Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading the Wheel of Time: Farmer’s Weapons and Library Secrets in Robert Jordan’s The Dragon Reborn (Part 11)

Welcome back to week eleven of Reading the Dragon Reborn! This is a fun, adventurey week, with Robin Hood-style antics from Mat, sneaking and disguises from Lanfear, and some Indiana Jones beneath-a-library spelunking with Nynaeve, Egwene, and Elayne.

Also, both Mat and and the girls have some strange encounters with Else Grinwell, who may or may not be who she seems. But then again, who inside Tar Valon is, really?

Mat wakes to sunlight and cheery servants bringing him food and telling him how much better he looks, but he remains hostile to the idea of the Aes Sedai’s control over him and is determined to find a way out of Tar Valon. Still, he’s happy enough to have the food.

After breakfast, he decides to have a look around, bringing his dicing cups along with him. It takes some wandering to find his way out of the tower, but he doesn’t have any trouble from any of the Aes Sedai, novices, or Accepted that he passes, and he wonders if perhaps they take him for one of the male servants.

He did feel some regret that none of the women he saw was Egwene or Nynaeve, or even Elayne. She’s a pretty one, even if she does have her nose in the air half the time. And she could tell me how to find Egwene and the Wisdom. I cannot go without saying goodbye. Light, I don’t suppose one of them would turn me in, just because they are becoming Aes Sedai themselves? Burn me, for a fool! They’d never do that. Anyway, I will risk it.

Eventually he finds his way outside, and into a wide, flagstoned yard with a fountain in the middle and a barracks to one side, where guardsmen sit around taking care of their weapons and tools. He strides over to watch them, trying to look and sound casual as he asks a few questions. Eventually he finds who he’s looking for, a man with an Illianer accent who is also a bridge guard. Mat asks him about the traveling conditions on the other side of the river, learning from the man that there’s no mud but a lot of Whitecloaks, “poking their noses into every village within ten miles,” and although they haven’t done anything, the guard suspects that they are trying to bait Tar Valon. But the guard also says that Mat won’t be crossing the river in either direction. He knows who Mat is; an Aes Sedai came down to the bridge while he was standing guard, to make sure that every guard knew his description by heart. She said Mat was a guest, and not to be harmed, but that he is also not allowed to leave the city.

A bit dubiously, the guard asks if Mat stole something, as he does not have the look of a typical guest. Mat insists that he is not a thief, and the guard admits that it isn’t a thief’s look he sees in Mat’s face, but that it is a tricky look, alike to a man who recently tried to sell him the Horn of Valere.

Mat gave a jump at the mention of the Horn, but he managed to keep his voice level. “I was sick.” Others of the guardsmen were looking at him now. Light, they’ll all know I am not supposed to leave, now. He forced a laugh. “The sisters Healed me.” Some of the guardsmen frowned at him. Perhaps they thought other men should show more respect than to call the Aes Sedai sisters. “I guess the Aes Sedai don’t want me to go before I have all my strength back.” He tried willing the men, all of those watching him now, to accept that. Just a man who was Healed. Nothing more. No reason to trouble yourself about him any further.

The Illianer nodded. “You do have the look of sickness in your face, too. Perhaps that do be the reason. But never did I hear of so much effort to keep one sick man in the city.”

“That’s the reason,” Mat said firmly. They were all still looking at him. “Well, I need to be going. They said I have to take walks. Lots of long walks. To build up strength, you know.”

He walks away, feeling their eyes still on him, frustrated. He only meant to find out if the guards at the bridge had his description, hoping to slip by if only the officers knew to look for him. He has always had a talent for slipping in and out of places unseen, but now instead he’s managed to make sure that a whole barracks of guards knows who he is.

Mat finds himself walking a wide gravel path surrounded by many trees, and he could almost imagine he was walking out into the country, if not for the towers visible over the treetops. He thinks that, if there is any other way to get out of Tar Valon unseen, this is the most likely place to find it.

He’s surprised when he crosses paths with a girl in a novice’s dress and recognizes her: Else Grinwell, who he met when he and Rand stayed at her father’s farm on their way to Camelyn. He’s surprised to find her here, but emboldened by the luck of it. He approaches her, remembering she has an eye for the boys, and reintroduces himself.

Else, however, is not as receptive to his friendly smile as Mat accepts, and coolly asks him what he’s doing up and about. He’s a little surprised that she knows about it, and that she steps back, keeping her distance from him, when he tries to come nearer to him. Mat assures her that he was Healed and she isn’t going to catch anything. Seeing her cold, haughty stare, he remarks that it’s like she doesn’t know him.

“I know you,” she said. Her manner was not as he remembered, either; he thought she could give Elayne lessons now. “I have… work to be about. Let me by.”

He grimaced. The path was broad enough for six to walk abreast without crowding. “I told you it isn’t catching.”

“Let me by!”

Muttering to himself, he stepped to one edge of the gravel. She went past him along the other side, watching to make sure he did not come closer. Once by, she quickened her steps, glancing over her shoulder at him until she was out of sight around a bend.

Wanted to make sure I didn’t follow her, he thought sourly. First the guardsmen, and now Else. My luck is not in, today.

