It’s been one week since you looked at me, Wheel of Time Re-read, but how can I help it if I think you’re funny when you’re mad?
Today’s entry covers Chapters 20 and 21 of Winter’s Heart, in which I would tell you that frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn, but unfortunately I can’t, because I do. At Length. Because I have a tendency to wear my mind on my sleeve, in case you haven’t noticed.
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.
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Chapter 20: Questions of Treason
Bethamin climbs to the damane kennels in the Tarasin Palace to do the inspection, carefully ignoring Renna, who is with her. Bethamin thinks that once Renna had been expected to climb very high in the ranks of sul’dam, but now she was never even allowed to be complete with a damane anymore—either her or Seta, both of whom had been taken into Suroth’s service after Falme. Everyone bullies Renna around now, and Bethamin is careful to do the same so as not to stand out.
Her own secrets were buried as deeply as she could bury them, and she held silent about the secrets no one knew she was aware of, but she wanted to fix in everyone’s mind that Bethamin Zeami was the image of the perfect sul’dam. Absolute perfection was what she strove for, in herself and in the damane she trained.
She goes about her inspection, and does not mark down the former Sea Folk damane for their sullen expressions as some would, thinking that their resistance was already fading and they did not even realize it yet; they no longer demand their jewelry back, and they answer to their new names, even if reluctantly. Bethamin visits Tessi, and immediately notes that the Illianer damane seems pliant and almost cheerful, in marked contrast to her earlier demeanor.
She was suspicious of any damane who had called herself Aes Sedai. History fascinated her, and she had even read translations from the myriad of languages that had existed before the Consolidation began. Those ancient rulers reveled in their murderous, capricious rule, and delighted in setting down how they came to power and how they crushed neighboring states and undermined other rulers. Most had died by assassination, often at the hands of their own heirs or followers. She knew very well what Aes Sedai were like.
She decides Tessi is planning an escape attempt, and writes down a recommendation that her training be redoubled, and punishments and rewards be made random, though Bethamin thinks that she dislikes breaking a damane’s spirit that way. She orders Renna off, who goes meekly, and heads out, intending to go to her inn and get money for shopping. As she walks she thinks about Renna and Seta, and once again wishes she had never gone upstairs that day in Falme.
If only she had not wondered how Tuli was doing, the damane who had the marvelous skill with metals. But she had looked into Tuli’s kennel. And she had seen Renna and Seta frantically trying to remove a’dam from each other’s necks, shrieking with the pain, wavering on their knees from the nausea, and still fumbling at the collars. Vomit stained the fronts of their dresses. In their frenzy they had not noticed her backing away, horror-stricken.
Bethamin thinks of how sometimes she thinks she can almost see the damane’s weaves, and how she can always sense the presence of a damane and feel how strong she is. Everyone said that was just from long experience, but seeing Renna and Seta revealed as marath’damane made Bethamin realize that if it got out and a new testing was devised, Bethamin herself would be collared. She has figured out that it must have been Alwhin who found Renna and Seta and reported them to Suroth, and Suroth had kept it quiet to protect the Empire, though Bethamin thinks killing them would have been a more effective solution.
Alwhin had done her duty, and been honored by becoming Suroth’s Voice. Suroth had done her duty as well, however distasteful. There was no new testing. Her own flight had been for nothing. And if she had remained, she would not have ended up in Tanchico, a nightmare she wanted to forget even more than she did Falme.
She reaches her inn, where the innkeeper scolds her for entertaining men, telling her a “pretty, yellow-haired man” had been asking for her. She is uneasy about this, wondering if the man had come because of “her inquiries” and wondering if she had not been discreet enough. She goes upstairs to her room to find a blond man in it, going through her things; she is about to attack him when he holds up a plaque engraved with the tower and raven, identifying him as a Seeker for Truth, and she instantly goes quiet. He asks why she has been making inquiries about a ship captain named Egeanin Sarna; Bethamin lies that they were friends, and she was trying to find out if Egeanin had survived Falme. He informs her that Egeanin lives, and is now of the Blood, and is currently in Ebou Dar. He instructs her to renew their friendship, and report to him everything Egeanin says and does.
Bethamin clamped her jaws to keep from laughing hysterically. He was after Egeanin, not her. The Light be praised! The Light be praised in all its infinite mercy! She had only wanted to know if the woman still lived, if she had to take precautions. Egeanin had freed her once, yet in the ten years Bethamin had known her before that, she had been a model of duty. It had always seemed possible she would repent that one aberration no matter the cost to herself, but, wonder of wonders, she had not.
