Laissez le bon temps rouler, WOTers! Welcome back to the Wheel of Time Re-read!
Today’s entry covers Chapter 36 of The Gathering Storm, in which there is a Major Character Death – but it’s not what you think! Oh, so sneaky.
Today’s post is a short one because it is Mardi Gras here in my fair city of New Orleans, the first one I’ve been able to be here for since 2006, and I really trust that no further explanation is needed.
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!
One brief note before we start: as no doubt most of those who follow this blog are already aware, the date for the release of the 14th and final novel in the Wheel of Time series has been set for January 8, 2013. Huzzah!
I also understand that this has occasioned an outburst of indignation from some quarters in the comments, from people who think that the release date should be earlier because… well, because they want it to be, from what I can tell. Sort of like how my one and a half-year-old nephew wants his lunch now, now, right now, and doesn’t understand that food doesn’t just appear like magic, it has to be chopped and peeled and mixed and heated and generally prepared before he can have it, otherwise he’s not going to like it very much. The difference between the two situations is, my nephew is a toddler whose brain is not yet developed enough to fully grasp things like this; I’m really not sure what the former group’s excuse is.
There are many other things I could say in response to those who feel that this news has inexplicably betrayed them in some way, but I really do think Neil Gaiman’s sentiments still sum it up best: Team Jordan is not your bitch, and no amount of petulant whining is going to alter that fact. If your biggest problem is that you have to wait longer than you thought you would for the release of a fantasy novel, you are leading an absolutely charmed life, and you might want to give some consideration to being thankful for that, and finding something else to do in the meantime.
Chapter 36: The Death of Tuon
Verin explains to Mat, Mandevwin, Talmanes, and Thom that she left Rand in Tear, and had originally intended to head to Tar Valon, but ended up here instead, hundreds of leagues away. Mat doesn’t understand how that could have happened, especially since Verin knows how to Travel, and says so. He notes her distracted air so typical of Browns, and thinks to himself that his memories of Verin are fuzzy, but that he thinks he remembers that from before as well.
This time, studying her, her mannerisms seemed too exaggerated to him. As if she were leaning on the preconceptions about Browns, using them. Fooling people, like a street performer taking in country boys with a clever game of three-card shuffle.
She eyed him. That smile on the corner of her lips? That was the smile of a jackleg who didn’t care that you were on to her con. Now that you understood, you could both enjoy the game, and perhaps together you could dupe someone else.
Verin tells Mat, to his discomfiture, that were it not for Rand’s existence, Mat would the most powerfully ta’veren individual in centuries, and that he had yanked her halfway across the continent as a result. She had realized once she figured out what was happening that it had to be either Mat or Perrin, since she had easily been able to leave Rand. Mat asks if Rand is mad yet, and Verin replies that she thinks he is, more from sheer stress than from the One Power, but still in control of himself. She then informs Mat, to his shock, that Rand cleansed the taint from saidin; he is more astonished by the fact that she seems to consider the news of fairly little importance.
“[…] I would argue that the cleansing itself is more like a pebble thrown into a pond. The ripples will take some time to reach the shore.”
“A pebble?” Mat asked. “A pebble?”
“Well, perhaps more of a boulder.”
“A bloody mountain if you ask me,” Mat muttered.
Verin explains how after she left Tear, each time she tried to learn a spot well enough to Travel to Tar Valon, some random chance occurrence or mishap would prevent her from doing so. Then she says she began feeling a “tugging” on her, and Mat recognizes the feeling and describes it to her. She says she then tried to travel by more mundane means, and then by Skimming, but every time she and Tomas found themselves traveling south instead of north, and are now here just when Mat needs someone he trusts who can transport him to Caemlyn quickly. Then she tells him they need to discuss the price for her help. Mat is indignant, but she tells him she can do things for him no one else could. She pulls out the picture of Mat she’d been circulating.
“You didn’t ask where I got this.”
“You’re Aes Sedai,” Mat said, shrugging. “I figured you... you know, saidared it.”
“Saidared it?” she asked flatly.
She tells him she got it from a Darkfriend who believed Verin was also a servant of the Shadow, and told her that one of the Forsaken has commanded that both the men in these pictures must be killed. Mat feels a chill, but points out that Darkfriends have been trying to kill him since before he left the Two Rivers, so he doesn’t see what difference it makes. Verin tells him this is different, and urges him to go into hiding for the next few weeks. Mat shrugs and agrees to disguise himself. Verin then gives him a letter, but prevents him from opening it, and tells him her price for bringing him to Caemlyn is that he open the letter on the tenth day after she leaves him and follow the instructions inside. Mat tells her he passes; he won’t agree to it without knowing what the instructions are first.
