Iiiiiiiii ain’t got nobody, Wheel of Time Re-read! Won’t you take a chance on me? ‘Cause I ain’t so bad.
Today’s entry covers Chapters 2 and 3 of Crossroads of Twilight, in which some people find out Mat’s not just a gigolo, and some don’t. He’s so sad and lonely. Or, rather, he’s sad and extremely annoyed, but that doesn’t go with the song.
Previous re-read entries are here. The Wheel of Time Master Index is here, which has links to news, reviews, interviews, and all manner of information about the Wheel of Time in general, including the newest release, Towers of Midnight.
This re-read post contains spoilers for all currently published Wheel of Time novels, up to and including Book 13, Towers of Midnight. If you haven’t read, read at your own risk.
And when the end comes I know that life goes on without me, but until then, have a post!
Chapter 2: Two Captains
Valan Luca’s Grand Traveling Show and Magnificent Display of Marvels and Wonders is not doing much business these days. Petra, the show’s strongman, is warily watching two horse-handlers dice along with his wife Clarine, which puzzles Mat until Petra tells him quietly that there are twenty Seanchan soldiers in the camp, talking to Luca. Egeanin demands to know what they want. Noal is ready to make for the horses, but Petra tells Egeanin (respectfully) that he doesn’t think they are here to search. It becomes obvious he’s watching the horse-handlers to keep them from going to the Seanchan to rat “Leilwin” out; Egeanin reminds them that they’ll be handsomely rewarded if they keep silent, and dead if they talk.
Mat ground his teeth. For one thing, that was his gold she was promising with such a free hand. She had her own, but not near enough for this. More importantly, she was trying to take charge again. Light, except for him, she would still be in Ebou Dar scheming to avoid the Seekers, if not already being put to the question. Except for him, she would never have thought of staying close to Ebou Dar to throw off pursuit, or found a hiding place with Luca’s show.
Mat is worried, but not overly so; there’s no dice in his head, though he tries not to think of how many times he’s almost been killed without them warning him first. He tells the others there’s nothing to worry about. Everyone but Petra seems surprised he said anything, and Mat tries not to grit his teeth, telling Egeanin and Noal to go find Olver while he goes to see Luca. He heads off, but Egeanin catches up to him and puts her arm around his waist, continuing their “lovers” charade. He demands to know what she’s doing; what if the Seanchan officer recognizes her? Egeanin scoffs at the odds that they would know each other, and Mat growls at her to least not glare at anyone. He sees Aludra on the way, and thinks of her promise to tell him the secret of fireworks if he solved a riddle; so far he hasn’t had much luck. Near Luca’s wagon (which Mat thinks “would make a Tinker blush”), Mat is unsurprised to see Bayle Domon and Blaeric (one of Joline’s Warders) casually hanging around, keeping an eye on the soldiers waiting outside the wagon. The Seanchan officer and Luca soon emerge, and Luca watches the company go with a fake smile. Egeanin keeps her eyes down until they leave, and casually mentions that she did know the Seanchan officer after all; she’d had to “put him straight” on her ship once.
“Blood and bloody ashes,” Mat breathed. How many other people had she gotten crosswise, fixing her face in their minds? Egeanin being Egeanin, probably hundreds. And he had been letting her walk around with just a wig and a change of clothes for disguise! Hundreds? Thousands, more likely. She could irritate a brick.
Mat, Egeanin, Domon, and Blaeric all converge on Luca to find out what the soldiers wanted, which turns out to be horses; Luca’s warrant from Suroth prevented the officer from taking any, but Luca is not sure how much longer that will work, considering how desperate the Seanchan are for mounts. He rants at Mat for keeping him here, even though he’d needed almost no persuasion at all to stay, and Mat tells him soothingly that they’ll leave as soon as Thom gets back from the city. Luca is delighted, but Egeanin shoves Mat and says furiously that she gave orders no one was to leave. Luca bows to her with a flourish, but tells her regretfully that Mat has the gold, not her; Mat thinks to himself that for enough gold Luca would agree to “help kidnap the Dark One.” Egeanin is set to berate Luca some more, but he runs off shouting for everyone to prepare to move out. Mat heads off, and Egeanin and Domon catch him up; Blaeric is gone, no doubt to report to the Aes Sedai, and Mat is glad it saves him the necessity of visiting the wagon he’d forced the sisters to share with the sul’dam.
