Welcome back to the Re-read, on this frickin’ freezing Friday, Fo’sho. Seriously, what the hell, weather? New York City winters are supposed to be wussy!
Today’s post covers Chapters 1 and 2 of A Crown of Swords, in which I prove that random tangents are my Waterloo. I have absolutely no response to where I ended up in the commentary to Chapter 1. You’ll see.
Previous re-read entries are here. The Wheel of Time Master Index is here, in which you can find links to news, reviews, and all manner of yummy tidbits regarding the newest release, The Gathering Storm, and WOT stuff in general.
This re-read post contains spoilers for all currently published Wheel of Time novels, up to and including Book 12, The Gathering Storm. If you haven’t read, read at your own risk.
And that puts us square with the house, says I, so let us of course foolishly run right back to the craps table, shall we?
Chapter 1: High Chasaline
Wheel, Ages, legend, myth, wind. Perrin sits among the burned out wagons in Rand’s camp and thinks of how it is High Chasaline, a day of feasting in the Two Rivers. He listens to the wolves who had not come to Dumai’s Wells scorn those who had; though he feels no blame from those who did come, he is pained for their deaths. As he worries about what to do about Faile, Aram opines disgustedly that the Aiel should make the Shaido prisoners – now gai’shain – put on some clothes. Perrin tries to explain about gai’shain to Aram, but doesn’t really understand it himself. They are interrupted by one of the naked prisoners, a woman, asking if Perrin wants anything, and Perrin notes while avoiding looking at her that the Aiel are finding it hilarious to send the Shaido prisoners to the wetlander men and watch them squirm. He suddenly realizes that unlike the Two Rivers men and the Cairhienin, the Mayeners only seem to find it amusing (and titillating), and haven’t been been sent gai’shain hardly at all. He tries looking directly at the woman and actually giving her a task, which sends her off tight-lipped, and Perrin decides to tell the rest to try the tactic. Then Aram asks what they are going to do with the Aes Sedai prisoners; Perrin answers that is for Rand to decide, noting how the prisoners ignore the three sisters Rand had stilled and their Asha’man guards alike.
It was quite a trick. He could not make himself disregard the Asha’man, and he was not under their guard. They ranged from fuzz-cheeked boys to gray-haired, balding gansers, and it was not their grim, high-collared black coats or the sword each wore at his hip that made them dangerous. Every Asha’man could channel, and somehow they were keeping the Aes Sedai from channeling. Men who could wield the One Power, a thing of nightmares. Rand could, of course, but he was Rand, and the Dragon Reborn besides. These fellows made Perrin’s hackles rise.
Aram believes that the Aes Sedai are too dangerous to keep prisoner for long, to both Rand and Perrin, and suggests, in a roundabout way, that perhaps they should be taken care of permanently. Perrin is aghast at the idea, and orders Aram to shut up; Aram acquiesces immediately, and Perrin thinks the worst part is that Aram didn’t smell angry, even when suggesting murder. He overhears a conversation between two Two Rivers men which seems to echo Aram’s sentiments regarding the Aes Sedai, and wonders uneasily how many of the rest feel the same way. He concludes reluctantly that he will have to protect the Aes Sedai if anyone tried anything – including Rand. He doesn’t think the Cairhienin or the Mayeners will be much of a problem on that front, but the Asha’man and the Aiel are another story; he notes that the Wise Ones smell “grim and purposeful” whenever they look at the Aes Sedai.
A mood hung in the camp, though, a tension that had wound everyone tight. Rand was free now, and temporary alliances were just that, after all; temporary. Aiel hefted their spears when they looked at the Cairhienin, and the Cairhienin grimly fingered their swords. So did the Mayeners; they had no quarrel with the Aiel, had never fought them except for the Aiel War when everybody had, but if it came to a fight, there was little doubt which side they would be on. The Two Rivers men, too, probably.
Perrin also notes that the Asha’man are not at all pleased at the Wise Ones’ presence, only slightly less than the Wise Ones are with the Asha’man’s, and wonders what he is supposed to do about any of it. He wishes he were back home. As he mounts his horse, Loial approaches and tells him (in a very loud whisper) that it is wrong to hold Aes Sedai against their will, and furthermore that it will only take one spark for the whole camp to go up “like a wagonload of fireworks”. He asks if Rand is aware of it, and Perrin knows he can’t put off going to Rand any longer.
