Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading the Wheel of Time: Bandits, Assassins, and Carneira in Robert Jordan’s New Spring (Part 12)

Welcome back to your regularly scheduled Reading the Wheel of Time. This week, Moiraine torments Lan but fails to get what she wants from him, and Lan finds exactly what he didn’t want to find in Chachin. Meanwhile, Sylas struggles to remember that Prince Consort Brys and Gareth Bryne are not the same person, and continues to spell Malkier incorrectly. Bukama would be so disappointed in me.

And now, on to the recap of Chapters 21 and 22!

The group rides hard, sleeping under the stars or in haylofts, never stopping long in a village. “Alys” continues her search for the Sahera woman and continues to regard Lan frostily every time he shows curiosity, yet she also continually tries to find out their own life’s stories. Lan, Bukama, and Ryne continually deflect her questions, though her constant questioning reminds Lan of a swarm of blackflies. Twice they encounter terrible storms that roll down at them from the Blight, but Alys instructs them not to stop, and creates an invisible dome around them as they travel, the rain and hail bouncing off of it. She seems surprised when they thank her for the service, which sets Lan wondering again about this strange woman.

Around noon on the fourth day they are surprised by a group of bandits on horseback, around twenty men bursting from the trees and making a line before them. Lan’s bow is drawn in an instant, though he knows there is little chance he’ll have time for a second shot.

“Twenty-three behind at thirty paces,” Bukama called. “No bows. On your word.”

No difference at all, against a band large enough to attack most merchant trains. He did not loose, however. So long as the men only sat their horses, a chance remained. A small one. Life and death often turned on small chances.

The leader of the bandits tells them that he’d rather not lose a few men in a fight, and offers to let them go if they’ll just turn over their money and the lady’s jewelry. Lan knows full well that they’ll all end up with their throats cut if they surrender, and wishes that if Alys had some trick of the Power up her sleeve, she would use it. At that very moment her voice booms out, asking them how they dare impede the way of an Aes Sedai and demanding that they surrender or face her wrath. Her voice is thunder, scaring the bandits’ horses, and one of them calls out that he knew it was a Green Aes Sedai and her three Warders. The leader points out that it is still fifty against four, but Lan starts counting to ten in a loud voice, and the bandits break and rush off in disarray.

To Lan’s surprise, Alys is angry at him for letting them go, insisting that they should have fought them and taken the survivors to the nearest magistrate. Bukama and Ryne both try to explain how unlikely it was that they would have survived such a fight, but Alys still seems convinced that she could have taken on fifty men by herself.

That first night, Lan had stayed in the wet and the mud to show that he accepted the soaking she gave him—he had intended the affair to end with honors even. But he finds that Alys doesn’t see it that way, and every night she torments him with the power. The first night she stays awake all night and flicks him with an invisible switch whenever he nods off, the second night she somehow fills his clothes with sand, and the third night she somehow makes ants crawl into his clothing and bite him all at once. When he opens his eyes she is standing over him, and she seems surprised when he does not cry out.

Lan can’t figure out what reaction she is looking for, but all he can do is endure it. When he discovers a patch of blisterleaf near their campsite, however, he nearly loses his temper, and begins to pray they will reach Chachin soon. Maybe Edeyn didn’t send Alys to watch him after all—maybe she is meant to kill him slowly.

Moiraine can’t understand Lan’s stubbornness. All she wants is a display of remorse and an abject apology for dunking her, as well as a respect for her status as Aes Sedai. But it’s clear that he disbelieves her right to the shawl, and she is determined to bring him to heel. Even if she does admire his fortitude a little.

The ants had been a great disappointment. That was one of the Blue Ajah secrets, a way to repel insects or make them gather and bite or sting, though not intended for the use she had put it to. But she was quite proud of the blisterleaf, which at least made him jump a bit, proving that he really was made of human flesh.

She’s puzzled by the fact that neither of his companions have said anything, and that he has not complained even privately to them. She can’t figure out why they won’t tell her anything about themselves, or why Lan and Bukama seem almost embarrassed when she tells them stories of her own youth in Cairhien and at the Tower. They deflect all her questions with the skill of Aes Sedai. She still doesn’t know if they are Darkfriends, and she carefully lays a ward around each of them every night.

