Happy post-Memorial Day weekend, WOTers! Spread some aloe on that wicked sunburn, and have a Wheel of Time Re-read to soothe and balm you!
(What, I am totally soothing. Trufax.)
Today’s entry covers Chapter 15 of A Memory of Light, in which we examine, with only a moderate amount of incoherency, my reactions to two very different exhibitionist relationships. With a side note of how context can really really really change what the term “exhibitionist” means. Thank God.
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. The index for all things specifically related to the final novel in the series, A Memory of Light, is here.
Also, for maximum coolness, the Wheel of Time Re-read is also now available as e-books,from your preferred e-book retailer!
This re-read post, and all posts henceforth, contain spoilers for the entire Wheel of Time series. If you haven’t read, read at your own risk.
And now, the post!
Before we start: I have a non-spoiler review up of the WOT short story “River of Souls” in the upcoming Unfettered anthology! LOOKIT.
Chapter 15: Your Neck in a Cord
As he climbs up the outside of Tarasin Palace, Mat tries to ignore the heights, and comforts himself with the knowledge of how well he knows the place, and that if he had snuck out, he could sneak back in. He tries to convince himself that he will just get in, warn Tuon about General Galgan, and leave, and then stay as far away from Rand as possible. He climbs into Tylin’s chambers on the fourth floor, and almost gets shot by Selucia, and exults that he was right about her being a bodyguard. She demands to know what he is doing there, and he claims he is out for a stroll. She asks what happened to his eye.
“You bet the eye on something, didn’t you?”
Mat stumbled, pushing open the door. He chuckled. Light! That was strangely close to the truth. “Very cute.”
It’s a bet I won, he thought, no matter how it may seem. Matrim Cauthon was the only man to have diced with the fate of the world itself in the prize pouch.
Selucia is astonished to discover Mat is concerned about Galgan’s plans to assassinate Tuon, and tells him Kriga is the one to worry about. Mat declares them all insane, and demands to know where Tuon is; Selucia tells him she is in the gardens, and is skeptical of Mat’s intention to “explain” a few things to her about wandering around at night. Selucia tells him that normally the Prince of Ravens would be Galgan’s competition.
Prince of the Ravens. “Don’t bloody remind me,” Mat said. “I thought that was my title when I was married to the Daughter of the Nine Moons. It hasn’t changed at her elevation?”
“No,” Selucia said. “Not yet.”
She shows him a secret passage, and tells him Tuon never actually sleeps in her own chambers. He tells her that he took care of the thing that killed Tylin, and thanks her for not calling him “Highness.” She laughs and tells him the only way to stop being the Prince of the Ravens is with “his neck in a cord.” Mat decides he prefers when she wouldn’t talk to him, and starts down the passage.
Rand heads to Tam’s tent in Braem Wood, letting himself be seen by the soldiers as he’d promised Elayne he would.
And so he did. He wished he could protect them better, but he would simply have to carry that burden. The secret, it turned out, had not been to harden himself to the point of breaking. It had not been to become numb. It had been to walk in pain, like the pain of the wounds at his side, and accept that pain as part of him.
He enters Tam’s tent, and gives him his gift: a magnificent sword with red and gold dragons on the sheath. Tam tries to give it back, declaring it too fine for him, but Rand begs him to take it as a balm to his conscience.
“Think of it as a thank-you,” Rand said, “from all the world to you. If you had not taught me of the flame and the void all those years ago… Light, Tam. I wouldn’t be here right now. I’d be dead, I’m sure of that.”
Tam asks where the sword came from, and Rand replies that it belonged to “a kindred soul.” Tam decides that he should practice with it, then, and they go to the sparring grounds. Rand watches his father move through forms for the first time, and feels envious that he is no longer able to do many of them, missing his hand. Tam asks if the sword is Power-forged, but Rand doesn’t know; he reflects he’d never had a chance to fight with it. Tam observes that he is worried, and Rand calms himself; Tam observes this, and insists they spar with practice swords, saying he wants to see what Rand can do. Rand points out his amputated hand, and Tam binds his own left hand.
[Rand] sighed, stepping forward. “I don’t need the sword to fight any longer. I have the One Power.”
“That would be important,” Tam said, “if sparring right now had anything to do with fighting.”
Tam attacks, and Rand fights back, but he keeps instinctively trying to use his left hand, and Tam bests him easily. Rand grows frustrated, and Tam tells him to “let go.” On the next pass Rand uses his left arm to block the blow. Tam is alarmed that he had injured Rand, but then Rand follows his advice and begins fighting on instinct, knowing he is not as good as he had been with two hands but going with what he has.
