Welcome back to Reading The Wheel of Time! This week we’re covering Chapters Four and Five of Lord of Chaos. I especially enjoyed catching up with Mat, and the way that the narration in his chapter seamlessly recaps all the important information from previous books while also catching us up on where Mat is now. The most mischievous of the ta’veren seems to have changed a bit since we last saw him; he’s accepted the fact that he is ta’veren, and he’s even settling (reluctantly) into his new role as a military commander. He also makes a new friend. Somehow I’m guessing that little Olver is going to end up staying with Mat for a while.
I found Chapter Three especially difficult to recap because Jordan is doing that thing where he’s telling the chapter from Rand’s point of view, but he’s hiding some of Rand’s thoughts so that the plan to trap Sammael can remain a surprise for the reader. I understand why he does this at times, usually with Rand and Moiraine, or when we spend time in the POV of a powerful darkfriend, to avoid giving too much away, but I always feel like it makes the narration clunky and out of sync with the rest of Jordan’s writing. This may be more of a me problem than an objective analysis, but there it is.
Anyway, onward to the recap and the Band of the Red Hand.
Rand passes through the gateway into a tent, then steps out into the bright sun over the Plains of Maredo, on the border of Tear. He greets the Aiel on guard there, some of whom are wearing the red headband signifying them as siswai’aman. One of them, Roidan, informs Rand that none of the clan chiefs have been invited to join Weiramon and the other wetlanders, and Rand promises to take care of it. The Maidens and the Thunder Walkers rib each other, and the Maidens get the best of the exchange, though Rand doesn’t understand the humor.
They walk through the encampment, and Rand observes the Tairen and Cairhienin forces gathered there. Many cheer for the Lord Dragon as he passes, while others watch in stony silence. Rand also observes some of the oldest and youngest men hunting among the tents for rats, which they club with sticks whenever they are uncovered.
Few this far south really believed Myrddraal used rats and ravens and such for spies—Light, except for those who had actually seen them, almost no one this far south truly believed in Myrddraal, or Trollocs!—but if the Lord Dragon wanted the camp kept clear of the creatures, they were happy to oblige, especially since the Lord Dragon paid in silver for every corpse.
The Maidens ask Rand if he thought Enaila’s jokes were funny, and responds by telling a joke of his own, only to be met by confusion. The main tent is guarded by Defenders of the Stone, who Rand greets with the battle cry “The Stone still stands.” Inside he finds a map-covered table surrounded by Tairens and Cairhienin. Weiramon greets him formally, calling him “the Lord of the Morning,” which Rand dislikes as it was supposedly one of Lews Therin’s titles. He realizes that he hasn’t heard Lews Therin’s voice in his head since he yelled at it to go away—the first time he had directly addressed the voice.
Had Lews Therin actually heard? Somehow that made the whole thing worse. He did not want to think about the possibility now; he did not want to think of it at all.
Rand learns that some of the lords they’ve been waiting for are not coming. Four High Lords, a High Lady, and perhaps twenty or thirty lesser nobles have rebelled against Rand, calling him a false Dragon and claiming that the fall of the Stone and Rand’s acquisition of Callandor was some kind of Aes Sedai trick. Rand decrees that the Lords’ titles are forfeit and their lands confiscated, and issues death sentences for all who refuse to surrender. Then he moves on to planning, as the Aiel arrive to join them in the tent. Rand asks a few questions he already knows the answers to, ignoring the way the Cairhienin, Tairens, and occasionally the Aiel snipe at each other. He shuts down a terrible plan from Weiramon and reminds them all that they already have their orders. But they must wait for Mat to come take command.
He notes the displeasure on the men’s faces and is aware that some of them even have valid objections to Rand’s fake plans, but he is too concerned about Sammael having human spies in the camp to reveal that this is only a disguise for the true attack.
After leaving the tent, Rand also fields concerns and objections from the Aiel. He extracts a grudging promise from them to wait until Mat gives them orders.
Rand rests and talks for a while with the Aiel chieftains. After they leave Enaila and Somara come in, chastising him for not eating enough and offering unsolicited advice about how to court Aviendha. Rand returns late to Caemlyn, sneaking into his room and getting ready for bed in the dark in an attempt to avoid waking Aviendha. Just as he is climbing into bed, she turns over on her pallet.
“Sleep well and wake,” was all she said.
Thinking what idiocy it was to feel this sudden contentment because a woman he wanted to avoid told him good night, he stuffed a goose-down pillow beneath his head.
