Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading the Wheel of Time: Mat Struggles With the Past in Robert Jordan’s The Dragon Reborn (Part 8)

Welcome back once again to the Reading the Wheel of Time! In week eight of the The Dragon Reborn, Mat isn’t the only one who is struggling with his memory. I, your fearless reader, also found myself trying to remember details, some of them small, that felt pretty important. Had Mat heard Selene’s name before? How much reason do I really have to suspect Verin of being Black Ajah, besides that one apparent lie about being sent to Ingtar by Moiraine? And are there hints of more secrets about Ba’alzamon than the one I think I have uncovered?

The answers lie in three chapters that are full of a lot more talking than action, and I have to admit, the more chapters like this we have, the more I keep waiting for something really serious to happen. Egwene has her Accepted trials coming up, so there’s always that.

But first, we must recap!

Mat awakes in a comfortable bed, unsure of where he is or how he came to be there.

He had been dreaming, and bits of those dreams still tumbled together with memories in his head. He could not separate one from the other. Wild flights and fights, strange people from across the ocean, Ways and Portal Stones and pieces of other lives, things right out of a gleeman’s tales—these had to be dreams. At least, he thought they must be. But Loial was no dream, and he was an Ogier. Chunks of conversations drifted around in his thoughts, talks with his father, with friends, with Moiraine, and a beautiful woman, and a ship captain, and a well-dressed man who spoke to him like a father giving sage advice. Those were probably real. But it was all bits and fragments. Drifting.

He murmurs words in the Old Tongue, words that are just sounds to him now but still give him a sense of meaning. He remembers a battle, watching spearmen and archers, his archers, struggle to keep back masses of Trollocs. Overhead the sun burns in a cloudless sky, the battlefield shimmering with its heat, and behind him the Heart Guard awaits his command. Mat knows that neither men nor horses can stand the heat much longer. He knows that they must win this battle or die, and decides it’s time to toss the dice, ordering his men forward as he cries out for Manetheren and the honor of the Red Eagle. He rides into the fray, still shouting the war cry, knowing that they must either win, or die.

Rubbing his head, Mat repeats some of the words, almost certain he can understand them and not knowing how that could be possible. He has only ever learned a few words of the Old Tongue, from Moiraine.

“Crazy,” he said roughly. “It probably isn’t even the Old Tongue at all. Just gibberish. That Aes Sedai is crazy. It was only a dream.”

Aes Sedai. Moiraine. He suddenly became aware of his too-thin wrist and bony hand, and looked at them. He had been sick. Something to do with a dagger. A dagger with a ruby in the hilt, and a long-dead, tainted city called Shadar Logoth. It was all foggy and distant, and made no real sense, but he knew it was no dream. Egwene and Nynaeve had been taking him to Tar Valon to be Healed. He remembered that much.

Mat gets up with a great deal of difficulty, managing to move around the room only by holding onto furniture. He catches sight of himself in a mirror, looking wasted and bent over like a very old man, and discovers enough food on the table to feed four men, including pitchers of milk and of spiced wine. He realizes that he’s ravenous, but is determined to figure out where he is first, taking a slice of meat with him to the window. Looking out through the shutters he can see that it is night, the darkness providing him no clues as to his whereabouts.

He sags in frustration, but tells himself to think. He reminds himself of how his father always says that “you can turn the worst to your advantage, if you only think.” Abell Cauthon is the best horse trader in the Two Rivers, and whenever it seems as though someone has taken advantage of Mat’s father, it always turns out that he was one step ahead of them. He doesn’t do anything dishonest, but no one ever gets the best of him, because he thinks about things from every angle.

Judging by the richness of the room and the fact that he’s not sick anymore, Mat decides that he must be in Tar Valon. He doesn’t remember feeling sick, but he remembers someone, Verin, saying that he was dying. Now he feels weak and terribly hungry, but other than that he feels whole. He’s certain he has been Healed, a discomfiting thought in that it means the One Power was used on him, but it’s better than dying.

He goes back to the food and begins to eat as he reasons through the rest of it. He can’t remember any of the Aes Sedai he’s met doing anything really terrible, but he knows that what you see and hear isn’t always what you get, when it comes to Aes Sedai. He can’t be sure about them even when he thinks he is. Pondering over Aes Sedai and what he knows of them, Mat lists through the seven Ajahs, landing lastly on Red. This makes him think of Rand, wondering if he’s gone mad yet, if he’s alright.

Even if he knew the answers, he could do nothing to help Rand. He was not sure he would if he could. Rand could channel, and Mat had grown up with stories of men channeling, stories to frighten children. Stories that frightened adults, too, because some of them were all too true. Discovering what Rand could do had been like finding out his best friend tortured small animals and killed babies. Once you finally made yourself believe it, it was hard to call him a friend any longer.

