Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind? The Wheel of Time Re-read doesn’t think so!
Today’s entry covers Chapters 14 and 15 of Crossroads of Twilight, in which there is a distinct lack of cups of kindness. Or champagne. Not that I was really expecting the latter, of course. But that’s okay, I’m going to have my own shortly!
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 now, take a right good-will draught, skip through the daisies or confetti or whatever, and have a post!
Chapter 14: What Wise Ones Know
Reene Harfor and Halwin Norry enter, and Aviendha weaves a ward against eavesdropping; neither are very happy about being made to let the other overhear their reports. Reene tells Elayne that she has uncovered another spy, and this one works for the Brown Ajah. This is the first spy they’ve discovered for an Ajah other than the Red (legacy of Elaida’s stay in Caemlyn); Elayne thinks it is a pity that both Ajahs must perforce know about the Kin by now, but there’s nothing she can do about it, and instructs Reene to have the spy watched. Dyelin sarcastically wants to know if there’s anyone in the Palace who isn’t a spy; Elayne points out that they haven’t found any from the Asha’man, and Dyelin shivers. Reene opines that the only reason they haven’t is because the Asha’man haven’t had time to set any up yet, and Elayne agrees unhappily. Reene goes on that she has convinced a spy for Arymilla named Jon Skellit to turn double agent for them; Dyelin and Birgitte are appalled that she took such a risk, but Reene is sure she read the man right. Elayne ends their debate by declaring that if Skellit can tell them which camp Arymilla, Elenia and Naean will be in and when, she’ll reward the man herself, and moves on to Norry. He reports that arson attempts on their food storehouses in the city continue to occur, and he suspects they are coordinated; Elayne asks Birgitte to do what she can to see that the warehouses are better watched.
Knuckling his long nose, [Norry] avoided her gaze. “It has… uh… come to my attention,” he said hesitantly, “that Marne, Arawn and Sarand have all recently taken very large loans against the revenues of their estates.” Mistress Harfor’s eyebrows climbed before she got them under control. […] “It seems they may have borrowed against the same revenues twice or even three times. The bankers, of course, are… unaware… of this, as yet.”
Elayne prudently doesn’t ask how he got this information. Dyelin is bitterly sure that the funds are meant to bribe the mercenaries in Caemlyn (the hiring of whom she had been against from the beginning) to turn on Elayne; Birgitte points out that any company who flipped like that would never find work again, but the sheer amount of money involved makes her uncertain. Elayne says they’ll have to be watched too, and thanks Norry and Reene, dismissing them. After they leave, Aviendha tells her that someone tried to listen in; Dyelin is convinced it was the Sea Folk, but Elayne knows there’s no way to know.
There was very little hesitant about Dyelin, yet she hesitated now, rolling her winecup between her palms. “Are you certain this… this beacon… can’t harm us, Elayne?”
“As certain as I can be, Dyelin. If it was going to crack open the world, I think it would have by now.” Aviendha laughed, but Dyelin turned quite pale. Really! Sometimes you had to laugh if only to keep from crying.
They discuss the Borderlanders; Birgitte reports that they are moving slowly, and will likely take over a month to get closer to Caemlyn, but Elayne thinks that will be enough to get the rumors she wants circulating about them started. She asks about the six remaining uncommitted Houses. Birgitte reports that Luan, Abelle and Ellorien are in the wind, and evidently going to great lengths to keep themselves and their forces hidden. Arathelle, Aemlyn and Pelivar’s forces have crossed the border back into Andor from Murandy, but not together, and they didn’t bring any Murandians with them. Dyelin says hopefully that perhaps they are going home, but Aviendha thinks they should plan for the worst scenario, which is that they are converging on Caemlyn to try and force their suit for Dyelin. Dyelin says heavily that they may be hoping Luan, Abelle and Ellorien will join them, in that case.
“Then we must figure out how to stop them reaching Caemlyn before our plans come to fruit, without making them permanent enemies.” Elayne worked to make her voice as sure and firm as Dyelin’s was dull. “And we must plan what to do in case they arrive here too early. If that happens, Dyelin, you will have to convince them the choice is between me and Arymilla. Otherwise, we’ll be in a tangle we may never straighten out, and all of Andor in it with us.”
Dyelin grunted as if she had been punched. The last time the great Houses split evenly among three claimants for the Lion Throne had been nearly five hundred years ago, and seven years of open war followed before a queen was crowned. The original claimants were all dead by that point.
