Hello, people of various gender! Welcome to what I am pleasantly surprised to discover is actually the penultimate installment of The Shadow Rising segment of our Wheel of Time Re-read journey!
I know, right? Chapters 54-56, baby, yeah!
Previous entries are heah, and as always there are spoilers for this and potentially all books currently published in the Wheel of Time series. If you are encountering this re-read for the first time, it is highly recommended that you read all of the Wheel of Time novels before jumping on this blog series.
So, without further ado, please jump the cut, or cut the jump, or whatever the appropriate verbing weirdness is for the action, to get to some seriously serious awesome.
Chapter 54: Into the Palace
Elayne, Nynaeve, and Egeanin are riding in a jouncy cart, much to Elayne’s irritation; she would have preferred to walk, even though their disguises left them barefoot, but Domon said it would look strange. He is walking alongside, with twenty of his hired toughs. A particularly bad pothole almost knocks them all over, but Nynaeve still edges away from Egeanin, muttering that she is going to have a talk with Master Domon. Elayne is amazed that Nynaeve agreed to Egeanin being there at all, but Domon had insisted they needed someone with them in the Palace who could defend them physically, since they could only channel as a last resort; the men had begun arguing over which one of them was the best suited to come along, but Nynaeve told them they all had their parts to play, so there was nothing for it. Then Egeanin had volunteered to come; Domon had said thoughtfully that she would do very well, and Elayne supported the idea over Nynaeve’s strenuous protests, and at last Nynaeve had acquiesced. They reach the Palace, and as Domon is being questioned by the Whitecloak guards, Elayne sees Jaichim Carridin passing on horseback, and hastily puts her head down so he won’t see her. Out in the street someone shouts that the Panarch had been murdered, and Elayne thinks that Juilin and Thom had done a good job of seeding rumors last night, and now just hopes they get in before the riot actually gets started. She tells herself sternly that she is not afraid. Finally the cart is allowed inside and to the kitchen entrance. The women scramble down and take up the three baskets, which look to be filled with ice peppers; Domon comes over, and under the guise of inspecting the peppers tells them quietly that the Whitecloaks and the Panarch’s Legionnaires are close to open hostility. Domon leads them inside, and as he talks with the head cook Elayne tries desperately to ignore the skinny woman petting a cat in the room; if Marillin Gemalphin happens to notice her and Nynaeve, she will know them for women who can channel even though they are not holding the Power, but they make it into the storeroom without incident. Elayne asks if Nynaeve saw her as they dump out the peppers and change into the servants’ livery hidden underneath. Egeanin seems to have a serious moral objection to dressing as a servant, which Elayne doesn’t get. They reenter the kitchen, and are relieved to find Marillin gone; the cook snaps at them to take the Lady Ispan her breakfast. Not daring to talk, Elayne bobs a curtsy and picks up the tray, and the cook yells that Elayne is mocking her and starts toward her threateningly. The three of them run from the kitchen, Elayne wondering what on earth she had done wrong; she had seen servants curtsy to her just like that all the time. They pass more storerooms, and Egeanin takes the opportunity to filch a stone pestle as a makeshift cudgel. They move through the Palace to the Panarch’s quarters, and as they reach it, they hear shouts and men running. Elayne surmises that the riot has started, and tells Nynaeve that Egeanin should go with her, as her part is the most important. Nynaeve retorts that she doesn’t need a Seanchan with her, and marches off. Elayne and Egeanin head into the hallway outside the Panarch’s quarters, and Elayne stops as she senses channeling coming from inside. She tells Egeanin that at least one of the Black sisters is in there, and listens at the door a moment; she is startled to hear someone singing a very bawdy song inside. Egeanin says they will have to leave Amathera, then.
Frowning, she bit her lower lip. How many were there? She could do at least three or four things at once with the Power, something only Egwene and Nynaeve could match. She ran down a list of Andoran queens who had shown courage in the face of great danger, until she realized it was a list of all the queens of Andor. I will be queen one day; I can be as brave as they.
Elayne tells Egeanin to throw open the doors and get down, and is surprised by her calm, commanding tone. Egeanin obeys, and Elayne catches a glimpse of the singing woman wrapped in flows of Air cut off in surprise as Temaile leaps up in outrage. Elayne instantly binds Temaile in Air and simultaneously slams a shield made of Spirit between the women and saidar; Temaile is flung three paces back, and lands unconscious. Elayne hurries in, searching for more Black Ajah, and demands of Amathera if there was anyone else there; Amathera asks hesitantly if she is Aes Sedai, and Elayne snaps at her to answer the question. Amathera flinches and confirms that Temaile was alone. She details all the tortures Temaile had visited upon her, winding herself up, and suddenly jumps on the unconscious woman with a shriek, punching and slapping her. Elayne lifts her off Temaile with Air, a little surprised at how easy it is, and Amathera sulkily declares that she will dispense justice on Temaile. Elayne is disgusted with her childishness, and tells her that she is here at considerable risk to sneak her out of the Palace, and she can come back to evict these women from it later. Amathera doesn’t like this, and wants to go find her Legionnaires, and Elayne surprises herself again by using Air to frog-march Amathera over to her, telling her coldly that she will do as she’s told or be left for Temaile and the others to find. Egeanin nods approvingly. Amathera agrees, still looking sulky, and Elayne hopes Nynaeve is having an easier time of it.
