Heeeeyyyy, girlfriends! Do not be jealous of my boogie, for I have a brand new Wheel of Time Re-read just for you!
Today’s entry covers Chapters 35 and 36 of A Crown of Swords, in which we receive good prophetic news, and Our Hero ends a rebellion, but probably not in the way he would prefer.
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, the post!
Chapter 34: Into the Woods
Min watches (and admires) Rand as he roots through his wardrobe, and wonders how the negotiations with the Sea Folk are going. She sees again the viewing of fireflies being swallowed by darkness, and knows that it represents his battle with the Shadow, and also that it always seems like the Shadow is winning.
A tiny stab of guilt made her shift her seat on the coverlet. She had not really lied when he asked what viewings she had kept back. Not really. What good to tell him he would almost certainly fail without a woman who was dead and gone?
She tell him that she doesn’t think this is a very good idea, but he disagrees, saying that his ta’veren-ness is finally working in his favor for once. She asks if he wouldn’t rather comfort her again, and blushes when he stops dead and stares at her. Finally, he mutters that he wants to keep moving while he is “sure it is still working,” and exclaims in triumph to find a plain green coat; Min sees him tremble as he remembers it is the one he wore after Dumai’s Wells, and goes over to hug him and whisper that she loves him. He hugs her back, but then moves her away, and she tells him he can’t be sure it will work just because it did on Harine. He replies haughtily that he is the Dragon Reborn, and today he can do anything; “they” won’t know until it is too late. Min reminds him that one arrow can kill him no matter who he is, but Rand says they’re going alone, just him and her, if she wants to come. Min comments that Nandera won’t like this, but Rand is gleeful at the prospect of escaping the Maidens, and Min sighs and gives in. Rand makes a gateway to a wooded area, and almost immediately a Cairhienin noblewoman on horseback comes upon them. Min gasps, thinking for a moment that it is Moiraine, but it isn’t. The noblewoman points a crossbow at them, and says she doesn’t recall seeing them in the camp; Rand answers that he thought he’d like to take a look at it, and asks if she is the Lady Caraline Damodred, which she confirms.
Min sighed regretfully, but it was not as if she had really expected Moiraine to turn up alive. Moiraine was the only viewing of hers that had ever failed. But Caraline Damodred herself, one of the leaders of the rebellion against Rand here in Cairhien, and a claimant to the Sun Throne… He really was pulling all the threads of the Pattern around him, to have her appear.
Caraline stares at him, then looses the crossbow bolt into the air, remarking that she doubts it would do him any harm anyway, and she would not want him to think she was threatening him. She says she can think of only one gray-eyed man with his height who might appear out of nowhere, and Rand confirms arrogantly that he is the Dragon Reborn. Caraline repeats the usual rumors, and Rand replies sharply that he submits to no one, and Elayne is on her way to Caemlyn to take the Lion Throne, after which she will have Cairhien as well; Min winces and wishes he didn’t sound so much like “a pillow stuffed with haughty.” Caraline answers that she doesn’t have an objection as such to her cousin (Elayne) being on the throne, but she has an issue with Rand being in Cairhien at all. She points out all the bizarre accidents that happen around him, and opines that he will tear Cairhien apart just by being there.
“Balance,” Min broke in hastily. Rand’s face was so dark, he looked ready to burst. Maybe he had been right to come after all. Certainly there was no point letting him throw this meeting away in a tantrum. She gave no one a chance to speak. “There is always a balance of good against bad. That’s how the Pattern works. Even he doesn’t change that. As night balances day, good balances harm. […] Name the evil, and you can point to the good. The turning of the Wheel requires balance, and he only increases the chances of what might have happened anyway in nature.”