One of the Guard interrupts to announce that the Wise One Monaelle and Kinswoman Sumeko Karistovan are here to see them; Elayne has them admitted immediately, and curtsies with respect to Monaelle (to Dyelin’s disapproval). Monaelle announces she is here to check on Elayne’s condition, and Sumeko (who is here to watch) unceremoniously kicks out Birgitte and Dyelin; Dyelin is displeased, but goes with Birgitte. Monaelle is displeased in turn about Aviendha’s clothes, and tells her from now on she will spend every third day and night in the tents; neither she nor Elayne are happy at the prospect of being separated even that much, but accept it. Monaelle begins checking Elayne with a weave the Wise Ones call Caressing the Child; she explains it is similar to Delving and/or Healing, but can only be used on pregnant women. Elayne asks if her own channeling can hurt her child, but Monaelle says not.
Monaelle let the weave vanish with a grin. “You have two. It is too early to say whether they are girls or boys, but they are healthy, and so are you.”
Two! Elayne shared a wide smile with Aviendha. She could almost feel her sister’s delight. She was going to have twins. Rand’s babies. A boy and a girl, she hoped, or two boys. Twin girls would present all manner of difficulties for the succession.
Sumeko tries the weave out while Monaelle warns Elayne that as her pregnancy progresses she will have increasing difficulty in channeling, but her ability will go back to normal after the children are born. Aviendha goes to try it, but everyone is distracted when the beacon to the west suddenly vanishes.
Sumeko’s massive bosom heaved as she drew a deep breath. “I think something very wonderful or very terrible has happened today,” she said softly. “And I think I am afraid to learn which.”
“Wonderful,” Elayne said. It was done, whatever it was, and Rand was alive. That was wonderful enough.
Caseille interrupts them to report that the Sea Folk are in an uproar; one of their apprentices has gone missing. She further reports that Merilille Sedai was seen leaving the Palace about three hours earlier, accompanied by a hooded woman with tattoos on her hands. Elayne thinks taking either Talaan or Metarra to be a novice must have been Merilille’s rationale for getting out of her promise to teach the Windfinders, and knows Zaida et al are going to blame everyone in sight for it. She begins issuing orders to get a search going for Merilille, even though it is likely too late to catch her; she hopes Rand did do something wonderful, but she doesn’t have time to think about it for now.
Something I’ve been doing a lot more recently that I’ve noticed, and am not sure whether to try to stop doing or not, is that when I am condensing the information in these chapters, I’m starting to tend toward a very modern and vaguely military/covert ops/bad spy movie vernacular in rendering the events within.
This is especially true when the characters are, well, talking about espionage and/or military stuff, which they are doing a fair amount of the time these days. “In the wind” was a particularly egregious example in this chapter’s recap, which I really probably should go back and rewrite, but since I’m talking about this now I’ll leave it in for illustrative purposes.
I’m not sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, it’s obviously rather inappropriate to the general style of the series, and from a certain point of view could be seen as somewhat cheapening. On the other hand, though, the reason that kind of jargon exists in the first place is because it’s shorthand—a way of rendering complex concepts in as succinct a manner as possible—which is appropriate to the whole “condensing” thing I’m theoretically supposed to be doing here. It means I can take what Reene needed three or four paragraphs to explain in the text, and boil it down to “she got a guy to turn double agent,” and everybody gets it and we can all move on. But it also means I’m unquestionably altering the tone of events in the story much more significantly than perhaps I used to do, which maybe isn’t cool.
So, it’s a thing, is what I’m saying. That I’m unsure about. There, glad I could clear that up for you.
I find it rather hilarious that per Norry’s information, the machinations of the Andoran Succession are kind of setting up their very own version of a subprime mortgage crisis. That’s highly amusing to me, probably for no good reason, since our current economic crisis wasn’t even a twinkle in Wall Street’s eye when COT actually came out, so it’s not like Jordan could realistically have been making any sly parallel there. However, any time I start thinking about economics in WOT on more than a superficial level my eye starts twitching, so I’m not going to go any further with the observation than that.
The thing with the war between the three evenly split claimants for the throne Elayne and Dyelin talk about tickles my memory for some reason, like it’s a reference to a real-world historical event and I just can’t quite dredge up what it might be. Or possibly I’m just imagining it, since there never was a real life monarchy (that I’m aware of) that had quite such a vaguely cockamamie hybrid heredity/electoral system of succession as Andor does.
However, that doesn’t mean something similar never happened for different reasons. History buffs are cheerfully invited to explain how I clearly have no clue what I’m talking about.
Borderlanders, blah. Also, I accidentally first typed that as “Borederlanders,” and then giggled for five minutes at the unintentional pun. It’s possible that I need to get more sleep.
