Happy Valentine’s Day, Wheel of Timers! In lieu of vaguely poisonous-tasting chalky candy hearts, please accept the Re-read as a token of my undying affection!
Today’s entry covers Chapters 34 and 35 of The Gathering Storm, in which we have comedy tomorrow, and tragedy tonight.
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!
Before we begin, a quick plug: Kate Nepveu, of the LOTR Re-read fame on Tor.com, is running an auction to raise money for Con or Bust, which helps fans of color/non-white fans attend SFF conventions. Among this year’s offerings is a 14”x16” print of the cover art for a WOT e-book, which I’d bet is Relevant To Your Interests, so if you’d like to try for some cool swag while helping a good cause, check it out. (Also, here is a general post about the auction, and here is a guide on bidding.)
Thanks, and onward!
Chapter 34: Legends
Mat examines a map of Trustair he’d had made with Talmanes, Thom, Noal, Juilin and Mandevwin, determined that this time he would have a plan before going into another town. He points out the inn where the woman who has been circulating Mat and Perrin’s pictures is staying, and explains to Mandevwin and Noal that they will be going with Thom as his apprentice and footman, respectively. Noal doesn’t see why a gleeman would need a footman, so Mat amends him to be Thom’s brother slash manservant. Mandevwin protests that he can neither sing nor juggle, and Mat explains that he is running away from his crazy great-aunt.
“But I don’t want to leave my great-aunt,” Mandevwin protested. “She’s cared for me since I was a child! It’s not honest of a man to abandon an elderly woman just because she gets a little confused.”
“There is no great-aunt,” Mat said with exasperation. “This is just a legend, a story to go with your false name.”
“Can’t I have a story that makes me more honorable?” Mandevwin asked.
Mat tells him no, and hands him his five-page-long backstory to memorize. Thom asks if maybe Mat is taking this too far, and Mat replies that he is tired of walking into traps unprepared. Talmanes solemnly asks whether his story involves coming to the village “because he’s heard there’s a trout that lives in the lake who insulted his father,” and Mat tells him he is to be a Warder, which should draw lots of attention and leave Thom to do what he needs to. He is irritated that Talmanes is clearly not taking this seriously, and says he can’t go himself, but he intends to find this woman before they can find and try to kill him. The meeting breaks up, but Mat pauses long enough to mutter a synopsis of Talmanes’s character’s “tortured past” to him.
Mat hurried on, pushing his way out into the shaded noon, though he did catch a glimpse of Talmanes rolling his eyes. Burn the man! There was good drama in those pages!
Mat inspects the troops, pleased still to be back with the Band, and watches the crossbowmen train, musing on how to improve their draw time even more than they already have with the new cranks. He then goes to visit Aludra, and finds Egeanin and Domon with her; he still cannot decide whether to think of Egeanin as “Leilwin” or not. He is annoyed that he has to ask Aludra’s permission to enter her space in his own camp, but knows he cannot afford to offend her before she is done with her dragon design. Aludra has the plans for the dragons spread out, as well as her supply requirements. Mat is astonished at the huge amount of charcoal and sulphur she wants, and baffled by the inclusion of bat guano, but Aludra tells him he has asked for a miracle, and this is the cost. Besides, she adds, the Dragon Reborn can afford it. She also needs every bellfounder they can find.
“What about copper and tin? You don’t have an estimate of those.”
“I need all of it.”
“All of... What do you mean, all of it?”
“All of it,” she repeated, as simply and calmly as if she were asking for more cloudberry jam for her porridge. “Every scrap of copper and tin you can scrounge up this side of the Spine of the World.”
Mat is flatly incredulous, and sarcastically asks if she would like the Dark One to polish her shoes while she’s at it. Aludra’s response is hostile, and Mat realizes that he has perhaps hurt her in other ways than just this conversation. He tries to apologize about Tuon, but she brushes it aside and tells him she wishes him happiness. Mat decides to let it drop. Aludra is anxious about the unknown timeframe she has to build and test a prototype dragon, and Mat replies he cannot tell her what he doesn’t know. He feels something tugging him to the north, though, which he assumes is Rand, and tells her time is short.