Min blushes when she sees Rand is staring at her, and mumbles that she’s been reading some of Herid Fel’s books. Suddenly they are interrupted by a horseman in Tairen attire who proves to be High Lord Darlin Sisnera himself, followed by a dozen or so retainers; he sees Rand and Min, and asks Caraline if these are “strays,” or spies from the city. Caraline doesn’t miss a beat, and introduces Rand to Darlin as her cousin Tomas Trakand from Andor, and his wife Jaisi. Darlin bows slightly and welcomes “Tomas” to their camp, congratulating him on his bravery, as al’Thor might “loose the savages” on them at any moment. He frowns to note Rand’s return bow is as shallow as his. Rand comments coolly that he’d heard Darlin was in Haddon Mirk, and Caraline throws Rand a warning look, but Darlin tells her he doesn’t mind, and tells Rand that he came from Tear after he was approached by Aes Sedai who suggested that al’Thor might soon go to the Tower, and he’d thought to help put Caraline on the throne before Colavaere beat them to it.
“Well, al’Thor is no fool; never believe he is. Myself, I think he played the Tower like a harp. Colavaere is hanged, he sits secure behind Cairhien’s walls—without an Aes Sedai halter, I’ll wager, no matter what rumor says—and until we find some way to extricate ourselves, we sit in his hand, waiting for him to make a fist.”
Rand points out that if a ship brought him, a ship could take him away, and Darlin laughs and says yes, but he’s asked Caraline to marry him, and therefore he can’t go anywhere unless she agrees. Caraline looks cold, but Min sees auras around them, and knows that they will marry (after Caraline has led Darlin “a merry chase”). She also sees a crown with a curved sword on it on Darlin’s head, and knows he will be a king someday, though not of what country. Darlin invites them back to the camp, which Rand accepts over Min’s whispered protests. Caraline has Min ride with her, saying she wants to “see what he does,” though Min isn’t sure whether she means Rand or Darlin. As they ride, Min overhears Darlin tell “Tomas” that he would have let al’Thor take Callandor, but not bring Aiel invaders into the Stone; Rand points out that the Prophecies say the Stone had to fall. Darlin shakes his head, and says perhaps he could have followed, but it is too late now; he is a traitor in al’Thor’s eyes. They arrive at the rebel camp, most of the inhabitants looking grim and trapped. They go inside the biggest tent Min’s ever seen, which has quite few people inside, and Rand stiffens; Min sees that there are four Aes Sedai among the crowd, one of them Red. Rand pats Min’s arm and tells her not to worry. Caraline rejoins them after shaking off a man in a red Andoran coat, and Min gasps and blurts out to her not to trust the man, as he will kill anyone in his way, or for a whim. Caraline answers that she can believe it of Daved Hanlon and his “White Lions”; apparently Toram Riatin has offered him much gold. Rand says coldly that he’s heard of them, and has no doubt they harbor Darkfriends in their ranks; then he asks about a Cairhienin man across the tent, standing next to a “skinny little fellow” with a strange curved dagger at his waist, both of whom are staring at Rand. Caraline answers with distaste that that is Lord Toram and his constant companion these days, Jeraal Mordeth, and that they both make her feel unclean. She adds that Rand should be careful; maybe his ta’veren thing worked on her and even on Darlin, but Toram hates Rand al’Thor with a passion, and it’s gotten worse since Mordeth joined them.
“Mordeth,” Rand said. His eyes were locked to Toram Riatin and the skinny fellow. “His name is Padan Fain, and there are one hundred thousand golden crowns on his head.”
Caraline nearly dropped her goblet. “Queens have been ransomed for less. What did he do?”
“He ravaged my home because it was my home.” Rand’s face was frozen, his voice ice. “He brought Trollocs to kill my friends because they were my friends. He is a Darkfriend, and a dead man.” Those last words came through clenched teeth. Punch splashed to the carpet as the silver goblet bent in his gloved fist.
Min is trying to calm him when a voice asks to be introduced to Caraline’s “tall young friend,” and Min turns to see a gray-haired Aes Sedai with a green shawl and an unpleasant smile behind them. Caraline stammers a bit, but recovers and introduces her “cousin” to Cadsuane, telling her that they are taking Caraline’s advice and “returning to Andor.”
Tiny golden birds and moons and stars swayed as she shook her head. “Most boys learn not to stick their fingers into the pretty fire the first time they are burned, Tomas. Others need to be spanked, to learn. Better a tender bottom than a seared hand.”
