Events in this chapter are contemporaneous with Rand’s meeting with the Borderlanders: Elayne feels him meeting them after he was tested, and Mat sees him in a tent talking to some people. So the arrival at the Field of Merrilor is the next day.
Elayne feels the responsibility of having security people – of endangering others to be protected:
With Birgitte on one side of her and Guybon on the other—and with both of their horses taller than Elayne's—a would-be assassin would have great difficulty picking her off without first hitting her friends. So it would be for the rest of her life.This highlights the risks of being a ruler, and becoming a marked person; she will be depending on guards while she holds a throne.
Towers of Midnight Boots
Elayne is affected by Birgitte’s emotions:
Birgitte’s anxiety was contagious, and Elayne found herself holding her reins in a tight grip as Glimmer moved forward.Fear is contagious anyway, but a Warder bond between two women lacks distance due to similarities in psychology. It is an ‘unbalanced’ bond in Jordan’s philosophy, in contrast to the male-female bond.
Towers of Midnight Boots
Elayne feels Cairhien is not that hostile to her because the people want stability and prosperity. They need a ruler to look after them, and, in turn, Elayne feels the urge to do so, and especially to limit the Game of Houses. However, if not for the Great Game, Elayne would not have gained the Cairhien throne without force of arms or Rand stepping in. Lorstrum and Bertome promoted her to increase their own prospects:
Lorstrum nodded to her with respect. He knew she was manipulating him, but he also accepted that manipulation. She would have to keep a careful watch on him in the years to come.Elayne assesses him as a worthy rival and is aware that he isn’t putting up with her manoeuvres for nothing – and won’t indefinitely. He is allowing the manipulation in the hope of fulfilling his ambition to gain a throne, or two.
Towers of Midnight Boots
Sashalle openly hands over Cairhien to her on Rand’s behalf in ceremony that leaves Elayne peeved. The new queen is sceptical that one Aes Sedai’s proclamation would work, but she may be underestimating the caretaking that the Aes Sedai in Cairhien have done. On the other hand, Elayne thinks that the nobles’ support might be enough on its own. (I don’t think it’s a case of either/or but that she needed both to support her.) Sashalle’s adopted position might be due to Verin’s Compulsion, which worked on non-channellers as well as channellers. Once Healed, the Red was fervent in swearing to support Rand.
Elayne thought Brigitte’s security checks excessive, but she was wrong. Many other Aes Sedai would be more cautious. Perhaps the assassin tried their luck anyway, since it would discredit Lorstrum, at the least. Or perhaps they know Elayne’s boldness (ie recklessness); the very characteristic Birgitte chided Elayne for at the start of the scene.
The attempt to assassinate Elayne is also a strike at Lorstrum, and maybe Bertome, although Bertome would gain if Lorstrum was blamed. The poisoned needle had the potential to neutralise both Elayne and Lorstrum in one hit.
Elayne is reading the Cairhienin well. Lorstrum owes her for not holding him responsible and he acknowledges this tacitly. I guess this delays Lorstrum’s future threat a little. Elayne uses honey with the Cairhienin—reminding them she is half Cairhienin—and also a stick—threatening them with Rand.
Immediately, she orders the nobles to gather their forces and recruit. It stops them scheming and gets them in the habit of obeying her. And tomorrow is not just another day.
Mat has changed his black scarf for a red – the god of war is rising as he goes to the Tower of Ghenjei.
He feels at peace, but is disgruntled at having to do paperwork. However, he likes the intelligence reports he wheedled out of Elayne. They include tales of wrongness, which he tends to dismiss, as well as false rumour and accurate reports. He is also making plans for crossbow modifications, following up on his conversation with Aludra in Knife of Dreams on improving crossbow arming speed.
The incongruity of quality furniture on bare ground outside a tent is typical of a trickster. Setalle tells Mat she knows he often says things to sock people, putting them off balance to make them do what he wants or allow him to do what he wants. It’s a tactic of tricksters. Fellow trickster Verin did something similar with her prattling hints. Mat claims to be unaware of this – perhaps he does it without thinking or perhaps he doesn’t need to think about it. There is quite a gap in perception in this conversation, in a way. Mat lets Setalle know his negative opinion of Aes Sedai, including Joline, and how they appear from a commoner’s perspective. That doesn’t shock her, but it does annoy her. His point is valid, though.
Despite the gap, there’s a meeting of minds: Mat asks Setalle a personal question about what it is like to be burned out /stilled. She uses a simile to explain. Then she returns the favour by asking him why he dislikes Aes Sedai. Because they boss him around. She says that he has the choice to follow their advice or not, and that they give good advice. Mat is not interested in good advice or the right way—tricksters rarely are. He wants freedom. And choice.
Setalle presses further to ask why Mat doesn’t like nobles. It’s not dislike, he says, just that he doesn’t want to be one. To her surprise, he uses a metaphor of boots: Talmanes, for instance, has too many pairs. Some are just for appearances. Nobles are too rich, have too much time, and lead an overly complicated life, in Mat’s opinion. Three pairs of boots—one for mess, one for most occasions and a really good pair for when you need to walk far—are sufficient.
Lie all tricksters, Mat is underestimated, but he sees what’s important and essential. It is not necessary for the aristocracy to complicate their clothing because they have a responsible position and have to make complex decisions. Setalle is impressed with his insight – though to her it is unconventional. Mat likes being unconventional. He considerately doesn’t drink straight from the jug until she leaves.
Mat tells Setalle indirectly that he’s keeping her there to see to Olver if he doesn’t escape the *Finns.
Verin the trickster is an undercurrent in this scene: Mat is tempted by her letter, but resists. He feels the surest way to resist is to decide never to open it. This follows immediately upon being reminded how bossy Aes Sedai are. It’s as if the Pattern were keeping him from succumbing to the temptation of the letter. Verin used him to do a task, or tried to, but was counting on successfully manipulating him via his curiosity. It didn’t work. His dislike of orders and work was stronger. Burning the letter unopened would be a more certain way of not reading it, but he doesn’t think of it: the Pattern needs someone else to open it.
Mat is alarmed that Birgitte was in the Tower of Ghenjei two months and couldn’t escape. And everyone broke the rules, yet most perished. Mat is not the only rule-breaker around. It is extreme luck that breaks many at once.
Probably the best part of this chapter was the triumph of the rule breakers over the ‘rule-setters’ (as Mat thinks of them): Birgitte rewarding herself for saving Elayne by sitting on the throne first, and Mat tweaking the nose of Setalle, former Aes Sedai.