“I have to look out for myself,” he said angrily. He upended the wine pitcher over his silver cup and was surprised to find it empty. He filled the cup with milk, instead. “Egwene and Nynaeve want to be Aes Sedai.” He had not really remembered that until he said it aloud. “Rand is following Moiraine around and calling himself the Dragon Reborn. The Light knows what Perrin is up to. He’s been acting crazy ever since his eyes turned funny. I have to look out for myself.” Burn me, I have to! I’m the last one of us who’s still sane. There’s only me.

He turns his mind back to Tar Valon. While he can’t trust the Aes Sedai and doesn’t want them around him, Mat has always wanted to see a great city, and his memories of those they’ve passed through are vague. For a moment he wonders if the Aes Sedai would let him have the ruby from the dagger. Thinking of the dagger is difficult; his memory is hazy and his insides knot up when he tries to think about it, but he remembers the ruby plainly. He figures they’d tell him it’s tainted too, and even figures that it probably is, but he still daydreams about selling it for the best of the Coplins’ land back in the Two Rivers. He figures they would deserve whatever happened to them from having the ruby in their possession.

But then, Mat knows he won’t get the ruby back, and even if he did he wouldn’t want to carry it that far. Furthermore, even the idea of owning the biggest farm in the Two Rivers doesn’t hold quite the same allure as it used to. It was once his greatest ambition, but now the world seems too big to want something so small.

He decides that he will find Nynaeve and Egwene first, visit with them, and then spend a day or so in the city, play a little dice to pad out his purse, and then be on his way, away from anywhere there are Aes Sedai. He isn’t ready to go home yet, although he tells himself he will, some day. First he wants to see the world.

Mat realizes suddenly that he’s finished everything on the tray. Mopping up the crumbs another thought comes to him, the memory resurfacing that he blew the Horn of Valere.

He remembers that Verin was bringing the Horn with them to Tar Valon, but he can’t remember if she knows that he is the one who blew the Horn. But if they have the Horn now, it doesn’t matter if he blew it, right? They don’t need him.

“But who could say what Aes Sedai thought they needed?

“If they ask,” he said grimly, “I never even touched it. If they know… If they know, I’ll… I’ll handle that when it comes. Burn me, they can’t want anything from me. They can’t!”

Just then there is a knock on the door. Mat jumps up, ready to run, but there is nowhere to run to, even if he could have managed it.

The woman who comes in is dressed in white and silver and has long black hair. She’s very beautiful. You know the drill. Mat half thinks that he knows her, but rejects the idea, certain that if he had ever seen a woman like her before, he would remember.

“You may be passable, I suppose, once you fill out again,” she said, “but for now, perhaps you could put on something.”

For an instant Mat continued to stare at her; then suddenly he realized he was standing there naked. Face scarlet, he shambled to the bed, pulled the blanket around himself like a cloak, and more fell than sat down on the edge of the mattress. “I’m sorry for… I mean, I… that is, I didn’t expect… I… I…” He drew a deep breath. “I apologize for your finding me this way.”

He could still feel the heat in his cheeks. For a moment he wished that Rand, whatever he had become, or even Perrin were there to advise him. They always seemed to get on well with women. Even girls who knew that Rand was all but promised to Egwene used to stare at him, and they seemed to think Perrin’s slow ways were gentle and attractive. However hard he tried, he always managed to make a fool of himself in front of girls. As he had just done.

She tells him that she would not have visited him this way, except that she was in the White Tower for other reasons and wanted to see all of him. She notices the food, remarking that of course he is hungry, given “the way they do things,” and advises him to make sure he eats all he is given.

Mat asks, as respectfully as he can, if he knows her, and she admits that he may have seen her somewhere, then gives the name Selene. She seems to expect him to remember it, and he almost does, but can’t quite place the memory. Mat asks if she is Aes Sedai, which she emphatically denies, but he can’t help but feel like she must be, or should be, given the air of power and assurance around her.

Selene tells him that she is someone whose interests align with his, and warns that the Aes Sedai intend to use him. But she thinks that he will mostly like it, and accept it, since he is someone who needs no convincing to seek out glory.

“Use me?” The memory returned to him of thinking that, but about Rand, that the Aes Sedai meant to use Rand, not him. They’ve no bloody use for me. Light, they can’t have! “What do you mean? I’m no one important. I am no use to anyone but myself. What kind of glory?”

“I knew that would pull you. You, above all.”

Mat insists that they aren’t interested in him, although he wonders if there might be something about his sounding of the Horn, or perhaps they might believe he is connected to Rand in some way. He insists he is just a simple country boy, who only wants to see a little of the world and then go home again, but he can’t help wondering what kind of glory she means.

