Hail, good WOTrians! Never fear, your Wheel of Time Re-read is here!
Today’s entry covers Chapters 17 and 18 of The Gathering Storm, in which a key is found, an ally is secured, and I merrily subvert all your expectations, mwhahaha!
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 17: Questions of Control
Cadsuane sits outside the room where Semirhage is being held, eavesdropping as Sarene attempts unsuccessfully to interrogate the Forsaken. Most of the Aes Sedai at the manor have tried questioning the prisoner by now except for Cadusane herself. Cadsuane has spent decades building upon her legendary status among the Aes Sedai, but she doesn’t know how long her image would remain intact if she tries and also fails to break Semirhage. A serving woman goes into the room with a meal, and Cadsuane jumps up as she hears the tray crash to the ground. Semirhage informs Sarene that she will no longer eat “swill,” and demands something more appropriate. Sarene asks if she will answer questions if they give it to her, and Semirhage replies, perhaps. Sarene sends the maid for more food, and Cadsuane can hear that the White is shaken by the incident.
They were all so jumpy around the Forsaken. They weren’t deferential, but they did treat Semirhage with a measure of respect. How could they not? She was a legend. One did not enter the presence of such a creature—one of the most evil beings ever to live—and not feel at least a measure of awe.
Measure of awe…
“That’s our mistake,” Cadsuane whispered.
Cadsuane enters the room, knowing that she has committed herself now, but she thinks it all comes back to one question: how would Cadsuane break herself? Cadsuane observes to Sarene that “the child” has refused her meal, and orders Sarene to release the weaves holding Semirhage. Sarene obeys, and Cadsuane instantly grabs Semirhage by the hair and sweeps her feet out from under her. She kneels on Semirhage’s back and tells her she disapproves of wasting food. She orders her to eat the food spilled on the floor. Semirhage sputters incomprehensible oaths, but doesn’t fight back.
Cadsuane wouldn’t have either; that would only hurt her image. Semirhage’s power as a captive came from the fear and respect that the Aes Sedai gave her. Cadsuane needed to change that.
Semirhage threatens Cadsuane, and Cadsuane tells Sarene to go get the Aes Sedai in the hall and any servants she can find. Sarene leaves and soon returns with Elza, Erian, Daigian, and five servants, whereupon Cadsuane turns Semirhage over her knee and begins to spank her. The Forsaken holds out at first, but soon begins cursing and then howling in outrage. The Aes Sedai and servants all watch in amazement. Cadsuane pauses and asks Semirhage if she will eat, and when Semirhage threatens her again, tsks, and begins again, until finally Semirhage begins to cry in humilation.
That was the key. Semirhage could not be defeated by pain or by persuasion—but destroying her image, that would be more terrible in her mind than any other punishment. Just as it would have been for Cadsuane.
Cadsuane asks again, and this time Semirhage jumps down and begins eating the food on the floor while the others watch in fascination. Cadsuane tells the others to remember that Semirhage is a person, just like anyone else, and goes to leave. She pauses and comments to Sarene that she might want to find a hairbrush to spare her hands. Sarene smiles and agrees, and Cadsuane leaves, her mind on what to do about al’Thor.
Perrin consults with Grady, who still looks exhausted even after days of rest. Perrin looks out at the camp, which is “thousands upon thousands” strong, and thinks the problems of administrating such a huge group have been distracting him from his most urgent objective, which was getting to Rand.
And yet, that very single-mindedness in him —- ignoring everything but his objective —- had been the source of much trouble during his hunt for Faile. He had to find a balance, somehow. He needed to decide for himself if he wanted to lead these people. He needed to make peace with the wolf inside himself, the beast that raged when he went into battle.
