What ho, WOTerians! It’s a Wheel of Time Re-read, here to confound your politics and frustrate your knavish tricks! Or something like that!
Today’s entry covers Chapters 33 through 35 of Knife of Dreams, in which Chicks Kick Ass (whoo!), Fantasy™ brand coffee is drunk, and one of Our Heroes finally, at long last, gets to change hats.
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 post!
Chapter 33: Nine Out of Ten
The Black sisters had hogtied and blindfolded Elayne and tossed her in a wagon, but she refuses to feel helpless, comforting herself with the thought that Min had said she was safe until her babies were born. She feels Birgitte leap to a place a mile ahead of her, and wants to laugh.
The bond said Birgitte was aimed at her target, and Birgitte Silverbow never missed.
She sobers, though, at the thought of the soldiers dying out there for her, and for the deaths of Vandene and Sareitha.
No guilt, though. Only by letting Falion and Marillin walk free could they have been spared, and neither would have countenanced that. There had been no way to anticipate the arrival of the others, or that strange weapon Asne had.
She feels the lightning strike, and moments later her shield vanishes, but she cannot see to channel herself free, and so must wait for Birgitte to do it. Birgitte frees her, and tells her the Windfinders decided not to risk their bargain, and Elayne snorts. The Guardsmen and Guardswomen raise a cheer as Elayne emerges from the wagon; she smiles to see Guybon is wearing her personal sigil as well as Andor’s lion, and considers possibly making him her third Warder. She inspects the prisoners; Asne is dead, and her three Warders are berserk in their restraints. The others, to Elayne’s bemusement, soon get into an argument over whether Marillin should defer to Temaile, and Elayne orders them all gagged. Birgitte reports that Arymilla has emptied her camps for an all-out assault, and has twenty thousand men or more at the Far Madding Gate, including some turncoat mercenaries on the inside. Dyelin is holding the gate until Birgitte can get Elayne back inside. She also tells her about Luan and the others’ imminent arrival. Elayne knows from what Reene Harfor’s spies told her that Arymilla herself will be at the Far Madding Gate, aiming to ride into Caemlyn. Guybon tells them that minus casualities from the rescue, they have about ten thousand on hand. Birgitte tells Elayne she’d better not be thinking what Birgitte thinks she is.
“If they’re through the gate,” Elayne said stubbornly, “it’s unlikely they closed it behind them. We’ll take them in the rear.” It was not all stubbornness. Not entirely. She had not trained with weapons, but she had received all of the other lessons Gawyn had gotten from Gareth Bryne. A queen had to understand the battle plans her generals gave her rather than simply accept them blindly. “If the gate is holding, we’ll have them trapped between us and the wall. Numbers won’t count so much in Low Caemlyn. Arymilla won’t be able to line up any more men across a street than we can. We are going to do it, Birgitte. Now somebody find me a horse.”
Birgitte gives in, but only after warning her she isn’t going to lead any charges like in a “fool story.” They make preparations, and convince Chanelle to change the gateway to put them outside the Fad Madding Gate behind Arymilla’s forces. Elayne is ecstatic to see the gates are still closed. Elayne’s forces are forced to charge early when someone in Arymilla’s troops notices their approach, and Elayne sees that the gates are opening for a sortie, but she doesn’t know if they are Dyelin’s men or the renegade mercenaries. But then they start shooting at Arymilla’s people, and Elayne is amazed at how many men Dyelin managed to dredge up. Arymilla’s forces are pinned from both sides, and it quickly becomes a slaughter, until cries for quarter finally go up.
Elayne sat down on her saddle properly. It was done. Now to learn how well it had been done.
The mopping up takes some time, but at length Guybon brings Arymilla, Naean, and Elenia to Elayne, who tells them they will be her “guests” until they can pay the ransom for the war they caused. Elayne knows they are already financially ruined. In shock, Arymilla says her Jarid is still out there and will avenge them, but Elenia yells at her that he won’t. Lir Baryn and Karind Anshar are more resigned. Sylvase Caeren announces that Caeren stands for Trakand the moment she gets in Elayne’s earshot, to the shock of everyone, especially Arymilla. She tells them her grandfather “suffered a seizure,” and Sylvase is now confirmed as the High Seat of her House. Elayne welcomes her support, provisionally, and Sylvase asks for custody of Elenia, Naean, and Arymilla.