Selene insists that he is more important than he knows, and that he can have glory, if he knows enough not to trust the Aes Sedai.

“You certainly sound as if you don’t trust them.” So-called? A thought came to him, but he could not manage to say it. “Are you a… ? Are you… ?” It was not the kind of thing you accused someone of.

“A Darkfriend?” Selene said mockingly. She sounded amused, not angered. She sounded contemptuous. “One of those pathetic followers of Ba’alzamon who think he will give them immortality and power? I follow no one. There is one man I could stand beside, but I do not follow.”

Mat thinks that of course a Darkfriend wouldn’t just admit to being one, and quickly counters that he wasn’t trying to ask that at all, that he wanted to know if she was a Lady, since she has the look and bearing of a queen. Selene answers that he must learn to trust her, despite his suspicious nature that has only grown worse since he began carrying the dagger. She says that she, too, will use him, but that in that use he will gain power, wealth, and glory, and that she will not force him, since she believes people perform better if they are convinced rather than forced. The Aes Sedai don’t realize how important Mat is, and “he” will try to kill Mat, but Selene can give him what he desires.

Mat tries to ask who wants to kill him, but Selene has apparently said more than she meant to, and reiterates that he knows what he wants, and now he must decide who to trust in order to gain it. She insists that she will lead him to wealth and glory, while the Aes Sedai will keep him on a leash until he dies.

Mat asks how he can know what she says is true, why he should trust he over them, and Selene tells him that his father, along with Rand’s, came to Tar Valon and demanded an audience with the Amyrlin. She sent them back to the Two Rivers without telling them anything, and Selene wonders if they will tell Mat about this, unless he asks. Or even then. Mat is concerned that his father would think he is dead, and Selene tells him she can see to it that he knows Mat is alive. She mentions that Rand is trying to escape and that Moiraine is hunting him, that the Black Ajah infests the Tower. Mat asks again who she is, if not Aes Sedai, and she answers only that he should remember that there is another choice, besides being a puppet for the White Tower or prey for Ba’alzamon’s Darkfriends. She asks if he will remember that.

“I don’t see that I have much choice at all,” he said glumly. “I suppose I will.”

Selene’s look sharpened. Friendliness sloughed off her voice like an old snake skin. “Suppose? I did not come to you like this, talk in this way, for suppose, Matrim Cauthon.” She stretched out a slim hand.

Although she is halfway across the room and her hand is empty, Mat finds himself leaning away from the threat of it. His skin begins to tingle and his head hurts, but then Selene’s head turns as though she is listening to something on the other side of the wall, and she lets her hand fall. The sensation vanishes, and she urges him once more to remember his choices, to remember that she alone can offer him what he wants, if he’ll only do as she says, and then she slips out of the door, leaving him to wonder, baffled, if she really was a Darkfriend, despite how contemptuously she spoke of Ba’alzamon. It occurs to him that she never asked him to conceal her visit from the Aes Sedai, but also how ridiculous he’d sound trying to talk about it. And if the Aes Sedai did take him seriously, then he’d really never get to leave.

Mat goes to look for some clothes, also finding the contents of his pockets and pouch on a shelf, and fumbles through everything until he finds money—two silver marks and a handful of copper—as well as his dice cups. Satisfied with the contents of the cups, he thinks of how, with these, he can make his two marks into enough money to get him far away from Tar Valon.

Then the door opens again, the Amyrlin and the Keeper entering. Mat recognizes them even without needing to look at the stoles they wear. The Amyrlin raises an eyebrow when she sees what he is holding, and suggests that he won’t need those for a while yet and that he should get back to bed before he falls on his face. Mat finds that his knees are too wobbly, and their gazes too intense, for him to disobey. He goes and lies down, stiffly, not sure what else to do.

“How are you feeling?” the Amyrlin asked briskly as she put a hand on his head. Goose bumps covered his skin. Had she done something with the One Power, or was it being touched by an Aes Sedai that made him feel a chill?

“I’m fine,” he told her. “Why, I am ready to be on my way. Just let me say goodbye to Egwene and Nynaeve, and I’ll be out of your hair. I mean, I will go… uh, Mother.” Moiraine and Verin had not seemed to care much how he talked, but this was the Amyrlin Seat, after all.

The Amyrlin observes to the Keeper that men always wait to admit that they are sick until they are sick enough to make twice as much work for women, and then claim to be better too soon, with the same result. The two women discuss Mat’s weakness and how much he has eaten, leaving Mat to feel both invisible, and infantilized. He speaks up to insist that he isn’t hungry anymore and that if they will give him his clothes he will be gone before they know it.