Perrin has been hoping to use Grady to transport the bulk of the refugees they’ve been saddled with back to their homes, but Grady points out that even if the refugees are willing to leave, which many are not, the logistics of holding gateways open long enough for some hundred thousand people to go through all at once make it virtually impossible. Perrin grits his teeth, and decides they will have to continue north, and have Neald and Grady send people back in small sections every day. Grady nods and leaves, and Perrin worries whether their food supplies will run out before they reach Andor, and whether he should avoid Elayne’s likely wrath about the Manetheren thing by going to Cairhien instead. He walks through the camp, noting that the refugees seem to fear him; the Two Rivers men seem to be back to respecting him, mostly, though he still hears them whisper about the night he spent in Berelain’s tent. He thinks that he connection to the wolves is another thing he’d forgotten about in his drive to rescue Faile, and reflects that he has come to accept most aspects of it, like his eyes and his enhanced senses.
And yet, that rage he felt when he fought… that loss of control. It worried him, more and more. The first time he’d felt it had been that night, so long ago, fighting Whitecloaks. For a time, Perrin hadn’t known if he was a wolf or a man.
And now -— during one of his recent visits to the wolf dream -— he’d tried to kill Hopper. In the wolf dream, death was final. Perrin had almost lost himself that day. Thinking of it awakened old fears, fears he’d shoved aside. Fears relating to a man, behaving like a wolf, locked in a cage.
Perrin admits to himself that his singleminded focus on rescuing Faile had been just as much about avoiding his issues with himself, as a leader and as a Wolfbrother, as it had been for love of her.
He had rescued Faile, but so many things were still wrong. The answers might lie in his dreams.
It was time to return.
You guys have just been WAITING for me to get to this chapter, haven’t you. You know you have, don’t even front.
I’m sorry to say -— or actually, I’m not at all sorry to say -— that those of you who have been hoping for an encore of my rather epic meltdown from TSR when Perrin spanked Faile are destined for something of a disappointment, I’m afraid.
Because this spanking? I don’t have a problem with it.
And now I will tell you why!
Here’s why: the two situations are nothing alike. In My Opinion, Of Course. It has nothing (or, well, very little) to do with spanking per se, and everything to do with the standing of the two individuals involved relative to each other, and therefore what the spanking means in context.
My objections to the Perrin/Faile incident - which still most emphatically stand, by the way - were that their relationship was supposed to be at least nominally that of equals. Yes, you can quibble that one way or the other, but stupid battle-of-the-sexes jostling aside, at the end of the day they were supposed to be two free, independent adults working together (or, admittedly, making a massive cock-up of working together, but whatever) in a partnership, be it professional or romantic or what.
Right up until Perrin decided it would be an awesome idea to resolve their issues by utterly humiliating Faile - by treating her as if she were, not an equal, not an adult in her own right, but as a child - in other words, as someone lesser than him, someone whose right to her own dignity does not actually need to be respected. A child who, therefore, Perrin evidently felt he had the right to discipline. By fucking spanking her.
No. Just - no. I had a massive problem with it then, and I have a massive problem with it now. If someone did that to me - not to mention, someone who’s supposed to be in love with me - if someone ever showed me such an unbelievably degrading lack of respect, I would never in a million fucking years forgive it, and that’s a fact. The End.
The situation with Cadsuane and Semirhage, on the other hand, is completely different. If you take it as a given (and I do, as do most societies the world over) that committing heinous criminal acts automatically negates certain social rights you might otherwise enjoy - like, say, liberty, dignity, pursuit of happiness, and on occasion life itself - then in no way can Cadsuane and Semirhage be considered equals. Cadsuane is not my favorite person, but she is a mostly-upstanding, Light-allied member of a recognized authoritative body, and Semirhage is a depraved monster who has by her own admission been responsible for the agonizing deaths of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands (perhaps millions) of people, and is actively working to bring about the downfall of humanity itself. And, in case that wasn’t enough, she is also holding on to vital information for the folks trying to stop that whole downfall-of-humanity thing from happening.
So do I have a problem with someone spanking her? Are you kidding? Shit, I’ll get in line.
So no, I did not have a problem with it. It was, in fact, about as close to a perfect solution as one could possibly get in this situation. If you can break a criminal without even having to deal with all those sticky ethical issues involved with torture —- which, in my opinion, this type of ritual humiliation does not qualify as -— then that is frickin’ awesome in my book. Goal achieved, and you can still look at yourself in the mirror afterward. Score.