“I believe my new secretary, Master Lounalt, may be able to convince them to throw their support to you.”
For some reason, Naean gave a loud cry and would have fallen from her saddle if a Guardsman had not grabbed her arm to support her. Arymilla and Elenia both appeared ready to sick up.
“I think not,” Elayne said. No proposed conversation with a secretary produced those reactions.
Sylvase accepts her refusal, but warns her to be careful of all three. Lir Baryn and Karind Anshar both suddenly throw their support to Elayne as well, ignoring Arymilla’s screams about betrayal. Elayne knows perfectly well that Lir and Karind are just doing what they can to save their own necks, but also knows that this gives her nine out of ten great Houses, so she accepts both declarations and orders that the banners for Caeren, Baryn, and Anshar be restored to them. She rides toward where Dyelin is waiting for them.
“You’re awfully quiet,” Birgitte said softly. “You’ve just won a great victory.”
“And in a few hours,” she replied, “I’ll learn whether I have to win another.”
There was quite a wrangle in the comments to the last entry over whether Elayne’s plan to capture Falion and Marillin was a bad plan or not. I think most of the points made on both sides were good ones, but on reflection I think I have to agree with Elayne that she executed the best plan she could within the time constraints she had, and the intervention of totally unforeseen (and unforeseeable) events doesn’t change that.
The time frame being the deciding factor, there; ten people had already been murdered — ten channelers, to be exact, i.e. people Elayne (and the Light) could frankly ill afford to lose, even aside from the general Murder=Bad formula — so I really don’t blame her for wanting to dig the canker from the rose ASAP before it could do any more damage. So to speak.
As someone once said (and I’m paraphrasing here), a good plan executed in timely fashion is worth a thousand perfect plans executed too late. Anyway, it’s over now, for better or worse, so I’mma move on.
It was kind of hilarious that the Black sisters started fighting over precedence, of all ridiculous things, while trussed-up as prisoners. That and Elayne’s eye-rolly reaction got a good chuckle out of me.
As for Arymilla’s Last Stand, I was struck with two thoughts while reading about it. The first, of course, is just the obvious one of holy crap this siege is actually over Yay, but the second and much cooler one was my sudden realization that, with the possible exception of Jarid Sarand, every single key player (in the sense of commanding officers) on both sides of the battle was female. And even better, this isn’t something anyone in the story feels the need to comment on or even notice.
Which is not something you get to see every day, to say the very least. I won’t deny that I grinned a pleased little grin at the notion, either. Like I said, I have my issues with gender politics in WOT, but when it comes to Chicks Kicking Ass, Jordan almost always got it just right. Aw yeah.
Chapter 34: A Cup of Kaf
Karede enters the Seanchan encampment in east Altara, noting that there are no raken around, and all the men are armored as if ready for battle on a moment’s notice. The sentries spit as his company goes by, and Karede instructs Musenge and the others that they are to ignore any insults given them, even though he badly wants to answer them himself.
It seemed everyone believed the filthy tale of Guards’ involvement with a girl pretending to be the High Lady Tuon and extorting gold and jewels from merchants. Likely they believed that other, whispered tale about the girl, not merely vile but horrific. No. That the High Lady was in danger of her life from the Ever Victorious Army itself went beyond horrific. That was a world gone mad.
Karede enters the command tent and asks to speak to the camp commander, who turns out to be Banner-General Gamel Loune. Knowing that Karede technically outranks him, Loune reluctantly offers Karede kaf, which Karede accepts. After they drink, Karede tells him he has heard there are “difficulties” in this region, and wants to know what he will be riding into. Loune tells him that in the last week there have been “four sizeable engagements and upwards of sixty ambushes, skirmishes and raids” over three hundred miles of territory; he believes there are at least six different armies involved, but no one can find them or figure out where they came from. Loune further believes they must have Aes Sedai or Asha’man with them, as soldiers have been killed by explosions not caused by the Power. Karede privately disagrees with this last, thinking that if the enemy had Aes Sedai or Asha’man with them, surely they would have just Traveled out of the region altogether with Tuon, although he acknowledges that it seems not all Aes Sedai and Asha’man know how to Travel. Loune says they haven’t even managed to take any prisoners.