Nynaeve enters the hall, pretending to dust, and hurries to where the black metal bracelets and necklace are displayed. The bracelets emanate suffering and woe, and Nynaeve wonders what kind of thing could absorb such pain.
Pulling her hand back, she glared at the black metal. Meant to control a man who could channel. Liandrin and her Black sisters meant to use it to control Rand, turn him to the Shadow, force him to serve the Dark One. Someone from her village, controlled and used by Aes Sedai! Black Ajah, but Aes Sedai as surely as Moiraine with her scheming! Egeanin, making me like a filthy Seanchan!
Nynaeve realizes she is making herself angry enough to channel, and embraces the Source just as a woman wearing servant livery enters the hall. She waits for the woman to leave, and as the woman walks toward her, smiling, suddenly recognizes her face. She instantly attacks with a hammer of Air, intending to smash Moghedien’s face. Nynaeve staggers as the Forsaken slices Nynaeve’s flow and counters with another, a complex flow of Spirit, Water, and Air. For a moment she feels devotion and worship for the other woman before she slices it off the same way Moghedien had just done to hers; she realizes what the weave had been for, and is more enraged than ever. She tries again to sever Moghedien from the Source just as Moghedien tries to do the same to her, and they end up locked in a standoff, each straining to cut off the other. Nynaeve thinks that though to anyone not able to channel saidar it would look like they were just two women staring at each other, she is in a duel for her life, against a Forsaken. She realizes that under her anger she is utterly terrified. She keeps waiting for Moghedien to release her full strength and overwhelm her, but then Moghedien begins talking, telling Nynaeve that she will make her pay for ruining her plans. She says maybe she will make Nynaeve wear a saddle, and ride her like a horse, or maybe she will give Nynaeve to Rahvin for his amusement, even though he already has “a pretty little queen to amuse him now”. She makes note of the “little gem” behind Nynaeve, and tells her she cannot destroy it, for it is a form of cuendillar, and there are disadvantages to using it as well.
“Put the collar on a man who channels, and a woman wearing the bracelets can make him do whatever she wishes, true, but it will not stop him going mad, and there is a flow the other way, too. Eventually he will begin to be able to control you, too, so you end with a struggle at every hour.”
She keeps talking, asking Nynaeve if she thinks the price is worth controlling Lews Therin, or Rand al’Thor as he is called now, and Nynaeve wonders what she’s waiting for. Then she notices that Moghedien is sweating, and her voice is strained, and suddenly understands.
Moghedien was not suddenly going to hurl all of her strength at her; she already was. The woman was putting out as much effort as she. She was facing one of the Forsaken, and far from being plucked like a goose for supper, she had not lost a feather. She was meeting one of the Forsaken, strength for strength! Moghedien was trying to distract her, to gain an opening before her own strength gave out!
Moghedien continues, talking about the Age of Legends, but Nynaeve stops listening, trying to think of a way to distract the Forsaken. She pretends to sag, as if she is weakening, and Moghedien smiles, stepping closer, saying something about traveling to other worlds. Nynaeve picks up the collar and hurls it at Moghedien’s face. It only strikes lightly, but it distracts Moghedien for one second, and Nynaeve’s shield slams home. She expects the Forsaken to attack physically, but instead Moghedien tries to run; Nynaeve binds her in Air, freezing her in mid-step.
She had done it. I faced one of the Forsaken and beat her, she thought incredulously.
She walks over to the woman, and sees that her flow had softened enough when she applied it that Moghedien was only shielded from the Source, and not stilled as Nynaeve had intended. Stuttering in fear, Moghedien tries to bargain with Nynaeve, and Nynaeve gags her with Air; smiling, she asks Moghedien that she mentioned used her as a mounting block, did she? She lets Moghedien squirm for a moment, though she knows she will not follow through on the threat, and thinks about how Moghedien will have to be put on trial and stilled, of course; then she thinks it through and realizes that she has no way to get the woman out of the Palace. She grimaces and walks over to grab the bracelets and collar, felling guilty for letting anyone, even a Forsaken, think that she would torture them, and then goes to the glass case with the seal in it. But the seal is not in the case, replaced by a figurine of a pig. Then she looks closer, and sees it is an illusion crafted with the Power; she channels and breaks the flows, revealing the seal hidden behind it, and stuffs it into her pouch as well. She tries again to think of some way to bring Moghedien with her, can’t, and turns regretfully to go. Then she sees Jeaine Caide standing in an adjoining courtyard raising a pace-long black rod, and flings herself to the floor just as a bar of white passes through where she had been a second earlier, vaporising everything in its path.
