Today in Reading the Wheel of Time, we follow Perrin from Cairhien to Ghealdan, then return to Ebou Dar, where Mat’s ta’veren powers are at work. Unfortunately, though they seem about to lead him to the bowl, they aren’t doing much to protect him personally. Also, we learn that Ebou Dar has a guild of beggars, and that its members are well capable of murdering to protect their reputation. It’s Chapter 27-29 of A Crown of Swords.
Perrin takes the last of his belongings and leaves his room in the Sun Palace, wondering if being happy somewhere with Faile means that he will never return to that place. The servants give him a wide berth in the halls, not wanting to get too close to a man with whom the Dragon Reborn has quarreled.
Earlier, Rand actually picked Perrin up with the Power and threw him against a pillar, hard enough to bruise ribs, while all the nobles except Dobraine pretended to look elsewhere. Perrin accused Rand of just handing the Aes Sedai over to the Wise Ones without even knowing how they were being treated.
With a snarl of rage, Rand threw his head back. “I am the Dragon Reborn!” he cried. “I don’t care how they’re treated! They deserve a dungeon!” Perrin’s hackles stirred as Rand’s eyes lowered from the vaulted ceiling. Blue ice would have been warm and soft beside them, the more so because they stared from a face twisted with pain.
For a moment Perrin actually thought Rand was going to kill him, but instead he ordered Perrin to leave Cairhien at once and never return.
In the hall Perrin runs into Loial, who is also preparing for a journey—the Asha’man Karldin is going with him to visit the Elders of each stedding and speak to them about the Waygates. Loial is concerned that Rand is sending all his friends away—he worries that Rand will send Min away next, and then he’ll be completely alone. Perrin only remarks that the Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills, and warns Loial not to trust anyone he doesn’t have to.
Perrin retrieves his horse from the stables and rides out, glad to be getting away from the polish and grandeur of Cairhien. He eventually reaches a group of trees where Faile is waiting for him with Aram. Bain and Chiad are there as well, but also Sulin and a dozen Maidens, which surprises Perrin. Selande is also there, along with five other members of her “society.” Faile informs him that she has taken the group into her service, and promises that they won’t get under Perrin’s feet.
Perrin can tell she is hiding something, but he only asks if everything is ready. The Two Rivers men are assembled nearby, as well as some more Maidens, Gaul, and two Asha’man, Jur Grady and Fager Neald. There are also six Wise Ones as well as two Aes Sedai. Neald is concerned about bringing Seonid and Masuri Sedai, and Perrin doesn’t like it either.
Neald opens a gateway and Grady steps through, elbowed by the Maidens. Perrin follows, along with Faile and Aram. He’s startled when not just Selande and her five but about two dozen Cairhienin and Tairens come through next. He watches as the Two Rivers men, the Aes Sedai and Wise Ones, and the carts and horses follow, and then, finally, Berelain and her Winged Guards.
Perrin and Faile have already fought about this, and now he watches Berelain and his wife stare icily at each other, before heading to a rise where he can address the assembled group.
“As far as anyone’s eyes-and-ears back in Cairhien know,” he said loudly, “I’ve been banished, the First of Mayene is on her way back home, and the rest of you have just disappeared like fog in the sun.”
He’s surprised at the laughter and cheering and has to wait until his followers have quieted to continue. He tells them that they are now in Ghealdan—their task is to convince Queen Alliandre that they are not an invasion force, and then to track down the so-called Prophet, stop him from recruiting by force, and bring him and his followers back to Rand. Everyone cheers again, but Perrin just hopes that everything is going to go smoothly, and that he and Faile will soon be able to get far away from Berelain.
No surprises, that was what he wanted once they rode south. It was about time his being ta’veren showed itself good for something.
None of Mat’s men are as disgruntled about moving into the Tarasin palace as Mat is—Nerim is pleased that his master will have quarters appropriate to his status, and Nalesean feels similarly. Vanin hates nobles, but he likes the idea of being closer to Elayne. He goes to find Mistress Anan to pay his bill, but she is out, and Mat encounters Enid instead, who lectures him about “squeezing too many melons,” much to Mat’s confusion. She makes him promise “not to say a word,” though he has no idea what he is promising.
He’s very pleased with his rooms right up until the moment Tylin corners him there, calling him “a succulent little duckling.” She ignores Mat’s polite attempts to disengage and literally chases him around a table and sits in his lap. Her hands are everywhere, but when they are interrupted by Thom and Juilin, she somehow manages to be standing several feet away looking completely poised, while Mat discovers that both his shirt and his trousers have been unlaced.