“Two captains on one ship make sure course for disaster,” Egeanin drawled with overdone patience. Her understanding smile looked as if it hurt her face.
“We aren’t on a ship,” Mat replied.
“The principle’s the same, Cauthon! You are a farmer. I know you’re a good man in a tight spot.” Egeanin shot a dark look over her shoulder at Domon. He was the one who had brought her and Mat together, back when she thought she was getting a hired man. “But this situation needs judgment and experience. We’re in dangerous waters, and you have no knowledge of command.”
“More than you might think,” he told her dryly. He could have spun out a list of the battles he remembered commanding, but only an historian would recognize most of them, and maybe not even an historian. No one would believe it, anyway. He certainly would not if someone else had made that claim.
They reach the wagon where Juilin is playing Snakes and Foxes with Olver at the same time as an out-of-breath Noal, and Mat frowns and wonders why he hadn’t come directly here like he was told. He tells them (and Thera) that the Seanchan were only interested in horses. Egeanin marches up (Thera hides) and orders Juilin to pack up. Juilin glares at her; she considers him a thief for taking Thera, which he finds greatly insulting. Olver wants to know if he can ride Wind, but Mat tells him not yet, and asks Juilin to let the others know; only then does Juilin get up. Noal dashes off before Mat can ask him where he’d been, and the entire camp is beginning to stir.
It was going to take some time yet before the show was ready to travel, but that was not what made Mat groan. He had just heard those bloody dice start rattling in his head again.
I’m trying to be fair to Egeanin here (though I’m not sure why beyond the sheer mental exercise of it), and I suppose, looking at Mat from her own uninformed perspective, it makes sense that she should assume a recently-ennobled ship captain such as herself is a better choice for a leader than a farmboy-turned-gigolo who just half-married himself to the heir to the empire in the process of kidnapping her, and wow that sounds even worse than I thought it would before I typed it out. And that’s leaving out the part about being the root cause of a massive jailbreak (or, from a more nauseating viewpoint, attempted robbery), which caused hundreds or maybe thousands of deaths. Although actually I’m not 100% certain Egeanin knows Mat was responsible for that part specifically, though it’s not like it takes rocket science to figure out that he was.
So okay, fine, Mat’s not exactly coming off as the world’s safest bet here, no pun intended. And she’s also totally right that you can’t have two people fighting over mission command without everything going to shit sooner or later, regardless of either party’s relative fitness for that command. There really is a reason for the rigidity of hierarchy in the military, after all. (I think the standard wisdom is that the absolutism of military rank is a terrible idea, except for how all the alternatives are worse. Or is that democracy?)
So, yeah, all of that. Doesn’t matter, though, I still want to punch her.
One thing that never fails to irritate me is when a character I like is not treated with the respect I think they deserve. This means I’ve spent a lot of time in this series being irritated (and that may deserve a nomination for Understatement of the Decade, really), but some instances are worse than others. I think Mat’s predicament here bothers me more than most because, as Mat himself points out, he literally has no way of proving his (otherwise stellar) leadership credentials in a way that anyone would believe. Not at this juncture, at least. And that has got to just epically suck.
Luca: You’ve got to kind of admire a man who makes a virtue of his flaws. Yes, he’s flaky as hell and his morals are totally for sale, but to all appearances, once he’s bought, he stays bought. There’s a certain perverse honor to that. Also, I left it out of the summary but I think it’s hilarious that Mat is still mentally carping about the man’s wardrobe.
Noal: I’m really not sure what if anything is up with Noal sneaking off for a bit here, but I’m assuming it’s something, because otherwise why have Mat comment on it? Law of Conservation of Detail theoretically should still apply, after all, though that might be something of an unreasonable expectation in this particular installment of the series. Either way, whatever Noal’s deal might (or might not) be is totally escaping me at the moment; I may have mentioned COT is pretty much a blur in my mind. I… can’t really say I’m exactly waiting with bated breath over finding out, though.