“I’ll be in Caemlyn in twenty days of marching, anyway.” He pushed open the tent flaps, gesturing out. “I’m not going to have you tying strings around me, woman.”
She didn’t move, though she did frown. “I had forgotten how difficult you can be.”
“And proud of it,” Mat said.
Verin says she won’t tell him what the letter says because she hopes to return and make the instruction in it unnecessary, but she offers a compromise: Mat can choose not to open the letter, but in that case he must wait in Caemlyn for fifty days. Mat bargains her down to thirty days, and accepts. He notes that her satchel has more letters like his in it, and wonders what they are; then he resolves not to open the letter no matter how curious he is. He sends Mandevwin to begin breaking down camp and to let the other Aes Sedai know Verin is here.
Tuon was dead. Gone, cast aside, forgotten. Tuon had been the Daughter of the Nine Moons. She was now just a notation in the histories.
Fortuona was empress.
She kisses the forehead of the soldier before her, one of five, and speaks the ritual words for Bloodknives (“May your death bring victory. May your knife draw blood. May your children sing your praises until the final dawn”). Each of the five wear a ter’angreal ring that, once activated by the wearer’s blood, grants them strength, speed, and stealth, though the price is that the ring gradually and irreversibly drains the bearer’s life away.
These five would not return. They would stay behind, whatever the results of the raid, to kill as many marath’damane as they could. It was a terrible waste—those damane should be leashed—but better to kill them than leave them in the hands of the Dragon Reborn.
They are surrounded by two hundred troops of the Fists of Heaven as well as fifty pairs of sul’dam and damane, waiting to mount the to’raken and raken for the flight to Tar Valon, which will take several days. General Yulan, who is leading the attack personally, comes forward and bows, telling her that they will not fail her. Selucia replies that the empress saw an omen that morning which guarantees their victory. Yulan salutes and starts mounting the troops. Fortuona thinks to herself that using damane on to’raken in this manner, attacking from the air, had never been done before, and it would be either a brilliant new tactic or a disaster. She murmurs to Selucia that General Galgan was wrong.
“This will not give the Dragon Reborn a worse bargaining position. It will turn him against us.”
“And was he not against us before?” Selucia asked.
“No,” Fortuona said. “We were against him.”
“And there is a difference?”
“Yes,” Fortuona said, watching the cloud of to’raken, just barely visible in the sky. “There is. I fear we shall soon see just how big a difference that is.”
Tuon, if that’s what you think — and you’re right to think it — then why the hell are you doing it?
Don’t answer that, I know. One of the many, many things that makes war so insane an enterprise is the way that it can make truly horrible ideas seem like good ones, or at least like inevitable ones. So yes, let’s make absolutely sure to secure the personal enmity of the most powerful channeler alive, who is also the de facto ruler of half the continent and is, oh yeah, a total bloody loonball by all appearances. That’s a FABULOUS idea!
That aside, I remember the preparations here gave me the willies, even what with being perfectly sure that the Tower would win. Especially the business with the Bloodknives, because that’s the kind of thing that can do ten times the amount of damage than a frontal assault. At least you can see the latter coming.
I do have a bit of a question about this whole Bloodknives business, though. Because while I have no trouble believing the Seanchan would employ the use of kamikaze assassins – they are just that classy with their regard for human life that way – I was a bit thrown by the use of ter’angreals to create them. I can’t recall, for one thing, that we’ve ever seen the Seanchan use ter’angreals. Well, other than the a’dam, of course; I mean that as far as I know we’ve never seen the Seanchan use them in non-damane-related contexts. And while this doesn’t preclude the possibility that they do, of course, it just seems a little odd to me, given their overall attitudes about the One Power.
*shrug* Maybe kamikaze assassins are the sole exception. Or they use ter’angreals other than a’dam all the time and I just forgot.
Also, I’ve just noticed that even though Tuon is dead and all and there is only
Zuul Fortuona now, I’m still referring to her as “Tuon” mentally, a thing which is unlikely to stop. I also can’t decide whether changing Mat’s wife’s name to “Fortuona” is awesomely clever, or the worst pun in this entire series (and that’s including Min’s “toh/toe” joke in WH). I kind of think it’s both.