A little further down the path, a loud commotion has him turning aside to investigate. He finds a large open space with men at training, Warders and young men grouped into pairs and wielding practice swords as instructors look on. There’s also a group of women, some Aes Sedai and more Accepted, watching one pair of students in particular.

Mat sits down beneath a tree, just as glad to rest, and juggles a few stones as he watches. It doesn’t take him long to work out who the two students are: one tall and lithe, who moves like a cat and is almost as pretty as a girl; the other golden-haired. When the Warder overseeing them orders a break, Mat gets a better look at the golden-haired youth and realizes that he must be Elayne’s brother. And the other one must be Galad. Mat heard much about both of them from Elayne on their journey back to Tar Valon from Fal Dara, and he learned a lot about what she thought were their virtues and vices, as well as noting that Egwene tended to blush whenever Galad was mentioned.

But while Mat is noticing Elayne’s brothers, Gawyn is also noticing him, and he and Galad come over to greet him as Mat scrambles to his feet.

“You are Mat Cauthon, are you not?” Gawyn said with a grin. “I was sure I recognized you from Egwene’s description. And Elayne’s. I understand you were sick. Are you better now?”

“I’m fine,” Mat said. He wondered if he was supposed to call Gawyn “my Lord” or something of the sort. He had refused to call Elayne “my Lady”—not that she had demanded it, actually—and he decided he would not do her brother better.

Galad asks if Mat came to learn the sword, but Mat answers that he was just out walking, and that he doesn’t know much about swords. He would rather put his trust in a bow or a good quarterstaff. Galad remarks that if Mat spends much time around Nynaeve he will need bow, quarterstaff, and sword to defend himself and that still might not be enough. He tells Mat that he should still learn something of swords, that everyone can use such knowledge these days, then remarks about Rand’s unusual sword and asks what Mat has heard of him.

“I haven’t seen Rand in a long time,” Mat said quickly. Just for a moment, when he had mentioned Rand, Gawyn’s look had gained intensity. Light, does he know about Rand? He couldn’t. If he did, he’d be denouncing me for a Darkfriend just for being Rand’s friend. But he knows something. “Swords aren’t the be-all and end-all, you know. I could do fairly well against either of you, I think, if you had a sword and I had my quarterstaff.”

Gawyn’s cough was obviously meant to swallow a laugh. Much too politely, he said, “You must be very good.” Galad’s face was frankly disbelieving.

Mat doesn’t know if it’s the fact they obviously think he is making things up, or if it’s his experience with the guards or Else, or if it’s the way the Aes Sedai are all looking at Galad, but he does know that what he is about to do will be fun, and that he can even earn some money at it. He challenges them to a two-on-one fight, betting two silver marks against two from each of them that he can beat them.

“Mat,” Gawyn said, “there’s no need to make wagers. You have been sick. Perhaps we will try this some time when you are stronger.”

“It would be far from a fair wager,” Galad said. “I’ll not take your wager, now or later. You are from the same village as Egwene, are you not? I… I would not have her angry with me.”

“What does she have to do with it? Thump me once with one of your swords, and I will hand over a silver mark to each of you. If I thump you till you quit, you give me two each. Don’t you think you can do it?”

Galad insists that Mat would have no chance against two trained swordsmen, but his declaration is overheard by the Warder, Hammar, who was training them. He asks if the boys think that they are so good with their swords to take on a boy with a stick, and, despite their protests about Mat’s recent illness, orders them back out into the practice yard.

Still, he does ask if Mat is up to it, nothing that Mat looks like he is supposed to be in a sickbed, and Mat assures him that he is up to it, and that he must be, if he doesn’t want to lose his two marks. As he turns to take a quarterstaff from the nearby rack, however, he can feel how his knees want to buckle. He tells himself firmly that he has to win, that he can’t afford to lose that money, now that he’s gone and opened his fool mouth.

When he turned back, the quarterstaff in both hands before him, Gawyn and Galad were already waiting out where they had been practicing. I have to win. “Luck,” he muttered. “Time to toss the dice.”

Hammar gave him an odd look. “You speak the Old Tongue, lad?”

Mat stared back at him for a moment, not speaking. He felt cold to the bone. With an effort, he made his feet start out onto the practice yard. “Remember the wager,” he said loudly. “Two silver marks from each of you against two from me.”

Gawyn and Galad take up position on either side of Mat, swords only half-raised,  still insisting that there is no wager, until at last Hammar calls that he will cover it if the two of them don’t have the nerve. Only then do they accept, and the fight begins.

Even with both of them coming at him, Mat takes Gawyn down quickly, with a blow to the side of his head. Some Aes Sedai rush out to tend to him, but Galad, meanwhile, is starting to take Mat seriously.

Mat’s legs chose that moment to tremble. Light, I can’t weaken now. But he could feel it creeping back in, the wobbly feeling, the hunger as if he had not eaten for days. If I wait for him to come to me, I’ll fall on my face. It was hard to keep his knees straight as he started forward. Luck, stay with me.

Mat presses forward, and though Galad manages to meet each blow, the strain shows in his face, and he can’t counterattack, only defend, his wooden practice sword barely holding up against the quarterstaff. Matt can feel the hunger gnawing at his insides, his strength fading, so he throws his last reserves into a final attack.

