The Wheel of Time Reread

The Wheel of Time Re-read: Knife of Dreams, Part 5

Is you is or is you ain’t my Wheel of Time Re-read, baby? You is! Aw, smooches!

Today’s entry covers Chapters 3 and 4 of Knife of Dreams, in which I make shameless generalizations on complex topics, and am appallingly vague on Important Moral Dilemmas. SHAMELESS! And APPALLING! Smooches!

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, no more smooches! Post! *points sternly*

Chapter 3: At the Gardens

What Happens
Aran’gar arrives at Moridin’s summons to Tel’aran’rhiod, but Moridin is not there yet. Semirhage, Demandred, and Mesaana are conferring together while Graendal watches; Aran’gar notes that Demandred looks angry, and Mesaana looks pale and almost sickly. She wanders over to Graendal to mock the setting chosen (a reproduction of the Ansaline Gardens from the Age of Legends,) but Graendal replies curtly that it had been her choice. Aran’gar laughs it off, and suggests to Graendal that in light of the others’ alliances, it might be well if they were to have their own, disguised as a dalliance. Graendal’s streith dress suggests she is violently opposed to the idea, but nevertheless she agrees. They are interrupted when Mesaana storms over to berate Aran’gar for letting Egwene escape her clutches, ruining all of Mesaana’s careful planning. Aran’gar keeps hold of her temper, and tells them about the meeting of the Rebel Hall in the World of Dreams the night before, with Egwene leading it.

“She’s not the figurehead you believe. I’ve tried telling you before, but you never listened.” That came out too hard. With an effort, and it required effort, she moderated her tone. “Egwene told them all about the situation inside the Tower, the Ajahs at one another’s throats. She convinced them it’s the Tower that is about to fall apart, and that she might be able to help it along from where she is. Were I you, I’d worry whether the Tower can hold together long enough to keep this conflict going.”

Mesaana is mollified somewhat by this, and decides perhaps she can wait until Elaida has broken Egwene. She orders Aran’gar to sow even more dissension in the Rebel camp, and Aran’gar smiles and plays with Graendal’s hair. Demandred growls at them to get a room, and Aran’gar asks Mesaana where Egwene is being held. Suspiciously, Mesaana refuses to reveal this information, and Aran’gar pulls Graendal’s hair and snarls that she wants the girl. Mesaana fires back that this is her plan, and Moridin walks in and shuts them all up by announcing that actually, it’s his plan. Moghedien and Cyndane follow him in, and Aran’gar wonders again what hold he has on them. Moridin tells them that Sammael or someone disguised as him sent a hundred Myrddraal and thousands of Trollocs into the ways for purposes unknown; the others are skeptical that Sammael could still be alive, and Aran’gar wonders if perhaps Demandred could be behind it. Moridin orders them to keep an eye out and report back to him. He also orders them to find the three remaining seals, all in the possession of al’Thor’s people; Cyndane suggests that the best way would be to kidnap “Lews Therin” and make him tell, but Moridin snaps back that she would “accidentally” kill him.

“The time and manner of al’Thor’s death will be at my choosing. No one else.” Strangely, he put his free hand to the breast of his coat, and Cyndane flinched. Moghedien shivered. “No one else,” he repeated, in a hard voice.

“No one else,” Cyndane said. When he lowered his hand, she exhaled softly then took a swallow of wine. Sweat glistened on her forehead.

[…] Moridin straightened himself in his chair, directing that stare at the rest of them. “That goes for all of you. Al’Thor is mine. You will not harm him in any way!”

Aran’gar notes the hatred in Cyndane’s eyes, and wonders if perhaps she really is Lanfear despite what Graendal had said about the difference in strength. Moridin goes on that if they want to kill someone, kill these two: and he shows them pictures of Perrin Aybara and Mat Cauthon. He says they are ta’veren and thus easily found, but Graendal laughs and points out the Pattern is in such a flux it’s harder than ever to find anything. Semirhage murmurs that if Moridin had shown them this earlier the two men might already be dead. Moridin just yells at them to find Aybara and Cauthon and kill them.

Aran’gar took a sip of her wine. She had no objections to killing these two if she happened to come across them, but Moridin was going to be terribly disappointed over Rand al’Thor.