But then Bethamin realizes it will not be good for her if Egeanin is taken in, either, and tries timidly to object to the idea, citing the difficulties of renewing the friendship now that Egeanin is of the Blood. To her surprise, the Seeker explains that the real target of his investigation is Suroth, who he believes is consorting in secret with Aes Sedai, and engineered Lord Turak’s death in Falme with the aid of Aes Sedai, Egeanin, and Bayle Domon in order to take over the Hailene. Terrified, Bethamin knows at least part of his chain of reasoning is incorrect (his belief that Egeanin was murdering sul’dam in Tanchico to cover her clandestine meetings with Aes Sedai, for one), but only dares to suggest that perhaps he already has enough evidence to charge Suroth with Turak’s murder. The Seeker, though, dismisses that as insignificant.
“The Aes Sedai of these lands seek power in the Empire, a return to the days of chaos and murder when no man could close his eyes at night knowing he would wake, and they are aided by a venomous worm of treachery boring from within. Suroth may not even be that worm’s head. For the Empire’s sake, I dare not take her until I can kill the whole worm. Egeanin is a thread I can follow to the worm, and you are a thread to Egeanin. So you will renew your friendship with her, whatever it takes. Do you understand me?”
“I understand, and I will obey.” Her voice shook, but what else could she say? The Light save her, what else could she say?
IT’S A PLOT, I TELL YOU.
*headdesk* *headdesk* *headdesk*
Well, okay, it is a plot, at least that Seeker thinks so, but I am referring to having my face REPEATEDLY rubbed in how disgusting this whole damane thing is. Yes, I know I have been going on about this at length and everyone is probably sick of hearing about it, but seriously—SERIOUSLY, YOU GUYS—tell me you can’t read a line like this:
Tessi would never be decked in ribbons and entered in the competitions for the prettiest damane, though.
—and not throw up a little in your mouth. I double dog dare you.
I need a shower. And a cookie. And possibly some type of fearsome weapon with which to smite people with righteous wrath. I could use a good righteous smiting right about now, is what I’m saying.
Well, I could always use that, but right now especially. Sheesh.
I don’t know how many of you have had the headsplittingly bizarre experience of reading (or watching) Gone with the Wind, but I am kind of having acid flashbacks to it right now. I’m thinking specifically of the part where Mitchell makes an impassioned speech in the narrative mourning the collapse of the Southern plantation system, and about how the slaves in Atlanta loved their masters, and vice versa, and it was all so affectionate and stuff, and how terrible it was that no one understood that, O Woe!
This is where you will have to picture me just kind of blinking in disbelief, and then doing a full body shudder. Values dissonance? You THINK?
Of course, that’s pretty much the effect Jordan was going for, I’m guessing, so, uh, yay, and all, I guess, but… ow.
MOVING ON, that Seeker needs to lay off the tin foil, you guys. “Conspiracy nut” is not even in it, though I guess that’s fairly appropriate for WOT’s version of Big Brother. It is fairly hilarious how with all his rampant Lone Gunmen theorizing (yes, I’m aware that rather puts him on the other side, I guess he’s more like The Smoking Man, but anyway) he manages to juuuust miss all the real Bad Shit going down in Suroth’s vicinity. This is not terribly surprising, of course, given the WOT rule about everyone having just enough information to be completely wrong about everything, in a way that will cause maximal FUBARness all around. Yay!
(“Maximal” is actually a word? OH COME ON. I thought I was being funny!)
Still, it’s a very pretty web of lies he’s managed to come up with, I must say. Unfortunately I’m mainly only interested in it to the extent that it gets us to the next part. So, uh, here’s the next part!
Chapter 21: A Matter of Property
Egeanin lays on her bed and mostly ignores Bayle’s often-repeated rant about how he could have escaped the Seanchan if she’d only let him try, and considers her unexpected rise in rank to Captain of the Green.
She doubted she would be given command of one greatship, however, much less a squadron. Suroth claimed to accept her story, but if so, why had she been left sitting at Cantorin? Why, when orders finally came, were they to report here and not to a ship?