The quarterstaff flickered past Galad’s sword and in quick succession struck knee, wrist, and ribs and finally thrust into Galad’s stomach like a spear. With a groan, Galad folded over, fighting not to fall. The staff quivered in Mat’s hands, on the point of a final crushing thrust to the throat. Galad sank to the ground.

Mat almost dropped the quarterstaff when he realized what he had been about to do. Win, not kill. Light, what was I thinking? Reflexively he grounded the butt of the staff, and as soon he did, he had to clutch at it to hold himself erect. Hunger hollowed him like a knife reaming marrow from a bone. Suddenly he realized that not only the Aes Sedai and Accepted were watching. All practice, all learning, had stopped. Warders and students alike stood watching him.

Standing beside Galad, Hammar calls out to them, asking who was the greatest swordmaster of all time. They all shout the reply, Jearom, and Hammar goes on to tell of how Jearom fought over ten thousand times, in battle and in single combat, and was only defeated once, by a farmer with a quarterstaff. He tells them all to remember that, to remember what he just saw. Lowering his voice, he adds for Galad’s benefit that if he cannot get up by now, then it is done. Hammar motions to the Aes Sedai to come over to Galad as well.

Mat sinks to his knees, holding onto the staff, but then he sees Gawyn, Healed of his injury, coming over and hauls himself up again. He doesn’t want anyone to see his weakness lest it result in his being tended from dawn to dusk. Gawyn hands over the two silver marks with a wry “I think I will listen next time,” and remarks upon Mat’s skill.

“Not as good as my da. He’s won the quarterstaff at Bel Tine every year as long as I can remember, except once or twice when Rand’s da did.” That interested look came back into Gawyn’s eyes, and Mat wished he had never mentioned Tam al’Thor. The Aes Sedai and the Accepted were all still clustered around Galad. “I… I must have hurt him badly. I did not mean to do that.”

Gawyn assures Mat that he didn’t kill Galad so he should be on his feet already, but no doubt the Aes Sedai don’t want to squander the chance to have their hands on him. Mat doesn’t understand the significance of Gawyn’s exclamation that some of them are Green Ajah, but Gawyn jokes that Galad’s only danger is becoming a Warder to a Green Aes Sedai before his head clears. Not that they would actually do that.

Mat asks if the Aes Sedai would mind if he collected his wager from Galad.

“They very likely would,” Hammar said dryly as he joined them. “You are not very popular with those particular Aes Sedai right now.” He snorted. “You’d think even Green Aes Sedai would be better than girls just loose from their mother’s apron strings. He isn’t that good-looking.”

“He is not,” Mat agreed.

Gawyn grinned at both of them, until Hammar glared at him. “Here,” the Warder said, pushing two more silver coins into Mat’s hand. “I will collect from Galad later. Where are you from, lad?”

“Manetheren.” Mat froze when he heard the name come out of his mouth. “I mean, I’m from the Two Rivers. I have heard too many old stories.” They just looked at him without saying anything. “I… I think I will go back and see if I can find something to eat.” Not even the Midmorning bell had rung yet, but they nodded as if it made sense.

Mat keeps the quarterstaff and as soon as he is out of sight amongst the trees, he leans upon it as if it is the only thing holding him up. But although the hunger makes him feel like there must be a literal hole in his belly, his thoughts are caught up with the strangeness of his Speaking the Old Tongue, and mentioning Manetheren.

Light help me, I keep digging myself deeper. I have to get out of here. But how? He hobbled back toward the Tower proper like an old, old man. How?

Meanwhile, in Nyenave’s room, Egwene lies on her stomach across Nynaeve’s bed as Nynaeve paces the room and Elayne sprawls by the fire, re-reading the list of names Verin gave them, while the list of the ter’angreal lies nearby on the table. They’ve talked about, and argued about, everything, while leaving that list carefully aside.

Egwene is exhausted, having had little sleep after going through her trials and then having to get up early for the kitchen chores and her visit to Sheriam. What sleep she did get was filled with unpleasant dreams, dreams that she could perhaps ask Anaiya for help with, if there wasn’t the ever-present possibility of any Aes Sedai they speak to being Black Ajah. Her dreams about her experiences in the ter’angreal, and her dreams about the Seanchan collaring Aes Sedai, are easy enough to dismiss as ordinary, and her dreams of Whitecloaks binding her father’s hands could perhaps be homesickness. But the others were different.

There had been a dream of Rand, reaching for a sword that seemed to be made of crystal, never seeing the fine net dropping over him. And one of him kneeling in a chamber where a parched wind blew dust across the floor, and creatures like the one on the Dragon banner, but much smaller, floated on that wind, and settled into his skin. There had been a dream of him walking down into a great hole in a black mountain, a hole filled with a reddish glare as from vast fires below, and even a dream of him confronting Seanchan.

She’s not sure about the last one, but the others she is confident have real meaning. Back before she was worried about the Black Ajah, she did a little cautious, carefully disguised questioning of Anaiya, learning that a Dreamer’s dreams about ta’veren were almost always true, and the stronger the ta’veren, the more certain the truth.

