Amicitia! Romanorum! Paganus! Exspectata ut Rota Tempus Relego!
Is est quis venio ut vos operor non usus memoria antiquus ut reddo mortuus lingua vobis. Timeo. Timeo valde.
Aaaand now that everyone who’s ever even remotely studied Latin has been propelled into an apoplectic fit, I’ll stop. I’ll cackle with glee, but I’ll stop. Mwhahaha.
Today’s post covers Chapter 21 of A Crown of Swords, in which I probably violate copyright law, or maybe fair use law, or at least the boundaries of good taste. But It Had To Be Done. Because I said so, that’s why!
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 information regarding the newest release, The Gathering Storm, and for WOT-related 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 now, uh, tempus fugit! Tabula rasa! Ex post facto! Et tu, Brute! And other stuff! Read on!
Chapter 21: Swovan Night
As Ebou Dar revelers dart merrily through the otherwise empty streets, Mat crouches in an alley, and listens to make sure the two wounded beggars are not coming back. He bends to examine the third, wiping his dagger clean on the dead man’s shirt; he notes the large jute sack the man had had with him, and thinks they were awfully optimistic about what they would be able to steal from him. He is momentarily distracted when someone sets off fireworks over the city, watching them in wonder.
Plainly someone with coin had made a purchase for Swovan Night. He wished he knew who. An Illuminator who would sell nightflowers would sell more than that.
He walks back to the Wandering Woman, trying not to think about the odds of being attacked by robbers twice in one day, even in Ebou Dar. The common room of the inn is full of dancing patrons, and Mat pauses to admire some of the women dancing, then snags Caira to order supper for his room. To his surprise, Caira sniffs angrily at him, and says she doesn’t know why he wants gilded fish when he already has “a gilded woman” waiting for him in his room, and flounces off. He stares after her, uneasy, but reasons that the Darkfriend woman could not have seen him at the racetrack, and certainly couldn’t be called “gilded” anyway. Dice drumming in his head, he goes upstairs and, outside his door, momentarily thinks of pulling a knife, but remembers another woman he’d killed that way, and sighs and goes in unarmed. Inside he finds the Hunter Elayne had made her Warder, examining his bow.
“If this is about Olver,” he began, and suddenly a twist of memory unfolded, a mist thinned over one day, one hour in his life.
There was no hope, with Seanchan to the west and Whitecloaks to the east, no hope and only one chance, so he raised the curled Horn and blew, not really knowing what to expect. The sound came golden as the Horn, so sweet he did not know whether to laugh or cry. It echoed, and the earth and heavens seemed to sing. While that one pure note hung in the air, a fog began to rise, appearing from nowhere, thin wisps, thickening, billowing higher, until all was obscured as if clouds covered the land. And down the clouds they rode, as though down a mountainside, the dead heroes of legend, bound to be called back by the Horn of Valere. Artur Hawkwing himself led, tall and hook-nosed, and behind came the rest, little more than a hundred. So few, but all those the Wheel would spin out again and again to guide the Pattern, to make legend and myth. Mikel of the Pure Heart, and Shivan the Hunter behind his black mask. He was said to herald the end of Ages, the destruction of what had been and the birth of what was to be, he and his sister Calian, called the Chooser, who rode red-masked at his side. Amaresu, with the Sword of the Sun glowing in her hands, and Paedrig, the golden-tongued peacemaker, and there, carrying the silver bow with which she never missed . . .
He pushed the door shut trying to lean against it. He felt dizzy, dazed. “You are she. Birgitte, for true. Burn my bones to ash, it’s impossible. How? How?”
The woman of legend gave a resigned sigh and propped his bow back in the corner next to his spear. “I was ripped out untimely, Hornsounder, cast out by Moghedien to die and saved by Elayne’s bonding.” She spoke slowly, studying him as if to be sure he understood. “I feared you might remember who I used to be.”
