Greetings and salutations, people of Tor.com! In token of my appreciation for your existence on this plane, I offer you a Wheel of Time Re-read. So don’t say I never did nothin’ for ya, hear?
Today’s entry covers Chapters 26 and 27 of Winter’s Heart, in which we have precarious politics, peevish pregnancy pestering, and provocative possibilities of profligate potation.
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 latest 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.
Pand pow, peh Post!
Chapter 26: Expectation
Elayne walks through the reflection of Emond’s Field in Tel’aran’rhiod with Egwene, and thinks Egwene looks stunned at the changes in her former home, which is no longer a village but a substantial fortified town. Egwene marvels over the battle memorial monument on the green, but Elayne is more concerned with the flag of Manetheren flying above it.
She loved Rand, but if someone in the place he grew up was trying to raise Manetheren from its ancient grave, she would have to take cognizance, however much it pained him. That banner and that name still carried enough power to threaten Andor.
Egwene wonders if her father is still mayor, and whether he and the rest of her family are well; Elayne suggests that Egwene could visit, but Egwene replies that she doesn’t think she’s ready to face Emond’s Field as Amyrlin. She repeats her offer to send some of Bryne’s troops to Caemlyn, but Elayne is sure no one will move against her before spring, and refuses. Elayne commiserates with Egwene on the hard decisions she has to make, and Egwene asks Elayne to tell her next time Rand visits. Elayne feels guilty that she has not told Egwene about her and Aviendha and Min bonding Rand, but only asks why Egwene seems more troubled about Rand than usual.
She was very much the Amyrlin Seat now, a short slender young woman who seemed strong as steel and tall as a mountain. Determination filled her dark eyes and set her jaw. “I know you love him. I love him, too. But I am not trying to heal the White Tower just so he can chain Aes Sedai like damane. Sleep well and have pleasant dreams, Elayne. Pleasant dreams are more valuable than people realize.” And with that, she was gone, back to the waking world.
Elayne is astonished that Egwene would think Rand capable of such a thing, and, troubled, steps out of the dream and wakes groggily. She pokes Aviendha awake, too, and they snipe at each other in sisterly fashion as they are dressing. Elayne is disgruntled at the extremely bland diet that has been dictated for her by Dyelin, Birgitte, and Reene Harfor as “suitable for a woman in her condition,” but is more annoyed that everyone in the Palace knows she is pregnant and is wildly speculating on the identity of the father. The leading candidate for the position, Captain Mellar, is her first visitor of the morning, looking hard and dangerous.
The two Guardswomen standing one on either side of the doors grimaced faintly. Mellar already had a reputation for pinching Guardswomen’s bottoms, the prettier ones’ at least, not to mention disparaging their abilities in the city’s taverns. The second was far worse, in the Guardswomen’s eyes.
Trying to be as brisk as possible, Elayne asks how the recruiting for her bodyguard is going, and Mellar answers (leeringly) that there are only thirty-two so far, and argues that it would go much faster if he were allowed to recruit men as well. Refusing this, Elayne suppresses a shudder at the notion that Mellar actually thinks she finds him attractive, and sends him out with a warm smile and a hand on his arm, thanking him again for saving her life. Seeing Aviendha’s expression at this, she whispers to her that the more people who think Elayne’s child is Mellar’s, the safer it will be; Aviendha frowns but does not argue. Halwin Norry comes in to give his report, which includes the news that the Borderlanders are still inexplicably camped in Braem Wood despite the fact that they must be running out of food; Elayne is dismissive of the rumors that Aes Sedai in Cairhien have sworn fealty to Rand. Reene Harfor replaces Norry to report that she has uncovered two more spies among the servants, to add to the nine they already know about, and Elayne sadly tells her to leave them in place.
“And the other matter, Mistress Harfor?”
“Nothing yet, my Lady, but I have hopes,” Reene said even more grimly than before. “I have hopes.”