Ah, the Forsaken Symposium of Evil Plotting, Take 346. Or thereabouts.

It’s interesting that the main thought I came away with, after reading this chapter, is what a pain in the ass it must have been corralling all these villains. And I don’t mean for Moridin, I mean for Jordan.

I’m not going to go so far as to say he painted himself into a corner with the Forsaken, because I don’t think he did, exactly, but I’m beginning to understand why so many stories tend to have only one Big Bad (plus assorted henchmen and goons, of course) and multiple heroes, instead of the other way around. And that’s because, when you have a plethora of villains in play, it’s much more difficult to justify why they haven’t simply all run amuck long since.

Heroes, as a (very) general rule, are easier to control than villains as characters, mostly due to the very simple reason that heroes by definition have limits. They have codes of conduct, crises of conscience; they feel obligations to others, and have concern for other people’s wellbeing. All of which, by necessity, curtails their freedom to act. They have, in other words, boundaries: moral event horizons that they either will not cross, or will only cross under great duress. If they do cross those boundaries (or cross them without the proper level of angst, at least,) then, by definition, they stop being heroes.

So it’s really relatively easy, then, to detour a heroic character if you need her to not get to point X until Y time, or not perform X deed until Y event takes place. Just plant the plot-relevant equivalent of a kitten up a tree in her way, and the hero is almost invariably obligated to stop and do something about it.

Or, at the very least, he is obligated to spend some time justifying why he didn’t rescue the kitten. Or, more likely, find out that his failure to rescue the kitten has screwed up whatever it was he was originally trying to do in the first place. Because as you know, Bob, a Good Guy failing to do good when the opportunity arises is a BIG NO-NO, and the story, almost without fail, will find a way to make him pay for it.

So the point is: Hero + Kitten + Tree = Detour. Or else.

(A classic example of the kitten-tree detour? Kidnap the hero’s child/sibling/spouse. Wait, why does that sound familiar…)

Villains, by contrast, especially the variety of dyed-in-the-wool, really-most-sincerely-Evil villain characters like the Forsaken, logically should not have any of the limits imposed on their heroic counterparts. “Codes of conduct?” Those are for pussies, dude. “Concern for other people?” There are other people besides me? KILL THEM. “Consciences?” What are those again? These are the guys who, shown a kitten up a tree, will not only not pause to rescue the kitten, but will probably set the tree and the kitten on fire, just to further delay any possible pursuing heroic types. (And also because live roasting cat antics are hilarious. If you’re a villain.)

So the problem with that is, after a certain length of time, with a dozen or so Utterly Evil folk running around, you start to wonder why there aren’t a hell of a lot more forest fires. And dead kittens. If you catch my drift.

What it comes down to, really, is that what does limit your characters is actually much more important in determining their actions than what doesn’t. So how do you set boundaries on characters who, by definition, should have none?

Jordan’s answer, it turns out, is “other villains.” Mindtraps and double-crosses and fake-outs, oh my!

Well, that and a ridiculously over-developed sense of self-preservation. Which is another way of saying “selfishness.”  Which is fine, but it’s always struck me as being a particularly precarious balancing act, to make sure all of these evil people are sufficiently (and believably) stymied enough that they haven’t just gone on mad killing sprees long since.

And, uh. So there’s all that.

As to what actually happened in this chapter, the only bit I really feel like commenting on is the thing with “Sammael,” which really had me going “buh?” when I originally read it. Because Jordan had long since confirmed to the readers, at this point, that Sammael was toast as of the end of ACOS, so why was he trying to introduce a Sammael-related red herring now?

Then I realized, on reflection, that Moridin being the one to bring it up could mean that it was complete bullshit, since no one other than Rand could possibly be in a better position than Moridin to be certain that Sammael had bought the farm, considering Moridin had been in Shadar Logoth when Mashadar ate Sammy for lunch. Yes, Moridin ran off after crossing the balefire streams with Rand, but it would have made total sense to suppose Moridin had stuck around to watch the whole showdown between Rand and Sammael afterwards. So I guess Moridin was just fucking with the other Forsaken by bringing up Sammael. Maybe to see who twitched the most when he suggested it?

