O happy day, WOTers! It is a Wheel of Time Re-read!
Today’s entry covers Chapters 9 and 10 of The Gathering Storm, in which we have an exciting and useful discourse on wagon maintenance. And some other stuff may have happened.
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, the post!
Chapter 9: Leaving Malden
Perrin is inspecting the wagons for damage with dogged determination while hearing petitions. Arganda wants to ride ahead with Alliandre rather than wait for the hundred thousand refugees they are now saddled with to be ready to depart, but Perrin refuses, telling Arganda that he does not want the refugees to think they are abandoning them, and the Asha’man are too exhausted to make gateways at the moment. Next is Gallenne, who wants to lead an attack against the party of Aiel who had been advancing on their position in Malden but had stopped. Perrin reminds Gallenne that they no longer have the Seanchan for reinforcements, and now that Faile is safe he is no longer interested in engaging the Shaido anyway.
He had succeeded—he’d saved her. So why did he feel as if things were nearly as bad as they had been? He should rejoice, he should be ecstatic, should be relieved. He’d worried so much about her during her captivity. And yet now, with her safety secure, everything still felt wrong. Somehow. In ways he couldn’t explain.
Next is Balwer, who argues against letting the Seanchan take all the Shaido Wise Ones, as he is interested in learning more about the mysterious individuals who had given them “objects of power” and moved them around via gateways. Perrin shrugs and tells him it was Forsaken, no doubt, and they won’t be able to tell Balwer which ones they were anyway, and he cannot renege on the deal with the Seanchan. Balwer wonders why Perrin has to inspect the wagons himself, and Perrin tells him it’s something he can do while hearing petitions.
And the truth was, as long as Perrin kept moving, he felt he was doing something, making progress. Not thinking about other issues. Wagons were easy to fix. They weren’t like people, not at all.
He sees Faile across the camp and thinks of how beautiful he is, but now he doesn’t know what to say to her, even though he does not blame her for anything that happened during her captivity. Next is Tam al’Thor, who reports that the Two Rivers men are ready to move; Perrin tells him to let them know that he intends to send them home as soon as he can. Tam, however, wants to know if he was serious about giving up his claim to Manetheren. Perrin tells him he is no king; Tam points out that he has a queen as his liegewoman, but then agrees that it would have antagonized not only the Seanchan but the Queen of Andor as well. Perrin comments that the sooner Elayne sends “a proper lord” to take over the Two Rivers, the better. Tam tells him he’d thought Perrin was over this, and that most of the Two Rivers men, including Tam himself, will not take the chance to return home over following Perrin.
“I’ve heard most swear that they’ll follow you to Shayol Ghul. They know the Last Battle is coming—who couldn’t know that, with all of the signs lately? They don’t intend to be left behind.”
Perrin realizes that this is part of what has been troubling him: he does not feel that he has been a good leader. He’d saved Faile, but he’d abandoned his orders to do so and gotten good men killed in the process. Including Aram, who Perrin thought deserved better. Aravine approaches next, who Faile chose to organize the refugees; Perrin tells her to start the refugees marching immediately, with Alliandre in the lead; he is anxious about the Aiel at his rear, and thinks this will appease Arganda into the bargain. Aravine is startled, but agrees. Perrin realizes he has finished with both the wagons and the petitioners, and dreads having nothing to do, as it means he will start thinking again.
During those moments of fighting, he’d felt a driving passion. The passion of finally doing something. After two months of waiting, each blow had meant a step closer to finding Faile.
No more talking. No more planning. He’d found purpose. And now it was gone.
He felt hollow.
He didn’t know if he could lead men to the Last Battle when he didn’t even want to lead them in the first place. The colors show him Rand, who Perrin thinks looks regal even with that dark cast to his expression. He thinks he feels Rand tugging at him, and decides that that has to be his focus now.
All I have to say is, thank GOD I’ve read ToM by now, because that means I can allow myself to be sanguine about the VERITABLE SMORGASBORD of Perrin emo we have apparently still not managed to wade our way out of here, because at least now I know there is some serious Awesome to come at the end of it.