Elayne meets with two merchants’ delegations who want reassurances that her tearing down Rand’s banners isn’t going to bring down his retaliation against Andor, and then Aviendha drags her upstairs for “fresh air.” Elayne scowls at all the mollycoddling, but then she sees Merilille returning at the Traveling ground below and hurries down to meet her. Merilille reports that all four Borderland rulers are in Braem Wood; Mellar asks disparagingly if she managed to get an accurate count of their numbers, though he thinks it hardly matters since they’re sure to starve soon. With cool dislike, Merilille replies that they are hard up but not starving yet, and estimates their numbers at something over two hundred thousand. She also adds that there are at least ten sisters with them; Merilille doesn’t think they are adherents to Egwene, but they might not be Elaida’s either. Elayne thinks that either way they are a problem, and asks what Merilille thinks the Borderlanders want. Merilille doesn’t know about the long term, but for now they want to meet with Elayne, and have “let slip” that they know Elayne was present in Falme when “certain events” took place, and that she has a connection to “a certain person” in whom they also have an interest. This confuses Mellar, but no one bothers to explain; Elayne looks at Birgitte, who shrugs.
The largest hole in Elayne’s hopes to use the Borderlanders to influence her opponents for the throne had been how to approach sitting rulers while she was merely the High Seat of Trakand and Daughter-Heir of a deceased queen. Birgitte’s shrug said be thankful for the hole closing, but Elayne wondered how these people from the Borderlands had learned what very few others knew. And if they knew, how many more did, too? She would protect her unborn child.
Elayne decides that they know too much to delay, and declares that she and Merilille will return to the Borderlanders’ encampment that afternoon.
If you aren’t reading the actual chapters along with me on this re-read, then you have NO IDEA how much time I just saved you. I’m just saying.
Egwene: I’m having a bit of trouble remembering whether Egwene knows, even as of TGS, about Rand’s triple-bonding dealie. If she doesn’t, well, it is certainly going to suck to be Elayne at some point.
As for her speech re: Rand “chaining Aes Sedai like damane,” I remember this was a statement that deeply worried the fandom, especially since many people took it as more evidence of Halima’s mucking around in Egwene’s brain. It does seem like an unusually slanted way to phrase it, since as far as I can recall the rumors flying around about the Aes Sedai in Cairhien only say that sisters were swearing to him. And an oath of fealty to a male channeler may not be something other Aes Sedai would be thrilled about, but it’s a far cry from supposing Rand’s fitting them with magical restraining bolts. Not to mention, given Egwene’s (understandably) virulent aversion to the concept of a’dam and damane in general, the statement is more ominous coming from her than it would be from almost anyone else in the series.
Manetheren: This whole “the specter of Manetheren is a threat to Andor!” thing has always mildly annoyed me, mainly because it strikes me as the political equivalent of throwing a temper tantrum over having a toy taken away that you never played with in the first place. Oh, yes, NOW you want it, don’t you, now that someone brought it up! Sheesh.
Seriously, if the Two Rivers haven’t contributed taxes to Andor in generations, who cares if they become their own nation? I mean, it’s not like Randland is exactly Standing Room Only these days, you know? It’s not like there aren’t whole other swathes of unclaimed territory sitting there for Andor to expand into if it feels like it!
Yes, okay, I know. Swathes of unclaimed territory haven’t kept Cairhien and Andor from taking the occasional potshot at each other, either, so okay, new charismatic nation on Andor’s doorstep, threat, I get it. But still.
By the way, I’m not sure if it’s intentional or not, but the diet Elayne is manhandled into by Birgitte et al seems to me like the worst pregnancy diet EVER. I mean, I’m hardly an expert here, but I’m pretty sure the point is to eat more diversely, not less. And gain weight, not lose it! I have never been able to figure out if we’re supposed to be in on the joke that Elayne’s people’s pregnancy advice all sucks, or if it’s meant to be right—because some of it seems sort of right, but then some of it really doesn’t—or if we’re just supposed to be horrified, or what.
But again, I can’t say I have any practical experience in this area, so, what the hell do I know. Perhaps some actual parents in the audience can chime in on this one.
