain on occasion about the “pan to the fireplace” (or igloo wall, as the case may be) nature of Jordan’s “sex” scenes on those grounds. I will decline to speculate on the possible disingenuousness of such complaints, and merely point out that while so-called prudishness on Jordan’s part may be the culprit, that’s not the only possible explanation. John Scalzi once said something very wise on the subject of sex scenes in novels, which was that part of deciding whether to include them is not only about whether they would fit into the overall tone of the book or whether you’re trying to conform to FCC regulations, but is also a case of simply recognizing your strengths and weaknesses as a writer.
In other words, there are authors out there who are very good at writing sex scenes, and there are others who really really aren’t, and probably the nicest thing an author who isn’t can do for his readers is to spare them from having a wretchedly written sex scene inflicted on them. (Scalzi says he “giggles” whenever he tries to write them, which, yeah, good call on no sex scenes, I’d say.) This doesn’t have much to do with how good the author is in general; I think Neil Gaiman is a wonderful writer, but the one explicit sex scene I’ve read of his was actively painful to read. (And I’m not talking about That Scene in American Gods, either, since that was straight-up horror, not a sex scene. If you’ve read it, you know what I’m talking about, and if you haven’t, there’s no way on Earth I can possibly explain it to you. YIPE YIPE YIPE)
And anyway, all of the above notwithstanding (and you can call me Puritanical for this if you want, I could use a good laugh these days), I think having an actual, written-out sex scene in WOT would be just all kinds of wrong. Just–no.
By the way, the “conforming to FCC regulations” thing above was only partially a joke. In the American market at least, as I understand it, if you want to avoid fighting about the inclusion of language/content with your publisher, the general rule of thumb is that if you can’t show it/say it on broadcast television, don’t put it in. Not that there aren’t plenty of books which flout this rule, but take a look at the books you’ve read in your life; unless you are a giant John Ringo fan, I bet at least three-fourths of them qualify as FCC-friendly.
(And if you are a giant John Ringo fan, get help.)
I feel like I should have more to say about this chapter, but I honestly can’t think of what it might be. Maybe it’ll come to me as we cover the fallout from what happened.
Okay, people, that’s all we have time for today. Let’s break for lunch, and reconvene at the next scheduled meeting. Oh, and remember: next Friday... is Hawaiian shirt day. So, you know, if you want to, go ahead and wear a Hawaiian shirt and jeans. Great.