I can see you’re out of aces, Wheel of Time Re-read, but ya gotta learn to play the game right!
Today’s entry covers Chapters 6 and 7 of Crossroads of Twilight, in which you gotta know when to hold ‘em, and know when to fold ‘em; know when to walk away, and know when to run—away from your ridiculous extended metaphors. Or not.
Previous re-read entries are here. The Wheel of Time Master Index is here, which has links to news, reviews, interviews, and all manner of information about the Wheel of Time in general, including the newest release, Towers of Midnight.
This re-read post contains spoilers for all currently published Wheel of Time novels, up to and including Book 13, Towers of Midnight. If you haven’t read, read at your own risk.
And now, ante up, deal out, and settle in for a post!
Chapter 6: The Scent of a Dream
Perrin gallops through the woods until he realizes how dangerous that is and slows down. Aram catches up to him, smelling angry and suspicious. The horses suddenly shy in fear, and Perrin catches a trace of burned sulphur in the air, about an hour old. He recognizes the smell, and not just from his dream earlier. He follows the scent to a stone outcropping in the woods.
The snow all around was smooth and unmarked, but dog tracks covered the tilted span of stone, as though a pack had scrambled over it as they ran. Dimness and shadows or no, they were plain to Perrin’s eyes. Footprints larger than the palm of his hand, pressed into the stone as though it had been mud.
Perrin tells Aram to go back to camp and alert them, especially the Aes Sedai and Wise Ones and Asha’man, that Darkhounds had been here. Aram asks how you kill them, and Perrin thinks that the only reliable method he’d seen was forbidden balefire, but hopes the channelers know another way. He sends Aram off and follows the trail alone, not willing to believe the pack had passed by so close to his own camp by chance. He thinks of ways you are supposedly able to fend off Darkhounds but knows his previous encounters have already proven some of those false. He quickly sees from the profusion of tracks that this pack is much larger than the ten that had been in Illian; he then finds evidence that they had arrived via Gateway, and concludes from the way they’d circled his camp that he was not their target.
Darkhounds could run faster than horses, and for longer, and the stench of them hardly seemed to have faded more in one place than another. At two points in that circuit he had picked up a forking in the trail, but that was only the pack coming from the north and departing south. Once around the camp, and then on their way after whatever or whoever they were hunting.
Continuing on, he comes upon a large mounted party which includes Aram, the Wise Ones, Masuri, Annoura, and Berelain; he wants to ride away and avoid Berelain, but she heads toward him alone, carrying a basket, and gets to him before he can either leave or join the company. She laughs that his scowl is “quite fierce,” tells him to smile and pretend they are flirting, and offers him the basket, which has food in it. Perrin is confused by her scent, which is both fearful and amused, but snaps back that the last thing he wants is for people to think they are flirting. Irritated, she chastises him for letting his appearance go.
“People expect a noble to look like a noble, Perrin, and that includes being presentable, even when it takes extra effort. It’s a bargain between you and them. You must give them what they expect as well as what they need or want, or they lose respect and start resenting you for making them lose it. Frankly, none of us can afford for you to let that happen. We’re all far from our homes, surrounded by enemies, and I very much believe that you, Lord Perrin Goldeneyes, may be our only chance of living to reach our homes again. Without you, everything falls apart. Now smile, because if we’re flirting, then we aren’t talking about something else.”
Perrin bared his teeth. The Mayeners and the Wise Ones were watching, but at fifty paces, in this gloom, it would be taken for a smile. Lose respect? Berelain had helped strip him of any respect he once had from the Two Rivers folk, not to mention Faile’s servants. Worse, Faile had given him some version of that lecture about a noble’s duty to give people what they expected more than once. What he resented was hearing this woman, of all people, echo his wife.
Berelain tells him one of her thief-catchers, Santes, found a document in Masema’s camp in a locked box and took it, and it’s in the basket now. Under the pretense of eating, Perrin takes a look at it:
The bearer of this stands under my personal protection. In the name of the Empress, may she live forever, give him whatever aid he requires in service to the Empire and speak of it to none but me.
By her seal
Suroth Sabelle Meldarath
of Asinbayar and Barsabba
Perrin comments that this will finish Masema once it gets out; Masema knows Rand fought the Seanchan, and this makes him a traitor. Berelain forces a laugh and comments that after delivering this, Santes and Gendar went back the Masema’s camp, and have not returned though they were due back hours ago. She adds that Annoura wanted Berelain to give the letter to her to destroy. Perrin wants to know if Annoura said she would destroy it in so many words, which Berelain confirms, adding that Annoura could have no other use for it, as Masema is hardly likely to be suspectible to blackmail from an Aes Sedai. Perrin considers, and then tells her about Masuri and Annoura meeting with Masema in secret. Berelain smells alarmed; she plays the news down, but promises to find out what Annoura is up to as they head back to the group. Berelain then makes fun of Aram for his wild tales of Darkhounds until Perrin shows them the tracks in the stone slab.
