Friday, June 22, 2012

Towers of Midnight Read-Through #24: Chapter 17 - Partings and a Meeting

By Linda



If Mat knew what chemicals Aludra had in her supply wagon, he wouldn’t have slept under it. At this time they are the only things in the world that can do as much damage as the One Power he so fears. It makes me shake my head to think of Mat unknowingly sleeping under a wagon full of explosives in a camp where everyone lights fires and Aludra also has phosphorus... (If you want a refresher on Aludra’s chemicals and need for bellfounders, see Mat, Fireworks and Bellfounders article).

Mat is careful not to upset Aludra because she has something he wants: knowledge. He feels he is Aludra’s messenger boy; a familiar feeling to him, since he’s delivered a lot of messages over the series, showing he is a parallel of Hermes, Ancient Greek messenger to the gods. Aludra, the inventor of matches and gunpowder weapons, is a fire goddess, and Mat has “stolen” her fire (see Mat essay), although without him she cannot afford to develop her ideas. Backers are never cheap: look at how Elayne takes her cut.

Mat is both rich and yet a vagabond at the same time:

One of the best things about having money was not having to sleep in ditches. There were beggars who spent nights better than this.

- Towers of Midnight, Partings and a Meeting

With bits of straw in his hair, he looks like he has been in a briarstitch patch, according to Thom; a reference to Brer Rabbit, one of Mat’s trickster parallels (see Tricksters essay). The parallels are piling up in this chapter.

The Aes Sedai are taking quite a few of Mat’s most skilled people with them to Tar Valon: Juilin, Vanin, Domon, and Egeanin - two intelligence gatherers and two fighters, one of them knowledgeable about the Seanchan. Since the Aes Sedai don’t know Travelling, it will take the group quite a while to reach Tar Valon. It is about 43 days until the field of Merrilor. Presumably the group will be needed in Tar Valon before Mat gets there, or Mat won’t have time to collect them when he goes to Tar Valon. Maybe they are being saved from destruction in the battle of Caemlyn.

All characters write off Juilin’s beloved Thera as too timid to be of significance, but I wonder if she helps save someone at Tar Valon. Vanin is supposed to return to Andor with the soldiers once they deliver Joline and Teslyn, but I expect that he will be kept in Tar Valon by circumstance.

Egeanin is wearing dull grey, the colour damane wear and presumably signifying low rank. Ever since she realised she had to leave Ebou Dar, she has intended to go to the White Tower. She doesn’t say why. Does she plan to tell the Aes Sedai that sul’dam can learn to channel to save herself from the Seekers?

Instead, I think Egeanin probably rescues Egwene as was forewarned in Egwene’s dream:

Abruptly, the ledge dropped away from under her with the crack of crumbling stone, and she caught frantically at the cliff, fingers scrabbling to find a hold. Her fingertips slid into a tiny crevice, and her fall stopped with a jolt that wrenched her arms. Feet dangling into the clouds, she listened to the falling stone crash against the cliff until the sound faded to nothing without the stone ever hitting the ground. Dimly, she could see the broken ledge to her left. Ten feet away, it might as well have been a mile off for all the chance she had of reaching it. In the other direction, the mists hid whatever remained of the path, but she thought it had to be farther away still. There was no strength in her arms. She could not pull herself up, only hang there by her fingertips until she fell. The edge of the crevice seemed as sharp as a knife under her fingers.

Suddenly a woman appeared, clambering down the sheer side of the cliff out of the clouds, making her way as deftly as if she were walking down stairs. There was a sword strapped to her back. Her face wavered, never settling clearly, but the sword seemed as solid as the stone. The woman reached Egwene’s level and held out one hand. “We can reach the top together,” she said in a familiar drawling accent…

She had dreamed of a Seanchan before, a Seanchan woman somehow tied to her, but this was a Seanchan who would save her.

- Crossroads of Twilight, In The Night

The Seanchan woman tied to Egwene is Mat’s wife, Tuon, whereas this Seanchan is armed as a soldier (see Egwene's Dreams article for more).

