This week in our read of A Crown of Swords, we’re covering Chapters 17 and 18, in which Mat’s luck features heavily, we get the quote from which our book title comes, and Cadsuane throws her weight around, highly effectively. Also, I get Dolly Parton stuck in my head a lot.
Onward to the recap!
Mat stalks out of the Tarasin Palace, having finally been released by Tylin, feeling like a hunted rabbit.
In the common room of The Wandering Woman he finds a few of his men—Vanin, Corevin, and Harnan. He learns that Nalesean dropped by and left a big chest up in Mat’s room, and that Olver is in the stable doing his lessons, after being spanked by one of the serving girls for pinching her bottom. Mat thinks about how the men are a bad influence on the boy, and orders Harnan to wait there for Thom or Juilin to stop by. He sends Vanin and Corevin to spy around the Chelsaine Palace, and all of them are sobered by the information that Carridin is associating with Darkfriends.
After Corevin and Vanin depart, Harnan cautiously tells Mat about a strange fog that appeared in the Rahad the other day, a fog that contained some creatures in it that appeared to be eating people. Mat tells him not to worry about the Bubbles of Evil until he finds himself in one—that’s the best anyone can do.
Mat’s immediate concern is that Nalesean left a huge amount of money sitting unguarded in his room. He hurries upstairs, worrying about Olver and about how to get Elayne and Nynaeve out of Ebou Dar before anything else happens. As he reaches the door to his room, he hears a floorboard behind him squeak, and turns just in time to block a cudgel blow that would have knocked him unconscious. After a desperate fight with a huge attacker he manages to stab the man to death. They fall through an open doorway and as Mat staggers, he catches sight of a man in the room, bending over an empty chest. The man snatches up weapons of his own, but Mat’s thrown dagger takes him in the throat, and he topples headfirst into the chest.
Mat retrieves his knives and cleans them on the second dead man’s coat. A moment later his manservant Nerim appears and complains about Mat having blood on his coat again. Mistress Anan and her husband Jasfer arrive next, and everyone concludes that the men—who had claimed to be merchants—were thieves who planned to fill the empty chest with whatever they managed to steal.
“You think it was chance then, my Lord?”
She had no answer, but she frowned at the corpses again.
Jasfer observes that there are more roughs in the city of late and suggests that Mistress Anan hire more security. This leads to a very Ebou Dari discussion between the couple, but Mat is more concerned with the strange piece of paper he just found in his pocket. It is written on fine paper, and in a disguised hand.
ELAYNE AND NYNAEVE ARE PUSHING TOO FAR. REMIND THEM THEY ARE STILL IN DANGER FROM THE TOWER. WARN THEM TO BE CAREFUL, OR THEY WILL BE KNEELING TO ASK ELAIDA’S PARDON YET.
The only people Mat can think of who were close enough to him to slip the note into his pocket were Teslyn or Joline, but that seems impossible to him. Still, the White Tower is a long way away, and Mat decides that he has closer and more pressing dangers to worry about. Despite his near brush with death, the dice are still rolling in his head.
In the apartments they share, Joline and Teslyn discuss the encounter with Mat and Merilille. Teslyn is scornful of Joline’s threats towards Merilille, which Joline defends by talking about Merilille’s treatment of her as an Accepted. Teslyn remarks that what Elaida says about Joline is true—Joline is still a child. Joline is furious to have such a thing said about her by someone so much younger than herself, and privately considers that Elaida was spoiled because she was so fussed over for her abilities when she herself was a student. Joline also believes that this is the reason for Elaida’s vendetta against Elayne, Egwene and Nynaeve, since they are stronger than she is and are progressing even more rapidly.
Teslyn suggests that they take this opportunity to return Elayne and Nynaeve to the Tower, as per Elaida’s orders, but Joline argues that they should stick to their plan of not sending Elaida any information from Ebou Dar until she comes to them, as punishment for Elaida’s treatment of them. Teslyn appears reluctant, though she admits there is no huge urgency, especially since Elayne and Nynaeve seem content to stay within their reach. Joline sets herself to convincing the Red Sister.