Little more than waist-high, the bar sawed sideways, carving a swathe through both walls; between, cases and cabinets and wired skeletons collapsed and crashed. Severed columns quivered; some fell, but what dropped onto that terrible sword did not survive to smash displays and pedestals to the floor. The glass-walled table fell before the molten shaft vanished, leaving a purplish bar that seemed burned into Nynaeve’s vision; the cuendillar figures were all that dropped out of that molten white shaft, bouncing on the floor.
Moghedien is trying to scream, struggling against her bonds, but Nynaeve has no time for her as Jeaine regains control and fires balefire again, further wrecking the exhibition hall. Nynaeve crawls on her belly to a corridor as the balefire stops, and checks the courtyard, but there is no sign of Jeaine. Nynaeve curses herself for a fool, channeling enormous amounts of the Power and never even thinking it would have every woman who could channel in the Palace jumping out of her skin. Then she notices in disbelief that Moghedien was gone, which should have been impossible.
“How do I know what’s impossible?” Nynaeve muttered. “It was impossible for me to beat one of the Forsaken, but I did it.”
Weakly, she staggers to her feet and heads off to where she is supposed to meet Elayne.
How do I heart this chapter, let me count the ways. A Crowning Moment of Awesome for a character if I ever saw one. I read the last half of TSR at approximately the speed of light the first time around, but I distinctly recall taking a pause after this chapter and just having a geeky little moment of squee. This is what I signed up for, you guys.
Talk about a moment of self-realization, eh? Nynaeve’s super-strength is kind of a given for WOTers at this point, but it’s important to remember that at this point in the series, though we had been told that she’s got stupid potential, it is not until this moment that we – and Nynaeve herself! – are given the context to appreciate just how mad powerful she actually is. And it is AWESOME.
I don’t know why the rest of you are into this kind of thing, but I can tell you that for me personally, one of the greatest appeals of the fantasy genre is the vicarious thrill of discovery of power. That sounds weird to say, like I have megalomaniacal fantasies of world domination or something, but I don’t. Mainly because that sounds like way too much work, but also because in general fantasies of power are not necessarily about controlling other people, but about erasing the pervasive feeling of powerlessness that most (if not all) of us feel about the events that occur in our own lives.
Of course, really good fantasy shows how acquisition of power doesn’t eliminate that essential powerlessness, only changes the individual’s tax bracket on the playing field, so to speak. But that does not change the by-proxy pleasure of discovering that you are at least no longer below the poverty line, if I may be allowed to beat this particular metaphor to death.
So, basically, yay Nynaeve awesome.
I love Moghedien as a villain, not because she’s the most badass, but precisely because she isn’t. She’s one of the most believable of all the Forsaken in her cravenness and underhanded sneakery. I think the Big Book of Bad Art says she was a “shady investment advisor” before she joined the Dark Side, which I’ve always found hilarious; apparently even the Age of Legends wasn’t free from Ponzi schemes. How reassuring!
Notes on Elayne: I suppose Elayne has a small moment of Awesome here too, but it’s rather overshadowed by Nynaeve’s feats. It’s okay, though, Elayne gets her awesome on later, or at least I think so.
On a frivolous note, though, I had to laugh at the curtsying thing, and Elayne’s total cluelessness as to why it pissed the cook off so much. I have to confess I didn’t get it immediately myself, but then I realized that she curtsied to the cook the way a servant would curtsy to the Daughter-Heir, which presumably is not at all the way you would do it to only an upper-level servant. I guess that would look like mockery, wouldn’t it?
On an even frivolouser note, the word “curtsy” looks wrong no matter how I try to spell it. It’s annoying.
Thus, in summary, yay Nynaeve awesome. Let’s finish up her plotline in TSR, shall we?
Chapter 55: Into the Deep
Nynaeve threads her way through panicking servants, her hold on saidar fading as she becomes increasingly worried about Elayne. She sees Liandrin and Rianna at one point, flinging people out of their way with the Power, but is glad to avoid them, knowing she is too weakened from her fight with Moghedien to take them on. She reaches the rendezvous point and finds Elayne and Egeanin with Amathera. She hugs Elayne and asks if she had any trouble; Elayne says there was a little issue with Amathera, but it’s all straightened out now. Nynaeve frowns and asks why Amathera would give them trouble, and Egeanin answers that she tried to sneak off and get to her guards after being told not to. Nynaeve scowls, but Elayne tells her she took care of it, and Amathera will do as she’s told from now on, won’t she? Amathera agrees hastily. Elayne then asks what about Nynaeve? Did she have anything to do with the women Elayne had felt channeling enough Power to shake the palace down? Elayne adds that she had to prevent Egeanin from going to find Nynaeve; Nynaeve makes herself touch Egeanin’s shoulder, and thanks her. Then she explains that Moghedien found her, but because she stopped to worry about bringing her to trial, Jeaine Caide nearly took her head off with balefire.