But she also dreamed of Mat and Perrin, even stranger than her dreams of Rand. She saw Perrin with a Falcon on his shoulder, and Perrin with a Hawk—both female birds, she somehow knew—and the Hawk was trying to fasten a leash around Perrin’s neck. And then there was the dream of a bearded Perrin leading a huge pack of wolves, and the dreams of Mat placing his left eye on a scale, of Mat hanging by his neck from a tree limb. There were more dreams of Mat and the Seanchan, and Mat speaking the Old tongue, but Egwene thinks those must also be ordinary products of her own mind.

Forcing her mind away from these thoughts Egwene turns her attention back to the other women in the room. Seeing that Nynaeve’s pacing has slowed, she tells herself that any second now, Nynaeve is going to say it again.

Nynaeve came to a halt, staring down at Elayne. “Put those away. We have been over them twenty times, and there isn’t a word that helps. Verin gave us rubbish. The question is, was it all she had, or did she give us rubbish on purpose?”

As expected. Maybe half an hour till she says it again. Egwene frowned down at her hands, glad she could not see them clearly. The Great Serpent ring looked—out of place—on hands all wrinkled from long immersion in hot, soapy water.

“Knowing their names helps,” Elayne said, still reading. “Knowing what they look like helps.”

“You know very well what I mean,” Nynaeve snapped.

Egwene rests her chin on her folded arms, thinking of how, as she left Sheriam’s study that morning, Nynaeve had been waiting in the cold, dark hall, looking both ready to chew stone and aware that chewing stone would not change anything. Egwene understands where Nynaeve’s anger is coming from, and that Nynaeve is as touchy about her pride as any man, but it isn’t fair for her to take it out Egwene and Elayne. Egwene thinks that if Elayne can stand the indignity of the punishment, Nynaeve should be able to too; after all, she isn’t a Wisdom anymore.

Elayne, however, is more engrossed in her musings over the information on Verin’s list. She points out that, while Liandrin was the only Red, there were two from each of the other Ajahs; that none were from the same city and no more than two were from the same country; and that their ages were similarly diverse. Nynaeve doesn’t see the point Elayne is making until Elyane spells it out: The neatness of the information is too precise to be chance, and they must have had women to choose from to come up with such a diverse allotment.

Nynaeve gave her braid one ferocious tug. “Light! I think you may be right. You did find secrets I couldn’t. Light, I was hoping they all went with Liandrin.”

“We do not even know that she is their leader,” Elayne said. “She could have been ordered to… to dispose of us.” Her mouth twisted. “I am afraid I can only think of one reason for them to go to such lengths to spread everything out so, to avoid any pattern except a lack of pattern. I think it means there is a pattern of some kind to the Black Ajah.”

“If there’s a pattern,” Nynaeve said firmly, “we will find it. Elayne, if watching your mother run her court taught you to think like this, I’m glad you watched closely.” Elayne’s answering smile made a dimple in her cheek.

Egwene, sensing that Nynaeve’s mood is easing, offers a counter-suggestion: The Black Ajah wanted them to think there is a pattern, so they waste time looking for it. She cautions that they should keep looking for other things, too. Her suggestion makes Elayne doubt her earlier conviction, and she suggests that she has built them a bridge out of wishes. Reading aloud random bits of information, she crumples the pages up as she goes until Nynaeve stop her, pointing out that, whether Elayne’s hunch is right or not, she found them something to look for, and perhaps in time they will find other things. And then, of course, there is the other list.

Egwene doesn’t want to think of the ter’angreal on that list, but it is etched into her mind. Thirteen ter’angreal in all, many of unknown use and last studied by Corianin Nedeal.

The knowns on the list were fewer, not all of any apparent real use, but hardly more comforting, as she saw it. A wooden carving of a hedgehog, no bigger than the last joint of a man’s thumb. Such a simple thing, and surely harmless. Any woman who tried to channel through it went to sleep. Half a day of peaceful, dreamless sleep, but it was too close not to make her skin crawl. Three more had to do with sleep in some way. It was almost a relief to read of a fluted rod of black stone, a full pace in length, that produced balefire, with the notation DANGEROUS AND ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE TO CONTROL writ so strong in Verin’s hand that it tore the paper in two places. Egwene still had no idea what balefire was, but though it surely sounded dangerous if anything ever did, it just as surely had nothing to do Corianin Nedeal or dreams.

Nynaeve finds an item on the list that she thinks Mat would enjoy, a carved cluster of spotted dice that seems to affect chance in some way when someone channels through it, affecting the fall of coins and dice, for example. But Egwene’s thoughts can’t be torn away from Corianin Nedeal, and after a moment she gets up and goes to the fireplace, retrieving a stocking from the inside of the chimney in which she’s stuffed the ring for dreaming.

“Perhaps,” Nynaeve said finally, “Verin simply missed the fact that so many of them were last studied by Corianin.” She did not sound as if she really believed it.”

Elayne nodded, but doubtfully. “I saw her walking in the rain once, soaking wet, and took a cloak to her. She was so wrapped up in whatever she was thinking, I do not believe she knew it was raining until I put the cloak around her shoulders. She could have missed it.”