Mellar: Ugh, vomit. I’m not sure whether I’m impressed or appalled that Elayne is actually able to stomach feigning attraction for this greaseball. I can’t remember when he dies, but I really hope it’s soon.
What is the “other” matter Reene and Elayne are talking about? Anyone? Bueller? I confess, I’m totally drawing a blank.
However, I am kind of brilliant in that, while I was initially equally puzzled over how the Borderlanders had learned that Elayne was with Rand in Falme (sort of), I suddenly remembered: Hurin, who entered Falme with Rand et al, but left with Verin and the Supergirls, and escorted them back to Tar Valon.
A-ha! See? Sometimes I are the most smartest.
Chapter 27: To Surprise Queens and Kings
Merilille heads off, keeping a sharp eye out for Windfinders, and Aviendha and Birgitte (and later Caseille) gang up on Elayne, trying to convince her of the foolhardiness of going to Braem Wood herself. Elayne ignores them and starts composing a letter, while informing Birgitte that they will bring no escort; she is rather surprised that Mellar makes no objection to staying behind, and soon leaves. Birgitte eventually gives up and stalks out, and Elayne makes arrangements for the rest of the day’s obligations to be taken care of, and by noon she, Aviendha and Birgitte have Traveled to just outside the wood (Merilille was sent ahead with Elayne’s letter). Elayne is carefully dressed to present herself as Elayne Sedai of the Green Ajah, and not Elayne Trakand, Daughter-Heir of Andor. Aviendha and Birgitte are still muttering about foolishness; Elayne wants to know when they decided she was “made of blown glass”, and then suddenly realizes why.
“When my child is born,” she said dryly, “you can both apply to be her wet nurse.” If her child was “her.” If Min had said, it was lost in Aviendha and Birgitte’s wine-hazed memories of that night. It might be better to have a son first, so he could begin his training before his sister came. Yet a daughter secured the succession, while a lone son would be pushed aside, and as much as she wanted more than one, nothing said she would have another child. The Light send her more of Rand’s children, but she had to be practical. “I myself do not need a wet nurse.”
Aviendha’s sun-darkened cheeks turned darker with embarrassment. Birgitte’s expression did not change, yet the same emotion oozed along the Warder bond.
After two hours’ ride, they are greeted by a troop of Shienarans, whose leader offers King Easar’s assurances of her safety and an escort to camp; Elayne asks coolly if an Aes Sedai needs such reassurances from Shienarans, and accepts. Inside the camp, Elayne notes that the soldiers look lean but not starving yet, but knows they will have to move soon to stay that way, and thinks she just has to get them to move in the right direction. She sees no sign of the Aes Sedai with the army as they arrive at the command tent.
She could not allow them to see her as a supplicant. She was not here to beg, or to defend. Sometimes, Gareth Bryne had told her when she was a child, you find yourself outnumbered, with no path to slip away. Always do what your enemy least expects, Elayne. In that case, you must attack. From the start, she must attack.
Merilille is inside, along with a servant and the four Borderland rulers, and Elayne is pleased at the lack of pomp that would have been appropriate had they been meeting her as Daughter-Heir. Merilille introduces her as “Elayne Trakand, of the Green Ajah”; Easar, Paitar and Ethenielle greet her courteously, but Tenobia remarks bluntly to Merilille that Elayne looks more like a child than an Aes Sedai, and asks why she’s brought “a black-eyed Aiel” along. The other three monarchs are visibly annoyed, and Aviendha is confused, muttering that she never even saw black eyes on anyone except peddlers before coming to the wetlands. Elayne tells Tenobia it is enough to know she is Aes Sedai, and introduces Aviendha and Birgitte, naming the former her sister and the latter her Warder, which confuses the Borderlanders. Giving them no time to recover, Elayne immediately sits down and remarks that since “only a fool” would think they are here to invade Andor, they must be here because of the Dragon Reborn.
“You requested this audience with me because I was at Falme. The question is, why is that important to you? Do you think I can tell you more of what happened there than you already know? The Horn of Valere was sounded, dead heroes out of legend rode against Seanchan invaders, and the Dragon Reborn fought the Shadow in the sky for all to see. If you know that much, you know as much as I.”
