Bust out your atlases, Mapquest apps, and GPS devices, WOTers! It’s a Wheel of Time Re-read, and it’s convinced it knows exactly where it is! Whether it does or not!
Today’s entry covers Chapters 15 through 17 of Knife of Dreams, in which everything, oddly, seemed to come down to geography – or rather, the lack thereof. Or something like that. Also, I wrap up a storyline, at least for now, which is awful nice.
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, the directionally-challenged post!
Chapter 15: A Different Skill
Elayne is infuriated when she gets lost on the way to her rooms, assuming her pregnancy is messing with her wits again. She feels Birgitte becoming more and more concerned, before breaking off to go to her own rooms, telling Elayne there’s “nothing to be done” about it now; Elayne is not sure what she means. She finally finds her rooms, and distracts herself by thinking of the additions she plans to make to the Guardswomen’s uniforms.
She had overheard some who were unaware she was near disparage the Guardswomen – mostly women, but including Doilin Mellar, their own commander – yet she had full confidence in their ability to protect her. They were brave and determined, or they would not have been there. Yurith Azeri and others who had been merchants’ guards, a rare trade for women, gave daily lessons in the sword, and one or another of the Warders gave a second lesson every day, too. Sareitha’s Ned Yarman and Vandene’s Jaem were quite laudatory about how quickly they learned. Jaem said it was because they did not think they already knew something of how to use a blade, which seemed silly. How could you believe you already knew something if you needed lessons in it?
Inside, Elayne tries not to be irritated that her maids obviously know everything about what’s been going on. Aviendha pretends to be reluctant to change into silks, and Elayne amusedly lets her. She notices that Aviendha is fondling one of the ter’angreal from the Ebou Dar stash, a dagger, and asks why it fascinates her so much. Aviendha says something confusing about thinking it would do no harm for her to keep it if she’s right, and Elayne doesn’t know what she means.
“This,” Aviendha said, holding up the dagger. “I think that if you have this in your possession, the Shadow cannot see you. Not the Eyeless or the Shadowtwisted, maybe not even Leafblighter. Except that I must be wrong if you did not see it.”
Elayne stares at her a moment, and then drags her into the sitting room where the rest of the unknown ter’angreal are displayed, and tells her to pick another and sees if she knows what it does. Aviendha is reluctant, but at length picks up a flexible black rod. She immediately drops it, and says that it causes pain, and can be adjusted to give different levels of it. Elayne has her go through more, and Aviendha has an answer for every one; many are for communicating with someone far away, one is for dispersing vermin, one is for calling water (Aviendha really likes that one), one is for cutting metal or stone.
A stone carving the size of her hand, all deep blue curves – it felt like stone, at least, though somehow it did not really look carved – was for growing something. Not plants. It made her think of holes, only they were not exactly holes. And she did not believe anyone had to channel to make it work. Only sing the right song! Some ter’angreal did not require channeling, but really! Singing?
The maids are as enthralled as Elayne, and Sephanie picks one (a statue of a man holding a book) and asks what it does. Aviendha tells her he holds thousands of books, and suddenly channels into it, making words in the Old Tongue appear in the air over the statue.
“I think we have proof at last,” Elayne said more calmly than she felt. Her heart was in her throat, and pounding. Lies and Truth, the two words might be translated. Or in context, perhaps Fiction and Not Fiction would be better. It was proof enough for her.
She chastises Aviendha, though, for risking channeling into an unknown ter’angreal. Aviendha is contrite, but suggests that perhaps she can take over studying the cache since Elayne can’t at the moment. They are interrupted, though, by Nadere and Dorindha, who inform Aviendha that they are leaving to go back to the Car’a’carn, and Aviendha must go with them, to finish her training. Aviendha starts to protest, but Dorindha rebukes her sharply, and Aviendha acquiesces and hurries out to change. Elayne asks the Wise Ones where Rand is, but Dorindha says the Car’a’carn instructed them to keep it secret. She tries to pry more info out of them regarding Rand, but instead gets maneuvered into agreeing to hire a midwife. Aviendha returns in Aiel garb, and gives Elayne back the dagger ter’angreal; Elayne runs to her bedroom and brings back the turtle-brooch angreal and the twisted stone dream ring, which she tells Aviendha to use until the Tower needs them back. Aviendha is amazed, and is ashamed she has no gift to give in return.