He falls asleep thinking about Aiel humor, and about his own joke that he is going to play on Sammael, the joke that only he, Mat, and Bashere are in on.
Mat sits in the Golden Stag, an inn in Maerone, wishing he could forget the soldiers all around him, the heat, and why he’s in Maerone in the first place. Some of his men discuss how to win their money back from him, and Mat flirts with a serving girl with no sense of personal boundaries. He teaches her the steps to an old dance and finds himself lost in the memories that were placed in his head on the other side of the ter’angreal doorway. Edorion arrives to remind Mat that it’s time to make his rounds.
Mat and Edorion walk the streets of Maerone, observing the townspeople and the bedraggled Cairhienin refugees, and the soldiers of the Band of the Red Hand. Most of Mat’s soldiers are Tairen and Cairhienin, but there are men from Andor as well, former members of the Queen’s Guard who were thrown out or driven away by Lord Gaebril. Mat makes a series of inspections of various drinking rooms around the town, spotting some Hunters for the Horn and wishing he knew what to do about the Horn and his connection to it.
Edorion mentions that there are rumors that the Dragon Reborn was in town the previous day, which Mat brushes off. But privately, he wishes he could track down the source of those rumors.
It had been the small hours of morning when a slash of light suddenly appeared in his room at The Golden Stag. He had thrown himself desperately across the four-posted bed, one boot on and one half off, pulling the knife he wore hanging between his shoulder blades before he realized it was Rand, stepping out of one of those bloody holes in nothing, apparently from the palace in Caemlyn by the columns visible before the opening winked out.
Mat was more than startled at Rand arriving in such a fashion, and alone, without the maidens. He had to navigate an awkward conversation where Rand fretted about Sammael escaping the trap and randomly asked Mat how to know if a woman is in love with you.
Mat has established a rotating assignment of men to keep the peace amongst his Band, but when he hears shouting he runs towards it anyway. He discovers two men threatening a young boy and intervenes, going so far as to knock them both down with his spear when they won’t back off. A servant tries to tell Mat that the two men are great lords and Hunters for the Horn, but Mat is unimpressed and has the three sent out of town. He learns that the boy’s name is Olver, and that he was in trouble for sitting on one of the lord’s horses. He also learns that both of nine-year-old Olver’s parents are dead, and decides to have the boy fed and cleaned up until he can figure out what to do with him.
Olver becomes angry when Mat gives those orders to Edorion, demanding that Mat talk directly to him, instead of over his head.
Mat blinked, then bent down. “I’m sorry, Olver. I always hated people doing that to me, too. Now, this is how it is. You smell bad, so Edorion here is going to take you to The Golden Stag, where Mistress Daelvin is going to let you have a bath.” The sulkiness on Olver’s face grew. “If she says anything, you tell her I said you could have one. She can’t stop you.” Mat held in a grin at the boy’s sudden stare; that would have spoiled it. Olver might not like the idea of a bath, but if someone might try to stop him from having one…
Just as Olver is being sent off, a messenger comes to tell Mat that a Sea Folk ship has been sighted on the river. Mat is doubtful, as the Atha’an Miere never leave the sea, but goes to look anyway. He’s been on the watch for more boats to carry supplies when the Band leaves.
Sure enough, the ship is a Sea Folk ship, and Mat watches with interest, drawing on his memories of the Atha’an Miere to understand the layout of the ship. A delegation from the ship lands on the docks, and Mat spots two fringed red parasols; he knows that they denote a clan Wavemistress and her Swordmaster.
On the other side of the river the Atha’an Miere delegation vanished up the dock with an escort of guardsmen. The whole thing made no sense. Sea Folk nine hundred miles from the sea. Only the Mistress of the Ships outranked a Wavemistress; only the Master of the Blades outranked a Swordmaster. No sense at all, not by any of those other men’s memories.
Mat reminds himself that those memories are old, and that someone with more recent knowledge of the Sea Folk might be able to make more sense of the event than he can. He can’t help noticing, however, that the ship is continuing upriver, not back to the sea.
Mat goes back to the Golden Stag where all the serving girls take turns dancing with him and his soldiers. Betse lasts longer in the dance than he does, and he’s practically limping when he goes to join Talmanes, Daerid and Nalesean, also worn out from dancing, at a far table. He tells them that the Band is leaving, heading south, at first light, which is only a few hours away. The men grouse about not having any chance to sleep, but Mat gets two before he finds himself astride Pips, as the Band leaves Maerone with some little commotion.