“You captured Moghedien? You captured one of the Forsaken?”
“Yes, but she got away.” There. She had admitted everything. Conscious of all their eyes on her, she shifted uncomfortably. She did not like being in the wrong. She especially did not like being in the wrong when it was she who had pointed out that it was wrong in the first place. “Elayne, I know what I said about being careful, but once I had her in my hands, it seemed all I could think of was bringing her to trial.” Taking a deep breath, Nynaeve made her voice apologetic. She hated doing that. Where were those fool men? “I endangered everything because I didn’t keep my mind on what we were about, but please don’t scold me.”
Elayne answers she won’t, as long as she is careful in the future. Egeanin clears her throat, and Elayne reddens and asks quickly if Nynaeve got the collar and bracelets, and the seal; Nynaeve confirms it, and as they wait for the men, looks at Egeanin and wonders if they are so different, and why she can’t hate her. Suddenly Juilin opens the door from the outside; his face is bloody, and he tells them they must hurry before “it gets out of hand”. Nynaeve stares at the scene beyond him and wonders what he would consider out of hand, as a full-scale riot is underway. Thom yells at them to move, and they all hurry out, surrounded by Domon’s sailors and shoving through the din. Nynaeve and Egeanin steady each other and trade grins. Once they get clear of the mob around the Palace, Thom bows to Amathera and hopes he can be of service to the Panarch, but to Nynaeve’s surprise Amathera glances at Elayne and answers Thom is mistaken, she is only a poor refugee. At the inn, Elayne introduces Amathera to Rendra as “Thera”, and asks if Rendra can provide her a place to sleep and maybe work to earn a few meals. Rendra sighs, but agrees, and takes Amathera off. Nynaeve asks what that was about, and Elayne explains that she convinced Amathera it would be a good idea to stay in hiding for a few days; if she wants to regain her throne without help from Andric, she will need to lay low until she can contact the Captain of her Legion. Besides, Elayne adds, it will do her good to see how the common people live for a while. Nynaeve thinks this is a little rich coming from the Daughter-Heir, but lets it go, and muses about Moghedien’s failure to come after them, even though she had to have known that Nynaeve was exhausted and vulnerable; she thinks that it’s likely Moghedien will not come after them, but Liandrin definitely will if she finds out what they have taken.
“The justice of the Daughter-Heir,” Thom murmured, “may yet supersede the justice of the Panarch. There were men streaming in through that door as we left, and I think some had already got in the front. I saw smoke coming out of several windows. By tonight, little more than a fire-gutted ruin will remain. No need for soldiers to chase the Black Ajah, and thus ‘Thera’ can have her few days to learn the lesson you want to teach. You will make a fine queen one day, Elayne of Andor.”
Elayne gives him a pleased smile, which fades as she sees the blood on his face, and she jumps up and starts tending to his cuts over his protests. Nynaeve shows them what they had gone through all this for, and Domon touches the seal and says he did own something like this once.
Nynaeve doubted it. Only seven had been made. Three were broken now, cuendillar or no. Another was in Moiraine’s hands. Four surviving. How well could four keep that prison at Shayol Ghul locked? A shivery thought.
Egeanin examines the collar and bracelets, and says it is not much like an a’dam; Nynaeve wishes she hadn’t brought that up, but thinks that Egeanin had shown more mercy in letting that sul’dam Bethamin go than she would have, and answers that it is as much like an a’dam as she and Egeanin were alike.
The woman looked startled, but after a moment she nodded. Not so different. Two women, each doing the best she could.
Juilin asks if they mean to continue chasing Liandrin et al, and opines that it’s more important to take these items to the Tower. Nynaeve refutes this sharply, and when the others look at her in surprise, indicates the seal and says that should go to the Tower. To herself, she thinks that she would not take the chance that the Aes Sedai would be tempted to use the collar and bracelets just as the Black Ajah would have, and asks Elayne if she can destroy them. Elayne tries, though Nynaeve cannot see what she is doing, but after a bit shakes her head and says she cannot. Nynaeve thinks that Moghedien had not lied, then, and asks Domon if he knows a very deep part of the sea. Domon answers that he does, and Nynaeve tells him to take the collar and bracelets and drop them into the deepest depths he can find. Domon hesitates, and nods, taking them gingerly. Nynaeve notices Egeanin frowning, and remembers her remarks about Domon being a properly set-up man. Nynaeve thinks to herself that it is done, and now she can get back to the problem of al’Lan Mandragoran.
Facing Moghedien, realizing how close she had been to being killed or worse, only made her urgency to deal with him greater. A man she had to share with a woman she hated, but if Egeanin could look fondly on a man she once took prisoner—and Domon was certainly eyeing her with interest—and if Elayne could love a man who would go mad, then she could puzzle out some way to enjoy what she could have of Lan.