I did appreciate the fast one Team Jordan pulled with the chapter title, because I remember when I first got the book, I opened it to the Table of Contents and skimmed down the titles, and I got an actual jolt of “Holy shit” when I saw this one. So that was a very clever bit of misdirection, there.
But enough about Tuon, let’s talk about Verin!
This is, without question, the best Mat scene in the book. I love that Mat instantly twigs to how Verin’s dippiness is a front – something I don’t know that anyone else has ever really sussed out, with the possible exception of Cadsuane. Sure, many people have suspected, generally after long association with her, and she has straight-up dropped the act with some people (Moiraine and Siuan in TGH, for example), but it’s just great that Mat basically takes one look at her and calls it. Heh. Can’t con a con man.
I love even more that Verin knew he knew, and didn’t care. It’s really too bad they’ll never get another chance to interact again after this, because I really liked seeing them together.
Ah, Verin. Her Sneakiness is awesomely sneaky, as always. I’ve really missed her sneakiness.
Though of course I’m having some difficulties, in this chapter, determining exactly how far her sneakiness is extending. Obviously she is being sneaky about the letter to Mat (which we’ll get to in a minute), but I honestly can’t decide whether I think that her spiel of “your ta’veren yanked me across half a continent!” is true (or at least true-ish), or a brazen lie from start to finish.
I would really like to know if someone ever asked Brandon about this, and if so what (if anything) he answered, because even before I learned for sure that Verin was Black Ajah and therefore could lie with impunity, this whole tale she tells Mat here seemed very hinky to me. I know that ta’veren works via coincidence and chance and etc., just as Verin says, but even so, this seemed awfully… precise.
Or something. I’m not really sure what word I’m looking for to describe it, but the whole thing smacked just a little too much of intense long-term planning for an extremely specific result, and my impression of the Superboys’ ta’veren nature is that it’s much more about seizing the opportunity to knock over just the right domino once it happens to appear. Less Xanatos Gambit and more Indy Ploy, if that makes sense. (Do NOT click on those links if you have any work that needs to get done in the next six hours. Seriously.)
And now that I’ve totally anthropomorphized the hell out of ta’veren-ness, I will come back to my point, which is that I’m fairly positive in retrospect that Verin’s story is a lie. Not solely because I suspect that ta’veren simply doesn’t work that way (at least not on anyone but the Superboys themselves), but also because it just doesn’t fit with what we now know Verin was doing, which was putting the last finishing touches on her Seventy Year Plan (of Awesome).
Because, okay. Obviously the entire point of the exercise was to get Mat and his army to Caemlyn in time to them to be there to help protect the city from the imminent Trolloc attack we finally learn about at the end of ToM, and also obviously the shenanigans with the letter was because Verin’s Black Ajah Oaths prevented her from revealing any Evil Plans until after she was either dead or could unswear herself on the Oath Rod. That’s some serious planning and execution on Verin’s part, and Mat’s letter was clearly not the only one she had to deliver, so she obviously has even more elaborate plans we don’t know about yet (besides the main one, of course). So I really just can’t see how that squares with her contention that she’s spent X amount of time being helplessly dragged all over the continent after Mat.
Or, I’m totally overthinking this, and wrong. ‘Tis a definite possibility! But since I rather enjoy the idea of Verin telling such an outrageous and baldfaced lie to our metaphorical faces right before we learn about her true nature for a retroactive “Hah!” reaction, I’m sticking with that interpretation until I learn different.
One thing this chapter didn’t have which I would really have liked to have seen is Thom’s and Talmanes’s (and Mandevwin’s) reactions to what Verin says about Mat – both about how powerfully ta’veren he is (my doubts about the rest of Verin’s story aside, I’m pretty sure that part wasn’t a lie), and also about the news that the Forsaken are very specifically after him. I mean, Thom pretty much knew all that already, and Talmanes must have at least had an inkling of it, but there’s a difference between suspecting something like that, and having it stated flat out.
*shrug* It’s a thing with me. It wasn’t necessary to the scene, which may be why it isn’t in there, but I just always want to see it when other characters learn something new about Our Heroes; I like to see or at least get a hint of how that changes their perspectives. It is one of my favorite things in fiction.
Well, you can’t have everything – where would you put it? So Happy Carnival to me, and happy random week in February to most of you, and I’ll see you next time!