Rand tells her sharply that he is no child, and Cadsuane answers that they’ll see whether he needs spanking or not before drifting off. Caraline puts a hand on Rand’s chest and warns him to be careful of Cadsuane, and that she thinks it is time for him to go. They are interrupted by Toram, who looks at Caraline’s hand and asks if “Tomas” knows that Caraline is to be his wife. Caraline answers angrily that she has already told him that she will not marry him, and Toram comments with a smile to Rand that women “never know their minds until you show them.” He notices Rand’s sword, and asks if he would care for a little sport. Caraline tries to head this idea off at the pass, but Rand abruptly agrees.
So there’s a lot of stuff happening in this chapter, but the first time I read it I was all Blah blah blah OMG Moiraine! Squee!
Because, of course, while we were all pretty sure that Moiraine was far too awesome to stay dead, this is the first in-text indication in quite a while that we were right. And a pretty big indicator, at that, since according to The Rules, Min’s viewings are never wrong, whatever Min herself might think. Ergo, OMG Moiraine! Squee!
(I have to wonder, after this much buildup, if any scene featuring Moiraine’s return will possibly be able to live up to our collective expectations. Maybe not; but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to see it. Because, OMG! Moiraine! Squee!)
Oh, and other stuff. Lessee.
Caraline: Perhaps the least rebellious rebel I ever did see. Both Rand and Caraline herself attribute it to Rand’s ta’veren-ness (Ta’verenishness? Ta’verenosity?), but it seems to me like even so, she would never have come along so quietly unless her heart was never really in it in the first place.
Future King of Tear Darlin, too. I quite like them both. Of course, I may be giving them too much credit, just because they treat Rand like a human being (both before and after they know who he really is), but then again it says something, how strongly their display of common decency jumps out at me. I’m pretty sure the “something” it says is fairly unflattering to the WOT cast at large, but hey.
Or maybe it’s just the contrast with Toram, who clearly never even had a nodding acquaintance with the notion of decency, common or otherwise. And, of course, he’s gotten Fain-grease all over him, which apparently not only makes you the Diet Coke of evil, but also imbues you with the irresistible urge to chew all the scenery regionally available. See Elaida, the. Fun!
Hanlon: The Hey, It’s That Guy! of Darkfriends, in that every time he randomly pops up somewhere I’m always like, wait, do I know this person? Am I supposed to care about him?
If so, well, sorry, because I really, really don’t. Fortunately he only has the briefest of cameos here; I don’t have to get seriously annoyed that he exists until he shows up in Caemlyn. Small favors…
To be continued.
This won’t be the last time Rand tries this little incognito infiltration trick, and I seem to recall it didn’t end too well the other time, either. I do see the appeal it must have for him, even as I want to slap him upside the head for doing it. I spent this entire chapter the first time cringing in anticipation of the way this whole thing would backfire on him horribly. Sometimes I just hate being right.
Chapter 36: Blades
Min and Caraline are appalled; Toram laughs and shouts for everyone to clear a space. Min informs Rand that he is brainless, and Caraline strongly suggests that he leave now, pointing out that there are four Red sisters in the tent. As the crowd gathers to watch (Cadsuane and her companions with disapproval), Rand tells Caraline that he won’t use any “tricks,” but she tells him that Toram is a blademaster, and will hurt “Tomas” deliberately, as punishment for touching what he considers his property (meaning herself). Rand just smiles and answers that he is who he is, and heads out to the cleared area.
“Why must they be so stubborn when you least wish it?” Caraline whispered in tones of frustration. Min could only nod in agreement.
Toram gives Rand a practice blade, and critiques his attire, but Rand doesn’t answer, and Toram laughs and instantly goes for a head strike.
With a loud clack, bundled lathes met bundled lathes. Rand had moved nothing except his sword. For a moment, Toram stared at him, and Rand looked back calmly. Then they began to dance.
