Hello there, friends, I’ve missed you!
This week in Reading The Wheel of Time, we’re covering Chapters 39 and 40, in which Mat has a confrontation with the Sea Folk, and then loses Olver, Sevanna takes possession over the captured Galina, and Sammael causes problems for the Shaido Aiel while pretending to be an ally. Oh, and the dang Seanchan show up. And Shaidar Haran. Yuck.
Back in the Tarasin Palace, Mat argues with Tylin, the Aes Sedai, and Renaile, the Windfinder to the Mistress of Ships. There are other Sea Folk women present, as well as the members of the Kin. Mat has learned from Birgitte that the creature who attacked them was a gholam, and he explains this to the women without revealing his source.
“They were made to assassinate Aes Sedai. No other reason. To kill people who could channel. The One Power won’t help you; the Power won’t touch a gholam. In fact, they can sense the ability to channel, if they’re within, say, fifty paces of you. They can feel the power in you, too. You won’t know the gholam until it’s too late. They look just like anybody else. On the outside. Inside… Gholam have no bones; they can squeeze themselves under a door. And they’re strong enough to rip a door off steel hinges with one hand.” Or rip out a throat. Light, he should have let Nalesean stay in bed.”
He goes on to tell them that there were only six gholam made, and that this one must have been sent by a Forsaken, one who knew about the Bowl and specifically ordered the gholam to kill Mat, Elayne, and Nynaeve. He warns that whoever sent it must also know that the Bowl is now in the Palace, and that he can’t protect all of them. There’s also Falion and the Black Ajah to worry about.
Despite Mat’s warnings and insistence that they must leave Ebou Dar, Renaile and the Sea Folk are not convinced. Merilille reports that none of the Aes Sedai have ever heard of a gholam; they are skeptical of Mat’s reports. The Atha’an Miere, meanwhile, don’t go far from the sea unless there is very great danger, and they aren’t taking Mat’s word on something Aes Sedai have never heard of.
Mat can’t understand why Nynaeve and Elayne aren’t saying anything. He knows now that the Aes Sedai and the Circle will follow them obediently, and yet other than giving a very barebones account of what happened in the Rahad, they have been completely silent. It strikes Mat, suddenly, that he’s the only man in the room. He also notices that, for all their Aes Sedai stillness, both Elayne and Nynaeve’s hands twitch anxiously from time to time. Merilille seems to be glancing anxiously at them, and some of the other Aes Sedai are smoothing their skirts.
Suddenly, Mat has the feeling that he’s been going about this the wrong way. He also suspects that he is being used.
He walks towards Renaile and stops by her chair. She starts to tell Nynaeve that their bargain had nothing to do with listening to him, but Mat shuts her down, flinging an Atha’an Miere insult at her from memory. He also takes her dagger from her.
“Nynaeve and Elayne need you, or I’d leave you for the gholam to crack your bones and the Black Ajah to pick over what’s left. Well, as far as you’re concerned, I’m the Master of the Blades, and my blades are bare.” What that meant exactly, he had no idea, except for having once heard, “When the blades are bare, even the Mistress of the Ships bows to the Master of the Blades.” “This is the bargain between you and me. You go where Nynaeve and Elayne want, and in return, I won’t tie the lot of you across horses like packsaddles and haul you there!”
Renaile has her hands on her knife, but when she speaks it is to agree. She looks shocked at her own words, and there are gasps from the other Sea Folk women, but Mat only answers in turn that it is agreed, and seals the deal by touching his fingers to his lips and hers. He returns the dagger, and Renaile remarks that she believes she has just made a bargain with a ta’veren.
Everyone else makes a show of deciding where to go, and Mat can tell that it’s all for Renaile’s benefit, a pretense that things hadn’t already been decided beforehand. They decide on the farm on the other side of the river that is run by the Kin.
He corners Nynaeve and Elayne as everyone else is leaving. Elayne apologizes for using him and promises that they had a good reason, while Nynaeve complains that bullying them could have ruined everything. Mat responds that she should always let him make bargains with the Sea Folk for her, so that they don’t turn out so badly. Nynaeve blushes, flustered.