Chapter 3: A Fan of Colors
Mat can’t decide whether to curse or weep about the dice starting up again and what that might portend. Olver asks if he’s all right, and Mat realizes he’s been staring off into space. He reassures Olver that they’ll be fine as long as they keep their wits about them, and sends him off to help Thera. Egeanin then steps up to him and hisses that they will have this out; she will not have him “wrecking their journey” by countermanding her orders. Mat tells her bluntly that he was never her hired hand, and announces he’s going to see Tuon. Egeanin goes pale and insists he can’t call her that; Mat grins and invites her along, and Egeanin stiffens and heads off. Domon pauses before following and comments that Tuon may be tougher than Mat suspects.
“Do you believe you could be so calm if you did be carried off in the night? Whatever you be playing at, with that wild talk of her being your wife, have a care or she may shave your head at the shoulders.”
“I was just cutting the fool,” Mat muttered. “How many times do I have to say it? I was unnerved for a minute.” Oh, he had been that. Learning who Tuon was, while he was wrestling with her, would have unnerved a bloody Trolloc.
Domon advises he stop doing that before he gets them all killed, and leaves. Mat tries to convince himself that Tuon couldn’t possibly be all that tough, but remembers how she had almost broken his nose during the kidnapping. He wanders around the camp for a while, trying to pretend Tuon’s inexplicable calm at her situation does not alarm him, and trying to imagine how a marriage between them could possibly come about. Finally he winds up at the wagon where Tuon and Selucia are being held, with Setalle Anan as a guard. Outside the wagon, two of his Redarms (Harnan and Metwyn) report that all has been quiet, seeming rather unnerved by the lack of a fuss themselves. Mat goes inside.
Tuon was tiny, not just short but almost slim as a boy, and a loose-fitting dress of brown wool, bought from one of the show-folk, made her seem a child wearing her older sister’s clothes. Not at all the sort of woman he enjoyed, especially with only a few days’ growth of black stubble covering her scalp. If you ignored that, she was pretty, though, in a reserved way, with her heart-shaped face and full lips, her eyes large dark liquid pools of serenity. That utter calmness almost unnerved him. Not even an Aes Sedai would be serene in her circumstances. The bloody dice in his head did not help matters.
Then he barely manages to duck as she throws a cup at his head in retaliation for making her cover story that she is a servant, and a thieving one at that. Selucia stops her from throwing the chamber pot, and an amused Setalle hands her another cup to use instead, ignoring Mat’s glare. Tuon tells “Toy” she will not be known as a servant. Mat protests that that’s not his name, and that he could hardly tell the showfolk he’d kidnapped the Daughter of the Nine Moons, and it’s too late to change the story now. He tells her that he couldn’t leave her behind to raise the alarm, but he promises her that no harm will come to her, and as soon as he can figure out how to get her home safely he will. She replies evenly that she will see what his promises are worth, and asks where his ring is. Mat thinks it odd that she asked about it, but replies that he doesn’t always wear it. The women won’t let him sit, so he lounges against a cabinet and grins at their disapproval. Then Tuon asks him if he remembers Hawkwing’s face.
Mat’s smile felt frozen. Light, what did she know? How could she know anything? He lay beneath the burning sun, holding his side with both hands, trying to keep the last of life from leaking out and wondering whether there was any reason to hold on. Aideshar was finished, after this day’s work. A shadow blotted the sun for an instant, and then a tall man in armor crouched beside him, helmet tucked under his arm, dark deep-set eyes framing a hooked nose. “You fought well against me today, Culain, and many days past,” that memorable voice said. “Will you live with me in peace?” With his last breath, he laughed in Artur Hawkwing’s face. He hated to remember dying. A dozen other encounters skittered through his mind, too, ancient memories that were his, now. Artur Paendrag had been a difficult man to get along with even before the wars started.
Drawing a deep breath, he took care choosing his words. This was no time to go spouting the Old Tongue. “Of course I don’t!” he lied. A man who could not lie convincingly got short shrift from women. “Light, Hawkwing died a thousand years ago! What kind of question is that?”
Her mouth opened slowly, and for a moment he was sure she meant to answer question with question. “A foolish one, Toy,” she replied finally, instead. “I can’t say why it popped into my head.”
Tuon goes on that she hasn’t decided what to do yet when she returns to Ebou Dar; perhaps she will make him da’covale, but for now, in return for his promises she makes her own: she will not escape or betray him, nor cause dissension among his followers, as long as he keeps his own promises. Everyone including Selucia is astounded; after a moment Mat accepts by spitting on his palm and holding it out to shake.