An alternate, much shorter way to summarize this chapter might have been: “Perrin looks around, and says to himself, ‘Dude. We are so boned.’”
I have to ponder if, when beginning writing ACOS, Jordan wasn’t a tiny bit appalled at the utter mess he had left himself to write his way out of in LOC. Not that I think the events in LOC were unplanned, by any means; some writers fly by the seat of their pants, narratively, but by all accounts Jordan was much too into excruciatingly thorough background research and detailed note-taking for that. But all the same I wonder if he knew before he wrote it that LOC was going to explode everything quite that – explodedly.
Perhaps that explains why ACOS only covers ten days. I dunno. But it’s interesting to think about.
Whichever the case, this chapter is mostly about re-establishing the extremely precarious state of the Light-side alliances, and not much else. The plot begins in the next chapter.
Other, more random thoughts:
Aram: There’s a certain amount of peril in assigning modern psychology terms to pre- (or non-) post-Freudian characters, because I absolutely believe that merely possessing knowledge of pop pysch buzzwords changes people’s behavior in having those pop psych buzzwords (making Freud/Jung/etc. the Schrödinger’s cat of the brain, whee!), and Aram wouldn’t know the term “sociopath” if it walked up and smacked him upside the head, but as a post-Freudian human my own self, the label is awfully difficult to avoid applying here.
(Yes, I know. The secret is, keep turning right and eventually you’ll get out.)
The wolves: Aw, bye, wolves. Because after Dumai’s Wells, Mr. Emo Trauma Perrin pretty much entirely avoids them, if I recall correctly. I may not, of course, but I am under the impression that from here on, other than faffing about with Hopper a few times in the Dreamworld, the wolves are persona non evidens, mostly. I mean, I think Perrin had some around during the invasion of *mumblenameoftownFailewasheldprisonerin*, but I don’t recall them actually doing very much.
Blah. More wolves, please.
Okay, fine, Perrin has a right to be little upset about basically leading the wolves to their deaths (she says, magnanimously), but one of Perrin’s fundamental problems is that he has yet, even as of TGS, to truly accept that he is a Leader of Men (and Wolves), with all the craptastic consequences thereof. Most significantly, that part of being a leader, especially in your rarefied apocalyptical situations, is being able to handle that your leadership will lead to people’s deaths. Period. It’s not a question of whether or not some (or most, or even all) of your people will die, it’s only a question of whether or not their deaths will mean anything.
That… that pretty much deeply sucks, doesn’t it. Okay, I give Perrin some slack on the Emo Trauma. SOME. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to grouse when he goes Weapons-Grade Emo in a bit here, but that, fortunately, is not yet.
I would like to give Perrin crap about the Shaido gai’shain thing, but I feel I am on shaky ground doing so, because I can’t deny that having a bunch of stark naked people running around all day in front of me would be… a lot. Maybe this makes me a prude, but I think it’s mostly the idea of doing outdoorsy chores in the nude that kind of wigs me. “Here, Mr. Naked Man, go chop us some firewood!” Ouch? Clothes are for modesty AND protection, dontcha know!
And at the risk of sending my more fragile male readers screaming into the night, what happens if one of the gai’shain Maidens is on her period? Does she just… bleed on the ground, or what?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the question of whether Randland has invented tampons has not been addressed – though really, given the Maidens’ lifestyle, at least, it’s impossible to imagine that they hadn’t come up with a way to deal efficiently with menstruation long since. Not that I really care – Jordan hasn’t filled us in on whether Randlanders use toilet paper, either, and all things considered some things are probably best left unexplored – but the thought did occur to me. This is what happens when you allow free association to run amok. Just keep turning right…
(This has now led me to discover that toilet paper was probably invented, like most things, by the Chinese, and has been documented as being in use since at least the sixth century, and tampons were used by the ancient Egyptians, at least according to Wikipedia, so the chances that both products were in use in Randland are actually excellent. I also note that these are topics I never in a million years DREAMED I would end up researching because of the Wheel of Time. Or at all. I’m sure there’s some profound moral to be drawn from this, but I’m too busy giggling at my life to suss it out at the moment.)
And on that note, I declare that the moving on, it will occur now, yes?