More Pregnancy Shenanigans: I’ve always been rather on the fence about whether to be annoyed that pregnancy shorts out channeling ability in WOT. On the one hand, pregnancy is a major physiological change in the body, so okay, but on the other, even so I really don’t see a logical connection between the two things. I mean, if you look at channeling as being just one more way for a person to manipulate her environment, it actually makes no more sense to suppose pregnancy makes you lose the ability to channel than it does to suppose getting pregnant makes you lose hand-eye coordination, or your sense of balance. Which, waddling aside, it really doesn’t; pregnancy can have all kinds of other less-than-fun side effects, but skewing your basic ability to interact with the world is not one of them as far as I am aware.
Of course, one tries to apply real-world logic to fictional magic systems at one’s very nerdy peril, but still. It always rather smacked to me of just one more plot-induced roadblock thrown in Elayne’s way for no purpose other than to be one.
Merilille: So, I know she broke the contract and is running away and that’s not cool and all, but I have to say my honest reaction to the news that she’d gone on the lam (see, there I go again with the slang) was along the lines of “You go, girl.”
Because, well. In my day I have held down one or two of the most epically shitty jobs possible in a First World country (aside from jobs which literally involve shit, perhaps), and if there’s one thing I would have gone back and done differently on at least two occasions, it’s that I would have had the courage to say “You know what? Fuck this,” stand up, and walk the hell out before I let myself almost be driven into a nervous (and, in one case, physical) breakdown, instead of hanging on in utter misery, out of some deranged sense of obligation, or adherence to some winners never quit line of complete bullshit. Because really, if you’re lucky, at some point you’ll realize that life is just too short to put up with things that don’t make it worth living.
And, given that, that some promises are worth breaking.
Maybe that makes me a dishonorable person or something, but, well, whatever. Who is going to take care of me if I don’t take care of me? Nobody, that’s who.
And yes, I recognize that Merilille’s situation is not precisely analogous to me telling certain psychopaths to Take This Job And Shove It, but all I’m saying is, I feel her on just wanting the bloody hell out, already, and am not personally prepared to blame her for it.
Chapter 15: Gathering Darkness
Elenia Sarand rides through camp, pretending to be nice to the commoner soldiers as part of her plan to undermine Arymilla. She wonders where she’s going to be sleeping tonight, and thinks resentfully of “that young chit” Elayne safe and snug in the Palace. Elenia considers Dyelin’s presence to be the real danger there, much more so than Elayne being Aes Sedai; though she knows the Tower would love to see an Aes Sedai on the throne, Elenia believes the Tower is too practical to sever relations with Andor no matter who wins the crown. She sees Naean Arawn further on, and to her fury Naean hastens to speak with her, even though Arymilla would not like it if she found out they had been meeting without her there. Naean comments that she saw Elenia’s husband Jarid the day before, and bets he’s planning a way to break Elenia out; she says that she’s sure Elenia can see it would be best to let Naean in on any escape plans they might have. Elenia reminds Naean that Jarid signed the same pledge of loyalty to House Marne that Naean did, and that there are no escape plans, and furthermore she has no reason to include Naean in them even if she did.
“Because if I am not included in those plans,” Naean said bluntly, “Arymilla might learn of them. She may be a blind fool, but she’ll see once she’s told where to look. And you might find yourself sharing a tent with your betrothed every night, not to mention protected by his armsmen.”
Elenia’s smile melted, but her voice turned to ice, matching the frozen ball that abruptly filled her stomach. “You want to be careful what you say, or Arymilla may ask her Taraboner to play cat’s cradle with you again. In truth, I think I can guarantee as much.”
It seemed impossible that Naean’s face could grow any whiter, yet it did. She actually swayed in her saddle, and caught Elenia’s arm as if to keep from falling.
Naean then outright begs to be included, and swears to pledge her House’s support to Elenia in return. Elenia tells Naean that if and when she escapes, she will take Naean with her—but only if Naean gives her a signed letter repudiating House Marne and pledging support to Sarand. They both know such a letter would destroy Naean and her House as well if it were ever made common knowledge. Naean doesn’t answer at first, and Elenia makes to go, but Naean calls her back, and finally agrees. Much cheered by her improved position, Elenia heads off to find Arymilla, idly planning how to arrange accidents for her opponents after she gains the crown. She is joined suddenly, though, by crazy Nasin Caeren, who has twigs in his hair and tries to give her flowery talk. She yells at him that she is not his betrothed, she’s already married, but this only induces Nasin to declare that he will challenge Jarid for her. She talks him out of this idea with difficulty, and then Arymilla joins them, accompanied by her retinue, which includes a Taraboner named Jaq Lounalt, who Elenia thinks hardly looks like someone who could reduce someone to begging with “just a few cords,” and Sylvase, Nasin’s granddaughter, who Elenia believes must be slow-witted owing to her lack of reaction to anything. Arymilla casually appoints one of her maids to accompany Nasin back to his tent and “fix him some wine.”