“Well, boy,” Thom said, knuckling his mustaches when she was gone, “there’s luck for you, being welcomed with open arms by the Queen herself.” Juilin became very interested in his cap.
Mat is upset when he learns that Elayne and Nynaeve have not returned to the palace yet, but Thom is sure they haven’t gone after Carridin or done anything else that would go against the agreement they have made with Mat. Thom also explains that Elyane and Nynaeve have been making disguises using the One Power. When the women finally return, Mat lays out his plans for their bodyguards. He expects a fight, or at least wheedling, but both women agree enthusiastically and even tell him how smart he is. Thom is so startled he cuts himself on the knife he’s twirling.
The next day he spends with Nalesean, Thom, and Juilin, drinking on a bench in front of a tavern, watching women come and go from the house Elayne and Nynaeve have asked him to watch.
“Just be ta’veren, Mat,” he mimicked. “I know you’ll just know what to do. Bah!” Maybe Elayne bloody Daughter-Heir and her bloody dimple knew, or Nynaeve with her bloody hands twitching to yank her bloody braid, but he would be burned if he did. “If the pig-kissing Bowl is in the Rahad, how am I supposed to find it on this flaming side of the river?”
None of the women coming in and out of the house lead them anywhere, and when Mat gets back to his rooms that night he finds a note from Tylin, calling him her “little rabbit” and telling him she expects to have dinner together in her apartments. Mat decides to go to bed without dinner and locks the door. As he’s getting into bed he hears the lock rattle, and a woman laugh.
Mat spends a sleepless night wondering why Tylin is doing this and worrying about other ways she might get in, and in the morning he pays a male servant to move Olver into Mat’s rooms. Elayne and Nynaeve chide him over ignoring Tylin, though very gently and obsequiously. They admit that they plan to go watch Carridin, and show Mat their disguises. He’s still confused by their meekness, and by the way Elayne seems to look to Aviendha for approval of her behavior.
When they’ve left, he decides to send Thom and Juilin to investigate Carridin, as well as to look for an old man that Vanin had seen also watching Carridin’s palace. Birgitte ends up joining them, and as Mat spends the next two days sweating on the bench, he finds himself musing over the fact that his friendship with Birgitte feels more the kind that he is used to having with a man.
Both the watch on the house and the watch on Carridin produce very little, and Thom and Juilin are unable to learn anything about the strange old man who also seems interested in the White Cloak ambassador. When Mat sneaks down to the palace kitchen to try to charm some food out of the cooks, the women there all clearly know what Tylin is doing, and tell him he can’t spoil his appetite. Instead, he buys cheese and olives and bread to take back to his rooms in the evenings, and plays snakes and foxes with Olver before bed.
The night before the Festival of the Birds, Mat is beginning to feel more optimistic. Nobody has come rattling at his door, and he’s hopeful that Tylin will soon find some other duckling to chase. But in the morning, he wakes with the dice rattling in his head. He’s helping Olver get dressed when Tylin appears suddenly, accompanied by a maid who Tylin has brought to take Olver to the festival. The Queen sends Olver off, then shows Mat that she has her own key to the door. Infuriated, worrying about Tylin’s nicknames, the dice and the Bowl of the Winds, Mat tries to take the key from her, only to end up with her knife at his throat. She forces him to back up until he reaches the bed, uses her knife to strip away his clothes, and has sex with him. Afterwards, she tells him not to sulk.
“What is the matter? You know you enjoyed yourself as much as I did, and I….” She laughed suddenly, and oh so richly, resheathing the marriage knife as well. “If that is part of what being ta’veren means, you must be very popular.” Mat flushed like fire.
Later, Mat finds a gift she left, a suit of feathers and an eagel mask for the festival, as well as some money to get his ear pierced and buy himself an earring. He takes the mask, and then heads out to find Birgitte and Nalesean waiting, as well as Beslan, much to Mat’s dismay. Unable to get rid of the prince, Mat heads through the crowd, watching the spectacle and occasionally tossing coins to street urchins and beggars. Mat is perplexed when Beslan prevents Nalesean from tossing a coin to one man in particular.
“No brass ring on his little finger,” Beslan replied. “He’s not in the guild.”
“Light,” Mat said, “a man can’t even beg in this city without belonging to a guild?” Maybe it was his tone. The beggar leaped for his throat, a knife appearing in his grimy fist.”