When Mat is open about Tuon, as sul’dam, being able to learn to channel, Seta and Bethamin lower their eyes. If the Empress could be damane, then the whole empire loses face. They also might have lowered their eyes on behalf of Mat, who has married someone that could be collared. And a third reason for their downcast eyes is that the two former sul’dam feel bad that they are a danger. Mat encourages them to learn all they can and contribute. He gives them hope:

"Go with the Aes Sedai," Mat said. "I'll give you your own horses, so you don't have to rely on them. Learn to channel. That'll be more use than dying. Maybe someday you two can convince Tuon of the truth. Help me find a way to fix this without causing the Empire to collapse."
The two women looked to him, more firm and confident, suddenly. "Yes, Highness,"
Bethamin said. "It is a good purpose for us to have. Thank you, Highness."
Seta actually got tears in her eyes!

- Towers of Midnight, Partings and a Meeting

This is probably the nicest thing he said in this chapter. Finally he has insight into how Rand felt when he discovered he could channel and his friends (Mat most of all) looked on him as a monster.

If Tuon is stripped of her position after her channelling ability is revealed, her husband may become property and hence gain ravens on his shoulders as per Egwene’s dream:

…two ravens alighted on his shoulders, claws sinking through his coat into the flesh beneath. He seemed no more aware of them than Perrin had been of the hawk and the falcon, yet the defiance passed across his face, and then grim acceptance.

- Lord Of Chaos, A Pile of Sand

However, since he is unaware of the marks, the dream is more likely to mean that, as Prince of the Ravens, Mat already symbolically is marked with the ravens.

Joline is forcing herself to show proper gratitude and not be arrogant. Aes Sedai are not used to owing people, or feeling obliged to acknowledge it. Teslyn, however, has learned that there are much worse things than showing gratitude and politeness. Despite being under obligation, Joline tells Mat she wants to tame him. She probably won’t get the opportunity herself, but may witness someone else trying to “do the job properly”, as she describes it.

Mat gives Joline a gift of sweetbuns (spiked) and then says the soldiers and horses are on loan on condition the Aes Sedai tell the Amyrlin that Mat needs to reclaim something of his (the Horn) and he doesn’t mean to be bloody turned away. Teslyn is amused at having to quote this to the Amyrlin. There is more fun in her than appears. She believes they will be telling Elaida (and would like to do down Elaida after what she did to Teslyn) because Elaida would not have abdicated. It’s true: Elaida wouldn’t have.

Mat thinks the Amyrlin is Egwene, and

“he had a sinking feeling that the Aes Sedai had wrapped poor Egwene up in their schemes so soundly that she would never escape. He had half a mind to ride up there himself and see if he could get her out.

- Towers of Midnight, Partings and a Meeting

is foreshadowing that perhaps he will. If so, her position may be under threat. The Seanchan invasion intends to make it so. It could be, though, that she rescues him. He is patronising here – but then Egwene is often patronising too.

Does Mat arrive at the Tower while the Seanchan are there? Does Caemlyn delay him?

Mat plays a practical joke on Joline; to get back to his roots, he says. These are as a fool – and one whose tricks usually go wrong (see Fool and Joker essay). I wonder if Mat’s joke on Joline has unexpected repercussions. Perhaps it delays their arrival at Tar Valon until the “right” time, or they are holed up somewhere along the way while the blueness wears off and do something important. The joke amuses Thom, who is also a fool character (and a magician, too, as we see later in the book). But maybe the joke goes nowhere, but was just a filler to showcase Mat’s tricksterish-ness. In this chapter the roots of Mat’s character are really obvious, with several of his parallels and themes shown. Not the heroic, warfare or underworld ones though.

Setalle’s former life as an Aes Sedai has been much in her mind lately, but she has put it aside and is now thinking of her husband and family rather than the Tower:

"The past is gone," she replied. "And I need to leave it be. I should never have even asked to see the item you wear. These last few weeks have made me forget myself."