She finally locates Avene Sahera, in a town called Ravinda. Avene is building herself an inn with the bounty she received, and intends to call it the White Tower. Moiraine suggests she change it, but Avene is sure the sisters won’t object. More frustrating still, Moiraine learns that Avene’s child doesn’t even fit the criteria—some Accepted had made a mistake taking her name. As they ride away she begins to consider setting wasps on Lan that night, but when she asks him if he is allergic he turns and is struck by an arrow in his shoulder.

Moiraine is filled with saidar at once, as she weaves shields of air to block any more arrows from hitting Lan or herself, then finds the attacker in the trees with her Power-enhanced sight and binds him with flows of Air. Bukama and Ryne’s arrows strike the man an instant later, and Moiraine releases him with a groan of dismay; she hadn’t intended to assist in the man being killed, and it feels a little too close to using the Power as a weapon for her comfort. Lan wheels his horse over towards the dying man, and both he and Bukama recognize him as someone called Caniedrin. Bukama asks why.

A weak voice answered in gasps. “Gold. Why else? You still have… the Dark One’s luck… turning just then… or that shaft… would have found… your heart. He should have… told me… she’s Aes Sedai… instead of just saying… to kill her first.

Hearing that, Moiraine hurries over, instructing them to remove the arrows so she can Heal him. Lan asks if she’s so eager to see a hanging, while Ryne tells her that the man is already dead. He is interested to know if she can Heal that. Moiraine looks the man over—he seems young, but had apparently been confident he could kill all four of them, even though he knew Lan and Bukama. She searches his body, knowing that it’s too much to hope for that she might find a letter from Gorthanes, the man with the scar, but she does find ten gold Cairhien coins.

Lan asks mildly if she has taken to robbing the dead, and Moiraine is as furious about that as she is to see that he only blinks when Bukama removes the arrow from his shoulder. She is struck by the number of scars on his body, and notes that neither Lan or Bukama seems to intend to ask for Healing. For a moment she considers not offering it, but when she does, in a cold voice, Lan actually shies away from her. Ryne points out that Lan might need his right arm, and then the man leans forward again. He doesn’t ask or accept her offer, just leans forward.

Moiraine slaps her hands against Lan’s head and finds it very satisfying when he convulses under the Healing, his body flailing backwards out of her grip. She considers the new pink scars left behind with satisfaction—he can meet the wasps in perfect health. They leave the coins beside the man’s body, but Lan removes the horse’s bridle and ties it to his saddle before sending it off, back towards Ravinda. He sees Moiraine frowning at him, and explains that it’s so the horse can graze until someone finds him.

In all truth, she had been regretting not searching the saddlebags tied behind the gelding’s saddle. But Lan had shown a surprising touch of kindness. She had not expected any such to be found in him. For that, he would escape the wasps.

Even with Edeyn waiting for him, Lan is terribly grateful to reach Chachin. As soon as they are inside the first wall he tells Alys that she is safe here, as long as she avoids the rough parts of the city, and that their pledge has been kept. He also snaps at her to keep her coin, though he regrets losing his self control. Ryne apologizes for offending an Aes Sedai and Bukama grumbles about Lan’s manners, but Lan only turns Cat Dancer and rides off, scattering people before him. Ryne and Bukama catch up to him when he is halfway up the mountain on his way to the Aesdaishar Palace, falling in beside him silently as Lan wonders if he is a fool for coming here.

He finds himself still thinking of Alys, of the debts he owes her both for the Healing and for the torments, and tells himself he needs to get the woman out of his head. It is Edeyn he should be concentrating on. “Edeyn and the most desperate fight of his life.”

At the open gates he stops before the guards, dismounts, and gives his name. A few moments later a gray-haired officer who Lan recognizes, and who recognizes Lan, comes over to greet him. Jurad Shiman bows much deeper to Lan than he has in the past, greeting him with “Tai’shar Malkier!” This leaves Lan certain that Edeyn is either here, or was at some point. Lan follows Jurad into the courtyard feeling like he should have his armor on.