Elsewhere, Falion accidentally tortures an Ebou Dari wise woman to death in an attempt to learn the location of the cache of angreal. She is convinced at this point that there is no cache, and she and Ispan argue about whether or not Moghedien could have been wrong. Falion sees Ispan as foolish because she can’t seem to recognize that the Forsaken are not infallible.
It seems as though Moghedien has forgotten them, but Falion knows that, unless they have proof that Moghedien isn’t coming back, they have to act as though she will. She proposes that capturing Nynaeve and Elayne will more than make up for their failure to find the cache. Ispan is more worried about the damage Nynaeve and Elayne might cause, reminding Falion about Tear and Tanchico, and declares that if they can’t kill the girls then they should stay as far away from the two as they can.
Outside, a man who can’t remember something watches the house, and witnesses two burly men coming out with a wheelbarrow, apparently full of garbage. The man recognizes the two, and knows that they are up to something more than mucking out the stables.
In Cairhien, Rand sits with the assembled clan chiefs as Merana serves tea. She is clearly serving and obeying Rand, standing in a corner behind a shield of saidin until Rand summons her, while the two Asha’man stand a sort of guard nearby. Rand explains that he doesn’t allow any of the Aes Sedai to channel without permission, but he isn’t sure if the clan chiefs are convinced that he isn’t on an Aes Sedai leash. One remarks that an Aes Sedai will do anything to get what she wants (in Rand’s head, Lews Therin snarlingly agrees) while others would rather avoid talking about Aes Sedai altogether, and to leave the subject for the Wise Ones to figure out.
Merana’s presence is actually her own idea, that same morning she came to Rand and pleaded for him to use her skills, and her sisters’ skills, to allow them to aid and serve him, as they have pledged to do. In the back of his mind he can feel Alanna weeping, though he still doesn’t know what her intense grief is for.
Alanna also had told him he needed the sworn sisters, screamed it at him finally, with her face red and tears rolling down her cheeks, before literally running from his presence.
Talk turns to the Shaido, and to the Wise Ones who fought in the battle of Dumai’s Wells. Even the chiefs were visibly shaken by that news. The Wise Ones from several clans have decided to go north with the Aiel spears to face the gathering Shaido, and to deal with the Shaido Wise Ones. One chief wonders if any of the Aiel will see the three-fold land again, and Rand answers that he hopes so. But he is thinking of how little the prophecies of the Dragon promise, besides a very slim hope for victory.
As the plow breaks the earth shall he break the lives of men, and all that was shall be consumed in the fire of his eyes. The trumpets of war shall sound at his footsteps, the ravens feed at his voice, and he shall wear a crown of swords.
When the Aiel have gone, Rand asks the Asha’man if they think the chiefs have been convinced. Narishma isn’t sure, while Dashiva wonders if it matters. Then Berelain comes in, furious over a letter Rand sent to her informing her that she is being relieved of her role as regent and sent back to Mayene. Colavaere’s supporters are sending assassins after her, but Rand realizes that Berelain is worried that, if she is not able to continue serving him, he won’t protect her claim to Mayene. Rand asks if she is willing to serve even if it means being sent away, but before she can answer, a Maiden comes in to announce the Aes Sedai Cadsuane Melaidhrin.
The woman comes in, and Annoura is shocked, declaring that she believed Cadsuane to be dead. Merana leaves her corner, screaming at Cadsuane that she must not kill Rand. Rand feels someone embrace saidar, and he and the Asha’man seize saidin.
Cadsuane ignores Rand’s questions as to her purpose and her Ajah, scolding Merana and Annoura for acting like children. Rand is surprised when they react with lowered eyes and reddened faces, and even more surprised when Cadsuane boldly walks up to the Asha’man and studies them closely.
Rand urges the men, as well as the veiled Maidens who came in in response to Merana’s scream, to relax, and they all reluctantly do so. Cadsuane politely dismisses Berelain, and the First of Mayene responds with all formality, asking Rand’s permission to depart as well, and telling him that she will serve him however he requires. Most of the Maidens follow her out.