Tylin comes over to say goodbye to him, remarking that he’s a grown man and not a boy needing protection, as Nynaeve seems to think. She says that she will miss him, and Mat mutters that he will miss her, too. Then he meets up with Thom and Juilin, who have packed up all their things and Mat’s too. Juilin hands him the ring he bought while chasing Shiaine. He has a brief conversation with Nalesean’s man Lopin, about hiring him into Mat’s service.
But when he goes to find Olver, he learns that the boy has finished his lessons and been let out for the day—he’s somewhere in the city. He goes to tell Nynaeve and Elayne, and everyone immediately offers to help look for the boy, especially Birgitte and Aviendha. But Mat insists that they stay with Elayne and Nynaeve, and asks them and Lan to protect them. They solemnly agree.
Mat organizes his men, including Thom and Juilin, into a search party to look for Olver and they all head out. Mat searches in vain, slowly becoming aware of a strange bustle in the streets as he asks likely looking sweet vendors if they’ve seen a boy matching Olver’s description. When he hears thunder but there are no clouds, Mat shrugs it off and heads down to the docks, where he is startled to find everyone standing still and looking out towards the bay. Out there he can see ships burning, while others try to get out to sea or flee upriver. When Mat catches sight of square sails,he realizes that this is an attack by the Seanchan.
Still searching for Olver, he encounters some of Tylin’s mounted soldiers facing off against Seanchan on horseback and watches them get obliterated by a leashed damane. Mat is knocked on his back by the explosions, then gets up and takes off running, following the example of the Ebou Dari. He feels channeling again, the medallion growing cold on his chest.
“What happened to my bloody luck?” he shouted. He had time for that. And just time to realize, as brick and timbers crashed down on him, that the dice in his head had just stopped dead.
A prisoner of a group of Shaido Maidens and Wise Ones, Galina struggles to keep up with the running Aiel. Though the Wise One shielding her isn’t powerful enough to maintain it if Galina fought back, she refrains from trying—her punishment after her last attempt at escape had been enough to discourage her from another attempt, at least until she is completely sure she will succeed. Therava, the Wise One in charge of her, is cruel and terrifying, and although Galina hasn’t yet broken under Therava’s treatment, she is terrified that she will spend the rest of her life under the cruel woman’s care.
It has been nine days of impossible running and cruel treatment, but eventually they stop and Galina is brought into a tent and presented to Sevanna. Sevanna’s Wise Women are also there, as well as twelve Aielmen.
“It seems that Aes Sedai can lie,” Sevanna said, and the blood drained from Galina’s face. The woman could not know; she could not. “You made pledges, Galina Casban, and broke them. Did you think you could murder a Wise One and then run beyond the reach of our spears?”
For a moment, relief froze Galina’s tongue. Sevanna did not know about the Black Ajah. Had she not abandoned the Light long ago, she would have thanked the Light.
Galina also feels indignant that the Aiel would attack the Aes Sedai and then be angry that some of them died. Still, Sevanna twisting facts is much less horrible than Therava’s beatings and cold eyes. Galina tells Sevanna that when she returns to the White Tower she will remember those who assist her… and those who don’t. She can see the jewels Sevanna is wearing, and thinks that, though Sevanna can’t be trusted, she can perhaps be bought. Galina is hoping she can manipulate Sevanna into taking charge of her, taking her away from Therava, but is confused when Sevanna pronounces her da’tsang, and two other Wise Ones follow suit.
She recognizes the Old Tongue word meaning “despised one,” and also recognizes that Therava is upset by what has just happened. For a few moments she even feels hopeful—but that hope vanishes quickly.
Sevanna watches Galina performing the painful, useless labor given to da’tsang. Therava is angry that Sevanna made her captive da’tsang, depriving Therava of the ability to keep her as gai’shain, but Rhiale explains that Sevanna wants to break the Aes Sedai, to create for herself a “tame” Aes Sedai who will serve her. A voice behind her interrupts, and Sevanna turns to see Caddar and Maisia standing there. Caddar presents Sevanna with a white rod, cool to the touch and not quite like glass, and explains that it’s an oath rod which just came into his possession. Horrified, Sevanna stops herself from throwing the rod away, shoving it into her belt instead so she can stop touching it with her hands. She notes how Rhiale and Therava look at the rod, and at her.