And it makes sense, I think, that breaking Semirhage was so impossible when Cads et al didn’t have the key to her character, and so easy once they knew the trick of it, like a Chinese finger trap. Perhaps it is a genre cliché, but I don’t think it is. I don’t care who you are, everyone has a vulnerable pressure point somewhere, and that’s just as true in real life as it is in fiction. It’s unfortunate when that truth is used against good people, but in situations like this I say we can only be grateful.
So, in conclusion, go Cadsuane. I don’t quite know how to textually render the rueful snort-sigh-chuckle-thingy I’m mentally making when I type that, but you can probably picture it.
Oh, and also, Perrin was in this chapter.
If I hadn’t already read ToM I would most likely have ended the commentary with that sentence, because nothing actually happens here, which annoyed me quite a bit on my first read of TGS. In retrospect, however, this was just a nice set-up for all the awesome I now know is to come re: Perrin later, and so I am content to lay off the snark-by-omission. FOR NOW.
This chapter also features a new icon -— that of the blacksmith’s puzzle. Which I think is extraordinarily appropriate, not only because of Perrin’s presence in the chapter, but in that both he and Cadsuane are working through a complicated problem that has a deceptively simple answer - much like these types of puzzles tend to be. I don’t know if this new icon was one that Brandon asked for specifically or if it was planned from before his involvement, but either way it was nicely done.
Chapter 18: A Message in Haste
Siuan walks into camp with a basket of laundry to find all the novices crowded around the Hall tent. Worried, she pushes through the crowd to find Sheriam waiting outside the tent; Sheriam looks gaunt, but seems calmer in recent days than she had formerly. Sheriam tells her that Elaida has Traveling. Inside the tent, Ashmanaille is relating how she had gone to Kandor to collect the monthly tribute to the Tower (which the rebels have been expropriating from Elaida’s side to fund themselves), only to find that Tower representatives had already gotten it, and how they had been seen leaving through a hole in the air. As the Hall argues over whether they can take the Kandorians’ word on what they’d seen, Siuan grabs a novice and sends her for a messenger to Bryne before ordering the novices to clear out immediately. Siuan demands to know why the meeting wasn’t Sealed to the Flame, but Sheriam says she doesn’t know. Siuan hopes desperately that this news doesn’t mean Egwene or Leane have broken, but then realizes it must have been Beonin who gave the secret away. She comments that she at least hopes they can keep Traveling from the Seanchan.
“When they do assault the White Tower, we’ll want at least that advantage.”
Sheriam eyed her, skepticism showing. Most of the sisters didn’t believe Egwene’s Dreaming of the attack. Fools -— they wanted to catch the fish, but didn’t want to gut it. You didn’t raise a woman to Amyrlin, then treat her warnings lightly.
The messenger arrives, and Siuan sends him to Bryne with the news (“Tell him to watch his flanks. Our enemy has been taught the method we used to get here”) with utmost urgency. Sheriam asks what that was about, and Siuan tells her it’s about making sure they don’t wake up surrounded by Elaida’s army. She bitterly reflects that the rebel Aes Sedai are more concerned about being indignant that their secret is out than considering the tactical ramifications of it. Finally someone in the Hall moves to seal the meeting, and Siuan heads off, thinking that even here the Ajahs are more concerned with jockeying for position among themselves than attending to larger matters, and partially blames herself for this.
Elaida hadn’t had that long to work. Every rift that appeared in the Tower could likely be traced back to tiny cracks during Siuan’s tenure as Amyrlin. If she’d been more of a mediator among the factions of the White Tower, could she have pounded strength into the bones of these women? Could she have kept them from turning on one another like razorfish in a blood frenzy?
To her surprise, she is intercepted on her way out by Sharina, the oldest novice in the camp. Siuan notes that Sharina’s comportment as a novice is flawless despite a lifetime of being her own woman, and admires her for it. Sharina offers to carry Siuan’s basket; intrigued, Siuan allows it, and as they walk Sharina comments that it seems curious such a large fuss was caused by the news, even though this is not nearly as portentous as the news brought by the Asha’man a few months earlier. Siuan replies that the first incident likely primed the camp to react a similar way, and Sharina observes that that is a truth which could be used to advantage if one wanted to cause worry.
