Spoilers for books 1-8 and Winter’s Heart to ch.21| More info and previous posts |Please no spoilers for future books/events
In my plan to read The Wheel of Time, and post about my experience, I’m now on book 9, Winter’s Heart. This post covers chapter 15-21.
Yay! About damn time, I say. So, Mat is still in Ebou Dar, his injuries from the wall falling on him are healing nicely. Currently he’s trying to pry the Illuminator’s secrets out of Aludra, who is still loyal to her guild despite being cast out, and despite the guild not really existing anymore since the Seanchan destroyed the last chapter house in Tanchico. Mat’s apparently planning to weaponise the stuff, but Aludra refuses to budge. Finally she sends Mat off with a riddle – What use would she have for a bellmaker? Well, I tried to figure this out, the best I can come up with is that she needs the rocket tubes casted or something. Just throwing guesses. Mat doesn’t do any better, so he gives up for now.
In bits and pieces from Mat’s thoughts we get the whole scene. Aludra is part of Luca’s show now, and Mat intends to travel with Luca’s circus, like Nynaeve and Elayne did. Why does he need to do that? Because the poor man is still in Tylin’s clutches, and it’s worse than ever. Meanwhile, the Seanchan are still in control of Ebou Dar. I thought they’d left after that battle with Rand, but apparently that’s not the case. They leave the circus to return to the city proper, and the dice start rolling in Mat’s head again. This time I can guess why though – the Daughter of the Nine Moons is coming.
Back in the city, they find it crowded with Seanchan settlers. I wonder how many of these came of their own volition. I mean, most farmers/traders/whatever would prefer to stick to their lands rather come to a foreign country, unless the living conditions back in Seanchan really suck. Anyway, Thom wants to talk to Mat about some risky plan he has, but Mat’s having none of it. He sends Thom and Beslan off with Olver (so I guess the boy got out of that just fine), while he “goes for a walk”, which is basically an excuse to stay away from the Palace and Tylin. He’s been asking around for other accommodations, but with the Seanchan there, all inns are chock full. Finally, hungry and tired and cold, poor Mat has no choice but to make his way back to the palace.
On the way though, he stumbles in an ally, which turns out to be pretty damn lucky, cause it saves him from the gholam jumping on him from behind. Well, Mat does the only thing he can do faced with the creature – whip out his medallion. It keeps the gholam at bay, but Mat is tired and not fully healed. Luckily someone out on the street seems to have noticed the attack, and the gholam leaves, not wanting to draw too much attention. And by leave I mean slither through a tiny hole in a wall. Mat’s savior turns out to be an old man called Noal Charim, and a grateful Mat invites him to the palace because the fellow doesn’t have a place to sleep.
The dice continue to spin in Mat’s head.
A Long Awaited Encounter
Finally Mat gets to the Palace. The place is also occupied by a bunch of Seanchan now, including the High Lady Suroth. Tylin, not having much choice in the matter, has agreed to serve under the Empress, which at least lets her keep her rule of Altara. Actually, the Seanchan aren’t that bad in some ways – they keep the city in order, seem to be harsh but also fair – no favoring their own, the law is equal for all, and in general life under their rule wouldn’t be too bad. The big issues I have are the sharp divide between nobles and commoners – all the pompous Randland nobles have nothing on the Seanchan blood in this matter, the fact that they have slavery, and the whole damane system. And of course from a plot perspective, they want Rand to serve the Crystal Throne, which would kinda suck. So all in all I’m saying that the Seanchan aren’t evil, but I do want them to lose.
Anyway, back to Mat. After ensuring rooms for Noal, Mat, kinda pissed by everyone telling him to get cleaned up or the Queen will be angry, goes to Tylin’s apartments, intending to have a few words with her I guess, but finds her in a meeting, with Suroth, and more importantly, Tuon, Daughter of the Nine Moons. And I was right, the dice stop then. This really confuses Mat – he’s expecting all sorts of calamities and dangers to materialise, but there’s only these women chatting.
Tuon notes that Mat’s been in a scuffle, and uses that to chastise Suroth – saying she was supposed to have made Ebou Dar safe, but then there’s this guy who’s been set upon. It would be so fun if Mat told her, “Nah, it’s not her fault, it’s just this ancient magic-proof murderous monster”. There’s talk of buying Mat, Tuon even offers to pay whatever Tylin wants, but fortunately she tells Tuon that Mat’s a free man, not hers to sell. See, this is the kind of thing I was talking about – Seanchan nobles don’t see people as people, but like some sort of inferior species, beneath their notice. It’s not that Tuon is particularly bad or anything, that’s just how the Seanchan roll.
We get a “days pass” sort of sequence – basically nothing much happens, RJ just paints a word picture of the general way of life for people. Thom is still up to something, and he’s got Beslan with him now. Juilin seems to have become mixed up with some noblewoman. Seanchan continue to arrive in Ebou Dar, with their exotic wildlife, and Ogier. It just feels weird, but also kind of fitting, that the Seanchan Ogier are these hulking, fierce warrior types, not at all like good old Loial. Oh, and for some reason thinking of Rand or Perrin produces “odd swirls of color” in Mat’s head. Hmm, could this be connected to what Rand sometimes feels – where he almost sees a face that’s not there. Hard to say. Mat goes to the Wandering Woman, where there’s no room, but Mistress Anan agrees to let him store his stuff there, so he has his men smuggle gold and clothes bit by bit to the inn in preparation for his escape. Mat also goes to a bellfounder for help with Aludra’s riddle, but no luck. Also, Tuon seems to interested in Mat. He runs into her in hallways suspiciously often, and one time finds her in his rooms, examining the ashandarei.