She takes Caddar into the tent as Caddar explains how to use the oath rod, and that it will only work on women who can channel. Sevanna makes plans in her head about what she will do once she gets everything she wants from this fool wetlander, and how she will take Maisia from him, leaving him defenseless.
She asks about the traveling boxes and Caddar tells her that he has found enough to transport all of the Shaido by nightfall. He warns, too, that al’Thor is coming for them, and he has Wise Ones and Aes Sedai with him who can Travel. Sevanna decides she can’t afford to risk capture, and listens as Caddar explains how the boxes—nar’baha he calls them—work, including that they use saidin, can only hold a gateway open for a fixed time, and will need three days to recover after each use.
Maeric, leader of the Moshaine sept, holds the little cube and studies the hole it has made in the air before him. He watches Sevanna, some Wise Ones, and the strange wetlanders go through a different hole and hesitates, not liking anything to do with the One Power, especially the male half. His wife Dyrele reminds him that the gateway won’t stay open forever and he jumps through, followed by Maidens and Black Eyes, and then the rest of his sept. They are followed in turn by the Mera’din, the Brotherless as they call themselves, those who left their own clans because they did not believe that Rand al’Thor was the Car’a’carn. Maeric doesn’t know what he believes about al’Thor, but a man does not abandon his clan and sept.
The hole closes abruptly as the Brotherless are still coming through, cutting ten of them in half. He presses the spot on the box again, though he knows that the wetlander man said the box needs to recover before it can be used again. Some of his people are still on the other side, including his son and daughter. They will have to wait for the box to recharge—except suddenly a Maiden comes running up to him to warn him that there are seven or eight thousand Aiel heading directly towards them. Another algai’d’siswai reports Aiel and mounted wetlanders to the north. A Water Seeker reports more to the south.
Maeric gives the cube to the blacksmith, instructing him to keep pressing it as long as it takes for the hole to open, as it’s the only way out for any of them. Then he turns to his wife.
“Shade of my heart, you must prepare to put on white.” Her hand strayed toward the hilt of her belt knife—she had been a Maiden when she made his wreath—but he shook his head firmly. “You must live, wife, roofmistress, to hold together what remains.” Nodding, she pressed fingers to his cheek. He was astonished; she had always been very reserved in public.”
Calling the Moshaine, Maeric sets out towards the dance, singing, followed by men and Maidens and the Brotherless, thinking perhaps the Brotherless might be counted among the sept afterall. Wondering if Sevanna knew about this.
He begins to sing.
Graendal watches the last of the Jumai Shaido and Wise Ones disappear through the one gateway that Sammael actually designed to last until everyone went through. He laughs, delightedly, and tosses away the rest of the useless stone cubes.
“One of these days,” she said dryly, “you will be too smart for your own good. A fool box, Sammael? Suppose one of them had understood?”
He laughs, pointing out that none of them did. He sent some to land in front of Rand’s army, others are scattered from Illian to Ghealdan. As he talks, she realizes that he doesn’t know that Sevanna took every woman who could channel with her, specifically. He’s being foolish and she wonders if it’s time to abandon him. He seems to sense her thought and reminds her that she’s tied tightly to him. She knows that this is true, but she is also determined not to be pulled down by him if he falls. She asks what Sammael will do if al’Thor comes after him, but Sammael answers that al’Thor isn’t coming after anyone. All Sammael has to do is wait.
The Myrddraal moved from the deeper shadows, becoming visible. In its eyes, the gateways had left a residue—three patches of glowing mist. It could not tell one flow from another, but it could distinguish saidin from saidar by the smell. […] No other Myrddraal could smell that difference. Shaidar Haran was like no other Myrddraal.
Shaidar Haran wonders if Sammael’s actions will lead to chaos, or something else, and angrily burns a spear it finds on the ground. But it is growing weak after being so long away from Shayol Ghul. Thinking that the tie must be severed somehow, it returns to the shadows, knowing that the day is coming.