The Amyrlin snorted. “You’ve eaten a meal for five, and you will eat three or four like it every day for days yet, or else you will starve to death. You’ve just been Healed from a link to the evil that killed every man, woman, and child in Aridhol, and no less strong for near two thousand years waiting for you to pick it up. It was killing you just as surely as it killed them. That is not like having a fish spine stuck in your thumb, boy. We very nearly killed you ourselves trying to save you.”

Mat still insists that he’s fine, and the Amyrlin observes that her impression of him—that he’d bolt at the first opportunity—was correct, and that it is just as well that she’s taken precautions. All the bridgemasters and dock guards have been given his name and description, and while he is to be allowed access to the city, he will not be let out of Tar Valon.

Mat asks why they want to keep him so badly, or care if he starves, and the Amyrlin answers that they don’t Heal people just to let them starve to death a few days later. There is also the  possibility that he might need more Healing; they think they got everything, but even a speck of the dagger’s taint left behind could be fatal. She points out that he should also want to be sure, but Mat feels a great deal that all of her suggestions are full of mights and maybes, and brings up his parents to test the Aes Sedai’s reaction.

The Amyrlin offers to let him write to them, and when Mat remarks that he is surprised that his father didn’t come looking for him, he thinks he catches a small hesitation before she answers him to say that he did come, and that Leane spoke to him. The Keeper tells Mat that they did not, at that time, know where he was, and that his father left, with some gold, to get home before the heavy snows. Mat notes that she did not mention Rand’s father, and asks if they know if his “friend, Rand al’Thor” is alright, since his father is probably worried too.

“As far as I know,” the Amyrlin said smoothly, “the boy is well enough, but who can say? I have seen him only once, the time I saw you, in Fal Dara.” She turned to the Keeper. “Perhaps he could do with a small piece of pie, Leane. And something for his throat, if he is going to do all this talking. Will you see that it is brought to him?”
The tall Aes Sedai left with a murmured, “As you command, Mother.”

When the Amyrlin turned back to Mat, she was smiling, but her eyes were blue ice. “There are things it would be dangerous for you to talk about, perhaps even in front of Leane. A flapping tongue has killed more men than sudden storms ever did.”

Mat asks what she means, remarking that he doesn’t know anything dangerous and can’t remember half of what he does know. He is coy when she asks if he remembers the Horn of Valere, but she tells him that if he plays games with her she will make him weep for his mother, and repeats the question. Mat admits that he remembers.

The Amyrlin, correctly guessing that he does not know that he is linked to the Horn, explains that, since he was the first to blow the Horn since it was found, only he can summon the Heroes with it, and that for anyone else it is now just an ordinary horn—at least as long as he is alive. Mat realizes that she could have let him die and given the Horn to whomever she wished, which means that she intends for him to be the one to blow the Horn at the Last Battle. He’s alarmed at the thought, but the Amyrlin points out that this is better than the alternative, and he counters that he never said that he wouldn’t blow the Horn.

The Amyrlin gave an exasperated sigh. “You remind me of my uncle Huan. No one could ever pin him down. He liked to gamble, too, and he’d much rather have fun than work. He died pulling children out of a burning house. He wouldn’t stop going back as long as there was one left inside. Are you like him, Mat? Will you be there when the flames are high?”

He could not meet her eyes. He studied his fingers as they plucked irritably at his blanket. “I’m no hero. I do what I have to do, but I am no hero.”

“Most of those we call heroes only did what they had to do. I suppose it will have to be enough. For now. You must not speak to anyone but me of the Horn, my son. Or of your link to it.”

Mat assures her that he does not want anyone to know about it, that he wishes nobody knew, but he also asks why she needs it to be such a secret. Doesn’t she trust her Aes Sedai?

The Amyrlin answers that she would be happier if only she and he knew about it, because the more people who know a thing, the more that knowledge spreads. Darkfriends want the Horn, and if they hear about where it is and who it is connected to, they will come for it. Mat—secretly thinking of what Selene said about the Black Ajah—says that he thought the White Tower could keep Darkfriends out, prompting the Amyrlin to point out that this is even more of a reason for him to stay. Then she leaves, ordering him to rest as she goes.

A servant brings him a slice of apple pie and a pitcher of milk, but despite the rumbling of his stomach Mat stays lying in bed, thinking of the Aes Sedai trapping him in the Tower, of Selene’s offer and warnings, and of how he really needs to find a way out of Tar Valon. And the sooner, the better.

Meanwhile, Egwene, fresh from scrubbing pots, hearths, and floors, hurries down the corridor while wiping her hands with a towel. She wants to go to her own rooms and lie down, but Verin came to find her while she was working, discreetly letting her know that she would like to see Egwene in her rooms.

Verin’s quarters are above the library, in an area of the Tower only used by a few Brown sisters. Egwene finds a tapestry that Verin described for her to mark the location of Verin’s door, and knocks, then enters when Verin calls out distractedly.