They are escorted to their rooms by the shatayan of the palace herself, much to his dismay.

The silvered ring of keys at her belt proclaimed that Mistress Romera had charge of all the Palace servants, but a shatayan was more than a servant herself. Usually, only crowned rulers could look for a greeting at the gates from the shatayan. He was swimming in a sea of other people’s expectations. Men had drowned in seas like that.

Ryne seems annoyed by his small room, though Lan can’t think why. He should have known how things would be here, and at least he isn’t bunking in soldiers’ quarters. But Bukama and Ryne settle in with some other men as Lan is being led away, Bukama talking with some friends he has served with and Ryne asking about pretty serving maids and how to get his clothes cleaned.

Lan is relieved that he is not given a visiting king’s apartments, but a suite of rooms Lan finds entirely suitable to his station. He thanks her a little too profusely, bringing a smile to her eyes and a comment that they all know who he is. He is left with two serving maids and a boy to run errands, and Lan follows the accustomed etiquette of asking after the Queen and the Prince Consort, and then if there are any nobles visiting. The Queen is not in residence, he learns, but Prince Brys is in the palace as well as the Lady Edeyn Arrel. The two women grin at each other as they reveal that bit of news, irritating Lan.

Lan washes in the basin and lets the women dress him in his best clothes while the boy, Bulen, blackens his boots. He gives them each a coin and sends Bulen to the stables to check on Cat Dancer, then sits down to wait. He must meet Edeyn in public.

As he waits he finds Alys returning to his mind, “a cockleburr down the back of his neck” and assumes the ko’di until one of the servants, Anya, comes to tell him that Lady Edeyn requests that he come to her chambers. He sends a reply that he has not yet recovered from his journey. Later, Anya comes with a letter bearing Edeyn’s personal seal, which reads “Come to me, sweetling.” He puts the letter in the fire and notes that Anya is visibly disappointed.

Eventually Mistress Romera arrives to ask if he is recovered enough to attend an audience with the Prince Consort, and conducts him personally to a large formal hall. Lan notes men wearing the hadori among the courtiers, and women with the ki’sain painted on their foreheads.

They bowed at his appearance, and made deep curtsies, those men and women who had decided to remember Malkier. They watched the shatayan present him to Brys like hawks watching a field mouse. Or like hawks awaiting a signal to take wing.

Brys greets Lan as an old friend—he is an experienced general, and they have fought together in the Blight, and saved each other’s lives—and remarks that his son Diryk seems to have a little bit of Lan’s luck, as the boy fell fifty feet from a balcony that very morning, without breaking any bones. The boy in question looks bruised, but bows low to Lan before breaking protocol entirely and beginning to pepper Lan with questions about fighting the Aiel and what the fierce warriors are like. Brys tells Diryk off, but Lan urges the man to let the child enjoy his youthful exuberance. Privately Lan remembers his own life at eight years old, learning the ko’di and beginning to learn what he would face when he entered the Blight. Lan wants Diryk to have a happier childhood than the one he had.

He answers Diryk’s questions until Brys sends the boy off to his tutor and takes Lan over to greet Edeyn. She looks as Lan remembers, just a little older, and quite beautiful in her red dress. She murmurs that it would have been easier if he had come to her, then kneels and takes his hands in hers, loudly pledging fealty to him. She kisses his fingers and everyone around them takes up cheering for “The Golden Crane!” and “Kandor rides with Malkier!”

Lan pulls his hands free and tugs Edeyn to her feet, telling her firmly that there is no King of Malkier. She tells him that three of the five surviving Great Lords of Malkier are in the room, and they can ask them if they will support Lan, then fades away into the crowd as Lan is surrounded by well-wishers. Eventually Brys extracts him, taking him to a private stone walkway where he always goes when he wishes to be undisturbed.

Brys tells Lan that he would not have welcomed Edeyn if he’d known what she was going to do, and that he will withdraw that welcome if Lan asks; he knows she has trapped him into something Lan would never choose for himself. Lan doesn’t think Brys understands what kind of insult that would be to the Malkieri woman, but only remarks that even a mountain can be worn down in time. He isn’t sure he can avoid leading men into the Blight, now, or even that he wants to. He is moved by all the men and women he saw remembering Malkier.