In a few days at most Sammael would learn the Band was coming, hurrying, and the word Rand had put about down in Tear would have made it clear that Mat’s arrival would signal the imminent invasion of Illian. At the best speed the Band could do, it was still more than a month to Tear. With any luck, Sammael would be cracked like a louse between two rocks before Mat ever had to come within a hundred miles of the man.
A lot of the information in both of these chapters is a repetition of what we already know, but there are some really interesting new bits mixed in with all the recapping. I was particularly intrigued by the explanation of the red headbands worn by certain Aiel, and the description of the siswai’aman dedicating themselves to Rand’s service in such an intense way. For the rest of the Aiel, the Car’a’carn is not a king, but the loyalty the siswai’aman seem to have for Rand gets closer to the kind of fealty that those in the westlands sometimes have for their rulers and lords—they’re almost like the Aiel equivalent of the Dragonsworn.
By the end of The Fires of Heaven, I had gathered that the red headbanded Aiel are dedicating themselves so completely as a form of atoning for the fact that their ancestors “failed” the Aes Sedai. They’re now repaying that service to Rand, which seems rather in keeping with the way ji’e’toh works; the siswai’aman probably feel like they are honoring an ancient obligation as best they can.
I can see why Rand’s uncomfortable about it, though it seems like a slightly healthier way of dealing with the revelation about their past than that one former maiden, Cowinde, who Egwene met in the last book. The one who kept insisting that she was only gai’shain and nothing else, and who wanted to stay wearing the white indefinitely. Not to say that I don’t have empathy for Aiel suffering from the bleakness, of course. But the siswai’aman seem to be facing their discomfort rather than running from it, at least to some degree. And there’s the Shaido to be considered as well, who have basically decided to ignore any information that doesn’t fit with how the Aiel already understand themselves. Which, I think I can safely predict, is not exactly going to work out in their favor.
It’s also interesting to see how much Rand is aware of the machinations of others, now. It’s not just in one-on-one interactions with the Andoran nobles or the Tairen High Lords. Rand knows what Pedron Niall is up to with his rumor spreading. As soon as I read the bit about the rebel lords declaring that Rand taking Callandor was an Aes Sedai trick, I thought of Niall’s rumors, but I was surprised and pleased that Rand did as well.
Rand wondered whether he would find Whitecloaks when these rebels were laid by the heels. He thought Pedron Niall might be too smart to allow that.
There were some lovely moments of levity in Chapter Four, especially the section where Rand and the Maidens couldn’t understand each other’s humor. I kind of want to shake Rand when it comes to Aviendha—sure, I know more of what’s going on with her than he does, but there are lots of clues to what’s going on with her if he could just get out of his own ass for two seconds. But besides that, I really enjoy Rand’s relationship with the Maidens. The way he both belongs to the Aiel and doesn’t is really interesting to watch.
Rand wonders why none of the Maidens have adopted the red headband of the siswai’aman, and I rather suspect it’s because they are the only ones of the Aiel who have gained something from Rand’s arrival in their lives. The Aiel have lost so much of their sense of identity with the revelation of their true ancestry, and are now threatened with the possible extinction of their entire people. But the Maidens have also gotten a piece of their identity back. For as long as the Maidens have existed, these women have been forced to choose between being warriors and having families. They can’t marry, and if they do conceive a child, they either have to give up the spear for good, or they have to give up the child. And it’s not just letting someone else raise the baby—they aren’t allowed to know anything about who their child is given to or what becomes of them. They are denied any kind of connection at all to the person they gave birth to.
But Rand is the child of a Maiden, and he has come back to them. They finally get a little, symbolic piece of that identity, that family, that they’ve always been denied. After all, male warriors aren’t told they can’t have a wife and children. It is only the Maidens who might experience both the call of the dance and the desire to marry or have children. Rand can’t figure out why some Maidens treat him like a brother while others treat him like a son, since age doesn’t seem to have much to do with it. But I think it’s pretty clear that the women who act more motherly towards Rand are those who have either born children and given them up or who want to be mothers one day but aren’t sure they can make the choice to give up the spear. Rand has given them the ability to have a little bit of both identities. Especially now that he’s stopped actively keeping them from battle.
