Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading The Wheel of Time: Tanchico is Chockfull of Bad Guys in Robert Jordan’s The Shadow Rising (Part 28)

Welcome back to our read of The Shadow Rising. This week is a week of familiar faces reappearing, including some we haven’t seen since The Dragon Reborn or even The Great Hunt. Plots are stirring in Tanchico, the Seanchan and the Whitecloaks are afoot, as well as, of course, the Black Ajah. What exactly are Elayne and Nynaeve about to stumble into? Only time will tell as we venture into Chapter 38, which is so dense and so full of villains that I feel like I’m back in Chapter 1 again.

Chapter 38 finds us in Tanchico, in a wineshop known as The Garden of Silver Breezes, located on a hill overlooking the crowded great harbor. It’s a beautiful, expensive place that was expensive even before Tarabon’s troubles began, and now it’s worse. The powerful and the rich still come here to deal in influence and power. The patrons all go masked to avoid being recognized, and so do the bodyguards that accompany them, although the proprietress forbids anyone from carrying weapons.

Egeanin is seated at a table, dressed in a blue mask and silk gown, her hair grown down to her shoulders. She has to blend in, even as she stares regretfully out at the harbor and longs for her days captaining, rather than to this place that duty has led her to. Across from her sits Floran Gelb, an informant of hers. He has brought her an a’dam and news of “one of the women” she seeks. He needs a little money to get close to the woman in question.

Egeanin tells him that she pays for results, and Gelb reminds her that she once said that she’d also pay for those who would do “special kinds of work” like stirring up trouble. He has heard a rumor about the Assembly and choosing a new Panarch—news that would rip Tanchico wide open. Egeanin is tempted to buy the rumor, but holds back, and sends Gelb on his way after he tries to ask where she is from.

About to leave herself, Egeanin catches sight of a familiar face: Bayle Domon, the trader she once brought before High Lord Turak. In her mask he would not recognize her, but she stays at the table and out of view until he leaves, thinking that he might need to be disposed of if he ends up causing trouble. She also notices one of the Inquisitors of the Children of the Light, Jaichim Carridin, on her way out. Once in the streets she is met by her bearers and bodyguards—no one with money ever goes out in Tanchico alone, and doing so would definitely bring Egeanin unwanted attention—and is carried in a sedan chair through the streets.

Worn was the only fit description for the milling masses, worn and frenzied. Worn faces, worn clothes, and too-bright, frenzied eyes, desperate, hoping when they knew there was no hope. Many had surrendered, crouching against walls, huddled in doorways, clutching wives, husbands, children, not simply worn but ragged and blank-faced. Sometimes they roused enough to cry out to some passerby for a coin, a crust, anything.

Egeanin avoids making eye contact, any acknowledgement of the throng inviting a horde crowding around. She thinks about how she is using some of her money to support a soup kitchen here—in Seanchan such an act was only done by the Blood, and she doesn’t like to think what would happen if such an overstepping of her place were discovered. She also wonders why the High Lady Suroth hasn’t come for Tanchico yet. It is ready to fall; once it has, everything can be put right and everyone fed and put back in their proper place. And Egeanin could return to the sea and her ship, abandoning dresses and all these things she has “no taste” for.

Meanwhile, Jaichim Carridin lounges in a chair across from a table filled with masks. It’s been two months since he heard news of his cousin being skinned alive in his own bedchamber, and three since his sister was carried off by Myrddraal, but he manages to keep a calmer demeanor than those he is meeting. These men, who have not given their names but who are clearly nobles, are seeking the aid of the Children in restoring order to the city. They claim not to know who killed the former Panarch, claim to suspect one of the “Dragonsworn madmen,” but Carridin privately suspects King Andric himself. He believes that the King had the Panarch assassinated because he suspected that she supported rebel claimants to the throne. Unfortunately for him, the Assembly has been making some difficulty about his choice for the new Panarch, the Lady Amathera. But these difficulties are not supposed to be known, and would cause riots in the streets if they were.

Carridin tells them that he’s not sure what the Lord Captain Commander would say, although he knows that “Pedron Niall would say to do what was needed and make sure the Taraboners knew that they owed a debt to the Children” and then to make them pay it. He also tells him that he must hear the request to secure the Panarch position for Lady Amathera from the King himself, or it would look like the Children were reaching for power in Tarabon. One of the men suggests that Pedron Niall, seeking unity against the Dragonsworn, intends for all to be united under himself—a suggestion Carridin icily rejects, assuring him that the very idea of Tarabon being subject to Amador in some way had never crossed his mind.

