Well, hey now! This here’s A Wheel of Time Re-read, oh yah, sure.
Today’s entry covers Chapter 31 and 32 of Knife of Dreams, in which I complain about the lack of a proper lack, vacillate between admiration and appalledness, and metaphorically compare a battle to the movie Fargo.
Sort of. If you squint. Hard. And use a lot of free association. Look, I have no idea, just go with it.
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 completely nonsensical cut text, and the post!
Chapter 31: The House on Full Moon Street
Elayne is argung with Sumeko and Alise about the necessity of the Kinswomen sticking together at all times, while trying not to worry about the “small jolt” of pain she’d felt from Rand, which had to be something bad if even he registered it; she also worries about why he’s been jumping all over the place via Traveling ever since it happened. Sumeko is reluctant to obey, but Alise is on Elayne’s side, as three more Kinswomen have been murdered in the last week, bringing the probable total up to ten. They are interrupted by the arrival of a Red sister, Duhara Basaheen, who barges in and orders Sumeko and Alise out, and advises them and the rest of the wilders in the Palace to leave town altogether. Neither woman moves, and Elayne tells Duhara coldly that she is not welcome here, considering Elaida tried to have her kidnapped. Duhara says the woman who drugged Elayne has been punished, but Elayne knows that it was for letting Elayne escape, not drugging her in the first place. Duhara continues that she has been sent by the Tower to be Elayne’s advisor.
In spite of herself, Elayne laughed. Elaida had sent her an advisor? It was ludicrous! “I have Aes Sedai to advise me when I need advice, Duhara. You must know I oppose Elaida. I wouldn’t accept a pair of stockings from that woman.”
Duhara dismisses her advisors as rebels, and opines that the reason Elayne has so many Houses opposing her is because they know she does not have the Tower’s backing. Elayne replies that Elaida will be deposed and the Tower whole again under Egwene soon enough, and then no one will doubt Elayne’s backing. Duhara ignores this, and tells her that she will have to appoint a regent once she has the crown, so that she can return to the Tower and complete her training, as she is still only an Accepted.
Elayne rose and stared down at Duhara. Usually, someone seated held the advantage over someone standing, but she made her stare hard and her voice harder. She wanted to slap the woman’s face! “I was raised Aes Sedai by Egwene al’Vere on the day she herself was raised Amyrlin. I chose the Green Ajah and was admitted. Don’t you ever say I’m not Aes Sedai, Duhara. Burn me if I’ll stand still for it!”
Duhara tells her to think on it, and demands rooms at the Palace. Elayne tells her she’ll have to find an inn, and kicks her out. She asks Sumeko and Alise if Duhara made them doubt her; they say no, but Alise points out that Duhara believes what she says. Elayne sighs and says she will do so until Elaida is brought down, and dismisses them for bed. Elayne fights her insomnia for a while until Master Norry comes to see her with his spy Hark, who reports that Mellar has gone to the same place three nights now – a house on Full Moon Street owned by a Lady Shiaine Avarhin, and furthermore that there are two Aes Sedai there, by the names Falion and Marillin. Elayne is elated at the news that they’ve found two of the Black Ajah sisters, and gives orders to Deni that Birgitte, Vandene, Careane and Sareitha be sent for, and also that Mellar is to be arrested as a Darkfriend immediately, and Deni “needn’t be too gentle about it.” Deni is very pleased at the latter order.
With a little luck, tonight would not only snare two Black sisters, it might uncover a third, a murderer ten times over.
When Birgitte and the sisters arrive, Elayne explains her plan to go and capture Falion and Marillin that night. Birgitte is violently against the idea, but Vandene thinks it is an excellent plan. Both Sareitha and Careane raise objections, which disappoints Elayne, as only one of them objecting might have been a clue as to which one of them was Black.
Unless they both were Black Ajah. A bone-freezing thought, that, yet her plan took the possibility into account. “Falion and Marillin won’t know we are coming until it’s too late. If they’re gone, we’ll arrest this Shiaine, but we are going.”
They, the Aes Sedai’s Warders, and fifty Guardswomen ride out to the New City, Elayne cloaked to keep from being recognized. Hark leads them to the house, and Vandene’s Warder Jaem checks it out, returning to report the doors are unlocked, and that he’d found and tied up a drunken “big fellow” in the barn. Elayne and Vandene then each form circles, Elayne with Sareitha and Vandene with Careane, therefore ensuring that neither Sareitha nor Careane can channel independently. Elayne then inverts all the weaves and cloaks their channeling ability. They leave the Warders and guards behind and slip into the house and then upstairs, where they find Shiaine, Falion and Marillin in a sitting room. Elayne and Vandene shield and bind the three of them easily, and Elayne is gleeful as she informs them they are under arrest as Darkfriends.