Still feeling hit between the eyes, he flung himself scowling into the armchair beside his table. Who she used to be, indeed. Fists on hips, she confronted him challengingly, no whit different from the Birgitte he had seen ride out of the sky. Even her clothes were the same, though this short coat was red and the wide trousers yellow. “Elayne and Nynaeve know and kept it from me, true? I weary of secrets, Birgitte, and they harbor secrets as a grain barn harbors rats. They’ve become Aes Sedai, eyes and hearts. Even Nynaeve is twice a stranger, now.”
“You have your own secrets.” Folding her arms under her breasts, she sat on the foot of his bed. The way she looked at him, you would have thought he was a tavern puzzle. “For one, you’ve not told them you blew the Horn of Valere. The smallest of your secrets from them, I think.”
Mat blinked. He had assumed they had told her. After all, she was Birgitte. “What secrets do I have? Those women know my toenails and dreams.” She was Birgitte. Of course. He leaned forward. “Make them see reason. You’re Birgitte Silverbow. You can make them do as you say. This city has a pit-trap at every crossing, and I fear the stakes grow sharper by the day. Make them come away before it’s too late.”
She laughed. Put a hand over her mouth and laughed! “You have the wrong end, Hornsounder. I do not command them. I am Elayne’s Warder. I obey.” Her smile became rueful. “Birgitte Silverbow. Faith of the Light, I’m not sure I still am that woman. So much of what I was and knew has faded like mist beneath the summer sun since my strange new birth. I’m no hero now, only another woman to make my way. And as for your secrets. What language do we speak, Hornsounder?”
He opened his mouth . . . and stopped, really hearing what she had just asked. Nosane iro gavane domorakoshi, Diynen’d’ma’purvene? Speak we what language, Sounder of the Horn? The hair on his neck tried to stand. “The old blood,” he said carefully. Not in the Old Tongue. “An Aes Sedai once told me the old blood runs strong in— What are you bloody well laughing at now?”
“You, Mat,” she managed while trying not to double over. At least she was not speaking the Old Tongue any more either. She knuckled a tear from the corner of her eye. “Some people speak a few words, a phrase or two, because of the old blood. Usually without understanding what they say, or not quite. But you . . . One sentence, you’re an Eharoni High Prince and the next a First Lord of Manetheren, accent and idiom perfect. No, don’t worry. Your secret is safe with me.” She hesitated. “Is mine with you?”
He waved a hand, still too flabbergasted to be offended. “Do I look like my tongue flaps?” he muttered. Birgitte! In the flesh! “Burn me, I could use a drink.” Before that was out of his mouth he knew it was the wrong thing to say. Women never—
“That sounds the right notion to me,” she said. “I could use a pitcher of wine, myself. Blood and ashes, when I saw you’d recognized me, I nearly swallowed my tongue.”
He sat up straight as if he had been jerked, staring.
She met his gaze with a merry twinkle and a grin. “There’s enough noise in the common room, we could talk without being overheard. Besides, I wouldn’t mind sitting and looking a bit. Elayne preaches like a Tovan councilor if I ogle a man for longer than a heartbeat.”
He nodded before he thought. Other men’s memories told him Tovans were a stark and disapproving people, abstemious to the point of pain; at least they had been, a thousand years gone and more. He was not sure whether to laugh or groan. On the one hand, a chance to talk with Birgitte—Birgitte! he doubted he would ever get over the shock—but on the other, he doubted he would be able to hear the music downstairs for the noise of those dice rattling in his skull. She must be a key to it, somehow. A man with any brains would climb out the window right now. “A pitcher or two sounds fine to me,” he told her.
Nynaeve sits in their rooms in the Palace with Elayne, Aviendha, Thom, and Juilin, fretting. She thinks she would have liked to go to the ball, but knows that if she had she would only have been sitting and worrying anyway; she can’t imagine what is keeping Birgitte. Her weather sense tells her there is a storm on the way.
It had taken her some time to understand about the times she Listened to the Wind and seemed to hear lies. At least, she thought she understood. Another kind of storm was coming, not wind or rain. She had no proof, but she would eat her slippers if Mat Cauthon was not part of it somehow.