“Ashmanaille reported first to Lelaine Sedai,” Sharina said softly. “I’ve heard that Lelaine was the one who let the news slip. She spoke it out loud in the hearing of a family of novices while calling for the Hall to meet. She also deflected several early calls for the meeting to be Sealed to the Flame.”
Siuan realizes that this is Lelaine’s move for power -— if a sufficient amount of panic is generated, it would be that much easier for Lelaine to step in with a firm hand and take control. Siuan also realizes that the fact that Siuan hadn’t seen it coming means Lelaine doesn’t trust her as much as Siuan thought she did. Siuan asks why Sharina came to her with this, since Siuan is Lelaine’s lackey for all Sharina knows.
Sharina raised her eyebrows. “Please, Siuan Sedai. These eyes aren’t blind, and they see a woman working very hard to keep the Amyrlin’s enemies occupied.”
She further points out that if Egwene falls from power, Sharina and the rest of the “too-old” novices will be the first to suffer; Sharina hasn’t been fooled by Lelaine’s pretense of compliance on that score either. Siuan promises she will be rewarded for this, and Sharina replies that Egwene’s return will be reward enough. She curtsies and leaves, and Siuan thinks at Egwene that she had better hurry up.
Sharina isn’t the only one whose fate is entangled with yours. You’ve got us all wound up in that net of yours.
So, Sharina is kind of awesome, you guys.
I’ve noted this before (at least to myself if not in commentary, I can’t recall), but in the wake of this chapter it bears repeating. Or mentioning for the first time, whichever.
It really does take a singular kind of person to have the foresight and fortitude to so gracefully submit to treatment which she might quite reasonably consider beneath her (i.e. being a novice) in order to achieve a long-term goal. Not to mention having the shrewdness to perceive the true currents underlying what everyone else sees re: Siuan —- something a whole passel of actual Aes Sedai have missed - and the cleverness to make her move exactly where it counted to preserve her interests.
Yeah, assuming she survives the Last Battle (and Nynaeve’s Accepted test makes a pretty good case for that), Sharina is going to be an Aes Sedai to reckon with, fo sho. This pleases me.
Lelaine, on the other hand, needs major smackings about the head and shoulders. It’s a sad commentary that I find it perfectly believable that even an impending apocalypse cannot curtail people’s impulse to jockey for power, but just because I find it plausible doesn’t mean I can’t be massively irritated about it. Stop being stupid, people!
Sheriam: yes, I imagine she is looking better, now that Halima isn’t beating the crap out of her all the time. Funny how that works! Also, did I really still not think she was Black the first time I read this? Because, wow. It seems so obvious now!
I guess Siuan second-guessing her priorities during her reign as Amyrlin is inevitable and understandable, but I personally think she’s being a little hard on herself. Not totally too hard on herself, because yes those cracks were there during her tenure, for the very good reason that the Black Ajah had been very busily putting them there for the last X number of centuries, but in Siuan’s defense, as distractions go there are probably few more effective than having to track down the Savior of the World. It’s a thing.
As a side note, I was kind of tickled at this chapter’s small revelation about where the rebels have been getting their money all this time. As a rule I resolutely ignore economics in WOT, because down that road lies nothing but nit-picking continuity-induced migraines and at some point you have to let that shit go, but this was an exception. I really rather loved the idea that the rebels have just been snaking the tributes right out from under Elaida’s nose all this time. Hah, take that.
Also, I was a bit astonished by the timeline established in this chapter: Jahar and Merise’s visit to the rebel camp was months ago? Did we actually skip over some time here, or am I losing my mind? Either is possible, of course.
I’m going to have to go look at some timeline stuff at some point to get my head back on track re: where everyone is relative to each other, time-wise. I know Perrin’s stuff is way behind everyone else’s until he catches up in ToM right? I think that’s right.
Well, we’ll see -— later, because we’re done for now! Have a week, chirren, and I’ll see you next time!