“I know we’ve killed some – the reports claim it, at least – but they don’t even leave their dead behind. Some fools have begun whispering that we’re fighting spirits.” Fools he might consider them, but the fingers of his left hand hooked in a sign to ward off evil. “I’ll tell you one thing I know, Karede. Their commanders are very good. Very, very good. Every man to face them has been fought off his feet, outmaneuvered and outfought completely.”
Karede nodded thoughtfully. He had speculated that the White Tower must have tasked one of its best to kidnap the High Lady Tuon, but he had not been thinking along the lines of what people this side of the ocean called the great captains. Perhaps Thom Merrilin’s real name was Agelmar Jagad or Gareth Bryne.
Karede asks if Loune is in charge of the plan to pin the enemy down, and Loune is grateful that he is not; General Chisen’s forces are coming through the Malvide Narrows to provide reinforcements. Karede decides he knows what Merrilin’s plans are now, and thanks Loune politely for the kaf before taking his leave. As the Deathwatch Guards ride out, Karede tells Musenge they are headed northeast for the Malvide Narrows.
“The Light shine on us that we arrive before the High Lady.” If they did not, the pursuit would continue, all the way to Tar Valon if necessary. The thought of turning back without the High Lady never occurred to him. If he had to bring her out of Tar Valon, he would.
As always, I enjoyed the acknowledgment of Mat’s bad-assedness as a military strategist here a great deal, because it never fails to make me happy when people are forced to admit Mat is awesome — even when they don’t actually know who they are talking about.
That said, I also really liked the much more subtly communicated impression that Karede is no slouch in the strategy department himself, since unlike Loune or the rest of the Seanchan in Altara, he instantly figures out that “Merrilin’s” (heh) real target is Chisen’s reinforcements.
Which is awfully clever of Mat, too; you say “mountain pass,” but Mat says “perfect ambush opportunity.” Po-tay-to, po-tah-to, heh.
This is random, but I snickered while reading this chapter because I remembered a discussion I read somewhere once (possibly right here on Tor.com) about how it seems that by mutual unspoken agreement, virtually every single invented culture in SFF, no matter how fantastical and/or alien, possesses some type of suspiciously coffee-or-tea-like hot stimulant beverage.
And you know, even at my most cynical, I can’t bring myself to believe that this would not be true. Coffee as a universal constant is a theory I can get behind, y’all. Mmm, coffee.
And, yeah. There’s really not a whole lot else to say about this chapter, as it’s basically just a set-up for what happens next in Mat’s storyline, so I’mma move on some more!
Chapter 35: The Importance of Dyelin
Luan et al have arrived outside of Caemlyn two days earlier, but have not laid siege to the city. Elayne thinks that perhaps that is because they know that she is supplying the city via Gateways, but is still wary, knowing that even with her new allies she does not have the numbers to match their collective armies. Elayne has been trying to get Danine Candraed to commit to Trakand, to make the tenth House she needs to win the throne, but Danine continues to dither. Now Hanselle Renshar, Arathelle’s grandson, has come to ask for safe passage on the High Seats’ behalf, which Elayne finds incredibly insulting. She writes a short, terse note guaranteeing their safety and gives it to Hanselle.
“Here.” she said, handing the sheet to the young man. Her voice was ice, and she made no effort to warm it. “If this fails to make them feel safe, perhaps they might try wrapping themselves in swaddling.” Thunder boomed for punctuation.