Suddenly sparks danced all over her from head to toe. She twitched helplessly, muscles spasming, saidar slipping from her grasp. She could see Vandene and Careane and Sareitha jerking as sparks flickered across them as well. Only a moment it lasted, but when the sparks vanished, Elayne felt as if she had been fed through a mangle. She had to hold on to Sareitha to stay on her feet, and Sareitha clung to her as hard. Vandene and Careane were supporting one another, swaying, each with her chin on the other’s shoulder. Falion and Marillin wore startled expressions, but the light of the Power enveloped them in heartbeats. Elayne felt the shield fasten on to her, saw them settle on the other three.
[…] Four women Elayne recognized entered the room. Asne Zeramene and Temaile Kinderode. Chesmal Emry and Eldrith Jhondar. Four Black sisters. She could have wept. Sareitha groaned softly.
Asne gloats about her gift from Moghedien, a ter’angreal that can kill or stun from a hundred paces away. Temaile says that while she would enjoy “playing” with the others, Elayne is the only one they need.
“If you’re going to kill them,” Marillin said as though discussing the price of bread, “spare Careane. She is one of us.”
“A gift from Adeleas,” Vandene murmured, and Careane’s eyes went very wide. Her mouth opened, but no sound came out. The two women sagged and fell to the carpet. Vandene began trying to push herself up, but Careane lay staring at the ceiling, the hilt of Vandene’s belt knife protruding from beneath her breastbone.
The glow surrounded Chesmal, and she touched Vandene with a complex weave of Fire, Earth and Water. The white-haired woman collapsed as if her bones had melted. The same weave touched Sareitha, and she pulled Elayne down atop her as she fell. Sareitha’s eyes were already glazing.
“Their Warders will be coming now,” Chesmal said. “A little more killing to do.”
Run, Birgitte! Elayne thought, wishing the bond could carry words. Run!
Exeunt Vandene, Careane, and Sareitha, instantly, stage right. Okay, then. Wow.
I remember I had to go back and reread that last bit again before I realized what had actually happened. And while I certainly appreciate the shock value of it all happening that fast (not to mention the shock value of speaking-role Lightside characters actually dying, because how often has that happened up to this point?), I feel like there’s something missing there.
Yes, this is probably incredibly nit-picky, but it just feels wrong that there’s no line describing Elayne’s reaction to Marillin’s revelation about Careane – or anyone’s reaction to it, for that matter – before Vandene makes her move.
A gasp, a blink, even just a moment of frozen silence – something. There needed to be a beat there, between the reveal and its consequence, and there… wasn’t.
It’s a minor thing, maybe, but I’ve come to realize that more often than not, the part of a Big Moment Scene that makes the big moment in it work is not the actual big moment, but the silence that surrounds it, and marks it out as significant. Watch any decently-edited action movie, and you’ll notice how often there is a second of total stillness right before something blows up, or the hero lands that game-changing punch, or whatever. Watch any decently-edited (and acted) drama, and you’ll notice how often there is a silent reaction shot just after another character drops a more metaphorical kind of bomb on the first character (and the audience).
The same applies when you’re reading as well as when you’re watching. The silences are important, man, is what I’m saying. You need those beats. You ignore them at your peril.
Anyway. All that aside, aw, Vandene. I guess it’s good that she got revenge for her sister, but man, that was bleak. Though I suppose technically it’s a hell of a lot more bleak for Sareitha, since it’s clear that Vandene didn’t care whether she lived or not after avenging Adeleas’s death, but the very-young Sareitha was presumably all about not dying, so, yeah.
I forgot a lot of the details of this whole operation, and I have to admit it’s better planned-out than I remembered it being; the bit where Elayne and Vandene hobble the other two sisters by linking with them was especially clever. That said, I keep wanting to conclude it was a stupid plan anyway, but I can’t come up with any concrete reasons why. Given the fact that Elayne couldn’t trust Careane or Sareitha, and that none of the other channelers in the Palace would be either willing or able to capture Black sisters, going herself was really the only viable option – other than simply leaving them alone, of course, but I don’t think any ruler would be okay with letting evil people capable of wreaking mass mayhem with a flick of the wrist just hang out in her city.
Enh. Maybe I’m just predisposed to regard anything Elayne does as foolhardy just because some of the things she does are foolhardy. Like the boy who cried wolf, or something. Which really doesn’t follow when you think about it. Though I admit that her belief that her Prophesied Pregnancy makes her invincible does quite a lot to tilt her more to the “foolhardy” end of the scale.