Tenobia starts to splutter at the notion that they requested an audience with her, but the others shut her up. Ethenielle tells Elayne that it is what came of Falme that concerns them; they have marched all this way to find the Dragon Reborn, and cannot find him, and so have come to ask Elayne if she knows where he is. Elayne is relieved, thinking they would never have asked if they’d thought she and Rand were more than just friends, but stays on the offensive, pointing out they could have sent messengers to him (implying, “instead of a huge army”). Easar points out that the Last Battle will be fought in the Blight, and yet the Dragon Reborn has ignored the Borderlands completely; Aviendha sneers that the Car’a’carn decides where to dance the spears, not his followers, but everyone ignores her. Elayne asks if they have heard of the Tower’s proclamation regarding Rand; Paitar comments that as Elayne is Aes Sedai, surely approaching Rand through her counts as following the decree, but Tenobia retorts that the Tower is split, and demands to know if Elayne follows Elaida or the rebels. Merilille coolly replies that “the world seldom knows what it thinks it knows,” and Tenobia is reluctantly silenced. Elayne cautions herself that she must proceed as if she had already taken the Three Oaths, and answers Ethenielle’s question: she cannot tell them exactly where he is (which is technically true), but she will tell them what she does know if they agree to march south within a week. She points out that they will run out of food if they stay here anyway, and if they march south they will be marching toward the Dragon Reborn (also technically true). Paitar replies that they wish her well in her quest for Andor’s crown, but not enough to offer their men to fight for her; Elayne replies that she does not ask it, and in fact hopes they cross Andor “without so much as a skirmish.” Wryly, Ethenielle tells Paitar to think like a Southlander.
“They play the Game of Houses here, and I think she is being very clever at it. She should be, I suppose; I’ve always heard that Aes Sedai created Daes Dae’mar.”
“Think tactics, Paitar.” Easar was studying Elayne, wearing a small smile. “We move toward Caemlyn as invaders, so any Andoran will see it. Winter may be mild here, but we’ll still need weeks to ride that far. By the time we do, she will have rallied enough of the Andoran Houses against us, and to her, that she will have the Lion Throne, or near enough. At the least, enough strength will have been pledged to her that no one else will be able to stand long against her.” Tenobia shifted on her chair, frowning and adjusting her skirts, but there was a respect in her eyes when she looked at Elayne that had not been there before.
“And when we reach Caemlyn, Elayne Sedai,” Ethenielle said, “you will… negotiate… us into leaving Andor without a battle being fought.” That came out as not quite a question, but almost. “Very clever indeed.”
Easar points out that even bloodless battles seldom work to plan; Elayne acknowledges the point, but replies that she hopes they will work as hard as she to see it does. Tenobia suddenly asks if Elayne knows where her uncle Davram Bashere is; Elayne tells her Bashere is near Caemlyn at the moment, but cannot guarantee how long he will be there, and asks if they agree to her plan. After a long moment, all four rulers give their agreement, and Ethenielle asks for her part. Without hesitation, Elayne repeats that she cannot tell them exactly where Rand is, but that “a search in Murandy will be profitable, though.” To herself, she thinks it would be profitable to her, not them, as it might induce Arathelle and Luan and Pelivar to declare for Elayne now that Egwene’s army is gone to Tar Valon and no longer holding them in Murandy.
Except for Tenobia, the Borderlanders did not seem at all exultant over learning where to find Rand. Ethenielle let out a long breath, almost a sigh, and Easar simply nodded and pursed his lips in thought. Paitar drank down half his wine, the first real drink he had taken. It very much seemed that however much they wanted to find the Dragon Reborn, they were not looking forward to meeting him.