But first, she thinks, Tar Valon.
Tar Valon? Ha ha ha!
Yeah, no. Not for at least seven more books, honey. Maybe longer. Maybe never!
And here ends the Supergirls’ thread in TSR, where we say goodbye to Domon and Egeanin as they head off to totally fail in their MacGuffin-dumping mission and not turn up again until A Crown of Swords. Bye-ee!
I have to admit being a little underwhelmed at Elayne’s response to finding out Nynaeve had faced down a Forsaken and come out ahead, but then again Nynaeve is typically vague about the details, so maybe it just didn’t really sink in yet or something. I’m just saying, Elayne’s jaw should have been on the floor, if you ask me.
I normally think Nynaeve is overly harsh on the White Tower (and this is as someone who thinks that the Tower has serious issues), but thank GOD she had the sense to see that handing them the Sad Bracelets would have been Muy No Bueno. And this applies just as much to the about-to-be-Rebel Tower as it does to Elaida’s dumb ass. Not that Elayne or Nynaeve have a clue about any of that as yet.
The only other things worth noting here are Nynaeve’s reconcilation with Egeanin, which shows that she is Growing As A Person, and Elayne’s Prince and the Pauper switcheroo on Amathera, which… I can’t seem to generate an opinion on, because I really just don’t care very much, other than something vague about this is one of those things which are always effectively full of after-school-special moral learnings in fiction, but in reality would probably just lead to broken nails and more of an entitlement complex than ever on Amathera’s part. Or maybe I’m just cynical and bitter.
Enh. Let’s let it go and slip into something a little more awesome, shall we?
Chapter 56: Goldeneyes
Aram watches Perrin silently as he writes a letter to Faile in the inn, and Perrin wonders again what the man wants. Ban al’Seen comes in to tell Lord Perrin that the Aiel are back, and the Trollocs are coming, from the north and south, thousands of them. Perrin absently tells him not to call him that, still absorbed in his letter.
I will not ask your forgiveness for what I did. I do not know if you could give it, but I will not ask. You are more precious to me than life. Never think I have abandoned you. When the sun shines on you, it is my smile. When you hear the breeze stir through the apple blossoms, it is my whisper that I love you. My love is yours forever.
For a moment he studied what he had written. It did not say enough, but it would have to do. He did not have the right words any more than he had time.
He seals the letter and writes “Faile Aybara” on the outside, though he doesn’t know if taking the husband’s name is traditional in Saldaea, and leaves it on the mantel. Adjusting his marriage ribbon, he goes outside to where the Companions are waiting for him, mounts up, and rides to where the women are standing in a deep circle around the children and the Tinkers on the Green, armed with makeshift weapons. Daise tells him they plan to get the children out if the Trollocs break through; the Tinkers will not fight, but they will help, carrying the babies and toddlers too small to walk. Hoarsely, Perrin tries to apologize to them for what he did with Faile, and for fooling them about it, but Alsbet tells him not to be silly, and Marin tells him they knew exactly what he was up to, and not to be surprised if Faile didn’t as well.
“Women do find themselves doing what they don’t want just to please you men. Now you go on and do what you have to. This is Women’s Circle business,” she added firmly.
Somehow he managed to smile back at her. “Yes, mistress,” he said, knuckling his forehead. “Beg pardon. I know enough to keep my nose out of that.” The women around her laughed in soft amusement as he turned Stepper away.
Perrin orders the Companions to go back and aid the women if it comes to that, over their protests. Ban asks quietly what Perrin is going to do, which Perrin ignores. Aram refuses flatly to do the same, saying he will stay with Perrin, and Perrin wonders if real lords ever had problems like this. Perrin goes over to where the Whitecloaks are standing in perfect, gleaming ranks, though Bornhald smells of brandy, and says that he thought they would be at their places by now. Bornhald won’t look at him, and Byar spits that they are leaving, to rejoin their men at Watch Hill. Perrin knows that they have no chance if the Whitecloaks leave, and asks Bornhald if he really still believes that Perrin is a Darkfriend, after all the fighting against the Trollocs he’s done. Bornhald gives him a hateful, glazed stare and says he will not stay to watch Perrin feed his own villagers to Shadowspawn; he means to live long enough to bring Perrin to justice. Perrin answers if he wants Perrin, fine; when the Trollocs are done, Perrin will not resist if Bornhald arrests him. The men with Perrin shout protests, and Bornhald sneers that it is an empty promise if no one lives but Perrin. Perrin retorts he’ll never know if he runs away, will he?
“Run, if you want! Run, and try to forget what happens here! All your talk of protecting people from Trollocs. How many died at Trolloc hands after you came? My family wasn’t the first, and certainly not the last. Run! Or stay, if you can remember you’re men. If you need to find the courage, look at the women, Bornhald. Any one of them is braver than the whole lot of you Whitecloaks!”