He admits to Brys that he does not know what he will do, and they turn their talk to other things, including the rumors of a man who can channel and the fact that Aes Sedai seem to be everywhere. Queen Ethenielle recently sent Brys a letter in which she detailed seeing two Aes Sedai catch a women pretending to be a sister; they flogged her and forced her to walk through the village and confess her crime to every person, then carried her off to the Tower. Lan finds himself hoping that Alys wasn’t lying about being Aes Sedai, though he can’t imagine why it should matter to him.

When he returns to his room he finds Edeyn waiting for him. He tries to remind her of the fealty she just swore, but Edeyn tells him that a king is not a king when he is alone with his carneira. She laughs, clearly enjoying her power over him, and tells him to bring over his daori, which she has left in a small box by the door. He remembers the morning after their first night together, when she let ladies and serving women watch as she cut his hair to his shoulders.

She even told them what it signified. The women had all been amused, making jokes as he sat at Edeyn’s feet to weave the daori for her. Edeyn kept custom, but in her own way. The hair felt soft and supple; she must have had it rubbed with lotions every day.

He kneels at her feet, formally offering the daori and repeating the ritualistic words with much less fervor than he had that first morning. She doesn’t take it from him, however. Instead she leads him to the balcony, where she points out a young woman in a blue dress strolling in the gardens below—her daughter Iselle. Lan vaguely remembers the child, but he’d been too focused on Edeyn while they’d been together to notice anyone else. Edeyn remarks that she thinks it is time for the girl to be married, and for Lan as well. Since none of Lan’s female relatives are alive, it is up to Edeyn to arrange. Lan is horrified when he realizes what she means; she intends for Lan to marry Iselle. Edeyn might keep custom in her own way, but this is scandalous, and Lan tells her firmly that he will not be reined into anything so shameful, by her or anyone else. Edeyn agrees that of course he won’t—he’s a man not a boy. But he also keeps custom.

She leads him to the bed, and Lan isn’t surprised when she doesn’t take his daori from him. He is certain she won’t give up her advantage until she can present his daori to his bride on their wedding day. And he can’t think of a way to stop that bride from being Iselle.

 

Well, Edeyn is gross. No surprise there. Lan might be shocked that she’d go so far as to give her carneira to her own daughter in marriage, probably because the age gap between himself and Edeyn isn’t taboo in his eyes the way such a match is, but given her political ambitions it really does make perfect sense. Next to becoming a queen herself, being the mother of the Queen of Malkier is the next best thing.

One thing I find confusing is that no one else seems to be concerned about the viability of digging Malkier out of the Blight and restoring it again. Of course, not many people understand the Blight the way Lan and Bukama do, but surely there are some realists among the people Edeyn has spoken with. Even Brys only seems concerned with the fact that he knows Lan doesn’t want to be in this position; he never mentions thinking that all these people might die following Lan into the Blight. It’s hard to imagine Lord Agelmar and the folks we met in Fal Dara in The Eye of the World and The Great Hunt being so cavalier about carving lost land out of the Blight, even if Ingtar was angry he couldn’t die fighting at Tarwin’s Gap.

Obviously if Lan says a thing is so, then I’m going to believe him over most other people in the series. But it feels surprising to me that no one else would be a voice of reason in all this if there isn’t at least a chance of fighting back the Blight and reclaiming Malkier. And yet, how could that be so? Even if you defeated all the Shadowspawn you encountered and drove them out of the boundary of the nation, you still have the corruption of the Blight itself to deal with. And it doesn’t sound like swords would be of any use there. Maybe the One Power would be, but I don’t see any Aes Sedai showing up for the Golden Crane.

Maybe they can’t because, as we learned last week from Moiraine, that would make them look bad. Seems like an exciting cause for some Greens to back, though.