Still, though, even though Moridin might have muddied the waters re: who sent the horde of Trollocs to kill Rand (which, it will become clear, was definitely their mission,) it still couldn’t have been Moridin himself who sent them, since his survival (selfishly) now depends upon Rand’s, owing to that whole crossing the streams incident mentioned above. Or so I and many other fans presume.

So who did send them? The Trollocs, I mean. I would guess Demandred, but I can’t remember if we’ve ever been told.


Chapter 4: A Deal

What Happens
Carrying a long branch, Perrin waits in the trees at the edge of a meadow with Berelain, Gallenne, Annoura, Arganda, Aram, Grady, and a hundred soldiers. Gallenne wants Berelain to leave (she refuses), and Annoura is irritated that Berelain is still giving her the silent treatment for visiting Masema behind her back. Arganda is worried that “she” won’t come, and Aram puts in that Masema says it’s probably a trap. Perrin knows from Balwer that Aram has been spending a lot of time with Masema, but shrugs it off, though he notes that Masema is probably just worried his own dealings with the Seanchan will be exposed. Leof Torfinn and Tod al’Caar are there too, carrying Perrin’s wolfshead banner and the Manetheren banner, respectively, and Perrin thinks it’s good Tod doesn’t know why the banner is here.

In any trade, you needed to make the other fellow think he was getting something extra, as Mat’s father often said. Colors swirled in Perrin’s head, and for a brief instant he thought he saw Mat talking to a small dark woman. He shook off the image. Here and now today, were all that mattered. Faile was all that mattered.

Perrin scents and hears the Seanchan approaching before anyone else does, and announces it to head off a fight between Arganda and Gallenne; they both give him odd looks. Soon a party appears at the other end of the meadow, led by Tallanvor, and Perrin notes without surprise that the party includes a sul’dam and damane. Annoura is not happy, either about being left behind or having to take orders from Grady that day, and Perrin makes Aram stay behind too. The rest ride out to meet the Seanchan, taking twenty soldiers. Tallanvor introduces the Seanchan officers: Banner-General Tylee Khirgan and Captain Bakayar Mishima. Perrin notes that Tylee seems particularly interested in his hammer.

“I’m glad he didn’t name you the Wolf King, my Lord,” the Banner-General drawled. The way she slurred her words, Perrin had to listen hard to make out what she was saying. “Otherwise, I’d think Tarmon Gai’don was on us. You know the Prophecies of the Dragon? ‘When the Wolf King carries the hammer, thus are the final days known. When the fox marries the raven, the trumpets of battle are blown.’ I never understood that second line, myself.”

Tylee chats with Berelain about her lineage from Artur Paendrag, and Perrin interrupts rudely, feeling a chill to hear he was mentioned in the Prophecies. He shakes it off to begin negotiations, and Mishima points out that neither side has much cause for trust in the other, as both have brought more men than the agreed-upon limit. Perrin demonstrates the folly of underestimating his forces: he holds up the narrow branch he’s carrying, whereupon Jondyn Barran and Jori Congar each hit it with an arrow, perfectly, from three hundred paces. Then he tosses the branch into the air, where it bursts into flame. Tylee calmly observes he has a marath—an Aes Sedai with him, but the sul’dam shakes her head.

Tylee sat very still, studying Perrin intently. “Asha’man,” she said at last, not a question. “You begin to interest me, my Lord.”

Perrin makes Tod give him the Red Eagle banner, and explains its significance to the Seanchan. He promises them that if they help him free his wife, he will abandon any attempt to revive the nation of Manetheren.

“That claim would be a field of brambles for you Seanchan. You could be the one who cleared that field without a drop of blood shed.” Behind him, someone groaned miserably. He thought it was Tod.