Speaking of children, I’m kind of in love with Olver already, and I think Mat might be a little bit, too. We know that Mat is the oldest sibling in his family, and he seems to interact very naturally with the kid, especially when Olver told Mat to speak to him, rather than over his head like he’s not there or can’t understand. I don’t think Mat has realized, however, that he’s pretty much adopting Olver right now. I have a distinct feeling that he’s never going to find anyone to pawn Olver off on, and before you know it Olver is going to be in charge of taking care of Mat’s horse and Mat’s going to be spending more time than he anticipated trying to make sure Olver is alright.
I mean, the boy loves horses! I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Jordan reminded us of Mat’s own appreciation and understanding of horses, and how Mat was raised watching his father trade them, right before we met Olver. Maybe the little guy can help Mat find a horse to race in this bet that Talmanes, Daerid and Nalesean are trying to put together. Mat’s luck is continuing to serve him, even if it can’t directly influence a horse race.
Let’s just hope that luck holds as he sets out to start enacting this secret plan to attack Sammael. I have to say, I’m feeling a bit anxious about the whole thing—it seems like too much to ask for their plan to go off without a hitch. Rand knows that Sammael isn’t exactly the wiliest of enemies, and from what little we’ve learned of him in the Forsaken scenes he does seem like someone who is blinded by his own obsessions. So maybe everything will work out as planned. Then again, maybe Sammael has some tricks up his sleeve, or another Forsaken working with him. Or maybe some unexpected problems will come up that have nothing to do with Sammael at all, and Rand or Mat or both will be derailed from their original intent.
In any case, I wish I knew what it was that they were planning! I really enjoyed the flashback scene of Rand showing up in Mat’s room in the middle of the night to ramble about Sammael and the plan to unite the nations, getting distracted by his feelings for Aviendha. When Mat first found out about Rand’s ability to channel and his identity as the Dragon, all he wanted was to get away from Rand. I wonder if that’s how he still feels. He’s obviously anxious about Rand’s mental state and he was concerned that the gateway could have cut him in half, but he also seems like he’s developed certain methods of managing Rand, like how he gently and steadily repeats “one thing at a time” as Rand’s comments bounce all over the place.
Could the gateway have cut him in half? I mean, I’m sure it’s physically capable of doing that, but what is the actual danger here? How much control does a channeler have of exactly where a gateway opens up? Is there any kind of fail-safe on that channeling, or is it just luck? I’m super curious now.
I’ll also say, Mat feels much more mature in this chapter, even in comparison to how he seemed at the end of The Fires of Heaven. Maybe it’s all the old memories in his head settling in and giving him a bit more maturity; after all, many of them belong to older and more experienced people. Or maybe he’s just settled a little in his own mind, now that he’s been forced to accept the fact that he can’t run away from his fate, no matter how hard he tries. And to be fair, Mat’s sense of self-preservation is clear-eyed and practical, and I feel like I’m often a lot harder on him than I was on Rand, who also spiraled quite a bit when first confronted with the fate the Pattern holds for him.
Mat may seem childish at times, but there’s nothing obnoxious or selfish in his observations of the people around him in Maerone. His frustrations with how little he can do for the refugees reminded me a lot of Nynaeve. And there is a good deal of compassion in the way he considers the potential recruits to the Band, puzzling over why such a dour song would attract men to sign up for soldiering. He suspects that the recruits believe that the song is deliberately designed to keep them away because the singers want more loot and glory for themselves, but surely he must also know that much of war is a numbers game, and that these songs are designed to bring in the recruits.
I don’t think Mat really appreciates the camaraderie aspect of being a soldier. So much of what we see of the Band has to do with this sense of belonging and working with others, and it’s even something Mat is trying to foster in his troops by making their loyalty and sense of belonging focused on the Band as whole, rather than following a specific commander or organizing themselves by nationality. Rand is starting to understand the power of being a symbol, even though it makes him uncomfortable, and Perrin had to grapple with that lesson in The Shadow Rising, but Mat isn’t there yet. He doesn’t understand that something to believe in is so valuable to the men who follow him that they’re willing to risk their own deaths.
I’m so curious to know what’s up with the Sea Folk sending delegates to Aringill. And where are they headed next? Does this have anything to do with the information that Elayne and Nynaeve gave the Atha’an Miere? But before I get any answer on that subject, I think I’m going to get a few answers about Sammael and what he’s thinking about Rand’s coming attack first. So that should be fun.
We’re covering Chapters Six and Seven next week. And I am looking forward to it!
Sylas K Barret’s New Year’s resolution is to drink more water, call his family more, and develop a sense of style that people tell tall tales about like they do Mat’s.