She hesitated, as if sensing something in his voice. “Well,” she said. “If that be the case, then my requests are not so extravagant, yes? If the world goes to war, the forges will soon be needed for arrowheads and horseshoes. Better to put them to work now on my dragons. Let me assure you, each one we finish will be worth a thousand swords in battle.”
Mat sighs, and says he’ll see what he can do, assuming Rand doesn’t “burn him to a crisp” for suggesting it. Leilwin makes a sharp remark about showing Aludra respect for the gift she is giving him, and Mat is goaded into making insinuations that Leilwin might be thinking of taking the plans back to the Seanchan. Domon warns him softly to watch his step. Mat backs off, and thinks that Aludra’s news makes him more impatient than ever to reach Caemlyn. He is asking Aludra whether she knows anything about crossbows when Olver runs up to tell him a woman has arrived in camp with pictures of Mat, and Talmanes said to say she has “a distinctive face”. Mat hurries back to the main camp to find Verin there with her Warder Tomas.
He looked at her, meeting those dark brown Aes Sedai eyes. “Blood and bloody ashes,” he muttered. “It was you, wasn’t it? You’re the one who’s been looking for me!”
“For some time, I might add,” Verin said lightly. “And rather against my will.”
From what she says about how she found him, Mat realizes Verin knows how to Travel, and she tells him she can have the Band in Caemlyn by evening, saving him a twenty-day march. Mat asks what she wants in return.
“Frankly,” she replied, sighing slightly. “What I want, Matrim Cauthon, is to be cut free from your ta’veren web! Do you know how long you’ve forced me to wait in these mountains?”
“Yes,” she said. “Come, we have much to discuss.”
She heads into the camp, and Talmanes remarks that he guesses this means there won’t be a raid now. Mandevwin asks if this means he can go back to his poor aged aunt. Mat growls at him and follows Verin.
VERIN! Yay! But more about her later.
I am having deep dilemmas about what to say about this chapter. I, in fact, just wrote about eight paragraphs of Saying Stuff that I then deleted, because it turns out there really is such a thing as excessive snarkiness, and I realized it was turning more into an exercise of me being clever and/or possibly cruel than it was actually saying anything useful about the issue at hand, which boils down to: was this chapter funny, or not?
Because the snarky part of me wants to say that, if you have to ask the question, then you already know the answer, and maybe there’s an element of truth to that, but at the same time I am very much aware that there is a hell of a lot of bias at play here on my part. And you know, most of the time I am perfectly okay with not being a completely objective observer, because I have certainly never made any pretense that this commentary isn’t about My Opinions On WOT, Let Me Show You Them, which by definition is pretty much the opposite of “objective,” but in this case I kind of feel it edges closer to the outright prejudice end of the spectrum than I generally allow it to, and that makes me… well, it kind of makes me feel bad about just throwing it out there.
There are two main things I have observed about comedy. The first is, and this may seem counterintuitive but it really isn’t, is that comparatively speaking drama is a hundred times less risky a literary undertaking than comedy. Drama – the angst, the tragedy, the Serious Business – is easy, comparatively speaking.
Comedy? Comedy is hard. If you think different, you’ve obviously never tried to produce something funny, and that’s a fact.
The second thing I’ve observed about comedy is how much it relies on the audience’s willing participation to work. It’s like trust: once the funny is lost, or sometimes even if it just wobbles for a moment, it can be well nigh impossible to get it back. If you don’t believe me, I double dog dare you to endure (and trust me, endure is the apropos term here) an evening of amateur stand-up, and watch how fast the audience can go from cheerful and happy laughter to snarling and wanting a bad performer’s blood. Sometimes not all that metaphorically.
Even more interesting is to watch, not the bad comedian who loses the audience’s funny bone, but the comedian who is forced to follow him. Because it is a feat of Herculean effort for even a brilliant comedian to successfully follow up a bad one and gain that lost trust back, and anyone who can pull it off has my automatic deep respect. It’s the difference between starting from a standstill, and starting from a muddy rut while a team of horses are trying to drag you the other way. While being attacked by bees. Or something. I may have overextended this metaphor.