He did not care. This focus… he had missed this focus. With so much to worry about, so much to carry, he had not been able to dedicate himself to something as simple as a duel. He found it now, and poured himself into it.
For a time, he wasn’t the Dragon Reborn. He wasn’t even a son with his father. He was a student with his master.
Eventually he signals an end, and the Warders and Maidens gathered to watch applaud. Tam says his lost hand must have been quite a weight for him to carry, and Rand agrees that it was.
Mat crawls out of the secret passage into the gardens, and sneaks up on Tuon (and the Deathwatch guards) as she is practicing fighting hand combat forms, and reflects that he had been very lucky not to get killed the night he’d captured her. He tries to figure out if he loves her, and reflects that their courtship had been much more of a game than a romance.
Mat liked games, and he always played to win. Tuon’s hand had been the prize. Now that he had it, what did he do with it?
Mat sees a gardener nearby, and initially dismisses him, but then wonders what a gardener is doing working so late, and readies a knife. Tuon hears the move and sees Mat with the raised knife, but then looks over her shoulder. Mat throws his knife into the shoulder of the “gardener” just as the assassin raises his own knife. Tuon lunges for the assassin but he escapes. The guards pounce on Mat, but Tuon orders them to go after the assassin, though they do not notice him until Tuon points out the blood on the ground. The guards sheepishly release Mat and take off.
Tuon folded her arms, obviously unshaken. “You have chosen to delay your return to me, Matrim.”
“Delay my… I came to bloody warn you, not ‘return to’ you. I’m my own man.”
“You may pretend what ever you wish,” Tuon said, looking over her shoulder as the Deathwatch Guards beat at the shrubbery. “But you must not stay away. You are important to the Empire, and I have use for you.”
“Sounds delightful,” Mat grumbled.
He explains about Gray Men and Galgan, and Tuon answers that Galgan is “not serious” about the attempts to kill her. Mat opines that she is insane, and she asks who he gambled his eye away for, and if he saved the woman he went to rescue. He asks how she knew about that, and she ignores the question to remark that the missing eye suits him, as he was “too pretty” before.
“Good to see you, by the way,” Mat said. He waited for a few moments. “Usually, when a fellow says something like that, it’s customary to tell them that you’re happy to see them as well.”
“I am the Empress now,” Tuon said. “I do not wait upon others, and do not find it ‘good’ that someone has returned. Their return is expected, as they serve me.”
“You know how to make a fellow feel loved. Well, I know how you feel about me.”
“And how is that?”
“You looked over your shoulder.”
Furyk Karede and Musenge return and humble themselves before Tuon for their failure, but Tuon tells them the assassin was a creature of the Shadow, and that the Prince of Ravens will teach them how to spot it in future. Mat protests being called that, but Tuon ignores him. She orders Karede to search the perimeter and clear out of the grove, as her consort has requested that she “make him feel loved.” The guards leave, and Mat watches in astonishment as she disrobes before grabbing her and kissing her, to her surprise. He tells her that he will not be her toy, and she assures him that his battle scars assure her and everyone else that he is no toy, but a prince.
“And do you love me?” he asked, forcing the words out.
“An empress does not love,” she said. “I am sorry. I am with you because the omens state it so, and so with you I will bring the Seanchan an heir.”
Mat had a sinking feeling.
“However,” Tuon said. “Perhaps I can admit that it is… good to see you.”
Well, Mat thought, guess I can take that. For now.
He kissed her again.
“And then they consummated their not-loving-or-maybe-loving-but-just-not-saying-it-but-no-probably-just-not-loving-yeah-I-don’t-know-I-am-so-confused bizarro telegram marriage by fucking in public, The End.”
Um. Yay? I guess? Should I be snickering this much right now?
You probably need to picture me at this point as looking like that owl that twists its head completely upside down to look at things, just in case they make any more sense that way, except the owl is also giggling, because whaaaat.
(Okay, admittedly the image of a giggling owl also does not make sense, but LET’S MOVE ON, SHALL WE.)
I don’t know, you guys. I’m not always a hundred percent a fan of how the romantic storylines have gone in WOT (I’m sure you can probably recall one of the more infamous examples of that), but at least most of the other major ones made sense to me on a… er, character-connecting-to-character level, so to (awkwardly) phrase it. This one… well, not so much.
Perrin and Faile (known in the tabloids as “Perile”—pick your pun!), for instance, may have driven me up a tree, repeatedly, over the course of their courtship, but even on the occasions when I was like OMG WHAT ARE YOU DOING WHY ARE YOU PUTTING UP WITH THIS WHYYYY, I still had no trouble believing that they were. Putting up with this, I mean. To clarify (because I think I have the dumb today my words are going sproing sorry), I bought their relationship even when I didn’t agree with it. At least, that’s how I remember it, so there.