They sit for hours, waiting, and Nynaeve contemplates what Mat’s note had said about there being “nothing here but heat and flies,” and demands of Thom and Juilin if they are sure they didn’t tell Mat anything. Juilin protests their innocence, and Thom points out dryly that they could hardly have told Mat anything when Elayne and Nynaeve had told them almost nothing until tonight, and they should have sent him and Juilin to Mat instead. Nynaeve admits to herself that she hadn’t thought of that, but sniffs and tells Thom they would have just gone off carousing with Mat if she had. Elayne giggles and remarks that it is a good night for it, and Nynaeve frowns at her. Aviendha interjects that among the Aiel not even the closest clan or family member would protest at the killing of a Shadowrunner, and wants to know why Tylin does not kill Jaichim Carridin—or why they don’t. Thom explains that Tylin is a weak queen, and Carridin the representative of a power, one who by definition cannot be a Darkfriend. If she arrests him, there will be a Whitecloak legion in Ebou Dar in no time flat, and Tylin will find herself no more than a puppet of the Fortress of Light. Aviendha replies disgustedly that she hadn’t thought Tylin a coward.
“You have never faced something you could not fight, child,” he said gently, “something so strong your only choice is to flee or be consumed alive. Try to hold judgment on Tylin till you have.” For some reason, Aviendha’s face reddened. Normally, she hid her emotions so well her face was like stone.
“I know,” Elayne said suddenly. “We’ll find proof even Pedron Niall must accept.” She skipped back into the room. No, she danced. “We will disguise ourselves and follow him.”
She uses Illusion to change herself into a Domani woman, and Nynaeve leaps to her feet in exasperation. Thom and Juilin stare with dropped jaws as Elayne laughs and changes Aviendha into a Taraboner, and then, to Nynaeve’s utter horror, turns Nynaeve into a Sea Folk woman, complete with the total lack of blouse worn away from shore. She sees Thom and Juilin fighting grins, and shrieks at them to close their eyes, trying to cover herself. They obey, still laughing, and Nynaeve realizes she is angry enough to embrace saidar, which she does, and tries to slam a shield on Elayne. It doesn’t work, and Nynaeve demands to know what the hell is wrong with her, is she drunk? Elayne stares at her in shock, and then lets the Illusions go and answers angrily that no, she is not. At that moment, Birgitte stumbles into the suite unsteadily and grins at them all; she says they will be interested to hear what she says, but first—she goes into the bedroom and upends the water pitcher on her head, and reemerges dripping wet.
“Now my wits are clearer,” she said, settling into one of the ball-footed chairs with a sigh. “That young man has a hollow leg and a hole in the bottom of his foot. He even out-drank Beslan, and I was beginning to think wine was water to that lad.”
Dismayed, Elayne exclaims that Mat will corrupt “the boy.” Thom points out that Beslan is the same age as Elayne, which confuses her and Nynaeve both; what was his point? Elayne returns to Birgitte, glowering, and Nynaeve hurriedly kicks Thom and Juilin out; they leave with ill-concealed resentment. Birgitte doubts dryly that “nine feather dancers with a shipload of brandy” could corrupt Beslan, but Elayne is more interested in the fact that she still feels drunk, and that is not how the Warder bond is supposed to work. Birgitte shrugs and suggests that maybe it’s because Warders and Aes Sedai were always men and women before; maybe she and Elayne are too much alike. Nynaeve drags them back on topic, wanting to know if Mat is coming to the Palace in the morning or not. Birgitte answers that he might, and Nynaeve demands to know what that means. Birgitte says she doesn’t think he was serious about Elayne and Nynaeve coming to him on their hands and knees, and will settle for an apology and thanks. Nynaeve growls “Never,” and Elayne wants to know what for.
“The Stone of Tear,” Birgitte said, and Nynaeve’s head whipped around. The woman no longer sounded intoxicated at all. “He says he went into the Stone, him and Juilin, to free the pair of you from a dungeon you couldn’t escape on your own.” She shook her head slowly, in wonder. “I don’t know that I would have done that for anyone short of Gaidal. Not the Stone. He says you gave him a backhanded thanks and made him feel he ought to be grateful you didn’t kick him.”