My point being, the question of whether all of Mat’s shenanigans with backstories and poor aged aunts and etc. in this chapter is funny or not is extremely difficult for me to answer with anything even approaching accuracy, because I honestly don’t know if I would have found it funnier if I hadn’t been so thrown (and soured, honestly) by Mat not being the way I had expected him to be in the earlier chapters of this book. My funny bone had been lost, a bit, in other words, and it took me a while to get it back, and at this point, “a while” hadn’t quite finished yet.
And… well, that is about all I have to say about that, except to note that I am really glad that Verin’s appearance derailed any attempt to actually put Mat’s “plan” into action. Whether this is because I thought it would be a disaster or because I just didn’t want to have to read about it anymore is, thankfully, now a moot question.
As for everything else that happened in this chapter, I think when I first read this that I was almost as taken aback by Aludra’s supply requirements as Mat was. But realistically, I guess that gearing up for the apocalypse is really not the time to be worried about conserving resources. Though it does sort of guarantee that the decades (hell, the centuries) immediately following the Last Battle are going to epically suck. This is, I’m pretty sure, news to precisely no one.
Also, on re-reading I think that my summary of Mat’s interaction with Aludra in this chapter made him come off a lot douchier than he was actually being, really, because I think it’s clear from the whole text that he did feel genuinely bad for, essentially, leading her on and then dumping her by omission. Which isn’t to say that it wasn’t a tad douchey on his part, because it was, but it seemed like Aludra sincerely understood and forgave it, and I was pretty okay with that, all things considered.
Chapter 35: A Halo of Blackness
As Rand rides through the gateway to Falme, he is unprepared for the memories it evokes, and how different he had been when he had been there before. He reflects that it had been a turning point in his life, when he had first realized what a danger he was to everyone around him.
At Falme, the shepherd boy had burned, his ashes scattered and blown away by those ocean winds. From those ashes, the Dragon Reborn had risen.
He is determined to end the Seanchan campaign of conquest today, and tells himself he can control the rage inside him enough to do so. Beside him, Nynaeve says that she remembers seeing Rand in the sky that day, and failing to Heal his wound from Ishamael, and how Min refused to leave his side. Rand thinks of how Min had remained behind today without protest, and is convinced that she only sees him killing her when she looks at him now. The pavilion where Tuon awaits him is flanked with dozens of sul’dam-damane pairs; Rand has only brought Nynaeve, three Wise Ones, Corele, Narishma and Flinn with him, but thinks that with the figurine he carries, he could possibly hold off all the damane by himself. He thinks that surely it will not come to that, but he must be prepared. He seizes the One Power, and fights both the nauseous dizziness and Lews Therin as he tries to wrest control from Rand. He has trouble remembering for a moment which one of the two he is.
Who was he?
Did it really matter?
“Are you all right?” Nynaeve asked again.
“We are fine.” Rand did not realize he’d used the plural until the words were out of his mouth. His vision was recovering, though it still seemed just a little bit fuzzy. Everything was distorted a fraction, as it had been since the battle where Semirhage had taken his hand. He barely noticed it anymore.
Nynaeve notices with dismay that the globe of the figurine is glowing, but Rand tells her he is only drawing “a little extra.” He whispers that he will not be captured again. Nynaeve uneasily suggests that perhaps they should turn back, but Rand refuses. He notes with some surprise that the chair across from Tuon’s is raised to an equal level with hers, and dismounts.
Tuon is surprised at how young the Dragon Reborn is, and wonders where he learned to carry himself so regally when he had supposedly grown up on a farm. She is unnerved by the marath’damane at his left flank, and more by the Asha’man on his right. She has Selucia quietly warn her guards to maintain their calm.
Tuon hated to make the comment, as it would lower their eyes. But she would not have a mishap. Meeting with the Dragon Reborn would be dangerous. There was no avoiding that. […] The Dragon Reborn was a bonfire inexplicably lit inside a house. You could not prevent it from damaging the room. You just hoped to save the building.