Same with Rand+Aviendha/Min/Elayne. (Who are known in the tabloids as… um. Ravimayne? Melaravi? Avilaymirand? No, I got it! El Ravimin! Olé!)
…Let’s start that thought again, shall we?
So, Rand’s love life: Unusual set-up? Sure. Logistically and possibly symbolically problematic in certain ways? Absotively. But I bought it, that they are in love. (Although, Elayne actually has a sliiiiightly weaker case than the other two, just owing to how much more facetime Aviendha and Min got with Rand compared to her, but you know.)
(Heh. “Facetime.” *is twelve*)
But Mat/Tuon, I don’t get. I never really did, I think. Tuon’s mindset is alien to me in a lot of ways (see: slavery, practice of), and I think the most alien of all is the way she views affection (which is to say, with suspicion) and love (which is to say, as an unacceptable liability). Or rather, I understand why she views these things that way (for reasons which can basically be summed up as “the Seanchan suck”), but I guess I don’t get (or maybe just resent) her refusal or inability to get past those barriers for Mat’s sake. And more, I’ve always found it a little incomprehensible that a person like Mat would love a person like Tuon in spite of that fact.
And yes, fated to marry, written in the prophecies, no choice in the matter, yadda yadda yadda, I know, but we’re told that Mat really does fall in love with Tuon, and that’s where it falls down for me. Because it really kind of sucks that Mat, one of my favorite characters in the entire series, is basically left to deal with an unrequited love that (in my opinion) puts him at an insurmountable disadvantage, emotionally.
Of course, cue someone to argue that Tuon really does love him and is just saying she doesn’t because she doesn’t want Mat to have that kind of leverage on her. Which, okay, maybe, but (a) she’s sold me a little too well on how stubbornly she clings to her cultural prejudices/practices, no matter how fucked-up, for me to be willing to really buy that, and (b) how exactly is that any better, exacerbating as it does the already fundamentally unequal power balance between the two? So (in this scenario) Mat lays his heart bare to her, and she can’t even be woman enough to give him the same amount of honesty/vulnerability? Yuck. No.
“His neck in a cord,” indeed.
I dunno. I don’t think I’ve really brought it up before this, mostly because I was still waiting to see how the whole relationship played out, in hopes that it would take a more palatable turn for me and justify the whole thing in retrospect, but here we are at the final book, and the entirety of their relationship is officially both puzzling and off-putting to me.
And I’m honestly not sure if all that is me taking a slam at the characterization (i.e. the writing), or if it’s just the opposite.
But onward to the other relationship featured in this chapter, which falls on the extreme other end of the scale as far as my affections for it are concerned. Which is to say, the scene between Rand and Tam in this chapter is possibly one of my favorite passages in the entire novel.
I am just so glad we took the time to have this moment between them. There are a lot of should-have-been moments in AMOL that I kind of feel like we got cheated out of, for the mostly justifiable (but still sad-making) executive decision to actually, you know, finish the story, but I am intensely pleased that this one didn’t end up on the cutting floor, so to speak.
Because it was lovely and intimate, and oddly peaceful considering it featured two people trying to whale on each other with wooden sticks. And something about it made me remember fondly that (if you don’t count the Prologue) Tam al’Thor is literally the second character we meet in the entire series, after Rand himself, and that he has essentially never changed, from then to now. He is still what he has always been, which is basically the Platonic ideal of A Good Father.
Normally it’s not a good thing to say a character’s been static throughout a multi-book series, but the thing is, unlike Rand and the rest of Our Heroes, Tam’s character did all his growing up before the story started. He already knows who he is by the time we meet him, and he has already (unknowingly) fulfilled his most essential task as a character, which of course was to raise the future savior of the world. From there, he just had to keep being the anchor to Rand he always was.
From that point of view, in fact, it was vital that Tam never change. Rand said elsewhere that the difference between himself and Lews Therin is that he’d been raised right, so in case you were wondering just how important Tam’s contribution was (and is) to that whole world-saving thing, I’d say that about sums it up, wouldn’t you?
Also, I really appreciated that time was taken to finally acknowledge the fact that Rand has been seriously and irrevocably maimed, and that that has a psychological toll as well as a physical one, and that Rand should not be allowed to try and play like it was nothing. Because I don’t care how many magical compensatory superpowers a person has, losing a hand is a BIG DEAL, and there is a release and relief in recognizing and accepting that fact. And it was both lovely and fitting that Tam should be the one to offer Rand that support and comfort.
So, in conclusion, Mat/Tuon nay, Rand and Tam yay. DISCUSS.
And that’s the score, shut the door, there ain’t no more! At least not until next Tuesday, eh? Cheers!