Rand can tell Cadsuane is trying to bait him, so he forces himself to appear calm, even when Cadsuane calls him a “good boy.” However, when she starts to tell him stories about other male channelers she’s seen, the pain they suffered, how they reacted when they were stilled, Rand can’t hold onto his temper anymore. He erupts, hurling the tea tray across the room with saidin, asking her if he is supposed to be frightened, and if she knows how easily he could crush her.
“Merana knows why I should. The Light only knows why I don’t.”
The woman looked at the battered tea things as if she had all the time in the world. “Now you know,” she said at last, calm as ever, “that I know your future, and your present. The Light’s mercy fades to nothing for a man who can channel. Some see that and believe the Light denies those men. I do not. Have you begun to hear voices, yet?”
Rand asks what she means, and can feel Lews Therin listening as Cadsuane explains how some men under the influence of the taint hear voices telling them what to do. Dashiva laughs, and Narishma regards the woman with nervous attention, but Rand only reminds her that he is the Dragon Reborn. Cadsuane counters that he is a young man who has little idea what lies ahead or where he is going, then observes that he seems distraught and asks if she can take Merana and Annoura away for a while. Rand is as baffled as he is furious, and after a moment he snaps at everyone to go away, even the Asha’man.
Alone, he paces the empty room, telling himself over and over that he is not mad, yet, and that Lews Therin’s advice has helped him. Then again, he figured out many aspects of the Power by himself. Then again, any of those memories could be Lews Therin’s, or fancies, or mad dreams brought on by the taint.
The door opens again and a Maiden brings in Idrien, the head of his school. He wants to tell them to go away, but her haggard face makes him pause. He forces himself to turn to her, thinking again about the weight of his duty.
What is the matter?” he asked, making his voice as gentle as he could.
Suddenly weeping, Idrien stumbled to him and collapsed against his chest. When she was coherent enough to tell her story, he felt like weeping too.
Oh ouch, I forgot about Fel and his gruesome murder. Poor guy. And poor Idrien, too.
Honestly, I felt bad for everyone in this section—except the Darkfriends, obviously. Rand most of all, but I felt for the Aes Sedai a lot, too. A lot of them are arrogant and controlling, and it’s frustrating watching the sisters, especially the older, more established ones, struggle to accept that they are living in a different world now than the one they knew before Rand declared himself. But I can also appreciate that it’s not easy to make such a huge adjustment to one’s way of thinking and acting, especially if one is used to a few hundred years of the same standard.
Speaking of a few hundred years, I’m always interested to see which aspects of an Aes Sedai’s culture she hangs onto into her adulthood. Things like Liandrin’s braids, or other manners of dress and presentation. I can’t help but wonder about the Illianer Aes Sedai’s tendency to retain their peculiar manner of speech—given that novices can’t be older than 18, it feels like an Aes Sedai who is a hundred years old or more would have had to make a deliberate choice to hang onto a speech pattern that few people around them have. The same would apply to any accents—they wouldn’t necessarily be completely erased, but they would be dulled by time, I think, unless the sister made some effort to hang onto them.
Given how few ties to their old lives the Aes Sedai are permitted to keep, especially as novices and Accepted, I can certainly imagine how young students and newly-minted sisters would want to hang onto what small forms of connection, not to mention self expression, that they can. It’s an interesting thought to ponder; I find myself curious if that was Jordan’s intent with Teslyn, and the other Illianer sisters.
I liked Merana a lot from the start, and she reminded me of Moiraine even before she decided to serve Rand this way. Though Moiraine was Blue and Merana is Gray, they seem to share a sort of caring practicality—I believe that Merana does see herself as a servant of the people, and the world, as befits the old tongue meaning of the term Aes Sedai. We know that she was responsible for a treaty between Arad Doman and Tarabon over the ownership of the Almoth Plain, which sounds like it was no small feat, even if the treaty failed almost immediately. Knowing about this, and seeing how Merana recognized the Aes Sedai’s need for Rand before most of the others, makes me think that she is someone who values peace above pride, and the good of the world over being led by fear.
And now she is doing what Moiraine did, in a way. Unlike Moiraine, Merana had no choice in swearing to obey Rand, so it will be much harder for her to make him believe in that oath. Hopefully, however, time will allow her to prove herself—because she and Alanna are right. Rand needs their help. He needs all the help he can get.
