Hello! You have reached the Winter’s Heart of my discontent. At the beep, please leave your name, number, and a brief justification for the ontological necessity of modern man’s existential dilemma, and I’ll get back to you.
Or alternately, you can have Chapters 3 and 4, in which I narrowly avoid major head trauma, and also contemplate the ethics of being true to thy authorial self. It’s All So Shakespearean!
Previous re-read entries are here. The Wheel of Time Master Index is here, in which you can find links to news, reviews, and all manner of information regarding the newest release, The Gathering Storm, and for WOT-related stuff in general.
This re-read post contains spoilers for all currently published Wheel of Time novels, up to and including Book 12, The Gathering Storm. If you haven’t read, read at your own risk.
Plots has he laid, inductions dangerous, by drunken prophecies, libels and dreams! And a post about it, too!
Chapter 3: Customs
At first Faile is most concerned about the cold, naked as she is, but the physical exhaustion from keeping up with the Shaido’s relentless pace soon takes precedence. Faile tries to notice everything she can, to help in formulating an escape plan, though she doesn’t see how it’s possible yet. When she falls, Rolan hauls her up and slaps her bottom to get her moving again.
The slap might have been given to make a pony move. Despite her nakedness, there was nothing of a man looking at a woman in Rolan’s blue eyes. Part of her was very grateful. Part her was vaguely… taken aback. She certainly did not want him gazing at her with lust or even interest, but those bland glances were almost insulting!
As the day wears on she becomes more and more worried about frostbite, and stumbles on in a daze until the party suddenly stops and Rolan picks her up and tosses her over his shoulder; from there, she can see the others getting their feet examined before receiving the same treatment. Bain and Chiad, of course, do not protest, and Lacile and Arrela swallow down their indignation in an effort to imitate them, but Alliandre and Maighdin both fight like mad. Faile yells at them to stop it, and Rolan spanks her and tells her to be quiet; Faile grinds her teeth but obeys.
Alliandre kept shrilling that they could not do this to her, understandable coming from a queen, if foolish in the circumstances. Plainly they could, and they were. Surprisingly, Maighdin raised her voice in the same piercing denials. Anyone would have thought her royalty instead of a lady’s maid.
The Shaido subdue Alliandre and Maighdin by switching them until they stay quiet; Faile has no sympathy for them, as their antics have only delayed them getting to shelter. They set out again, and Faile realizes that the cold is more dangerous now that she is no longer exerting herself, and begins deliberately struggling, to provoke Rolan to slap her, which helps her stay awake, but eventually begins to fall into a stupor where she dreams that Perrin turns to smoke and disappears, or that he is chasing her in a fury through a frozen landscape, until she realizes she is in front of a huge fire with a blanket around her, being given tea by a gai’shain, along with the other prisoners. Faile eventually wakes up enough to wonder where he came from, and sees not far off a huge number of Aiel on the move. The gai’shain comments that they offended her honor, and Faile asks how.
“You wetlanders know nothing,” the scarred man said dismissively. “Gai’shain are not clothed in any way until they can be given proper robes. But they feared you would freeze to death, and all they had to wrap you was their coats. You were shamed, named as weak, if wetlanders have shame. Rolan and many of the others are Mera’din, yet Efalin and the rest should know better. Efalin should not have allowed it.”
Faile thinks “infuriated” fits better than “shamed,” glaring at Rolan. She thinks “Mera’din” means “Brotherless” in the Old Tongue, and notes the scorn in the gai’shain’s voice when he says it, and resolves to see if that can help her somehow. Magnanimously, she decides that since he gave her his coat, she would only have Rolan’s ears sliced off when she escaped—if she can escape. She points out to the gai’shain that wetlanders are not supposed to be made gai’shain, and asks what happens if the Shaido decide to break other customs, and not let him go when his time is done. The man answers that the Shaido may break customs, but he does not. Faile glares when he catches a glimpse of her through a gap in the blankets, and tries desperately to think of a way out of the situation, but nothing is coming to her.