Hanselle leaves, and Elayne asks Dyelin if she’s sure she doesn’t want to be queen. Dyelin is sure, and tells Elayne she will be a better queen than Dyelin, partly because of her connection to the Dragon Reborn, but mostly because of herself. Elayne is humbled by the praise. Elayne hears reports from Reene and Norry on various issues; Norry reports that the Darkfriend prisoners are being closemouthed except for insults, especially Mellar (whom the Guardswomen had beaten thoroughly at his arrest), and Elayne tells him to ask Sylvase for the use of her “secretary”. Later, Elayne suffers through her daily exam from the midwife, Melfane Dawlish; she is still a bit horrified that Melfane actually tastes her urine, even though Melfane tells her she can tell some sicknesses from a change in the taste. Elayne is glad, though, that Melfane had finally stopped the ridiculous bland diet everyone else had had her on. Over lunch, Birgitte theorizes that Luan et al are coming to talk about the Borderlanders, since there’s no way they are coming to throw support to Elayne, and Elayne agrees.
“Unless they’re going to demand I surrender Caemlyn.”
“There’s always that,” Birgitte said, sounding almost cheerful. The bond said she was anything but. “We still have watchers in the towers, though, and Julanya and Keraille have gotten work as laundresses in their camp, so we’ll know if they begin to move against the city before the first man sets out.”
Elayne goes to the Grand Hall to receive the High Seats; the other nobles who support Elayne are there too, and Elayne warns Conail and Lir in particular from taking umbrage at anything said, as Dyelin has warned that Ellorien is likely to be “provocative.” Catalyn demands to know why they should hold their tongues if goaded.
“I’ve never allowed anyone to poke at me and walk away unscathed.”
“An ox responds to the goad and does as the ox-herd wants,” Dyelin said drily. “The same way you will be doing what Ellorien wants if you respond to her goads.” The crimson remained in Catalyn’s cheeks, no doubt from embarrassment, now.
The High Seats enter, and Elayne notes that Luan, Ellorien and Abelle are a separate group from Arathelle, Pelivar, and Aemlyn. Ellorien immediately makes a snide remark that she is surprised Elayne isn’t already sitting on the throne, and Elayne answers calmly that she has no right to it — yet. Ellorien sneers that she will be waiting a while if she thinks Danine will ever declare for her. Elayne asks if there is a purpose to this meeting other than insults, and Luan replies that they are there to ask for a truce.
“A truce? Are we at war, Luan? Has someone declared for the throne that I haven’t heard of?” Six sets of eyes swung to Dyelin, who grunted.
“Fools. I told you and told you, and you wouldn’t believe me. Perhaps you’ll believe this. When Sylvase, Karind and Lir sent their proclamations of support, I sent my own. Taravin stands for Trakand, and the whole of Andor will know it soon enough.”
Luan says, a temporary agreement, then, to join forces against the Borderlanders. Elayne tells him the Borderlanders do not want a war with Andor; they told her they are looking for the Dragon Reborn. Ellorien is incensed that Elayne treated with them, declaring she had no right without the crown, but Elayne counters that she met with them on her authority as an Aes Sedai, not as Queen of Andor. She further points out that as a result of her actions, the Borderlanders are crossing Andor peacefully, instead of causing a war that would “soak Andor in blood and cripple her for a generation,” and Andoran farmers are even making a profit from selling them food. She demands to know what Ellorien would have done differently, and Ellorien sullenly remains silent. Abelle then asks what she plans to do about the Black Tower, and Elayne tells him bluntly she can do nothing about it, except to remind the Asha’man that they are on Andoran soil, and subject to its laws.
For a long moment they stared at her, all six of them unblinking.
“Pendar stands for Trakand,” Abelle said suddenly, and right atop him, Luan said. “Norwelyn stands for Trakand.” Lightning flashed overhead, brightening the colored windows in the ceiling.
Elayne kept herself from swaying with an effort. Birgitte’s face was smooth, but the bond carried amazement. It was done. She had eleven, and the throne was hers.