Min is amazed at the grace and skill involved, and Caraline breathes in awe that Rand is also a blademaster. Toram is growing furious, but as he presses the attack, a scream comes from outside the tent, and suddenly the whole thing whips away to show they are surrounded by an unnatural fog. Toram takes advantage of Rand’s distraction to strike him in the side; Rand doubles over, and Toram sneers, but before he can strike again, a tentacle of fog snatches one of the Red sisters into the air. Cadsuane shoots balls of fire at the tentacle, but the Red sister is dead before she hits the ground. The crowd breaks into pandemonium as Min and, surprisingly, Caraline shove their way to Rand and help him up. He shows Min that the wound in his side had not broken open, and opines that they should get away from here. Darlin agrees, but wonders which way to go; Toram spits that this is al’Thor’s work, and starts yelling for Mordeth/Fain, who does not answer. Everyone else has fled except Cadsuane and her two companions; Cadsuane tells Toram to “stop that caterwauling,” and decides that north is the best way.
“We three will take care of anything your steel can’t handle.” She looked straight at Rand when she said that, and he gave a whisker of a nod before buckling his sword belt and drawing his blade. Trying not to goggle, Min exchanged glances with Caraline; the other woman’s eyes looked as large as teacups. The Aes Sedai knew who he was, and she was going to keep anyone else from knowing.
The other two sisters, Niande (Gray) and Samitsu (Yellow) ask Cadsuane if they should link, but Cadsuane rejects the notion. Darlin, seeing the heron mark on Rand’s blade, gives him a nod of respect (Toram sneers). Neither of the two men are very happy as Cadsuane takes charge, but she’s having none of it; Min is surprised that Rand doesn’t protest her orders, though he does stare at her arrogantly. They move out in a defensive star formation with Caraline and Min in the protected center. Shrieks and screams come from the fog, and the Aes Sedai hurl fire at any part of it which seems about to attack. They see dismembered parts of horses and people as they go, and a man still alive with half his face torn off. Samitsu tries to get to him, but he dies before she can do anything, and they move on. Then a woman runs toward them, crying thank yous, and the fog rears up behind her. Min thinks Rand would have waited if it had been a man, but he balefires the fog before Cadsuane does anything. The woman runs off shrieking, and Toram, recognizing who Rand must be, yells that al’Thor will not trap him, and runs off into the fog as well. Darlin stares at Rand, but doesn’t run. Cadsuane calmly walks over to Rand and slaps his face, and tells him he will never use balefire again. Rand only rubs his cheek, and tells her that she was wrong; “he” is real. Min realizes with sympathy that he must be talking about the voices he mentioned earlier.
She opened her mouth—and Padan Fain seemed to leap out of the mists behind Rand, steel gleaming in his fist.
“Behind you!” Min screamed, pointing with the knife in her outstretched right hand as she threw the one in her left. Everything seemed to happen at once, half-seen in wintery fog.
Rand began to turn; twisting aside, and Fain also twisted, to lunge for him. For that twist, her knife missed, but Fain’s dagger scored along Rand’s left side. It hardly seemed to more than slice his coat, yet he screamed. He screamed, a sound to make Min’s heart clench, and clutching his side, he fell against Cadsuane, catching at her to hold himself up, pulling both of them down.
Samitsu shoves Min and Caraline out of her way to get to Rand as Darlin lunges for Fain, but Fain dodges him and scampers off into the fog, cackling. Min cries out and pushes Cadsuane away to take Rand’s head in her lap, but Cadsuane lays a hand on her head and tells her that she has no intention of letting “the boy” die when she hasn’t “taught him manners yet”; strangely, this comforts Min enough to move away and let Samitsu do her work. The Healing makes Rand thrash so hard he knocks the Yellow over, but Samitsu says something isn’t right; she checks the wound, and Min sees that the slash from Fain’s dagger runs right across Rand’s unhealing scar from Ishamael, and already looks infected.
“This,” Samitsu said in a lecturing tone, lightly touching the scar, “seems like a cyst, but full of evil instead of pus. And this . . . ” She drew the finger down the gash. “ . . . seems full of a different evil.”
She also thinks that if she had been a moment slower, Rand would already be dead, but thinks that he will die anyway. Min is reduced to tears, and Caraline is aghast; Darlin watches with a frown. Cadsuane scowls at Rand and tells him she will not allow him to die, and commands Min to stop pretending to be a “milksop,” and tells Darlin to carry Rand. Darlin hesitates, then obeys, and they move into the fog again, which is still killing people horribly just out of sight. Finally they emerge from the fog bank, and see that others are also escaping and running in every direction. Caraline sighs to see her army go foom; Darlin points out that there is another in Tear, if she wants it.