Ah, yes, the giant Darkhound pack. Which, unless I’m vastly mistaken (and that is entirely possible) we never hear from again after this book. So…okay then.
Presumably, then, as of ToM they’ve never found whoever they’re hunting—or if they have we’ve never gotten to hear about it. One of the more reasonable suppositions to make, then (especially based on what Masuri says about them in the next chapter), is that they’re hunting Rand. Which makes sense as far as it goes, because Perrin observes that they’re traveling north to south, and we later find out that Rand (at the time) is south of Perrin, hiding out in Tear. And considering he’s been jumping all over the damn place via gateways since, well, ever since he learned how to use them, really, it wouldn’t be surprising that the pack hasn’t been able to catch up to him.
Although that does bring up the obvious question of why, if this pack is hunting Rand, why they (or, really, whoever loosed them) are trying to follow Rand on foot when it appears to be a completely stupid way to hunt him. Especially when you consider that if Perrin’s right, they were initially brought in via gateway anyway, so why then leave them to track a guy who can run circles around them, spatially if not literally?
Actually that also brings up a separate but related question, which is how the Darkhounds were able to use the gateways in the first place, since we’ve been told that Shadowspawn can’t use gateways. Maybe Darkhounds are a special exception? But if so, why haven’t they been used more extensively?
I have more thoughts on this, but I’ll come back to them later in favor of giving my patented Death Glare™ to fucking Berelain, who really needs to be glad she’s slandering emo Perrin by omission and not me, because I might really have ripped her a new one (verbally, at least) if she told me to “act flirty” right after ruining my reputation with half my followers. I’m not saying this would be either the right or the smart thing to do, in fact it’s pretty obvious that it would have been disastrous under the circumstances, but maaaaan.
It is so annoying that she is also useful, and smarter than Perrin in many ways. It would really be much less stressful if I could just hate her with abandon. Bah.
And Masema is conspiring with Suroth, sort of. Oh, the irony. And he’s lost his plot point, woe! Except, not. Not that it was rocket science anyway, but I’m pretty sure I instantly knew how Suroth’s little carte blanche was going to end up being used – in the general if not the specific sense, really. I just didn’t know it was going to take two more goddamn books to happen. Rrggh.
Chapter 7: Blacksmith’s Puzzle
Aram is smug to be vindicated re: Darkhounds, but everyone ignores him. Masuri dismounts to take a closer look, but hesitates and looks to the Wise Ones (Carelle, Nevarin, and Marline) for permission, to the discomfort of Annoura and several of the rest of the party. Finally Nevarin nods with an approving smile, and Masuri goes to the tracks and begins doing something Perrin presumes is channeling. Gallenne mutters about “fireside stories walking,” and tries to convince Berelain to change her plans, but Berelain tells him (loudly) that she intends to see the Lady Faile rescued if they must fight a thousand Darkhounds. The Mayeners cheer her raucously, and Perrin is astounded to realized that she smells just as determined as she sounds. Berelain asks Masuri for her conclusions, and Masuri again looks to the Wise Ones; Nevarin tells her sharply to get on with it, and Masuri is embarrassed, but speaks immediately. She tells them she has personally crossed the paths of seven Darkhound packs; no one knows how many there are, but this pack’s “signature” is not like any of those, so there are at least eight.
“[…]tales of Darkhounds are much more common than Darkhounds themselves, and they are extremely rare this far south of the Blight. A second rarity: there may have been as many as fifty in this pack. Ten or twelve is the usual limit. […] There is always a feel of urgency about Darkhounds’ trails, but it varies according to a number of factors, not all of which I can be certain of. This one has an intense admixture of… I suppose you could call it impatience. That isn’t really strong enough, by far—as well call a stab wound a pinprick—but it will do. I would say their hunt has been going on for some time, and their prey is eluding them somehow.”
She concludes that whatever they were after, it wasn’t here, and therefore they are unlikely to return. The Wise Ones nod their approval, and Perrin smells that Masuri is upset at how pleased that makes her. Perrin catches the sound of scouts’ calls that indicate Masema is approaching in force; when he tells the party, Berelain announces that she will not run from him. As Gallenne deploys his men, Masuri calls Annoura to the Wise Ones; Perrin sees that Annoura is trying to refuse what the Wise Ones are telling her, but Masuri says something to her, and her shoulders slump. They all array themselves on the opposite side of Berelain, and Perrin asks suspiciously what they’re planning; Nevarin only answers that they intend to protect him and Berelain, and Perrin somewhat over-optomistically orders them to do nothing without his say-so. Masema enters the clearing, at least two or three hundred heavily-armed fanatics at his back, and Perrin thinks he might have made a mistake in not overruling Berelain’s desire to confront the man. The two parties face off a moment before Masema rides forward.
At his back, Nengar and Bartu held a fever in their eyes, but Masema’s deep-set, almost black eyes seemed as hot as coals in a forge, as though the breezes must soon fan them to a glow, and his smell was the jangled, darting sharpness of pure insanity.
