Howdy, chirren! Welcome back to the Wheel of Time Re-read!
Today’s entry, after a nice diversion into prequel-land, brings us back to the series proper, hooray! Today we cover Part 1 of the Prologue of Knife of Dreams, in which people are marvelously productive and proactive, as long as you measure them by the amount of bloodspatter left as a result. Er, whee?
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.
Quick note: JordanCon 2011 is this weekend, holy crap, and I will be there! So please watch this space for the blogging I am pretty sure I’ll be doing from the con to fulfill all your vicarious con-like needs. Yay!
And now, the post!
Before we jump in, I should probably note that KOD came at a very weird (read: bad) juncture of my life, and I have a distinct feeling that that has colored how I feel about it, both at first reading and now. And what I mean by that is, KOD was the first (and last) installment of the series that I felt almost indifferent to, and I’m about 98% certain that this is an entirely undeserved reaction on the merits of the book itself.
You know how when you say “it’s not you, it’s me” that it’s almost always a total lie? Well, in this case it really wasn’t a lie, because I’m pretty sure it was me.
I think I’ve talked about this before, so I don’t feel the need to get into too much detail, but it should probably suffice to note that KOD was published in October of 2005, which was two months after Hurricane Katrina wrecked my native home of New Orleans, and sent me and most of my loved ones (not to mention millions of other people) into a tailspin, literally and figuratively.
At the time the book came out, much of New Orleans (and a lot of the rest of the Gulf Coast) was still under water, and would be for months to come, and far too many of my friends and family were still displaced, living with out of town relatives and/or in trailers and temporary housing. Including, as it happened, some who were staying with me all the way out in Los Angeles (where I was living at the time), because they had nowhere else to go.
To say that I was a tad distracted from WOT fandom at the time (and, frankly, for quite a while afterwards), therefore, is a laughably drastic understatement. I know I bought and read KOD when it came out, but later I found I remembered virtually nothing of the book at all. Which probably isn’t all that surprising considering what else was going on at the time.
It seems that in times of stress, your brain imposes a stern cap on the number of things it is prepared to give a crap about, and I had clearly overstepped mine. Which is fine, but for some reason that indifference toward the book on my part has continued to this day, even when it (obviously) hasn’t for the series as a whole.
I dunno, it’s a thing. Like bad associations, I guess. It’s not fair, but there it is.
So there’s your, like, disclaimer or warning or whatever. Which may not be exactly heartening, but for me, I’m honestly curious to see if I can overcome that bad juju vibe this time around. Let’s find out, shall we?
Prologue: Embers Falling on Dry Grass[Part 1]
Galad rides toward the manor house the Seanchan had given Eamon Valda with Trom, Byar, and Bornhald. Galad tries to convince the other three that they should not put themselves at risk by accompanying him, but all three refuse to let him go alone, and Galad is secretly glad, even though he does not expect to survive this. They arrive at the manor to find Valda in the stableyard along with fifty Children, as well as Asunawa and six more Questioners. Valda asks Trom sternly why he isn’t on his way to Nassad with the other Lords Captain.
“An urgent matter, my Lord Captain Commander,” he said smoothly, making a very precise bow, neither a hair deeper nor higher than protocol demanded. “A Child of my command charges another of the Children with abusing a female relative of his, and claims the right of Trial Beneath the Light, which by law you must grant or deny.”
Asunawa cuts in to observe this is a strange request, as usually the accused is the one who asks for trial by arms when he knows he is guilty, and in any case the Trial hasn’t been invoked in over four hundred years. He tells Trom to give the name of the man to him, but Valda interrupts to remind Asunawa that he is the Lord Captain Commander, and makes a speech declaring that he supports the trial, and if the accused man tries to refuse he shall be hanged on the spot. Galad had been enraged when Bornhald had first drunkenly confessed the rumors to him, but now he feels ice cold.
“Eamon Valda, Child of the Light, I call you to Trial Beneath the Light for unlawful assault on the person of Morgase Trakand, Queen of Andor, and for her murder.”
Valda shows no reaction, but Asunawa says this is ridiculous, and orders his Questioners to arrest Galad as a Darkfriend. He is shocked when several Children in the yard draw steel in protest, as is Valda, but Valda quickly recovers and taunts Asunawa over it. He declares Galad’s accusation a lie, but accepts the challenge. To Galad’s surprise, Byar quickly advises him of Valda’s weaknesses as a swordsman as they prepare for the duel, and Galad advises Bornhald to keep an eye on Asunawa; Bornhald is confused by this, but agrees. Trom invokes the formal ritual of the Trial, including that the combatants must speak privately first to see if bloodshed can be avoided.