He tells the group that he will do what they ask under the conditions he has stated, and one man assures him that he will have sureties signed and sealed by the King. Carridin is quite sure that speaker is Andric himself, of course. He swears under the Light that once those papers are in his hand, he will secure the Panarch’s Palace and that the Children will ensure that no one interferes with the investiture. Everyone at the table seems visible relieved, and he makes his goodbyes as perfunctorily as he can.

Of course, Carridin doesn’t care about handing control over the King and the Panarch to Pedron Niall, or whether the Children take full control of Tarabon. But he has to keep up his appearances with the Children. Still, he’s more preoccupied with the thought of his own throat being cut.

He’s also preoccupied thinking about the Dragon Reborn. The rebels can be easily dealt with by spreading rumors of Darkfriends, but the people who have declared for the Dragon will not be so easily gotten rid of. Carridin knew the name of the man they have sworn to follow, even if they don’t, but he can’t find him. He has no idea which of the band of Dragonsworn fighters out there are hiding Rand al’Thor, and if he is far away, Carridin is almost certainly a dead man.

He returns to the palace which he has commandeered for the Children’s use, ignoring the rich surroundings, his thoughts on getting a drink from his study. He’s halfway into the room when he realizes that there is already someone there, a young and beautiful woman with honey-colored hair. He demands to know who she is, but when she calls him Bors, he draws his sword to attack.

He’s instantly wrapped from the neck down in air that feels like jelly, forced to his knees as the sword falls from his hands. She asks him if he remembers when the Dark Lord came to them and showed them the faces of Matrim Cauthon, and Perrin Aybara, and Rand al’Thor, revealing how she knows his name. Horrified at coming face to face with one of the Black Ajah he begins to babble about how he has tried to find Rand al’Thor but he can’t, that he has more family left to die before him. He tells her their locations, and then, when she seems unmoved, tries to call out in hope that some of the guards will come and kill her. The thickened air slides down his throat, muffling his voice though he can still breathe.

But when she asks him if he would like to be her dog, and to get to watch Rand al’Thor die, he realizes that she isn’t there to kill him, to skin him alive, or worse. He begins to cry, shaking, and the hold around him is released in favor of the woman pulling him up by his hair. She knows about his moving the Whitecloaks to the Panarch’s palace, and asks if there will be difficulty in holding it. He tells her it will take three or four days to have everything ready, and she murmurs to herself that “a little delay should cause no harm.” Then she orders him to keep control of the Palace and to send the Panarch’s soldiers away.

“That is impossible,” he gasped, and she jerked his head back so hard he did not know if his neck would break or his scalp tear loose first. He did not dare resist. A thousand invisible needles pricked him, on his face, his chest, his back, arms, legs, everywhere. Invisible, but he was sure no less real for that.

“Impossible, Jaichim?” she said softly. “Impossible is a word I do not like to hear.”

Despite the pain, he manages to explain that, once installed as Panarch, Amathera will control the Legion, and if he tries to take control, both she and the King will turn their forces on him. After studying him in a way that is almost as uncomfortable as the needles, she releases him and promises that the Panarch will be dealt with. He briefly tries to discuss with her further, but she shuts him down, promising that if he does not obey her, she will make him beg to be given to a Myrddraal. But she does respond when, as she is leaving, he asks her name.

Her smile was sweet this time, and mocking. “Yes. A dog should know his mistress’s name. I am called Liandrin. But that name must never touch a dog’s lips. Should it, I will be most displeased with you.”

He collapses in his chair, feeling sick, trying to figure a way out of the trap she has imprisoned him in, but seeing only more traps in every play he can think of.

Liandrin leaves the palace the way she came in, Outside she kills the Whitecloak who she persuaded to let her in and wishes she had the ability to kill with the Power. She finds it strange that the ability to stop hearts seems to go hand-in-hand with the power to Heal, and Liandrin cannot Heal much more than scrapes and bruises. Not that she has any interest in that.

She is carried in her sedan chair by bearers and guards who are also sworn to the Dark One, back to the house she and the other Black Ajah have taken over from a Darkfriend merchant. She would have preferred a palace—had grown up staring enviously at palaces—but staying hidden is still necessary. Inside she asks a servant, Gyldin, where the others are, and when the woman doesn’t curtsy or use any title of respect, Liandrin loses her temper. She instantly regrets the words, which come out more like a commoner’s speech than that of the nobility she has imitated for so long.