Bornhald sways in his saddle, and says hoarsely that they will stay. Byar protests, and Bornhald roars back that they will die clean, if they must, but for his family, he will see Perrin dead, and canters off, Byar following. Aram asks anxiously if Perrin really means to keep that promise, and Perrin doesn’t answer, though he thinks there is precious little chance he would live to make that decision anyway. He takes off to check the defenses; to his embarrassment, cheers follow him wherever he goes. Abell Cauthon is in charge of the Westwood side, and tells Perrin, with a grin very like his son’s, that they’ll not find Two Rivers folk easy meat. Tam al’Thor, on the south side, tells him much the same, striding almost like a Warder. Alanna stops fussing with the catapults long enough to gaze at him measuringly. Perrin goes to the north, which is where he will stand, which is not coincidentally the direction in which Faile had gone; he supposes it is as good a place to die as any. Loial is there with two woodaxes, as well as Gaul and Chiad, who Perrin notes are standing side by side. Loial had been slightly hurt when Perrin had suggested he should leave, and told him he will stay as long as Perrin does. Then he had laughed and said perhaps someone would even tell a story of him, one day, even though Ogier do not go in for being heroes. Perrin murmurs to himself that Loial is a hero whether he wants to be or not. He gazes at the faces of the men gathered there, and forces himself to stop counting and naming them. He goes over to Verin, and tells her he is a little surprised to see her and Alanna still here; surely keeping a string tied to a ta’veren is not worth getting killed. Verin says thoughtfully that she couldn’t go when Perrin is such an interesting study, and says if only she could split herself in three she would follow him and Rand and Mat every moment, even if she had to marry them. Perrin tells her with pleasure that he already has a wife.
“Yes, you do. But you do not know what marrying Zarine Bashere means, do you?” She reached up to turn his axe in its loop on his belt, studying it. “When are you going to give this up for the hammer?”
Staring at the Aes Sedai, he reined Stepper back a pace, pulling the axe out of her hands, before he knew it. What marrying Faile meant? Give up the axe? What did she mean? What did she know?
They are interrupted as the Trollocs finally appear, thousands of them, all bunched together and herded by Fades. They are all shouting a word: “ISAM!” Perrin has never heard Trollocs shout an intelligible battle cry before. Verin murmurs, “Interesting,” and Perrin thinks that’s hardly the word he would have chosen. He shouts to the men to be ready, and thinks that Faile is safe and that’s all that matters. The Trollocs charge, and at four hundred paces the Two Rivers men let fly with flight after flight of arrows; the archers and the Aes Sedai’s catapults cause massive casualties, but it hardly seems to reduce the Trollocs’ numbers, and then they reach the stakes and it is down to hand-to-hand. Slowly the defensive line bows inward, and Perrin shouts for the men to fall back between the houses.
He was not sure whether others heard and passed the order, or the mountainous weight of Trollocs simply pressed in, but slowly, one grudging step at a time, the humans moved back. Loial swung his bloodied axes like mallets, wide mouth snarling. Beside the Ogier, Bran thrust his spear grimly; he had lost his steel cap, and blood ran in his fringe of gray hair. From his stallion Tomas carved a space around Verin; hair in wild disarray, she had lost her horse; balls of fire streaked from her hands, and every Trolloc struck exploded in flames as if soaked in oil. Not enough to hold. The Two Rivers men edged back, jostling around Stepper. Gaul and Chiad fought back-to-back; she had only one spear left, and he slashed and stabbed with his heavy knife. Back. To west and east men had curved out from the defenses there to keep the Trollocs from flanking them, pouring arrows in. Not enough. Back.
A Trolloc attacks Perrin, knocking Stepper down, and Perrin is almost crushed beneath his own horse until Aram kills the Trolloc on top of them both. Perrin struggles up to see that the women have joined the line, all of them, fighting desperately, and he sees that their numbers are the only reason the line hasn’t broken already. The Whitecloaks are nowhere to be seen. Then a small boy runs up, shouting for Lord Perrin; Perrin snatches him up to get him out of the battle zone, but the boy shouts at him to please listen: Master al’Thor says someone is attacking the Trollocs. Perrin asks who, and the boy says they don’t know, but Tam thought he heard someone shouting “Deven Ride”. Then Aram points out the hail of arrows coming from the north and striking the Trolloc ranks from behind. Perrin tells the boy he did well, and sends him back to the other children, and limps back to Stepper and mounts, to look to the north.
Beneath a red-eagle banner at the edge of where the fields had been stood long rows of men in farmer’s clothes, shooting their bows methodically. And beside the banner, Faile sat Swallow’s saddle, Bain at her stirrup. It had to be Bain behind that black veil, and he could see Faile’s face clearly. She looked excited, fearful, terrified and exuberant. She looked beautiful.