- Towers of Midnight, Partings and a Meeting

Maybe she would suit the Kin if someone could Heal her, but no one has restored a burned out channeller yet. I would really like her to regain her ability, but then I wanted Reanne to become Aes Sedai and that didn’t happen.

Setalle is amused that Mat is unconscious that he has corrupted Olver. Olver sees him as a mentor and is slavishly copying him.

Elayne POV

Even in the heart of Andor, plants are Blighted – but not as much as in most places. The relative immunity to the Dark One is due to Elayne’s bond with Rand.

Typical of someone young, beautiful and powerful, Elayne acts like she is bulletproof:

"I'm safe, Birgitte. Nothing will happen to me."

- Towers of Midnight, Partings and a Meeting

This litany is repeated all through the book. Min’s viewing of her babies being born healthy and strong has convinced Elayne she is temporarily invincible. She is obviously riding for a fall, and not just at the hands of Darkfriends as happens in this book.

Elayne thinks that she can use the Kin’s newfound boldness to her advantage, but Alise warns her not to get carried away:

"You've asked much of us while we've been here, Your Majesty. No more than I felt you had a right to ask. So far."

- Towers of Midnight, Partings and a Meeting

Sumeko is solely focussed on returning to Tower, but even if she weren’t, she is not politically adept anyway, whereas Alise is. Alise is wearing blue, which might have been a good Ajah for her, if Aes Sedai accepted weak channellers. She assumed the Kin could remain in Caemlyn. The Kin are annoyed to learn they lived their lives in fear of discovery for centuries while Aes Sedai used them. It is a particularly nasty example of Aes Sedai manipulation. No wonder Alise refuses to become servant to Aes Sedai, now they have been shown to be undeserving, and wants to channel openly and as she wishes. Otherwise any deal is probably not on. Fair enough too. The Kin have been shown to be far more worthy, giving far more aid to society, in the past as much as now, than Aes Sedai.

The Kin is a large organisation and the Aes Sedai can’t treat them, and other weak channellers, like dirt any longer. They have the power of numbers, and know how to link, too. Good for them. Aes Sedai would never agree to retire into the Kin either, if it meant they were going to be treated badly.

Elayne wants free Healing, but will pay for Travelling. Alise immediately sees what Elayne is after: gateways and Healing for her troops. On the Kin’s behalf she demands half of the fees Elayne will charge.

Alise will speak for those Kin who won’t go to the Tower. Elayne suggests the Kin change their rules – eg to marry if they wish. This would make them a viable alternative to the Tower. I can see that they may end up doing much of their own training. Elayne would also like them to promote on merit, not age. Alise says Elayne verges on having her own White Tower. What excellent judgment and insight she has. Under her, if she is spared, the Kin will be force to be reckoned with. Elayne has quite a bit to persuading to do to get Egwene’s agreement. She is somewhat more blithe about it than she should be.

Elayne aims to have at least equal military capability as the Seanchan. She assumes Rand’s armies will be unable to repel the Seanchan and they will invade Andor. She doesn’t recognise the likelihood of the Seanchan striking at Tar Valon again, even though she expects they will get Travelling soon. And she knows they have Elaida. But she correctly judges that Tuon wants all Hawkwing’s former lands. Elayne’s aim is to be able to counter damane in battle. She won’t use the Kin, but ponders using the Black Tower. This leads into her encounter with Mat and his plans for cannon.

In Elayne’s garden, a pot of bluebells recently flowered in the colour of blood, and bled red, too, when they were cut.

Bluebells have complex, and in some ways ambivalent, symbolism. On the one hand, they symbolise gratitude and faithfulness. But in Britain they are also associated with death (or maybe more the fragility of life) and are often planted on graves.

The flowers are also closely linked to fairies and are sometimes called "fairy thimbles." In folk belief, bluebells are rung to call the fairies to a meeting. Another name for bluebells is Dead Man's bells, due to the belief that fairies cast spells on those who picked or damaged the beautiful flowers. They are also believed to thin the walls between worlds and realities. In folklore people are said to have been found lost in strange states in bluebell woods.