“Nothing to say, boy? Small wonder considering that a blademaster is going to cut your head off in about one minute. I want one thing straight in your mind before I kill you, though. The wench was hale the last I saw her, and if she's dead now, I'll regret it.”
That smile deepened, both in humor and disdain. “She was the best ride I ever had, and I hope to ride her again one day.”
Red-hot, searing fury fountained inside Galad, but with an effort he managed to turn his back on Valda and walk away, already feeding his rage into an imagined flame as his two teachers had taught him. A man who fought in a rage, died in a rage. By the time he reached young Bornhald, he had achieved what Gareth and Henre had called the oneness.
Galad is prepared to kill himself to kill Valda if it comes to that. They duel, dancing the forms. Valda wounds him twice, and Galad soon feigns exhaustion, tempting Valda to become overconfident, and when he goes for the feint, Galad disembowels him.
For a moment it seemed that the man was unaware he had been hit. He took a step, began what might have been Stones Falling from the Cliff. Then his eyes widened, and he staggered, the sword falling from his grip to clatter on the paving stones as he sank to his knees. His hands went to the huge gash across his body as though trying to hold his insides within him, and his mouth opened, glassy eyes fixed on Galad's face.
Whatever he intended to say, it was blood that poured out over his chin.
He toppled onto his face and lay still.
Galad still only feels emptiness. He looks around to see all the Children applauding except for Asunawa and the Questioners, who have disappeared. Bornhald tells him Asunawa headed for the border, and Galad knows he is going for the other Lords Captain. Trom says that rather than risk a mutiny, he will write out Galad’s release from the Children and give him a head start, but Galad refuses on behalf of all the others who will be punished in his stead, not to mention those who are not in favor of allying with the Seanchan.
Arms folded across his chest, Trom studied him as though seeing him for the first time. “What would you do, then?”
“Have the Children find someone, anyone, who is fighting the Seanchan and ally with them. Make sure that the Children of the Light ride in the Last Battle instead of helping the Seanchan hunt Aiel and steal our nations.”
Another Child points out that might involve Aes Sedai, and Galad replies that if they intend to be at Tarmon Gai’don, they will have to fight alongside Aes Sedai. Many of the men grimace, but no one dissents, not even Byar, who says that sometimes to fight the raven, you must ally with the serpent. Another Child states he’ll even work with Asha’man if they fight the Seanchan.
“It seems matters will play out as you wish, my Lord Captain Commander,” Trom said, making a much deeper bow than he had for Valda.
Galad tells him that’s a poor joke, but Trom reminds him that’s the law, and Galad was the one to say what no one else would. Galad still thinks it nonsense, but Trom says they’ll see what the other Lords Captain think, and gives him Valda’s heronmark sword. The other Children applaud their approval, and Galad sighs.
He hoped this nonsense would fade away before they reached the camp. Returning there was foolish enough without adding in a claim of that sort. Most likely they would be pulled down and thrown in chains if not beaten to death even without it. But he had to go. It was the right thing to do.
Rodel Ituralde sits on a hill with one hundred Domani in Tarabon and watches the Seanchan supply camp attached to the village called Serana below. He knows that the loss of this camp will be a blow to the Seanchan, and thinks of the fresh company of Taraboner soldiers that had joined it the night before. He wishes that they could have waited for the sole damane there to leave, but Ituralde knows his Taraboner allies are too skittish to change plans now. At the prearranged time, two hundred Taraboner Dragonsworn, led by a man named Tornay Lanasiet, burst out of the trees to the west and begin making a showy spectacle of themselves before racing toward the camp, which responds predictably. Lanasiet halts his men half a mile from the camp, which is closer than what Ituralde ordered but will have to do. Ituralde watches as the Seanchan commander seems to ruthlessly trample people in the streets who appear to not have heard him coming, and forms ranks with the sul’dam and damane in the fore.
Turning his head for a moment, Ituralde spoke loudly enough for the men behind him to hear. ”Be ready.“ Saddle leather creaked as men gathered their reins. Then he murmured another prayer for the dead and whispered, ”Now.“
As one man the three hundred Taraboners in the long line, his Taraboners, raised their bows and loosed. He did not need the looking glass to see the sul'dam and damane and the officer suddenly sprout arrows. They were all but swept from their saddles by near a dozen striking each of them at once. Ordering that had given him a pang, but the women were the most dangerous people on that field. The rest of that volley cut down most of the archers and cleared saddles, and even as men struck the ground, a second volley lanced out, knocking down the last archers and emptying more saddles.
