(Content: villainously pretty men. Fun content: villainously pretty men.)
The Eye of the World: p. 582--618
Chapter Thirty-Nine: Weaving of the Web
We're back in Randland, where Robert Jordan once again taunts me with the prospect of a timeskip that didn't actually happen:
Next to the day when Egwene and Perrin walked in, alive and laughing over what they had seen, this was the day he had been waiting for most.Egwene and Perrin have not actually walked in yet; Rand is just looking forward to it. Mat is exactly the same as he's been for the last 300 pages, surly and paranoid and not wanting to do anything, and I'm not clear on what this special day is that Rand has been looking forward to, but apparently it means everyone is rallying in the street. The innkeeper informs Rand that a beggar has been seen in the city, asking for Rand and friends by name, and this is Deeply Suspicious--not because random strangers looking for visitors by name probably have secret motives, no, but because Caemlyn has a welfare program and therefore there's no excuse to beg.
"...Even with things as hard as they are. On High Days, the Queen gives it out with her own hands, and there's never anyone turned away for any reason. No one needs to beg in Caemlyn. Even a man under warrant can't be arrested while he's taking the Queen's Bounty."Which: really? Okay, but really? Props to Caemlyn for establishing a no-questions-asked food program, but these matters are far too complicated to just be waved off. Logistics: who decides how much bounty a person gets? Can they collect for their family as well? Who checks what they are and aren't allowed to take? Can a person pick up the Bounty for their neighbours, and what kind of documentation is needed? Or can a perfectly self-sufficient individual just pick some up anyway, since no one's turned away, and then deliver it to whomever they choose? What if they need to pick up Bounty for multiple neighbours, because they live in a building that houses multiple seniors with mobility issues? Can someone take the Bounty, drop it off elsewhere, and then get back in line for a second helping? Is any kind of identification needed?
Is medication included in the Bounty? What happens to the family head with a sole income who loses her job because of a fire in the dairy and not only has to get food enough for her husband (veteran, blinded in combat with those vile Darkfriends) and four children but also pay rent on the apartment and also pay the apothecary for regular elixirs to help Tiny al'Timmy with his bad lungs and her husband's frequent infections? How much help does the Queen's Bounty give to her?
And you can't be arrested while taking the Bounty, okay, but what's the statute of limitations on that? If the local cops decide that last week's murder was probably committed by Dayo ay'Oade, on the basis that he's foreign and brown and they just knew he couldn't be trusted, how safe is he when getting the Bounty? Is he free game once he leaves the plaza, or after sunset, or what? Is there anything at all to stop the cops from following Dayo six blocks away from the Queen and then making with the truncheon-based brutality? Or grabbing him while he's on his way there? What if Neal al'Caffrey runs into the Caemlyn Museum of Pretty Artifacts With Complicated Backstories, grabs The Sword That Was Broken And Reforged And Then Cracked Again But You Can Hardly Notice It, sprints out the door and straight into the welfare line? Do the cops just have to stand there uselessly while our thief waits to get his municipally-allotted bread? When are they allowed to start chasing him again? Can honest citizen Strangleford ay'Killsman successfully avoid incarceration for his entire life by hanging onto the right baguettes? IF YOU WANT TO WORLDBUILD FOREVER THEN AT LEAST JUSTIFY YOUR WORLDBUILDING, JORDAN.
But where was I? Right: there are lots of reasons that the Queen's Bounty can't be as simple and perfect as we're told, and thus reasons why some people might beg anyway.
Rand leaves the inn, having been warned to keep an eye out for trouble. We finally get a sense of the tensions, because people are wearing significant amounts of red or white around town, with political significance: red says "Yay Queen Morgase" and white means "The Queen and the wizards have ruined everything". Rand didn't realise this when he decided to disguise his heron sword with a red wrapping, and now he's part of it too, to his regret, since the reds are heavily outnumbered. But--ah, at last we get some explanation, because apparently people are celebrating the capture of the false Dragon, who is to be presented to the Queen today before he's dragged off to the wizards.