“Maybe,” Egwene said. “If she did not, she had to know I’d notice as soon as I read the list. I do not know. Sometimes I think Verin notices more than she lets on. I just do not know.”

“So there’s Verin to suspect,” Elayne sighed. “If she is Black Ajah, then they know exactly what we are doing. And Alanna.” She gave Egwene an uncertain, sidelong look.

Egwene has told them everything that happened in the testing chamber after she finished her Accepted test, including what Sheriam told them about the secret weakness of channeling, and everything Verin said. But they had trouble accepting what Alanna had done, since it was just so far and away from anything any Aes Sedai would ever do. Still, Nynaeve points out that the Amyrlin knows about Alanna’s odd behavior and can keep an eye on her better than they can.

“What about Elaida and Sheriam?” Egwene asked.

“I have never been able to like Elaida,” Elayne said, “but I cannot truly believe she is Black Ajah. And Sheriam? It’s impossible.”

Nynaeve snorted. “It should be impossible for any of them. When we do find them, there is nothing says they’ll all be women we do not like. But I don’t mean to put suspicion—not this kind of suspicion!—on any woman. We need more to go on than that they might have seen something they shouldn’t.” Egwene nodded agreement as quickly as Elayne, and Nynaeve went on: “We will tell the Amyrlin that much, and put no more weight to it than it deserves. If she ever looks in on us as she said she would. If you are with us when she comes, Elayne, remember she does not know about you.”

Elayne assures them that she won’t forget it, but also wishes that the Amyrlin had provided some way for them to contact her. Nynaeve knows that the Amyrlin can’t trust her messengers, so unless one of them wants to have another talk with Verin, they must wait for the Amyrlin to come to them. And Verin has made them all too suspicious to want to talk to her again. Nynaeve adds that she’s just as glad that they have no way to contact the Amyrlin on their own, as it means they get to make their own decisions without having to check in all the time. After a moment, she declares her intention to sleep with the ring.

Egwene is proud of herself when she doesn’t hesitate to take the ring from Nynaeve’s hand, even though she wants to. She reminds Nynaeve that she is the one who may be a dreamer, and that anyone who sleeps with the ring needs every advantage she can get. Nynaeve counters that her ability in channeling is greater, but Egwene points out that Nynaeve can’t know that she’ll be able to get angry enough to channel in a dream, or even if channeling is possible at all in a dream. And in any case, Verin gave the ring to her.

Nynaeve reluctantly agrees, but insists that she and Elyane be there with Egwene while she does it.

Now that she had their agreement, Egwene felt a queasiness in the pit of her stomach. I talked them into it. I wish I did not want them to talk me out of it. She became aware of a woman standing in the doorway, a woman in novice white, with her hair in long braids.

“Did no one ever teach you to knock, Else?” Nynaeve said.

Egwene hid the stone ring inside her fist. She had the strangest feeling that Else had been staring at it.

“I have a message for you,” Else said calmly. Her eyes studied the table, with all the papers scattered on it, then the three women around it. “From the Amyrlin.”
Egwene exchanged wondering looks with Nynaeve and Elayne.

“Well, what is it?” Nynaeve demanded.

Else arched an eyebrow in amusement. “The belongings left behind by Liandrin and the others were put in the third storeroom on the right from the main stairs in the second basement under the library.” She glanced at the papers on the table again and left, neither hurrying nor moving slowly.

Egwene feels like she can hardly breathe, and she can’t imagine why the Amyrlin would trust Else Grinwell, of all people. Nynaeve echoes the thought that the girl can’t be trusted not to blab to anyone or everyone. At that, Egwene starts into a run after Else, coming out into the hall only to see the flash of white disappearing down the nearest ramp. Thinking that Else must be running too, to get so far ahead of her, Egwene follows after her.

A woman turned to face her at the foot of the ramp, and Egwene stopped in confusion. Whoever she was, this was certainly not Else. All in silver and white silk, she sparked feelings Egwene had never had before. She was taller, more beautiful by far, and the look in her black eyes made Egwene feel small, scrawny, and none too clean. She can probably channel more of the Power than I can, too. Light, she is probably smarter than all three of us put together on top of it. It isn’t fair for one woman to—Abruptly she realized the way her thoughts were going. Her cheeks reddened, and she gave herself a shake. She had never felt–less–than any other woman before, and she was not about to start now.

“Bold,” the woman said. “You are bold to go running about so, alone, where so many murders have been done.” She sounded almost pleased.

Egwene tries to compose herself, mentally berating herself both for her state and also for caring so much what the woman might think of it. She explains politely that she is looking for a novice who came the same way, and describes Else, asking if the woman has seen her.

The woman, looking her up and down and perhaps letting her gaze linger for a moment on Egwene’s fist hiding the ring, answers that she does not think Egwene will catch up to her, as she was running quite fast, and is no doubt far away by now. Egwene, addressing her as Aes Sedai, starts to ask which way Else went, but the woman cuts her off, saying that she has more important matters to see too and ordering Egwene to leave her. The command in her voice is so strong that Egwene has turned back up the ramp and gone three steps before she realizes it. But when she turns around again, the woman is gone.