And okay, I’m being slightly disingenuous here, I admit. Not that the above sentence isn’t true (if slightly horrific, grammatically), but I do recognize that narratively you couldn’t exactly have Perrin go from weapons-grade emo in KOD to spewing rainbows and glitter everywhere on his very next appearance, and still retain a shred of credibility to his character. I know that, I do. Just as I also know that the issues he’s dealing with are perfectly legitimate sources of perfectly rational angst, and simply handwaving them away would be some seriously bad writing, and it’s good, therefore, that this did not happen. Just as I also also know that any remotely rational person would be tempted to run for the hills upon being saddled with a hundred thousand mouths to feed in a land that is slowly ceasing to get on with the whole “providing food” program altogether.
Plus that whole apocalypse thing, you know. I get it, I swear.
But just jeez.
Also, I love that this chapter is called “Leaving Malden,” and yet nobody actually left Malden before the chapter ended. I don’t know if that was deliberate, but I definitely got a snicker out of it.
(Also, a hundred thousand refugees, you guys. The logistics alone ! I’d call shenanigans, but Jordan’s been tossing around similarly unbelievable numbers ever since TFOH, when Rand apparently led half a million Aiel out of the Waste to invade Cairhien, so at this point I guess you just have to stick with the statistical framework you’ve been given. But still.)
One thing I do have a lot of sympathy for here is Perrin’s confusion over how to reestablish his relationship with Faile. No matter how faultless either of the parties may be (and you can probably have a debate about both Perrin’s and Faile’s level of blamelessness in what they did during Faile’s captivity, but at least I think it can be agreed that the actual abduction was not either of their faults), you can’t have something that major happen in a relationship and avoid having it alter that relationship pretty significantly.
And I think we can all also agree that this relationship was already quite enough of a minefield to navigate even before all the abduction, so that just totally sucks, Perrin, sorry.
Well, at least Tam is here to be awesome for a bit (even if he does use the exact phrase “I just thought you were over this”), and tell Perrin more or less straight up that he’s being a moron if he thinks he can just pass off his leadership responsibilities to the next guy like a hot potato.
Because you can’t, dude. Even if Faile wouldn’t axe the notion of de-lording yourself with extremely violent prejudice, you’re in the Prophecies, man! Named as a king, even! Okay, of wolves, not people, but still! Not exactly seeing an out-clause here! Suck it up! If you do, I promise to stop ending sentences with exclamation points!
Chapter 10: The Last of the Tabac
Ituralde smokes the last of his Two Rivers tabac as he considers his situation, two weeks from his victory at Darluna. He and his remaining force of forty thousand men are camped in an abandoned stedding, but even with that protection against the damane, Ituralde knows he stands no chance against the three hundred thousand Seanchan troops now hunting him, and his original plan to disappear into the interior of Arad Doman is stymied by the appearance of a large occupying force of Aiel, who have taken Bandar Eban as well as large swathes of the country. He knows his former Taraboner allies will not be bailing him out this time, either, and that he is effectively trapped. He tells his officer Rajabi a story about seeing a master juggler—the court bard of Caemlyn at the time—juggle more and more balls, up to 10, until the last one turned out to be a smoke screen that ended the trick.
[His men had] seen him win impossible battle after impossible battle, tossing ball after ball into the air to greater and greater applause. They thought he was unstoppable. They didn’t understand that when one tossed more balls into the air, it wasn’t just the show that became more spectacular.
The fall at the end grew more spectacular as well.
He heartens Rajabi with orders to fortify their position. Then a runner comes to tell him a man with “nice clothes” has been stopped while approaching on foot, and says he is here to see Ituralde. The runner brings the man back as Ituralde’s officers join him on the field; Ituralde notes his youth and his missing hand, but thinks the man carries himself like a lord accustomed to command. The young man picks him out accurately, and comments that he appears to be boxing himself in. Ituralde asks who he is.
The stranger met his eyes. “I am Rand al’Thor, the Dragon Reborn. And I need you. You and your army.”
Ituralde’s men are openly skeptical, but Ituralde is less sure. He thinks that maybe only the Dragon Reborn could walk into a war camp alone and expect to be obeyed.
Burn him, if that fact by itself didn’t make Ituralde want to believe him. Either this man was who he claimed to be or he was an utter lunatic.