It was true, in a way, but all distorted. There Mat had been with that mocking grin of his, saying he was there to pull their chestnuts off the fire or some such. Even then he had thought he could tell them what to do. “Only one of the Black sisters was on guard in the dungeon,” Nynaeve muttered, “and we had taken care of her.” True, they hadn’t yet been able to figure out how to open the door, shielded. “Be’lal wasn’t really interested in us, anyway—it was just to lure Rand. Moiraine may already have killed him, by then, for all we know.”
“The Black Ajah.” Birgitte’s voice was flatter than the floor tiles. “And one of the Forsaken. Mat never mentioned them. You owe him thanks on your knees, Elayne. Both of you do. The man deserves it. And Juilin, as well.”
Nynaeve declares that under no circumstances will she apologize to Mat Cauthon, but Aviendha tells Elayne gently that if what Birgitte says is true, then she and Nynaeve have toh toward Mat, which they have made worse by their actions since. Nynaeve retorts that she and Elayne are not Aiel, but Elayne nods and tells Aviendha she wants Aviendha to be proud of her, and asks what they must do. Aviendha replies that an apology is not enough to meet their toh, now. Nynaeve desperately reiterates that she will not apologize, but everyone ignores her except Birgitte, who grins at her. Nynaeve tries to throttle her braid.
So, if you were wondering which scene in the Wheel of Time is my absolute and total favorite in the entire series, look no further, for here it is.
In case it wasn’t obvious by the fact that I had to quote the entire thing.
Sorry, guys, but I just couldn’t bear to mutilate it. It is my favorite, and I heart it and adore it to itty bitty tiny little bits. It’s my Re-read and I’ll overquote if I want to! Nyah!
My paperback copy of ACOS not only falls open to this chapter naturally, but the spine is actually cracked and separated there, because I have probably re-read this one scene about a hundred times. At least a hundred times.
So why is this scene my favorite, you ask? Well, it’s a combination of factors, really, all of which combined to create a kind of perfect storm of Awesome for my particular Awesomeness triggers.
First and foremost, of course, is because the scene between Mat and Birgitte is a quintessential example of one of my favorite things in fantasy, what I have been calling the self-realization moment. And I’m actually sort of kicking myself, because in all this time doing this re-read and squeeing over moments like this, I have only just finally remembered that there is actually an existing term that much more wonderfully encapsulates what I’m trying to express with the half-assed phrase “self-realization moment,” and that is: paradigm shift.
Paradigm shift: a fundamental and irrevocable change in worldview. An elemental alteration of one’s perception of reality; the pivot point after which nothing is quite the same ever again. Could there possibly be a more exciting, disturbing, uplifting, or, or sf-nal concept? Not for my money. How did I not think of it before?
This scene was just it. Mat has a picture of Birgitte-the-random-Hunter/Warder, Birgitte has a picture of Mat-the-random-wastrel/ta’veren, and then he walks in and in one moment both their pictures of the other are changed forever, as they each realize the other is so much more than they originally believed. Paradigm shift. Awesome.
Not only was it a pivot point for the two of them personally, but it was also a turning point in the cold war between Mat and the Supergirls. I said earlier that I had more sympathy for Elayne and Nynaeve this time around than I had previously, but even so I still cheer and cheer that finally, someone on the other side is put in a position to realize Mat’s worth. And the results are immediate—and intensely gratifying.
And again we see the ongoing theme—after all the lies and evasions and discounting and disparaging, honesty/revelation/revealing of truths between (Lightside) characters is instantly rewarded, and rewarded well. And it’s such a frickin’ fresh breath of air, like, THANK YOU, JEEZ.