“Your customs are… earthy,” Tuon said in a dry voice, but she spat on her own palm and clasped his hand. “‘Thus is our treaty written; thus is agreement made.’ What does that writing on your spear mean, Toy?”
He did whimper this time, and not because she had read the Old Tongue inscription on his ashandarei. A bloody stone would have whimpered. The dice had stopped as soon as he touched her hand. Light, what had happened?
He thinks that makes three times the dice had stopped when Tuon was involved in some way. Someone knocks on the door, and Mat is so on edge he spins with two knives in his hand without thinking, before the visitor proves to be Thom. Mat notes Selucia’s considerable interest in his move, and thinks he wouldn’t have pegged her to be into dangerous men. Thom reports that judging from the gossip in the town, Egeanin’s assertion that Tuon’s disappearance was being kept under wraps is true; Tuon is incredulous that Mat would think Suroth would allow such an ill omen to be made public, even if Suroth doesn’t take her own life in shame. Then Thom tells him that Tylin is dead. Stunned, Mat demands to know how, and Thom tells him she was found still tied up, with her head torn off. Mat sits down on the floor abruptly. Thom says they are officially blaming her death on Aes Sedai, even though Mat knows that makes no sense. Tuon asks cautiously if he cared for Tylin so much.
Yes. No. Burn me, I liked her!” Turning away, he scrubbed fingers through his hair, pushing the cap off. He had never been so glad to get away from a woman in his life, but this…! “And I left her tied up and gagged so she couldn’t even call for help, easy prey for the gholam,” he said bitterly. “It was looking for me. Don’t shake your head. Thom. You know it as well as I do.”
Tuon asks what a gholam is, but clearly does not believe Thom’s explanation, and tells Mat sharply that he does Tylin’s death no honor by succumbing to “superstition.” They are interrupted by Blaeric, who tells Mat Joline wants to see him, and won’t take no for an answer. Tuon demands to know who Joline is, sounding almost jealous; Mat tells her (to her shock) that Joline is “a bloody Aes Sedai,” and leaves. He follows Blaeric to the Aes Sedai’s wagon; Blaeric warns him that the situation with the sul’dam is untenable and something will have to be done. Mat grumbles and goes inside, where the tension between Joline, Edesina, and Teslyn on one side, and Renna, Seta, and Bethamin on the other is thick enough to cut. Joline is ignoring the sul’dam, but the other two sisters are not nearly so sanguine. Mat tells Joline this had better be important, and tells them about Tylin. Joline tells him he needs to stop Luca from heading north to Lugard, and instead ferry across the harbor to Illian. Teslyn immediately begins fighting with her about this, saying it is too risky; Joline mocks her for accepting a greater danger “to avoid a lesser,” which almost gives Teslyn apoplexy. Renna (who is the one who mentioned cutting off damane’s hands and feet to Mat) drops a book on the floor to interrupt them, and tells Mat that they still have their a’dam, and offers to teach “these girls” to behave; Bethamin says they can do it without, suggesting (to Renna and Seta’s shock) that she thinks they are “done” with a’dam.
Joline was staring at the three sul’dam in outraged disbelief, but Edesina was sitting up straight, gripping her belt knife with a determined expression, while Teslyn was now the one shrinking back against the wall, her hands clasped tightly at her waist.
Eyeing Edesina, Mat tells the sul’dam that that won’t be necessary, and asks Joline what she means by “greater danger.” Sulkily, Joline tells him that someone is channeling. Alarmed, Mat thinks she means in the camp, but she corrects to say that it is far away, to the north, and Edesina explains that it is much further than any of them should be able to sense it, which means there is more being channeled there than all the Aes Sedai in the Tower could do put together. Joline says it must be the Forsaken, and they do not want to go toward that. Mat pauses, and then tells them they’re sticking with the original plan.
Whenever he thought of Rand or Perrin, colors swirled in his head. A part of being ta’veren, he supposed. This time, he had not thought of either of his friends, but the colors had suddenly been there, a fan of a thousand rainbows. This time, they had almost formed an image, a vague impression that might have been a man and a woman seated on the ground facing one another. It was gone in an instant, but he knew as surely as he knew his name. Not the Forsaken. Rand. And he could not help wondering, what had Rand been doing when the dice stopped?
Ta’veren Telepathy in Technicolor™: coming into focus! Whoo!