Egwene looks around, down the ramps and into the galleries and gardens below, but sees nothing besides a few Accepted walking in the garden. The woman in silver and white is nowhere to be seen.

With nowhere else to look, Egwene checks out a few of the nearby doors, even though she knows they all lead to rooms that are unused. Nynaeve and Elayne catch up to her, having moved at a normal, unhurried pace, and tease her a little for having lost Else. But their amusement doesn’t last after Egwene explains her encounter with the strange woman. Nynaeve tells Egwene to point her out the next time she sees her, then urges them to get moving to check out the storeroom Else mentioned, before anyone else finds out about it.

Egwene slips the dream ring into her pouch, and the three start off, keeping an eye out for the woman. The more Egwene thinks about her, the more she feels like something is wrong about her. They go out to the library, a building in blue stone a little away from the tower part of the Tower, as stately as a palace and with entrances guarded to make sure no one takes any of the books or scrolls or scraps of paper out without the permission and knowledge of the Brown sisters who keep it. Nynaeve doesn’t take them to those entrances, but instead around to the side, where there are entrances for servants and laborers to access the storerooms underneath the library.

They enter, descending into darkness, and Egwene opens herself to saidar in order to conjure a ball of light to see by. Elayne creates one as well, and they both note how wonderful it feels to channel, while also being careful to remind each other not to get too caught up in the feeling. Nynaeve, meanwhile, has to use their light, since she can’t channel without being angry.

She leads them down without hesitation, through a hall and down another flight of stairs.

Egwene followed quickly. The bluish light washed out Elayne’s face, but Egwene thought it still looked paler than it should. We could scream our lungs out down here, and no one would hear a whimper.

She felt a lightning bolt form, or the potential for one, and nearly stumbled. She had never before channeled two flows at once; it did not seem difficult at all.

Nynaeve finds the door that was described to them by Else, but is surprised to find a new lock and chain has been put on the door. She begins working herself up about it, yelling about how she saw no other locks on any of the doors, surprising Elayne.

Letting the rest of the tirade fade from her awareness, Egwene touched the chain. She had learned more things than how to make lightning bolts since leaving Tar Valon. One was an affinity for metal. That came from Earth, one of the Five Powers few women had much strength in—the other was Fire—but she had it, and she could feel the chain, feel inside the chain, feel the tiniest bits of the cold metal, the patterns they made. The Power within her quivered in time to the vibrations of those patterns.

Nynaeve interupts her, and Egwene turns to find the other woman holding a pry-bar made of bright-white power. Ordering Egwene out of the way, she puts the pry-bar to the chain and is shocked when the chain snaps like a thread. Egwene explains that she thinks she did something to the metal.

Nynaeve throws the door open and they all go into the storeroom, where they find thirteen bags of heavy brown cloth, each tied and sealed with the flame of Tar Valon. Egwene fastens her light to the side of the wall without knowing how she did it, and is a bit alarmed about how she keeps doing things without knowing what it is she is doing. Elayne, having been watching Egwene, performs the same trick, and Egwene thinks that she can see how it was done—each of them has somehow learned it from the other.

They break the wax seals and unwind the binding cords, searching through the piles of possessions that amount to little more than old clothing and useless bits of paper. At first they think that there is nothing of use in any of the bags, but then they begin to realize that each bag contains something that references Tear—a bit of a map, or a book with the cover ripped off, or a list of shipping vessels traveling from Tar Valon to Tear.

“It is too much,” Elayne said. “There is too much of it.”

“Too much,” Nynaeve agreed.

There was a second book, a tattered, leather-bound volume entitled Observations on a Visit to Tear, with half its pages falling out. Caught in the lining of a badly torn cloak in Chesmal Emry’s bag, where it might have slipped through a rip in one of the pockets of the cloak, had been another list of trading vessels. It said no more than the names, but they were all on the other “list, too, and according to that, those vessels all had sailed in the early morning after the night Liandrin and the others left the Tower. There was a hastily sketched plan of some large building, with one room faintly noted as “Heart of the Stone,” and a page with the names of five inns, the word “Tear” heading the page badly smudged but barely readable. There was…

“There’s something from everyone,” Egwene muttered. “Every one of them left something pointing to a journey to Tear. How could anyone miss seeing it, if they looked? Why did the Amyrlin say nothing of this?”

Nynaeve points out bitterly that the Amyrlin keeps her own counsel, but that she is more worried that they are looking at bait, either a trap or a diversion, but all this material is clearly intended to lead them. Unless, as Elayne points out, it’s a sort of double-blind, meant to make it so obviously intentional that anyone who saw it would dismiss Tear as a read herring. Egwene adds that perhaps they meant to taunt whoever found it.

“What do we do now?” Elayne asked finally.

Egwene squeezed the ring hard. Dreaming was closely linked to Foretelling; the future, and events in other places, could appear in a Dreamer’s dreams. “Maybe we will know after tonight.”

Nynaeve looked at her, silent and expressionless, then chose out a dark skirt that seemed not to have too many holes and rips, and began bundling in it the things they had found. “For now,” she said, “we will take this back to my room and hide it. I think we just have time, if we don’t want to be late to the kitchens.”