“You give me your friendship. You gave me a sister.” Elayne felt a tear slide down her cheek. She essayed a laugh, but it was a weak, tremulous thing. “How can you say you have nothing to give? You’ve given me everything.”
Tears glistened in Aviendha’s eyes, too. Despite the others watching, she put her arms around Elayne and hugged her hard. “I will miss you, sister,” she whispered. “My heart is as cold as night.”
“And mine, sister,” Elayne whispered, hugging back equally hard.
Elayne feels very alone once Aviendha is gone, but reminds herself she has a throne to gain and a city to defend.
Elayne’s confusion over Jaem’s statement about the Guardswomen, that they learned well because they didn’t assume they knew anything about sword work, was interesting because it highlights the way I think sometimes Jordan let his own cultural truths bleed into his constructed cultures in WOT, especially when it comes to the differences between men and women. Even when it doesn’t necessarily make any sense for that bleedover to be there.
Because while it ought to be (and is) a stereotype, it also happens to be very true that in Jordan’s (and my) still very patriarchal culture here in modern-day America, men are strongly conditioned to believe that admitting to a lack of knowledge in any area, especially one like self-defense where a man is “expected” to be proficient just by dint of being male, is a sign of weakness, and is therefore something to be avoided at nearly all costs.
You can insert the standard joke here about men refusing to ask for directions, but the thing is, that’s funny because of how often it’s the case. I can’t tell you how many men I’ve known who would rather risk botching something completely than admit they have no goddamn clue what they’re doing.
This is an approach that isn’t entirely without merit—after all, often the best way to learn how to do something is to just do it, and learning from your own mistakes is often the most effective teacher—but I do think it also represents a rare advantage that patriarchal mores give women over men in modern Western society. By which I mean that, generally speaking, there is much less social stigma attached for a woman to admit she doesn’t know how to do something, and to openly ask for instruction on how to do it without fear of being ridiculed for doing so. And I would say there are definitely cases, and I’d think sword work is definitely one of them, where swaggering in and assuming you are just so badass that you can magically intuit how to be the next Musashi, is likely the much less effective approach to learning how to do it well.
So, okay, fine. The thing is, though, I wonder if that would still be the case in a Randlandian setting, where supposedly the overall culture is at least egalitarian, if not leaning toward matriarchal. Wouldn’t it logically, then, be the other way around, with women being the ones who assume they know how to do everything, and men being more willing to assume they don’t?
Maybe, logically, and yet, I can’t see it. Elayne’s confusion makes too much sense to me. It’s interesting, and also a little disturbing, because it points up to me how very deeply ingrained certain cultural imperatives really are, because even I can’t really picture the reverse to be true.
Women ask for directions, and men don’t. And trust me, I am really really bothered to discover that I subconsciously believe that.
Something to work on, fo sho.
Blarg. Oh, and also, things happened in this chapter. Well, two things happened, anyway. One, Aviendha discovers she has a new Talent, just in time to be whisked off to where it won’t do any good. Yay?
And secondly, we see the first instance (that I recall, anyway) of the Dark One’s influence really starting to play silly buggers with, er, reality, apparently, because I don’t see how else you can rearrange a building around people without them noticing. I’m going to talk more about this later, but for now I’ll just say this is a concept which is just “eh, whatever, magical shenanigans” on a surface level, but which can really break your brain if you start to think about it too closely.
And lastly, the bit I quoted about the singing growing ter’angreal? Yeah, you know what I was thinking, because you were thinking it too. Where’s a Tinker when you need one, eh?