One step into the room, she stopped and stared. Shelves lined the walls, except for one door that must lead to inner rooms and except for where maps hung, often in layers, and what seemed to be charts of the night sky. She recognized the names of some constellations—the Plowman and the Haywain, the Archer and the Five Sisters—but others were unfamiliar. Books and papers and scrolls covered nearly every flat surface, with all sorts of odd things interspersed among the piles, and sometimes on top of them. Strange shapes of glass or metal, spheres and tubes interlinked, and circles held inside circles, stood among bones and skulls of every shape and description. What appeared to be a stuffed brown owl, not much bigger than Egwene’s hand, stood on what seemed to be a bleached white lizard’s skull, but could not be, for the skull was longer than her arm and had crooked teeth as big as her fingers. Candlesticks had been stuck about in a haphazard fashion, giving good light here and shadows there, although seeming in danger of setting fire to papers in some places. The owl blinked at her, and she jumped.

Noticing Egwene’s glance, Verin explains that the owl keeps down the mice that would otherwise chew the books and papers. She remarks upon the page she is reading, apparently the only copy of what once was hundreds that survived the breaking, which supposedly contains “secrets the world could not face,” according to someone named Rosel of Essam. Egwene asks what it says.

Verin blinked, very much as the owl had. “What does it say? It is a direct translation, mind, and reads almost like a bard reciting in High Chant. Listen. ‘Heart of the Dark. Ba’alzamon. Name hidden within name shrouded by name. Secret buried within secret cloaked by secret. Betrayer of Hope. Ishamael betrays all hope. Truth burns and sears. Hope fails before truth. A lie is our shield. Who can stand against the Heart of the Dark? Who can face the Betrayer of Hope? Soul of shadow, Soul of the Shadow, he is—’ ” She stopped with a sigh. “It ends there. What do you make of it?”

“I don’t know,” Egwene said. “I do not like it.”

Verin points out that she has studied the page for forty years, and she doesn’t understand or like it, either. But that is not why she summoned Egwene. She presents Egwene with a stack of papers, everything that is known about Liandrin and the others, as well as a list of the stolen ter’angreal and what little is known about them. She remarks that she saw nothing of use in any of it, prompting a wave of suspicion in Egwene, who is aware that Verin could be Black Ajah herself, and leaving things out. Still, after traveling so far together, all the way to Tar Valon from Toman Head, Egwene can’t really believe Verin could be a Darkfriend.

Verin tells Egwene that there’s another reason she wanted to see her. She has heard from Anaiya that Egwene might be a Dreamer, and thinks that it would be quite interesting if Egwene turns out to deserve the name. The last Aes Sedai Dreamer live over 400 years ago, and Corianin Nedeal, in Verin’s opinion, barely deserved the name.

Egwene tells Verin that she was tested, but that Anaiya couldn’t be sure if her dreams foretold the future or not. She is surprised when Verin answers that telling the future is the perhaps least of what a Dreamer does, and draws parallel lines in the dusk on her desk, to illustrate the idea of different worlds that might exist if different choices had been made, changing turning points in the Pattern—worlds like those reached by the Portal Stones, as Egwene recalls from her lessons. Verin explains that the Pattern may be even more complicated than that, drawing another set of lines running perpendicularly to the first, representing other worlds that might exist, worlds even harder to reach than the first set. She calls the resulting cross-hatching “the warp and woof of the weave,” and suggests that perhaps the Wheel of Time weaves an even greater pattern out of all of the different worlds. But in any case, there are a few things that are consistent throughout all worlds, one of which is that the Dark One is imprisoned in every one of them.

Egwene is perplexed by this, asking if this means that there is a Dark One for each world, but Verin corrects her. There is only one Creator who exists for all the world, and in the same way, there is only one Dark One. If he is freed from the prison the Creator made in one world, then he is freed in all of them, and if he remains prisoner in one, then he is a prisoner in all.

“That does not seem to make sense,” Egwene protested.

“Paradox, child. The Dark One is the embodiment of paradox and chaos, the destroyer of reason and logic, the breaker of balance, the unmaker of order.”

The owl suddenly flies from its perch to a different spot in the room, alighting upon a horned skull, which Egwene realizes must be a Trolloc skull. Shaken, she asks what this has to do with being a Dreamer, and is given a rambling answer that it has nothing to do with being a Dreamer, except that everyone must confront the Dark One sooner or later, and Rand must have been brought into the world for a reason, but the Dark One will try to distort the Pattern, if he can. Egwene asks why Verin is telling her all this if it has nothing to do with being a Dreamer.