Mat avoids the attack, but suddenly man other beggars armed with a variety of weapons begin to attack, and Mat, Birgitte, Nalesean, and Beslan are forced to defend themselves. Mat in particular is hard-pressed, but after a while other beggars begin to attack the attacking beggars, and Beslan suggests they leave and “and let the Fellowship of Alms finish its business,” assuring Mat that the guild won’t leave any of the interlopers alive. When Mat asks if it’s common for beggars to attack people, Beslan only laughs and reminds Mat that there is always excitement around ta’veren.
Beslan quickly gets bored, sitting outside the inn watching the house. Suddenly, he announces that he thinks Mat will be good for his mother.
“Beslan’s head whipped around in wide-eyed surprise. “Why, her choosing you for her pretty, of course. Why is your face so red? Are you angry? Why—?” Suddenly he slapped his forehead and laughed. “You think I will be angry. Forgive me, I forget you’re an outlander. Mat, she’s my mother, not my wife. Father died ten years ago, and she has always claimed to be too busy. I am just glad she chose someone I like. Where are you going?”
Mat calls back that he needs to clear his head as he muzzily follows a woman who has just emerged from the house. He’s so caught up in the fact that Beslan knows that he doesn’t even think about the dice spinning in his head.
From a sitting room window, Reanne watches.
Reanne was not sure why the urge had grown so strong today. For days it had come on almost with the morning and faded with the sun, and for days she had fought—by the strict rules they did not quite dare call laws, that order was given at the half moon, still five nights off—but today…. She had spoken the order before she thought and been unable to make herself retract until the proper time.
Reanne promises herself that everything will be well, that perhaps that overwhelming urge had been telling herself something. She addresses the twelve assembled women and tells them that they should consider moving everyone who does not wear the belt out to the far, for a time.
“There was little discussion; they were the Elders, but she was the Eldest. In that, at least, there was no harm in behaving as Aes Sedai did.
Well, I guess we really have two themes this week. One is the nature of ta’veren powers, and whether or not you can harness them at will, and the other is about powerful women who come from cultures that condone their sexual harassment (and more) of men.
It was interesting to see Chapter 27 end with Perrin hoping that his ta’veren nature would do something for him, and then to segue into Mat attempting to harness his ta’veren-ness for Elayne and Nynaeve. Both of them have been resistant in openly accepting the truth of who, or what, they are, and what it means about their importance to the world. Being ta’veren has done the same thing for them as being the Dragon Reborn has done for Rand, just to a lesser degree—their natural leadership skills have been buoyed by their effect on the Pattern and their connection to Rand. And while Mat has been much more comfortable adopting the trappings of nobility than Perrin, neither man likes to think of himself as a leader or a lord.
Still, the authority and responsibility of their positions are starting to shape both of them in significant ways, and both have started to settle down into their roles. Of course, Perrin refused to be sent to be in charge of Rand’s army, but I do think he is fair in saying that he is not a general. He has become Lord Perrin, like it or not, and can lead in that stead, but commanding the defense of the Two Rivers is not the same as leading such a large army against Sammael’s forces in Illian, even if that army is a diversion. Going after Masema seems more suited to Perrin’s skill set, though I also think that the encounter is not going to go smoothly—no one in Rand or Perrin’s vicinity knows just how unhinged Masema has become, and Perrin presenting himself as Rand’s representative might not do much to convince the man to cooperate if Perrin’s commands don’t fit with what Masema already believes about following the Dragon.
Mat has accepted his role as leader of the Band, and even seems mostly comfortable in it. He has started to develop a real friendship with Nalesean, despite the fact that Mat initially preferred Edorion. He gives orders easily now, and feels comfortable making decisions, and while he still doesn’t like having his life in danger, he’s even starting to become used to that—a far cry from the man we saw trying to escape that first battle with the Shaido outside Cairhien.
We don’t yet know how Perrin’s ta’veren powers will affect Masema or his followers, but I’m fascinated to see that Mat has been affecting Reanne all this time. It’s the first instance in which we’ve seen Mat’s ta’veren-ness acting the way Perrin and Rand’s does, compelling people’s minds rather than affecting their bodies or objects around them. And even with Perrin’s abilities, we’ve had third parties observe his effect as he, for example, convinced the Two Rivers folks to stand and fight, but we’ve never had the POV of someone who felt specifically compelled by a ta’veren’s power except when Perrin and Mat felt Rand pulling at them. Now, however, the reader has been able to literally observe the fact that Reanne has felt compelled to do what Mat wanted her to do, every time, and for as long as, he was sitting outside the Circle’s headquarters. Apparently there are specific rules that have caused her to resist the impulse to send Solain to fetch the bowl, or check the storehouse, or whatever it is that is about to lead Mat to the bowl. But she doesn’t know that the impulse comes from someone outside herself, and the pull is clearly very strong, so it makes sense that she would give in, and perhaps even wonder if the desire was some kind of sign.