And really lastly, the “Fiction/Nonfiction” library ter’angreal thing made me laugh out loud. Age of Legends ebook statue reader for the win! So much cooler than a Kindle, too.
Chapter 16: The New Follower
Elayne goes to the reception room where the mercenary captains (Cordwyn, Gomaisen, and Bakuvun) are waiting, along with Careane, Sareitha, Mellar, Reene, and Norry, and Birgitte enters soon after. Elayne promptly kicks Mellar out, to his poorly concealed fury. Bakuvun makes a mocking comment as he goes, and Elayne asks casually if he knows Mellar; Bakuvun answers that he used to be a mercenary, and Elayne tells him she already knew that. She refrains from pushing further, not wanting it to get back to Mellar that she was asking about him. Bakuvun wants to know if it’s necessary for the Aes Sedai to be there, “browbeating” them; Careane and Sareitha both answer that it is wise for men to be in awe of the Tower.
“The word I hear,” Gomaisen said darkly, “is that Tar Valon is besieged. I hear the White Tower is split, with two Amyrlins. I even hear the Tower itself is held by the Black Ajah.” A brave man, to mention that rumor to Aes Sedai, but he still flinched saying it. Flinched and went right on. “Who is it you want us to be in awe of?”
“Do not believe everything you hear. Captain Gomaisen.” Sareitha’s voice was serene, a woman stating indisputable fact. “Truth has more shadings than you might think, and distance often distorts truth into something very different from the facts. Lies about Darkfriend sisters are dangerous to repeat, however.”
“What you had best believe,” Careane added, just as calmly, “is that the White Tower is the White Tower, now and always. And you stand before three Aes Sedai. You should have a care with your words, Captain.”
Cordwyn interjects that the Tower has nothing to do with them, and Bakuvun agrees, and goes on to make their pitch to Elayne for more money, citing the attrition of their numbers and the dearth of men to replace them. Elayne asks acidly if they expected to lose no men in battle, and Birgitte adds that they have already agreed to a flat rate. Bakuvun blatantly lies about the costs of widow’s fees, and Elayne tells them furiously that they’ll be paid what they signed for, or be thrown out of the city. One of them gooses a maid, and Elayne explodes that if they touch one of her women again, they’ll be thrown out with nothing but the shirts on their backs.
“Think carefully.” Sareitha said suddenly. “Will the White Tower choose to see an Aes Sedai on the Lion Throne, or a fool like Arymilla Marne?”
“Count the Aes Sedai in this palace.” Careane added. “Count the Aes Sedai inside Caemlyn. There are none in Arymilla’s camps. Count and decide where the White Tower’s favor lies.”
“Count,” Sareitha said, “and remember that the White Tower’s displeasure can be fatal.”
It was very hard to believe that one of them must be Black Ajah. yet it must be so. Unless it was Merilille, of course. Elayne hoped that was not so. She liked Merilille. But then, she liked Careane and Sareitha, too. Not as much as she did Merilille. yet still a liking. Any way she looked at it, a woman she liked was a Darkfriend, and already under penalty of death.
The mercenary captains leave, sullenly, and Elayne remarks that she handled that badly, but Norry points out that there really wasn’t much else she could have done. Elayne asks Careane and Sareitha to leave, and they do so reluctantly. Elayne tries to embrace the Source, and to her surprise it comes easily, so she weaves a ward against eavesdropping; immediately she senses someone try to breach it, and wishes she could know who. She does not release saidar, enjoying the calm it brings. Reene reports that one of her spies-turned-double agents, Jon Skellit, has told her that Arymilla seems very confident that she will be riding into Caemlyn within a few days. Reene is worried that Skellit will bolt soon. Norry has better news; he’s found someone he thinks can actually follow Mellar without getting killed, as had the first five men they’ve tried to have tail Mellar. Norry has the man, a former cutpurse named Samwil Hark, brought in in chains. Hark volubly protests his innocence, claiming to be a clerk, but Norry quickly proves this a lie, and tells Elayne that Hark had literally thousands of purses hidden in his house, souvenirs of his victims. Elayne tells him that normally he would be hanged for his crimes, but if he can successfully follow Mellar and report back to her, she will amend his sentence to exile. Hark agrees eagerly.
