OMG YOU GUYS, It’s a Wheel of Time Re-read, and you have THIRTY SECONDS to dismantle it or it will EXPLODE!
…Okay, not really. That would be pretty funny, though.
Today’s entry covers Chapters 27 through 29 of The Gathering Storm, in which there are zombies, terrorists, and puppies.
No, seriously, there are!
…Well, sort of. In a WAY.
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 27: The Tipsy Gelding
Mat rides toward the town of Hinderstap with the three Aes Sedai, Joline’s Warders, Talmanes, Thom, and five soldiers, looking forward to a night of dicing in a tavern again. Thom is looking at Moiraine’s letter again, and Mat tells him to put it away; it’ll be weeks before they can attempt the rescue, at least until after they reach Caemlyn. He remembers that Lanfear fell through the door along with Moiraine, and wonders if he’d be a big enough fool to rescue her too if they find her. He and Thom banter about the good old days when only Myrddraal and Darkfriends were trying to kill them, instead of gholam and Forsaken. Mat catches a glimpse of Rand in the colors, and is glad that for now he’s nowhere near the man. Thom grouses that he is getting too old to be of use anymore, which Mat declares ridiculous.
“Well, lad, I didn’t mean to get your spirits down. Just idle talk. I still have a few things I can show this world. If I really can free Moiraine... well, we’ll see. Besides, somebody needs to be here to watch, then put this all to song, someday. There will be more than one ballad that comes from all of this.”
The town looks refreshingly normal, though Mat notes that most of the villagers’ otherwise good clothing looks like they’ve been torn and mended multiple times. The mayor, Barlden, welcomes them cordially, but says that all travelers must be out of the town by sundown. Mat protests that sunset is less than three hours away, but neither he nor the Aes Sedai can shake the mayor’s insistence on “the rules”. The dice begin rattling in Mat’s head, but he ignores them. The Aes Sedai head to the nicest of the three inns to take a bath, and Mat drags a reluctant Talmanes into the seediest one. Mat joins a dice game and, to Talmanes’s shock, begins losing immediately, upping the bet each time, until half the inn is eagerly betting against him. Mat whispers to Talmanes to calm down, this is what he wanted, but Talmanes is worried for another reason:
“Something feels wrong about these folk, Mat.” Talmanes spoke very softly, glancing over his shoulder. “While you’ve been playing, I’ve been talking to them. They don’t care about the world. The Dragon Reborn, the Seanchan, nothing. Not a care.”
“So?” Mat said. “They’re simple folk.”
“Simple folk should worry even more,” Talmanes said. “They’re trapped here between gathering armies. But these just shrug when I talk, then drink some more. It’s as if they’re... they’re too focused on their revelry. As if it’s all that matters to them.”
“Then they’re perfect,” Mat said.
The mayor comes in, looking ready to toss them out, but he hesitates when he sees how much gold Mat is losing. Then Mat calls for Harnan and Delarn to bring in his chest, and shows the awed villagers the pile of gold inside. He offers to bet the contents of the chest against as much foodstuff as the village can get to the inn before sunset, on one toss of the dice. The villagers eagerly rush to gather the food, but the mayor is very suspicious, and insists that he make the toss on Mat’s behalf, to ensure Mat doesn’t cheat. Mat hesitates.
Would his luck work if someone else threw? Sometimes it worked to prevent him from being wounded in combat. He was sure of that. Wasn’t he?
“Go ahead,” he said to Barlden. The man looked shocked.
They go outside to wait while the villagers pile up foodstuffs, and the mayor grows more and more anxious the closer sunset approaches. Mat fights off a sense of guilt for using his luck this way, but reasons that the Band needs this food, and all men use what gifts they have to earn their way. He comments to Talmanes, though, that he thinks he was right; there is an edge of exhaustion and desperation to these villagers.
“We can go, then?” Talmanes asked.
“No,” Mat said. “We’re staying.”
And the dice stopped rattling in his head. It was so sudden, the silence so unexpected, that he froze.
He sees a group of men showing Barlden a sheet of paper and gesturing at him, but Barlden waves them off. Mat decides enough is enough, and tells Barlden to make the throw. Barlden tosses the dice, and it’s a winning throw. Barlden tells them to take their spoils and never return, immediately, and ushers everyone else back into the inn, leaving Mat, Talmanes, Harnan and Delarn alone on the street. It is suddenly eerily quiet.