Chapter 2: The Butcher’s Yard
Perrin feels sickened as he gazes out at the mass graves of the casualties from those who followed him to rescue Rand (including nineteen Two Rivers men), but it’s better than looking at where Rand is, though Aram is grinning at it:
A seething sea of black, vultures and ravens and crows in tens of thousands, swirling up in waves and settling again, concealing the broken earth. For which Perrin was more than grateful. The Asha’man’s methods had been brutal, destroying flesh and ground with equal impartiality. Too many Shaido had died to bury in less than days, even had anyone cared to bury them, so the vultures gorged, and the ravens, and the crows. The dead wolves were down there, too; he had wanted to bury them, but that was not the wolves’ way.
Perrin watches Rand, surrounded by a huge entourage including Taim, Dobraine, and Min, checking the corpses in the killing grounds while Nandera, Sulin, and the Wise Ones argue with him. Kiruna marches up to Perrin, the other eight Aes Sedai from the Caemlyn embassy behind her, and demands to know what Rand is doing. Perrin notes that this is the first time they’ve been out in public since the battle, no doubt trying to figure out what had happened. Perrin also notes Charl Gedwyn and a dozen more Asha’man just happening to be lounging near where Kiruna et al are. Perrin lies to Kiruna that he doesn’t know what Rand is doing, but he’s willing to bet that every corpse Rand is looking at is of a Maiden. He recalls walking away from camp the night before and coming across Rand, wrapped in a ball and rocking himself.
Rand’s face was drawn and twisted, the face of a man who wanted to scream, or maybe weep, and was fighting it down with every scrap of his fiber.
[…] He did not look around, though Perrin’s boots rustled loudly in the dead grass, yet he spoke hoarsely, still rocking. “One hundred and fifty-one, Perrin. One hundred and fifty-one Maidens died today. For me. I promised them, you see. Don’t argue with me! Shut up! Go away!” Despite his sweat, Rand shivered. “Not you, Perrin; not you. I have to keep my promises, you see. Have to, no matter how it hurts. But I have to keep my promise to myself, too. No matter how it hurts.”
Perrin had sat there with him and listened to him recite all one hundred and fifty-one names, hoping that he could manage to stay sane. He thinks now that none of that is Kiruna’s business. Kiruna is displeased, but moves on, pointing out that with the hundreds of crows and ravens around, some are certainly spies, and they should be killing them. Perrin snaps back that there has been more than enough killing, and before any of the Aes Sedai can take him to task for speaking so, lights into Kiruna and the others for disobeying his orders to stay back from the fighting the day before. Infuriated, Kiruna coldly informs him that they had no choice in order to circumvent the strictures of the Third Oath, and furthermore does not appreciate having to explain herself to “farmboys”. Perrin reluctantly concludes that this is reasonable, but still thinks they wanted to get to Rand first as well. Loial interrupts to point out that Rand is coming, and whispers an aside to Perrin (that everyone in his vicinity can hear) to be careful, as the Aes Sedai swore no oaths to him. Kiruna and the other sisters move off to confer, and Perrin’s guess that they are blocking eavesdropping with the Power is confirmed when Gedwyn’s Asha’man all go alert instantly; Gedwyn looks disappointed when the sisters drop their ward with no further incident. Rand strolls up with Min, laughing and talking to her, trailed by Taim (who grimaces when Gedwyn shakes his head at him), Dobraine, Havien Nurelle, Nandera and Sulin and twenty Maidens, and Amys and Sorilea and the other Wise Ones. Kiruna immediately tells Rand that he needs Healing, and should not have refused it the day before, but Taim and the Wise Ones ignore her, each campaigning for the Aes Sedai to be put into his or their charge, while Kiruna opines that Coiren and the others should be put into her care. Sorilea pronounces the Aes Sedai “da’tsang”, which Perrin doesn’t understand, and they keep arguing until Rand yells at them all to shut up. Perrin notes that Taim smells furious, Kiruna afraid, and Amys and Sorilea determined; Min plucks anxiously at Rand’s sleeve, staring at everyone. Rand hesitates, then orders that the Aes Sedai be given into the Wise Ones’ care, and cuts Taim off before he can protest; Perrin is worried to note that Rand smells of hatred and fear when he looks at Taim. Kiruna smells relieved, but nevertheless pronounces the notion of turning over Aes Sedai to the Wise Ones “unthinkable”.