I’m also interested in what the narrative is doing between Mat and Birgitte. You all know how I feel about how Robert Jordan handles gender—there’s a lot of binary rules in this world, beginning as we know with the very nature of the One Power. Still, Jordan often pokes at this question of how women and men are different, and whether there are ways that they are not as different as they seem. Sometimes I think these efforts fall short, but there are also times I find what he is doing quite interesting. It’s interesting to see Mat wrestle with the idea that he could have the same kind of friendship with a woman as he does with a man. He notes that his other friendships with women are colored by the fact that women just think differently than men, but that doesn’t seem to be the case with Birgitte.
It’s not the first time that Jordan has suggested that the differences men and women perceive in each other are cultural, not intrinsic. He will often give parallel perspectives where a male character will believe a stereotype about a female character (ie, women are stubborn, women like to lecture you, etc) and then a female character will immediately have the same thought about a man. Jordan is clearly interested in exploring the question of whether gender differences are intrinsic or cultural, and while I often disagree with a lot of the narrative’s conclusions, I really appreciate the way it keeps coming up in the books. I really like Birgitte as a character, and it makes sense that she and Mat would get along well. In particular I’m enjoying the way she likes to point out women she thinks Mat will like and wants reciprocity, especially since she thinks they should know each other’s tastes and isn’t interested in going with whatever is generically considered attractive.
But to get back to Perrin for a moment, I’m very curious about the fight between him and Rand. Perrin later says his exile is just a cover for Perrin’s true mission, just as as Rand and Berelain have made it look as though she and her guards have been sent back to Mayene. But at least part of the fight was clearly real—I don’t think Rand needed to actually hurt Perrin in order for the whole “throw you across the room with the Power” thing to look convincing, especially given how frightened everyone is of saidin and the taint. We also know from the narration that Perrin was genuinely afraid for his life for a moment. And despite the fact that the exile is supposed to be a cover, Perrin also expects that he will never come back to Cairhien. Loial’s observation that Rand seems to be isolating himself from his friends also seems relevant here—yes, Rand only has a few people he feels he can trust, so of course those few people will have to be sent away on important missions. But Loial also says that Rand has been hiding from Min, and we know that Rand has a tendency to self-isolate especially when he’s hurting.
The best I can figure is that Perrin and Rand deliberately chose a subject they disagree about for their public fight, in order to make it look as real and convincing as possible. Neither of them are great actors, Perrin especially, so perhaps they worried they wouldn’t be able to pull off an act that didn’t include real feeling. The subject of the Aes Sedai’s safety and treatment has come up between them before, and both men have been restraining themselves to a certain degree. They might have underestimated how heated things would become, especially since Perrin doesn’t know how much PTSD Rand has from his time in the chest, not to mention Lews Therin’s presence and the taint-heightened rage Rand has been struggling with for a long time now. And Rand himself is often unaware of how these things will affect him or when they will come bubbling to the surface.
And now Perrin is stuck taking Berelain with him. I still can’t understand what Berelain’s game is. Does she think she can get Perrin to divorce Faile? Does she intend to become his mistress? Is chasing a married man a common and acceptable thing for a noblewoman to do in Mayene? We have learned basically nothing about Berelain’s culture, so it’s hard to say what it might or might not condone, but we certainly haven’t encountered any other culture in which it is acceptable for a noblewoman to openly pursue a married man and flaunt stories of their dalliances (fabricated or not) to all and sundry. I’m just so confused, and I really want Jordan to explain to me what, exactly, Berelain’s deal is.
A few of you have reached out to me on twitter to explain that Faile’s anger towards Perrin is because he has shown himself to be visibly distressed by Berelain’s attentions. In trying to put a stop to them, Perrin has, according to Saldaean society, indicated that he is tempted. Instead, according to Saldean society, he should just blandly ignore her. And while I guess that helps me understand Faile’s hurt a little better, I don’t suppose it’s ever occurred to her that other cultures might have other customs. It’s unreasonable to expect Perrin to know how to act like a Saldean despite never even visited the place, and even then, she seems to intend for them to live in the Two Rivers as its Lord and Lady—if anything, she should be taking her cue from Perrin in this, not the other way around.