“Well,” Mat said, voice echoing against silent housefronts, “I guess that’s that.” He walked over to Pips, calming the horse, who had begun to shuffle nervously. “Now, see, I told you, Talmanes. Nothing to be worried about at all.”
And that’s when the screaming began.
This chapter didn’t annoy me nearly as much as the first Mat chapter in TGS did, but I still found an awful lot of it to be completely extraneous, and the banter occasionally a trifle painful, so I pretty much left most of the first half of the chapter out. Therefore, if you want to read Talmanes saying things like “I heard that!”, you’re on your own.
(Of course, even so it’s still not as bad as The Bath Of A Thousand Pages in COT, so, okay.)
I kind of agree with Mat re: using his luck in this way – both his doubts about the ethicality of it, and his rationale to put those doubts aside, actually. Because on the one hand, yeah, it really is a wee bit skeezy to use what essentially amounts to cheating for monetary gain. And it is cheating, because sure, “warping the laws of probability” is a much fancier trick than weighting a die, but in practice the end result is the same. The coolness of the method of doing a thing still doesn’t change what the thing is – and actually, the fact that it’s pretty much impossible for Mat to be caught at his kind of cheating makes it worse.
On the other hand, as Mat points out, he’s got thousands of soldiers to feed and shelter and support, and the legal/non-skeezy avenues he has for providing for them are rapidly dwindling. And, you know, there’s also that thing about his destiny to help save the world and stuff, which his Band presumably needs to be in fighting shape for in order to help him with that. So yeah, it’s hinky, but relatively speaking, I think in Mat’s particular circumstances, cheating at dice can probably be given a bye, mostly.
The ethics of it all aside, here’s your homework for the evening: Mat is unsure, in this chapter, whether having the mayor throw the dice for him will keep his luck from working on them. Considering the ultimate results, did Mat’s luck work on the toss, or not? DISCUSS.
Chapter 28: Night in Hinderstap
Talmanes yells at Mat for not listening even as they and Harnan and Delarn fight furiously against the villagers, who appear to have all collectively gone mad. Howls and screams echo from all over the town as the villagers pile into the streets, attacking anyone they see but ignoring Mat’s chest of gold in the street. Mat tries to keep to wounding attacks only at first, but is soon forced to fight to kill just to keep from being overwhelmed.
There didn’t seem to be an ounce of humanity left in them. They spoke only in grunts, hisses, and screams, their faces painted with anger and bloodlust. Now the other villagers—those not directly attacking Mat’s men—started forming into packs, slaughtering the groups smaller than themselves by bludgeoning them, clawing them, biting them. It was unnerving.
Mat and the others beat a retreat on their horses, leaving the food and the gold behind, looking for Thom and the Aes Sedai. The dark streets swarm with the villagers, all trying to kill one another, even the children. Delarn is thrown from his saddle; Talmanes yells for Mat to leave him, but Mat turns back anyway, and fights his way to where Delarn is being overwhelmed. He gets the wounded soldier up on Pips, but finds himself surrounded by mad villagers, and is about to go down when Thom jumps into the fray and gets him out. They catch up with Talmanes and Harnan, and see balls of fire flashing in the windows of the inn ahead. They go around to the back, which is deserted, and Mat leaves Delarn outside in the saddle as he is too badly wounded to walk.
“Mat,” Delarn said from the saddle.
Mat turned back.
“Thank you. For coming back for me.”
“I wasn’t going to leave a man to that,” Mat said, shivering. “Dying on the battlefield is one thing, but to die out there, in that darkness... Well, I wasn’t going to let it happen.”
They enter the inn, finding several corpses on the ground floor as well as the cook, who they are forced to kill, and hear fighting from above. They go up the back stairs to the second floor, and almost get fried by fireball until Mat yells at the Aes Sedai to stand down. The Warders are standing guard over some of the servants, who are trussed up to keep them from attacking people. Mat tells the Aes Sedai that they have to get out of town before the whole place comes after them. Joline initially wants to wait until dawn, but then agrees to come, though she insists on bringing the two girls among the servants with them. Mat gives in, and the party leaves the inn. Edesina gets to Delarn and Heals him just in time.