Cadsuane is right too, though not quite as much as she thinks. Of course Rand is a young and inexperienced young man, who by necessity is forced to learn how to run before he learns to walk. No one can dispute that, including Rand (when he’s thinking properly). The argument that the Aes Sedai have age, experience, and knowledge that Rand doesn’t have, and desperately needs, is factual.
And yet it is also true that Rand has knowledge and power that the Aes Sedai can only guess at. Even putting aside the dubious source of information that is Lews Therin, Rand is so powerful that he is instinctively discovering weaves that no one living remembers, just as we have seen some powerful or Talented Aes Sedai do. His power, his soul, is clearly designed for the function he is to fulfill, though sometimes in ways the narrative doesn’t exactly explain or quantify. He is also not without his advisors and teachers. It’s just that some of those are unknown to the Aes Sedai (they aren’t sure whether or not Moiraine was actually able to influence him, or if she used that influence in a way the Tower would approve of) or discredited by them (the Aiel, both chiefs and Wise Ones). And some are both, like Asmodean.
Truthfully, I kind of want to like Cadsuane, even though I hated what she did to Rand in this scene. Next week we’ll learn more about her plan in Chapter 19, so my opinion may change—in the meantime, I find myself trying to guess at her strategy and motivations, especially since I have a little more knowledge about her than Rand does.
I think Cadsuane is probably just as afraid of Rand and what he represents as everyone else is—she’s too smart not to be. I do think that she is older, more experienced, and more practical than a lot of the other Aes Sedai we’ve met, and I think she’s not letting her fear rule her decisions. That does not mean, however, that her assumptions about Rand are correct. Like everyone else, she only has external observation and the Prophecies to go on. And I can imagine that it’s pretty hard for an outsider to see any logic in Rand’s movements thus far, although I also wonder that no one has apparently seized on the idea that he might be trying to unite all the countries as best he can. It may be that Cadsuane was provoking Rand in an attempt to get the measure of him—his level of madness, yes, but maybe also his character, how he handles adversity, how he handles diplomacy. It may also be that she wanted to throw him off in order to get the chance to whisk Merena and Annoura off—she no doubt wants to hear the full story of how the Aes Sedai came to swear such obedient fealty to the Dragon Reborn.
On the other hand, that could be giving Cadsuane too much credit. She’s clearly a very canny person, but she might simply be doing what all the Aes Sedai are always attempting to do—to let Rand know that she should and will have authority over him. It’s hard to say, although I do think the almost thrown away line of “Some […] believe the Light denies those men. I do not,” is particularly telling. She’s talking down to Rand the whole time, calling him “good boy” and seeming to mock him with the descriptions of the suffering of male channelers—and this comes close after a chapter in which Sammael describes the suffering of punished Darkfriends to intimidate Carridin, which paints a sort of parallel bullying. Yet she also makes a point of telling him that she does not believe that the Light has forsaken men who go mad under the taint, which is indeed what many people believe. I’m wondering why she slipped that bit in there.
I still don’t know how in the world Cadsuane, or any of the other Aes Sedai who have tried to put Rand in his place, thinks this kind of behavior is going to get her a look into Rand’s plans. Sure, the Aes Sedai are used to brow-beating people into doing as they say, relying on the authority of the Tower and their raw power as channelers. But they must realize that Rand’s own power is going to make that tactic less effective against him. Just as pointing out the fact that he’s destined to lose his mind to the taint isn’t exactly likely to make him behave humbly or rationally.
This is why I’m assuming that Cadsuane had a different goal in mind. Still, I often wonder what she, or any of the Aes Sedai, would think if they were actually able to learn how Rand really regards his power, his duty, and the fact that he has no choice but to continue to channel and face the consequences of his fate. Sure, given his paranoia at this point I don’t think there is any way that anyone could convince him to open up about that. (Except possibly, maybe Min?) Still, it’s relevant to note that no one has ever tried. People, whether they be high ranking Aes Sedai, or disgruntled nobles, or his friends from childhood, always accuse Rand of thinking a certain way, of being stubborn, or full of himself, or unaware of how precarious his fate is. No one has ever, once, asked him how he sees it.