Now, I do wonder if Perrin would have more success if he started gray rocking Berelain—would she give up more readily if he just sat there in stony silence all the time instead of hiding, pushing her away, and giving other dramatic reactions? It’s possible—maybe she is interpreting his actions the same way Faile is, that his upset indicates that he is tempted. But that is kind of beside the point. Regardless of whatever cultural customs we are or aren’t applying to the situation, nothing and noone has made room for the fact that Perrin is being sexually harassed, was deeply uncomfortable about to the point of hiding in the woods every day and sneaking in and out of the palace at odd hours, Meanwhile, the wife who claims to be his protector, who is ready to risk her own life spying for him, who is ready perhaps to go so far as to kill for him, is more focused on the appearance of the thing than how her husband may be suffering.
Both Faile and Perrin could benefit from better communication—that’s not just on her. But I’m curious how deep Faile’s insecurities go. Does she really think that Perrin is tempted by Berelain? That seems unfounded, but of course insecurities and fears are often irrational. And I would feel a little differently about her reactions if she actually fears that she could lose Perrin to Berelain, versus if her upset is only about what outsiders think. Not that I expect her not to care at all about appearances, and there might indeed be social and emotional consequences if everyone thinks that her husband is being unfaithful to her. Still, weighting them as more important than communication with the man she loves, her husband, who is clearly experiencing distress, is a bad look.
And Perrin shouldn’t have to put up with being sexually harassed. Just as Mat shouldn’t. I’m not sure how the Saldean customs would apply if the genders were reversed and a man was chasing a married woman, but in the case of Altara, it seems to be more about age than gender. In Mat’s first encounter with Tylin and Beslan, Beslan remarks that balls are “for older people, and their pretties” and then in Chapter 29 he refers to Mat as his mother’s “pretty,” so it would seem that it is customary for older people, presumably nobility, to have (to use our own modern parlance) sugar babies. This practice seems to be limited to those who are single—Beslan remarks that his father died ten years ago—but among those, the practice is customary enough that the servants and cooks not only know about Mat’s situation, but find it amusing. More significantly, this arrangement is so customary that Beslan expects to be interacting with his mother’s “pretty” frequently enough that he wants her to have chosen someone he likes.
The idea of choosing a lover roughly the same age as your child and encouraging them to hang out together as friends seems like a bananas custom to me, personally, but of course I’m much less concerned with that than I am with the fact that Tylin raped Mat at knife point. I’m planning a separate essay on male rape in The Wheel of Time, so I’m not going to get into everything here, but Jordan is very thoughtful in the way he treats Mat’s emotional state after the encounter. From the way he tries to categorize his distress, to the way he hides his ruined clothes under the bed, to the way Thom, Juilin, and Birgitte know about Tylin’s interest but not about the coercion or Mat’s distress. I’m particularly interested in the way that Mat’s thoughts are running towards the idea of this seeming subversion of gender roles and avoiding addressing some of the more upsetting aspects of the encounter. He does, however, acknowledge to himself that while he is used to being the pursuer, not the pursued, he also has never pursued a woman who made it clear that she didn’t want his attentions.
It’s no narrative coincidence that Perrin’s been thrown back together with Berelain and Mat has been raped by a Queen right after Morgase’s rape by Valda. There are three different examples in which the perpetrators have different levels of power over their targets, but together they do create a certain atmosphere, and they inform each other as the reader progresses through the narrative. It is terribly sobering seeing Morgase, who was once very powerful and in control of her own destiny, stripped of her queenship and much of her personal agency. It is equally sobering to see the traps that are ensuring Perrin and Mat, who only a few years ago were carefree country boys, as they rapidly rise in power and responsibility that they don’t necessarily want.
It is said that the Dragon Reborn will Break the world again, not just in physical destruction but by upending order, breaking the bonds of fealty between leaders and the people, destroying civilizations, and bringing poverty and death. Except for the involvement of Rahvin in Morgase’s overthrow, these types of sexual power play are not new to the world of The Wheel of Time. However, the atmosphere of the narration is heavy with the question of self-determination and powerlessness—in addition to what happens to Mat and Morgase, there is also the reappearance of the Seanchan with their slaves and their damane, the fate Moghdien, and the illustration of how ta’veren power is affecting Reanne’s desires and judgements in ways she is neither conscious of nor can control.
It’s a bit hard to read, to be honest. And I think that’s the point. The Dark One’s shadow is indeed looming.
We’ll be catching up with Elayne and Nynaeve next week, covering Chapters 30 and 31. Until then, as always, I wish you all a good and peaceful week.
Sylas K Barrett has also just remembered that Suroth is a darkfriend. So there’s that.