A slim woman in her entourage gave a violent twitch, then rode forward slowly, pushing back the hood of her plain blue cloak to reveal a pretty face and a tremulous smile. Suddenly all lickspittles and toad-eaters were adjusting their cloaks against the wind or snugging their gloves, looking anywhere except at Arymilla’s maid. Especially the women. One of them could have been chosen as easily, and they knew it. Oddly, Sylvase did not look away. It was impossible to see her face in the shadows of her hood, but the opening turned to follow the slender woman.
Nasin grins disgustingly and heads off with the maid, and Elenia reminds Arymilla that Arymilla had promised to keep Nasin away from her. Arymilla answers sullenly that she can’t help it if Elenia attracts men, and she ought to stay close to Arymilla if she wants to be safe. Elenia grits her teeth at having to go along with the pretense that she supports Arymilla of her own free will, but bends her neck and thanks Arymilla for rescuing her before. Pleased, Arymilla has Elenia and Naean join her to ride to the mess tent, and shocks them both by suggesting they share a tent for the night. Elenia tries to figure out why she would give them such an opportunity to plot together, and concludes that Arymilla must think them both tamed and no danger to her. Elenia pretends to simper at Arymilla’s inane conversation, and thinks about whether to kill her or Nasin first.
Daved Hanlon aka Doilin Mellar slips through a less savory part of Caemlyn. He is careful to avoid a pair of women in the streets, sure that they are either Aes Sedai or some of those other strange women filling the Palace. He is disturbed by the impression he has that some of those women can channel, maybe all of them, and more disturbed that the Aes Sedai in the Palace don’t seem to care. He senses someone following him, ducks into an alley, and kills his tail swiftly and silently; he notes that the man had already drawn his knife before rounding the corner. He muses on who might have sent the man; he considers Birgitte a “silly bint” and a strumpet to boot, but thinks she is also cold enough to order his throat slit.
The last possibility was the one that worried him most, though. His own masters were not the most trusting of people, and not always the most trustworthy. And the Lady Shiaine Avarhin, who currently gave him his orders, was the one who had sent a summons that had pulled him into the night. Where a fellow just happened to be waiting to follow him, knife in hand. He did not believe in coincidence, no matter what people said about this al’Thor.
He briefly considers going on the run, but doesn’t think he’ll last long if he does, and so continues on to Shiaine’s house, where Falion lets him in. He goes to grope her, until she tells him that Shiaine is closeted with a visitor and Marillin is out, whereupon he drops the pretense immediately. They’ve reached an accommodation; he only pretends to molest her as part of her punishment, and instead they exchange information. They settle in the kitchen, and Hanlon asks who Shiaine’s visitor is; Falion doesn’t have a name, but thinks he is an Andoran soldier by his bearing, possibly a noble. She goes on that Shiaine had two other visitors the day before, both of whom were careless enough to show their House sigils, one from Sarand, the other from Marne. Hanlon scowls.
He had been sure that the plan was for Elayne to take the throne, though what came after remained a mystery. She had been promised to him as a queen. Whether or not she wore a crown when he took her mattered not a whit to him except for the spice it added—breaking that long-legged bit to saddle would be pure pleasure if she had been a farmer’s daughter, especially after the chit cut a slice off him today in front of all those other women!—but dealings with Sarand and Marne said maybe Elayne was meant to die uncrowned.
Hanlon is troubled by this, as it implies to him that his own position is expendable. He and Falion are interrupted by the return of Shiaine’s thug Murellin, who mentions casually to Hanlon that Shiaine was giving Falion to Murellin when Hanlon wasn’t around. Shiaine then yells for Falion to bring Hanlon up; on the way Hanlon wants to know if he should be worried that Shiaine thinks he’s not punishing Falion assiduously enough. Falion reveals to him that she is now allowed to use the Power (by nearly strangling him), but that Shiaine won’t lessen her punishment even so; Hanlon decides to “gut her like a goose” the first chance he gets. They enter Shiaine’s sitting room, where she’s sitting in a chair and her visitor is in a bloody heap on the floor; Shiaine sends Falion to get Murellin to clean it up. Hanlon asks casually who the man was, but Shiaine only asks whether Elayne’s child is really his.