Are you—I mean, what—Can I just—How—
*clears off desk*
*contemplates empty desk space*
*realizes is out of aspirin*
So, new icon! It’s been a while, I think, since we got a new one at this point. I remember seeing that Faile had gotten her own icon and going oh crap in my head, because to me it indicated that Faile was going to be separate from Perrin long enough that she would need her own icon. …And I was completely right on that score, it turns out. Blargh. Still, it’s nice that she gets one, I guess. Even Aviendha doesn’t have her own icon, so Faile should be proud. You know, if there wasn’t that big fourth wall there.
(Actually, now that I think about it, technically the only Supergirl who has her own icon is Elayne, and even Elayne’s doesn’t really count, since the lion rampant also stands for her mother, Gawyn, Caemlyn, and Andor in general. Egwene always just gets the white flame, and while Nynaeve used to sort of have one (see left), it hasn’t been used since, I think, TEOTW. That’s kind of not fair, eh? Especially considering even second-tier characters like Cadsuane and Siuan get their own later on! I cry icon foul!)
I find that I waver between appreciating the frequent references to Maighdin acting more like royalty than like a servant, and finding it really annoying. Not because it’s a tad anvilicious (though it is, a bit), but because though I recognize that there’s some unavoidable class prejudice going on here on noble-born Faile’s part, I can’t help thinking that if anything, a “mere” maid should be more protective of her virtue than a queen, since unlike a queen your average maid doesn’t tend to have battalions of personal bodyguards ready to protect it for her.
Not to mention, of course, the ugly undertone that says a maid’s right to not be violated is less than that of a queen’s. But then, in feudal thinking that’s actually true. In case I needed a reminder of why I’m glad I don’t live under a feudal system of government—or at least, why I’m glad I’m not a peasant in one.
Chapter 4: Offers
Two women who Faile quickly deduces must be Wise Ones approach the fire, followed by a short female gai’shain who is oddly wearing silk white robes and a richly bejeweled belt and collar set. The “eagle-faced” Wise One (Therava) shoos off Rolan and the others, and Faile notes Rolan exchanging a flat look with one of the other men before leaving. The other, extremely well-endowed Wise One (Someryn) comments with amusement that Sevanna won’t be satisfied until “the entire world is gai’shain”; Therava opines that she has too many already, and it’s slowing them down.
Faile flinched when that gaze touched her, and hurriedly buried her face in the mug. She had never seen Therava before, but in that glance she knew the woman’s sort, eager to crush any challenge utterly and capable of seeing challenge in a casual glance. […] she watched the woman from the corner of her eye. It felt like watching a banded adder, scales glittering in the sun, coiled a foot from her face.
Alliandre, unfortunately, doesn’t catch this, and announces her name and title loudly, and demands suitable accommodations for herself, her liege lady, and her maidservant until ransom can be arranged; Faile tries not to groan. Another woman rides up on a horse and orders the gai’shain woman, Galina, to tell her if Alliandre’s words are true; Faile is confused by the new arrival’s attire, which is like a Wise One’s but all in silk and furs, with a truly ridiculous amount of jewelry, and the fact that she is riding. Galina grovels and answers eagerly that she saw Alliandre once years ago, and this could be the same woman; she starts to go on until Therava shuts her up, and she fawns over Therava even more than the new one, who turns out to be Sevanna.
In a way, it was like seeing Logain, or Mazrim Taim. Sevanna also had painted her name across the sky in blood and fire. Cairhien would need years to recover from what she had wrought there, and the ripples had spread to Andor and Tear and beyond. Perrin laid the blame to a man called Couladin, but Faile had heard enough of this woman to have a shrewd idea whose hand had been behind it all. And no one disputed that the slaughter at Dumai’s Wells was Sevanna’s fault. Perrin had almost died there. She had a personal claim on Sevanna for that. She might be willing to let Rolan keep his ears if she could settle that claim.