The Fades are trying to turn the Trollocs to meet the archers behind, but too late. They fall back, panicking, and the Emond’s Fielders resume bow work as soon as they have room. The Trollocs are being slaughtered from both sides, but Perrin hardly notices, staring at Faile. The same boy reappears to tell Perrin that Tam says the Trollocs to the south are breaking, and it was “Deven Ride” that the men were shouting. Perrin asks the boy’s name, and the boy tells him it’s Jaim Aybara; he thinks they are sort of cousins. Perrin tries not to cry, and tells “Cousin Jaim” to tell his children and his grandchildren about this day. Jaim declares he’s not going to have any, because girls are icky. Perrin tells him he thinks that he’ll find that will change one day, still looking at Faile.
Jaim looked doubtful, but then he brightened, a wide grin spreading across his face. “Wait till I tell Had Lord Perrin called me cousin!” And he darted away to tell Had, who would have children, too, and all the other boys who would, one day. The sun stood straight overhead. An hour, maybe. It had all taken no more than an hour. It felt like a lifetime.
Perrin rides through cheering people and past mounds of dead Trollocs to Faile, and she comes to meet him, smelling of uncertainty. She tells him she said she would go, but she did not say how far. He just looks at her, thinking of how beautiful she is, and she frowns and continues that the Watch Hill men had hardly needed any convincing to come, and then smiles in delight, saying she got to lead men in battle! Even Tenobia hasn’t gotten to do that, and she will be blue with envy when Faile tells her. Perrin still doesn’t say anything, and she gets defensive.
“Are you just going to sit there like a hairy lump? I did not say I would leave the Two Rivers. You said that, not I. You’ve no right to be angry because I did not do what I never promised! And you trying to send me away because you thought you were going to die! I came back to—”
“I love you.” It was all he could say, but strangely it seemed to be enough.
She hurries her horse beside his and throws her arms around him, saying she was so afraid she would be too late. She asks if the Deven Ride men came, and Perrin asks, startled, if she arranged that too. She smiles and says no, but she had hoped it was likely from the message the man yesterday had brought. She apologizes to Perrin for fooling him, and asks him not to be angry. Laughing, he pulls her in front of his saddle and starts to say he will never be angry with her again, but Faile stops him and tells him the worst thing her father did with her mother was make that promise, and it took her mother almost a year to make him take it back; she asks him to promise instead to tell her when he is angry, so she will know and can deal with it. Perrin notices that she does not promise to tell him when she is angry, but promises anyway. He notices that all the survivors of the battle are streaming out of the village, to surround him and Faile in a great circle, and wonders why they are all staring silently. Then the Whitecloaks approach, in perfect order, without a single bloodied weapon; the Two Rivers folk sullenly give way for them to enter the circle. Bornhald tells Perrin that the Trollocs are done, and as agreed, he is here to arrest Perrin. A roar of protest goes up, and Faile demands of Perrin what does he mean, Perrin agreed?
Keeping his gaze on Bornhald, Perrin lifted a hand, and silence descended slowly. When all was quiet, he said, “I said I would not resist, if you aided.” Surprising, how calm his voice was; inside he seethed with a slow, cold anger. “If you aided, Whitecloak. Where were you?” The man did not answer.
Daise speaks up and says the Whitecloaks were on the Green, lined up “pretty as girls ready for a dance at Sunday”, and never moved, and it was that that made the women decide to join the battle; the other women agree fiercely. Bornhald snarls that Perrin had no part in these others joining and turning the tide of battle, and he will see him hang if the world burns, rising to a yell on the last words. Several of the Whitecloaks draw steel, and freeze as the Two Rivers folk raise their bows, surrounding them with nocked arrows. Perrin tells them coldly that they obviously never cared about helping people, as long as they could find someone to call Darkfriend; all the help they’ve given has been almost accidental.
Bornhald shivered, though his eyes still burned. “It is time for you to go. Not just from Emond’s Field. It is time for you to gather up your Whitecloaks and leave the Two Rivers. Now, Bornhald. You are going now.”
Bornhald tells Perrin softly that he will see him hang one day, and leads the Whitecloaks out. A knot of men Perrin does not recognize comes up to him, and their leader, Jerinvar Barstere, grins anxiously and tells Perrin with much verbosity and apologies that he’s not meaning to waste Lord Perrin’s time, but they’ll see the Whitecloaks out and make sure the others in Watch Hill leave too, if that’s all right. He bows to “Lady Faile” and apologizes again for bothering them, and hustles his men off. Perrin watches him go with amazement and asks Faile who that was. She tells him that Barstere is the mayor of Watch Hill, and that the Women’s Circle there will be sending a delegation down to him to see if “this Lord Perrin” was right for the Two Rivers. She adds that they wanted Faile to show them how to curtsy to him, though, and are bringing him apple tarts.