She finds most of her Black Ajah in the withdrawing room, and informs them that Carridin will do as they want and hold the Panarch’s Palace for them, and tells them about how Carridin believed that she was there to kill him for not killing Rand al’Thor. His orders apparently contradict theirs, which are to bind Rand to them and control him, if such a thing can be done, and Liandrin suggests that this means that there is dissension among the Forsaken. They discuss the danger of being crushed between warring Forsaken, and whether they could stand against them.

Asne suggests that they can use balefire, since it can destroy even one of the Forsaken, and they have the means to produce it thanks to one of the ter’angreal they took from the tower, a fluted black rod. But another woman, Jeaine, points out that none of them could wield that ter’angreal, that the trial of it nearly killed her and burned a hole through both sides of their ship.

“What need have we of balefire?” Liandrin said. “If we can control the Dragon Reborn, let the Forsaken think how they will deal with us.” Suddenly she became aware of another presence in the room. The woman Gyldin, wiping down a carved, low-backed chair in one corner. “What are you doing here, woman?”

“Cleaning.” The dark-braided woman straightened unconcernedly. “You told me to clean.”

Liandrin almost struck out with the Power. Almost. But Gyldin certainly did not know they were Aes Sedai. How much had the woman heard? Nothing of importance. “You will go to the cook,” she said in a cold fury, “and tell him he is to strap you. Very hard! And you are to have nothing to eat until the dust is all gone.” Again. The woman had made her speak like a commoner again.

She asks one of the former Browns, Eldrith, if she has been able to learn anything more about the object they are searching for, but Eldrith only knows what they have already figured out—that it is in the Panarch’s palace, and that it must be a ter’angreal. Marillin, another Brown with a fondness for cats asserts that it doesn’t matter, because soon they will have the Panarch’s palace and be able to search every inch and candlestick until they find what they need. And then they will put Rand al’Thor on a leash.

But Carridin is not the only one who receives a surprise visitor in this chapter, as Egeanin returns home to find a Seeker of the Truth in her house. After forcing him to prove his identity by showing first a plaque and then his raven tattoos, she apologizes to this man, who is property of the Empress but also carries the authority to put her to the question. Still, she thinks of her crossbow, and what she might do if he asked the wrong questions or demanded the wrong answers.

He tells her that he has been sent to check up, and is pleased that she seems to be understanding and following her orders. He remarks that sul’dam deserters have been an embarrassment and it would be better to kill them, even though Egeanin’s instructions have been to find and return those left behind in the retreat from Falme. The Seeker makes her brew and serve him tea, then to list out all her knowledge and draw out maps of everything. It seems to be a power play, since everything she gives him she has already sent back to Suroth via courier boat. Then he leaves, and Egeanin goes down to check on her secret in the basement.

She has a prisoner, a sul’dam named Bethamin, whom Egeanin accidentally discovered could be held by the a’dam like a damane. She makes sure that the Seeker did not discover Bethamin and then returns upstairs, tidying up as she works through her confused thoughts. She can’t understand how a sul’dam could be held by an a’dam, how any woman who was damane might be missed and not end up collared until now. This meant that Bethamin could channel, and Egeanin wonders if other sul’dam can channel too. Is this why they should be killed instead of recovered? Does Suroth know about it too, and is she keeping the information from the Empress?

A mere ship captain could die screaming for a misplaced frown in that company, or find herself property for a whim. She had to know more if she hoped to avoid the Death of Ten Thousand Tears. To begin with, that meant spreading more money to Gelb and other ferrety skulkers like him, finding more sul’dam and seeing if a’dam held them. Beyond that … . Beyond that she was sailing uncharted reefs with no linesman in the bow.

She thinks of how dangerously close she is to treasonous thoughts, and how she won’t let the Seekers kill her just to protect Suroth’s secret. Or maybe for any reason at all.

 

One of the lovely things about doing this read is that I’m constantly forced to reconsider and re-evaluate my initial opinions and notions about a chapter. On my first pass through Chapter 38 I glossed over most of it with something akin to disinterest. I admit I’m not particularly invested in the Seanchan, despite the provocative way they linger at the edges of the story, a clear threat but one that has not yet realized itself the way that others, like the Whitecloaks or the Black Ajah or Ordeith-Fain have. And I had forgotten that Egeanin is someone we have met before.

On my second pass, however, as I started to draw up my summary and analysis of events, I realized just how juicy this chapter really is, to the point where it ended up taking up the whole of this post. Egeanin, the Seanchan ship captain, is back. Friggin’ Gelb is back. Jaichim Carridin (whom we now definitely know to be Bors) is back. Liandrin is back, being fully horrible. There is a secret spy in the midst of the Black Ajah. Oh, and the Seanchan have apparently got some of their sul’dam on the loose.