Late, Egwene thought. The longer she held the ring through her pouch, the greater the urgency she felt. We’re already a step behind, but maybe we won’t be too late.

 

There’s a certain irony to the fact that, technically, Mat is stuck in the Tower because he’s a thief. Not quite a literal burglar or pickpocket, but someone who put his hands on something that did not belong to him and is suffering greatly for it. He can’t leave the Tower partly because it will kill him, and partially because he blew the Horn of Valere. Which, again, wasn’t exactly wrong of him, but it was a pretty audacious move to just take it and blow it, knowing what it is and what it is meant to be connected to. And now he’s has escaped one life-changing bond for another, although at least the Horn won’t posses him or (directly) kill him.

That quarterstaff duel with Galad and Gawyn rocked my world. It’s so Robin Hood, with Galad and Gawyn as the over-confident Robin and Little John, and Mat as… Alan-a-Dale maybe. Or Much the Miller’s son. Mat’s personality is very Much, I think. And Galad and Gawyn are even worse off than Robin in these stories, since Robin at least took the weapon itself seriously, whereas they dismiss it in a rather classist way. Not understanding the advantages of the quarterstaff—its length, for one, and the versatility provided by the ability to change quickly from an angled blow to a thrust, or from a parry to a strike, much more quickly than a sword can—was their downfall, I think, along with not understanding that just because farmers and shepherds don’t train for war doesn’t mean they aren’t trained.

In medieval England, the quarterstaff was very popular in gladiatorial-style fighting, and like wrestling, it was a way for combatants to earn money as well as entertain at public events, fairs, and busy marketplaces. Apparently that’s true in the Two Rivers as well. Emond’s Field may be so far out of the way that its inhabitants never consider that the trials and wars of the outside world could ever reach them (and I’m sure we can all guess how well that assumption is going to turn out) but that doesn’t mean they aren’t at least somewhat prepared, as the boys’ skills with the bow have also shown.

May this be a reminder to me, as well; I am used to thinking of Perrin as the big one and Rand as the tall one, but now I know Mat must be pretty strong and imposing, too. Quarterstaffs are heavy!

Galad and Gawyn may have underestimated a farmer with a quarterstaff, but they were right to be worried about Mat’s recovery. I really do understand Mat’s desire to get away from the Aes Sedai, especially after how much he’s been through and how little control he’s had over his life, or even his own mind, since he left the Two Rivers. But the Amyrlin did warn him that if he left the Tower he’d probably starve to death, and he’s going to need to take that a bit more seriously, at least. He may be all about “thinking it through” now, but he’s still letting his impulses overwhelm his more cautious thoughts.

And then of course there is the increasing problem of the bleed-over from his other life. More Old Tongue, and his instinct to go in for the killing blow against Galad. Not to mention saying that he’s from Manetheren! I thought maybe the effects of that strange time connection would fade, but now it’s starting to look like Mat may be carrying them with him permanently. I am really curious how this will affect him going forward. In some ways it’s a bit similar to how Egwene keeps finding that she can do things with saidar without knowing what she is doing, some combination of past memory and instinct, which neither of them can understand or control, unlike the way Nynaeve learns so quickly, or even how Perrin’s abilities manifest without his trying.

I love how Galad is a little shaken by his encounter with Nynaeve. I do like his character, although I’m getting annoyed by this whole thing where every woman who sees him just has to either swoon or eat him up. On the one hand I suppose it’s not terrible that Jordan is balancing the weird Lanfear thing with a male equivalent. But also, people aren’t really like this. Is the narrative saying that the mostly-celibate Aes Sedai are so sex-starved they have to go stare at this one dude? Is he really that much more handsome than any other man? And what does “almost pretty enough to be a girl” even mean?

In other worldbuilding news, this is the first time we’ve encountered another Illianer, and he does have Domon’s accent and speech patterns, so if I hadn’t had all of you to tell me that’s where it came from, I would know now. I’d been confused about it because it sounds very piratey, so I guess Illian is kind of like the Bristol of this world.

I had no idea what to make of Mat’s encounter with Else until we got to see her/Lanfear again in the following chapter. It seemed possible to me that she could have gotten mixed up with either the Black Ajah or something to do with Elaida plotting against our heroines, but the way she needed to keep such a wide distance from Mat suggests a little something else. I thought maybe she could be carrying something, but my best guess now is that it was, in fact, not Else at all but Lanfear in disguise, perhaps some kind of glamour that looks like the real thing but wouldn’t hold up so well if Mat touched her? I wonder which aspects of channeling one uses to make a glamour. Maybe Air and Spirit?

But when she encounters Egwene later I don’t understand why she doesn’t disappear at once, rather than having the little chase first, if that’s something she can so easily do. If she can vanish as soon as someone looks away from her, she could have stepped out of the doorway and disappeared at once, rather than having to high-tail it away from Egwene on foot. Unless it really was Else delivering the message, and Egwene running into Lanfear while chasing her was really a coincidence?

It’s possible, but I don’t think it’s as probable as Lanfear impersonating the novice. But if that’s the case, then where is the real Else? Did Lanfear kill her, or stash her somewhere?