[Caraline] glanced at Rand, hanging like a sack. “Perhaps,” she said. Darlin turned his head toward Rand’s face with a troubled frown.
They trip and stumble their way down the hill to the road, and commandeer a turnip cart drawn by mules to take them back to the Sun Palace. Cadsuane wants to go back to Arilyn’s manor house, but Min tells her she doesn’t know what will happen if Rand wakes up in a strange place surrounded by Aes Sedai “again”; Cadsuane stares at her a moment, then acquiesces. In the cart, she wants to know just what happened the last time Rand woke up surrounded by strange Aes Sedai; Min knows that Rand doesn’t want it told, but he is dying, and she thinks it might help them to know, so she explains the whole thing. Darlin and Caraline are stunned, and Samitsu and Niande are horrified – though it turns out that they are aghast at the part where Rand stilled three sisters; both of them vomit over the side of the cart at the news.
And Cadsuane… Cadsuane touched Rand’s pale face, brushed strands of hair from his forehead. “Do not be afraid, boy,” she said softly. “They made my task harder, and yours, but I will not hurt you more than I must.” Min turned to ice inside.
Everyone at the Palace goes into a frenzy at the sight of Rand, and in short order he is brought up to his rooms (Darlin and Caraline disappear at some point). When Nandera sees him, she sets up a wail of dismay, and the other Maidens keen with her until Cadsuane sends them running to guard the room; Min can’t wait to see the inevitable confrontation between her and Sorilea. Then Bera and Kiruna barge in and stop short in shock at the sight of Cadsuane, to Min’s astonishment. Min yells at them all to do something, and Amys walks in and agrees. Amys kicks Bera and Kiruna out (which Cadsuane pronounces “interesting”) and she and Amys have a staring contest; Amys wants to know if they have done all they can to Heal Rand, and Cadsuane thinks so. Dashiva enters with Flinn and Narishma, and begs to differ; Niande and Samitsu are horror-struck at the sight of the Asha’man. Dashiva barks at Flinn, who goes to Rand and starts moving his hands above Rand’s body. Samitsu demands to know what he is doing, but Narishma blocks her way to Flinn; Cadsuane murmurs “Another boy with no manners,” and Narishma flushes, but does not move. Flinn pulls the sheet down to look at the wound.
Flinn traced his finger along the puffy gash in Rand’s side and across the old scar. That did seem more tender. “These are alike, but different, as if there’s two kinds of infection at work. Only it isn’t infection; it’s… darkness. I can’t think of a better word.” He shrugged, eyeing Samitsu’s yellow-fringed shawl as she frowned at him, but it was a considering look she gave him now.
“Get on with it, Flinn,” Dashiva muttered. “If he dies…” Nose wrinkled as though at a bad smell, he seemed unable to look away from Rand. His lips moved as he talked to himself, and once he made a sound, half sob, half bitter laugh, without his face changing one line.
Flinn goes to work, talking absently as he does about how Healing was the reason he went to the Black Tower, and then one day Dashiva made a suggestion about it, and… but he cuts off there, and Min sees that the wound looks a little better, as does Rand. Samitsu checks him, and is astounded, and demands to know what Flinn did. Flinn explains that he couldn’t fix what was wrong with either wound, but managed to seal them off from Rand for a while, so they are fighting each other instead of him; he doesn’t know if it will work forever, but it’s a chance.
To Flinn’s evident surprise, Samitsu rounded the bed to help him rise. “You will tell me what you did,” she said, regal tone at strong odds with the way her quick fingers straightened the old man’s collar and smoothed his lapels. “If only there was some way you could show me! But you will describe it. You must! I will give you all the gold I possess, bear your child, whatever you wish, but you will tell me all that you can.” Apparently not sure herself whether she was commanding or begging, she led a very bemused Flinn over by the windows. He opened his mouth more than once, but she was too busy trying to make him talk to see it.
Min climbs up to lay beside Rand and cradle him. She watches Cadsuane and Dashiva and Amys, all looking at Rand, and vows to protect him from all of them if necessary. Somehow.
Freakin’ long-ass chapter, sheesh.