Suddenly a gale that stinks of sulphur engulfs them for a few moments, frightening them all. Shaken, Mishima asks if that was more “convincing” on Perrin’s part, but Perrin says no. Tylee regards Perrin thoughtfully for a few moments, then agrees to his terms. Both she and Perrin order their men to withdraw, and they begin discussing strategy. Perrin first demands that Tylee make no attempt to collar any of the channelers he has with him, and that they harm no one in the Shaido camp wearing a white robe. Tylee comments that the Aiel in white make excellent da’covale, but agrees; Perrin decides not to mention the year and a day thing to her. Perrin tells Tylee that Sevanna has about a hundred thousand Shaido with her, but more importantly, she has every last Shaido Wise One who can channel with her as well, three to four hundred of them. Tylee looks glum at this news, and says the Daughter of the Nine Moons will have to be disturbed, then, though she will likely have to apologize for it to the Empress herself. Mishima comments on the “slaughterhouse” that was the last battle he saw involving that many channelers, and Tylee thanks Perrin, but says it will take her weeks to gather enough troops to deal with such a situation. She offers the Manetheren banner back, but warns him the Seanchan will not tolerate his setting himself up to be a king for long. Berelain flares up, to Perrin’s surprise.

Even her scent was fierce. No patience now. She smelled like a she-wolf defending her injured mate. “I’ve heard that your Ever Victorious Army is misnamed. I’ve heard the Dragon Reborn defeated you soundly to the south. Don’t you ever think that Perrin Aybara can’t do the same.” Light, and he had been worried over Aram’s hotheadedness!

Perrin reminds Tylee that he has a plan, and asks about the tea the Seanchan have that affects only channelers. Tylee admits to its existence, but wants to know how he plans to feed it to four hundred channelers at once. Perrin has a way, but tells her they’ll need a great quantity of it, wagonloads. Tylee says they might have that much at the manufactory, but that’s very far away, and she would have to explain why she wanted so much. Perrin tells her about Traveling, and shows her the letter from Suroth he’d purloined from Masema, putting the bearer under Suroth’s personal protection and endorsement. Tylee is amazed.

“Aes Sedai, Asha’man, Aiel, your eyes, that hammer, now this! Who are you?”

[…] “I’m a man who wants his wife back,” Perrin said, “and I’ll deal with the Dark One to get her.” He avoided looking at the sul’dam and damane. He was not far short of making a deal with the Dark One. “Do we have a bargain?”

Tylee looked at his outstretched hand, then took it. She had a firm grip. A deal with the Dark One. But he would do whatever it took to get Faile free.

Speaking of crossing moral event horizons, maybe.

Argh. I get that the Seanchan are supposed to be a morally dubious proposition, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. I honestly don’t know, if I were in Perrin’s position, whether I could tolerate looking at that damane for however long without losing my shit. I left the sul’dam and Norie’s interaction out of the summary because I was trying to be at least a little succinct, but also because it still turns my stomach a little bit, even after all this time and exposure to it, like having a landfill just barely out of range of my nose. Er, if that makes any sense.

I suppose it’s a good topic for discussion, though: is Perrin crossing a line by making a deal with the Seanchan to get Faile back?

I can’t really decide, myself, because as much as I loathe the slavery aspect of their culture (and am not terribly thrilled by their colonial ambitions, either) the fact remains that in spite of these things, the Seanchan are not, in fact, actually evil. And there is also the fact that Rand is almost certainly going to have to ally with them in AMoL in order to win the Last Battle, and therefore can I legitimately fault Perrin for making the same decision on a smaller scale?

I just dunno. They say politics makes for strange bedfellows, but I’d argue that war is far, far kinkier.

Nice trick with the branch, though. And Perrin thinks he has no sense of showmanship.

Well, at least Berelain and I are on the same page, as regards the Seanchan, anyway, so I like her right now. Not to mention, I’d wager that her defense of Perrin’s ass-kicking abilities here is probably the most honest compliment she’s ever paid him. So that’s nice.

Aram: shut up, Aram. I’d tell you to stop smoking the Masema crack, but, well. Sigh.

Also: Perrin finally gets Prophesied, yay! Even though of course the Seanchan version of the Prophecies is a bit dodgy in certain areas, I’m pretty sure that on this count they are spot-on.

And of course, as of ToM we now know it’s not just ANY hammer it’s talking about, eh? Eh? Ah, nice happy memories of future awesome. Helps me get through the bad times, it does. *snuggles that scene*

And that’s about what I got for this one, peoples. Smooches! (Aaaand that word has now totally lost all meaning.) Have a lovely week, and I’ll see you next Tuesday!


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