Verin stared at her as if she were deliberately being dense. “Nothing? Of course it has something to do with it, child. The point is that there is a third constant besides the Creator and the Dark One. There is a world that lies within each of these others, inside all of them at the same time. Or perhaps surrounding them. Writers in the Age of Legends called it Tel’aran’rhiod, “the Unseen World.” Perhaps “the World of Dreams” is a better translation. Many people—ordinary folk who could not think of channeling—sometimes glimpse Tel’aran’rhiod in their dreams, and even catch glimmers of these other worlds through it. Think of some of the peculiar things you have seen in your dreams. But a Dreamer, child—a true Dreamer—can enter Tel’aran’rhiod.”

Egwene hesitantly reiterates that she doesn’t think that she is a Dreamer, but Verin points out that the test proved nothing one way or another. Egwene supposes time will tell, but Verin insists that she doesn’t have time to wait. With the task that the Amyrlin has given her she needs to use all the tools at her disposal, including this one.

Opening a red box, Verin pulls out a ring and hands it to Egwene. Flecked with blue and red and brown, it looks like it’s made of stone, but feels as hard as steel and as heavy as lead in her hand. Its edge is continuous, twisted so that if she runs a finger along it, it goes around twice, once inside and once out, and never breaks.

Egwene is shocked when Verin tells her that the ring is a ter’angreal, one that was in the possession of Corianin Nedeal during her lifetime, and that it will now stay with Egwene. Corianin claimed the ring makes it easier to pass into Tel’aran’rhiod, even for people without the Talent, as long as you are touching it when you sleep. But Verin warns Egwene that this gift also comes with dangers, since when you use the ring you are really there, in Tel’aran’rhiod, rather than just glimpsing it. She rolls up her sleeve to show Egwene a scar from when she tried using the ring once herself, and explains that Anaiya’s Healing did not work as well as it should have.

“I will be careful, Verin Sedai.” Real? My dreams are bad enough as they are. I want no dreams that leave scars! I’ll put it in a sack and stick it in a dark corner and leave it there. I’ll—But she wanted to learn. She wanted to be Aes Sedai, and no Aes Sedai had been a Dreamer in nearly five hundred years. “I’ll be very careful.” She slipped the ring into her pouch and tugged the drawstrings tight, then picked up the papers Verin had given her.

“Remember to keep it hidden, child. No novice, or even an Accepted, should have a thing like that in her possession. But it may prove useful to you. Keep it hidden.”

“Yes, Verin Sedai.” Remembering Verin’s scar, she almost wished another Aes Sedai would come along and take it from her right then.

Satisfied, Verin sends her off to get some sleep, and sits looking at the door once Egwene has left. Then she opens the box the ring came out of and looks into it, at the pages and pages of notes Corianin made when she was studying the ter’angreal. As far as Verin can tell, she is the only one who knows of the ring, or that Corianin had it. Somehow, the last Dreamer had managed to take it out of all records.

Once again she considered burning the manuscript, just as she had considered giving it to Egwene. But destroying knowledge, any knowledge, was anathema to her. And for the other… No. It is best by far to leave things as they are. What will happen, will happen. She let the lid drop shut. Now where did I put that page?

Frowning, she began to search the stacks of books and papers for the leather folder. Egwene was already out of her mind.

 

If I’m being honest, I found Mat a little annoying in this section, but I don’t think that’s really his fault. He spent the majority of the books thus-far being at least semi-possessed, and apparently can’t remember a lot of what happened to him, even after Moiraine lessened the dagger’s influence—which is honestly not something I expected to happen. He does seem to remember events that were significant to his interactions with people he cares about, like the fact that Rand can channel and changes that Perrin has been going through, and he never questions whether Loial was real. But without a firm memory of all the intense things that have happened to him, he doesn’t have the two and a third books’ worth of character development that the other protagonists have had. And I can sympathize with his struggle to take in all the new information and to process what has happened to him.

I actually laughed when he started thinking about his father. I guess the apple does fall far from the tree—Abell Cauthon, master horse trader who thinks every situation through from multiple angles, and Matrim Cauthon, his son who just picks up whatever from any haunted city he finds himself in, and shoots his sling at barrels to mess with Whitecloaks because he thinks its funny. Not exactly like father, like son.

But then, Mat is still young, and now that his life is taking him to a more serious place, it may be that he starts to take after his father more. I’m also intrigued by these past-life memories he keeps having, and I wonder if remembering being a powerful general will have a sobering, even grounding effect on Mat. Not that I think he will lose all of his playful ways, but he may find a more constructive way to embrace his affinity for bold moves and reliance on luck. It certainly is interesting that he was a gambler in his past life, too.