And, since the Elayne/Nynaeve/Mat/Ebou Dar storyline is really just about the central plotline of ACOS, this scene can be considered the turning point of the entire novel. You guys keep asking how I can like ACOS so much with Cadsuane blee and Sevanna bloo and only 10 days bleh, and I’m like, yeah, but first of all, it had this scene in it, and second of all, this scene caused just about everything else that happened after it (with a couple of exceptions, natch) to just keep getting awesomer. We have only just BEGUN to get to the awesome, you guys.
But we’re still talking about this scene! Aside from all the above, I love this scene because the way the reveal is orchestrated is just beautiful, and done in a way that completely captured my mechanics-of-story-telling fancy—in more ways than just the obvious.
At the time I first read this, I was a film student, and I am not kidding when I tell you I spent hours fantasizing about how I would commit this scene to film if I had the chance. I actually storyboarded the whole damn thing in my mind—where the cuts would happen, where the close-up reaction shots would fall, everything. I wanted to see this. I still do.
And you’re probably now saying, but Leigh, this scene is actually impossible to film the way it was written, because of the language thing. The trick Jordan pulled with concealing which language they were speaking until Birgitte drew Mat’s attention to it (for hint-dropping, diction-altering values of “concealing,” anyway) can only be done on paper. And since that’s what made the scene so awesome in the first place…
Ah, I reply, but I thought about this, young grasshopper! This is why I was so fascinated with the notion of filming it in the first place, because of the logistical dilemma of how to make the reveal as effective on screen as it is on paper.
There are two ways you can go, really. The first is to give up the element of surprise for the audience, but not Mat—have them both speaking in the Old Tongue in the whole scene, but make it obvious that Mat doesn’t know that’s what’s happening until Birgitte rubs his face in it. You lose the surprise, but not the suspense of the audience waiting for Mat to be surprised, if you see what I mean.
The problem here, obviously, is a linguistic one: I don’t know if Jordan ever fleshed out the Old Tongue to the extent necessary to actually render all the dialogue they speak here in it. Of course, even if he hadn’t, that can be fixed. If the Paramount people can manage to come up with an entire working lexicon for Klingon, for crying out loud, Old Tongue is totally doable.
The other way to do it is actually exactly the way it’s written: have them speak English through the scene, and then when Birgitte asks her fateful question, to immediately thereafter (well, after you pause for a reaction shot on Mat) cut to a flashback of her saying the line again, but in the Old Tongue. The inference to extend it to the rest of the conversation would be the same as it is on paper, really, and then you don’t have to go through all the bother of making your actors learn twenty lines of a made-up language.
(Look, I TOLD you, I spent hours thinking about this. I’m a geek, okay? Shut up.)
It totally works either way, in my opinion, but I honestly rather prefer the first way, because yet another reason I loved this scene so much is because I have a Thing for playing with languages in narrative. That whole stereotype about Americans not liking to read subtitles? SO never applied to me. I infinitely prefer when movies and television shows have characters who are speaking another language actually speak the other language, instead of just having it be “understood” that they are speaking German or Urdu or whatever.
(This was one thing I definitely gave Heroes kudos for. That series jumped the shark disgustingly fast, but at least when Hiro and Ando talked together, they actually spoke Japanese on screen. It’s kind of sad how much (undeserved) leeway I gave the series just for that one fact. And, it’s yet another argument for casting actors who are actually from the culture/nationality they are supposed to be portraying, since historically, making everyone speak English on American television/film was just as much to avoid having to deal with tin-eared American actors mangling another language as it was to protect American audiences from the horrors of readingOMG).
And all that aside, I prefer the first way for one very simple reason: seeing this scene actually spoken in the Old Tongue would be the frickin’ peak of awesome. Because sometimes I am a giant nerd.
A giant nerd who loves this scene, because in my opinion it is everything I signed up for in the first place with this sf thing, and more. Hug, love, squeeze, George, The End.
Whaddaya mean, “sometimes I am a giant nerd,” you say? Why I oughta… Well, actually, I oughta get the hell out of here, because wow I just talked for hundreds of years about two pages of text, and it is kind of three o’clock in the morning now. So sayonara, WOTers! Have fun in the comments, and see you next week!