Sevanna asks which is the maid (Maighdin raises her hand) and which the liege lady; Faile considers not answering but reckons it a waste of time, and raises her hand. Sevanna orders Galina to Heal them, which makes Faile start in shock. Therava shoves Galina down to obey, and as she goes down the line, Therava points out to Sevanna that only five of the eighty-three septs of the Shaido “scattered on the wind” have rejoined them, and she will not wait forever for Sevanna to fulfill her promise to reunite them. Furious, Sevanna retorts that she always does what she says she will, and for Therava to remember she advises Sevanna, not the other way around. She gallops off, and Faile begins thinking of how to exploit the tension between them, when Galina reaches her and Heals her, leaving her weak and ravenous, and even more stunned when she sees the Great Serpent ring on Galina’s finger. The Wise Ones take off without a word; Galina scowls and follows them, though she glances back more than once. More gai’shain (all clearly wetlanders) arrive with food, which they eat ravenously, and with more silk robes and jewelry. Faile tries to refuse the jewels, suspicious of their significance, but an Amadician gai’shain tells her tiredly that she has no choice; she serves “the Lady Sevanna” now. Faile tries to smile at the others to cheer them up, but she is leadenly sure that Sevanna’s personal gai’shain will be watched much more closely than the others. They are sent off to join the column of Aiel; Alliandre seems broken, but Maighdin is still trying to “glare a hole” through everything she sees. Faile realizes she has lost track of the others, but cannot find them again; finally Maighdin growls that they’ll have to wait until tonight to find them, and should stop exhausting themselves looking. Alliandre and Faile both stare askance at her tone, making Maighdin blush and stammer apologies; Faile approves of her spirit, though, and wishes her ability to channel were not next to useless. Faile observes that no one is really paying attention to them, and tells Alliandre and Maighdin they should try to drop off by the wayside if they can, and get back to Perrin to warn him; they both refuse to leave without her, and Faile is about to order them to do it when they are abruptly joined by Therava, who informs Faile that she is thinking of escape, and tells her that “only the dead” succeed in escaping.
“I will heed your words, Wise One,” Faile said humbly. Always? Well, there had to be a first time. “We all will.”
“Oh, very good,” Therava murmured. “You might even convince someone as blind as Sevanna. Know this, however, gai’shain. Wetlanders are not as others who wear white. Rather than being released at the end of a year and a day, you will serve until you are too bent and withered to work. I am your only hope of avoiding that fate.”
Faile stumbles, and thinks that Aiel are not supposed to play the Great Game, but she knows it when she hears it. She replies that she doesn’t understand, and Therava tells her that she will observe and report to the Wise Ones every move Sevanna makes and every word she says; in return, Therava will see that they are “left behind.” Faile wants badly to refuse, but doesn’t think they will survive the night if she does, so asks Therava if she will protect them if Sevanna finds out. Therava grabs her face, and promises her that if Sevanna finds out, Therava will “trice them up for cooking” herself. She leaves, and after a while Alliandre opines that if Sevanna truly has a hundred servants, they might never get close enough to hear anything anyway, and they can choose what to tell or not tell in any case. Maighdin retorts bitterly that Alliandre needs to learn about having no choices, and bets that Therava gives that same order to every single one of Sevanna’s servants; if they leave things out they will be caught. Alliandre chastises her for her tone, but Maighdin snaps back that she is a servant now, too, and had better start acting like it. Before Alliandre can blow up, Faile interjects that Maighdin is right, but makes her apologize, and tells them they will work hard, attract no attention, and report Sevanna’s every last sneeze to Therava. As they walk in silence, Faile muses on Galina, and tries to decide whether she would help them escape or betray them, until Galina herself joins them and asks if Faile knows what she is. Faile replies that she seems to be Aes Sedai, and observes that she is “in a very peculiar place” for one. Galina snaps that she is on a mission of great importance for the Tower, which cannot fail. Alliandre points out that it is possible to earn the ring without earning the shawl, and asks how they can know whether to trust her; Galina spits back that Alliandre will soon find her crown doesn’t protect her here, and details some of the punishments they can look forward to if they try to escape. Maighdin growls that Galina is a disgrace to the Tower for not trying anyway, and Faile forestalls what looks to turn into a screaming match to ask what it is Galina wants, exactly. Galina wants to know who she is that a queen would swear fealty to her; Faile snaps back that she is Lady Faile t’Aybara, eliding her father’s name, and instantly realizes she has made a mistake when Galina smiles unpleasantly.