Egeanin thinks of the possibility that Suroth might suspect her, but thinks that the Seeker from Tanchico can’t have anything concrete on her, otherwise she’d be under arrest already, and perhaps if she is careful from here on out nothing more will come of it. Turning her attention back to Bayle, she reflects ruefully that he refuses to take his position as property seriously; she’d even had to apologize for having him beaten once. In answer to his rant, she explains once again that her claim that they were bringing the bracelets-and-collar as a gift to the Empress was the only thing that saved them when they were overtaken at sea, and if Bayle hadn’t made such a fuss she wouldn’t have ended up having to spend a small fortune to buy him. Sullenly Bayle opines that they still could have dropped the thing over the side.
“[…] Bayle, you have already admitted there is no harm in Suroth having that collar and bracelets. They can’t be put on him unless someone gets close enough, and I’ve heard nothing that suggests anyone has or will.” She refrained from adding that it would not matter if someone did. Bayle was not really familiar with even the versions of the Prophecies they had on this side of the World Sea, but he was adamant that none mentioned the necessity of the Dragon Reborn kneeling to the Crystal Throne. It might prove necessary for him to be fitted with this male a’dam, but Bayle would never see it.
She tries to distract him by asking about local festivals, and to her shock, he mentions casually that Wise Women in Ebou Dar can marry people, adding that she would have to free him first to do it, of course. Breathlessly, she tells him that she cannot free him unless she can ensure he is provided for as a free man—in his case, buying him a ship—and she does not have her promised estates yet. He hugs her, which she allows even though it’s not technically proper, and reassures her that it will all work out. Egeanin thinks that she had long since decided to marry him, but hadn’t known how to go about it, and then he had been sold as property.
[…] freeing a so’jhin, casting him off from the rights and privileges Bayle sneered at, was the height of cruelty. No, she was lying by avoidance again, and worse, lying to herself. She wanted wholeheartedly to marry the man Bayle Domon. She was bitterly unsure she could bring herself to marry manumitted property.
They are interrupted by a knock on the door, which proves to be Bethamin, the sul’dam Egeanin had freed in Tanchico. Trying to stay calm, she asks what Bethamin wants; in a state of near panic, Bethamin explains about the Seeker, and his demands that Bethamin spy on Egeanin for him. Egeanin thinks this explains her strange orders, and knows why Bethamin is coming clean to her, as it is the only way to save herself. Egeanin lies to Bethamin that her only crime was freeing Bethamin, and as Egeanin is not a sul’dam, the worst punishment for that would be a reprimand. Bethamin starts laughing hysterically until Egeanin slaps her, then tells her that Egeanin freeing Bethamin in Tanchico is the only thing he doesn’t know about.
And she began to describe a fantastical web of treason connecting Egeanin and Bayle and Suroth and maybe even Tuon herself with Aes Sedai, and marath’damane, and damane who had been Aes Sedai.
Bethamin’s voice began to grow panicky as she darted from one incredible charge to another, and before long, Egeanin began sipping brandy. Just sips. She was calm. She was in command of herself. She was… This was beyond shoal waters. She was riding close on a lee shore, and Soulblinder himself rode that gale, coming to steal her eyes.
Bayle is similarly aghast (which Egeanin is guiltily relieved to see), and Egeanin thinks that surely the whole thing is nonsense, and cannot believe such things of the two young Aes Sedai she had befriended in Tanchico, who were too “soft-hearted” even to kill the Seeker. Then Bethamin tells her about Renna and Seta, and the proof they constitute that Suroth knows sul’dam can channel. Egeanin is forced to consider that maybe there is a conspiracy after all.
The Empire depended on sul’dam; its strength was built on them. The news that sul’dam were women who could learn to channel might shatter the Empire to its core. It had surely shaken her. Maybe shattered her. She herself had not freed Bethamin out of duty. So many things had changed in Tanchico. She no longer believed that any woman who could channel deserved to be collared. Criminals, certainly, and maybe those who refused oaths to the Crystal Throne, and… She did not know. Once, her life had been made up of rock-solid certainties, like guiding stars that never failed. She wanted her old life back. She wanted a few certainties.
Bethamin nervously suggests killing the Seeker; Egeanin tells her she’ll think about it, and in the meantime orders Bethamin to keep quiet and come to see her every day until they decide what to do, and ushers her out. When she is gone, Egeanin hurls her cup into the fireplace, and Bayle declares he can kill this Seeker; Egeanin tells him not to be foolish, and goes to the desk to begin writing out an order of manumission for him, telling him to depart on the first available ship. To her surprise, Bayle takes the paper from her and burns it; she attempts to force him to obey, but he tells her what they need is a crew, and he can find them one. He tells her he recognized the young man in the kitchens; his name is Mat Cauthon, and he’s evidently come up in the world since the last time Bayle’s seen him.