“You may have heard that I am Aes Sedai.” With the Power already in her, it was a simple matter to weave Spirit. “It is true.” The weave she laid on Hark’s belt buckle, his boots, his coat and breeches, was somewhat akin to that for the Warder bond, though much less complex. It would fade from the clothing and boots in a few weeks, or months at best, but metal would hold a Finder forever. “I’ve laid a weave on you, Master Hark. Now you can be found wherever you are.” In truth, only she would be able to find him – a Finder was attuned to the one who wove it – but there was no reason to tell him that. “Just to be sure that you are indeed loyal.”
Hark seems much less eager now, and Elayne sends him out. Norry is confident of Hark’s chances, pointing out that he’s been at the very dangerous job of cutting purses for over twenty years without getting caught. Birgitte argues that they should just arrest Mellar, but Elayne tells her she will not flout her own laws, and they as yet have no proof that Mellar is up to anything. Birgitte accepts this, rather to Elayne’s surprise. One of the Guardswomen, Deni Coiford, enters to announce that the Lady Dyelin has returned, and Elayne arranges to meet her in the Map Room, hoping for good news.
Erm. Where, exactly, did Elayne learn this Finder weave, I wonder? And given its extreme usefulness, why haven’t we seen it used before?
Oh, that’s probably one of those pesky continuity questions I’m not supposed to ask, huh? Sowwy. My bad!
You know, normally I’m rather irritated when the Aes Sedai get all with their PHEAR THE TOWER, YO routine, but in this case I can probably make an exception. Rats deserting a ship before they even have confirmation that it’s sinking deserve a little PHEAR-mongering, if you ask me. Er, so to speak.
*reads that paragraph again* I think that made sense. Yes. Well, we’ll go with it.
And… um. I really… don’t have anything else to say about this chapter. Which is kind of lame. So here, have another!
Chapter 17: A Bronze Bear
Elayne heads to the Map Room, offering pleasantries to the nobles she encounters. On the way, Birgitte explains to her that it wasn’t Elayne’s fault she got lost on the way to her rooms. The Palace is changing somehow; corridors that were there are gone, and new ones have appeared. Birgitte wonders what will happen if it happens again, if someone wakes up in a room with no doors or windows.
“And what if it’s more than the palace? We need to find out if all the streets still lead where they did. What if the next time, part of the city wall isn’t there anymore?“
”You do think dark thoughts,“ Elayne said bleakly. Even with the Power in her, the possibilities were enough to give her a sour stomach.
Birgitte fingered the four golden knots on the shoulder of her white-collared red coat. ”They came with these.“ Strangely, the worry carried by the bond was less now that she had shared her concerns. Elayne hoped the woman did not think she had answers. No, that really was impossible. Birgitte knew her too well for that.
In the Map Room, Elayne removes the gold falcon that marked the location of the Goshien Aiel; she tells Birgitte that she doesn’t know where they’re going, but they’re leaving, and orders that someone be sent to Bashere’s camp to see whether they have left as well, and to the Black Tower to try to count heads there, though she is doubtful of the usefulness of the attempt.
The map displayed the reasons Arymilla was pressing so hard. For one, to the northeast of Caemlyn, almost off the map, lay the bronze image of a sleeping bear, curled up with its paws over its nose. Two hundred thousand men, near enough, almost as many trained men as all of Andor could field. Four Borderland rulers, accompanied by perhaps a dozen Aes Sedai they tried to keep hidden, searching for Rand, their reasons unstated.