You know, I was kind of feeling bad for Sevanna when she first started talking to “Caddar,” just because she was so very in over her head. But I am really not feeling that anymore. I mean, Sevanna makes Lady MacBeth look like a reasonable person, and could give Elaida a run for her money as Randland’s most power-hungry lady in any contest that didn’t include Darkfriends. Which maybe is a silly contest, but you know, you expect this sort of thing from Darkfriends! They sell their souls to Evil because they want to be the immortal rulers of the world or whatever. And while Darkfriends certainly don’t have the market cornered when it comes to selfishness, cruelty, or evil-lowercase-e, you expect at least some nuance from them.
It’s like with the Whitecloaks. You expect people like Niall and Bornhald Sr, but Valda feels like a step too far—it’s hard to imagine that man not being sworn to the Dark One. But perhaps that is because the metaphysics of Evil seem to work slightly differently from how they do in standard western christianity. As far as I understand it, only people who actually swear themselves to the Dark One end up with their souls in his possession after they die. For everyone else, there is the option of reincarnation (still not clear to me if everyone is, or some people are, or it’s only heroes tied to the Wheel) or “sheltering in the Creator’s hand.” Certain people, like the citizens of the Borderlands and the Aiel, seem to have more specific ideas about an afterlife, but there’s no mention of what a reader might equate to heaven, despite the fact that the structure of the universe, with its Creator and Devil setup, might seem to imply one. What fate awaits someone who is as bad as Sevanna or Valda, but not a Darkfriend?
I’m sure this has been discussed elsewhere—the peril of avoiding spoilers on a series that has been out for a while is that you can’t participate in fan discussions in real time! But I kind of like the idea that reincarnation is for everyone who doesn’t actively choose the Dark One. Good people, bad people, in-between people all belong to the endless turning of the Wheel. It’s something that is implied in the TV show; I believe it’s Tam who suggests to Rand in the very first episode that the point of being tied to the Wheel is to come out again and again and get the chance to do better. I’m not sure if I see that stated in the books, however, at least not yet. It will be interesting to see if we get more of that side of the metaphysics as the series progresses, even though Herid Fel got murdered.
(By a gholam, maybe? More on that later.)
I actually think Sevanna is worse than Elaida, or at least, she comes off that way because we don’t really know much about her as person, as compared to Elaida. We have some background for Elaida that make her, if not exactly sympathetic, at least a little more understandable; the portrait of her jealousy of Siuan and Moiraine when they were young, the explanation that she feels cheated because her Foretelling diverted her to Andor, when she otherwise would have attempted to put herself in the running for Amyrlin. Now, I don’t expect reasonableness from Elaida in any situation, but I wonder, if she had stayed and tried for Amyrlin and just not made it, or not made it yet, would she perhaps have been a little less resentful of Siuan? Without the narrative of having missed her chance because she was away from the Tower, she could not have believed that Siuan’s ascension to Amyrlin was solely because Elaida wasn’t there to challenge her.
Then again, perhaps she was always going to be exactly as she is now, always believing she is getting less than her due and always blaming others for it. But it’s an interesting idea to consider, especially in the context of the world building of The Wheel of Time. Elaida isn’t ta’veren, but her ability in Foretelling ties her to the Pattern in a way that other people, even other channelers, aren’t. There is a beautiful dramatic irony in the way she misinterpreted her Foretelling, which was probably about Rand’s mother and not about Morgase’s line, and yet Elayne turned out to be very, very important to the Dragon Reborn. And perhaps even more significantly, if Elaida had reached the conclusion that it was Tigraine that she should be attaching herself to, that probably would have been disastrous for everyone. Tigraine needed to leave and go live among the Aiel, in secret, according to Gitara’s Foretelling. Poor Elaida, getting shown up by Siuan in the realm of being Amyrlin and Gitara in the realm of Foretelling.
But I (super) digress! Elaida isn’t even in this chapter. My point is that Sevanna doesn’t have any of the details that make Elaida an interesting character, just the power hunger and hubris that make Elaida despicable. In the same way Elaida wants to break Rand and turn him into a sort of pet to increase her own status and power, Sevanna wants to do this with women who can channel, like Galina (and all her Wise Ones too, if she thought she could get away with it). And of course she also wants to do this with Rand.