“t’Aybara,” she mused. “You are Saldaean. There is a young man, Perrin Aybara. Your husband? Yes, I see I’ve hit the target. That would explain Alliandre’s oath, certainly. Sevanna has grandiose plans for a man whose name is linked to your husband. Rand al’Thor. If she knew she had you in her hands… Oh, never fear she will learn from me.” Her gaze hardened, and suddenly she seemed a leopard in truth. A starving leopard. “Not if you all do as I tell you. I will even help you get away.”
Faile curses herself, and asks again what Galina wants. Galina tells her that Therava keeps in her tent a smooth white rod about a foot long. If Faile and the others bring it to Galina, Galina will take them with her when she goes. Alliandre asks why she can’t get it herself, and Galina non-answers, threatening again to have Sevanna learn of Perrin. Desperately, Faile points out that it may take time, and Galina replies she’ll have the rest of her life (in servitude) if she’s not careful, and leaves. Faile and the other two women walk on in grim silence.
They were caught in three snares, not one, and any of the three might kill. Rescue suddenly seemed very attractive. Somehow, though, Faile intended to find her way out of this trap. Pulling her hand away from her own collar, she fought through the snowstorm, planning.
So, okay. I think the problem with this storyline is not that it sucks per se. Because it doesn’t; from a plotting standpoint the complications and conflicts here are diabolically well put together, in terms of generating a “how will they get out of this one?” response in the reader. I sure as hell didn’t know, I can tell you.
The problem is, this is the sort of plot thickening/entangling/complicating that any savvy fiction reader instantly recognizes as first act plotting. This whole chapter is a set-up chapter. And, as the savvy reader also knows, a first act always, always has at least two more acts to follow it before it gets resolved.
Which is great if you’re at the beginning of a story. But we, extremely obviously, are not. So the thing I had the impulse, on initial reading, to scream at this chapter was not This is a terrible storyline!, because it isn’t, but instead it was to scream Why are we starting a brand new super-messy ultra-tangled plot IN BOOK NINE? When we have like thirty other unresolved plotlines ALREADY out there, some of which have been hanging fire for TWO DECADES? Why? Why hast thou Forsaken me? Whyyyeeeeeeee
Ahem. Or thereabouts. And then there’s pounding fists on the ground and dramatic claps of thunder and yeah, it’s ugly in here. Because I am NEVER melodramatic!
My point is, I don’t think I would have had any problem at all with this plotline if it had occurred, say, four books ago. But that it happened here and now, in the ninth book, was a distinct signal to me that we were not, in fact, ramping toward a conclusion anytime soon. And honestly, that kind of… pissed me off.
Of course, it’s true that it was possible that this whole plotline could have been wrapped up in one book. But really, by the time WH rolled around, I was no longer some naïve newbie to the wiles of WOTness—nor to Jordan’s modus operandi as a writer in general. So the (completely correct) conclusion I drew, which was that we were going to be here for a while, I could divine merely from the way this chapter alone was written.
That being said, believe it or not I do not intend the above observation solely as a criticism. One of the quickest ways to turn me off a book (or an author) is when the writing skips steps—when the writer rushes past or only gives lip service to the necessary elements to arrive at the result he or she wants, either because they don’t realize those elements are necessary, or because they don’t have the ability to write those steps properly. I’ll tell you, nothing will make me sheer off a story faster than when what should be a great moment is ruined, because the author didn’t set it up correctly, or failed to highlight it properly when it occurred.
Jordan’s constitutional inability to take narrative shortcuts, therefore, is both a blessing and curse to his readers in many ways. On the one hand, we’re starting new plotlines in frickin’ Book Nine. But on the other, how much worse would it be to have an author who doesn’t even honor the depth and complexity of the world he’s created, and prioritizes wrapping things up over giving the overall story the attention to detail it deserves?
I think, having gotten Faile into this situation, Jordan felt it was only his obligation to get her out of it again in a way that wasn’t cheap at the expense of the complexity of every other storyline he was juggling. I can’t be sure I agree it was the best way to go, but I certainly can’t claim it isn’t consistent.
And while Emerson is quite right in that a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, you’ll note he never said anything about an unfoolish one. So I guess deciding which kind of consistency this is, is an exercise best left to, well, the reader.
And that’s MY story, and I’m stickin’ to it! Because I am also consistent! Except when I change my mind! Hah!
Er. So, weekend? Weekend! See ya Toosdy!