The fairly folk, Aes Sidhe, are a parallel of the Aes Sedai. Andor now has a “fairy Queen” and this example of the warping of the Pattern has warned her that death is coming to her realm. She herself is soon to be off to a meeting which will include many other Aes Sedai, and while she is gone her city will be attacked by Shadowspawn brought by the Ways, along a path between realities.

A new instrument of death is about to be developed in her land, the cannon, and the bodies of these will be cast by bellfounders linking to the death and bell symbolism of the flowers. Elayne drove a hard bargain with Mat to supply the resources for them, despite being under obligation to him, and wanting them for her military plans. The motif of her unwilling gratitude has been ongoing for some books. (Actually, Aes Sedai are notorious for ingratitude.) Talmanes is afraid that the Shadow are going to target the cannon.

The flower that signifies thinning between worlds is itself showing the result of the Dark One Blighting things through that thinning.

So the little bell-shaped flowers that normally are rung for a fairy meeting are tolling for the dead in advance.


Anthony said...

This a particularly insightful post, thanks!

Jay Dauro said...


We know that the Aes Sedai arrived safely in Tar Valon, because Setalle received a letter from Joline in Chapter 52, Boots. This is also where Joline asks about Mat, and Setalle says that Joline respects him. Who knew?

Linda said...

Thanks all.

Jay: I had forgotten that letter - maybe because Mat is dismissive of it. He even tells Setalle she must have read it wrong. I wonder if it is genuine?

Indeed: who knew she respected Mat? At best, only grudingly in that she didn't tame him.

Anonymous said...


I have always enjoyed the Mat POV portion of this chapter for the fact (as you very astutely point out) that he gets back to his roots of insouciance and plain speaking with the Aes Sedai among others. I agree 100% that his words to Seta & Bethamin are the sort of unexpected kindness that they are not used to receiving and they set him apart as a unique battle leader.

This is just one of the reasons (I think) why the members of The Band, hold him in such regard. But I digress.

I was especially fond of Bayle Domon's words to Mat. Domon is a man of honor. His obvious appreciation and acknowledgement of Mat's negotiating a nigh impossible escape from the Seanchan, bring a smile each time I read this chapter. Even Leilwin, in her own gruff way, offers thanks.

Too, I like Thom's twigging to the motive behind giving Joline the sweetbuns. And noting it to be, "Nice, childish though."

Question: did Mat encounter Aes Sedai 'off camera' who referred to Egwene as Amyrlin? Or did I miss that bit? And to jump around a bit here, is there speculation (silly question, I know) about why Leilwin seems keen -and apparently has for a goodly stretch of time- to go to Tar Valon? She's a sea captain and it's a far piece from open water.

I think this is the first time Mistress Anan has referred to him as Lord Mat, is it not?

Question: Regarding the letter that is referred to in Chapter 52, Boots; has there been sufficient time reckoning by non 'gateway' methods, for Joline, Edesina, Teslyn and the rest to have gotten to Tar Valon? I thought it was a journey of a significant number of days. Does this snarl the timeline or no?

Last question: And apologies if (again) I wasn't paying attention when this was mentioned. Do we know whether Setalle Anan was burned out or stilled or what?

Well, yet again, I'm rambling on.

Thank you


Linda said...

Mat hasn't met anyone who has told him Egwene is the Amyrlin of the whole Tower; he's deduced it from the rumours that the Tower is reunited (which means that the rebels got off OK) and knowing that she was the Amyrlin of the rebels and what her character is like.

We don't know what Egeanin's plans are for the Tower, so I was wondering about them in this post.

Yes, I too noted that Setalle Anan called Mat 'Lord Mat'. We do know that she was burned out from what Vandene told Elayne when she was sorting through the Ebou Dar cache.

Timing: Boots is about 24 or 25 days after they left. That's enough time for them to reach Caemlyn. If real, the letter could have gone to Caemlyn via gateway and then been sent out to Setalle Anan. I don't think there would be enough time for a letter to have reached her by horseback.