“I don’t know who fathered the whelp,” he said wryly. “Why, my Lady? Do you think I’d go soft? The last chit who claimed I’d gotten a child on her, I stuffed her down a well to cool her head and made sure she stayed there.”
She shocks him by knowing the name of that “chit,” and then asks if he can arrange for some of the Seanchan sul’dam and damane to escape, and also if he can get the guards away from the warehouses so the arson fires will be successful. Hanlon thinks he might be able to do the former, but tells her he wouldn’t be able to move the guards on the storehouses without getting caught. Shiaine asks how close he is to sharing Elayne’s bed; Hanlon tells her he’s closer than the day he arrived, but he has to go slowly. Shiaine is amused by this, which infuriates Hanlon. He tells her he might be able to help better if he knew more about what she’s after in Caemlyn, but she only asks why he has fresh blood on him.
He smiled back. “A footpad who got unlucky, my Lady.” Maybe she had sent the man and maybe not, but he added her throat to the list of those he intended to slit. And he might as well add Marillin Gemalphin, too. After all, a lone survivor was the only one who could tell the tale of what had happened.
Wow, this is just a lovely chapter filled with lovely people doing lovely things, innit? Jeez.
But, it was fairly interesting, which more than I can say for some of the chapters I’ve recapped recently, so.
I remember in the wake of COT’s release there was quite the flurry of speculation on Arymilla’s Taraboner, Jaq Lounalt, and who he really was. I think the (fairly reasonable) assumption was that the Shadow had a plant in just about every other even vaguely Lightside faction of anything anywhere, so logically there had to be one in Elayne’s opponents’ camp, too, and Lounalt seemed like an obvious candidate to be Someone In Disguise.
However, as far as I know Lounalt has never to date been revealed as anything other than exactly what he appears to be: a creepy guy who’s good at torturing/interrogating people. Which doesn’t really set him apart from the rest of the stellar brand of human this chapter’s positively dripping with, but it is kind of bizarrely refreshing from a conspiracy theory overload viewpoint.
It’s kind of amusing, though, that Jordan had us all trained so well by this point to see misdirection and subterfuge around every corner that a character who hasn’t even had a line of dialogue thus far can set off hours’ worth of online speculation over his “real” identity, just because he’s there. Well-played.
Unless it turns out later that he’s Demandred or something, of course, in which case I’ve got an eye-roll or two on standby. I like to be prepared for these things, you understand.
I can’t decide if I’m just being overly picky at this point, but I couldn’t help feeling that it might be nice if all of Elayne’s opponents weren’t so obviously horrendous choices for queendom. If for no other reason than that it might introduce at least a little more narrative tension re: who’s going to win this thing. (Although, who am I kidding on that score.)
But, maybe on balance it’s a good thing Elenia and Naean and Arymilla all so obviously deserve each other, because otherwise I would have to be really upset with all the casual sexual assault going on here… but hell, I’m upset with it anyway. Like I’ve said before, it’s very difficult for me to be… detached on certain issues no matter how vile the parties involved happen to be. Not to mention the more-or-less innocent bystanders; I found myself really wishing that that maid of Arymilla’s would turn out to have murdered her mistress in her sleep later on. Ugh.
Which is probably also why I found myself having sympathy for Falion regardless of how little she deserves it, too, given the Murellin thing, which yeargh. I even caught myself subconsciously awarding points to Mellar for backing off her, and that is so messed up I can’t even explain it, because that is totally undeserved, as Mellar is without a doubt one of the single most creep-inducing, needs-to-die-in-a-fire characters in WOT as far as I am concerned, with the possible exception of Semirhage and a couple of other people. This is the problem with trigger issues. But hey, at least I’m aware of it.
As a somewhat relevant side note, this is the chapter where I realized that “chit” is the WOT-ty euphemism for “bitch”—and considering who the characters that tend to use the term are, it’s also a delightfully pointed indictment of same. Just tossing that out there.
The mysteries of Shiaine’s visitors, I find, leaves me fairly disinterested even though I have no memory of what if anything comes of it all. I’m pretty sure, though, that this is because nothing does come of it; even if we ever find out who the guy was she murdered in this chapter, I’m fairly sure it’s not very relevant to anything, and that makes it difficult to, you know, give a crap about it.
But at least this pick-up chapter finally allows us to quit the Caemlyn storyline and move on to other plots, yes? Yes!
Which we will pick up in the following calendar year, my chirren! Have a wonderful and safe New Year’s, people, and I will see you in 2011!