Rand, political genius, notices that a crowd of white-banded citizens charging down the street thinks nothing of intentionally shoving aside some Whitecloaks and stampeding onwards, showing a level of defiance and fearlessness that, in his estimation, means that could try to depose the Queen any day now. Rand disappears into a singing crowd, providing us with this Tolkienesque lyric:
Forward the Lion / forward the Lion / the White Lion takes the field. / Roar defiance at the Shadow. / Forward the Lion / forward, Andor triumphant.I can't make that scan, let alone fit a catchy tune, and it doesn't even pretend to have a rhyme. That is maybe the worst rallying song I've ever heard. Rand follows the crowd until it reaches the palace, guarded by red soldiers against a near-rioting crowd of white, but he's forced to run when the aforementioned beggar finally appears and spots him. Rand thinks about going back to the inn, but isn't willing to miss his sole opportunity to ever see the Queen, having apparently forgotten that the Queen literally shows up to hand out food bundles to the poor on every holiday.
After a couple of vitally important pages of Rand running around the city to no avail, he finally climbs a hill and a wall to get a view of the plaza, and the procession arrives with hundreds of soldiers guarding a sixteen-horse wagon, flanked by Warders and bearing a cage guarded by eight Aes Sedai. For a change, we get some description I actually like:
Logain was a king in every inch of him. The cage might as well not have been there. He held himself erect, head high, and looked over the crowd as if they had come to do him honor. And wherever his gaze swept, there the people fell silent, staring back in awe. When Logain's eyes left them, they screamed with redoubled fury as if to make up for their silence, but it made no difference in the way the man stood, or in the silence that passed along with him.I'm assuming he's a villain, although right now I feel like I'd enjoy seeing him as a protagonist too, as long as he wasn't Our Hero. A good guy who has his own goals and concerns that aren't identical to Rand. Or if he's just a villain who wants something other than the end of the universe. I'm good with either of these things.
Rand wonders what the Aes Sedai are there for, gets told by a previously-unnoticed little girl that they're stopping him from using magic, and is so surprised that he falls off the wall. Cliffhanger! Well. Clifffaller.
Chapter Forty: The Web Tightens
Rand dream-hallucinates a bit and wakes up on the ground, bloodied and rattled. The girl arrives, climbing down a tree in very fancy dress that goes on for a paragraph, including velvet slippers and much embroidered silk.
He could not begin to imagine who would choose to climb trees in clothes like that, but he was sure she had to be someone important.This is it. If ever anyone asks you to summarise the Wheel of Time book series for them, just flip to the second page of chapter forty and show them this line. This is the truest most finely distilled essence of this book, cold-pressed and oak-aged until it could cut through anchorwood. Reading this sentence and understanding its every nuance is exactly the same experience as reading the entire book. You're welcome.
She's also, he can tell at a glance, deeply self-possessed and (shocker) stunningly beautiful (blond and red-lipped, which Rand possibly thinks is just how girls look, because he can't conceive of makeup). She's different but, in his estimation, just as hot as Egwene.
He felt a twinge of guilt, but told himself that denying what his eyes saw would not bring Egwene safely to Caemlyn one whit faster.I--wait, what? He's creeping on some random girl who just startled him into injuring himself, his first thoughts on seeing her are '10/10, would bang like a gong', and he assuages his guilt at ogling someone who isn't his not-girlfriend by telling himself that he can't save her by not ogling other women? Does that compute for anyone?
She's followed by her younger brother, and they quickly identify each other (unnecessarily, but for the reader's benefit) as Elayne and Gawyn, and since Elayne has a habit of playing vet to the injured animals she find, she immediately busts out her first aid kit to patch up Rand's skull. While doing so, the siblings have a bizarrely private discussion that serves as a huge infodump about how the Queen is semi-secretly in love with her First Prince Regent and they both want to get married but neither one will 'bend' to... something that we're not clear on. It becomes increasingly obvious, but eventually Rand needs them to spell out that they are children of...
"Morgase, by the Grace of the Light, Queen of Andor, Defender of the Realm, Protector of the People, High Seat of the House Trakand."The prince and the 'Daughter-Heir' (ye gods that's a bad title--if the queen always rules, why isn't her daughter just 'heir'?) are legitimately surprised Rand didn't realise he had climbed into their backyard, and insist on knowing his name before he leaves. On hearing he's from Two Rivers, Gawyn starts spouting off regional facts, until they get interrupted again:
The young man who stood there was the handsomest man Rand had ever seen, almost too handsome for masculinity.I... wow. He no-homo'd so hard he tried to reassign someone's gender.