The way Egwene is threatened by Selene again suggests some kind of glamour or something that affects the way people perceive her. Hot or not, dignified or not, there’s no reason for Egwene to get that worked up about it, unless maybe she can actually sense Lanfear’s Age of Legends-level abilities somehow? It’s still a little weird that Ba’alzamon’s power manifests as a fire face and Lanfear’s manifests as men thinking she’s so hot they can’t control themselves and women being viscerally threatened that she’s not only prettier, but also smarter and more powerful. But I could see it being a thing.

Speaking of Egwene, it’s an interesting game to try and figure out which of her dreams are foretellings or Dreams versus which are ordinary nightmares, especially when you bring in the extra information that we readers have but she doesn’t have yet. E.g. we know more about Rand’s journey to find the Sword That Cannot Be Touched than she does (it’s in Tear!) and more about Perrin’s connection to wolves and the manly beards that seem to come with them. And we also know that Jordan doesn’t put in random details that don’t end up meaning anything, which is why I was alarmed that Egwene dreamed of Whitecloaks binding her father’s hands. It seems inevitable that some kind of trouble will find its way back to the Two Rivers, given what five of its young people are up to in the world, and since there’s no specific reasons for Egwene to fear Whitecloaks coming after her father, I think it’s safe to assume that this is a Dream, capital D.

But the dream that intrigues me the most is what she saw for Mat. I’m not sure about the significance of the birds—my first thought was it might be a Manetheren reference, but their symbol was an eagle, not a hawk or a falcon. The eye on the scale, however, immediately made me think  of the Norse God Odin, who sacrifices his right eye in exchange for a drink from the well of the God Mimir. Since Odin also voluntarily hung himself from a tree in order to gain runes from the Norns, these images make sense together. And in both these occasions, Odin was seeking wisdom and knowledge, so perhaps that is where Mat’s future is going as well. The scale suggests either payment or a test, like the weighing of a dead person’s heart in Egyptian mythology.

All this talk of losing eyes reminds me of the dreams the boys had early on about ravens attacking their eyes, or Ba’alzamon burning them with balls of fire. This may be unconnected, especially since Mat was also physically suffering from damaged eyesight at the time, but you never know. And I did just compare Mat to Loki two or three weeks ago, so now I can feel smug about that.

We’ve got Rand al’Thor too. Maybe Perrin is Heimdall, then, what with the golden eyes. (Shout out to Idris Elba and the MCU.)

Nothing makes me more suspicious that Sheriam is going to turn out to be Black Ajah than Elayne saying that it’s impossible for her to be. I’m still of the opinion that it has to be one of them, either Elaida or Sheriam, unless maybe it’s Leane. Someone in a position of great power, at any rate. But narratively speaking, it feels like Elaida is being set up to cause a different kind of problem within the Tower, given her obvious and vocal disapproval of Egwene and Nynaeve, and of the Amyrlin’s decisions. If she’s upset about them now, imagine how she would react if she found out about the Amyrlin and Moiraine’s secret agenda with the Dragon Reborn. Elaida is exactly the sort of person the Amyrlin was worrying about, at least until the Black Ajah became a more pressing concern. And now we’ve seen Egwene’s “for what will be” trip through the arched ter’angreal, showing us Elaida stripping an Amyrlin of her power and status because she didn’t like how that Amyrlin handled a man claiming to be the Dragon Reborn. It’s not hard to imagine we’ll see that again, maybe for Egwene far later in the books, or maybe for Siuan just a couple chapters from now.

I didn’t address it last week, but the issue of Darkfriends being able to forcibly turn channelers does complicate the question of who might be Black Ajah. The drama of the departure of the thirteen, complete with captured ter’angreal, suggests to me that it probably hasn’t been done by anyone yet. Although the Black Ajah are stronger in number than anyone could have guessed, I don’t think the Shadow’s forces have had the capability to have thirteen women channeling through thirteen Myrddraal all over town this whole time. It’s more likely that this will be the first attempt, that they are going to Tear to capture Rand, with the intent of trying the technique for the first time.

But that still leaves a lot of questions. It is presumably Ba’alzamon’s plan, and he has intimated he had ways to make Rand serve him, willing or no. But there’s also a chance this is Lanfear meddling in things. And why would they want to leave those clues behind, luring people after them to Tear. Overconfidence? A trap, as Nynaeve suggests?

I wonder if the tampering of turning a channeler would show in some way, if it would affect one’s personality or habits, or if that person would go on living their life exactly the same, except now they are aligned with the Dark One.

I also wonder how long it will take for Nynaeve to get past her block, and what she will have to do to figure it out. I keep waiting for her to show more interest in healing through the One Power. She was going to try it with Mat, because she felt she had too, and she was going to use her herbs as well as channeling. But we haven’t heard anything more about her studying Healing or anything like that. And somehow, I can imagine that Healing requires a certain calm and contentedness that might pose a real problem for a woman who can only channel when she is angry.

Sylas K Barrett is a reader who is obsessed with Robin Hood and an actor obsessed with stage combat, who studied quarterstaff in his classes. It’s been a fun week.

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