“Oh, burn me!” he breathed. It was spreading. He knew he should have stamped it down hard in the beginning. “Don’t call me that!” he shouted after the departing men. “I’m a blacksmith! Do you hear me? A blacksmith!” Jer Barstere turned to wave at him and nod before hurrying the others on.
Grinning, Faile tells “my Lord Blacksmith” that he is a sweet fool, and it’s too late to turn back now. Then she asks wickedly if there is any possibility that she might be alone with her husband any time soon, and cuts off with a shriek as he takes off at a gallop for the inn, for once not bothered by the cheers that follow him.
From a tree branch, Ordeith stares at Emond’s Field a mile off, incredulous that everything had gone so wrong, even with Isam playing right into his hands. He notes the red eagle banner.
That’s meant to be Manetheren’s banner. Someone had told them of Manetheren, had they? What did these fools know of the glories of Manetheren? Manetheren. Yes. There was more than one way to scourge them.
He sprays spittle and fumbles for a dagger that is not there, and snarls about the White Tower holding what was his by right, and drops out of the tree to rejoin his men. They used to be Whitecloaks, but Bornhald would never have recognized them as such now. They watch him, ignoring the Fade in their midst, who also keeps its attention on Ordeith. He thinks that the Halfman was worried Isam would find it, as Isam had not been pleased when the raid on Taren Ferry had let so many escape to carry word away from the Two Rivers. Ordeith thinks Isam is a problem for another time, and snaps at his followers that they ride for Tar Valon, but they are going to Caemlyn first.
As a fantasy reader and action movie fan, I have consumed more than my fair share of battle scenes in my day, and they have run the gamut from unbelievably amazing to laughably bad to strangely boring. There are a lot of factors that can contribute to a battle scene’s goodness or badness – do the special effects suck, did the filmmakers/author do the research on the technology (or lack thereof) being used, do the editors/author have the capability to narratively convey a coherent sense of what’s happening while still adequately reproducing the utter chaos that is any battle scene, etc., etc. – but in my opinion the one truly nonnegotiable factor which must be in place for a battle scene to be awesome is not technical at all: the audience identification factor.
Which is, simply put, this: if I don’t care about the people fighting, I don’t care about the fight.
Conflict is the essence of story. You don’t have a conflict, you don’t have a story; battles are just the most extreme version of this truth in fiction. But simply having a conflict isn’t enough to make it a good story; it’s everything that surrounds and fuels and emerges from the conflict that does that. In other words, conflict is a necessary but not sufficient condition of story.
The actual battle part of the Battle of Two Rivers hardly takes any time at all, either in real-time length or in the amount of narrative space it is allotted. And yet this sticks out in my mind as one of my favorite battle scenes in any medium, and the reason is because of how very much we are able to care about the people involved. Perrin’s pilgrimage around the village before the Trollocs arrive features some of the best writing in the series, in how powerfully it makes us (well, me, but I don’t think I’m alone here) ache for the Two Rivers folk, for the terrible seeming hopelessness of the situation they are placed in, and feel pride for the simple courage with which they meet it. And feel joy, along with them, when they are unexpectedly rescued.
The Wheel of Time series as a whole has its flaws, and has yet to be finished and judged as a whole. But I will say that as a microcosm story within the larger WOT story, the Two Rivers narrative in TSR strikes me as nigh perfectly executed; a deeply satisfying slice of catharsis while we’re waiting for the ultimate payoff.
More minor, less highflown notes on this chapter: The Trollocs shouting “ISAM!” was very effective in the clue-giving sense, but I’m still unclear on why exactly they were shouting it in the first place. I mean, don’t tell me they were actually mad that Slayer had gotten shot, and were all “win one for the Gipper” or whatever? ‘Cause, that seems a little out of species character, there.
In other news, I had to grin at Faile’s glee at getting to lead an army, and also liked that her remarks casually showed that not only is she a queen’s cousin, she is apparently also BFFs with said queen. No, I’d say Perrin has no idea what marrying her means.
And speaking of Verin, reading this from the perspective we now have – that the axe/hammer thing is specifically mentioned in the Prophecies of the Dragon – puts a completely different light on that comment. Originally, the fact that Verin repeats something that at this point had only been brought up by Ishamael and Lanfear made her seem very suspicious, but now it’s just like, duh, of course Verin knows about it; she’s probably read the Prophecies forwards and backwards and maybe side to side multiple times. Why she doesn’t feel the need to inform Perrin that he has a byline in the Prophecies is more problematic – or maybe not. She’s Verin; she’s sneaky.
Oh, and Fain is in this chapter.
So, wave bye-bye to Perrin and Co., guys, as Perrin will be the first of the Superboys to take on the role of Sir Not Appearing In This Novel, in The Fires of Heaven. See you in Lord of Chaos, Perrin! Have fun building a castle!
And see YOU on Wednesday, when we polish off this puppy. It’s gonna be legen… wait for it… DARY.