Less easy to forgive are his negative thoughts about everyone else. Of course I understand why people in this world are skeptical, or even down-right scared, of channelers, especially male channelers. But as a reader, my experience of Moiraine, Siuan and the others—not to mention Rand—is so very different. It can be hard to be understanding when Mat compares finding out Rand can channel to finding out that he is a baby murderer. Even with the knowledge that Rand might lose his faculties enough to become a killer sometime in the future, Mat knows that the ability to channel is not something people choose, and his reaction to the truth about Rand is so much harsher than that of say, Nynaeve. Or Perrin. Mat wanting to distance himself from Rand for his own safety is one thing, but Mat seems almost to be condemning his childhood friend as an evil person, despite their long standing relationship, which is definitely a contrast to the way Perrin handles everything.

But Mat is ta’veren, too, and while he may consider himself the only one who is still sane, there are probably a lot more changes coming up that will make him as different as any of the others. Perhaps that has even begun already, in the form of his flashback connection to that other life. In the meantime, I rather suspect that his feelings of “I need to look out for myself because everyone else is already doomed” aren’t going to lead him to all the best decisions.

Also, honestly Mat? Thinking about that ruby? This is what got you in trouble in the first place! I know he can’t remember a lot of what happened, so the significance of what he suffered is bound to be a little bit lost on him, but his thought about using it to buy the Coplins’ land shows how much he doesn’t understand. The Coplins may very well be the Sackville-Bagginses of the Two Rivers, but no one deserves Mordeth-taint. Plus Mat clearly doesn’t remember how the taint can affect not only the holder of the object but everyone around them, too.

I am really enjoying how the new suspenseful chapter ending is some variation of “then the door opened.” And how, exactly, is Lanfear in the Tower? Is there some kind of secret entrance, or maybe a portal or something, that she remembers from back in the Age of Legends? I know she’s probably more powerful than any of the Aes Sedai, but if she can walk around the halls without being noticed then she’s got even more skills than I realized.

I wonder what she wants to use Mat for. I had to go back through The Great Hunt to double-check if the two had any connection or contact there, but Mat only heard the name Selene once, when Hurin suggested that a Portal Stone could get them to Toman Head, since the Ways were closed to them. But in any case, I got so used to Selene’s focus on Rand that I didn’t really consider what else she had going on. It’s clearly a lot more than just trying to get back with her old boyfriend. The way she talks about Ba’alzamon really cements the fact that he isn’t the Dark One, and it makes a lot of sense to me that, members of the same group or not, she and Ishamael don’t really get along. I doubt any of the Forsaken get along very well with the others; probably everyone thinks they should be the one in charge, though it’s been made pretty clear that Ishamael is the most powerful, and feared, of all of them. But Lanfear says something interesting in her answer to Mat—she specifically calls them Ba’alzamon’s Darkfriends.

I find this very confusing. In all his interactions with Rand and the others, Ba’alzamon never once actually refers to himself as the Dark One. He’ll say things like “pledge yourself to me, pledge yourself to the Dark One” but he only implies that it’s the same person, never says it outright. I assume that the Dark One wouldn’t like it if a follower went around claiming to be the Great Lord of the Dark, and imagine that Ba’alzamon has to walk a very careful line in the work that he’s doing. But I also always assumed that, when someone pledged to become a Darkfriend,  they were in fact pledging themselves directly to the Dark One, no matter who might have been helping convince them to take the path away from the Light.

Perhaps Lanfear meant it slightly less literally—no doubt there are different ways to serve the Dark One and different types of Darkfriends to be. But she must be a Darkfriend too, as all the Forsaken were? Unless she somehow turned away from the Dark One at some point. I know they say that no one is so deep in the Shadow that they can’t find their way back to the Light, but this is the Forsaken we’re talking about. It’s pretty hard to imagine the Dark One letting them go. And while I could certainly see a world in which Lanfear didn’t feel as though following the Dark One served her best interests, I also don’t really see her as pledging herself to the Light. That’s a little too close to being an Aes Sedai, I think.

But this again brings me back to my recurring musings on how one becomes a Darkfriend and whether there are people who don’t interact with Ba’alzamon at all. I wish we knew more of how Ingtar became part of it—we know why he made the choice, but not what he had to do to become a Darkfriend. Did Ba’alzamon contact him first? Does the Dark One somehow know when people are considering falling to his side and send agents to seal the deal? Can someone get deeply invested without ever meeting another Darkfriend at all?

These musing apply as equally to Verin as to Lanfear. They both speak in contradictions and riddles in this section, Lanfear/Selene first advising Mat that he will like the way the Aes Sedai want to use him because it will bring him glory, then changing her mind and saying that only she will give him the power, wealth, and glory he wants and that the Aes Sedai will just keep him on a leash. And what was with Verin telling Egwene that the different worlds have nothing to do with being a Dreamer but then telling her that of course it does? It may just have been a convoluted turn of phrase, or perhaps meant to hide some truth within it? I’ve looked it over a few times and I can’t figure out why those answers break down the way they do. However, I think there’s probably some real significance to Verin’s claim that everyone must confront the Dark One in one way or another.