So, we had the pride, and now we had the Bad Shit that comes of it. Yay, not. At least now we have the hindsighted benefit of knowing that this whole episode has a plot-related payoff – and a bloody huge one, at that, since this whole “Evil 1 fighting Evil 2” thing is what inspires Rand to figure out how to cleanse saidin a couple of books down the line.
Which is good, because at the time I first read this I was like OH COME ON. How much more damage can you do to one savior, for the love of Mike?
…Yeah, of course hindsight also tells me that as damage to our hero goes, this ain’t nothin’. Sigh. I just can’t win!
Goddamn freakin’ Fain, I swear. ANNOYANCE. Well, at least he doesn’t get any lines here.
Cadsuane: speaking of annoyance. Although, the thing about her is, the reason she’s so annoying is because nine times out of ten she is absolutely right about whatever she says or does, and most of her actions (as I’ve said before) would be accounted awesome had they been performed by any other character. You’ll note that she was the one to react instantly when the Red sister was attacked, for example. It’s just the WAY she says or does things that makes me want to gnash my teeth.
And actually, now that I look at it, my annoyance with her behavior is pretty much specifically limited to the way she treats Rand. Her telling Toram to shut up was actually really funny (“caterwauling,” heh), and in her own irascible way she treats most of the people around her with a rough kind of respect (those she feels deserves it, at any rate). Like reassuring Samitsu that she is one of the best Healers around (something I left out of the recap), or saying that she can tell Min is no milksop, and comforting her when she’s distraught about Rand. And you can tell she likes Amys’s style at the end. Even Flinn, evidenced by the fact that she doesn’t attempt to interfere with him.
But Rand, Rand is a whole different ball of wax, and I’ve never understood why she takes the tack of treating him like a five-year-old. I’ve noted before that the function of most of the women in Rand’s life is to remind him that he is human and flawed, and not a god, but there is quite a big difference between telling him to wash his ears, and smacking him across the face. The former might bring him down to earth, but how is the latter going to do anything but piss him off?
I just don’t get it. Showing no fear of Rand is good; fear generally only induces either compassion or sadness in him, but of course only we know that, and even Rand can’t help feeling contempt for those who fear him as well, sometimes. And no one can respect or be expected to listen to someone they find worthy of contempt, however subliminally.
And from an outside perspective, showing fear (which is to say, weakness) to someone as powerful as Rand can be actually dangerous; at some point it becomes about a pack mentality thing, if that makes any sense. The wolves of Randland are a bit more honorable (and sentient) than real wolves, but in the real world, wolves who are too different and/or weak are generally driven out of the pack or even killed. And anyone who’s seen schoolground bullying in action (i.e. everyone) knows that in a lot of ways we are still not all that far evolved from the same mentality.
Anyway, back to Cadsuane: so, not showing fear = good, but there’s no way she can be not fearful of him AND show respect at the same time? Like, say, Bashere, or Lan, or even Berelain? I mean, I’m not asking for a lot here – just, you know, NOT slapping the savior of the world in the face!
Dashiva and Flinn: This interlude between them emphasizes once again how little we get on the Asha’man in general from a first- or even secondhand perspective, and annoys me afresh. Grumble. I wonder if Dashiva/Osan’gar/Aginor really does suck at Healing, or if he’s just trying to camouflage his Forsakenness by going through Flinn. Either way, it does not make Flinn any less awesome. What little we see of him! Grumble!
Samitsu: Another example of a character who is likable simply because they do their thing and (generally) do not let outside considerations get in the way of Their Thing. It is obvious that Samitsu’s purpose in life is Healing, and whether her patient is some random guy or the Dragon Reborn is of no importance whatsoever, which is just cool. And also, if she can learn something about Healing from a man who can channel (which is to say, one step up from a demon from hell, in her view), then she’s going to do that too, by gum. People with such singleminded focus can be rather annoying in real life, but in doctors (or Healers, as the case may be) I say the more singlemindedness the better. (Also, that whole thing with Flinn was hilarious.)
And I have no more to say! At least for the nonce. Have a spiffy and low-cholesterol weekend, kiddies, and I’ll see you on Tuesday!