Okay, I’m hooked, tell me more.

I really do love the way Jordan is always bringing back familiar faces. I had forgotten Egeanin, actually, but her name kept niggling in my mind and when she recognized Bayle I finally thought to go look her up in The Great Hunt. It was interesting to see how much she hates being undercover in Tanchico—her dislike of dresses and the way she misses her old life reminded me a lot of Min stuck in the Tower, using her visions to spy for Siuan. There are some interesting dynamics going on, an interplay with Egeanin’s sense of duty and the needs of her new position. Like the fact that paying for the soup kitchen would be seen by the other Seanchan as her acting above her station. Or the fact that she’s keeping Bethamin a secret and considering doing the same to others. Or the knowledge that she won’t let the Seekers kill her just to keep Lady Suroth’s secret, or maybe even for any reason, “a thought shiveringly close to treason.”

I suppose I should have expected that other people might figure out the truth about sul’dam, but honestly I expected it to come from Seta or Renna. I do wonder what happened to those two. But it makes sense that, in the chaos of Turak’s death and the defeat at Falme, some strings were dropped, and that has left these sul’dam in a precarious position. And Egeanin too, because of what she has stumbled across. I suppose that is the danger of leaving the regimented lands of the Seanchan to wander in these new ones. Sure, Egeanin might see the disorder and suffering in Tanchico and think about how Seanchan rule will bring peace and security to everyone, but these little tastes of freedom, whether chosen or compelled by necessity, are going to make a difference I think. Especially because the Seanchan world comes with such harsh punishments for simple mistakes or errors outside one’s own control. Ignorance is also a danger in Seanchan society—the High Lords are quite happy to kill someone who is inconvenient to them, whether that person means to be or not, and Egeanin is quite aware of it. Hence her plan to keep Bethamin a secret, and to try to learn more about the sul’dam.

Of course, I’m always happy to see Bayle Domon. I wonder if he’ll run into Nynaeve and Elayne at some point, and maybe get caught up in their adventures. He dodged that involvement last time, but who is to say he’ll be so lucky on a second go round. And then there’s Gelb, the former sailor who Bayle threw off his ship at Whitebridge after the guy kept trying to make Rand the scapegoat for the fact that he had been asleep on guard. The fact that he’s here, as ready as ever to cause trouble instead of making an honest buck, is pretty funny, considering that Egeanin doesn’t know of the man’s connection to Bayle. I wonder if it would matter if she did.

Running into Carridin again was a surprise as well. I loved seeing him interact with the King and Assembly, so sure of himself in their presence, knowing that it was the King even though he wasn’t supposed to, easily making plans to control the King and the Panarch while calmly repeating the Children’s dedication to the Light, not political ambition. He’s being a consummate Whitecloak here, I suppose, which is slimy and gross, but also provides a perfect, stark contrast to how little power or control he has when he’s working for the Dark instead.

I almost feel bad for Carridin. Not really, of course—the guy’s a Darkfriend, with all that entails—but he was so sure of himself when we met him as Bors, and it has become so quickly clear how out of his depth he actually is. Bors spent all that time sneering down his nose at the other Darkfriends at that gathering, judging their relative ability to disguise themselves, thinking about how the herd would have to be thinned in the end. Believing that the Black Ajah were more disposable than himself. That hubris didn’t take very long to come around to bite him, did it?

He really is caught now. Pedron Niall was already threatening to send him to the Questioners after what happened at Falme, and Carridin does not need that kind of suspicion on him, considering that he’s secretly a Darkfriend. He’s been giving orders by Niall to keep Rand alive, but others by his true masters to kill Rand or die himself (after all his family is taken out, that is). And now Liandrin has her hooks in him too. Fortunately, she wants him to take the Panarch’s Palace just as Niall does, so for now he’s able to follow both those orders. But sooner or later the various threads tied to the man are going to start pulling in different directions, and he’s not going to make out well, I think. Which I’m okay with, considering he was willing to sell out his other sister to the horrors of the Myrddraal.

It makes perfect sense to me that there is discord amongst the Forsaken. We’ve already seen that Lanfear doesn’t get along with some of the guys, and appears to have been going her own way since the beginning. I suppose the real question is who’s getting their orders directly from the Dark One, and who isn’t. With Ishamael gone, there may have been a bit of scrambling for top-level power, as well.

Speaking of Liandrin, the Black Ajah section was probably my favorite one to date. There were twelve Black Ajah who fled the Tower with Liandrin, and there are five of them here. That’s seven of Liandrin’s followers accounted for now, when we include Amico and Joiya, leaving five more, although they are also here in Tanchico with her, apparently. I enjoyed the description of all the women, and how their personality traits still show their former Ajahs. (Apparently being an evil Brown means that you do secret experiments on your friend’s cats?)