On leavetaking, Elayne ducks their question about Traveling, and they duck her question about Aes Sedai accompanying them, and Elayne’s party heads out. Merilille remarks Elayne is lucky they were Borderlanders, and thus “open and straightforward” and easy to deal with; Elayne finds this amusing, considering how much they had concealed, particularly why they wanted to find Rand so badly, but thinks that at least they would be moving away from him now, so she had time to warn him about them. She realizes how exhausted she is after creating the gateway back to outside Caemlyn; by the time they reach the Palace she has almost passed out in the saddle. Birgitte is carrying her into the Palace when Halwin Norry charges up; Birgitte and Aviendha try to fend him off, but Norry will not be deterred, and tells Elayne that word has arrived of four small armies, totaling between twenty and thirty thousand men, approaching Caemlyn from the east; they will arrive within the week. Elayne asks who they are, but Norry doesn’t know. Elayne pushes herself away from Birgitte and begins issuing orders to prepare for a siege.
There was no time for sleep, no time for weariness. She had a city to defend.
So, these chapters are really kind of irritating.
I think this is at least partly by design, because the POV character in them, Elayne, spends most of these chapters being irritated, and I don’t even really blame her for it, but that doesn’t address the problem of it being irritating to read.
My recently-delivered-of-a-child sister assures me that the things that are irritating Elayne in these chapters are totally true to form, too. The moment people find out you’re pregnant, she says, it’s like some switch is thrown and suddenly everyone’s all up on tippy-toe trying to protect you from the horrific dangers of things like walking or loud noises or cats or being within fifty feet of people even vaguely considering having a cocktail or thinking too hard and, she says, it gets really really old, fast.
It’s an instinctive propagating-the-species thing, this over-protectiveness, no doubt. Doesn’t make it any less annoying for the woman in question, though. Especially since, as I noted above, 90% of what people think you “should” do while pregnant amounts to a pile of half-assed bullshit. In My Opinion, Of Course.
Speaking of which, I kind of call shenanigans on Aviendha and Birgitte’s concern about Elayne drinking alcohol, because that strikes me as particularly anachronistic. In Ye Olden Times, especially, drinking wine was the thing because it was actually safer than drinking plain water, but even in Ye Slightly Newer Times, the whole “alcohol + pregnancy = DOOOOM” thing only took hold in the last fifty years or so. People in the nineteen thirties were all guzzling martinis and smoking like chimneys while pregnant, so I’m a bit skeptical that the vaguely-17th-century-ish Randland would be more enlightened in this regard.
I kind of also call shenanigans on Aviendha not remembering that Min had mentioned twins, because that happened before they got stinking drunk, and in my experience being stinking drunk only makes you lose time during the stinking drunkenness stage, not from before it.
Not, of course, that I have any experience with being stinking drunk. This is just what I hear. Ahem.
(How did this entire commentary become about alcohol?)
Anyway. But then, Aviendha and Birgitte were also distracted at the time by the accidental peeping-tomness going on, so, whatever, I guess.
As to the actual significant thing that happened in this chapter, I remember that at first I was really rather angry at Elayne for misdirecting the Borderlanders so blatantly—just on principle, firstly, but also because it was for such self-serving reasons. But then Elayne herself reminded me that yeah, we’re supposed to be on Rand’s side in this, and she was doing it to protect him as much as she was to further her own goals—which, by the way, may be technically self-serving but I think you probably get some leeway on that when you’re trying to prevent civil war in your country, so maybe I should shut up.
So yeah, I get why she did it and even agree with her reasons. Still, I just hate when (Light-side) people lie to each other in WOT, because it almost invariably turns out to suck for everyone involved. Lying is definitely not a rewarded behavior in this series, let’s just say. Not to mention, this scheme of hers is hair-raisingly risky. Inviting two hundred thousand foreign soldiers to fake an invasion of your own country? Yeek doesn’t even quite cover it.
Easar’s point about Rand totally ignoring the Borderlands is understandable from his point of view, I guess, but I personally completely get why Rand would have chosen to leave them till last. Of all the nations, after all, the Borderlands are by FAR the most prepared already to deal with the Last Battle. In fact, the only way they’ve indicated they need Rand’s intervention is the rulers haring off to find him instead of protecting the Blight like they’re supposed to!
Oh, the irony.
And oh, the end of the post! Enjoy your weekend, kiddies, and keep an eye out for fun stuff on your horizon. We out!