“It’s as if the darkness itself intoxicates them,” Thom said while Mat helped Delarn into his saddle. “As if Light itself has forsaken them, leaving them only to the Shadow...”
“Nothing we can do,” Mat said, pulling himself into his saddle behind Delarn.
They head out of the village with no further incident, and hours later they camp on a hillside outside the town. Thom and Mat can’t sleep, and Mat asks Thom if he feels so useless now that he’s saved Mat’s life again; Thom grins and concedes the point. Mat thinks he caused what happened in the village, but Thom disagrees, telling him he’d overheard things which lead him to believe the villagers had almost been expecting what happened. He also fishes out a piece of paper with a good likeness of Mat drawn on it, and tells him some men were showing it to the mayor.
“An outlander woman in some village north of here is giving them out and offering a reward to anyone who has seen you. The man got the paper from a friend, so he didn’t have a description of her or the town’s name.”
The suns rises then, and the two serving girls whom Joline had insisted on taking suddenly vanish from their bonds. Mat goes back to the village with Thom, to find that only property damage remains from the night before; all the villagers are alive and unharmed, including some Mat had personally killed, and the only blood they see is from where Delarn was injured. Astonished, Mat demands to know what is going on. The mayor explains that none of the villagers remember what happens in the night, but they’d started having nightmares of violence and mayhem, and then realized that no one could remember going to bed at night, even though everyone wakes up safe every morning in their beds. Anyone who stays the night in the town is similarly trapped. Mat asks why they don’t just leave.
“We’ve tried,” the mayor said. “We always wake up back here, no matter how far we go. Some have tried ending their lives. We buried the bodies. They woke up the next morning in their beds.”
The room fell silent.
“Blood and bloody ashes,” Mat whispered. He felt chilled.
The mayor tells them to count themselves lucky to have escaped, and that they should move on. Thom offers to get the Aes Sedai involved, to see if they can do something, but the mayor refuses sharply, and asks them to just go and take their gold and foodstuffs. Mat agrees, but asks about the paper with his likeness first; the mayor says it’s been circulating among the villages in the area, along with a picture of a burly youth with a beard and golden eyes, but the mayor wasn’t going to risk trapping Mat in the town overnight just for a reward. Whoever is looking for them is in the village of Trustair. Troubled, Mat leaves. Thom assumes they’re going to Trustair, but he is still gazing at Hinderstap.
“Something’s wrong in the world. There’s a snag in the Pattern here. The town unravels at night, and then the world tries to reset it each morning to make things right again.”
Mat makes an off-color joke about it, but leaves extra gold to cover the price of the foodstuffs they’re taking.
When in doubt, have an action scene! Yay!
This is a philosophy that I can get behind, at least in this particular case. I’m not sure this chapter was the most relevant interlude ever, but it was exciting to read and I enjoyed its vaguely zombie-apocalypse-like mien, so I call it a win overall. There are few narratives which cannot be improved by the addition of zombies, sez me.
Okay, I’m kidding. Sort of.
I’m pretty sure I enjoyed this chapter more the second time around than the first, actually. Possibly because this time I already knew it was kind of a random incident that (as far as I can tell) does not connect to the rest of the story except as one more example of World Go Crazy, and so did not have to be disappointed by that later.
And after all, the whole point of the World Go Crazy incidents is that they are random, and occur without rhyme or reason. So there’s that. And Hinderstap is hardly the only example of such; Perrin’s ghost/weevil escapades in So Habor come to mind. Of course, I, er, hated that whole interlude, so maybe that’s not the best supporting argument, but you know what I mean! Maybe!
“Thom, you’re with me. Talmanes, watch the women.”
“We have little need of being ’watched,’ Matrim,” Joline said grumpily.
“Fine,” he snapped. "Thom, you’re with me. Joline, you watch the soldiers.”
*snort* Okay, that was genuinely funny.
Also and much more importantly, this chapter contains: Impending Verin.