So, poll: did Mat’s dice stop because of his bargain with Tuon, or because the Cleansing had just begun?
I’m leaning toward Tuon, myself; the timing is a little too perfect otherwise, and while the Cleansing is obviously a very big deal, it is only indirectly of concern to Mat himself, and it seems like the dice thing is virtually always connected to events that happen to Mat personally. But hey, whatever. Maybe it’s both.
Otherwise, really good scene with Tuon and Mat, probably one of the better ones in the book. The obvious corollary to my dislike of favorite characters being unfairly disrespected is my deep love of scenes where those characters reveal (inadvertently or otherwise) their inner awesomeness (or at least importance) to others. And of course it’s hilarious that Mat is totally unintentionally just blundering into fulfilling all of the criteria of Tuon’s prophecy from Lidya—the exact wording of which we find out in KOD (I think) but the general gist of which is pretty clear just from the questions Tuon’s asking Mat here.
Also, I never noticed it before, but the name of the man in Mat’s memory of Hawkwing is none other than Culain, who as you may recall has an inn named after him in Caemlyn: Culain’s Hound, where Alanna bonded Rand against his will in LOC. I don’t have a point here, I just think it’s neat.
I think my favorite bit, though, even more than the Hawkwing thing, is Selucia sitting up and taking notice of Mat’s badassery re: knifework. Maybe not just a jumped-up farmboy after all, eh?
It’s a little hard to tell, what with the pottery hurling and the “Toy”ing and talk of da’covale and all, but anyone with a decent grasp of Seanchan hierarchical etiquette and Tuon’s place in it (i.e. one rung from the top) should recognize that she is actually giving Mat an astounding amount of social leeway, by her lights. I have to wonder how much their interaction would have differed if she hadn’t had that foretelling first—on Selucia’s part as well, since it’s obvious that Tuon told her about Lidya’s fortune. I’m guessing it would have been a hell of a lot less pleasant, all things considered—very possibly ending with Mat dead before they ever got out of the Palace. So here’s to prophecy unscrewing something for once, eh?
Tylin: Man. She inspired deep rage in me, I’ll be the first to point out, but nobody deserves to die like that. I was going to say “at least it was quick,” but based on some of the stories I’ve heard about guillotines and such I’m not actually sure that’s true. Either way, not even close to being in the top ten ways I would prefer to shuffle off
to Buffalo this mortal coil. Yeesh.
Although, biased little reader that I am, I still felt more badly about how it made Mat feel than about the murder itself. I freely confess that the first thing that leapt to my mind when I first read this chapter was “Man, she even managed to make her death fuck with Mat’s head,” because jeez. And, well, if that makes me a terrible person I guess we’re all just going to have to live with it.
So, bye, Tylin; that totally sucked and you didn’t deserve it, but I’m really glad you’re not around to do any more damage to my boy’s psyche. Sorry.
Of course, there are plenty of other people lining up for the job description of “make Mat’s life interesting, in the Chinese curse sense” in the wake of Tylin’s demise. Yay, not. The top candidates for which being, naturally, the Aes Sedai and sul’dam. Why on earth Mat ever thought sticking them all together in one small enclosed space was a good idea, I’ll never know; you’d probably get less drama sticking a skunk in a hornet’s nest and then setting the whole thing on fire. It would probably also be less irritating. And have less potential for collateral damage.
First there’s Joline irritating the crap out of me with her sulky whiny self totally not getting (or caring) about Teslyn and Edesina’s trauma, and then there’s goddamn Renna, who needs to be bitchslapped into next week just on general principle. Bethamin at least seems to acknowledge the raging hypocrisy Renna’s waving around like it’s going out of style, but she loses points for not seeming to realize there may be a few logistical difficulties involved in beating up three women who can hang her out to dry without moving a finger.
Well, Joline could, anyway. And Edesina, maybe. Probably. Teslyn, sadly, would probably just freak out and have a heart attack at this stage, poor woman. Still, this doesn’t make Bethamin’s assertion any less cockeyed in my opinion.
But nobody listens to me, ‘cause nobody cares for me. Nobody! (Nobody!) So I guess I’ll shut up and try again Friday, eh? Hummala bebuhla zeebuhla boobuhla hummala bebuhla zeebuhla bop! You know, like you do. Bye!