Sevanna is also living up to the Shaido reputation of being sneaky liars with no honor—plenty of other Aiel have been forced or chosen to abandon aspects of Aiel culture because of what has happened with Rand’s arrival in their midst, but their traditions around behavior and ji’e’toh are very important to them. Sevanna doesn’t seem to give two figs about any of that, though, and is throwing all those traditions aside as easily as she is adopting finger rings and chairs. The reader might look down on Sevanna for her desire to bedeck herself in a ridiculous amount of jewelry, but it is the way that she has changed the tradition of taking gai’shain that really makes her despicable. I can imagine that the rules for wetlander prisoners might not quite be the same as for Aiel, but Sevanna seems content to take whoever she likes and put them in white forever—she hopes specifically to take wetlander nobility as her personal servants, to put Caddar in black as soon as she gets everything she wants out of him, and she condemned Galina as da’tsang not because Galina had necessarily earned it, but because she wants to break her completely. And because this was a way to take Galina away from Therava.
You can’t exactly blame Sevanna for not suspecting Caddar to be a Forsaken in disguise, but she is constantly thinking about what a foolish, ignorant man he is while taking everything he says more or less at face value. Never does she seem to question why he would be doing all this for her—there is some promise of gold, apparently, but Caddar is willing to just turn over incredibly powerful items without so much as blinking, and I’m not sure we’ve actually seen him get paid anything yet besides tea. Sevanna seems to have decided that Caddar is too much of a fool to get away with betraying her even though he clearly intends to, which is a pretty foolish decision to make. Even the Aiel disdain for wetlanders doesn’t really cover it.
And so she got played, spectacularly, and now the Shaido are scattered across several countries at least. And just when I thought I didn’t really care about that, Jordan gave me some Shaido to grieve for.
The section with Maeric was heartrending. It’s not very long, but we learn a lot about his character very quickly, and I was moved by his love for his wife and children, and by his loyalty to his people. He would have made a good chief for the Shaido, and I appreciate that Jordan didn’t forget to show us that stereotypes aren’t always true—there are good Red sisters like Pevara, and there are good, loyal Shaido like Maeric and his wife. Hamal is only in the section for a second, but Maeric’s estimation of him tells us what we need to know—and of course any blacksmith in The Wheel of Time is automatically worthy of my love until proven otherwise.
I also feel so, so bad for the Sea Folk. The Aiel were forever changed once Rand proved himself to be the car’a’carn, and they know that his coming means the eventual destruction of their people. But they still had a choice in how they met that fate. The Shaido and the Brotherless chose to reject Rand and seek a different path. The Wise Ones and Clan Chiefs hope to advise and influence him. The Sea Folk, on the other hand, are just getting pushed around by ta’veren.
It almost feels a little sloppy on Jordan’s part, as though he didn’t want to spend so much time on the Sea Folk as he has on the Aiel and the Kin and the lords of the lands Rand has conquered. Which is completely fine—it only stands out because Jordan’s story weaving is usually so complex and completist. I did like the setup of the scene with Mat vs Renaile, though. Elayne and Nynaeve used him again, without telling him, but I suspect that this is because their Bargain with the Sea Folk prohibited them from forcing the Sea Folks’ hands. Directing Mat to do it in their stead would have been the same as doing it directly, so they had to sit back and hope that he would take the initiative. Which he absolutely did, and with even more success than they were expecting.
I don’t like that Jordan used the concept of a golem for a type of Shadowspawn. It’s one thing to remix our world’s cultures to create different ones in his—that can be executed well or problematically, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with the approach. It’s a very different thing to use a very important subject from the mythology of a marginalized religion and say, yep, that’s one of the Evil guys. And I think it reads especially poorly because the foundational shape of the world building is christian in nature, albeit with additions from other religious and philosophical beliefs. Once you have a Christian-coded “God” and “Devil” and then you add in something as recognizably Jewish as a golem and make it belong to the “Devil,” it reads in a very definitive way. Jordan is, of course, far from the only person to use the concept of a golem in a fantasy way, and there are many other intentionally or unintentionally prejudiced depictions of golem-like creatures in non-Jewish works. And many readers might only know of “golem” as a synonym for monster, unaware of the origins of the word.