The man offers to prove who he is if Ituralde will follow him outside the stedding, and tells him he must make peace with the Seanchan, as he wants Ituralde on the Border, to fill in where the Borderlanders themselves have “abandoned their duties.” Ituralde tells him he has orders from his king, but al’Thor tells him Alsalam is either dead or his mind is “melted like wax,” and those orders most likely came from Graendal. Ituralde is unnerved by his claim that he knows the Forsaken better than he remembers his own childhood. He is still unsure, but agrees to follow him out of the stedding. As they ride out, al’Thor asks him if he wants the throne of Amadicia, if not Arad Doman; Ituralde is startled to realize he is considering the proposal even before the man proves who he is. Al’Thor tells him he wants to “secure” the members of the merchant council, but his Aiel are taking longer to do it than he prefers; Ituralde thinks that sounds like kidnapping, but finds himself agreeing that it is most likely the best plan for restoring order. Al’Thor rants to himself a moment about the Borderlanders, and then asks Ituralde if he could use a hundred men who can channel.
“No, most of them are stable,” al’Thor said, taking no apparent offense. “Whatever madness they incurred before I cleansed the taint is still there—removing the taint didn’t heal them—but few of them were far gone. And they won’t get worse, now that saidin is clean.”
Ituralde is startled by the claim that saidin is clean, but thinks of having his own damane, in effect, and agrees he could use them. After a curious moment where al’Thor shakes as if nauseated, he shows Ituralde what a gateway is, to his shock. Ituralde comments he could clear the Seanchan off with these, but al’Thor snaps that there is no more time for “squabbling.” He promises to see the Seanchan out of Arad Doman if Ituralde will go to the Border for him. Ituralde considers, and agrees. He and al’Thor shake on it, and al’Thor tells him he and his men will be in Saldaea by nightfall.
Normally I very much enjoy an outsider POV chapter on one of Our Heroes—it’s a thing for me, I almost always get a kick out of it. This time, though, I remember I was too worried that Rand was going to do something awful to take any pleasure in it.
This was a pretty sobering realization for me, because it made me recognize that Rand was finally really beginning to slip off that Hero pedestal he’s always managed to cling to before this. In other words, I always had faith before that no matter how bad things got for Rand, or how fucked-up his brain became, that in the end he would win/relent/do the right thing/fix whatever went wrong, and things would be (more or less) okay.
TGS, extremely effectively, took that assurance away, and this chapter was the proof. Which is ironic, since I seem to recall that this is about the only chapter in this book (before the end, anyway) where Rand doesn’t screw anything up (well, not in any immediately obvious way, anyway). But the absolute relief I felt when I got to the end of the chapter without Rand doing something crappy to Ituralde spoke for itself.
This is a good thing, by the way. Well, I mean, I hated that it was happening on a selfish fan level, because as a fan I don’t like to be made to think characters I care about can actually do the bad things I thought they couldn’t/wouldn’t do before, but in terms of generating genuine narrative tension, it was pure gold.
So, in conclusion, good job. Dammit.
Oh, and the other proof in the pudding from this chapter that Rand is officially straying off the Hero ranch, is that I actually had the thought that Ituralde should not take Rand up on his offer. I actually seriously contemplated hoping that one of the good guys would tell our main good guy to get lost.
That is some messed-up shit there, y’all.
As an aside, Rand had better be damn glad his ta’veren mojo is still working, because I don’t think Ituralde would have remotely gone for any of what Rand dumped on him here without it. Built-in plot devices FTW!
Randomly, I enjoyed the oblique (and random) reference to Thom here. Incidentally, according to Wikipedia the current world record for juggling balls is 10 balls for 26 catches, achieved (apparently) only just this year. I don’t really have a point to make here, I’m just pointing that out.
Burn him, if that fact by itself didn’t make Ituralde want to believe him. Either this man was who he claimed to be or he was an utter lunatic.
Heh. Or both!
So off you go, Ituralde, to the Borderlands! Where things will definitely be a vast improvement over where you are now!
What, me? No, just a tickle in my throat, I’m fine. So fine, in fact, that I’m ending this post! Ciao!