Though I totally had no idea that’s who the mystery woman searching for Mat was when I first read this, of course. And given the vagueness of the description, not to mention the sheer number of people, evil or otherwise, who are looking for the Superboys (sometimes avec wanted posters, even), my total lack of clue on this front is not surprising. But it’s something to look forward to now, so yay!
Chapter 29: Into Bandar Eban
Rand recites his list in his head as his procession enters Bandar Eban, starting with Moiraine, as always. He wonders if Lanfear is alive again, like Ishamael, and thinks that if so Moiraine’s death had been for nothing. The Domani are gathered to watch him, but none cheer. Dobraine meets the parade and formally delivers the city to Rand, but Rand only rebukes him for not restoring order to the whole country. Dobraine reports that they have a member of the merchant council, Milisair Chadmar, in custody, and Rand wonders if he can still trust Dobraine. He knows Cadsuane is following him, but as long as she keeps away from him he is content to leave it; he thinks that she had been an ineffective tool he does not regret casting aside. He goes back to his list as they continue, adding Semirhage and Elza’s names even though he thinks they have no right to be there.
Each name on Rand’s list pained him, but that pain was a strange, distant thing now. His feelings were... different since the day he had killed Semirhage. She had taught him how to bury his guilt and his hurt. She had thought to chain him, but instead had given him strength.
[…] But Lews Therin had one more name to add. Elmindreda Farshaw, he whispered.
Rand stops short and thinks furiously at Lews Therin that they did not kill her, she is alive, but Lews Therin is silent. At the docks, the only ships in the harbor are the Sea Folk rakers with the grain Rand had ordered sent, and Rand sees signs of starvation on the faces of the people in the streets. Merise approaches him, and tries to convince him that his exile of Cadsuane was a foolish mistake, attempting to goad him. Rand stares at her until she wilts, having discovered silence is a much better tool for cowing people than anger. Merise rallies after a moment, though, and continues her argument, insisting that he made mistakes just as much as Cadsuane did.
“Enough.” He did not yell the word. He spoke firmly, but quietly. He made her feel the full force of his displeasure, his gaze seizing her own. She suddenly slumped in her saddle, looking up at him with wide eyes.
There was a loud cracking noise from the side, followed by a sudden crash. Screams broke the air. Rand turned with alarm. A balcony filled with onlookers had broken free of its supports and fallen to the street, smashing like a barrel hit by a boulder. People groaned in pain, others called out for help. But the sounds had come from both sides of the street. Rand frowned and turned; a second balcony—directly across from the first—had fallen as well.
Rand thinks it is ta’veren again, though he doesn’t recall that the random occurrences around him were usually this violent, and wonders if it has something to do with the new and addictive force he had tapped to escape Semirhage, which he knows must be the source of power Lanfear had created the Bore to find – the Dark One himself. This is why he carries the ter’angreal access key to the Choedan Kal with him now.
That other force called to him, sang to him, tempted him. So much power, so much divine wonder. But it terrified him. He didn’t dare touch it, not again.
And so he carried the key. He was not certain which of the two sources of energy was more dangerous, but as long as both called to him, he was able to resist both. Like two people, both yelling for his attention, they drowned one another out. For the moment.
Rand thinks of Aviendha and how she had avoided him before leaving – he can sense her far away in the Waste – and decides it is better that she fled before his enemies had a chance to find out he cared for her. The procession arrives at Milisair Chadmar’s ridiculously opulent mansion, and as they enter Rand tells Rhuarc that the Aiel may take the fifth, but only from the rich sector of the city. Corele approaches and decries the practice, but Rand just stares her down, and then informs Dobraine that he has done passably well in Arad Doman, but now he is to leave immediately for Tear to tell Darlin to stop “pestering” Rand and continue gathering his forces. Dobraine looks disappointed, but obeys, and Rand tries to convince himself that Dobraine is not plotting against him.
Light, what is happening to me? Rand thought. I need to trust some people. Don’t I?
Trust... ? Lews Therin whispered. Yes, perhaps we can trust him. He cannot channel. Light, the one we can’t trust at all is ourselves...
Rand has Milisair Chadmar brought to him. She is younger (and more beautiful) than he expected, and he thinks it would be a shame to execute her. He asks when she last received a message from King Alsalam, and she replies that it was weeks ago. He demands to know where the messenger is; she tries to dissemble at first, but then admits she has been having him questioned. She tries to imply that perhaps it would be better for him if Alsalam is not found.