Rand raised a hand, and her words stopped in their tracks. Maybe it was his stare, like blue-gray stone. Or maybe it was what showed clearly through his torn sleeve, one of the red-and-gold Dragons that wound around his forearms. The Dragon glittered in the sunlight. “Did you swear fealty to me?” Kiruna’s eyes popped as though something had struck her in the pit of her stomach.
After a moment, she nodded, however unwillingly. She looked as disbelieving now as she had the day before, when she knelt down there by the wells at battle’s end and swore beneath the Light and by her hope of salvation and rebirth to obey the Dragon Reborn and serve him until the Last Battle had come and gone. Perrin understood her shock. Even without the Three Oaths, had she denied it, he would have doubted his own memories. Nine Aes Sedai on their knees, faces aghast at the words coming out of their mouths, reeking of disbelief.
Rhuarc joins the party and reports that the Shaido are fleeing, and there were men with green coats to the north who had several women with them, but Rhuarc’s forces let them escape as Rand had ordered. Rand replies that he would have had anything to have Galina, but that Rhuarc had done right. He adds, though, that “they are going to pay, everyone of them”, and Perrin is unsure if he means the Shaido or the Aes Sedai who had escaped. Then Rand informs Kiruna et al that he trusts them to do as he says, but they “won’t so much as take a bath” without permission from a Wise One. Bera and Kiruna are astonished, and Perrin notes that the Wise Ones smell of grim satisfaction, while Taim smells amused. Kiruna rallies and wants to know if Rand is still determined to go without Healing, and Min and the Maidens rib him about being stubborn. Rand gives them wry looks, but tells Kiruna, not from her.
Taim’s mouth quirked in a wry almost-smile, and he stepped toward Rand, but without taking his eyes from Kiruna, Rand flung out a hand behind him. “From her. Come here, Alanna.”
Perrin gave a start. Rand had pointed straight to Alanna with never so much as a glance. That prickled something in the back of his head, but he could not make out what.
Perrin notes that Taim is puzzled too. To his shock, when Alanna comes to him Rand cups her chin to look at her, and she blushes. He commands her to Heal him, and as she does she whispers to ask how he can stand the pain, but Rand does not answer, instead giving the Aes Sedai over to Amys and Sorilea, who immediately begin herding them off, and Perrin thinks they have to be better than handing the sisters off to the Asha’man. Rand orders Taim back to the Tower, but Taim argues that Rand needs Asha’man guard around him.
Rand’s head turned toward Taim. His face matched any Aes Sedai for giving nothing away, but his scent made Perrin’s ears try to lie back. Razor-sharp rage abruptly vanished in curiosity and caution, the one thin and probing, the other foglike; then slashing, murderous fury consumed both. Rand shook his head just slightly, and his smell became stony determination. Nobody’s scent changed that fast. Nobody’s.
Rand points at random, and seems as surprised as Taim that he has pointed at Dashiva, an Asha’man who Taim says is powerful but who may already being going mad. Taim’s opposition seems to cement Rand’s decision, and he cuts Taim’s protests off and dismisses him, and Taim leaves. Rand strides off, and Havien and Dobraine immediately accost Perrin about the Lord Dragon’s strange behavior; Perrin replies bluntly, “He’s still sane”, and marches off to the Two Rivers men and orders them to get ready to move out, then goes to find Rand. He tells Rand he hopes Rand knows what he is doing, and runs down a summary of what he had seen (and smelled) this morning, though he doesn’t phrase it like that, about the sentiments toward Kiruna and the rest. Rand asks if he really thinks that would be worse, to Perrin’s shock, but Min jumps in and calls them both woolheads, and says she knows neither of them would contemplate anything like that.
Sulin chuckled, but Perrin wanted to ask Min how certain she was, although that was not a question he could voice here. Rand scrubbed his fingers through his hair, then shook his head, for all the world like a man disagreeing with somebody who was not there. The sort of voice that madmen heard.
“It’s never easy, is it?” Rand said after a time, looking sad. “The bitter truth is, I can’t say which would be worse. I don’t have any good choices. They saw to that themselves.” His face was despondent, but rage boiled in his scent. “Alive or dead, they’re a millstone on my back, and either way, they could break it.”