But there is a stark lack of nuance in Jordan’s choice of word, as compared to, say, Terry Pratchet’s exploration of slavery and personhood themes through the golems of the Discworld series. Technically Pratchett’s golems are secular in nature—there is no Judaism on the Disc—but he keeps much of the nature of golems intact, and the reimagining feels thoughtful and respectful. Jordan, on the other hand, has taken a word for a creature that is a symbolic protector in Jewish folklore and belief, and reduced it to an Evil monster.
It’s also not clear to me what kind of Shadowspawn a gholam is. Is it more like a Myrddraal and Trollocs, some sort of magically corrupted spawn of human and animals? Or is it more like the Gray Men, once human itself but changed to something unrecognizable by the power of the Dark One? The detail that they can flatten their bodies out like mice is super gruesome, I must say. Like, well done but also NO, JORDAN, THANK YOU VERY MUCH NO. I imagine that a gholam might be what killed Herid Fel, too—it was something that got into his workspace and was strong enough to tear him limb from limb, and according to Mat’s educated guess the gholam is probably being directed specifically by one of the Forsaken to seek out the targets most threatening to the Dark One’s plans.
I do, however, very much like how Mat is gaining extra information about these sorts of things from Birgitte, and at the same time protecting the identity of his source. Their friendship is really lovely, and I appreciate how dedicated they have become to their shared secrets. I also appreciated the moment when Mat symbolically passed his promise to Rand on to Lan and Birgitte, and how seriously they both took his charge to watch over people they are already very much watching over.
And then the dang Seanchan had to show up and do their Seanchan thing. We’ve been playing the fun guessing game of when the dice will stop for ages, and I admit I didn’t call this—like Mat, I was assuming that the dice must have to do with something that was in front of him. Also the dice have been rolling repeatedly lately, starting with when Mat was spotted by Carridin and, unbeknownst to him, had Darkfriends hunting him. It will be interesting to see how Mat handles being caught in the Seanchan invasion—I’m assuming that Ebou Dar will fall pretty easily and that Tylin will probably decide that it’s best to swear their Oath. She’s practical like that, even if she’s also a rapist.
Speaking of gross monsters, we got some new clues about Shaidar Haran this week. All Myrddraal seem to be intelligent and dedicated enough to follow orders from the Forsaken and also, perhaps, might be directed by the Dark One himself, but Shaidar Haran is the one that comes to monitor and punish, not just Carridin and other Bors-level Darkfriends, but the Forsaken themselves. It’s been remarked upon by every Forsaken who has encountered Shaidar Haran that it is nothing like an ordinary Myrddraal, and that no Shadowspawn has ever been placed above them before. Shaidar Haran is also very focused on the directive to cause chaos—and now we know that it is also tied somehow to Shayol Ghul.
It makes sense that this unusual Myrddraal’s special powers would come directly from Shayol Ghul, and that there would be a limitation to that. As the seals on the Dark One’s prison weaken, he is able to touch the world more directly, affecting things like the weather and sending up the bubbles of evil. But he is still trapped, and certainly is unable to enter the physical world. Unless, perhaps, he had a vessel that was part of the world.
Maybe this is a stretch, but it’s possible that Shaidar Haran isn’t just a Myrddraal imbued with special abilities but a Myrddraal imbued with a particular will, a little piece of the Dark One’s consciousness, for lack of a better word. This would certainly explain things like its evident anger at the idea of Sammael messing up the Dark One’s plans and the fact that it can sense—smell, in this case—the difference between saidar and saidin. It’s tied to Shayol Ghul because it is tied to, tied through, perhaps to the Dark One himself.
This feels like it might be a logical next step for the Dark One, who has mostly had to rely on second hand manipulation of the world through the Forsaken and other Darkfriends. No doubt he wants nothing more than to get rid of these middlemen—the Forsaken might believe that the Dark One will reward the best of them when he remakes the World, but I’m quite sure that isn’t the case—and to do things directly. He can’t really do that until all the seals are destroyed, but it makes sense that he might try something like using a Shadowspawn body as a sort of temporary host for a part of himself.
I suppose, as always, that time will tell. Next week is our final week in of book seven of The Wheel of Time as we finish up with Chapter 41, the titular chapter, A Crown of Swords. And hey, at least Rand’s still alive. For now, anyway.
Is Sylas K Barrett a little afraid of mice? No. Definitely not. Just like Mat isn’t a responsible man. Yep.