Masema asks if they are on a picnic, and Perrin is furious at the implication, but only answers that there were Darkhounds here in the night, but they are gone now and probably won’t be back. Masema answers that the Shadow is everywhere, but no one need fear it who follows the Lord Dragon Reborn. Masuri answers coolly:
“Fear is a useful spur to the wits, and to determination, when well controlled. If we have no fear of our enemies, that leaves only contempt, and contempt leads to the enemy’s victory.”
Masema sneers and ignores her, telling Perrin instead that his men have found a town to the southwest called So Habor, which has apparently had a good crop this year but lost the opportunity to sell their produce, with all the unrest in Amadicia and Ebou Dar. He suspects they will sell cheaply now. Perrin is immediately sure this is a trap, since Masema’s followers surely needed fodder as badly as his, and yet had not pillaged the place already. He answers that perhaps they will visit it once his wife is freed. Perrin’s reinforcements arrive then, summoned by the messenger Gallenne had sent earlier. Masema shows no reaction.
“What is done to serve the Light, must be done,” he said when the newcomers halted, some two hundred paces away. That was easy range for a Two Rivers bowman, and Masema had seen demonstrations, but he gave no sign that broadhead shafts might be aimed at his heart. “All else is dross and trash. Remember that, Lord Perrin Goldeneyes. Everything else is dross and trash!”
He heads off, his men following, and Annoura wonders aloud where Masema’s belief leads him; Perrin considers calling her on her secret visits, but decides to let Berelain handle her instead. From the reinforcements, Gerard Arganda (First Captain of Alliandre’s bodyguard) bursts forward, and Perrin sees he heading toward a man on horseback and an Aiel in snowshoes approaching them.
Man, but zealots are boring conversationalists.
Seriously, how does anyone buy into any level of fanaticism that makes you talk like that in all sincerity? Maybe I just have an over-developed sense of irony, but I honestly cannot picture myself ever reacting to statements like the kind Masema spews nonstop with anything but a major eyebrow-raising.
Well, no, actually my response would be to run away and hide, fast, but you know what I mean.
Berelain: continues to be irritatingly noble and shit. Though I’m not sure whether we get an explanation from her as to why she’s so determined to rescue Faile, even if it’s a bitchy reason it’s still pretty cool of her to take such risks for it. I think. Maybe. Argh, this character conflictifies me!
(Yeah, well, now it IS a word. Shaddup.)
Query: so is the implication here that Annoura and Masuri (or any Oath-sworn Aes Sedai) can participate in a circle which attacks non-Darkfriends (which I suppose we must technically consider Masema’s rabble to be), as long as the Aes Sedai are not the ones leading the circle?
‘Cause, uh, that’s kind of a major 3rd Oath loophole there, if so. Food for thought!
And… yeah. The only other interesting thing in this chapter (since I’ve covered the Darkhounds as much as I’m gonna this round) is Masuri, who is apparently finally starting to drink the Wise One Apprentice Kool-Aid. I’m kind of divided on how I feel about this – as is Masuri herself, actually.
On the one hand, Verin was perfectly right when she pointed out to herself in TPOD that trying to fight the Wise Ones on the apprentice thing was an exercise in futility, and that all things being equal, the quickest way out is through. And I suppose Masuri et al are going to learn humility and be better people and better Aes Sedai for it in the end or whatever. At the very least, it’s good in the sense that Masuri is finally actually getting to do worthwhile stuff instead of just being relegated to beating rugs all the time.
On the other hand, the whole thing still just bugs on some level – that the sisters’ own standing and hierarchy is just tossed aside for the, duh, clearly superior Aiel system, and no substitutions, extensions, or refunds allowed. I mean, I know I’m being a little hypocritical here, considering how often I’ve declared the Aes Sedai ranking system Dumb, but just imagine if someone came in to your, I dunno, your poker game one day and was all, yeah, no, this is no longer your game, you are now playing bridge.
And no, you have no choice, and no, you may not keep any of your previous poker winnings, because your poker winnings are now magically crap and worth nothing in Bridge World. And the cards are all different values (go with me here) and the scoring is incomprehensible and we will barely even explain the basic gameplay to you, but you will play bridge anyway and you will play it all day AND YOU WILL LIKE IT, because this is how we roll in Bridge World, beeyotch, so suck it up.
And…yeah, I’d really just rather play Texas Hold ‘Em. And if that’s a stupid game, one clearly inferior to the wonder that is bridge, well, fine, but you know what, at least no one forced me to play it.
Aaand that was either the most pathetically over-extended metaphor that ever totally got away from the point, or a not-so-subtle recrimination against my mother for trying to making me learn that evil, evil game when I was a wee lass. (Seriously, I’m a smart girl, but bridge? Yargle blarg brain freeze no. Go Fish!)
Or it could have been both, why not? Either way, it’s a pretty good sign that I should cash in my chips and get out while the gettin’s good, eh? Smoke if ya got ‘em, and see you Friday!