But yeah, the whole thing with Edeyn is odd to me. Surely custom stops at forcing a man to do something that custom also regards as shameful? Does a man’s carneira have that much power, that everyone would stand by and let her force him to do whatever she wants? If she can make him marry her own daughter, where does it end? Can she compel him to steal for her? Or kill for her? Surely there must be limits.

The only answer that I can come up with lies in one of Lan’s observations about his trials with Moiraine. He can’t figure out what it is she wants from him, but he does observe that she’s a pretty hard woman if doesn’t consider him repaid for throwing her in the pond. However, “a woman could set the price for her insult or injury, and there were no other women here to call an end when she went beyond what they considered just.”

There seem to be very strict rules among the Malkieri about how men are not allowed to take women to task even when she violates politeness or custom, such as how Bukama and Lan swallow the insult whenever Moiraine offers them money for their service, even to the point where Lan feels embarrassed when he momentarily loses his composure over it. We see other examples of the strong cultural power and authority given to women in Malkier, including the right of a woman alone and the way that mothers dedicate their sons to the fight against the Shadow. Lan also observes that there are no women to take “Alys” to task if she is being unjust; similarly, Lan has no female relatives or even female friends to stand up to Edeyn for him. Will everyone just accept Edeyn’s pronouncement that her daughter is to wed Lan, even though it’s considered a shameful thing, at least by Malkieri standards? Will Bukama insist to Lan that honor cannot let him do otherwise?

I’m not really interested in getting too deep into the sexual politics between Lan and Edeyn, but obviously we are being presented with the fact that Lan is imprisoned by his heritage in more ways than we, or he, originally thought. He feared being trapped by Edeyn into leading an army into the Blight, perhaps even being forced to claim the kingship of Malkier. But there are other ways she has imprisoned him—whatever is going on with this daori business, and the fact that she can seemingly compel him to marry anyone she chooses. We thought Moiraine was trapped, but she didn’t feel any duty towards the Cairhien throne or her family, and even her duty to the White Tower didn’t give her pause when she made her plan to escape; she was concerned about punishment, but the idea of being forced to be Queen of Cairhien was much worse than the concept of being punished by the Amyrlin.

This is really something when we consider the punishments that Sierin has already meted out in her short time as Amyrlin. However, it was also a very simple equation for Moiraine, based on tangible elements such as the sacrifices she’d have to make as Queen, what punishments she might receive for her disobedience, and how much she wants to be involved in the search for the Dragon Reborn. Lan’s equation is much more spiritual, based on his loyalty to Malkieri customs and to the oaths his parents swore for him, on the morality of leading men to their death in what he sees as a doomed endeavor, and on the grief he feels at the idea that people are forgetting Malkier. These are harder questions to weigh, and the consequences of, say, abandoning his loyalty to the custom of the carneira, are no less painful just because they are less tangible.

I have to be honest, I don’t set much store in following customs just because they are custom. What Edeyn is doing to Lan is wrong, and he would lose no moral standing if he were to tell her exactly where she can stick that daori. But it’s a lot to expect that Lan put aside any bit of Malkier he has left to himself; the man is even considering leading thousands to their death in the Blight because it might keep people remembering Malkier a while longer. Part of that oath was to defend Malkier, and you could certainly interpret any actions that kept Malkier’s memory alive as being a defense of Malkier, at least in spirit.

I included a lot of little quotes from Lan’s sections because I’m just fascinated by the way the man thinks. There is a lot of simile and metaphor from him, almost to the point where it seems to be how he makes sense of the world. A man could drown in a sea of other people’s expectations. The courtiers watching him are hawks waiting either to pounce on him or take wing at his command. Moiraine is like a swarm of blackflies. Like a cockleburr at the back of his neck even when he thinks he’s gotten rid of her.

Once again we see the conflict between Lan’s cultural mores and Moiraine’s: He has to keep his composure because that is what honor dictates, but she feels offended by the fact that he won’t show more discomfort or distress under her continual punishment. But she also does things to upset him that are unintentional, like offering money, and once again Lan is offended but isn’t supposed to show it. Moiraine might have calmed down a little if he’d lost his temper even about something that had nothing to do with her sending sand and ants into his underwear.