As a random aside, I love how Temaile only has one line in this chapter, and still manages to be the creepiest thing in it. Eurgh.
Duhara: shut up, Duhara. Seriously, did she actually think that was going to work?
I guess, yeah, she did. Probably because in pre-apocalyptical times, it most likely would’ve. Doesn’t make me want to flick her in the ear any less, though. Pfeh.
Chapter 32: To Keep the Bargain
Birgitte feels something is wrong with Elayne, but can’t figure out what. Ned comments that Sareitha feels “muzzy”, but Careane’s Warders say she feels “confident”, and they should wait.
Birgitte nodded. Elayne was confident, too. But then, Elayne would feel self-assured walking an unraveling rope stretched over a pit full of sharp stakes.
Suddenly, all the Warders except Birgitte cry out and dash toward the house; the Guardswomen make to follow, knowing what Warders going wild like that means, but Birgitte stops them, saying Elayne is still alive, and they’ll need more swords to rescue her. She thinks to herself they’ll need more than that, and dashes back with the guards to the Palace. She feels Elayne moving northeast at a wagon’s pace. She orders that the Windfinders and Guybon be brought to the Map Room immediately. Dyelin joins them as well. When he arrives, Birgitte orders Guybon to gather all the cavalry and pike they have; they are going to Travel to just outside the gates and ambush Elayne’s captors as they exit the city.
“We certainly need to rescue Elayne,” Dyelin said calmly, “but she’ll hardly thank you if you give Arymilla Caemlyn by doing it. Not counting the men in the towers and holding the gates, almost half the trained soldiers and armsmen in the city are on the northern wall. If you strip away the rest, one more attack will gain a stretch of the wall. Crossbows and bows alone won’t stop them. Once they have that, Arymilla’s forces will pour into the city, enough to overwhelm what you propose to leave. You will have neatly reversed our positions, and worsened yours. Arymilla will have Caemlyn, and Elayne will be outside without enough armsmen to get back in. Unless these Darkfriends have somehow smuggled an army inside Caemlyn, a few hundred men will do as well as thousands.”
Birgitte glares at her and replies that Elayne’s life is more important to her than her throne. She warns Guybon that they will be facing Aes Sedai, and that all of their Aes Sedai are dead. She hopes to make up for that, but men will die in this rescue. Guybon only comments that it will be “interesting.” While they are waiting for the Windfinders, two Kinswomen (Julanya Fote and Keraille Surtovni) stop in to report that Ellorien, Luan, Abelle, Aemlyn, Arathelle and Pelivar broke camp that morning, and are now headed for Caemlyn; Dyelin speculates that they may have decided to support Ellorien for the throne, and plan to defeat Arymilla and take over the siege from her. Birgitte decides to worry about it after Elayne is rescued. Chanelle and the other seven Windfinders charge in then, furious about being forced to attend Birgitte, but Birgitte tells them Elayne has been captured, and she needs them to form a circle to make a gateway large enough for thousands of men and horses. Chanelle says supporting their war efforts is no part of Elayne’s bargain with Zaida.
“Use the Kinswomen. Use the Aes Sedai.”
Birgitte stepped close to the dark woman, looking her straight in the eyes. The Kin were useless for this. None of them had ever used the Power as a weapon. They might not even know how. “The other Aes Sedai are dead,” she said softly. Someone behind her moaned, one of the clerks. “What is your bargain worth if Elayne is lost? Arymilla certainly won’t honor it.” Keeping her voice steady saying that took effort. It wanted to shake with anger, shake with fear. She needed these women, but she could not let them know why or Elayne would be lost. “What will Zaida say if you ruin her bargain with Elayne?”
Chanelle agrees reluctantly, but warns Birgitte they will provide transport only. They head out to where some twelve thousand soldiers have been gathered; Birgitte tries not to think of how many of them will die that day. As they are about to leave, Reene Harfor runs up with a wounded Guardsman in tow, who tells them that companies of mercenaries are attacking the Far Madding Gate from the inside, and there are maybe ten or even twenty thousand more men assembling outside it. Birgitte is torn, and finally orders Dyelin to take most of the pike and all the archers she can gather and defend the wall until Birgitte can get there.
Guybon looked at Birgitte, yet he said nothing, though likely he was wondering why she was not sending more. He would not challenge her publicly. The problem was, she did not know how many Black sisters would be with Elayne. She needed every Windfinder, needed them to believe they were all necessary. Had there been time, she would have stripped the sentries from the outer towers, stripped even the gates.