Rand asks Min in front of the Maidens if she’s seen anything, and she explains to a startled Perrin that the Aiel know about her visions and think nothing of it, which is more than she can say about where she grew up, but continues that other than seeing that Taim “has blood in his past and blood in his future” she hasn’t seen anything of use, as the Asha’man seem to be gathering images like Aes Sedai. Rand tells her not to worry about it, but this does not reassure her. Loial comes up and asks Rand about telling him the details for his book, but Rand tells him, not until they are back in Cairhien. He calls Dashiva over and asks if he can make a gateway. Dashiva replies that “the M’Hael” teaches Traveling as soon as the student shows he is strong enough to learn it. Rand is disconcerted and disapproving to learn of Taim’s self-imposed Old Tongue title (which means “leader”), but dismisses it and orders Dashiva to make a gateway to Cairhien.
“It’s time to see what the world has been up to while I was away, and what I have to do about it.” He laughed then, in a rueful way, but the sound of it made Perrin’s skin prickle.
One thing it’s kind of funny Perrin never really mentions, considering all the odor-detecting he does in this chapter, is what thousands of dead bodies, in sweltering heat, must smell like after two days. Which is to say, about the most horrible, gag-inducing, putrescent stench imaginable.
Well, he does mention it, actually (in the context of watching people in Rand’s entourage vomit while he’s searching the bodies) but what puzzles me is how he could smell anything else through a stink that bad. *shrug* I guess his nose is so good it has selective filters on it?
Anyway. TGS has put an interesting new perspective on this whole List of Rand’s, for me. TGS very strongly implied something which had not really been made that clear in the earlier novels (to me, anyway): that Rand’s long-standing refusal to kill women, and his anguish over those who died following him, was – not exactly an arbitrary hang-up, given his upbringing, but a hang-up that he chose (subconsciously or otherwise) out of several possible hang-ups to represent his own personal Moral Event Horizon.
In other words, in all this becoming harder and more ruthless and etc., he had set this one act – killing women – as the one last line he would refuse to cross; the one deed that was beyond the pale. The implication was that Rand believed that if he could keep from doing that one thing, then he had not slid completely down the slippery slope of expediency into total monster-hood. TGS showed this, of course, by showing what happened once Rand was forced to cross that line, and how it almost did turn him into a monster.
So, this presents an interesting conundrum for me. On the one hand, I do not in the least withdraw my objections to setting up women on a pedestal like that, either from a feminist perspective or a purely practical viewpoint; seriously, whether it was sexist or not pales next to the observation that with female Forsaken around, it was a policy that was guaranteed to blow up in his face – which it did, horribly. In retrospect, what happened with Semirhage was inevitable – in its consequences if not in the exact sequence of events.
However, the acknowledgement that this was an irrational and at least somewhat random thing for Rand to choose as his line in the moral sand has – not reconciled me to it, exactly, but made it more palatable. I’m not sure I can articulate why this is, really, except that in a strange way it makes it less about the value of women’s lives vs. men’s, and more about Rand’s own flawed, slightly loony, but understandable attempts to hang on to his own internal moral equilibrium.
The interesting thing will be to see how, now that his moral event horizon has been rather spectacularly blown out of the water, how Rand will choose to climb back out of the pit in which he almost completely buried himself in TGS. One hopes that he will choose a better soapbox to stand on.
So, all that took forever to figure out how to phrase, so I will finish up this commentary with some quick notes on other matters:
Taim: I continue to mentally berate Rand for refusing to address the practically infinite number of warning bells Taim’s behavior sets off. “M’Hael”, meaning “leader”? Seriously? I understand Rand’s issues with dealing with the Asha’man in general and Taim in particular, but ye gods, man. Leaving Taim in unsupervised charge of an army of male channelers is like hiring a pyromaniac to be the night watchman for your dynamite factory. Good call!
Aram: Screw avoiding modern labels, that guy needs to be in a padded room. Grinning at a giant field of rotting corpses, holy crap. Psycho, thy name is Tinker. Ugh.
Dashiva: Hi, Osan’gar! Nice of you to join us, I guess. This, I always felt, was one of Jordan’s gimmes: EVERYONE was sure he was Evil in Disguise from the moment he appeared, from what I recall.
Kiruna et al: I still contend what I contended before, that their forced oathing was unethical. I don’t have time to get into it more than that right now (go back and read my initial take on it if you want), but as this will come up continually throughout ACOS, don’t worry, it’ll be discussed again.
Aaaaand I ain’t got no more for the nonce. Play nice in the commentses, chirren, and have a lovely weekend. See you Monday!