We’re coming up again against one of the weirder attributes Jordan ascribes to basically all women in every one of his cultures, which is this idea that men need to be “tamed” and “brought to heel” and other terms usually used to describe domesticating animals. Moiraine as an Aes Sedai has a different idea about it than, say, Egwene or Elayne have about Rand when they consider whether he is husband material. And the Wise Ones have different ideas than the Women’s Circle of Emond’s Field. But the base idea is that men are either too wild, too proud, or too stupid, and must be controlled by women. And that leads us to some of the more repugnant ways that men are controlled by women in the series, such as the way the Red Ajah treat men, or the way that Edeyn is treating Lan.

The one thing I keep forgetting, however, is that Moiraine still thinks one or all of Lan’s party might be Darkfriends. We know Lan well, but she has just met him, and just found out that the Black Ajah actually exist. If she’s worried that only some of them are Darkfriends she’s wrong to fixate on Lan—the one who has something to hide is probably not going to be the one who shows the most coolness towards her. Then again, it’s not like she has a lot of experience with Darkfriends, and perhaps she assumes that the taint of being sworn to the Dark One would show in someone’s behavior.

I mean, she’s probably wrong about all of them, but technically we only know that Lan isn’t one. Technically, Bukama could be a Darkfriend, perhaps drawn into it for a similar reason that Ingtar was. And we really know very little about Ryne, so he could certainly have a dark secret that neither we, nor Lan and Bukama, could currently guess at. After all, he is the one who is most deferential towards Moiraine, and also the most afraid of her. And we don’t actually know what he was doing meeting with some Aes Sedai in The Gates of Heaven.

Seriously Moiraine, nothing is more Nynaeve than this continual agenda to have Lan apologize on your terms, exactly as you want, and to show you perfect deference when you were the one who snuck up on him and tried to steal his sword—for intimidation purposes, no less—and were deliberately hiding the fact that you were Aes Sedai until you got annoyed with him. Her whole thing about wanting to fight all fifty bandits out of principle also reminded me of Nynaeve and the way she wanted to go back to the inn at Baerlon when it was burning. She’s not thinking about things logically, about the risk to themselves of the bigger picture—she’s thinking that the moral thing would be for those men to be brought to justice. Lan and his friends are more experienced than Moiraine in these things, just as Moiraine was/will be in comparison to Nynaeve, but that stubbornness and black-and-white sense of justice is strong all the same.

I liked the detail how both Moiraine and Lan find themselves intrigued by each other for reasons they can’t fully explain to themselves. I also noted that in Chapter 21 we start to see them working together a little bit—both of them rolling for intimidation with the bandits, and only succeeding because they are a team. It was really the first glimpse we’ve seen of the Warder/Aes Sedai team they will become by the time they arrive in Emond’s Field. I’m looking forward to more of that.

Next week we’ll cover two (or possibly three) more chapters, the best part of which is that Siuan is back! Also watching Moiraine play her own little version of the Great Game is pretty awesome. In the meantime, I leave you with these final thoughts.

It’s interesting to me that summoning insects is a secret weave of the Blue Ajah. I like that Moiraine has a little bit of Ant Man in her, but this weave doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the mission statement of the Blues. So I guess that not all secret weaves are particularly relevant to the Ajahs they belong to. Perhaps the insect summoning began because some wilder figured out how to do it, and then brought it to her Ajah, choosing to reveal it to fellow Blues rather than hide it, as Moiraine is hiding hers and Liandrin hid her little compulsion trick.

Ryne asks if Moiraine has the ability to Heal death. I’m sure that there is some superstition around the Aes Sedai having such abilities, but it also felt relevant, especially after the very serious discussions there have been about Rand’s desire to restore life to the murdered little girl, and the proper order of things. Darkfriends are often very afraid of death, and immortality is generally something they seek when they sign their souls over to the Dark One. Might be nothing, but it’s certainly a moment worth noting.

Sylas K Barrett thought it was really sweet that Lan worried about keeping the horse safe. It’s nice to see that softer side of him, the one that cares so much for Rand, and that Nynaeve fell in love with.

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