The Seanchan-loyal Taraboners try to fight, but are swiftly outnumbered, and soon flee. Lanasiet’s men give chase, and Jaalam comments to Ituralde that he won’t be back; Ituralde is annoyed to have lost a third of his forces, but lets it go, and gives orders to burn all the supplies in the camp.
In truth, he had already set the important blaze. Breathed on the first embers, at least. If the Light shone on him, if no one had been overcome by eagerness or given in to despair at the hold the Seanchan had on Tarabon, if no one had fallen afoul of the mishaps that could ruin the best-laid plan, then all across Tarabon, above twenty thousand men had struck blows like this, or would before the day was out. And tomorrow they would do it again.
If all works to plan, hopefully this would infuriate the Seanchan into chasing him all the way back across Almoth Plain into the trap he has set, but even if they don’t, he has other plans as well.
Suroth lays awake in bed, fretting over Tuon’s disappearance and all the other disasters that had taken place in the last few days: the escape of the Atha’an Miere, Tylin’s murder, Renna and Seta’s defection, the theft of damane by Egeanin Tamarath. Suroth dismisses the possibility, however, that the latter incident is connected to the others. Suroth knows that even if no one suspects her of killing Tuon herself, if Tuon is dead she will be required to apologize in person to the Empress, which could end with her execution or worse, being sold as property. She is resolved to kill herself before letting it come to that, but she holds out hope that Tuon is not dead, as Tuon has engineered her own disappearance before this. The disappearance of Tuon’s personal guard and all her sul’dam and damane bolsters Suroth’s hopes; however, she is worried that she can discern no reason for Tuon to have made herself disappear, and she has every Seeker she knows about searching for her. Suroth’s thoughts are interrupted by Liandrin, who tries to sneak in until Suroth proves she is awake. Liandrin lies that she would never hurt a fellow Darkfriend, and points out that she has been helpful to Suroth by disposing of Alwhin. Since Alwhin’s suspicious death had brought more Seekers and attention into Suroth’s household, it had been the opposite of helpful. Then Liandrin tells her General Galgan has sent for Suroth, and Suroth is infuriated that Liandrin waited to tell her this. She decides it is probably time to have Liandrin collared, and orders her to go to Rosala and ask to be beaten.
“Because you delayed telling me of the general's messenger. Because you still call yourself 'I' rather than Liandrin. Because you meet my eyes.”
She could not help hissing that. Liandrin had huddled in on herself with every word, and now she directed her eyes to the floor, as if that would mitigate her offense. “Because you questioned my orders instead of obeying. And last – last, but most importantly to you – because I wish you beaten. Now, run, and tell Rosala each of these reasons so she will beat you well.”
Suroth goes to meet with Galgan, whom she loathes, partly because she knows the only reason he hasn’t tried to take over command from her is so he won’t have to be responsible for the Tuon situation. He tells her the news from Tarabon: dozens of supply trains and outposts attacked and destroyed all over Tarabon, in one day, by a few hundred men, most of them Taraboners wearing Seanchan-assigned armor, though they do not appear to be from the Seanchan-loyal ranks.
“Several have been identified as Dragonsworn believed to be up in Arad Doman. And the name Rodel Ituralde has been mentioned a number of times as the brain behind it all, and the leader. A Domani. He's supposed to be one of the best generals this side of the ocean, and if he planned and carried out all this,” he swept a hand over the map, “then I believe it.” The fool sounded admiring! “Not a mutiny. A raid on a grand scale. But he won't get out with nearly as many men as he brought in.”
Suroth declares that she wants this Ituralde’s head, and Galgan says that Turan will chase him all the way back to Arad Doman “with his tail between his legs.” Suroth is not satisfied with that, and orders Yulan to put almost every raken they have on finding him as well, ignoring his wish to hold some of them back. Galgan shrugs and opines that as long as she doesn’t want the to’raken too it’s fine, as “that plan must go forward”. Incensed at his attitude, Suroth stalks back to her rooms. Suddenly she finds herself encased in a box of light, with a woman who seems made of flames who announces that she is Semirhage. Suroth prostrates herself instantly, and Semirhage asks her how she would like to name herself Empress.
Suroth's stomach clenched. She feared she might vomit. “Great Mistress,” she said dully, “the penalty for that is to be taken before the true Empress, may she live forever, and have your entire skin removed, great care being taken to keep you alive. After that – ”
“Inventive, if primitive,” Semirhage broke in wryly. “But of no account. The Empress Radhanan is dead. Remarkable how much blood there is in a human body. Enough to cover the whole Crystal Throne. Take the offer, Suroth. I will not make it again.”
Suroth begins to sob, and explains to Semirhage that Radhanan’s death made Tuon Empress, and if Tuon is dead, she is now responsible for the death of an Empress, and will have to apologize to whoever of Tuon’s siblings is now on the throne. Semirhage laughs.