[…] More important, certainly to Arymilla and possibly to herself, a few leagues below the Black Tower stood a tiny silver swordsman with his blade upright in front of him and a silver halberdier, plainly by the same silversmith’s hand, one to the west of the black square, the other to the east. Luan, Ellorien and Abelle, Aemlyn, Arathelle and Pelivar had close to sixty thousand men between them in those two camps. Their estates and those of the nobles tied to them must have been stripped near the bone. Those two camps were where Dyelin had been these past three days, trying to learn their intentions.
Dyelin enters and comments that she just got lost twice; Elayne explains the matter, and is surprised that Dyelin, like Birgitte, is so relieved just that Elayne knows about it. Before Dyelin can make her report, the four young High Seats—Catalyn Haevin, Conail Northan, Branlet Gilyard, and Perival Mantear—barge in and demand to be included. Elayne sighs, but knows she cannot alienate them by kicking them out. Dyelin tells them all that while Luan et al still refuse to throw their allegiance to Elayne, they have also rejected a similar offer from Arymilla. Birgitte and Dyelin snipe at each other until Elayne shuts them up, and Dyelin continues that while Ellorien, Aemlyn, Arathelle and Pelivar persist in trying to convince Dyelin to put in a claim, she thinks that Luan and Abelle may be swaying toward Elayne. Catalyn points out that this makes the Houses evenly divided—six, six, and six—and Branlet wants to know why they are trying to start a three-sided war. Perival tells him that it’s because of the Borderlanders.
“They’re holding back because whoever wins here, the Borderlanders still have to be dealt with.” He picked up the bear, hefting it as if its weight would give him answers. “What I don’t understand is why they’re invading us in the first place. We’re so far from the Borderlands. And why haven’t they marched on and attacked Caemlyn? They could sweep Arymilla aside, and I doubt we could keep them out as easily as we do her. So why are they here?”
Elayne, Dyelin, and Birgitte are all a little amazed that Perival had come so close to figuring out their play regarding the Borderlanders. Dyelin says Luan et al have asked Arymilla for a truce until the Borderlanders are dealt with, and thinks that’s when Arymilla picked up the pace with her efforts at the walls. Catalyn declares this is why Arymilla would make a terrible queen, seeking her own advantage over the good of Andor. Elayne agrees, but privately wonders if she is guilty of as little lack of vision, by not throwing her support to Dyelin and ending the three-way tie.
Except that Dyelin did not want to be queen. She believed that Elayne was the one to wear the Rose Crown. So did Elayne. But what if they were wrong?
That evening, Vandene, Kirstian and Zarya visit Elayne in her rooms to tell her that Reanne Corly has been found dead, smothered by the Power in a way that made it very obvious that saidar had been used. Elayne is deeply upset by this news. The three of them have also uncovered evidence that at least some of the Kinswomen they had assumed ran away were also murdered, Vandene thinks in an effort to induce more of the Kin to flee, ergo stripping Elayne of more channeling support. Elayne doesn’t know why the Black sister among them wants to aid in Arymilla’s campaign particularly, but points out that this at least clears Merilille, meaning it must be either Sareitha or Careane. She instructs that the Kin be told to never go anywhere alone from now on, and hopes that the day doesn’t bring any more dark news.
Arymilla dines with her supporters, watching Nasin leer senilely at Elenia, and makes a mental note to have the cook flogged. Lir Baryn and Karind Anshar are grumbling that they should be making heavier pushes at the walls, but Arymilla tells them tightly that they need to conserve their forces for the Borderlanders. Nasin’s granddaughter Sylvase suddenly pipes up to ask Arymilla what good it will do to take Caemlyn if Luan and the others do not support her, and why not accept their truce? Arymilla is startled by this sudden change from Sylvase’s usual vapidity, and tells her Luan et al will never join Elayne, for they all have grievances against Trakand.
“Once I have the city, they will be mine in any event. Three of Elayne’s supporters are children, and Conail Northan is little more than a child. I trust I can convince them to publish their support of me easily enough.” And if she could not, Master Lounalt surely could. A pity if children had to be handed over to him and his cords. “I will be queen by sunset of the day Caemlyn falls to me.”