“I will not be king here,” Rand said. “Bring me the messenger, Milisair, and perhaps you will live to see a new king crowned. You are dismissed.”
She leaves, and Rand sees Min outside, looking troubled. Then she walks away, and Rand almost goes after her, but then decides she can wait, and calls for people to start going over grain distribution plans. He determines that he will restore order in Arad Doman, and find Alsalam – not least because finding him might mean finding Graendal.
If he did find her, he would see that she died by balefire, just like Semirhage. He would do what must be done.
Ugh, this is just all so upsetting.
It’s all itchy and wince-y and sad-making and foreboding and doom. DOOOOOM.
How can Rand not see it? I mean, okay, he does sort of get it, but seriously, dude, BALCONIES ARE COLLAPSING when you glare at people too hard, this is a CLUE. A clue of WRONGNESS. Wake up and smell the Dark Side, HELLO, IS THIS THING ON.
Man, I hate it when characters force (FORCE!) me to resort to abuse of the capslock key. It’s just so uncouth. But if I don’t, how else will they learn? I ask you.
Anyway! So it sucks to be Bandar Eban, clearly – and its situation has not just improved, either, THANKS SEMI-EVIL RAND. But at least we have now mostly completed our obligatory Epic Fantasy goal of visiting pretty much every single major city on the map. The only other ones that haven’t been on-screen yet, I think, are Maradon in Saldaea – which we’re going to get to in ToM – and Shol Arbela in Arafel, which I bet you money we’ll see in AMoL. If I’m incorrect on this, I feel absolutely certain someone will tell me so in the comments.
Do we get some kind of achievement for completing the set, I wonder? Yeah, probably not.
Coming back to the Rand thing for a moment, I do feel I should clarify that as galling as I find Rand’s whole downward spiral here, the fact that it makes me so crazy is, actually, a testament to how well it’s being written. Mostly because it shook me out of a lot of the complacency I had toward the upcoming concluding events of the series, which at this stage of the game is a pretty impressive accomplishment.
One distinct disadvantage that many stories told in what I guess you would call a “traditional” manner have is that the general expectation of a happy ending (or at least not a completely tragic one) can sometimes rather lessen the tension surrounding the fate of central characters. Because, okay, yes, I may be watching Jack Bauer run into a burning building with four hundred armed terrorists and a bomb with two minutes left on the timer and, I don’t know, a box of puppies dangling off a fire escape or something, armed with nothing more than a handgun, a cellphone and copious amounts of Kiefer Bitchface™, but… yeah, I’m pretty sure he’s going to make it out alive. With at least half of the puppies, too. Because that’s how these stories go; it’s a feature, not a bug.
(Although it occurs to me that I stopped watching 24 around season three, and I think it’s had like seventy more seasons or something since then, so maybe Jack Bauer has been blown up and/or killed all the puppies by now, or at least tortured the puppies for Vital Information, so maybe this isn’t the best analogy, but I’m too amused to delete it, so whatever, you get my point.)
Um. What was my point… oh yes. My point is, Rand’s frighteningly steep slide in TGS down the slippery slope of By Any Means Unnecessary (to the point where his methods in this chapter are, uh, actually starting to seem very similar to one Agent Jack Bauer’s, actually. Huh) was disturbingly effective in pulling me out of my certainty that, while Rand unquestionably had a lot more suckage ahead of him before the end of the series, that it would All Come Right in the end.
That reassurance will be restored, mostly, by the end of the book, but at this particular point in TGS? It was pretty much gone.
And yeah, I hated it, but… that’s exactly what a really good story should do. The happy-or-at-least-not-completely-tragic ending gains a hell of a lot more resonance if you can convince your audience, even momentarily, that they might not be getting one.
(Of course, Team Jordan’s going to kick the stool out from under us again in this manner in ToM, but we’ll get to that in due time.)
And that’s the Troof, or at least as much as you’ll get out of me without a gunshot to the knee! …Yikes, I just freaked myself out. Have a hopefully questionably-legal-interrogation-free week, kids, and I’ll see you next time!