Rand, if you think a dude is hot, that doesn't mean he's a woman, that means you think some dudes are hot. It's not a big deal. I was so much more comfortable with myself once I acknowledged that was a thing for me. You can repeat "he's so smokin' I could almost swear he's a gender I'm attracted to" all you want, but if you want to insist that you're so straight you sleep on a bed of rulers, maybe don't follow that up with:
Dark of hair and eye, he wore his clothes [...] as if they were of no importance.Aw yeah they aren't. Just cast aside those unimportant clothes, Galad. Apparently Galadedrid Damodred (I kid you not) is half-sibling to the royal kids, sharing a father but not the queen as his mom, and he's quite popular with both the loyal reds and unruly whites in the city. He tries to convince Elayne to get rid of Rand immediately for her own safety, but Elayne tells him to shove off.
"I hate him," Elayne breathed. "He is vile and full of envy."Ohhhh, right, villainous prettyboys, gotcha. There is definitely something maliciously suspicious about beautiful men who go around making perfectly good straight boys question their orientations. On the plus side, Gawyn vouches heavily for Galad, saying he's saved his life twice, so maybe there's a chance he's not evil? Wait, I just remembered his name is Damodred. Carry on.
The palace guards arrive and there's some back-and-forth of orders and superseding orders between the captain and Elayne until word arrives that the queen demands to see the intruder and also her kids, so they march off, though not before Jordan realises he forgot to give us a long description of the gardens, so Rand abruptly remembers that scenery exist and takes it all in before they leave. There's another page of Rand trying to figure out what position to take in the procession and when he's dragged before the throne, and another describing the carved walls of the room and the woman seated behind the queen, knitting furiously. The queen is of course beautiful and flawless and commanding, and the knitter quickly proves to be Elaida, the queen's personal wizard. The children are scolded for going to get a look at Logain, ridiculously dangerous as he is, and questioned about Rand, but Elayne says that meeting a commoner face-to-face with no attendants has been an important bit of education.
Morgase rapidly rises several ranks in my listing of favourite characters by pointing out that Two Rivers hasn't been taxed or hosted royal soldiers in generations, which makes Rand's status as a queen's subject somewhat suspect. I could have done with someone making that explicit five hundred pages ago, instead of leaving me wondering what in blazes this world was doing, but at least we have canon now.
Elaida in the meantime notes that Rand is a pasty ginger and thus unlikely to be from that region, and when she notices the heron sword, all the guards freak out. There is much suspicion, et cetera, Elaida declares that the sword is rightly Rand's even if he's too young to have earned it, and that he's dangerous. Morgase does what a queen must do: put exposition ahead of remotely natural dialogue.
"Is this a Foretelling, Elaida? Are you reading the Pattern? You say it comes on you when you least expect it and goes as suddenly as it comes. If this is a Foretelling Elaida, I command you to speak the truth clearly, without your usual habit of wrapping it in so much mystery that no one can tell if you have said yes or no."That is definitely how real people talk to other real people with whom they have a long history of this exact process. Sigh. Elaida does indeed Foretell, but it boils down to the shocking plot twist that bad things are happening and Rand is plot-relevant.
They recommend locking him up, but Queen Morgase declares that she trusts him and she's willing to gamble that he isn't telling super-outrageous lies in the hopes that people will think no one would tell a lie that outrageous, and she commands him escorted away to go free. Elayne takes a final opportunity to tell Rand he's hot, and Gawyn
Wait, aren't the Aiel people from a desert or something? What kind of vengeful author-god would populate a desert with pasty gingers? (No points for the obvious answer: 'one who will eat his own hands before he makes someone brown plot-relevant'.)
Oi. That's enough recapping for now. But for the first time in many weeks, I didn't feel like I could blithely skip past multiple pages at a time without commenting on the stuff contained, which I have to take as a sign that the plot has begun happening again, even if this chapter didn't apparently have any plot consequences apart from introducing us to the royals. Unlike the parade of interchangeable wagon-drivers and innkeepers up to now, at least I can be confident we'll see all of these folks again.
There are fewer than two hundred pages left to go in this book, folks. Who wants to lay bets on whether Jordan is capable of writing something that resembles a climactic sequence in that much time?