And I think this speaks to how impossible it is for the people of this world to see Rand as a person. Very few people can see a human being in a man who can channel—nobody can see a human being in the Dragon Reborn. And in a way I suppose I can’t blame them. He is a figure of prophecy and myth, a boogeyman at whose feet the Breaking of the World and a Foretold future Breaking has been laid for thousands of years before his birth. For all that the Aes Sedai are constantly saying that Rand is just a foolish boy in need of guidance, I kind of wonder how much they actually believe that.
Anyway, time will tell what Cadsuane is up to, and whether or not she can be a better ally to Rand than the others… or a bigger threat. But she’s not the only Aes Sedai I’m intrigued by this week. Teslyn has also caught my attention. For all that she’s Red, her interplay with Joline reminded me a little bit of Verin. She seems like someone who is hiding her true cunning, and possibly her true intentions as well. After all, someone put that letter in Mat’s pocket. Now, it could have been Tylin. She has shown herself ready to protect Nynaeve and Elayne, and may have picked up some knowledge of Teslyn and Joline’s orders to return the girls to Elaida. It’s possible that her sexual interest in Mat was a cover to get close enough. (Although it’s also possible that she is genuinely interested, especially given Beslan’s comments about “pretties.” Sounds like taking younger lovers is common amongst Ebou Dari nobility.)
I suppose the man who identified the Chelsaine Palace for Mat might also have gotten close enough, but if it wasn’t Tylin, then it almost has to have been Teslyn or Joline, however improbable that seems. Teslyn and Joline do have some motivation to help Nynaeve and Elayne, since they are both angry at Elaida, and trying to teach her a lesson for how she has treated them. I’m less inclined to think it was Joline, though, since their section was from her point of view, and usually when Jordan is leaving things out you can see the moments when the POV pulls back, alluding to something the character is thinking about without actually saying what it is. Teslyn’s suggestion that it’s time to capture Nynaeve and Elayne and send them back to Elaida might have been a cover so that Joline doesn’t suspect her true motivations. Joline has been clear about how she wants to handle Elaida, so Teslyn could count on Joline to “convince” her to wait longer.
All this is to say, I have been waiting since the first book to meet a Red Sister who isn’t just a horrible person. If Teslyn is that character, it’s possible that she sees Elaida’s actions in the coup as illegitimate. As a Red it would have been very hard for her to leave the Tower since no other Red chose to do so. Perhaps she supported Elaida at first, but Elaida’s behavior since has changed her mind. Or maybe she still technically supports Elaida, at least over the Salidar rebels, but is even more angry at her than Joline is—after all, Teslyn was a Sitter, so it’s even more disrespectful for Elaida to send her away than it is for her to punish Joline so harshly.
It’s even possible that Teslyn is Black Ajah and hopes to keep Nynaeve and Elayne in her own reach, rather than allow them to be carted off to the Tower where they would be harder for Darkfriends to extract.
So many options! Too many, just like Mat has too many things happening that could be about the dice—and yet they are still spinning.
I assume it was his ta’veren luck making that floorboard squeak. And what are the odds that this was just a random attack of opportunity by thieves who weren’t specifically looking for Mat? Pretty low, I’d say. If they just wanted to rob people, I think there are better ways to do it.
How long has it been since Carridin spotted him outside the Chelsaine Palace? Several hours at least, I’d say, given how long Mat spent wandering corridors, being fought over by Aes Sedai, and being flirted with/set up by Teslyn. Long enough for Shiaine to organize a murder/kidnapping? Was that chest big enough to put a Mat Cauthon in and whisk him away? Or is it Sammael behind it? Too bad Mat had to kill both guys so he couldn’t interrogate anyone. I think Mistress Anan was thinking exactly the same thing—it was pretty telling the way she asked Mat if he thought it was just chance that led him to be attacked.
Hopefully she isn’t a Darkfriend, and a member of Shiaine’s little circle. That would explain how they found Mat so quickly, though. There’s also that mystery man who can’t remember something to contend with, who I’m guessing is the same guy told Mat about Carridin. He could be just about anyone at this point, an ally or an enemy, but the fact that he has memory problems is certainly worrying. Someone under a compulsion, perhaps?