Slightly dazed herself, Dyelin asks the other four for their support as well, in the interests of the good of Andor. After a moment, Arathelle, Pelivar and Aemlyn add their allegiance as well, but Ellorien refuses, and announces her intention to return to her estates. Elayne reminds her that Tarmon Gai’don is coming, and she won’t be able to stay there long; Ellorien replies that when the time comes, House Traemane will ride with the Lion of Andor, and leaves. Elayne notes she said Andor, not Trakand, and reflects to herself that things were never this messy in stories.
Still, she had the throne at last. There was still the coronation, but that was a formality now. As she led the procession from the Grand Hall, chatting with Luan and Pelivar, thunder rolled overhead like martial drums beating the march for Tarmon Gai’don. How long before Andor’s banners had to march to the Last Battle?
ZOMG YOU GUYS IT’S OVER LA SUCCESSION EST MORT VIVE LA REINE
Praise the Lawd, y’all, seriously.
Although, overall I will say that I didn’t find the Andoran succession storyline nearly as deadly this time as I did originally. I actually somewhat enjoyed it this time through, protracted bathing and a surfeit of Windfinders notwithstanding.
Possibly because I’ve been staring at it so hard? But then again, close Re-read scrutiny of the Perrin/Faile/Sevanna debacle only intensified my hatred of that whole plotline, so that’s probably not it.
…On reflection, that’s definitely not it. Let’s just say, it is not a coincidence that the Perrin/Shaido Plotline of Doom incorporated what is (in my opinion) WOT’s single biggest instance of Fail regarding portrayal of its female characters, while Elayne’s storyline from Ebou Dar on represents frequent examples of the same at its best. So, yeah.
Ellorien: I’m kind of torn on how to feel about her being all Snidely McCrankypants throughout this whole business. On the one hand, Morgase had Ellorien frickin’ FLOGGED, and I’m pretty sure that that qualifies as more than reasonable grounds for being, if you’ll pardon the pun, royally pissed. On the other, that was Elayne’s mother, not Elayne, and surely it would behoove a High Seat to take that into consideration when deciding what’s best for the country and all, right?
Right. But flogging, man… I dunno.
On the gripping hand… has anyone at least tried to explain to Ellorien et al that Morgase was not exactly herself when she did all that? I can’t remember. Eh, probably wouldn’t have helped, anyway, even if Ellorien and the rest had believed it, which they probably wouldn’t have. Maybe this comes up again later on, but I don’t remember it if it does.
Tasting urine: Ah, so THAT’S why I decided not to become a medieval(-ish) midwife. I knew there was a reason!
Still, I’m pleased that Elayne finally managed to find someone to advise her on her pregnancy who apparently has, you know, actually dealt with pregnant people before. Seriously, whoever thinks that when you’re eating for two (or three, as the case may be) that that’s the perfect time to cut down on the caloric intake needs to be smacked around for a minute. Even I know that! Sheesh.
Although, Melfane is not quite so enlightened in other areas:
“Pity he can’t learn my craft, but no one would buy herbs from a man. Or have a man midwife.” Melfane laughed uproariously at that ridiculous notion.
All double standards are stupid, but this one about herbs strikes me as especially ridiculous. How can a person’s gender influence whether you can memorize what various herbs do? Well, it can’t, obviously. Pfeh.
And as for no male midwives, well, the only-recently-reversed trend of male OB/GYN practitioners outnumbering the female tends to put the lie to that notion. While I’m obviously much happier with female physicians finally getting an even slice of the pie (at least in this field of medicine if nowhere else), I’m not simultaneously going to claim that no babies got successfully born while the profession was still male-dominated. ‘Cause, you know, I’m pretty sure they did. Get born, I mean. Call it a hunch.
So, the moral is, kids, sexism is stupid, in either direction. I feel like I may have made this point before!
Hanselle Renshar: So, am I the only one who saw that name and immediately started going, “HAHHN-sel? Han-SULL?” Just me? Okay.
(If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you clearly did not waste enough time watching Looney Tunes as a child. You’ll want to fix that, yo.)
So, bye, Queen Elayne! Congrats on finally getting your Crownening through committee! See you in
TGS oops I mean ToM!
And see you guys next week, when I do believe we might be wrapping up this puppy. (Holy crap!) Later!