“I see I didn't make myself clear. Radhanan is dead, and her daughters, and her sons, and half the Imperial Court, as well. There is no Imperial family except for Tuon. There is no Empire. Seandar is in the hands of rioters and looters, and so are a dozen other cities. At least fifty nobles are contending for the throne, with armies in the field. There is war from the Aldael Mountains to Salaking. Which is why you will be perfectly safe in disposing of Tuon and proclaiming yourself Empress. I've even arranged for a ship, which should arrive soon, to bring word of the disaster.” She laughed again, and said something strange. “Let the lord of chaos rule.”
Suroth is horrified even as she is thrilled at the notion of being Empress herself, but points out that if Tuon is alive, she will be difficult to kill. Semirhage counters that it’s clear Tuon’s sul’dam and bodyguards are looking for her themselves, so Suroth only has to find her first. Suroth finds the notion of killing the Empress is not so distasteful after all.
Holy crap, you guys, stuff is happening. And in the Prologue, no less! It’s all too shocking!
Galad: THANK YOU, GOD.
Seriously, for killing the Tooliest Tool that ever Tooled in WOT, I will forgive him any number of dumbass tattling-on-his-siblings, joining-the-Whitecloaks, starting-wars-over-boats stunts. I bow before your totally righteous righteousness, dude. Boo-fucking-YAH.
Not to mention that FINALLY there is a character in a position to be properly enraged over the way Morgase has been treated, which is something I’ve only been annoyed about since TFOH. It’s not quite as unequivocally awesome as it would have been had Morgase herself been the one to exact revenge on her various (various!) tormentors, but I’ll take it, don’t fret.
Also not to mention that Galad’s unintentional coup here was (a) hilarious and (b) the first indication I’d seen that the Whitecloaks were going to be anything other than a giant, obnoxious, needing-to-be-eliminated pain in everyone’s asses—you know, like the way they’ve been for the entire series until now. Which was quite the welcome surprise.
Not that I think it’s going to be all sunshine and roses on the Light side even after all that went down between Perrin and Galad in ToM (this is WOT we’re reading, here), but before Galad killed Valda I’d honestly assumed that the Whitecloaks were going to need to be wiped out or something to get them out of the way, because I couldn’t see how else they could possibly be integrated. Guess that’ll show me, eh?
So, double-plus yay on that opening, fer sure.
Ituralde: …aaaand this was not nearly as interesting. Yes, kudos to him, it’s really all quite tactically brilliant, I’m sure, and certainly I am not against anything that cramps the Seanchan’s style, but I think Ituralde’s storyline was introduced too late in the series for me to be able to invest anything in it emotionally. It’s just one more plot thread among seventy bazillion other threads that still haven’t been resolved, and as such it was more an irritant to me than anything else.
The only really interesting thing in the whole scene, to me, was the nicely subtle appearance of more ghosts (the people Ituralde thinks the Seanchan guy trampled), which I totally missed the first time around and only noticed when doing the recap. Clever, but that’s not much to build a scene on.
So, whatever with you, Ituralde. Sorry, dude. I’m sure you’re a really cool guy, though!
Suroth: This, on the other hand, was definitely interesting, but I find I’m developing something of a loathing for recapping Seanchan scenes, because while the level of detail to all the nuances of their crazy over-elaborate cultural memes is generally quite fun to read, it is a bloody nightmare to try to summarize. I just ended up leaving a whole lot of it out, so you should probably read that bit yourself if you want to get all the nitty gritty of every last eyelash flicker and whatnot.
(Also, you should read the actual duel part of Galad and Valda’s duel, because it was lots of evocative-yet-cleverly-nonspecific sword forms and stuff that, again, I enjoyed reading but really did not feel the need to recreate.)
Anyway. The big shocker, of course, was Semirhage’s news. Like, holy crap, dude; talk about productivity. She must get up very early in the morning!
Also, I believe this makes her the only Forsaken to date in the present-day storyline who has actually succeeded in destroying an entire civilization (or at least seriously jacking it up).
Because, okay, on the one hand, good, because the LAST thing we need is Yet Another Plotline to follow, but on the other, really? And yes, I know Jordan said the action would never go to Seandar, but…well, I’m sort of wanting to pout, right now. Finally some real Forsaken-y action, and it’s…offscreen. Pfeh, sort of!
But you know, congrats to Semirhage, in a weird disturbing way, for continuing to hold the title of Most Villain-y Villain in WOT. Girl is eeeeeeevil, you guys. Yikes.
And that’s all for now, my peeps! I look forward to seeing some of youse at JordanCon. Ciao for now!