Speaking of Darkfriends, Falion and Ispan’s little exchange was very edifying for me as a reader. Falion isn’t the first White Ajah member of the Black to notice that the Forsaken can be as petty, illogical, and even stupid as any other human being—Alviarin had much the same perspective. Ispan can’t see that the way Falion can, but I’d actually argue that Ispan is being more logical than Falion is right now, even though she is also being more emotional.
Falion’s argument that not being able to find the cache is proof that it doesn’t exist is a logical fallacy, in my mind. She argues that if it did, it would have to be known to people they have already interrogated… but what is her basis for that argument? Angreal don’t put out any kind of energy one can detect, so there’s every possibility that no one with the ability to channel has ever stumbled across it. Perhaps the person who collected the cache died without telling anyone that it was there? Perhaps it was deliberately hidden by someone who didn’t ever want channelers to discover it. There are so many possibilities, and for some reason Falion thinks that it is logical to assume that the only reason she can’t find the cache is that it doesn’t exist.
Perhaps that’s a more comfortable conclusion to draw than to realize that she doesn’t know how to find it, and won’t be able to complete the assignment Moghedien gave them. If the cache doesn’t exist, then it is Moghedien, not Falion, who has failed. And even though Moghedien will punish them either way, Falion probably takes comfort from the idea that she is not at fault, and that the so-called Chosen is. Couple that with her plan to capture Nynaeve and Elayne, and she has a pretty solid place to stand, emotionally speaking.
Ispan, on the other hand, is certainly expressing a good deal more emotion, but that doesn’t exactly mean that she’s being illogical, either. She may not see that the Forsaken are fallible, but I would argue that the knowledge of the Forsaken’s flaws really doesn’t matter very much, from a practical standpoint. Falion’s comfort in the knowledge is an emotional one, while Ispan is focused on the fact that the Forsaken are able to wield so very much more power than she and Falion are. She’s right about Egwene and Nynaeve, too—to underestimate those girls again would be very foolish, very illogical, indeed.
Still, Falion’s self-possession will probably serve her better than Ispan’s panic, even though I would argue that she’s not being that logical about the cache and the torture and Moghedien.
We’ll be covering Chapters 19 and 20 next week. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a few more thoughts and observations.
- It’s mentioned in Chapter 17 that Mat wants to find an illuminator. We know Egwene had a dream about Mat using an illuminator’s fireworks as a sort of rocket, so perhaps he has already had the idea for such a device.
- Y’all know how I feel about gender stuff, but I have to admit I enjoyed seeing the portrait of Ebou Dar gender dynamics between Mistress Anan and her husband. As always, Jordan knows how to paint a picture, and he understands the beats of comedy.
- When she’s upset by Teslyn’s comments, Joline uses channeling, touching saidar, to soothe herself. Although we know the physical and mental effects of touching the One Power well by now, I think this is the first time that it’s been explicitly stated that a channeler was deliberately using it to affect their mood in the moment.
- Joline’s narration also mentions that Nynaeve, Egwene, and Elayne had been “pushed ahead way to fast,” in learning to channel. Additionally, she is convinced that the novices and Accepted who were “scooped up” by the Aes Sedai who left during the coup will be only nominally punished, as opposed to the rebel sisters. This has been alluded to once or twice before, and I think it’s because novices and Accepted are expected to obey sisters swiftly and completely—they could hardly be expected to fight off any sisters who gave them orders during the coup, especially since they wouldn’t have any way to understand what is happening.
- And finally, I absolutely loved this paragraph and had to share it here with you. Sometimes I just love how Jordan puts things.
He stumped across Mol Hara Square not seeing anything. Had Nynaeve and Elayne been cavorting with Jaichim Carridin and Elaida in the fountain beneath that statue of some long-dead queen, two spans or more tall and pointing to the sea, he would have passed by without a second look.
Sylas K Barrett thinks that the Ebou Dari quote about men being a maze of brambles he himself doesn’t know the way through applies equally to men and women, and is especially applicable to a lot of the characters in this section of the read.