She orders Chanelle to make the gateway; they come through on a ridge by the road, and Birgitte sees a wagon surrounded by seven mounted women. Chanelle wants to leave, saying their job is done, but Birgitte tells her she wants her to see something.
Eight against seven might have seemed almost even odds, but not when the eight were linked. Not if she could make the eight take part.
The Black sisters are surprised, but soon attack, lightning raining down on the massed host. Guybon orders the soldiers forward, and Birgitte forces Chanelle to watch as they are mowed down by the Black sisters. One of them has a black rod which produces what Birgitte recognizes as balefire, carving a fifteen-pace-wide gap in the lines. Guybon orders a charge, riding into certain death, and Chanelle tells Birgitte she has no desire to watch men die.
“Then stop it.” Birgitte said. “If they kill all the soldiers, or just enough to make the rest break, then Elayne is lost.” Not forever. Burn her, she would track her for the rest of her life to see her free, but the Light only knew what they might do to her in that time. “Zaida’s bargain is lost. You will have lost it."
The morning was not warm, yet sweat beaded on Chanelle’s forehead. Fireballs and lightning erupted among the riders following Guybon. The woman holding the rod raised her arm again. Even without using the looking glass, Birgitte was sure it was pointed straight at Guybon. He had to see it, but he never swerved a hair.
Suddenly another bolt of lightning slashed down. And struck the woman holding the rod.
The counterattack sends the Black sisters into disarray, and Birgitte snaps at Chanelle to take the rest alive; Chanelle obeys, shielding and binding the women with Air. Guybon halts the charge, and Birgitte dashes toward the wagon, annoyed and impressed that Elayne had never once felt fear.
Okay, I pretty much completely forgot about this rescue and how it was achieved. And having been reminded of it, I really can’t decide if I’m more impressed by Birgitte’s cleverness in roping in the Windfinders, or more appalled at the method she uses to do it.
Don’t get me wrong, I see where she felt she had no choice, but damn. She basically fed people into a woodchipper in front of Chanelle until the Windfinder agreed to break it. Ye gods.
That is… well, it wasn’t cold, Birgitte certainly wasn’t cold about it, but it definitely was more than a little ruthless. Especially when you consider this was all to save one person. A very important person, yes, but still, one person.
That said, fuck Chanelle for waiting so damn long to stop the slaughter. I don’t exactly blame her for wanting not to be involved in other peoples’ fights in the first place, but I truly don’t understand how she could stand there as long as she did and watch people get slaughtered wholesale before finally doing something about it. And when she did do something, it was apparently mostly because she didn’t want to mess up Zaida’s bargain! Ugh. You stay classy, Chanelle. Frickin’ Sea Folk, y’all.
Charlz Guybon, by the way, has balls of adamantium. That Is All.
Birgitte also follows in the tradition of many a WOT character here, in that she totally fails at accurate self-perception. Yes, honey, you clearly totally suck at being a general/leader/maker of tough decisions. Just like Mat sucks at flirting and Perrin sucks at lording. Yup.
On reflection, I take back what I said in the previous commentary about Sareitha, because in my opinion the person who that whole scene was actually bleakest for is not Sareitha, but Ned, Sareitha’s Warder. Because, well. Though I can’t be sure of this, I think it’s pretty clear that Jaem knew all about Vandene’s death wish, and to all appearances had made his peace with it long since. And Careane’s Warders were all pretty obviously Darkfriends, so whatever with them, but poor Ned, you guys. Poor dead Ned, since the lack of mention of them after this says to me he died along with all the other berserk Warders. I mean, I guess Ned knew what he was signing up for and all, but still. Raw deal, dude.
As a last note, continuing from what I was saying in the last commentary, one thing does have to be said about Elayne, and that is that she is entirely consistent as a character. Her fearlessness is amplified by this whole thing with Min’s viewing of her babies, true, but it’s not like she was especially shy about rushing into danger before this, either. Girl has always been stupid brave from the get-go, is what I’m saying.
I bring this up because I was originally going to make a remark about how the prophecy thing cheapens Birgitte’s admiration of Elayne’s bravery in this chapter, but really, I’m pretty sure that even if Min had never said a word about Elayne’s babies, Elayne still would have behaved pretty much the exact same way. She might not have been quite as blithely confident that she would survive her crazy stunts, but I also don’t think that would have stopped her from doing them, either.
Whether this is actually a good thing or not, of course, is an exercise I leave to the reader.
And that’s the end of that, you betcha! Have a lovely kidnapping-and-also-woodchipper-free week, y’all!