“The first time I did see him, he did be in a farmer’s coat, escaping Trollocs in a place even Trollocs be afraid of. The last time, half the town of Whitebridge did be burning, close enough to, and a Myrddraal did be trying to kill him and his friends. I did no see for myself, but anything else be more than I can believe. Any man who can survive Trollocs and Myrddraal do be useful, I think. Especially now.”
Egeanin still doesn’t quite believe in Trollocs and Myrddraal, but Bayle also adds that Cauthon had then been in the company of one Thom Merrilin. Egeanin remembers Thom from Tanchico, and knows him to be a clever and dangerous old man. She begs Bayle to reassure her that there is no conspiracy; Bayle answers that Aes Sedai “do plot the way fish swim,” but he doesn’t think Suroth would conspire with them even if they would with her. He adds that in any case, he has no intention of letting the Seeker or anyone else harm her, conspiracy or not; Egeanin thinks that she has no intention of letting it happen either. She thanks him, and tells him to find this Master Cauthon and Thom if he can.
Man, I was much more sanguine about this Sad Bracelets thing when I thought they were just a MacGuffin. Now I am all AAAAGH NOOOO about it, which is darn hard on the metaphorical vocal cords, let me tell you.
Also, I like Egeanin normally (I’d better, since now that she has her own icon it means she has offically Arrived, in WOT terms) but right now I kind of want to smack her for much the same reason, with her smug “oh, they couldn’t possibly ever use the thing!” What did I say, people? Does NO ONE know the rule about tempting fate? Stop making me link to TV Tropes, dammit! Some of us have work to do!
(Not to mention her caveat at the end about how it maybe wouldn’t be a bad thing if they did get used on Rand, which I’m going to nobly forgive her for in light of how Seanchan prophecy is made of epic retconned Fail. She Knows Not What She Says, Y’all.)
Oh, and also, more fun with People As Chattel—because we haven’t had nearly enough of that!—though I do give Egeanin much more of a bye with the knowledge that she only bought Domon in order to keep him from being bought by anyone else, which is a detail I had honestly forgotten until I reread this chapter just now. As a silver lining it’s a tad tarnished, but hey, I’ll take what I can get.
And of course she gets major points for trying to free him, too, however weird her reasons were for thinking she was doing him a disservice by it. There’s a whole essay in here somewhere about people’s mind-boggling ability to hold two (to me) completely contradictory beliefs at the same time, and yet not find that odd. That a person can be a person (and a lover), and yet somehow standing him on a block and naming a price for him somehow magically makes him not a person—or less a person—at the same time, for instance. Or the idea that leaving Domon poor is somehow worse than letting him be able to say he isn’t a thing you can buy, which, wow.
I don’t know, it just blows my mind, especially when you think that Mitchell and her ilk evidently think that way all the time, and it somehow made sense to them to think that way; that a person could be a human being in every way that should matter, except there’s a piece of paper or a cash transaction or a man on television or whatever that says they aren’t, and that wins, somehow, over a heart and eyes and tears and pain and the unmistakable presence of a soul, whatever you think a soul might be.
And right there that seems like the tragedy of the whole of human history, more or less.
Yeah. So… that got weighty.
And again, all this massive inconsistency is something that Jordan is pointing out deliberately; Egeanin herself acknowledges the incongruity of her newfound belief that channelers do not need to be collared with, well, almost everything else she believes. And I do give her credit for that, and sympathize with the ethical migraine she has as a result. Fundamental-truths-rejiggering is never a fun process for anyone that has to go through it. I’m just glad someone is doing it.
And… yeah. So, all that, and conspiracies, cloak and dagger, awkward inter-cultural snugglies—and Mat! Yay! I love it when a ridiculously labyrinthine plot comes together. Begins to come together. Whatever.
Just in time for us to abandon it and go somewhere else. Curse you, multiple plotlines! Well, but hey, cool stuff coming up, so it’s all good.
And I’m stopping here, and it’ll be at least three days till I say I’m sorry! Actually I probably won’t ever say I’m sorry. MWHAHAHA—*cough* Yes. Friday! Bye!