He sits across from her without questioning the equality of their seats, and Tuon reflects that it is for this reason only that she has not yet declared herself Empress: she could not have met him as an equal as Empress, but knew he would not respond well to any other arrangement. He greets her perfunctorily, and states flatly that they will make peace, today, here. Tuon asks what terms he offers, and al’Thor replies that it is not an offer, but a necessity: the Last Battle comes, and everyone’s forces are needed against the Shadow. Tuon reflects that everyone knows that the Last Battle would be between the Empire and the Shadow, and that the Empress would send the Dragon Reborn to duel with Lighteater.
How much had he fulfilled? He didn’t seem blinded yet, so that had yet to happen. The Essanik Cycle said that he would stand on his own grave and weep. Or did that prophecy refer to the dead walking, as they did already?
[…] These people seemed to have forgotten many of the prophecies, just as they forgot their oaths to watch for the Return. But she did not say this.
Al’Thor tells her the Last Battle is close “as an assassin,” and asks why she fights him. Tuon tells him that the omens told the Return it was time, but instead of finding a united kingdom ready to help the Seanchan win the Last Battle, they found a fractured land that had forgotten its oaths; therefore they must bring it together. Al’Thor replies that he has forged it together enough to last till Tarmon Gai’don, and that her war of unification is “a distraction.” He adds that their alliance need only last till he dies, which will be not long from now. Tuon counters that if he sees the value of unification, why not unite his lands under the Seanchan banner? Al’Thor refuses, flatly.
“I will not see another person chained by your foul leashes.”
“Foul? They are the only way to deal with those who can channel!”
“We have survived without them for centuries.”
“And you have—”
“This is not a point I will concede,” al’Thor said.
Tuon abandons the topic as too dangerous, and suggests they discuss what they have in common rather than what they don’t – for instance, Matrim Cauthon, who had kidnapped her. Al’Thor is shocked, but then murmurs that now he remembers “seeing her” with Mat. Tuon wonders if he is mad already, but thinks that this at least confirms that he and Matrim really do know one another, and that she will have to get Matrim back so that she can learn about al’Thor from him. She asks al’Thor what kind of man Matrim is, remarking that she’d found him to be an “indolent scoundrel”. To her indignant shock, the marath’damane interrupts to scold her not to speak of Mat that way.
“Matrim Cauthon is one of the finest men you will ever know, Your Highness, and I won’t listen to ill speech of him. What’s right is right.”
“Nynaeve is right,” al’Thor said reluctantly. “He is a good man. Mat may seem a little rough at times, but he is as solid a friend as one could hope for. Though he does grumble about what his conscience makes him do.”
“He saved my life,” the marath’damane said. “Rescued me at great cost and personal danger when no other thought to come for me.” Her eyes were afire with anger. “Yes, he drinks and gambles far too much. But don’t speak of him as if you know him, because you don’t. His heart is golden, under it all. If you’ve hurt him...”
“Hurt him?” Tuon said. “He kidnapped me!”
“If he did so, then there was cause,” Rand al’Thor said.
Such loyalty! Once again, she was forced to reassess her view of Matrim Cauthon.
Al’Thor declares all this irrelevant, and stands, looming over Tuon. He stares at her, trapping her gaze, and tells her she will call off her attacks and sign a treaty with him. Tuon is seized with a terrible, crushing impulse to agree and do what he says, and cannot manage to summon any objections to mind. She fights the feeling desperately.
In the corners of her vision, she thought she saw something around him. A dark haze, a halo of blackness, emanating from him. It warped the air like a great heat. Her throat constricted, and words were forming. Yes. Yes. I will do as you ask. Yes. I must. I must.
“No,” she said, the word barely a whisper.
Al’Thor grows furious, but she repeats her refusal, and tells him he will bow to her, not the other way around.
She could not ally with this creature. That seething hatred, it terrified her, and terror was an emotion with which she was unfamiliar. This man could not be allowed freedom to do as he wished. He had to be contained.
Al’Thor accepts her refusal icily, and marches out; Tuon notes that his entourage look deeply disturbed as they follow him. Tuon takes long moments to regain her composure, and then stands and turns to her followers.