It’s also interesting to learn that Liandrin and company have no more idea of what this device to control Rand is than Egwene, Nynaeve, Elayne, and Moiraine do. There’s a lot she hasn’t been told, really, including why they were instructed to steal the specific ter’angreal that they took from the Tower. That she should be so in the dark hadn’t occurred to me, and it reframes a bit how far behind her our hunters actually are.

And now balefire has come up again. We haven’t had mention of it in a while, although we know that it is probably the thing that Moiraine used on the Darkhounds. There’s also a mention of the balefire-producing ter’angreal in Verin’s notes about the stolen items, that Egwene looks over in Chapter 25 of The Dragon Reborn

…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.

I’m honestly quite impressed that Jordan was able to keep track of all these details, setting them up in one book and working them back in in another. He must have had wildly extensive notes. In any case, I’m quite curious about balefire and what information about it we are missing.

I’m also curious about the Seanchan Seekers. I remember Turak mentioning the Seekers of Truth to Fain, talking about how the Empress’s spies were everywhere, and even a high lord or lady could find themselves turned over to the Seekers of Truth. My assumption was, and still is, that they are very similar to the Whitecloak Questioners, and that their methods are similar too. Despite being the literal property of the Empress, the Seekers wield a great power in that they are deputized to use any means necessary to “find the truth,” i.e. extract a confession via torture. They even use the same phrase “put to the question,” although the Whitecloaks like to capitalize it.

No wonder that guy made Egeanin so nervous.

Just as I felt a sort of sympathy for Carridin (right up to when he started telling Liandrin where to find his family members), I feel that same sympathy for Bethamin. The slavery of the a’dam is too horrible to be deserved even by the people who used to wield them. Bethamin says that she has known Egeanin for ten years… I wonder if she is the sul’dam who was in charge of the damane on Egeanin’s ship, the one she was so proud to have bought. It was interesting to see Egeanin reeling under the knowledge that sul’dam can be collared, and therefore are, ostensibly, able to channel, to watch her struggle under the question of whether Suroth knows about this, whether Suroth would dare keep such information from the Empress. Of course we know that Suroth is also playing a cautious game of treason, just like Egeanin is. The long arms of Seanchan regimented society can’t reach quite as far as they think.

And I have to wonder, how did the Seanchan think that the a’dam worked? I understand how their knowledge of channeling is so limited that they don’t know that some people can be born with the spark but others can still have the ability to learn. But what did they think made only some women able to become sul’dam, and why does the a’dam only identify girls with the spark but not all with the potential for channeling? All little Seanchan girls have the collars put on them, to see if they are damane, as well as getting the opportunity to try on the bracelet, so why does the a’dam not work on them when they are little, but work on them now, as adults?

But let’s leave that question for a moment and circle back to Liandrin and company. Because I still have one big important question, and that is about Gyldin. At first I thought that she was just a narrative device to allow Jordan to show us more about Liandrin, but their second encounter started to raise some red flags for me, and I’m now convinced that there is more to Gyldin than meets the eye. As Liandrin observes, Gyldin doesn’t seem to behave the way a servant should—surely the original master of the house would have impressed upon her that these women were important, and given the state of things in Tanchico I think every servant would have enough of a self-preservation instinct to err on the side of respect and deference. Also, the way Gyldin was sort of blank when Liandrin asked what she was doing, dusting in that room where they all were, and when she reacted (or rather didn’t react) to the orders to go have herself strapped, it seemed almost like she was “playing dumb,” so to speak. Even Liandrin seems to be picking up on a weird vibe, and checks to see if Gyldin is eavesdropping.

But who could she be? Another Aes Sedai, sent undercover by the Amyrlin? Or (more likely) one of Moiraine’s eyes-and-ears network? Moiraine wasn’t very convinced by Amico’s story about Liandrin going to Tanchico to find a weapon to control Rand, but that doesn’t mean she would leave that stone unturned. It would be really cool if Gyldin was a spy for Moiraine.

Next week we’re going to cover Chapters 39 and 40, catching up with Elayne and Nynaeve and then with Perrin and his Trolloc hunters. In the meantime, I hope you are all staying safe and well. Keep your eye out for more Wheel of Time articles from me, here on the one and only tor dot com!

Sylas K Barrett is very tired. Not as tired as Carridin is, but pretty tired. Let’s all get a good nap in today. And someone stop Eldrith from murdering all those cats.

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