Nasin laughs stupidly and agrees, and Sylvase subsides; Arymilla tells herself the sharpness she saw there was her imagination. A servant comes to tell Arymilla her secretary wishes a word, and she heads out to meet him. Her secretary (Hernvil) tells her “they” have agreed, but they want the whole amount of gold first. Arymilla grimaces, but tells Hernvil to arrange for it.
“Tell them a week from tomorrow, to the day.” That should be enough. In a week, Caemlyn would be hers. The throne would be hers. Arymilla, by the Grace of the Light, Queen of Andor, Defender of the Realm, Protector of the People, High Seat of House Marne. Smiling, she went back inside to tell the others the wonderful news.
In which we discover that Arymilla sucks! And is Up To Something! News at eleven! Except, you know, not. Pretty much knew that already, thanks. The “being willing to torture children” thing was a nice new low, though. So congrats on that, Ary, except, you know, not.
Although I do confess I have no idea who the “they” are that Arymilla’s paying off here. Like I’ve mentioned, my memory of KOD is sketchy at best. The obvious assumption, of course, given the chapter right before this, is that “they” are Elayne’s disgruntled mercenary captains. Which, naturally, is a big neon sign to the savvy WOT reader that this is almost certainly the wrong assumption. I’d worry about this more if I could, but I don’t care that much so I can’t. I’m getting so jaded in my old age, y’all.
I’m pretty sure that Sylvase (who is obviously not at all the idiot Arymilla assumes her to be, because duh) is destined to do something awesome Real Soon Now, but again, I can’t really remember what it’s supposed to be. Hopefully it’s stabbing Arymilla to death, because that would rock. She says, bloodthirstily, but come ON. If anyone totally deserves to be assassinated, it’s her.
Also, these three chapters really highlight one of Jordan’s mutant superpowers as an author, which was an apparently limitless ability to come up with good (and appropriate-sounding) character names. Seriously, it’s really kind of scary. I’m sure someone somewhere has a tally of all the named characters in WOT thus far, and I’m equally sure the total number is downright breathtaking.
Reanne: Damn. That sucks, truly. Reanne was never one of my favorite characters or anything, but she probably was my favorite of the Kinswomen. And certainly she didn’t deserve to die in such a pointless, horrible way. Man.
So, given what happens in this chapter re: people’s actions being influenced by the Borderlanders, do we think Elayne’s deal with them was a good idea or a bad one? Discuss!
The Map Room was the second-largest ballroom in the palace, and spacious, with four red-streaked marble fireplaces where small fires burned beneath the carved mantels, a domed ceiling worked with gilt and supported by widely spaced columns two spans from white marble walls that had been stripped of tapestries, and sufficient mirrored stand-lamps to light the room as well as if it had windows. The greatest part of its tile floor was a detailed mosaic map of Caemlyn, originally laid down more than a thousand years ago, after the New City had been completed though before Low Caemlyn began growing. Long before there was an Andor, before even Artur Hawkwing. It had been redone several times since, as tiles faded or became worn, so every street was exact – at least, they had been until today; the Light send they still were – and despite many buildings replaced over the years, even some of the alleys were unchanged from what the huge map showed.
Man, that sounds ridiculously cool. I don’t have much interest in maps as maps (which makes me a bit of a freak among fantasy geeks) but I find them absolutely beautiful as art. The intricacy of them, I suppose, and the visual contrast of seeing humankind’s deliberate organization imposed over nature’s lack of it. And the attention to detail and skill that must be necessary to create a giant mosaic map of anything, much less the tangled warren that any city as old as Caemlyn must be… well, that would be a thing to see. Imagine dancing over that.
Incidentally, this is the kind of paragraph I typically skip over entirely when I summarize these things. Just in case you were wondering what you were missing.
Right! And… where were we again? Oh, yeah – ending this post! I knew we’d find it! Bon voy-ah-gee!