I guess this could be how Lanfear gets into and out of the Tower, though. If she can really go to Tel’aran’rhiod in the same way that Egwene’s ring will let her, Lanfear could ostensibly use it to travel from one place in their world to another, just as one might use the Ways or a Portal Stone. Theoretically she’d have to doze off each time she wanted to do it, though, which seems a little bit inefficient, although I like the idea of her having a nap room somewhere as a home base.

Now, I don’t know if Verin is a Darkfriend, but I’m suspicious enough of her that I keep musing on different scenarios surrounding that identity. Some of her flightiness is clearly feigned to get people to underestimate her, but her love of knowledge is just as clearly real, and I feel like she sincerely wants to help Egwene, at least in some capacity. If she does turn out to be a Darkfriend, I can’t imagine that she’d have many of the same reasons for taking that path as the power-hungry lords, haughty Black Ajah (looking at you, Liandrin) and Forsaken that we’ve met so far. Her connection to it would have to have something to do with knowledge, and her thirst for more than she can find in the remnants that survived the Breaking.

Ostensibly, one becomes a Darkfriend because the Dark One offers something that one cannot obtain elsewhere. Power is the most obvious of those somethings. But Verin is a person who is obsessed with knowledge, living in a time when much of that knowledge has been lost. How tempting would it be if Ba’alzamon showed up with the promise of unlocking secrets long buried after the Breaking? Heck, how much could any of the Forsaken offer her? Perhaps she’s in league not with the regular Darkfriends at all, but with Lanfear.

Is it possible for Verin to be Black Ajah and want Egwene to succeed? Can Darkfriends be double agents? Can you choose to become one for a while, to gather information and maybe sew seeds of discord, and then swear back to the Light when the time comes? Or worse, could someone intend such a ruse, only to find themselves trapped forever in the Shadow?

The passage Verin reads to Egwene appears to be trying to tell us that Ba’alzamon is really Ishamael, but what the truth is that will destroy “us” and what the lie/shield is is less clear to me. It may be that some Aes Sedai knew that Ishamael was never sealed in the Bore with the others, and they didn’t want anyone to know because they believed people would fall into terror knowing that the Betrayer of Hope was still among them. The idea that he is the Soul of the Shadow seems to check out, though, since he is the driving force behind the search for the reborn Dragon and all the other Darkfriend plans, as well as controlling the Myrddraal and Trollocs. He is even thought by most to be the Dark One. But I guess we all know the answer to one question in that passage: Rand is the only one who can face the Betrayer of Hope.

We know even less about whatever manuscript Verin is hoarding, apparently something to do with the ring, and containing information that is unpleasant enough to lead her to consider burning it. Unless she has some other reason to consider the information too dangerous for Egwene to have. Perhaps it reveals some truth Verin thinks Egwene, or even the world, isn’t ready for? Or there is some other reason I haven’t even thought to consider yet.

I’m not going to lie: If the secret about Verin turns out to be something entirely different and she’s not Black Ajah at all, I’m going to feel a bit silly having spent so much time and brainpower on this. But that is the point of Darkfriends, isn’t it? Like Nynaeve, Elayne, and Egwene, we the reader are suspicious of everyone. Because we have to be, because anyone could turn out to be Black Ajah. Only time, and the turning of the Wheel, will tell.

Only two chapters (22 and 23) next week, because Egwene’s Accepted test and trip through the 3-arched ter’angreal will give me plenty to break down and analyze.

I’ll leave you with these final thoughts.

Lanfear tells Mat that his hunger is to be expected “the way they do things.” She is referring to the way Healing relies primarily on the patient’s own body, which is not, apparently, the way that Darkfriend channelers do it. And of course we saw how Ishamael temporarily healed (not sure if the capital H is appropriate here) Lews Therin of the madness brought onto him by the taint, a very painful method that made Lews Therin feel like he’s being seared by flames and acid. It may be that healing the mind is different than healing the body, but Lews Therin didn’t end up ravenous afterwards. It seems as though whatever Ishamael did provided strength from outside Lews Therin, rather than pulling it from his own body.

And then there’s Tel’aran’rhiod. I’m leaving off musings on that for now, because I’ve talked about dreams a lot recently, and I assume that Egwene is going to be venturing into the World of Dreams before too long, so there will be plenty more to be said then. But honestly, two apostrophes in one word? Thanks, RJ.

Sylas K Barrett is already bracing himself for Egwene’s trials next week. Nothing like facing your greatest fears three times, and before you’re even a proper Aes Sedai.

citation

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