Mat goes to the Wandering Woman to check on his stuff, and the scene is preceded with this line:
Afterwards, long afterwards, he would wonder why the bloody dice had not warned him.
So now my mind is in overdrive trying to think what disaster will happen there.
Mat makes his way to the Wandering Woman, but Mistress Anan is out, so he basically chills out in the kitchen, until she’s back. And she’s got Joline with her. This is dangerous because the Seanchan really don’t like channelers walking around free. They clear out the kitchen so they can talk. Mistress Anan wants Mat’s help smuggling her out. But then a Seanchan officer barges into the kitchen, and Mat has to resort to the classic kiss-to-hide trick to obscure Joline’s ageless face. But it’s no big deal, the woman just wants some rooms prepared. Once she’s gone, they go to the basement to talk. Turns out the reason Joline is still here is Teslyn gave her what I’m guessing was forkroot, so she couldn’t slip out when the Seanchan came, and now it’s too dangerous. But Mat promises to try and help. He also mentions the warning note that was left in his pocket, but it’s clear that it wasn’t Joline who left it. Still, all in all it wasn’t as bad as I’d feared.
So he goes to the other Aes Sedai – Teslyn, who’s now a damane. Turns out she was the one who left the note, though she did it mostly to mess with Elaida. And though Mat realises he doesn’t actually owe her anything:
It had not done any good, anyway. They both knew Elaida was after them. The note had changed nothing! The woman had not really been trying to help them, anyway, just to . . . inconvenience . . . Elaida. He could walk away with a clean conscience.
He’s still going to try and get her free. Plus Teslyn also wants another Aes Sedai who’s a captive to be freed. So that’s three women Mat has to try and smuggle out under the Seanchan’s noses. Risky business.
Questions of Treason
A sul’dam called Bethamin is inspecting the kennels. This basically involves ensuring the damane keep their rooms clean and tidy. Somehow she senses that Teslyn a.k.a Tessi is planning an escape, and so now the poor woman will have an even more miserable life. That done, she goes back to her inn.
On the way, we get a little more of her backstory. She was at Falme, and saw the collared sul’dam that Egwene left behind when she escaped. This being a huge shock to any Seanchan, she deserted and ran away during the battle. But it seems the larger Seanchan empire has no idea that sul’dam can learn to channel – Suroth covered up everything. And of course she’s scared of what will happen when/if people find out about all this. I think that’d be great. The whole damane system will collapse, because sul’dam can only be women who can channel or can learn to do so.
Back at her inn, she finds a Seeker for Truth waiting. They’re like the Gestapo or something, and like any person with a guilty secret, she immediately assumes she’s busted. But it’s not that bad. He just wants her to spy on one Egeanin Sarna. Name sounds familiar. Oh yeah, she was the woman at the Wandering Woman, the one who wanted rooms. She asks why she must do this and the Seeker goes in conspiracy-nut mode. Also, now I remember the whole thing – Egeanin was the Seanchan who the girls met in Tanchico, and Bethamin was the collared sul’dam she freed. We also saw this seeker at the time. I’d like totally forgotten about it all, but it seems he’s still on Egeanin’s trail.
It turns out that she’s got Bayle Domon with him, and he’s now property. He also suspects Bayle and Suroth for Turok’s murder. Plus he knows about Egeanin meeting with Elayne and Nynaeve, and that Suroth has Liandrin as a damane. And from this jumble of facts and misunderstandings, he’s convinced that Suroth conspiring against the Empire, and that she’s mixed with Aes Sedai, and that Egeanin is a part of this. Dude, you are so off base here. But he’s a Seeker, and Bethamin is terrified of him, so she agrees to do it – on the face of it at least. Also, this all feels so unnecessary. Like, we’ve already got plenty of stuff going on in the plot(s) without introducing Seanchan intrigues.
Cut to Egeanin and Bayle. It seems their relationship is not as simple as master-slave, she loves him, and in private at least they behave more like husband and wife. They talk a bunch, the single most important thing I glean is that the ter’angreal at the root of the whole Tanchico subplot, the one that can be used to control Rand, the one Nynaeve ordered Bayle to dump in the sea, was in fact not dumped and is now in the possession of Suroth. Damnit!
Also, it kind of blows my mind that Bayle, a character that I dismissed immediately as some random guy on whose boat Rand and Mat jumped in EoTW, has been popping up in so many places and you kind of get this feel of his whole personal plot going on that occasionally intersects the big one. It could feel contrived but to me it feels more like it’s all part of the Pattern, you know. I really am not getting my point across eloquently enough here. Let’s just say I think it’s cool.
So, Bethamin comes to Egeanin, all flustered and scared shitless. Egeanin tells her to chill out, because of course she’s not a part of some huge conspiracy. But the Seeker thinks she is, and that’s just as bad. She tells Bethamin to stall for now and sends her back. Bayle wants out, and he tells Egeanin that Mat will be helpful in this. He recognised Mat in the kitchen. Hmm, it seems Mat’s going to smuggle out quite a number of people.
Also, I hope Egeanin gets out of this. I don’t really care about the Aes Sedai, or Bethamin, and screw Suroth, but Egeanin sems like a nice person who was good enough to let Bethamin go and befriend the girls.
So not much happens in these chapters – it’s just the beginning of a bunch of threads – the rescue, the Seanchan conspiracy etc., but I’m just so happy that Mat is safe and sound and back in the plot that I’m willing to let it pass.