“I am the Empress,” she said in a soft voice.
As one, they fell to their knees, even the High Blood prostrating themselves.
There would be festivities and a formal coronation later, but the act of declaring herself is the only necessity for it to be a reality. She turns to General Galgan, and tells him to send word to General Yulan to prepare his attack against Tar Valon.
“We must strike against the Dragon Reborn, and quickly. This man cannot be allowed to gain any more strength than he already has.”
DAMMIT RAND DAMMIT DAMMIT DAMMIT
…That pretty much sums up my reaction to this chapter, but I’ll endeavor to expand a bit!
This scene is the equivalent of the one where the fake Aiel attack Demira in LOC: i.e. the scene where everything basically goes straight to shit. The domino effect is really quite impressive, or at least I would think so if I weren’t busy looking for something to smash my head against in sheer frustration.
This may seem a bit odd in light of how much I loved the upcoming Egwene awesomeness re: the attack on Tar Valon, but really I just hate hate hate that Rand is being this way, and instead of being terribly misjudged by other characters, he is being accurately judged, and found very much wanting. Which is a terrible, awful, no good, very bad thing to see happen to your hero character and I would like it to stop now, please. Ugh. Ugh ugh ugh.
Tuon’s cultural beliefs, as ever, continue to be horrid, but I really really can’t blame her for saying hell to the no to this version of Rand. I can also be really really impressed that she had the strength of will to do it.
That said, I suspect that Rand’s evil-leakage-slash-going-bugshit vibe may actually be interfering with his ta’verenness, which could explain how Tuon resisted him. Although, it occurs to me that Egwene also resisted his ta’veren mojo back in, um, LOCish, when he was significantly less evil-leaking and bugshit-leaning, so maybe one has nothing to do with the other and Tuon is, like Egwene, just a very strong-willed individual. It seemed like, though, that it was definitely her fear of Rand’s aura of Very Bad Things that gave Tuon the impetus to say no to him, so, well, you pick.
(Your fun exercise for the evening: what would have happened if Tuon had not had the strength to say no?)
The Essanik Cycle said that he would stand on his own grave and weep.
Hah. Now that is some nice foreshadowing. I’m pretty sure that made no sense at all to me the first time around, but now I find it very clever indeed.
Still doesn’t mean the Seanchan prophecies aren’t more wrong than they are right, I stubbornly maintain. Though I’m getting a sinking feeling that Zen Master Rand might actually decide to go ahead and kneel to Tuon in AMoL, and I am all kinds of probably unreasonably annoyed by that. Just because I don’t blame her for refusing to ally with Rand at this juncture doesn’t mean I think she should never say okay to it. Nor do I want her to get the idea that she is in charge of this thing, because blarg. No.
The only other thing to talk about in this chapter, besides Rand’s EPIC FAIL at not screwing up EVERYTHING, was his and Tuon and Nynaeve’s sidebar about Mat. Which I know I very much liked the first time I read it, mostly because it was such a pleasant shock to see Nynaeve of all people defend Mat so passionately. On re-reading, though… well, I hate to say it but it kind of bugs me a little.
I think this is not so much because of Nynaeve’s reaction to Tuon’s digs at Mat (I still like that even if it seemed a tiny bit out of left field), but that Tuon made those digs in the first place, which struck me as being way out of left field. I dunno, it just seemed odd that she backtracked from Mat being a lion loosed on the plains or whatever to him being an “indolent scoundrel” again. She’d already come to the realization in KOD that Mat was at least partially awesome, so why the downgrade here?
Not to mention, it also seemed a little strange that Tuon was taking either Rand or Nynaeve’s opinions of Mat so seriously, considering that they are (to her) the equivalent of rabid unleashed animals, and also considering that in Rand’s particular at the moment she’s not even all that wrong. What exactly would lead Tuon, of all people, to believe that either of them are to be trusted with accurate character judgments? Enh, I dunno, it just seemed a little odd.
In any case, now that the fit has most decided hit the shan, the downward slope is gonna get fast and messy and uglier than ever from here. Yay?
Yeah, not yay.
And that’s all for now, y’all. Have a week, whoo!